don’t worry darling – marketing recap

How Warner Bros. has sold movie that’s been as dramatic off-screen as it is on-screen

Don’t Worry Darling, new in theaters this week from Warner Bros., stars Florence Pugh and Harry Styles as Alice and Jack Chambers, a young couple whose marriage is tested by the mysteries of the town they live in, Victory, CA. Victory is a company town created by Jack’s employer, run by Frank (Chris Pine). Alice becomes obsessed with discovering the truth behind the enigmatic “Victory Project” her husband works on and her investigation leads to problems throughout the town and its citizens.

Olivia Wilde directed the movie and plays Alice’s friend Bunny, married to Bill (Nick Kroll). Kiki Layne, Kate Berlant, Gemma Chan and others also play members of the Victory community.

There’s lots going on here, some of which even has to do with selling the movie to audiences, so let’s take a stiff drink and get started.

announcement and casting

After reports there were multiple interested parties the script was finally acquired last August by New Line in a deal reported to be unusual in the high “backend” fees the creators can see if/when the movie succeeds.

Wilde shared a first look on Instagram in March but it wasn’t until September that New Line/Warner Bros. set a 2022 release date.

Warner Bros. gave CineEurope attendees a look at the movie in October 2021.

In other interviews later that year Wilde shared how the films of Adrian Lyne served as inspiration and warned audiences should expect to see more female desire and pleasure than is usually shown in films.

WB finally shared a release date in late April and made the movie part of their CinemaCon presentation to exhibitors and journalists. Things got weird, though, when Wilde was served with legal papers on stage, reportedly custody papers from her ex-husband Jason Sudekis. A back and forth over who knew what when commenced over the next few weeks.

This is no longer the weirdest off-topic anecdote about this film, as we’ll see later.

the marketing campaign

The first trailer (5m YouTube views) was released at the beginning of May. It opens showing a party with all the key characters having a good time before offering us a glimpse of how in love Alice and Jack are. Frank then explains, via voiceover, how important the wives are to the work their husbands are doing for the mysterious “Victory Project”, which the women are encouraged to not ask about. When Alice starts doing just that strange things start happening, including a couple suicides and other incidents. In the end it looks like a slightly trippy drama about the illusory nature of 1950s domestic bliss and all its confines.

A plane flies over the idyllic planned suburb of Victory on the poster released in mid-June, but a trail of smoke comes from the back of the plane. Not only that, but on the motion version of the poster the whole image flips upside down, indicating everything isn’t as it seems.

There’s even more of an overt horror vibe given off by the second trailer (2m YouTube views), which came out in July. We get the same basic premise as the first, but the strange hallucinations and other happenings begin even sooner and are even more disturbing.

Shortly after that confirmation came the film was scheduled to screen at the Venice Film Festival.

Chan was featured in a cover story for Harper’s Bazaar UK. A short while later Pugh got similar treatment on the U.S. version of Harper’s while Styles was profiled in, naturally enough, Rolling Stone.

Another motion poster takes the image of Jack and Alice in a warm embrace and mixes in a few quick glimpses of something terrifying lurking beneath the surface.

At the end of August Wilde was the subject of a Variety cover story in which she praised the other actors, talked about the film’s sexuality and lots more. It also served as the flame striking the tinder of a number of controversial issues and topics, many of which dominated as everyone prepared for Venice. They included:

  • Wilde’s assertion she fired Shia LaBeouf, who had originally been cast as Jack, in 2020, citing his “combative” on-set energy. LaBeouf subsequently denied he was fired but that he quit, with the truth eventually landing somewhere in the middle.
  • While Wilde had nothing but nice things to say about Pugh, the latter didn’t offer her own comments for that story, resulting in continued suspicion of on-set tension between the two and a general lack of enthusiasm on Pugh’s part to promote the movie.

Another interview with Wilde later on had her saying that as steamy as some of the shots in the trailers are, the MPA cut out even more explicit clips. She also shared how the lousy experiences she’s had on previous projects has informed her own directing approach and who the real-life inspiration for Pine’s character was.

As Venice approached things continued to get uncomfortable when it was reported Pugh was to be on the red carpet for the screening but not participate in the press conference with the rest of the cast.

That press conference and screening were notable for many reasons, including:

  • Wilde refusing to comment on her reported conflicts with Pugh
  • The festival moderator intercepting questions about LaBeouf so Wilde wouldn’t have to answer them again
  • A massive internet investigation into whether Styles spit on Pine at the screening (he didn’t)
  • Pine’s many fantastic facial expressions at the press conference that quickly became memes on social media

Things got more tense when Pugh said she wouldn’t attend the film’s New York premiere, once again citing her commitment filming Dune Part 2.

All that tension was once more dismissed by Wilde as the internet eating itself in another profile about how her personal life has become so enmeshed with the promotion of this movie.

At the beginning of September IMAX announced it would feature a live Q&A session with the cast in advance of early screenings of the movie just before the official release date.

An exclusive Dolby Cinemas poster was a reworking of the image of Jack and Alice in bed.

The first clip offers an extended look at the dinner scene where Alice challenges many of the other attendees, especially Frank, as she looks for deeper answers than she’s been getting about what it is the guys are working on and where everyone else is from.

Another clip shows Alice having a very odd moment in front of some dance studio mirrors, a moment glimpsed in the trailers.

Cinematographer Matthew Libatique did what he could to talk about the film’s look and feel in an interview of his own but also had to deny there was any on-set tension between the talent.

Wilde appeared on “The Late Show” to promote the film and talk about her character but also, of course, had to deny Styles spit on Pine and so on.

overall

There’s at least some speculation that, based on tracking, the film could open to a healthy $20 million in its first weekend, either in spite of or because of all the drama and controversy that has enveloped it and seeped out into the public conversation.

The campaign itself is pretty good, dipping occasionally from being a straight drama to elements that are more in the realm of psychological thriller. Pugh is clearly the main attraction here as she’s seemingly asked to carry the burden of the story while all the other actors support her.

It’s a shame, then, that it’s been overwhelmed by all the inside-baseball rumor mills and other pettiness. The press cycle could have been about Wilde’s second directorial outing after the much-acclaimed Booksmart and other more relevant topics, but instead we’re trading gossip like we all just came out of a junior high assembly. If I were a cynically-minded person I’d say that’s been the focus because it gives the press (and public) an opportunity to once again pit one woman against another.

constantine rises again

What the hell(blazer)?

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one taken by surprise last week when Warner Bros. announced it was producing a sequel to 2005’s Constantine, including the fact Keanu Reeves was returning to the title role and that director Francis Lawrence – who in the intervening years has directed or is planning to direct four of the five movies in the Hunger Games series – was also coming back.

The reasons the news came as such a shock were many and varied, including in no specific order:

  • While it was a decent success at the box-office, I didn’t think the 2005 original was particularly beloved. Surely there are some that have remained or become fans of the movie, but reaction to the original wasn’t all-that positive. A lot of folks criticized it at the time because they didn’t think the character on screen bore much aside from the name in common with the one found in the comics published by DC/Vertigo.
  • A lot of that came down to the fact that being from working class Liverpool is kind of key to who Constantine is and how he acts, with Reeves not conveying any of that.
  • There’s also the fact the movie version relies a lot more on gadgets and weapons and a lot less on sleight of hand and con artistry, which again is a big part of who the character is.
  • On the other hand, the character of John Constantine has been played by Matt Ryan since 2014, first in his own show (unceremoniously canceled by NBC during its first season) and then as a recurring/regular character on “Legends of Tomorrow” after an appearance on “Arrow.”
  • Ryan’s take on Constantine has been so popular he’s also voiced the character in a series of animated features and shorts.

Tv Show Constantine GIF by Warner Archive - Find & Share on GIPHY

I should state here that in the wake of the news I made the decision to rewatch Constantine, likely for the first time in at least 10 years. While it’s an entertaining enough Keanue Reeves supernatural thriller, the criticisms about this take on the character are absolutely well-founded. At one point Lucifer warns John about not pulling another con on him, but the line is completely unfounded as Constantine hasn’t conned anyone in the film. He *has*, though, blown up a bunch of demons with a massive grenade launcher thing.

Ryan’s take on the character, though, is much more like the original Hellblazer, and it’s a shame that 1) That series isn’t on HBO Max or Netflix, and 2) That he’s not being given a chance to keep going as Constantine as he’s clearly been having a blast for the last eight years.

[Full disclosure: I was heavily involved with promoting the TV series during its run as I was still working with DC Entertainment at the time.]

On top of all that, WB announcing a new movie based on a DC property comes at a time when the studio is…let’s just say it’s in flux, particularly when it comes to its stable of comics characters.

  • It just canceled the Batgirl film that was nearly complete and has shuffled the release dates for movies like Black Adam and others because it reportedly doesn’t have the available cash to support more than a couple major releases a year.
  • Last month Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav said he was hoping to “reset” DC projects and find someone who can oversee the whole stable of characters and properties. But that search has been difficult as no one seems to be jumping at the chance to be blamed for the next disappointment after finding they don’t have as much control as they thought.
    • I only say that because it’s happened at least three times in the last 10 years, each time ending by the executive being forced out, quitting because the studio said he couldn’t make his five hour dystopian team movie or being made to feel extremely unwelcome when the movies he *did* develop are canned.

Whoever is eventually selected will now find themselves with a Constantine film in the works they had no hand in greenlighting and may not feel particularly excited about. And they’ll be reminded that no, it’s not part of the Justice League universe. Or maybe it is but not in an official way. Or it’s not, but some of the same characters are referenced. Or the movie is but the TV show reboot that was licensed to another company isn’t.

This new movie could be much better than the first and much more faithful to the source material, just as the live action series and some of the animated follow-ups were and have been. But the fact that it’s even happening is a big surprise, all the more so for the uncertain moment it was announced in.

confess, fletch – marketing recap

How Miramax has (or hasn’t) sold the latest outing for everyone’s favorite laconic reporter

Confess,Fletch movie poster from Miramax
Confess,Fletch movie poster from Miramax

There have been a number of attempts over the years to revive the character of Fletch, originally appearing in the novels of writer Gregory Mcdonald. Chevy Chase brought the character to life in two movies but the series lost steam when the sequel was less…well…less than the original. Kevin Smith, Bill Lawrence and others have made attempts at revivals, but none actually moved forward until now.

Greg Mottola directs – and cowrote with Zev Borow – this week’s Confess, Fletch. Based on Mcdonald’s second novel, the movie stars Jon Hamm as erstwhile reporter Irwin “Fletch” Fletcher. When he’s asked to investigate the theft of a millionaire’s art collection he finds himself the lead suspect in a related murder case. So he has to prove his innocence and also find who was responsible for both crimes.

Hamm’s “Mad Men” partner John Slattery costars as Fletch’s editor Frank Jaffe while Roy Wood Jr. plays Det. Monroe, who Fletch keeps bumping into. Lorenza Izzo, Marcia Gay Harden and Kyle MacLachlan also appear as some of those who either need Fletch’s help or who are very interested in him not figuring out what’s going on.

announcements and casting

The movie was announced in July, 2020, with Hamm starring and producing and Mottola directing. Wood Jr., Slattery and the rest of the cast was added about year later in June, 2021 when filming began.

Mottola marked the official beginning of production with a photo.

the marketing campaign

The campaign didn’t kick off until the last week of August with the release of the trailer (2.2m YouTube views). Fletch is on vacation as it starts but is pulled back to the world with the promise of a good story. As soon as he starts digging around the art theft he becomes mixed up in the murder investigation.

At the same time the poster came out, offering a painted take on Fletch, Izzo’s Angela and a dead body lying in the background. Rome’s Colosseum is also seen, establishing the location of at least some of the story.

Fletch unsuccessfully tries to get Jaffe to pull some strings to help his investigation in a clip. In another clip given exclusively to Fandango he meets the art broker played by MacLachlan.

A trailer cutdown came out as the movie became available on digital platforms that takes out much of the story in favor of focusing on Hamm’s breezy charm.

Hamm did a few interviews where he talked about taking his own non-Chase approach to the character and working with Mottola to leave the previous film incarnation behind in favor of sticking closer to the source novels.

overall

As many people have pointed out, this movie features a top-name actor (Hamm) working with a top-name comedic director (Mottola) on a very recognizable character and franchise. Yet it seems Paramount isn’t very enthusiastic about selling it to the public, putting more effort into its recent horror sequel Orphan Lives. And if you went looking for the movie in theaters you’d be out of luck, as it’s only available on a handful of screens at the same time it’s available on Showtime and through VOD platforms.

That lack of muscle is a real shame because Hamm looks absolutely fantastic as Fletch, taking a more nuanced approach than Chase did, one without all the crazy disguises and vignettes. Not only that, but Mottola’s directing appears assured and focused on selling the performances of the actors in service of the story.

the woman king – marketing recap

How Sony has sold a period drama about African warriors.

the woman king poster from Sony Pictures
the woman king poster from Sony Pictures

Viola Davis stars in this week’s The Woman King, in theaters this week from Sony Pictures. Davis plays General Nanisca, the leader of the Agojie, an all-female group of guardian warriors in the kingdom of Dahomey. Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch and Sheila Atim costar as the latest generation of warriors to be trained by Nanisca, with John Boyega as the nation’s king. The Agojie must be trained to help fight against the latest threat to their people: The expansion of French colonizers deeper into the African continent.

If the concept of the Agojie sounds familiar, it’s because the real life defenders were the inspiration for the Dora Milaje in Christopher Priest’s “Black Panther” comics run, a group that of course later appeared in several installments of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, the movie was written by Dana Stevens, who developed the story with producer Maria Bello. Let’s take a look at how it’s been sold.

announcements and casting

The movie was announced in July, 2020 as Prince-Blythwood’s follow-up to the massively successful The Old Guard on Netflix.

News of Davis’ casting was followed in September 2021 by Boyega joining the project. Lynch was cast shortly after that, right in the middle of her getting rave reviews for her role in No Time To Die. Lawson, Tiffen and others joined shortly after that.

the marketing campaign

Davis offered the first real look at the film in February of this year when she posted a couple stills showing just how fierce she looks in costume.

Both Prince-Blythwood and Davis made an appearance on stage at Sony’s April 2022 CinemaCon presentation to promote their film. Davis was also given the event’s first-ever Trailblazer Award for her body of work.

A few weeks later Empire Magazine shared a first look still from the film.

Prince-Blythewood talked about the movie when she appeared at the American Black Film Festival in June, with the director debuting the trailer there for the festival’s audience before it went out to the general public.

More photos along with an interview with Davis came in Vanity Fair at the beginning of July.

Also in early July came the first trailer (10.4m YouTube views), which opens with King Ghezo warning of a new evil coming that must be fought with the Agojie. Nanisca convinces the king to fight back against the threat of the Europeans looking to expand their influence. We see the kind of training the Agojie go through and just how effective they are in combat, all of it adding up to a powerful trailer.

Banner ads on YouTube drove people to the film’s official website when the trailer debuted.

the woman king YouTube ad
the woman king YouTube ad

Later that month the announcement came that the movie’s world premiere would happen at the Toronto International Film Festival. Davis was later slated for a conversation as part of the film’s screening at the Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival in mid-August.

The first poster came out a bit later. It shows Nansica alone with her weapon held high, standing in what seems to be a fiery conflagration blazing all around her.

Bello was interviewed about her love of the African continent and how that played into developing this story.

A short vignette has Davis and Prince-Bythewood talking about the real life warriors portrayed in the film and how they’re surprised they didn’t know more about this before.

Trainer Gabriela Mclain spoke in this interview about how she put each one of the primary cast through their paces in preparation for such physically-demanding roles that required they *look* the part of fearsome warriors.

That training was the subject of another short featurette.

Mbedu was interviewed about the film’s incredible cast and more.

Cutdowns of the trailer started running in late August as TV spots and online promos, including pre-roll ads.

The second poster, released at the end of August, has the entire main cast of characters assembled and staring intensely at the audience amidst the same fiery background seen earlier.

An Essence cover story featured a conversation with the main cast about the story and what it was like working with everyone else. That was followed by a THR cover story with Prince-Bythewood and Davis in part covering the battles they had to take part in just to get the film made for reasons that are likely obvious.

An interview with Lynch focused again on the rigorous training she had to take part in.

Fandango debuted an exclusive clip of Nanisca pushing the warriors she’s training to be better than they ever thought they could be in order to defend their nation.

The bonding the cast underwent during filming was the subject of another short vignette.

That lead into the TIFF premiere screening, which garnered *very* positive reviews and buzz, and the Q&A with the cast and crew that went along with it.

Costume designer Gersha Phillips shared the real life inspiration that went into the costumes along with the fact they were made by actual African artisans.

Another TV spot from the last week featured football coach Jennifer King offering her thoughts on being a warrior along with clips from the film.

Boyega and Atim created Spotify playlists inspired by the film and their characters.

Davis went on to make appearances on “GMA”, “The Tonight Show”, “The View” along with others to promote the film and talk about how unique the story is in today’s marketplace.

overall

It’s not very surprising that there’s little in the way of overt reference to how the real life Agojie inspired the fictional Dora Milaje given the competing studios/companies in play. But that connection is very much there for anyone who’s paying attention.

Outside of that, the major message of the campaign is not only that this is a powerful film about an incredible group of warriors but that the existence of those warriors isn’t as well known in the general public as, say, the 300 Spartan warriors at the Battle of Thermopylae. If you pull on that thread more than a bit you’ll likely discover reasons that include racism, the fact that Europeans are clearly not the good guys in that story and so on.

But the story is being told in a big, bold fashion now and that’s what’s important. And the campaign has been moving, driven by the personal investment of Prince-Bythewood, Davis and others, including Bello, who seems to have taken the smart path and sat out most of the publicity and let others, particularly women of color, take the spotlight.

clerks iii – marketing recap

How Lionsgate has sold the third entry in a key Gen X comedy series

Clerks III movie poster from Lionsgate
Clerks III movie poster from Lionsgate

It’s been 16 years since Kevin Smith last went “back to the well” with Clerks II, the sequel to his 1994 debut Clerks. Now the writer/director returns to the world of convenience store employees and their hopes, dreams and minutiae in the aptly-titled Clerks III.

As usual, the story pulls heavily from Smith’s own life and experiences. Now in their 40s, Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and Randall (Jeff Anderson) are still working at the Quick Stop in suburban New Jersey, which they bought in the last film. When Randall survives a heart attack he sets out to do something meaningful with his life. Specifically, he enlists Dante and others in his plan to make a movie about their experiences as clerks at a suburban New Jersey convenience store and the people who frequent it.

Smith himself returns as Silent Bob alongside his hetero-lifemate Jay (Jason Mewes). Also coming back are Marilyn Ghigliotti as Veronica Loughran, Dante’s girlfriend from the first film, along with Rosario Dawson as Becky, his love interest in the sequel and Trevor Fehrman as Elias, who worked at Mooby’s with Dante, Randall and Becky in the previous movie. Ben Affleck, Sarah Michelle Gellar and others also appear in supporting/cameo roles.

So let’s take a look at how this one stacks up in the marketing department.

announcements and casting

News that Smith was once more working on the movie came while he was promoting Jay and Silent Bob Get Rebooted in late 2019, with the director sharing details on the story he had in mind and more. Of course that had come after Smith spent several years hinting at what he had in mind for a third installment, offering occasional updates on his podcast, at speaking appearances or elsewhere on how the script was evolving.

Lionsgate acquired rights to the movie in mid-July 2021, just as filming was about to start.

Smith then gave fans an update when he called in to “Late Night With Seth Meyers” in August of that year flanked by Mewes and O’Halloran.

the marketing campaign

“They’re too old for this shift” reads the copy on the first teaser poster, released as part of the countdown to the trailer. None of the actors themselves are shown, but what we do see is an old lock that’s had gum jammed in it.

Additional teasers showed a familiar hand-written sign hanging from the front of the Quick Stop, Randall and Dante standing across the street from the store while others are hanging out in front of it, Dante in his exasperated state behind the counter and finally he and Randall ready to service their customers while Jay and Silent Bob mug for the camera through the window.

After all that preamble, the first trailer (392,000 YouTube views) came out in early July. As it opens we see that the lives of Dante, Randall, Elias, Jay and Bob haven’t evolved much, at least not until Randall has a heart attack at the store. Determined to not waste another day doing the same old things, he sets out to make his own movie, offering us a glimpse at some of the cameos and at the movie’s meta humor, as Randall’s film sounds very much like the original Clerks, his description of Jay and Silent Bob is the same as Smith has offered and more. Capping it off, his choice to kill off Dante’s character mimics Smith’s original plan for the first film.

At this point Lionsgate announced their release plans for the film, which amounted to a two-night special event in partnership with Fathom Events.

Smith also announced The Convenience Tour, a roadshow beginning in September and running through November that included screening of the film itself along with the director doing what he does best, which is talk about the movie and whatever else occurs to him.

San Diego Comic-Con provided a moment for Smith and others to promote the film to an interested audience. An exclusive and very cool poster was created for SDCC attendees and Lionsgate recreated the Quick Stop counter at its booth on the show floor. A Mooby’s pop-up shop filled with merchandise from this movie and others was opened near the convention site.

Many of the cast and crew appeared at a Hall H panel to talk about the film and show off footage. And Smith of course along with Mewes and the others did lots of press and other interviews while there.

The first clip, released at the end of August, shows the moment Randall has been taken to the ER and is informed by a very unconventional doctor he’s in the middle of having a massive heart attack.

Many of the cast and crew members turned out once again for the film’s red carpet premiere in New Jersey. There Smith talked a bit about the evolution the movie’s script had undergone over the years. At the Hollywood premiere a short while later he offered more details on getting Affleck back for a cameo. Dawson was also interviewed about how important it was for her to come back and see where Becky was after all the years. Another conversation with Smith had him talking more about Affleck as well the status of some of his other long-gestating projects.

Cutdown versions of the trailer started running as online and preroll ads and promotions in early September.

overall

Look, you’re never going to get the same gonzo attitude the first movie had. Nearly 30 years have passed, Smith has done a lot more work in that time, and so many other things have changed that it would be unfair to judge the campaign for Clerks III based on whether it conveyed the same feelings and emotions as a self-financed black-and-white movie from 1994.

Jay And Silent Bob Dancing GIF by Regal - Find & Share on GIPHY

So with that caveat in place, I will say the campaign for Clerks III brings me lots of joy. It is exactly what I want from a sequel: The same characters in slightly different situations. It’s nice to see so many of Smith’s regulars return, and his stories about how his own heart attack prompted him to revisit the script he’d been working are personal and charming.

More than anything, those stories – and the campaign as a whole – offer an example of how impersonal so much moviemaking has become in recent years. Not that no director ever took a job just for the paycheck, but so many filmmakers are working with IP that they’re not allowed to do anything interesting with because those characters and situations are needed for future franchise usage that everything about their own style gets pulled out.

But Smith here has made something about (and for) himself and his friends, and that’s increasingly unusual. In its own way, it’s still as revolutionary as the movies that came from him and others like him in the early 1990s.

And it just looks funny.

pinocchio (disney live action) – marketing recap

How Disney is selling another retelling of a classic fairy tale

Pinocchio movie poster from Disney Studios
Pinocchio movie poster from Disney Studios

Disney continues to hold on to its important intellectual property by remaking animated classics as “live action” films with this week’s Pinocchio. Robert Zemeckis directs the film, which has Benjamin Evan Ainsworth providing the voice of the wooden puppet who dreams of becoming a real boy. Frequent Zemeckis collaborator Tom Hanks stars (and actually acts on screen) as Geppetto, the kindly toymaker that brings Pinocchio into this world. Cynthia Erivo provides the voice of The Blue Fairy that grants Pinocchio’s wish while Joseph Gordon-Levitt does likewise for everyone’s favorite voice of reason, Jiminy Cricket.

Everyone knows the story, which is likely unchanged since 1940. But what makes this week’s release – which happens on Wednesday as the cornerstone of this year’s Disney+ Day – more interesting is that it’s one of two Pinocchio adaptations coming out this year, with Netflix releasing one from writer/director Guillermo del Toro in December.

So with all that in mind, let’s take a look at how it’s been sold.

announcements and casting

The project was announced with Zemeckis in the director’s chair in January of 2020, though the film had been in development with other directors for several years prior to that. Hanks, who had long been rumored for the movie when it was in various stages of development, finally made the deal official in August of that year. More, including Swinton, Blanchett and others, were announced later that month.

Disney announced in December 2020 during its investors presentation that the film would skip theaters and go straight to Disney+.

The cast was announced in November of last year.

the marketing campaign

A first look at Hanks as Geppetto as well as of the “live action” version of Pinocchio was released in early March, 2022.

Things really got underway in late May with the release of the first teaser trailer (5.2m YouTube views). It starts with Geppetto’s wish for a boy of his own and shows some of the action and adventure the story contains. But while we see Jiminy Cricket and some of the other characters, Pinocchio himself is kept mostly hidden.

He’s also only shown as a silhouette on the poster that came out at the same time.

A better look is provided on the next one-sheet, which came out at the end of August. It shows Pinocchio, still just in profile, sitting in front of Geppetto while some of the other well-known supporting characters hang out in the background.

That coincided with the second trailer (9.6m YouTube views). There’s not much to say about it since it shows the look of the film pretty effectively while assuring the audience it has all the expected story beats and will contain absolutely no surprises when they watch it.

A TV spot released at the same time cuts down the trailer into a much more lighthearted message without all the scares and thrills that are shown in the longer version.

Hanks, Erivo and others from the cast talk about why they got involved in this project and what the story means to them in a featurette.

A few more TV commercials and other promos were released that highlight different aspects of the story before the first clip showing Pinocchio being rescued by Jiminy was released at the beginning of September.

Tom Hanks lists Disney movies in another short video that is supposed to be him listing his favorites.

overall

And…that’s it.

With a few exceptions (cough…Dumbo…cough), Disney’s brand-retention content has been successful with audiences, even if some of the reviews haven’t been stellar. But they’ve done well enough that the studio already has quite a few more in the planning stages.

This one stars one of the biggest actors of the last 40 years and comes from a director responsible for some of pop culture’s most memorable films. And…that’s it. There’s been almost no press for the film, and the entire thing seems lackluster, like the studio is just counting on brand recognition alone to get people to tune in tomorrow.

More than anything, I hope the lackluster effort here is noticed by critics and commentators who are always criticizing Netflix for its lack of substantial marketing campaigns. That isn’t unique to Netflix but is a symptom of the different economics behind selling a streaming-only film compared to a theatrical release.

That being said, there’s nothing offensive or bad about the campaign. It’s just…there.

prey – marketing recap

How 20th Century Studios sold the prequel to an 80s action classic

(Note: Yes, the movie came out last week and while I didn’t get to it then I didn’t want to let it slip by completely.)

Prey movie poster from 20th Century Studios
Prey movie poster from 20th Century Studios

Just a few years ago 20th Century Fox worked with director Shane Black to develop The Predator, the fourth installment in the Predator franchise (not counting the Alien crossovers). That attempt fizzled at the box office and with critics for various reasons, including Black’s hiring of a friend who was a registered sex offender. While the movie wasn’t terrible, it also didn’t add anything new or particularly interesting to the concepts already explored in earlier films.

Now on Hulu is Prey, a prequel in the franchise continuity that takes things back to the early 1700s. Amber Midthunder stars as Naru, a Comanche warrior who encounters the alien Predator on its first visit to Earth. As she alternately hunts and is hunted by the Predator she has to deal with French traders as well as those within her own tribe, including Wasape (Stormee Kipp), a fellow Comanche who has little regard for Naru or her skills.

The movie is on Hulu now, bypassing theaters entirely. It’s directed by Dan Trachtenberg, who developed the story with screenwriter Patrick Aison. So let’s take a look at how the studio sold it.

announcements and casting

Trachtenberg was attached as director when 20th Century Studios announced the movie in November, 2020, though the project had been in development for a number of years, going back to when the studio was working on The Predator.

Midthunder’s casting was announced in May of last year, with the rest of the cast confirmed in September when filming completed.

The film’s title was confirmed along with the setting of the story in November 2021 on Disney+ Day when a first-look still was also released. That all came with the confirmation the movie was headed straight for Hulu, a corporate decision later reported to have been made in part because if Disney had released it to theaters it would have been contractually obligated to give the movie to HBO Max instead of using it to bolster its own streaming service.

the marketing campaign

The movie’s campaign kicked off in May with the release of a short teaser that smartly begins by introducing the film as coming “From the director 10 Cloverfield Lane.” There are just a few shots of Naru that follow, but one has her being targeted by the Predator’s familiar three laser beams, so we quickly get what it is we’re watching.

The full trailer then followed in early June. We meet Naru as she is trying to prove her skills and value to the rest of her tribe, but a bear hunt turns into an encounter with the camouflaged Predator. No one believes her when she says something is out there, not even her own brother, but soon the alien is wreaking havoc as it hunts everyone and everything down, with Naru sure she has what it takes to kill it.

A poster came out at the same time showing an extreme closeup of Naru, her face streaked with the glowing blood of the Predator. The same other appeals are made to the audience here, though no additional copy is offered to fill in context.

A 30-second spot was released right after the trailer offering a bit more footage of the conflict between Naru and the Predator.

Trachtenberg explained some of what attracted him to the project and what kind of story he wanted to tell in an interview.

Another poster came out in mid-July, this one showing the Predator instead of the prey. The alien hunter is seen from behind as it looks out from a cave into the wilderness. One more poster shows the conflict between them as Naru jumps off a cliff toward an oversized Predator to indicate the odds she’s up against.

Additional TV spots/online promos continued to come out at this point, each one offering mostly the same footage but with bits and pieces of new material scattered in.

There was a significant effort by 20th Century Studios at Comic-Con last month. That effort included handing out an exclusive free poster to attendees coming by the Disney Television booth. And significantly, Collider hosted an advance screening Thursday night during the event, resulting in lots of very positive word of mouth and buzz for the film. A scavenger hunt at SDCC had attendees searching for tokens they could redeem for invitations to an exclusive party.

The scale of the battle between Naru and the Predator is more realistic as they face off on a poster that came out later in July. A pair of posters depicts that battle as a cave painting, with one featuring the film’s title in the Comanche language.

A short featurette released at the beginning of August goes back to the beginning of the series to explore the legacy of the franchise, with Trachtenberg talking about adding something new and interesting to that. More background on the characters and setting is offered in another featurette that came out a week or so later.

The cast and crew came out for the Los Angeles premiere event last week. A few days later they appeared again at a screening/Q&A at BeyondFest.

There were multiple profiles and interviews with Midthunder about what was being seen as her breakout role as well as a great step in better representation in action/genre films. She talked about her familiarity with the previous movies, how she auditioned in Comanche as well as in English and more.

Beavers also talked about the issue of representation and how producer Jhane Myers, herself a Comanche, pushed for accurate depiction of indigenous culture. Myers herself along with Trachentberg spoke about the process of making this movie, what inspired the story and what possibilities there are for additional entries in the series.

Dane DiLiegro was interviewed about what it took to play the Predator itself, including having to convey thought and emotion through a rubber suit.

Following the film’s release Hulu/20th Century Studios touted its status as the biggest debut of any TV series or movie on the platform, based on activity in the first three days of availability.

overall

One of the aspects of the film that didn’t get a ton of play in the campaign but was buzzed about by others leading up to release is that a Comanche-language dub was offered on Hulu simultaneously with the English-language version. That was a compromise, it seems, from the original plan to film it in *only* Comanche and is still a massive achievement.

But the campaign itself is quite good. It nods to what’s come before without relying on that legacy too heavily as many sequels/prequels/reboots/sidequels do in their marketing. And because the focus remains on Midthunder and her performance as Naru it’s presented as a good entry point for audiences of all kinds whatever their familiarity with the other movies might be.

what the huh? batgirl shelved by warner bros.

Barbara Gordon doesn’t get any respect

You can’t help but notice the timing.

About a week and a half ago Marvel Studios unveiled their cinematic plans through 2025, announcing the next entries in what is now being referred to as “The Multiverse Saga” with interconnected movies and streaming series culminating in another two-part Avengers finale. Directors have already been hired, plans made and more, even as the studio preps for the debut of “She-Hulk: Attorney At Law” on Disney+ and basks in the success of the latest Thor movie.

And based on how recent Marvel Studios have gone, it’s reasonable to speculate that the embrace of the “multiverse” will allow it to bring together several disparate efforts from recent years – the Netflix Defenders, Fox Mutants and anything else that isn’t connected to Spider-Man and therefore controlled by Sony – under one roof, plucking the best from each territory to build the next decade of cultural dominance.

This approach, where everything is connected and each chapter builds toward a conclusion (that isn’t really a conclusion but simply the jumping off point for what’s next), has been refined by Marvel Studios and Disney over the last several years.

By way of answer to this latest onslaught, Warner Bros. Discovery (the name of the new post-merger company) has decided to trip over its own shoelaces and faceplant into an anti-personnel mine.

Season 5 GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

As evidence, see the decision announced earlier this week to unexpectedly shelf the nearly-complete Batgirl movie starring Leslie Grace.

The film didn’t have an official release date. And whether it was going to be released theatrically or just on HBO Max was a conversation that seemed to go back and forth, especially as Discovery exerted more control over the company and its output.

But, at least for now, it won’t be seen anywhere, reportedly because the studio has calculated it can get more from not releasing it at all and taking the tax writeoff than it could from sending it to theaters, streaming, VOD or other platforms.

Putting aside whether test screenings were lukewarm, or if there was internal disagreement about whether to invest more money in order to make it a bigger theatrical “spectacle”, this is a weird decision.

It’s hard to think of any recent precedent for a studio to remove a film entirely from release consideration. Dates have been pushed back, movies removed from calendars for a while for various reasons and plans otherwise altered, but for a title to just be spiked completely, especially when it’s this close to being finished, is just insane.

Not only that, but it’s hard to imagine WBD making the same decision if a Batman or Superman movie was getting the same early reactions. And it’s worth pointing out Batgirl’s $90 million budget is just a little more than Warner Bros. gave Zack Snyder to reclaim Justice League and turn it into an even longer and more incoherent movie, with the studio specifically using it as a lure to build HBO Max subscriptions.

This news comes just a few months after the company shut down pre-production on a planned Wonder Twins film, again citing the “it would cost too much to make it theatrical but it’s too expensive for streaming” justification.

Twins GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

These are just the latest examples of the lack of coherent or consistent strategy or plan around the DC cinematic franchise.

  • Man of Steel 2 eventually became Batman v Superman, which was delayed a by nearly a year because Zack Snyder needed “more time”
  • Suicide Squad was effectively taken out of the hands of director David Goyer, with editing turned over in part to a trailer production agency. The movie was such a disappointment with critics and fans the sequel The Suicide Squad effectively ignores it and starts over, only carrying Harley Quinn over.
  • We all know what happened when the studio tried to create a Justice League team movie
  • At one point there were three different Joker movies in development but only one wound up getting made
  • A proposed Harley Quinn solo movie eventually became Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey, which again just doesn’t bother with much of what’s come before
  • Green Lantern Corps was announced at SDCC 2015 but, aside from a few vague comments, it seems like this is dead in the water. A TV series from producer Greg Berlanti was also announced a while ago but it’s been a bit since there was any public momentum on it
  • New Gods was announced in 2018 with Ava DuVernay directing and comics superstar Tom King writing, but the project was killed in 2021
  • A Cyborg solo film was announced in 2014 and even given a 2020 release date, but that never happened

That’s actually just a small sampling of the projects that have been canceled, altered and otherwise taken to a farm upstate. Over the course of all this, the studio managed to burn almost all the goodwill earned by Margot Robbie’s performance as Harley Quinn by constantly shifting her character around. That goes right up to just days ago, when Lady Gaga confirmed she’ll play Harley in a sequel to Joker.

Screaming Harley Quinn GIF by The Suicide Squad - Find & Share on GIPHY

It also throws everything currently planned for the near future into doubt.

Solo movies featuring Static Shock, Blue Beetle, Zatanna and Booster Gold were expected to go to HBO Max but now it seems those films will either be shut down before production begins or have their budgets increased to make them worthy of theatrical release. Given projects with characters who aren’t white men seem to be first on the chopping block, it’s not recommended you hold your breath for these to come out.

If WBD is truly emphasizing theatrical features for its DC properties, it makes the potential for a second season of “Peacemaker” questionable, though director James Gunn has said things are still set on that front, and might even throw the various spinoffs of The Batman into the Maybe Pile.

Most notably, the question now becomes what WBD does with The Flash.

Being generous, the movie originally had a 2018 release date, but that was four directors and six screenwriters ago. It was positioned by the studio as being a new start for the DCEU that fully embraced a Multiverse encompassing both the cinematic and television iterations of characters. Big buzz surrounded announcements Michael Keaton was returning as Batman and Sasha Calle had been cast as Supergirl, the latter being setup for her own later solo outing.

Over the last several months star Ezra Miller has been arrested for harassment multiple times and has more recently faced charges he’s holding people in Vermont on a farm stocked with firearms and that he’s harassed others overseas.

So with a budget of $200 million (but likely more than that given the multiple stops and starts it’s experienced), does Warner Discovery cut its losses on this film and let it fall to the ash heap? The idea of trying to promote anything with Miller has to be extremely unattractive right now, though the studio hasn’t let past incidents with the actor stop it from including him in DC and Wizarding World projects. And if it does, what does that mean for Calle’s Supergirl or Keaton’s Batman?

There have been multiple reports over the last few years that the studio doesn’t know what to do with Superman (which is mind-boggling in and of itself) but it seems few there know what to do with any of their super hero characters.

Each time a new leadership team comes in they seem intent on burning down the projects of the previous administration and creating their own “10-year plan”. While that might be standard operating procedure in Hollywood, the impact is different when you’re trying to create a cohesive universe of characters and stories since no plan ever has enough time to get any traction. And knee-jerk decisions are made at the studio level that never make anything better.

For years WB has said it needs a figure like Marvel Studios’ Kevin Feige to oversee everything, but the four or five people it’s tried to put into that role have never been given the power to make changes, nor have they lasted long enough before they’re shuffled out after their first movie doesn’t have a $500 million opening weekend.

It’s extremely disappointing to see Batgirl cast aside like this. The project seemed to have a lot going for it and likely would have worked on either the small or big screen. More than that, it’s disappointing to see there still isn’t a plan other than to keep letting Marvel/Disney+ dominate the super hero genre both in theaters and on streaming.

bodies bodies bodies – marketing recap

How A24 has sold a dark comedy about friends, murder and secrets

Bodies Bodies Bodies movie poster from A24
Bodies Bodies Bodies movie poster from A24

A reunion of friends gets weird quickly in Bodies Bodies Bodies, the new release from A24 coming to theaters this weekend. The story focuses on a house party being hosted by Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) and David (Pete Davidson). With Sophie fresh out of rehab, hints of secrets and deception around them and an unbalanced social dynamic given David is rich while the rest aren’t, things take a turn after a game of Bodies, Bodies, Bodies – initially intended to loosen things up – ends in the discovery of an actual dead body and the search for who among the group might be the killer.

Maria Bakalova, Myha’la Herrold, Lee Pace, Chase Sui Wonders, Rachel Sennott and Conner O’Malley round out the cast of partygoers in the film, directed by Halina Reijn and written by Sarah DeLappe.

So, with the reminder that this definitely isn’t the Apple TV+ series “The Afterparty”, let’s take a look at how it’s been sold.

announcement and casting

A24 acquired the project, at the time a spec script from Kristen Roupenian, in 2018.

Stenberg and Bakalova were the first to be cast in early 2021 as production began, with Davidson and others added over the next few months.

the marketing campaign

The first move in the marketing campaign was a screening of the film at the SXSW Film Festival in March of this year. Reviews and buzz out of that screening were generally positive and A24 set a release date shortly after the festival ended.

“This is not a safe space” we’re warned on the first poster, released in late April, as seven pairs of eyes look out with a knife cutting through the copy.

The first trailer (1.1m YouTube views) came out at the same time and shows a wild night happening. We get some glimpse into the strained friendships among those in the house, but mostly it’s about showing what a crazy time everyone is having. Eventually, though, things get serious when one of them turns up dead, but the people in the house are still seen to be more focused on their own trauma and making sure they’re not triggered.

Featured in the trailer – and highlighted by the studio after its release – is an original song from Charlie XCX, who is apparently a current popular music artist.

Rejin, Stenberg and others were interviewed in EW’s summer movie preview issue about the origins of the story, the process of putting together the cast and more.

The next poster came out at the beginning of June, this time showing the faces of the characters, all of whom are illuminated by the light from their cellphones. The knife from the first one-sheet is moved to the background on this one, more of a hint than an overt statement to the audience.

Reijn participated in a Q&A after a screening of the film as part of Sundance London later that month.

Herrold and Stenberg interviewed each other about this movie as well as the other projects they were currently involved in.

As the second trailer (7m YouTube views), released in mid-June, begins, Bee and Sophie are on their way to David’s house for the party. From there it follows the progression of the party, from having fun and dancing through playing the game to finding one of their friends dead. Everything gets more tense from there as the night progresses as they turn on each other while also trying to stay safe.

A week or so later a series of short videos were published introducing the audience to the various characters and what personality type they filled in the story.

Most of the cast assembled at San Diego Comic-Con late last month for interviews and a screening to publicize the film to what was hoped to be a young, hip and interested crowd.

“Hot Girl”, the Charlie XCX song teased in the trailer, was released at the end of June with a lyric visualizer and lots of interviews/reviews.

A24 held a few screenings of the film in recent weeks, culminating in a special event in New York City with some of the cast in attendance to introduce the movie and get audiences excited.

overall

The campaign is pretty good, but it’s definitely targeted at those under 30. They’re the group that’s going to find some of the dynamics displayed in the trailers and elsewhere most relatable. They’re also more likely to have a high tolerance for Pete Davidson in particular, who sticks out in the marketing like a sore thumb that has probably crashed on your couch for a month while he “figures things out”, which oddly looks a lot like smoking weed and getting five more tattoos you’re pretty sure are infected.

Wanna Play Lee Pace GIF by A24 - Find & Share on GIPHY

That’s not to say it will definitely fall flat for those outside that group. But it’s clear the studio is targeting those for whom going to parties with glow necklaces and weed-laced cake is the norm.