cry macho – marketing recap

How Warner Bros. has sold the latest Clint Eastwood joint.

Cry Macho poster

Remember when Unforgiven was considered “late career Clint Eastwood? Now that revisionist Western, which opened up a wave of similar films reevaluating the “good guys wear white hats, bad guys wear black” model of previous decades, turns 30 next year but Eastwood has continued steadily working, especially as a director.

This week Cry Macho, the latest in which Eastwood both appears and directs, comes to HBO Max as well as theaters. Based on the 1975 novel of the same name by N. Richard Nash, the story follows Mike Milo (Eastwood), a retired rodeo rider who now breeds and trains horses. Milo is approached by his former boss Howard Polk (Dwight Yokam) to travel to Mexico to find and ultimately bring back Polk’s son Rafeal (Eduardo Minett) who is involved in an illegal cockfighting ring there.

announcements and casting

Warner Bros. announced the movie in October, 2020. One of the first, albeit very brief, looks at the movie came via an HBO Max promo touting the same day theatrical/streaming availability of WB’s 2021 lineup.

Eastwood’s multi-pronged role was part of the original announcement but the rest of the cast wasn’t confirmed until after production, which took place with Covid-19 safety protocols in place, was completed in mid-December of last year.

A release date was finally announced in March, 2021.

marketing campaign launches

The marketing campaign officially kicked off just over a month ago in early August with the release of first look stills showing Eastwood, Minett and others along with comments from the actor/director about getting older, directing during the pandemic and more. Another piece with more from Eastwood and a second round of photos came out shortly after that.

The movie’s one and only poster is so on the nose in terms of what you’d expect from a 90 year old Eastwood it almost slips into parody. It just shows an extremely grizzled and leathery Milo looking off into the middle distance. Copy on the one-sheet explains this is “A story of being lost…and found.”

We hear all about how great Milo once was on the rodeo circuit as the trailer, also released at the beginning of August, opens. After engaging in some barbs with his former boss, he accepts the job of going to Mexico to find Polk’s son. But Rafeal isn’t exactly eager to return. The journey the two embark on won’t be smooth, we see, but it will involve more than a few opportunities for both a discussion of what being “macho” means and examples of what being a man actually looks like. It’s short on story and long on sentimentality, honing in on the idea of Eastwood himself and his character looking back over a long life of ups and downs.

Things were relatively quiet for a while with the exception of CinemaCon at the end of August, where Warner Bros. included footage from the movie in its presentation to exhibitors and press.

Just in the last week or so leading up to release things picked back up, starting with a featurette about the legacy of Eastwood as a director along with an overview of the story.

Another interview with Eastwood had him again talking about getting older as well as the experience of riding a horse on screen for the first time since Unforgiven.

Another featurette continued focusing on Eastwood’s legacy and how that translates to this movie.

Even more explicit was a short video that looked specifically at Eastwood’s evolution as a director going back all the way to Play Misty For Me with interviews from many of the actors that have appeared in his films along with fellow directors like Spielberg, Scorsese and others.

overall

With a very much middling 50% on Rotten Tomatoes, the movie seems like it might benefit from getting the hybrid theatrical/streaming release even more than other titles. There’s not a lot here for anyone who doesn’t already have decades of appreciation for Eastwood and his work. In fact the vast majority of the marketing only gives the smallest amount of attention it reasonably can to the story or anything about the movie itself, instead almost wholly focused on making sure the audience knows what a legend Eastwood is, not why they should see this film specifically.

That may work and it may not, but it doesn’t seem likely there will be a lot of word of mouth that carries this along in the weeks following release.

the card counter – marketing recap

How Focus Features has sold a drama from a Hollywood icon.

The Card Counter poster

The Card Counter, in theaters this weekend from Focus Features, is the latest feature from writer/director Paul Schrader, one of the foremost figures in the last 50 years of cinema. Oscar Isaac stars as William Tell, a former military interrogator who now makes a living as a gambler. One day a young man named Cirk (Tye Sheridan) tries to enlist Tell in a scheme to enact revenge on an officer Cirk served with and bears a grudge against. Hoping to turn Cirk from his path, Tell takes him on the gambling circuit. Financing them is La Linda (Tiffany Haddish), who also joins them on the road.

announcement and casting

The movie was first announced in October, 2019 when Isaac was cast. Tiffany Haddish, Tye Sheridan, and Willem Dafoe joined the cast in mid-February of 2020, about the same time Martin Scorcese, who famously collaborated with Schrader on several of the most important films of the last five decades, came on as an executive producer.

A first look still was released in mid-June of last year as production was resuming after a Covid-19-related shutdown had paused filming. Focus Features announced it acquired distribution rights a month later.

the card marketing

Things really started just a few months ago in July, when Focus Features announced the film’s world premiere would take place at the Venice Film Festival in early September.

The original song “Arise Sun” from Robert Levon Been came out at the end of July.

At that point the first trailer (2.8m views on YouTube) was released, the tension apparent from the start. Tell is talking about the weight of things past as it opens and we slowly learn more about him as things go on, including how he was sent to prison for crimes committed while he was in the service. Now free and making a living gambling, he’s backed by La Linda, who smells an opportunity to make money. Cirk’s intrusion on his life is unwanted, especially when Tell finds out what he’s up to but his presence sets a series of events in motion that may upset the life Tell has made for himself even as it offers a chance at closure.

Tell’s face looks out from behind a series of playing card faces on the highly-stylized poster, released a little later in mid-August. Scorsese’s name is prominently displayed at the top, indicating how much weight the studio believes he commands, especially when it’s paired with not only Schrader but also the high-profile cast. The vengeance/redemption storyline is hinted at in the copy “Reap what you sow.”

TV spots like this started running at about the same time, cutting down the story to much broader strokes but maintaining the tension and drama that was found in the full trailer. Even shorter videos served to introduce the individual characters.

Tell explains to La Linda that he’s not a typical gambler and why he’s trying to help Cirk in the first clip, also released in late August.

Schrader wound up being the central figure in the press campaign. Interviews with the writer/director had him talking about the influence his previous work with Scorsese had on this movie, the process of writing and shooting the movie, how he thinks the story reflects at least some of the trauma soldiers coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan can and will have and more.

He also spoke about what it was like shooting the film during Covid lockdowns and with strict protocols in place. Similar ground was covered in a joint interview with Haddish and Isaac as well as how the two actors bonded on set.

Three character posters released in early September showed the leads standing in front of playing cards. The same tagline is used here from the main poster, but what really stands out is the use of shadow, like they are actually standing in front of a physical object and it’s not just a background that’s been inserted.

The stars and director all appeared at the Venice Film Festival, doing interviews and otherwise promoting the film there.

AMC Theaters released a series of interviews with Haddish and Sheridan, both of whom also did a video for Regal Cinemas.

A featurette with Schrader had him talking about the story as well as how important it is to challenge the audience and make them work a little bit.

overall

With the film’s creative pedigree – both in front of and behind the camera – the positive festival reviews that have resulted in an 85% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes isn’t wholly surprising but still good to see.

The campaign has set a tense, dramatic tone from the outset, one that very much brands it as a movie intended for serious adult moviegoers. Schrader is clearly still a brand name with that crowd, which is why he’s been put front and center in the publicity. Isaac is conspicuously absent from all but a few interviews, but there are likely reasons for that. And it’s allowed Haddish to get a bit more time in the spotlight.

kate – marketing recap

How Netflix has sold another movie about an assassin with nothing left to lose.

Kate poster

There have been a number of movies in the last several years that have, essentially, taken different approaches to the John Wick model, that being a story about an assassin or hired killer who goes off the reservation for one reason or another. This week’s new Netflix release Kate, directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, follows in that sub-genre.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Kate, a highly proficient hitwoman working for the yakuza. When an assignment goes wrong, her employers decide to end their arrangement, poisoning Kate with an agent that will slowly kill her over 24 hours. With that much time to live, she decides to make the most of it by seeking out and killing those who have doomed her.

announcements and casting

After acquiring the project in script form in 2017, Winstead was cast in 2019, as was Harrelson.

Netflix announced in May that the movie would be coming to the streaming service later in the year. A September date was then set in mid-June.

the marketing campaign proper

Kate already suspects she’s been setup as the trailer (1.2m views onYouTube), released in early August, opens. She tells Varrick (Harrelson) as much, including that she believes she was poisoned before the botched hit, which was on the head of the yakuza. With her new friend Ani (Miku Martineau) in tow, and as her body slowly fails, she sets out to find the person responsible for setting her up, working through Tokyo’s underbelly one henchman and mid-level lackey at a time.

The brightly-colored poster came out at the same time. It shows Kate (looking very much the worse for wear as she holds her gun at the ready), Ani and Varrick in a neon frame that, along with the signs seen in the background, establishes the Tokyo setting. Above the title is the copy “There’s no time for mercy” that hints at the ticking clock nature of the story.

A more distilled version of the story was included in short promo spots like this that were published and run at the end of August and into early September.

An interview with Winstead had her talking about the refreshing lack of overtly gendered costumes and other elements along with how her stunt training for this film was able to build on what she was already doing for Birds of Prey.

There were a couple other interviews with the star, but most of them only briefly touched on this movie, instead focusing on her thoughts around returning as Huntress in another BoP entry.

overall

Reviews haven’t been overly positive, as the movie only has a 34% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. And yes, there have been at least two or three other movies about a female assassin out for revenge on the employers who have turned on her recently. But the same can be said for movies about men seeking revenge on those who killed their family, so I’m not sure that’s a valid criticism in and of itself.

The campaign Netflix ran has a lot of nice elements, but what comes across most to me is that it shows how versatile and yet tragically underused Mary Elizabeth Winstead is. That alone should generate some level of interest, with others vaguely aware of the movie until it turns up as a recommendation on Netflix and it’s deemed “good enough” on a Thursday afternoon.

shang-chi and the legend of the ten rings – marketing recap

How Marvel Studios has sold an expansion of its character roster with another origin story

shang-chi poster

Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings arrives as the latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe a scant two months after the last entry, Black Widow. The movie stars Simu Liu, the first Asian lead in a major superhero film, as Shang-Chi, a man who leaves his past behind as he sets out to define his own destiny. But his connections to a mysterious organization known as The Ten Rings and to his family may be things he can’t shake and has to confront.

The movie also stars Tony Leung as Wenwu, Shang Chi’s father who has his own secrets, Fala Chen as Shang’s mother Jiang Li, Awkwafina as Katy, a friend he makes in his time away and more. Notably, Benedict Wong reprises his Doctor Strange role as Wong and Ben Kingsley makes another appearance as Trevor, a character last seen in Iron Man 3 who was hired to pose as The Mandarin.

It’s directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, who cowrote the screenplay with Dave Callaham and Andrew Lanham.

announcement and casting

While the movie had been announced as “upcoming” well before that, the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con panel with Marvel Studios was where announcements regarding official release dates, cast and full title were revealed.

A couple months after SDCC 2019 Cretton was interviewed about his hesitancy to take on the project as well as what he hoped to accomplish with the movie.

In March of 2020 production was halted when Cretton self-isolated out of concern surrounding the Covid-19 outbreak. He later announced he was fine.

Several months later Disney pushed its release back at the same time it moved a number of other titles because of coronavirus closures.

In December of last year additional details, including cast members, were revealed during Disney’s investors presentation which coincided with the wrapping of production.

the marketing commences

The formal marketing campaign kicked off this past February when Marvel put out a video overview of the character to help introduce him to audiences who may not be familiar, which is nearly everyone, including long-time comics readers.

The first teaser (22.3m views on YouTube), released in April, introduces us to Shang-Chi and shows he is reluctant to embrace the destiny his father and others trained him for. But that reluctance isn’t stopping a variety of bad guys from coming after him, meaning he needs to put that training to use to survive. No one’s motivations are explained, but it sure does look cool, and that’s the goal of this first spot.

Shang stands in front of the 10 rings – all of them seemingly inscribed with runes – on the first poster (by marketing agency BOND), also released in April.

First glimpses at the film itself included in the studio’s “Marvel Studios Celebrates The Movies” video from early May.

The first real good look at Liu in costume as the title character came in May as part of an interview with him where they talked about getting involved with the movie and what the character meant to them. Later that month Disney CEO Bob Chapek confirmed the movie would receive an exclusive 45-day theatrical run instead of going to streaming simultaneously or shortly after that theatrical run. That put it in stark contrast to Black Widow, which recently had a simultaneous Disney+/theatrical debut.

More of the history of the power of the 10 rings and the connection they have to Shang-Chi’s family is explained in the second trailer, released in June. The trials – both physical and emotional – the hero is put through are shown, including how he wants to be his own man. Toward the end there are surprise appearances by not just Abomination but also Fin Fang Foom, of all things.

An EW cover story from July had Liu talking about the audition process along with lots more about getting to know the character and so on.

Advertising for the film essentially kicked off with an extended TV spot released in July that offers more details on how Shang attempts to reject his family’s legacy and entanglements but finds himself ultimately needing to confront things in order to become his own man.

A featurette released around that same time has the cast and crew talking about the characters and story as well as producer/overlord Kevin Feige making the first overt connection with the 10 Rings organization that was introduced all the way back in the original Iron Man, The Mandarin being a long-time adversary of that character in the comics.

The cast introduced their characters in another featurette where they also answered questions about themselves.

Shang-Chi is in the same pose on the second poster, released in July, that he was on the first. This time, though, he’s surrounded by the other characters, from Kate to his father, the latter looming in the background in the traditional “villain” position.

a marvel legend will rise

More TV commercials – also run as preroll on YouTube and as social promoted posts – continued to come out beginning in early August. As is the norm, each focused on a slightly different aspect of the story, from the action to the family drama to the humor and more. Some also included slightly better looks at characters like Wong and even Abomination.

Those spots also began positioning the film and the character of Shang-Chi as “a Marvel legend” that is finally getting the spotlight. That’s interesting branding in that it gives the character a little more importance, but it also makes you wonder why that debut is only happening now if the character is such a legend.

Additional posters came out that broke out each of the main characters onto their own one-sheet in early August. Shang-Chi is finally in an action pose on another poster that came out a week later.

Liu took issue with comments from Disney CEO Bob Chapek about this movie being “an experiment”, pointing out that Asian-American representation on film is necessary and good, not something to play around with to see if it works.

The world premiere red carpet event was held in Hollywood at the El Capitan in mid-August.

At the premiere, Feige responded to Liu’s comments, attempting to clarify that the “experiment” was in the 45-day theatrical exclusivity, but that feels like it only addressed part of the issue. There were also interviews with Liu, who espoused his opinion that the movie would be world-changing, and others at the premiere as well.

Run It” by DJ Snake, Rick Ross, Rich Brian from the movie’s soundtrack was also released in the middle of last month. That song was featured in another commercial.

Fandango MovieClips had the first clip, which shows Shang-Chi and Kate escaping a bunch of ninjas.

That “legend” branding was continued with a TV spot that starts out showing clips of Iron Man, Thor and Captain America, positioning Shang-Chi as a hero in the same vein, one who stands at the same level.

Tickets went on sale in mid-August, announced with another TV spot.

Around that time a special IMAX advance screening in select markets was announced with just about 24 hours notice, an attempt to create some buzz for the film by showing it off to more people.

Awkwafina talked about the movie and filming action sequences when she appeared on “Kimmel”. Liu also appeared on that show a few days later.

Another song from the soundtrack, “In The Dark” by Swae Lee feat. Jhené Aiko, came out later in August.

A scene from the trailers of Shang-Chi and Kate being attacked by assassins on a bus was expanded on in another clip.

An interview with Feige had the producer discussing some of the issues that had complicated or delayed the movie’s release in China, an important market for Marvel but one that is up for grabs here given the subject matter.

Cap, Thor and Iron Man make another appearance in a later TV commercial that hints at the 10 Rings themselves being not only powerful but also not from this universe.

The action sequences of the movie were covered in another featurette, with Liu talking about the choreography and filming.

How Awkwafina not only got involved in the project but also found herself leading the chemistry read sessions looking for the lead were covered in an interview with her. Liu expanded on the process that resulted in him being cast and how life-changing the opportunity is.

Similar to other films with Asian and Asian-American leads, the Gold House initiative organized a campaign to get people to theaters, partnering with GoFundMe for this one. The topic of Asian-American representation on film was also the subject of a joint interview with Awkwafina and Kumail Nanjiani, who stars in the upcoming Marvel Studios film The Eternals.

The “Rise” portion of the campaign came to an ending (more or less) with the release of a featurette with that exact name and about the debut of a character who is being set up as very important to the future of the MCU.

Leung finally got a profile of his own late last month, the emphasis being on the amount of preparation he did before filming his scenes and how he paid attention to what was happening even if he wasn’t involved on a particular day.

Format-specific posters were released in mid- to late-August for 4DX, ReadD 3D, Dolby Cinemas and IMAX.

overall

  • Considering everything that’s going on in the world right now – continued pandemic spikes, wildfires that are engulfing much of the western U.S., hurricane aftermath that has much of the southern U.S. underwater or utterly destroyed – the $50 million projection for opening weekend isn’t bad.
  • The “Rise of a legend” theme really tried to make Shang-Chi into something he isn’t in the comics, but is a good sign for what he might mean to the movies. It’s also an attempt by Marvel Studios to overdo it a bit in making the first Asian character to lead an MCU movie a big deal without earning it at all in previous entries.
  • It’s a bit surprising to me that there wasn’t much said or done to address how problematic and drenched in racist stereotypes Shang-Chi, The Mandarin and other supporting characters were in the comics. If you’re wondering why there aren’t new collected editions of old comics on sale right now, that’s why. But there could have been more acknowledging the past here.

candyman – marketing recap

How Universal is selling a sequel to a horror classic with a contemporary twist

candyman teaser poster

Candyman, believe it or not, is a direct sequel to the 1992 movie of the same name, taking the now standard approach of ignoring or at least discounting the two previous sequels. The movie stars Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Anthony McCoy, an artist who moves into Chicago’s Cabrini Green neighborhood with his girlfriend Brianna (Teyonah Parris). That neighborhood, now gentrified from its public housing roots, still has memories of the Candyman, a mysterious supernatural entity that could be summoned by those who say his name five times in a mirror. When Anthony begins exploring the long-dormant spirit in his artwork he not only unleashes the killer but also begins to chip away at his own sanity.

announcement and casting

While a fourth installment in the franchise had been rumored and in various stages of development since the early 2000s, it wasn’t until 2018 that things finally started to move forward. It was at that point that Jordan Peele came on as producer and Nia DaCosta as director. Both developments were positively received, especially in the wake of Peele’s breakout hit Get Out.

A year later Abdul-Mateen was cast, though initial reports had him playing the title role. Those were dispelled when it emerged that Tony Todd would reprise that role from the original, with Parris joining as well.

marketing kicks off, or at least tries to

The beginning of the formal marketing campaign was unfortunately timed for early 2020. In late February Universal offered those who included “candyman” five times in a Tweet an alert when the trailer was released a few days later.

As that first trailer (14.5m views on YouTube) opens, McCoy is moving into the Chicago neighborhood formerly known as Cabrini Green. He becomes obsessed with the local legend of The Candyman and begins depicting him in his art. All this while people in the area begin dying after invoking his name, something McCoy eventually begins to suspect he’s somehow tied to. It’s a suitably creepy trailer that plays up both Peele’s role as producer and DaCosta’s as director, giving the film a nice pedigree for audiences to latch on to.

The teaser poster, released around that same time, shows a honey-covered hook, a bee still clinging to the glazed metal. Audiences are encouraged to “Dare to say his name” on what is otherwise a white background that is still fairly ominous.

It wasn’t too long after that in April that the first release delay was announced as the movie was shifted from its original June date to September.

How black filmmakers were working to tell stories involving racial themes and from their own point of view within the horror/thriller genres was the subject of a substantial profile in August of last year that included DaCosta. She touched on the real life inspirations of some of the story elements and more as well.

In mid-June TV spots started coming out that continued teasing how the movie is about the legacy of Candyman and the role he plays in the community.

DaCosta appeared at the American Black Film Festival to show clips to the virtual attendees.

In September of last year, when the movie should have been hitting theaters, Universal bumped it again, just a bit to October. It was then taken off the calendar completely before the eventual move to August 2021 was announced, a date that actually stuck.

When the delay to 2021 was announced, DaCosta explained why seeing it in theaters was an important part of the intended experience as opposed to seeing it at home through VOD.

DaCosta made Variety’s 10 Directors to Watch list in early 2021.

An interview with costar Domingo Colman allowed him to talk about how DaCosta was approaching the story and the brutalization inherent in it respectfully, not how it’s often depicted by other filmmakers.

for real this time

The restart of the campaign came in June when a special Juneteenth message from DaCosta was announced. That video, which has her talking about the duality of the holiday and how the same kinds of themes are captured in the movie, was well-done and because of the commonalities between the holiday and the film, seems less opportunistic than some other attempts.

That was followed by the second trailer (27m views on YouTube) in June. McCoy is having the history of Candyman told to him, latching on to that story and the legends surrounding it. That makes it very creepy, even if it sacrifices a bit of the context around the characters and their story.

The poster released at that time shows what is presumed to be Candyman himself from the back, his hook visible as he raises his arm. This time the message to the audience is trimmed down to, simply, “Say it”, assuming we all know what that means.

The director was interviewed about how she has moved from small independent films to this being the first of two major studio releases she’s helming.

TV and social advertising picked back up in the wake of the trailer with videos that continued using the shadow puppet motif to help explain the legend of the spirit that haunts Cabrini Green.

Anthony is trying to convince a reluctant Brianna to summon Candyman in the first clip, released in mid-August.

A profile of Abdul-Mateen identified him as one of the biggest rising stars of the moment thanks to high-profile roles in this movie and a number of others.

Peele and DaCosta talk about their fascination with urban legends – including this one – and their desire to tell a horror story from a Black perspective in a short featurette. Another focused on the real life artists who created the works that, in the movie, come from Abdul-Mateen’s character.

Those same artists are part of a #TellEveryone social impact initiative, details of which can be found on the movie’s website. That initiative included a focus on Black artists, the history and importance of Black horror stories (a subject that got its own featurette) and more. Downloadable lesson-planning materials are offered on that page along with information on where to dive deeper and support related programs.

Anyone brave enough to take the challenge to say Candyman’s name five times online unlocked an exclusive, creepy filter that added swarming bees to their selfies.

Abdul-Mateen and Parris were part of an exclusive video interview from AMC Theaters.

An exclusive Fandango clip expands on a scene glimpsed in the trailer, of a bunch of teenage girls making the mistake of summoning the killing spirit.

One last TV spot includes not just footage from the film but also comments from the cast and crew, who name aspects of the story and the urban legend behind it to demonstrate its power.

Parris discussed the film when she appeared on “Late Night.”

overall

One of the issues the campaign has frequently worked to overcome is that, because of Peele’s involvement, he sometimes overshadows DaCosta. But the featurettes and other elements make sure to include her as often as they do him to make sure she gets as much attention as she deserves as the film’s director.

Other than that, Universal and the filmmakers have taken pains to make sure that this is positioned as more than just another sequel to a classic horror film. Instead it’s touted as a cultural event, part of a long legacy of urban legend building as well as a reflection (if you’ll pardon the term) of society and the trauma it inflicts on Black citizens.

Despite that, your reaction to the marketing will likely be dependent on your taste for horror films in general. Some will work past their aversion because the campaign promises a deeper story while others will pass because it’s just not their genre of choice.

respect – marketing recap

MGM brings the life and career of a musical icon to the big screen.

respect poster

Jennifer Hudson takes on the imposing real life role of the legendary Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin in this week’s new release Respect. The movie, directed by Liesl Tommy and written by Tracey Scott Wilson, follows Franklin from her childhood singing in a church choir through the early days of her career. It also covers the personal upheavals that were part of her life in that period, including what turned out to be an abusive marriage as well as her involvement in the civil rights movement in the second half of the last century.

casting and development

Hudson has been attempting to bring Franklin’s story to life for a number of years and the project even had the approval of the singer, who was involved in making it happen until she passed away a few years ago. That puts this film in stark contrast to the latest season of “Genius”, the anthology series on National Geographic, which has been denounced by Franklin’s family because they weren’t involved in that production. Cynthia Erivo portrayed Franklin in that series.

Over the course of 2019 Forest Whitaker and Audra McDonald were cast as Franklin’s parents while Marlon Wayans was brought on to play her first husband and Mary J. Blige as Dinah Washington, a pioneer in the genres Franklin would later dominate.

first marketing steps

A brief teaser – no footage, just Franklin singing the title song on stage – was released in late December 2019 to get things started.

The first poster (by marketing agency Concept Arts) came out at the same time and shows a long view of Franklin on a brightly lit stage. It’s the same basic visual aesthetic as the teaser, creating some nice consistency as the campaign kicks off.

It was June 2020 before the first full trailer came out. It’s fairly short but offers glimpses at the big beats of the story, from Franklin’s early struggles to her rise as an outspoken and unapologetic superstar. It’s surprising, though, how glitzed up the title song is here, as if the original isn’t powerful enough to stand on its own without a ton of additional production and layering.

Another poster came out then showing a closer look at Hudson as Franklin sporting her finest hairstyle and in her most luxurious coat. The light mint green of both the coat and the background set a 50s/60s vibe while the “The Queen arrives” copy makes it clear this is a story that doesn’t lack in ambition or self-confidence.

Late in the month Hudson appeared virtually at the BET Awards, performing an incredible rendition of Franklin’s “Young Black and Gifted.” The trailer was also aired as an extended ad during that broadcast.

A handful of new images from the movie debuted in Essence around that time as well.

Hudson discussed the movie as well as the imposing situation of portraying such a well-known singer on “Good Morning America” in September of that year. She was also named to Time’s 100 Most Influential People of 2020.

In a move that’s very much in-line with Franklin’s work for civil rights decades ago, Hudson and Wayans posted videos encouraging people to register to vote in what at the time were the upcoming elections. Future efforts in this portion of the campaign continued to come out through October and November, including contributions from Tommy and others.

Tommy discussed the movie in a virtual panel during 2020’s Mill Valley Film Festival in Octoer of that year.

EW featured a cover story package on the film in October that featured photos and interviews with most of the cast and crew.

pandemic delays

Originally scheduled for release in December of 2020, the coronavirus pandemic wound up delaying the movie, first just to January 2021 and then all the way to its current Augus release date. That final announcement was made in October of last year.

With that in place the marketing took a couple months off. Still, Hudson appeared on “Today” in February to talk about the movie and a Black History Month initiative she was undertaking with Mastercard – one of the movie’s promotional partner brands – focused on supporting Black small business owners. And musician Kris Bowers was interviewed about composing the film’s score.

let’s try this again

The campaign began ramping back up in May when Hudson stopped by “GMA” again to celebrate Franklin’s legacy and debut the final trailer.

That trailer starts off with a young Franklin getting a lesson both in singing and in life from her mother. When she’s older she’s seen by others as a genius but it’s not until she finds the songs she can truly connect to that her career takes off. But her personal life is less than perfect, even as she attains the kind of fame and notoriety she’s worked hard for.

The next poster shows Franklin performing with the copy “Find out what it means to me” overlaid on the photo. It’s not bad and continues the theme of focusing on Hudson as Franklin in mid-performance.

Tommy was interviewed about casting Hudson, respecting Franklin’s legacy and maintaining a cooperative atmosphere on set.

A video of Hudson reacting to comments and songs from The Queens was released in early June.

Later in the month a featurette came out that focused on Hudson’s transformation into the character of the real-life Franklin.

News came in late June that the movie would screen at the Locarno International Film Festival in August.

now with more songs

“Here I Am”, the original song from Hudson and cowriter Carole King that plays over the movie’s end credits, was released in mid-July. The two would later be interviewed together about the process of writing that song as well as Franklin’s enduring legacy and influence.

Hudson’s performances of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” came out in this period as well.

Around the same time commercials started coming out that recapped the story in 30 seconds, focusing on Hudson’s performance and her singing, of course.

Fandango MovieClips released an exclusive featurette with Hudson and others talking about Franklin’s impact on the world and the people around her came out in mid-July. Fandango also announced early screenings scheduled for the second week of August, an attempt to get word of mouth started before the release date. Fandango also had a brief teaser from Hudson sharing her approach to staying true to Franklin’s legacy.

Franklin performs “Respect” in front of a concert crowd in the first clip that came out in late July. Another clip shows Franklin and others noodling around with the rough version of what would later become that signature tune.

In late July the Wright Museum in Detroit hosted a massive mural of Hudson Franklin to celebrate the singer and promote the upcoming movie. That mural was created by students from the Detroit Academy of Arts and Sciences, with the process of making it captured in a short video.

Hudson and Wayans appear in a short video explaining how to demand respect from those around you as well as in awkward social situations.

More interviews with Hudson continued to come out over the last few weeks covering how she dove into playing Franklin, working with the singer on developing this movie for years and more. She was even interviewed by Oprah.

Wayans also got the occasional profile and interview about taking on a dramatic role and working with Hudson. Similarly there were also interviews with McDonald about the music and life of Franklin. Tommy and others spoke about staying true to both the singer’s life and her music. Wayans also appeared on “The Tonight Show” and “GMA” to talk about the movie.

Regal Cinemas, AMC Theaters

The premiere was held in Los Angeles last week with the cast and crew in attendance.

More clips offered glimpses at a performance of “Think” (though not the filming of The Blues Brothers) and other scenes.

Hudson performed with Jon Baptiste on “The Late Show”.

Steinway & Sons, the movie’s other major brand partner, announced just recently that it was auctioning off a specially-designed piano, with the proceeds designated for Hudson’s charitable foundation.

overall

You have to admire how, from the very beginning, the campaign went all-in on Hudson’s connection with Franklin and her commitment to honoring the late singer’s life and legacy. That’s been the central message of the entire marketing push from the moment production began back in mid-2019 right up through the conclusion.

Unfortunately initial reviews haven’t been overly positive, leading to a 64% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Most don’t fault Hudson’s performance as the Queen of Soul, though, instead focusing on the movie failing to break out of the biopic routines. But the messaging has been so earnest and the targeting of key moments in the campaign has been so finely-tuned that those lackluster reviews may not mean much.

While the story focused on Franklin’s early years, it’s worth noting here that she lost nary a step later in life. As proof of that, we’ll finish off with her 2015 Kennedy Center Honors performance of Carole King’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” including her shedding her coat like warrior shedding bulky armor before entering the field of battle.

free guy – marketing recap

how Fox Disney has sold an action-comedy about life inside a video game

Ryan Reynolds and Jodie Comer star in this week’s Free Guy, directed by Shawn Levy. Reynolds plays Guy, an NPC (non-playable character, i.e. background cannon fodder) in an open-world video game created by Antwan (Taika Waititi). When two of Antwan’s developers insert new code into the game, Guy becomes self-aware, realizing he lives in a video game. Millie (Comer), one of those developers, uses her avatar to explore the game and help Guy save the game before Antwan, who doesn’t care for the updates or the attention Guy’s self-directed actions has attracted.

The movie, which has a solid 86% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, was one of the last developed by 20th Century Fox before it was acquired by Disney a couple years ago. It finally hits theaters this week after a number of delays and a marketing campaign that has acknowledged those delays with winking humor.

announcement and casting

The movie had been in various stages of development at Fox for a few years, with Levy and Reynolds signing on in 2018/19, finally moving things forward. Comer joined in 2019, leading to production getting fully underway.

comic-con and the first marketing attempts

As the movie had its official coming out with a well-received panel at New York Comic-Con in October, Fox released a “Meet the Cast” video that had everyone talking about how excited they were to work with the others. It included Reynolds and Waititi claiming they have never worked together before, while Comer and Keery try to correct the record, a nice bit of fun that’s in line with the public personas of both actors.

Unfinished footage from the film was also shown off to NYCC attendees, while a sizzle reel of the panel and press activities from the convention was released shortly after it ended.

Guy takes on a traditional super hero pose on the first poster (by marketing agency LA), standing with his shirt opened to show what’s underneath, which in this case is just another shirt and tie. It’s meant to communicate his ordinary nature, that he’s not a hero and doesn’t have hidden abilities and thanks to Reynolds’ expression that comes off as genuine.

Reynolds and others traveled to Brazil in December to appear at CCXP, where they showed off the trailer and other footage while working to get the audience there excited for the film.

December 2019’s first trailer (14.4m views on YouTube) starts off very dramatically, identifying the film as coming from the same studio that brought audiences Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King (twice) before showing someone skydiving into an epic action sequence. It’s then that we meet Guy, a normal guy who takes all the violence and chaos around him in stride until he starts wondering if there’s more to life than constantly being held up at the bank where he works and being shot at all the time. Putting on a pair of glasses shows him the reality of the world around him and leads him to the realization he’s in a video game, but has the freedom to be the hero his world needs.

There’s more going on the second poster, released in December, as we see Guy strolling blindly down a city street that’s filled with the chaos of bombs being dropped, cars exploding and more. It conveys nicely the idea that he’s a character incapable of recognizing, much less impacting the events happening around him.

Another entry in the self-deprecating part of the campaign came in January with a video of Reynolds and Comer talking about the craft of acting, with Reynolds increasingly frustrated by how Comer is consistently referred to in the context of the awards she’s won.

Disney used the social media app Weibo to release a special poster designed in the style of Chinese tapestries to celebrate Lunar New Year.

delays, delays and more delays

Originally scheduled for summer of 2020, it was among the titles Disney delayed in a big announcement last April as the severity of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. and elsewhere was becoming clear.

When that announcement was made, Reynolds and others took it upon themselves to release an unfinished, watermarked clip of Guy in his apartment watching the news, all of which is horrible. The clip was meant to be both relatable given reality at the moment and to just keep the movie in everyone’s mind and includes the new date followed by a 🤞, which is a nice touch.

While there was a Total Film feature story on the film that included comments from Levy, Comer and Reynolds and a steady stream of new photos and other minor updates, things were quiet until October of last year.

That’s when the second trailer (2.6 million views on YouTube) came out, teased ahead of time in a video with the cast covering their bases by throwing out a number of potential release dates. It differs from the first trailer in a couple areas. First, it frames Guy’s epiphany that he and everyone he knows is living in a video game as a result of his crush on Milly. Second, it shows the chaos a free-range Guy has within the game and how it affects the real world, especially on the company that makes the game.

That second trailer gained more headlines for racking up over 55 million views in the first 24 hours following its release.

Another poster, this one showing Guy standing on a rooftop above the chaos of the city, came out at the same time.

At that point Disney was aiming for a mid-December release date, hopeful the pandemic would be receding into the background by then. The studio’s optimism was short-lived, though, and in November the movie was taken off the 2020 release calendar, with no new date announced until a month later.

ok for real this time

Fast forward to March 2021, when another video came out with Reynolds announcing a new (and eventually final) release date, though still in a way that played into the ridiculousness that had come before.

In May Disney CEO Bob Chapek confirmed the movie would receive an exclusive 45-day theatrical run instead of going to streaming simultaneously or shortly after that theatrical run.

There’s a bit more of the non-video game world that is impacting Guy’s existence in the next trailer (4.8m views on YouTube, released in early June. Other than that it hits many of the same beats as previous spots.

The whole cast shows up in a very typical action ensemble design on the poster released at that time. Differentiating it from something like an MCU entry is the upbeat and naive look on Guy’s face as he stands over everyone in the hero spot.

An interview with Comer in June had her talking about entering the world of action movies, working with Reynolds and more.

Lil Rey Howery, who plays Guy’s best friend in the game world, appeared at Essence Fest to promote the movie.

News came in late June that the movie would screen at the Locarno International Film Festival in August.

In mid-July Reynolds released a video that has Deadpool and Korg from the MCU reacting to the latest trailer. The mashup makes sense given Disney and Fox are now a single entity and that the movie stars both Reynolds and Waititi, who plays Korg.

Traditional 30-second spots began airing in mid-July that recapped the story and its visuals. Longer commercials obviously had more room to breathe but stuck to the same basic message.

Later spots expanded on what had come before while also pulling primarily from footage the audience has already seen. Of note, it was being positioned as the movie event of the summer, which may be a bit hyperbolic but what else are you going to do…

The first clip shows Guy and Millie pulling off a big fight in a nightclub. That clip really shows off the interplay between the two leads as well as the basic level of humor audiences can expect. Another has Guy being confronted by the police for breaking many of the game’s rules.

All the main characters got posters of their own (by marketing agency BLT Communications).

Guy and Millie have a meet cute over a Mariah Carey song in another clip. How important that song is to the movie and its story (it’s featured in nearly all the trailers and TV spots) was shared by Reynolds in an interview at the movie’s premiere.

Just how much Waititi riffed while on set was covered in a short featurette that had Levy, Comer and others praising his performance.

the comer and reynolds show

While it had been part of the campaign since the very beginning, the last few weeks featured a focus on Comer and Reynolds’ chemistry with a series of videos that had them playing off each other, often at Reynolds’ expense.

First, the two appeared in a promo video debating whether or not this qualified as a “date movie” especially in light of the social distancing of the last year and a half.

They then squared off in a test of their Canadian knowledge, the joke being that Comer is British.

These were fun largely because this is Reynolds’ brand in particular. For the last several years he’s consistently broken the fourth wall in his movie campaigns, so this makes a lot of sense and delivers what audiences have come to expect when he has a new movie coming out.

Individual videos had Comer and then Reynolds introducing their respective characters and having some fun with international translations of the movie’s title.

wrapping up the campaign

In early August Reynolds shared a video that had him showing off the massively bulked up physique he achieved in just a week, one that means he can no longer fit into the Deadpool suit but which allows him to appear as Dude in the movie.

A TV spot released just after that video came out showed off Dude and how he’s used by the game’s designers to try and reign in Guy.

Dolby and IMAX posters offered slightly different takes on what had come before, but they both still communicate how Guy is the lone calm in the center of endless chaos.

The movie’s premiere was held in Los Angeles last week, with Reynolds, Comer, Levy and others in attendance. At that premiere the cast and crew spoke about the unique approach they took to construct the world of the movie and more.

Comer made an appearance at the London premiere event as well.

Levy was the subject of a much-shared profile that dove into how he’s one of the most successful and hard-working comedy directors in Hollywood but has at the same time flown largely under the radar in terms of outsized press and attention. Many of the cast and crew praise Levy and his work ethic in that piece.

Overall

There have been so many campaigns over the last few months that have tried to be the end-all-be-all in jumpstarting theatrical moviegoing. Some have been more effective than others depending on where in the latest sub-cycle of the Covid-19 pandemic we are and what the audience’s appetite for breaking out of their new view-from-home norm might be.

The Free Guy campaign doesn’t make that kind of statement as explicit as the push for, say F9, but it’s still there lurking beneath the surface.

What may set this apart from what’s come before is that most of those earlier releases have been either thrillers or franchise action films while this one is clearly a comedy. That’s a different kind of communicable experience than just watching super heroes beat up bad guys or cars be pulled around by giant magnets. The campaign has played into that with its frequent tweaking of Reynolds’ and the focus on Waititi’s improv antics.

While the $15-18 million that’s predicted for the film’s opening weekend box-office may not be all that impressive compared to some other recent movies, it may actually represent a much more accurate look at how people are feeling about theaters since this one isn’t available for streaming simultaneously.

beckett – marketing recap

How Netflix has sold a drama of conspiracy and intrigue.

Beckett poster

John David Washington stars in the title role of this week’s new Netflix release Beckett. Beckett and his girlfriend April (Alicia Vikander) are vacationing in Greece when the two are involved in a terrible car accident that kills April and leaves Beckett alive but injured. He finds answers about what happened surprisingly hard to come by, with officials reluctant to mount any sort of investigation. Soon Beckett finds himself on the run as he tries to reach the U.S. embassy in Athens before those on his trail kill him.

The 64% Fresh rating the movie has on Rotten Tomatoes indicates middle reviews in advance of it hitting Netflix this week. Let’s take a look at how it’s been sold to date.

announcement and casting

Washington and Vikander, along with costars Boyd Holbrook and Vicky Krieps, were all included in the cast list when the movie was announced in early 2019. At that time the film was titled Born To Be Murdered, which is simultaneously both more interesting than its current moniker and more vague and confusing.

Netflix acquired the title in October of 2020, retaining the original title (for the moment) but not immediately setting a release date. The new, current title was announced in April of this year.

the marketing proper

The first poster (by marketing agency Concept Arts) came out in late June, marking the first element in the official marketing campaign. It’s a bit vague in how it shows Beckett walking across the roof with a gun in his hand, but it still helps to set a tone for the film. Still, it isn’t an overly-engaging design and without any kind of copy to help out there’s little to explain the story or plot to the audience.

That poster release also served as an announcement the movie’s premiere would happen at the Locarno International Film Festival in August, just days before its planned release.

Beckett and April are enjoying their secluded Greek vacation as the trailer (1.5m views on YouTube), released at the beginning of July, opens. After a car accident kills April and leaves him injured, Beckett finds no one will believe there may be witnesses to the accident. When he investigates on his own he winds up being hunted and chased by those who want him silenced. Even the American embassy isn’t of much help, leaving Beckett on his own to find out what he’s stumbled into the middle of and try to survive.

The second poster came out in mid-July and shows a closeup of Beckett, obviously a bit confused, or at least on high alert. Again, this isn’t the most engaging or informative poster, despite the inclusion of copy reading “Survival lies within.” But it does show the movie is focused on Washington, who might be on the run in some manner.

During the Locarno Film Festival Washington and director Ferdinando Cito Filomarino were interviewed, the former talking about this being a different kind of role for him compared to some of his other recent work and the latter about why he wanted Washington and what kind of influences he pulled from while making it. The actor also spoke at the festival about the importance of the theatrical experience

overall

Netflix’s campaign has some good things going for it, especially the charisma that Washington seems to bring to all his roles. The posters are unfortunately a bit lackluster, however, and don’t adequately convey key elements of the story in an efficient and easily-comprehended manner. And it didn’t receive a whole lot of social media support from the brand in the lead-up to release.

The greatest sin, though, has nothing to do with the marketing and everything to do with a story that a) casts Alicia Vikander as “generic girlfriend” and b) kills “generic girlfriend” in order to set the plot in motion. It’s notable that she’s nowhere to be seen in the publicity for this movie, though whether that’s because her role appears to be thankless or because she was just out there for Green Knight is unclear.

the suicide squad – marketing recap

Sequel? Reboot? Both?

“OK, let’s try this again.”

That seems to be the prevailing attitude in the leadup to Warner Bros.’ release of The Suicide Squad, coming to theaters and HBO Max this week.

Like 2016’s Suicide Squad, this movie is about a group of super-villains who have been captured by the government and coerced by security operative Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) into taking on dangerous missions in exchange for reductions to their sentences. This time that mission involves hunting down The Thinker (Peter Capaldi), who has unleashed a giant alien starfish named Starro who can control people’s minds.

In addition to Davis, Margot Robbie returns as Harley Quinn – widely seen as the best part of the first film – as does Joel Kinnaman as Col. Rick Flag and Jai Courtney as Captain Boomerang. They’re joined by Idris Elba as Bloodsport (taking the place of Will Smith’s Deadshot), John Cena as Peacemaker and a handful of others as the Squad is greatly expanded this time around.

Technically a sequel in that it continues the story from that first movie and features some of the same characters, WB seems eager to take the few things people liked about the first entry and eject the rest, hoping to put the poor commercial and critical reception it received five years ago in the rearview mirror.

This despite how, in the wake of Zack Snyder being given the opportunity to revisit his abandoned Justice League project for HBO Max, some fans have taken it upon themselves to call for director David Ayer to be given the same opportunity with Suicide Squad. In this case it wasn’t Joss Whedon stepping in to finish the film but a trailer editing firm that took control of the final cut.

from rumor to reality

In late 2018 a possible sequel was still just that: possible. It was one of a handful of rumored projects that would bring Robbie back as Harley, some of which have fallen by the wayside with the exception of last year’s Birds of Prey.

Plans firmed up in early 2019 when WB confirmed earlier reports it had hired director James Gunn, who had recently been fired from his Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 gig by Marvel Studios following a controversy drummed up by right-wing trolls, though he’d eventually get that job back. In fact one of Gunn’s first interviews after WB’s announcement, part of the promotional cycle for Brightburn, had him commenting on how working on TSS helped him deal with the disappointment he felt over the whole Marvel incident.

After plenty of speculation, rumors and reports about what characters would appear, Gunn finally unveiled the official cast list in September, 2019. A few months later in December Gunn along with Braga sent a video message to attendees of CCXP promising they would love the film being made.

Well before the rest of the campaign launched, Gunn celebrated his birthday by sharing the movie’s title treatment in August, 2020. Members of the cast also sent him a birthday message.

dc fandome fun and more

At that time the director along with members of the cast were revealed as part of the talent lineup for DC’s “Fandome” virtual event. A “remix” of a Zoom panel with Gunn and the movie’s cast continued to set the stage for Fandome.

Two videos came out during Fandome. The first was a behind-the-scenes sneak peak that has Gunn and the cast talking about how funny, action-packed and overall unbelievable the movie was going to be. The second was a “Roll Call” of just some of the characters included in the film and the actors playing them.

Gunn showed off not one but two versions of some promotional artwork during the Fandome period.

The first official poster (by marketing agency Works Adv) also came out during the event. Not only does it show off how many characters are part of the story but the way it has each one’s name obscuring part of their face is a nice artistic touch that speaks to the different tone and feel of the movie compared to the first one. Each one of those characters was also broken off into its own poster.

In advance of Fandome a new Suicide Squad video game was teased by Rocksteady Games. While it’s not directly tied to the movie, the trailer released during the event for Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League shows the game pulls a lot of visual and character inspiration from the films.

Courtney spoke briefly about the film while promoting other projects.

Empire ran a cover story on the film back in October of last year. That included comments from Gunn about how he had broad latitude to kill whatever characters the story necessitated.

More promotions for the movie were run during 2020’s CCXP, the second year in a row for the movie at that event.

hbo max and Peacemaker spinoff

With a successful Fandome event having revived some of the positive buzz for the Suicide Squad brand and anticipation running high, WB in September 2020 announced a spinoff series focused on Peacemaker, the character played by Cena, for HBO Max.

Then the big news came. Namely, that this movie like the rest of WB’s 2021 release slate would debut simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max, an adjustment made to not only boost the fledgling streaming service but also accommodate what at the time were still a lot of unknowns around the Covid-19 pandemic.

Gunn was among the high-profile directors who weren’t thrilled with that decision, stating his opinion in a few interviews. Since then, though, he’s remained mum on the subject.

One of the first, albeit very brief, looks at the movie came via an HBO Max promo touting the same day theatrical/streaming availability of WB’s 2021 lineup. Another promo showed off a bit more footage.

Cena showed off his Peacemaker costume when he appeared on “The Tonight Show” in February and then did likewise on “The Late Show” in early April. A short while later Kinnaman appeared on the same show to talk about the film and more.

the marketing begins…and King Shark is a shark…

In advance of the first trailer in March two posters came out. The first (by marketing agency Concept Arts) has a retro feel, showing the main characters looking like cereal box action figures on a poster that has artificial creases in it from where the downtown grindhouse theater folded it for storage.

The second features the same characters and a similar design but without the retro conceit. This time it’s all slick and modern but still fun and outrageous, the leads framed by a giant star in the background.

The first trailer (1.9 million views on YouTube) is awesome. It shows the basic story but is primarily focused on setting a much different tone for this movie compared to the first one. Among the better moments shown here are:

  • Harley completely undoing the team’s efforts to rescue her
  • King Shark eating a guy head-first
  • Harley saying “If you cough without covering your mouth, you die.”
  • A beach full of dicks
  • Starro, ladies and gentlemen

It’s insane and looks like a lot of fun. And it led to a revival of Steely Dan’s “Dirty Work”, which the trailer’s sound designer commented on.

More character posters (by Concept Arts) were released at the end of March, showing some sort of object or symbol exploding behind that character. It’s a continuation of a visual theme established in the trailer with a shot of Harley tearing through a hallway firefight as colorful animated flowers burst from the background. By taking this approach it also continues establishing a much different visual identity for the movie from the “Hot Topic on ecstasy” tone of the first movie. These were also used in house ads appearing in DC books in the months leading up to release.

The first TV spot came out a bit after the trailer’s release, offering a cutdown version of that longer video that still had plenty of action and humor.

A green-band version that added a few more scenes and moments but otherwise hit most of the same beats came out a short while later.

In an interview with Total Film, Gunn talked more about how he wound up signing on to the movie and the amount of creative freedom – specifically to kill whichever characters he needed to to tell his story – the studio gave him. Robbie was also interviewed about the evolution of Harley Quinn in the film.

“Suicide Squad: Get Joker!”, a new three-issue mini-series from Brian Azzerello and Alex Maleev, was announced by DC in April and scheduled for release just days ahead of the movie hitting theaters and screens. There was also a King Shark one-shot with a preview of the Azzerello/Maleev series planned for Free Comic Book Day, which this year is happening the week after the movie’s release. DC also announced in May that many of its biggest titles would feature movie-inspired covers in August.

An interview with Kinnaman in June had him praising the film, saying it was “insane” and a lot of fun.

Also in June it was announced the movie would screen in August at the Fantasia International Film Festival.

The team runs through a deluge of both rain and tiny mind-controlling Starro spores on the next poster, released toward the end of June.

The second trailer (11.4m views on YouTube) also came out at that time, featuring similar levels of insanity and chaos as the first one.

Peacemaker clears up some confusion about what exactly “Project Starfish ” is and Polka Dot Man becomes a super hero in an extended TV spot from the end of June.

featurettes, more tv spots and plenty of goofy press

Fandango MovieClips got an exclusive featurette in July that had the cast talking about the unique vision Gunn brought to the project, filming the elaborate – and often practical – stunts and more.

A wide-ranging interview with Gunn had him reliving the moment he came onto the project following being fired by Marvel Studios, the attitude he tried to bring to the movie and more.

There were also a number of additional profiles and interviews with Robbie

Positive initial reactions followed a screening for press in July. That screening included a Q&A with Gunn and others where they talked more about the ridiculousness of Starro as a villain and other topics.

IMAX had an exclusive featurette, released in early July, that had Gunn and the cast talking about how the scale of the movie had to be seen on the big screen to be fully believed and enjoyed.

Another longer one goes behind the scenes, introducing some of the characters, including a few that hadn’t previously been given much of a role in the campaign.

Smashbox, one of the only promotional partners apparent, introduced a line of movie-inspired makeup products.

In what’s probably the best of the posters, the team is seen walking across a landscape which, upon further inspection, is actually Amanda Waller’s face.

WB celebrated Shark Week with a King Shark-centric spot that has Waller explaining a bit more about who he is and the rest of the team reminding him that eating people is only alright if they’re not his friends.

Red, the camera-production company, released a featurette with Gunn explaining how valuable those cameras were to making the movie he envisioned.

Gunn, Robbie and Cena – the latter once again in full costume – appeared on “Kimmel” in late July. Around that same time Courtney was interviewed about the movie, calling out the emotional heart that lies within the story.

The team is once again charging at the camera on the IMAX-exclusive poster.

That was later complemented by a TV spot hyping IMAX as the biggest and best way to see all the action.

AMC Theaters announced in July that those attending opening night screenings would receive an exclusive comic book.

Around this time outdoor and online ads using elements of the key art, especially from the second main poster.

the suicide squad online ad

grandson & Jessie Reyez released a video for “Rain,” a new song from the movie’s soundtrack, at the end of July. That video features appearances from some of the cast, their characters enjoying a night out before military bursts in and takes them away.

The cast, including Stallone, Melchior and others, continued doing various press appearances either in-person or virtually to hype of the film.

The Detachable Kid’s powers are featured in a clip that shows even Harley can’t believe what’s happening.

Just how low-rent the team is seen to be is communicated on another poster showing them arriving at the scene in an ancient broken down bus.

Bloodsport was added as a playable character in Fortnight.

One more bit of promotional art was released showing the team lying on the ground in the middle of a giant starfish drawing. The idea here – reinforced by the “Don’t get too attached” copy at the top – is to spur questions about which of the team is dead and who’s just sleeping.

Cena, Gunn and others appeared on a movie-themed episode of “Wipeout” earlier this month.

David Dastmalchian was interviewed about playing an insane, random character like Polka Dot Man.

Gunn and the cast, along with plenty of others, all showed up at the U.S. premiere of the movie in Los Angeles earlier this week. There they talked about how Gunn brought his unique level of insanity to the script

At earlier premieres and publicity tour stops, various incarnations of Starro – either as art installation or giant inflatable starfish – were used to create a unique visual spectacle.

In another substantial interview, Gunn touched on a number of topics related to the movie including why it was so much fun to write for Robbie’s Harley Quinn, what DC plans might be in his future, the “Peacemaker” HBO Max series and lots more. In another interview he shared how insistent he was on an R rating for the movie and what other conditions he had when signing on and how he wound up casting fellow director Taika Waititi in a small role.

The stars participated in an exclusive video interview for Regal Cinemas

conclusion, or “it’s king shark’s world, we just live in it

First, let’s address the Ayer in the room.

As mentioned above, ever since The Snyder Cut of Justice League became a thing a similar subgroup of fans has been demanding David Ayer be allowed to release his cut of Suicide Squad. The cast was even compelled to comment on the possibility of it happening at the premiere earlier this week.

To his credit, Ayer himself has been relatively mum, only recently releasing a statement that yes, an edit of the movie exists that’s vastly different than the theatrical version. But he also doesn’t seem bitter about it, essentially chalking it up as one more difficulty in his life he’s overcome and a story he isn’t eager to share since it would betray confidences and sour relationships. He ultimately clearly and publicly supports the new movie and Gunn’s vision for the characters.

That’s awfully big and mature of Ayer since the dominant theme of the marketing for The Suicide Squad has been “this one is different.” Brighter colors, less of a cubic zirconia vibe to the visuals and more of an emphasis on the humor inherent in the concept, especially given there’s a massive walking and talking shark involved.

King Shark Hand GIF by The Suicide Squad - Find & Share on GIPHY

The projected $30-40m opening weekend needs to be viewed on a sliding, pandemic-adjusted scale as it’s not indicative of either how well the marketing seems to have been received by the general public or the positive buzz and early reviews that have earned it a 94% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes (which is nearly four times higher than that of the first movie). By focusing on Gunn’s involvement, a clear difference has been drawn by Warner Bros. that could make this movie a hit both on streaming and in theaters.

stillwater – marketing recap

How Focus Features sold a politically-charged drama.

(ed note: This should have been published last week, but life got in the way. Let’s move on…)

Director Tom McCarthy is back with Stillwater, in theaters now. Matt Damon stars as Bill Baker, an oil worker whose daughter Allison (Abigail Breslin) has been imprisoned in Marseille, France for the last four years. She was accused of killing her roommate but maintains her innocence. When she slips Bill a note with more information about the killing it sets into motion a series of events that has Bill doing his own investigation, lying when he needs to and doing whatever he can to free his daughter.

The movie has arrived with a campaign that’s been equally heavy on the drama of a father/daughter relationship and the political environment surrounding its release. Generally positive reviews has resulted in a 76% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so let’s see how the rest of the campaign was arranged.

The Posters

“Secrets run deep” we’re told on the first poster (by marketing agency BOND), released in May. Baker is largest element in the design, looking at the camera while around him are scenes showing the French setting of the story as well as a body floating in the water, clearly unwell.

The Trailers

The trailer (6.6 million views on YouTube), released in mid-May, clearly shows what the story entails and what audiences can expect. We see Bill travel to France to try and get Allison out of jail after she’s been arrested for murder, and that his efforts are going to be more difficult than anticipated. He’s an arrogant American, after all, presented as almost a caricature, and refuses to accept that a different approach may be necessary. There are some hints of more going on, that there may be some conspiracy at work, but for the most part it’s sold as the story of an American who’s angry he can’t bully his way through the system.

Online and Social

Not much on the ticket-focused official website, but the movie’s social profiles offer some good additional information.

Advertising, Publicity and Promotions

A first look at Damon as Baker came out in May accompanied by comments about the film and its story from McCarthy.

The actor appeared on “Today” shortly after that to talk about the movie.

News broke in June that the Cannes Film Festival would act as the movie’s world premiere.

Cottin was interviewed about what she thought after first reading the script and more.

Promo spots like this began airing at the beginning of July, cutting the story down and focusing on the drama of Bill’s love for his daughter and his attempts to prove her innocence.

A first clip showing a scene between Bill and Allison was released during Cannes. Another clip came out a short while later.

That Cannes screening was well-received, generating positive buzz for the film and Damon in particular. The actor was interviewed about his character and what he learned while preparing for the role. There was also much made of Damon’s emotional reaction to being back in a theater with other people.

More TV spots and other promos continued the buzz out of Cannes, all of them hitting roughly the same few beats as what had come before.

Damon appeared on “CBS Sunday Morning” to talk about the movie specifically as well as the more general return of theatrical moviegoing. Cottin later talked about the movie and more on “60 Minutes.”

An exclusive AMC Artisan Films featurette had comments from the cast and McCarthy about the story and more. The movie’s producer also spoke about filming in Oklahoma in an interview with the Oklahoma Film + Music Office. Regal Cinemas later offered an exclusive video interview with the cast, as did Cinemark.

Damon made another appearance on “GMA” just before release, with Breslin doing likewise a few days later.

The movie’s premiere was held in New York City last week, the cast and crew in attendance. This was Focus Features’ first in-person premiere since the beginning of the Covid pandemic last year.

An interview with Damon about what he learned – both about the people and their jobs – while shadowing oil roughnecks in preparation for the role was the first of many similar profiles to hit similar topics. Similar ground was covered in additional interviews with Damon and McCarthy where they talked about the political divide in the U.S., how respectful the movie is to the people it portrays

One more clip came out, this one exclusive to Fandango MovieClips.

News came just a week or so ago about a tie-in true crime podcast hosted by Marcia Clarke and produced by Focus Features in partnership with the L.A. Times.

An interview with McCarthy about how the story was developed resulted in Amanda Knox, famously imprisoned overseas for similar charges, to criticize an attempt to make money off her circumstances and experience. All that seemed to do was raise the profile of the movie a bit in the days before release.

A final profile of Damon focused on the actor’s ability to disappear into roles and how that serves him in this movie.

Overall

Two things:

  • If I were a cynically-minded person, the shift in the last week or two of the campaign to focus on the research Damon did in real roughneck communities and more might seem opportunistic. So many movies in the last five years have been slammed by right-leaning media anytime they portray blue collar workers or others who generally identify as conservative. This seems like an attempt to head such criticism off, with Damon and McCarthy taking pains to explain how respectful and accurate these portrayals are.
  • Labeling Damon as a kind of chameleon actor who disappears into his performances is…a stretch. He’s such a bankable face and persona that the posters for his movies – including this one here – almost universally use a giant photo of his head as the primary element. But points for trying.

Aside from those observations, it’s not a bad campaign, especially if you consider that the primary audience seems to be people in mostly red states who are alright with a gay daughter in the story if it means the righteous American character gets to be mean to a bunch of French jerks.