How an invented Scorsese movie electrified online audiences

Delving into the audiences and platforms behind the unlikely 'Goncharov' trend

 

Have you seen Goncharov? It’s the Scorsese film that features a Russian-Italian mafia showdown in Naples, that stars Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino and Gene Hackman, and that is completely made-up. 

Made-up not by the director, that is, but by the ‘audience’ – a development that surely would send  ‘Death of the Author’ theorist Roland Barthes not so much spinning in his grave, as cartwheeling out of the cemetery gates.

So what does it look like, when the an entirely invented film finds an audience online?

A little like this, it turns out:

Goncharov Gif

This is, naturally, going to require some context. 

Using Pulsar TRAC, we mapped mentions of the ‘movie’ across platforms including Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Pinterest, News, Podcasts, TV and Google Search, to understand how the trend originated, spread and attained the kind of recognition the marketing teams behind genuine movies strive for. 

It started in 2020, when a pair of knock-off boots featured the name of a non-existent Scorsese movie, rather than the brand name. This quickly led to humor around the poster’s apparent ‘ignorance’ of the movie in question. 

The joke was incubated on Tumblr, passing over time into the niche humor, impenetrable to many outsiders, that defines the platform. Then, on November 20th, interest exploded. 

Clearly Twitter played a crucial role in introducing the concept to the wider world, acting as a repository for discussions taking place on more closed off parts of the internet. At first, Twitter and Tumblr appear to have formed a reciprocal relationship around Goncharov, with interest in the wider world stimulating buzz on the platform that originated it all. 

The relative interest on Twitter quickly eclipsed that on Tumblr, however, as the novelty of a niche trend being picked up by wider culture quickly rescinded, and a wider pool of Twitter users started engaging with the the movie. 

So what did this look like on a network level? This brings us back to the visualization that opened this piece, this time with an annotation displaying three of the tweets that played a key role in disseminating the humor to a wider audience.

 

 

The visualization turns structural proximities into visual proximities, meaning that the closer two nodes are to one another, the closer they are within the conversational network. Nodes towards the centre are more important in spreading information throughout the network.

The nodes highlighted in pale blue are tweets, those in yellow retweets, with the size of each node dependant on the visibility of the Tweet in question. The exception to this color-coding rule are the three highlighted Tweets, which have been assigned a highlight color for clarity.

Looking at the above network, we can identify the importance of Tweet 1’s author to introducing the idea to the Twittersphere. We can, conversely, see that Tweet 3 generated large-scale engagement, but did not have a huge impact on the wider conversation.
 

 
At the same time, we can also see how the narrative evolved in super-quick time, with wider focus moving quickly on from a) the trend’s existence, b) its presence on AO3 (fanfiction site ‘Archive of our own’), c) the fact that the sheer amount of this fan-fiction outnumbered that of established franchises. 
 
As the centre of conversational gravity moved from the comparatively private Tumblr to Twitter, there was a huge upsurge in public familiarity, reflected in appearances across a host of different online spaces.
 
We can chart this by looking at first mentions of Goncharov across these spaces, alongside notable mentions of ‘other’ Goncharovs on medium yet to feature mentions of the fake film.
 
 
 
This shows the importance of social channels, and online news, in quickly driving awareness in a novel, niche topic. That the only mentions of Goncharov across podcasts, television and TV each referred to different (and real) public figures, meanwhile, helps illustrate the relative slowness of these mediums in relaying such topics. 
 
On a more nuanced level, we can also infer from these first mentions how much overlap there is between social platforms on a community basis. In the case of both Pinterest and Twitch, the references are obtuse, de-contextualised and clearly dependant on some existing knowledge on the part of the reader. Compare this to Facebook, where the platform mechanics and different demographics lead the poster to provide a far fuller context. 
 
Goncharov is unlikely to provide many lessons for budding filmmakers (aside from, perhaps, don’t bother). But, from a marketing standpoint, it provides a useful case study in how the unique features of individual platforms, and the interplay between them, can shape how a piece of media spreads, mutates and is understood.
 

If you’re interested learning more about this dataset, or discovering how social data can lead to insights across media & entertainment, tech and more, simply fill out the form below.
 

Where next?

Tuning in to different audiences: how vintage TV soundtracks resonate online

Little Dark Age: Mapping the Evolution of a Meme