The phenomenon that has taken over Twitter on Sunday evenings under the hashtag of SMTA launched in December of 2011 when Los Angeles attorney and movie buff Matt Bilinsky was bored and began to 'live-tweet' commentary to Lethal Weapon 2. Fellow L.A. resident and marketing executive Mike McGuiness joined in on the fun chatting up, making random observations and jokes about Riggs, Murtaugh and Leo Getz. While they were only acquaintances at the time, it gave them the idea to get a few other movie fans involved and recreate the experience for classic movies.
They chose the name "Sunday Movie Tweet Along," (and the hash-tag #SMTA for Twitter use) and almost instantly had a group of prominent writers, comedians, bloggers, DJ's and movie fans from the LA area joining the mix. The whole thing really took off when the group decided to randomly tweet William Zabka (Johnny from The Karate Kid) which led to him joining the fun for a screening of his trademark move. Zabka brought along a couple other members of "Cobra Kai" (actors Ron Thomas and Tony O'Dell), and the film's stars told behind-the-scenes stories and interacted with fans, all courtesy of #SMTA. Imagine watching a DVD with the commentary from the film's director and star and being able to ask them questions and get timely responses.
"Tweeting about old movies with our friends is something we just did naturally, "McGuiness said. "We never could've expected that we could co-op this activity and have it exposed to millions of eyeballs each week."
The main components behind SMTA's success are fun and simplicity. After downloading the selected movie from Netflix, Amazon or buying the DVD, press play at the selected time and fans are simultaneously watching the same movie from their own couch. Over the past year, #SMTA has grown exponentially in fun and followers. Actors such as Tom Arnold and Eliza Dushku (True Lies), Andrew McCarthy (Weekend at Bernie's), Chris Young (The Great Outdoors) and Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite) have all been a part of the action and every week when a new star is a part of the conversation, it opens it up the SMTA to an entire new group of fans. And it's not only actors who get involved as director Jeremiah Chechik (National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation) and writer Jeff Franklin (Summer School) have been two of the more insightful guests.
It takes a lot of effort and calling in a few favors on the part of the founders, but there are occasions when things just fall into place. During a week without a celebrity guest, the weekly SMTA had movie-lovers from around the world watching Die Hard on Cinemax and they simply reached out to Robert Davi (Special Agent Johnson) to see if he would like to get in on the fun. Davi got the messages near the end of the movie and agreed to do it the following week for his role as Jake Fratelli in The Goonies. Later that week, they were also able to recruit actor Jeff Cohen (Chunk) and during the showing on Sunday night, Corey Feldman (Mouth) joined in on the action from the Playboy Mansion. And yes, Hugh Hefner himself also tweeted about The Goonies on SMTA.
"We've always believed in the power of social media to create fun experiences and help cool people connect," Bilinsky said. "What we've done is focus that power around nostalgic pop culture and found that people really respond."
Omar Epps and his 1.5 million Twitter followers got together for an SMTA viewing of the film Juice that co-starred Tupac Shakur and had a world-wide audience of over 3.5 million people watching at the same time. The SMTA hashtag received over 31 million impressions and had the modest 1992 hit film trending throughout the Twitterverse. It is only a matter of time before the Hollywood studios and movie stars are begging Bilinsky and McGuiness to be a part of what everyone is talking about on Sunday nights.
FOLLOW JAY BETSILL ON TWITTER @THEFAMOUSJAY