Anyway You Swag It

It wouldn’t be Sundance without a comment about swag, that four-letter word that speaks to man’s most mercenary desires. It used to be that swag was all about specific film marketing — an AMERICAN PIMP [] t-shirt, a pair of THE MYTH OF FINGERPRINTS [] gloves, a snow globe, a lighter, or a glow-in-the-dark rubber with the name of the film printed over it. In recent years, however, swag has gone upscale. And its opponents have gotten serious.

The omnipresent “Focus on Film” badges this year are a not so subtle critique of the plague of swag and the C-list celebrities it attracts. [] noted two of this year’s more un-Sundance figures — Gary Coleman and Dustin Diamond (aka Screech) — hauling away free goods. Steven Zeitchik [] at Variety reports on how the festival’s official sponsors (those companies that have actually ponied up hard cash and services) are fighting it out with ambush sponsors on Main Street.

But perhaps the most frightening figures in the war on swag are the men in black — those being the I.R.S. Christy Karras [] at the Salt Lake City Tribune reports on how new IRS rules (provoked by the big money gift bags at the Oscars and Golden Globes) could crimp the swag patrol. According the federal rules, “These gift bags are not gifts…because the organizations and merchants who participate in giving the gift bags do not do so solely out of affection, respect or similar impulses for the recipients.” They got that right.

Others are also turning the tide on Swag. Publicist Jeremy Walker (of Jeremy Walker + Associates) provides a “Swagifesto” [] on his company web site. For Walker:

We’ve watched swag, like cocaine, turn nice, smart, humble, creative people into monsters. Like cocaine, swag produces a giddy high of self-importance and supreme confidence. As with cocaine, once tasted, the consumer of swag instantly wants more. When people see other people doing swag, they want to do it, too. And, like cocaine, once it’s out in the open, swag permeates the culture, and it’s all anyone can talk about.

Of course, as long as you are giving it away for free, people will line up. But there are new ways to swag it this year. Luxestar enables celebs to not have to load up their personal assistant with bags of free stuff. Instead, they get a card (whose value is dependent on one’s star power) and they can order their loot off the Luxestar website. In an oxymoronic twist, the “Green Room on Main Street” is providing eco-friendly gifts for those who care — no, really care — about the planet.

Peter Bowen

Senior Editor, Filmmaker Magazine