I’ve never really been a fan of movie studios – or any other brand – trying to be clever by posting to social media as a character from the movie or other ad campaign. There was a whole, wide-ranging debate over a decade or more ago when various brands were publishing blogs as advertising mascots or other characters, with practitioners weighing in on the pros and cons of this particular tactic. Some felt it was fine, a natural extension of other marketing tactics. Others felt that blogging was meant to provide transparency and accountability and publishing under any false persona was a betrayal of the new level of trust the audience was putting in blogs.

You have to remember that blogs were, at that point, seen not so much as a antidote to the problems of the mainstream media but a supplement to it, one that added the insights and expertise of individuals who were shut out of that media by the gatekeepers guarding access to the means of publication. Anyone could start a blog and respond to a story from The New York Times with either additional information or their own perspective on the news.

“Character blogging,” then, was seen by some as deceitful. You were supposed to be able to trust the person or entity on the other end of the blog and that transaction couldn’t happen if the actual author was unknown. This debate extended even into something that should have been relatively passe like ghostwriting an executive’s posts. It was very different, though, from a few instances where a company deliberately created a blog that was meant to look like it was coming from a fan or customer but which was actually published by the marketing department. There was no debate about that.

I fell somewhere in the middle of the “character blogging” debate. The idea that a blog should be trustworthy was one I agreed with but I didn’t want to dismiss something out of hand, preferring instead to judge it on its actual merits and its contribution to the conversation. My primary issue was when a blog was published that tried to adopt an in-world voice, written as if it was coming from a character who was describing, for example, the events leading up to what’s shown in a movie. Mostly I felt these efforts were just poorly executed, a result of the requirement dictated by a compliance department somewhere that it include disclosure that it was coming from Studio X and oh hey, here’s a link to buy a ticket for a movie.

Thankfully those efforts have fallen by the wayside to a great extent in the last several years. Instead, on a couple different occasions, studios have begun playing with the voice of their online marketing more than trying to appear as if they exist within the movie’s physical world. Two examples jump out at me that offer what I think are fun approaches so social publishing.

First, though, a definition. When I say “voice” I’m talking about a persona. A tone. An attitude.

Last Flag Flying

I noticed when I was reviewing the campaign for Richard Linklater’s military-based drama about friendship that the Twitter account in particular took a very casual attitude. It wasn’t written in a very “marketing” like tone but was more commenting on the GIFs and other media or links it was sharing like someone you know would as they shared something interesting with you.

There was clearly a decision within Amazon Studios to make this account sound a bit different from the usual sort of “Here is a trailer you should watch buy tickets now” updates usually seen on movie profiles. In fact, it kind of sounded like the updates were coming from an old buddy you maybe hadn’t seen in a few years but were reconnecting with, finding you still shared the same back-and-forth while busting each other’s chops.

The Death of Stalin

The Twitter account for Armando Iannucci’s political satire set in 1950s Soviet Russia took the approach of sounding like it was written as propaganda from 1950s Soviet Russia. Again, instead of dry “Here’s a thing, do a thing” copy, it’s written from the point of view of a central committee-like entity. So it’s full of calls to action extolling the love leaders have for their people, which they can continue to earn by buying tickets. Positive reviews are shared with comments about how the citizenry should “follow in the glorious example” of those praising the movie.

That toes right up to the line of being in character but never crosses it. Instead it comes off as being just a fun wink at the kind of material that was common at the time of the movie’s story, where everything was wonderful and anything unpleasant was fake news drummed up by anti-fascist traitors. (beat) Yeah. (beat) That tone is in-line with the U.S. teaser trailer, presented in the form of a mock newsreel showing the outpouring of affection people had for the movie as they streamed into the streets to express their devotion.

I call out these two examples because I think they do a good job of combining both the ability to adjust the voice of the consumer message while doing so in a way that’s still brand-appropriate. There are a number of other examples, particularly around young adult-focused movies, where the voice is trying to appeal to the Instagram Stories crowd but comes off as forced and unnatural. Getting voice right without slipping into self-own is tough for any brand but particularly so for movies and other forms of entertainment that are sold based on their creativity.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

isle of dogs poster 3Writer/director Wes Anderson returns to the world of stop-motion animation – previously visited in 2009’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox – with this week’s new release Isle of Dogs. The story takes place in the Japan of the future, one where the nation has become overrun by dogs, many of whom are sick from a flu-like disease running through the canine population. To maintain public health, all the dogs are sent to an island of trash floating out in the ocean.

One young boy named Atari (Koyu Rankin) is distraught and so puts together the kind of plan that can only exist in a Wes Anderson film to rescue his beloved dog Spots (Liev Schreiber). When he arrives on the island he has trouble finding Spots, though. Thankfully he receives the help of other dogs who recognize what he’s trying to do, including Rex (Edward Norton), Chief (Bryan Cranston) and others, all while ducking the government authorities who want the embarrassing incident brought to a close.

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For the last couple months movie soundtracks – especially those for The Greatest Showman and Black Panther – have been dominating the album charts. That, as the THR story points out, is just the latest example of a trend that’s also included collections for Coco, the Fifty Shades movies and a number of others.

Some of the reasons behind this resurgence are identified in the story, including how they include songs by some of the biggest music talents around right now. Thus it has ever been. The Top Gun soundtrack did that with Kenny Loggins, Cheap Trick and Berlin. All you need is 15 to 20 good pop hits, after all.

There are at least a few other factors that make movie soundtracks uniquely suited to thrive at a time when music sales overall are dropping year after year after year.

They’re Branded Playlists

black panther soundtrackOne of the big reasons Spotify is so popular is its playlists. Artists and their representatives fight hard to be included on the biggest ones, those with the most subscribers. If you open the app it’s going to recommend playlists to you well before it starts showing albums. The company has even recently tested a playlist-only stand-alone ad-supported app to encourage the kind of themed, hour-long listening they offer.

So what is a soundtrack like Black Panther but an expert-curated (in this case by Kendrick Lamar) themed playlist? This is exactly the kind of music experience people are looking for and by attaching it to something that’s culturally relevant in and of itself, it becomes an even hotter property.

They’re Souvenirs of the Experience

Movies are one of the few mass cultural experiences you don’t take anything away from. You might save your ticket stub (if you even got a physical ticket these days) or bring home a collectible popcorn bucket you’ll quickly throw in the recycling bin, but you don’t exit through the gift shop. For the most part, though, you can’t leave with a tangible reminder of the experience. You’re not even given the opportunity to immediately get the digital or physical home video release (which I think you should).

So a soundtrack becomes the one avenue through which you can relive the movie in any way. Turn on the album and you’re transported back to that moment in the movie when X happened to that musical cue. You can replay it in your mind while belting out a particularly inspirational or powerful tune.

They’re Attuned To The Culture

greatest showman soundtrackThe Black Panther soundtrack wouldn’t have been as big a hit if it didn’t have Kendrick Lamar’s name attached and if he hadn’t worked to assemble a bunch of top-notch talent. The Greatest Showman’s soundtrack wouldn’t have been as big a hit if it didn’t feature a song that seemed like a rousing empowerment album but which has been kind of misinterpreted. The Empire Records soundtrack wouldn’t have been such a hit if it didn’t capture the mainstream alternative genre quite so perfectly.

These albums become time capsules of a sort, speaking to the moment they’re released in immediately and then reflecting back what was to future generations. “What was music like in 1987?” someone might ask, to which you could reasonably respond with the Say Anything… soundtrack and feel that while it might not be perfect it’s going to lead the person in the right direction.

They’re Basically Mixtapes

Along the same lines as the playlist point above, soundtracks convey a message. That’s mainly about promoting the movie they’re associated with, but it’s more than that even. The music is meant to represent the characters, stories and style of the movie in a way that’s relatable. So they serve the same purpose as the mixtape you lovingly assembled for the girl you had a crush on in high school, whether you gave it to her or not.

I’d expect to see more moments where soundtracks dominate the album sales charts, at least in those moments between massive releases from artists like Adele, Rihanna and Taylor Swift. They check a lot of the boxes for what will keep working as streaming continues to put distance between it and physical media, offering something unique to listeners they can’t get anywhere else. If this kind of activity continues I could even easily see them being withheld from streaming services like Spotify by the labels to goose sales not seen anywhere else.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

pacific rim uprising poster 10It seems like critics and audiences were genuinely surprised when 2013’s Pacific Rim was as good as it wound up being. But really, what did we expect from a movie about giant machines fighting giant monsters that was directed by Guillermo del Toro? It’s on us that we didn’t see a movie that combined large-scale action with lots of heart and impressive character development. At a time when “visionary” is tossed around all-too-often, del Toro deserves it more than most others.

That the first movie was a financial success made it inevitable a sequel would happen. After a few false starts and commitments to other projects, del Toro bowed out of directing but stays on as a producer for this week’s Pacific Rim Uprising. Set 10 years after the events of the first movie, John Boyega stars as Jake Pentecost, the son of Idris Alba’s Stacker Pentecost in the original. Jake is reluctant to follow in his father’s military footsteps but when a new threat arises he, along with Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood) and a batch of new recruits to the Jaeger program have to once more fight to cancel the apocalypse.

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There are plenty of great moments in the new trailer for Avengers: Infinity War that debuted last week. Spider-Man’s reaction to Doctor Strange, Cap shaking hands with T’Challa, Gamora warning everyone about what Thanos is capable of. This, though, is the one that jumps out at me.


If you’ve watched both this and the first trailer, you know that Thanos seems to smack heroes around like it’s nothing. Iron Man, even in full Hulkbuster-type armor, is dismissed seemingly out of hand, as if he’s a gnat being swatted away.

Cap, though, he resists. He keeps going. He simply refuses to be beaten down. To coin a phrase, he could do this all day.

In the trailer, you can see that Thanos betrays a little bit of shock that someone who seems to be a mere mortal should offer such fight. He’s not a god. He doesn’t have a suit of high-tech weaponry, nor does he derive his powers from a mystical source. Yes, we all know that Captain America has the Super Soldier serum coursing through his veins, but that only takes you so far. As Dr. Abraham Erskine said in Captain America: The First Avenger, the serum doesn’t change who you are, it amplifies it. This moment, more than anything else in Cap’s cinematic appearances to date, represents who he is: The one who stands up to the bullies.

That it’s a “mere” mortal (albeit one with enhances abilities) makes it all the more poignant. He’s refusing to fall because of his spirit, not his abilities. Those powers simply allow him to do what he needs to do, they don’t drive him to do it. There’s a bit difference.

When I saw this moment in the trailer it reminded me of the cover of Justice League #6 from DC Comics’ The New 52. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I was working with DC at the time and remember one comics site talking about that cover when it was released and pointing out that Batman was the only member of the team who looked like they were trying to get up, like they were fighting back against Darkseid. Him being the only human and unpowered member of the team showed how it was his spirit, his reluctance to ever give up fighting, made the cover memorable and showed more about the character than any number of whole storylines put together.

It’s moments like this that offer small bits of character in large, dramatic moments. Whether it’s Captain America pushing back against Thanos or Batman struggling against the might of Darkseid, these moments are inspirational, reminding us that the real strength that makes sci-fi and fantasy so relatable are ones that highlight and celebrate the human spirit, the ideals we all strive to represent. Those are the moments that resonate much more loudly than any massive FX spectacle.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

game over man posterThe creators and talent from Comedy Central’s cult hit “Workaholics” are now getting more fully into feature films with this week’s Netflix original release Game Over, Man. Blake Anderson, Adam Devine, and Anders Holm play Joel, Alexxx and Darren (respectively) play three friends who work as waiters at a swanky hotel. They’re also aspiring game developers and are hoping to get their game financed by someone attending a party being thrown at their hotel.

Those hopes are dashed when a terrorist (Neal McDonough) crashes the party and takes everyone hostage. The three guys make it out, though, and set out to go full Die Hard on the situation, determined to save the hostages, take down the criminals and save the day. Unfortunately these are a bunch of pot-smoking bros who aren’t exactly John McClane.

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A Wrinkle In Time

Great stuff here about how Ava DuVernay immediately sought to make the lead of the story someone who looked different than the usual fantasy film lead, found star Storm Reid and was trying to be more optimistic and hopeful with the story.

Reid gets her own profile based on her breakout performance.

Some of the movie’s posters out in the real, physical world have been part of a test by Facebook of a new augmented reality experience based on trackers. In this case those add effects like those seen in the movie to the poster.


The fake movie campaign is apparently being seen as a big boost for Australia’s tourism industry over the next few years, which was exactly the point.


Considering how large a role the house where the action takes place seems to have played in the story it’s only nature that it get a high-end profile of its own.

There’s also a new interview with writer/director Cory Finley.


Writer/director Darren Aronofsky made the subtext of the divisive film the text in a keynote address at SXSW, laying out exactly what he was going for, apparently hoping it will get people to revisit or rethink their initial opinions.

The Death of Stalin

How do you create satire in an era where satire is being outpaced by reality three times a day? Armando Iannucci covers that and other issues in this interview about the movie.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Interesting perspective here on whether or not the film holds up a decade later, including how it seems to fit in surprisingly well (in most regards) with today’s cultural climate of female empowerment and men needing to embrace and express their emotions.

Black Panther

One analyst thinks that, as massive a hit as the movie currently is, Disney could have actually done better if it had made it available day-and-date on a proprietary streaming service. Interesting idea, not sure if I completely agree.

Tomb Raider

I totally missed this CNET interview with Alicia Vikander that’s actually much more substantive than most of the other press she did, allowing her to talk about the roots of the character, how the actress was happy there were no guns involved in the action and more.

Oh look, the internet is still a terrible place as “fans” of the game series criticize Vikander for not having an artificially-sexualized body type. What jackweeds.

The source code on the movie’s website may have revealed the release date of a new video game, which it totally was.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

A new profile of breakout star Kelly Marie Tran talks not only about her role in that movie but also what’s next for the actress and how she views the industry as a whole.

I Can Only Imagine

While I didn’t cover the marketing for the movie (it just fell by the wayside), there are a couple stories at IndieWire and The L.A. Times that are worth reading in how Roadside Attractions engaged in some new tactics to try and reach a faith-based audience that’s become more selective about what movies it supports.

Love, Simon

A nice profile here of co-star Natasha Rothwell, who plays one of Simon’s teachers in the movie. And another with director Greg Berlanti where he once more talked about the central themes of the movie’s story plus one more where he discussed his requests regarding the marketing of the movie.Also, new interviews with author Becky Albertalli and costar Keiynan Lonsdale,


A new interview with star Zoey Deutch has her talking about how she took the role in part because it offered the kind of nuanced, morally ambiguous character women are offered too infrequently.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

The screening of Ready Player One at SXSW couldn’t have come at a better time. There was a growing backlash to the movie, with many people judging it for shamelessly exploiting 1980s nostalgia solely to win brownie points with Gen X movie critics. It was cheap and derivative, people were declaring without having seen the movie at all, and should be dismissed out of hand.

Those attitudes seem to have been quashed to a great extent by how positive the SXSW reception was. While actual reviews seem to still be embargoed, the Twitter updates have largely called it fun and well-made while admittedly leaning on nostalgia pretty heavily. That it comes from director Steven Spielberg, who doesn’t exactly have to work hard to prove his pop culture bonafides, helps. A good number of critics are now predicting the movie will be a big hit, a reversal of the “this is going to flop hard” attitude of just a couple weeks ago.

All that can’t help but remind me of another movie that was roundly – almost universally – praised at SXSW and hailed for how it embraced and celebrated pop culture only to go on to land at the box office with a thud akin to a vintage video game arcade machine being tipped over.

I’m speaking of course of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.

When that movie screened at SXSW in 2010 everyone loved it. And why not? It was loose and fun and contained lots of gags that resonated with a generation that grew up knowing the Contra Code like it was their home phone number. Michael Cera was great, as was Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Anna Kendrick and the rest of the hip, young cast. It was a movie about video games that felt like a video game! That it came from director Edgar Wright, who didn’t exactly have to work hard to prove his pop culture bonafides, helped.

scott pilgrim pic

Maybe it’s that the last eight years have seen at least one generation of turnover in the writers and others who are now covering movies for the sites and blogs that are part of the entertainment press, but I’m seeing precious little awareness of how we’ve been down this road before.

Just because a movie plays like gangbusters in Austin when it’s specifically designed to appeal to the kinds of critics who are going to be in Austin, doesn’t mean it’s going to work for the mass audience. All the praise for the movie may be true – it may be a lot of fun that’s also well made and feature characters that are more three-dimensional than the trailers have presented them – but that doesn’t mean suburban moviegoers are going to choose it.

In fact, as good as the movie might be, I’m surprised more of the immediate feedback hasn’t pointed out at least two of the headwinds the movie faces when it arrives in a couple weeks:

  1. Spielberg looks surprisingly vulnerable right now. The Post did not do as well as it should have given its pedigree and subject matter. I’m not saying he’s lost his touch, but it’s certainly not a given that his name is enough to open a movie, at least not anymore.
  2. The movie is about white male culture. It’s not that white men need to shut up and disappear entirely because of the centuries of oppression they’ve visited upon literally everyone else. I *am* one, so I’d very much like to still be able to express myself. It’s just that right now we’re celebrating a box-office weekend where the #1 and #2 films – Black Panther and A Wrinkle In Time – are much more representative of under-served and under-appreciated voices and groups. And we’re realizing that white men have dominated culture to date, including appropriating elements of other groups while discounting more authentic and original representations of that culture.

Both of those could impact how a movie about a white kid steeped in nostalgia for a uniquely white, male culture is received. That may be true to the source material, but that’s not going to help anyone’s argument.

It will be interesting to see what the full reviews for Ready Player One look like when they start to come in. Maybe some will acknowledge the issues it faces. But right now I’m flashing back to 2010, when everyone was *sure* that Scott Pilgrim was going to be a massive hit because everyone at SXSW loved it. As we found out then, and may find out again now, that’s not always a guarantee of mainstream success. In fact, it could be a clear sign it *won’t* work.

Signaling that would require a level of institutional memory and historical context that’s sadly lacking here.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

dear dictator posterAre pen pals still a thing in the age of internet trolls and other online dangers? I’m not sure if they are, but that’s the premise of the new movie Dear Dictator. Odeya Rush plays Tatiana, a teenage girl who’s always on the edges of the social dynamic at her school. One day she decides to start writing letters to a British-Caribbean dictator named General Anton Vincent (Michael Caine), who is in the news because of the atrocities being committed in his country.

When Vincent is forced to flee a coup he winds up looking for and finding Tatiana and teaching her how to rule her school with an iron fist, taking down the mean girls and other bullies that have plagued her existence for too long. Of course not everyone is cool with this situation and things quickly escalate as Vincent’s presence in the suburbs is no longer concealable and has to be dealt with.

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I have some brief thoughts on a few of the movie-related news tidbits from the last couple weeks.

Finally, A Live-Action Star Wars TV Show: OK, this isn’t movie news, but you can’t not mention the fact that the decade of rumors and reports about how a live-action Star Wars TV show might or might not happen are finally coming to fruition. That Jon Favreau is writing and producing is fine, though Lucasfilm is rightfully being skewered for once more finding a generally bland white male to handle the franchise as opposed to literally anyone else. The announcement post takes pains to point out he’s assembling a “diverse” room of creators, but that only goes so far. Still, this will be a big value differentiator for Disney’s upcoming streaming subscription service.

Redefining the “Chick Flick.”: A recent Fandango survey of female moviegoers shows Hollywood has been seriously underestimating that audience’s preferences and marketing some of its biggest blockbusters all wrong. Though any survey is subject to scrutiny, the fact that women want to see sci-fi and not the same tired romance isn’t all that surprising, especially when you consider the tired gender roles on display in the latter. The studios would seem to do well to not only make more movies they want to see but also market everything – EVERYTHING – in a way that isn’t so heavily skewed toward men.

Rob Liefeld is Still a Thing? I’m kind of aghast that, given the breadth and depth of talent available in the comics industry, Netflix would hook up with Rob Liefeld for a series of interconnected films based on his “Extreme Universe” characters. Like…do they realize the success of Deadpool wasn’t because of Liefeld but was rooted more in how the character has been treated by Gail Simone and other writers over the years? Props to Liefeld’s agent, who likely sold this to Netflix based on the company’s desire for more action franchises.

Wanna Know How I Got These Scars? I continue to maintain that an origin of the Joker is the least essential story I can think of, but that sounds like exactly what we’re getting, with Joaquin Phoenix, the least engaging actor of this generation, in the lead role. The character’s danger has always come from his unpredictability, which disappears once you explore the roots of what made him into what he is. The Joker’s backstory in “The Killing Joke,” which this movie seems to be taking inspiration from, is vastly inferior to what writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo did with the villain on a number of occasions during their “Batman” run.

The Sopranos Prequel Coming Soon: Along those same lines, I’m not even sure how a prequel film to “The Sopranos” would work, given the emphasis on Tony’s exploring of his past and subsequent issues on the show itself.

Kristen Wiig is The Cheetah for Wonder Woman 2: I like the casting of Kristen Wiig as the antagonist in Wonder Woman 2 mostly because Wiig is a great actress who’s shown in the last several years that not only is she funny but she has dramatic chops enough to go up against anyone.

Who Will the New White Box Office Savior Be? Let me see if I’ve got this straight: Black Panther has been the #1 movie for a month and grossed $565m just domestically, A Wrinkle In Time’s $33m opening weekend proves there’s a sizable audience not afraid of earnest, optimistic sci-fi featuring a mixed-racial cast, and the question being asked by The Hollywood Reporter is what does Red Sparrow’s dismal box-office mean for the future of star power? Like…really? Because the answer is in the first two points I just made.

Better Movie Trailer Targeting Coming Soon: Paramount Pictures is working with Movio to use the latter’s cross-media ad-targeting technology to make sure trailers for the former’s movies are seen by an audience that’s highly likely to buy tickets based on past behavior.

Maybe Disney Has Enough Power? FandangoNow will make its video-on-demand movies available to users of Movies Anywhere, the digital locker operated by a division of Disney. That’s great for cross-platform portability, but I still question whether the issues around ownership versus licensing have been fully hashed out yet.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.