Missing persons flyers joined ads for roommates and campus events this month on ASU’s concrete signposts.
There has not been a sudden increase in missing people near campus, though — former ASU psychology major Bret Thomas started putting up the posters to promote his new short film, “The Lakeside Killer.”
Thomas said he used pictures of his friends and made up fake names and fake information for the posters.
The posters have created a buzz on campus, but Thomas said no one seems to be upset.
“While on campus, I have heard people talking about it, mostly questioning if it’s real,” he said.
Thomas’s documentary-style murder mystery was filmed in Tempe.
He said there are missing people in the film, and the idea for the publicity stunt evolved when a friend told Thomas the posters could help send people to their website.
“Presenting it as if it’s real is kind of the fun of the genre,” Thomas said.
The posters include the web address where students can view Thomas’s film, and he said he thinks his publicity stunt has been working.
He said the website has 2,000 hits so far, and his movie has 700 views.
“That’s pretty good for less than three weeks for a 30-minute movie,” he said.
He said he double-checked to make sure there were no real missing people with the same name as the fake names he put on his flyers.
Thomas said he spoke with both a lawyer and a police officer to make sure he would not get into any legal trouble for what he was doing.
“They both said as long as its made clear that there is a disclaimer, then it is protected under First Amendment rights,” Thomas said.
Assistant Chief of Police Jim Hardina said there have not been any complaints about the fake missing persons posters.
“The panels that they posted on are First Amendment forums, and as long as it’s not something illegal, then they can pretty much say whatever they want there,” he said.
“The Lakeside Killer” cinematographer Billy Russell said he was interested to see how this stunt would play out.
He said he didn’t see any reason for people to be upset, though.
“It’s fictional,” he said. “It’s not like we targeted anyone who was not willing to be on the posters.”
Photography sophomore Katie Dunphy said she questioned whether the posters were real when she first saw them.
She said she thought they could be a practical joke or promotion for an event, especially because it’s almost Halloween.
Dunphy said as an art student she appreciates any way to get work noticed or publicized.
“Obviously (the stunt) drew attention and people recognized it,” she said. “As an art form, I say, ‘Right on.’”
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