From Act of Valor to Full Metal Jacket, drumming up excitement by using amateurs on the big screen has paid off for the films—but often not for the actors themselves.
Relativity Media / Warner Bros.
Last summer saw the release of a highly publicized study that revealed the number-one thing children want to be when they grow up: famous. The top three careers, all celebrity-oriented—sportsman, pop star, and actor—led to hand-wringing about the rise of celebrity culture and its effect on the children inundated with it. Notably absent on the list, which spanned a total of ten professions, was a career with the armed forces.
The U.S. military has long struggled with the best way to recruit young people to enlist, with attempts ranging from a series of free-to-download video games in the America's Army series to Kid Rock's musical collaboration with the National Guard. But in light of the study's finding, the Navy may have found the savviest method yet—a full-length action movie called Act of Valor, the first wide-release film in history to star real-life, active-duty Navy SEALs.
Though Act of Valor is perhaps the most dramatic example in Hollywood history, marketers have long recognized the value of pitching a movie that stars a person or cast who's been "plucked from obscurity" and brought to big screens across the nation. Even a film as legendary Gone With the Wind got a boost by holding a publicity-generating "casting call" for the part of Scarlett O'Hara, which attracted 1,400 amateur actresses to audition. None of them were ever seriously considered for the role, but by then it didn't matter; the hype had been generated, and Gone with the Wind went on to be the top-grossing film of all time. And casting calls can still generate massive amounts of free press; the search for actors to play Harry Potter and his two best friends in Warner Brothers' film adaptations of the book series was obsessively documented by the British press for months.