By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Want to create buzz for a space movie? Take journalists to a real NASA lab. Promoting a horror film? Order up taxidermied rats and have zombies deliver them.
Hollywood studios are going to ever more creative lengths to attract attention in a jam-packed entertainment market where social media plays a key role in promoting content.
For Matt Damon's October film "The Martian," in which an astronaut is stranded on Mars, 20th Century Fox Studios hosted a media day last week at the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California just to promote a trailer.
Journalists got a sneak peek at the first 50 minutes of the film, toured the lab and interviewed Damon at its Mission Control which is usually reserved for scientists working on operations such as landing the Curiosity rover on Mars in 2012.
"We're in a world with a very crowded marketplace," said "The Martian" producer Aditya Sood. "We want to make sure that people get the message that the movie's coming out."
After the media day, "The Martian" trailer became one of the top entertainment news stories, garnering 4.8 million views on Facebook and 3.3 million views on YouTube in just 48 hours.
"It makes sense for studios to spend money to get journalists to tweet and use social media because they believe it somehow will turn into box office dollars," said Entertainment Weekly film reporter Nicole Sperling.
Trailers are becoming the fast, bite-size way to attract an audience at a time when five or more movies a week are released in the United States.
In August, movie reporters, including from Reuters, received a visit from two men with zombie makeup, mimicking the creepy twin characters from Focus Features latest horror movie, "Sinister 2."
The "twins" delivered a wooden box with a taxidermied rat and a USB card with a link to the movie's latest trailer.
"The people covering the industry are in some ways tastemakers, so even if people aren't reading our magazines or articles, they're reading our Twitter feed," Sperling said.
Earlier in August, Warner Bros hosted a party at a Los Angeles hotel to promote its October Peter Pan prequel "Pan." The rooftop was decked out to look like Neverland, with set pieces and costumes from the family adventure film.
But the media guests were distracted by the word "Compton" from a sky-writing plane to promote Universal Pictures' rap music film "Straight Outta Compton."
Sony Pictures started drumming up buzz for its upcoming "The Walk" film, based on French high-wire artist Philippe Petit's 1974 trek between New York's Twin Towers, by placing people on the rope through Sony's Morpheus virtual reality headset.
Media and those attending computer graphics convention Siggraph in Los Angeles in August were placed in the virtual setting atop the Twin Towers with the tightrope stretching ahead.
The headset allowed them to look 360 degrees around the New York skyline, see the quarter-mile drop and take a stomach- flipping walk along the wire.
"Giving people a unique opportunity to identify with a character or a storyline and actually experience it personally, it's like the mega-trailer," said David Stern, founder of Create Advertising Group, which developed the experience.
"There's nothing more emotional and visceral than standing on a wire strung between the World Trade Center towers."
(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy, editing by Jill Serjeant and Lisa Von Ahn)