Hats Off to Brett Morgen: the Campaign Supporting Montage of Heck

Courtney hopes to start Kurt biopic next year, writing her own book

Anyone remember this? It’s an interview in July 2014 with Courtney Love in which she discusses a planned biopic, a musical, her own book…And the rumoured Brett Morgen documentary on Cobain. Its a blitz of potential projects. It’s just a re-confirmation of statements Morgen made in January of 2013 – that ‘something’ was coming:


Come late November of 2014, the formal announcements begin:


Intriguing, however, the ‘Montage of Heck’ sound collage Cobain recorded back in the Eighties had become an Internet meme right at the start of the month (http://www.theguardian.com/music/musicblog/2014/nov/04/kurt-cobains-montage-of-heck-tape-his-ex-girlfriend-sets-record-straight). This article attempted to dissect how/why a well-known and long-shared bootleg recording would suddenly spread like wildfire, crediting it to one site after another ‘accidentally’ stumbling upon the extant articles at LiveNirvana. To be honest, it doesn’t seem accidental. My suggestion would be either a newshound looking for news on ‘Montage of Heck’ (the documentary) stumbled upon ‘Montage of Heck’ the sound collage and decided to put it up – or, alternatively, that Brett Morgen and his team are very smart and seeded the music file to start circulating the news of the documentary, to start getting the name on radars, to kickoff the ensuing campaign.

And what a smart campaign its been too – genuine kudos. Modern news-cycles rely on regularly refreshed content – nothing stays on a front page for long. Morgen has managed to keep the documentary permanently on the front pages of music and non-music sites (as well as print media) for several months. The way its been achieved has been to maintain a regular drip-feed of event and/or fresh information – a gradual process of releasing a little more, a little more, a little more month-by-month without ever releasing everything in one vast lump.

So, there was a pre-premier interview round. Then the reviews of the Sundance premier. Next the post-Sundance follow-up interviews. Next came the announcement of the accompanying book. Then commentary on the involvement or otherwise of Dave Grohl. Next the announcement of the DVD and worldwide theatre showings. A plan to release ‘Montage of Heck’ (the collage) on Record Store Day came to nothing but would have been both attention-grabbing and lucrative given the sell-out performance of past Nirvana RSD releases (having stood in the queue for the Pennyroyal Tea single I can attest to that popularity.) Very late in the day came the announcement of a planned soundtrack with almost no associated details. A series of teasers have kept that release high on the rumour-mill – there’s still no information about what it includes bar murmurings about a ’12 minute Cobain track’, the fans have proven more than able to keep that wheel turning themselves. The release of the trailer then re-ignited the Internet and the film still isn’t on general release yet.

Apparently the soundtrack is imminent but even the release of the date is being withheld in order to make its announcement a ‘news event’ that’ll gobble up column inches. My personal belief is that the soundtrack is already complete and Morgen is simply keeping back the information for an appropriate time in order to keep the PR going. Superb work. There was a teaser a month or so ago on Twitter – photos from Morgen of untitled Cobain compositions on a screen and a comment about “working on a soundtrack”. That’s it so far.

Why all the secrecy and careful release of information? Well, let’s look at the potential audience. At the core are the fanatical Nirvana fans – they were always a given, always guaranteed to attend…But are as susceptible as any other crowd to getting excited, to the thrill of anticipation and delayed gratification. The slow burn has kept speculation high, as ensured word and rumour has spread among Nirvana fans. Less fanatical Nirvana fans can’t fail to be aware by now that this film is coming out – if even my classical music loving friend Dan is aware then everyone must know. Staying in the limelight long enough to expand the web of media contacts, to get top billing on every major music site has allowed Morgen to get interviewed by a substantial number of major publications spreading word among music fans in general. That’s the intriguing bit, how far beyond the fanatical core can interest be spread? It’s unclear. Pitches to film/documentary lovers that this is worthwhile viewing for people who aren’t Nirvana-savvy were part of the campaign as well as the ‘intimate access’ perspective aimed at the fan community.

The commercial structure of the campaign makes a lot of sense too. It isn’t cynical to say that Montage of Heck is aimed at the current dollar worth of the average Nirvana fan. Twenty years ago those fans were late teens/early twenties (with leeway on either side). Now, those same fans are in their thirties or breaching the forty mark, they have regular careers and income. Thus Montage of Heck isn’t just a documentary. It’s a TV showing (doubtlessly with substantial cash revenue courtesy of HBO) – it’s a worldwide theatre release (ticket revenue in multiple countries for limited dates) – it’s a DVD release – it’s an accompanying book – it’s a soundtrack. I have my tickets booked for Sunday, I nearly booked additional tickets for the Friday or Saturday – that’s already £24 for two tickets.

Next I’ll buy the DVD – £13 – plus the book – £20. So we’re up to £57 pounds now. Add on the soundtrack when it emerges – are we talking £10 or £15? Let’s split the difference – total expenditure; £69.50. That’s a lot of cash generated from a single buyer. The small core will ‘eat it up’ in pretty much this manner – do the math, multiply. That’s substantial revenue. Add on the more selective audiences who might wait for the DVD, or might browse the book. Add on those who go see it with friends or who can be persuaded by the fanatics. Saving the soundtrack for last makes absolute sense – each previous element across the next month acts as publicity and promotion for the music release and legitimises what might otherwise have been a difficult sell to the mainstream.

The ubiquity of coverage of Montage of Heck is a masterclass in layering up activity, news, actual material…Superb work. A credit to the team involved. I’ll certainly admit I’m hugely looking forward to it all. All of it. Morgen states he’s been working on the film for eight years – it shows in the detailed publicity campaign over a full six months (a rarity in the music release/music documentary world), it shows in the interlinked commercial releases targeting a relatively wealthy audience of music fans/buyers, it shows in Morgen’s caginess (the word used by a journalist who contacted me to describe his interview with Morgen) because Morgen knows giving away too much all at once will create gaps, space, absence in what has been a very consistent run in the news.


2 thoughts on “Hats Off to Brett Morgen: the Campaign Supporting Montage of Heck”

  1. Heh! Don’t apologise, I’m agnostic on such a subject. In the end I appreciate Nirvana, I have nothing against Courtney Love or Frances Bean or Krist or Dave. I’m happy to pay for something I enjoy. Ultimately there are far more worthy targets for one to disengage from on the financial front – clothing companies using sweatshops, consumer goods linked to arms companies, imports from dictatorial regimes, drugs supplied by criminal gangs… On it goes… 🙂

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