life lessons from the movies: raiders of the lost ark (40th anniversary)

He’s not the man we knew years ago…

That Raiders of the Lost Ark turns 40 this week feels, as an increasing number of such milestones does recently, like a personal attack. It seems impossible that 40 years have passed since I sat in my grandparents’ basement watching Siskey & Ebert review the movie before going to see it myself a few months later when it came to the local second-run theater.

The anniversary has brought with a number of remembrances and retrospectives, chief among them a very good interview with Karen Allen where she not only talks about the movie, its characters and its legacy but also the personal impact the success of the film had on her mental and emotional health.

Among the many aspects of the film that have made it an enduring classic (it’s perfectly structured to be divided into chapters mirroring the film serials that inspired George Lucas), Lawrence Kasden’s script — elevated by Harrison Ford’s desert dry delivery and great performances from Allen and others — contains a good number of important life lessons we could all benefit from remember.

Harrison Ford Run GIF by Paramount Movies - Find & Share on GIPHY

It’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage.

For when your body reminds you you’re a good 10 years older than your brain insists you are and a good 20 years older than how you behave in any public setting, including social media.

Indianajones GIF by CBS - Find & Share on GIPHY

I don’t know. I’m making this up as I go.

For when your boss asks how that content strategy presentation is coming along.

Asps… very dangerous. You go first.

For when pandemic-related closures are coming to an end but it’s been a solid 18 months since you last interacted with anyone outside your immediate family.

Indianajones GIF by CBS - Find & Share on GIPHY

You can’t do this to me, I’m an AMERICAN.

For when the barista gets your latte wrong.

Whiskey…

For when you’re asking anyone for literally anything.

Let us hurry. There is nothing to fear here.

For when you throw caution to the wind and decide you’re totally capable of walking from your New York hotel room to the event location without Google Maps.

I take it, I bury it in the sand for a thousand years, it becomes priceless…

For when you’re justifying keeping a childhood memento everyone else thinks is ugly or weird on display in the living room.

I’m your goddamn partner!

For when the wedding is just days away but you haven’t even started writing your vows.

Indianajones GIF by CBS - Find & Share on GIPHY

Uh… there’s a picture of it right here.

For when you insist on showing someone a picture on your camera and you think it’s in one folder but wait it’s not there did I delete it last time I synced my phone with the hard drive but I swear I was looking at it just the other day hold on I’ll find it.

They’re digging in the wrong place!

For when one half of your group leaves early to get there and get things set up but are nowhere to be found when you get to the destination an hour after they should have been there and no one is answering your texts.

In The Heights – Marketing Recap

How Warner Bros. has sold a big movie musical event.

Anyone not already familiar with the name Lin Manuel Miranda has certainly come to know it in the years since Hamilton – the filmed version of which hit Disney+ last year – became a Broadway sensation. Others, though, were aware of Miranda’s skills well before that based in part on his first musical.

That musical, In The Heights, has now been adapted into a feature film debuting in theaters and on HBO Max this week. Directed by Jon M. Chu, the movie stars Anthony Ramos as Usnavi de la Vega, a Washington Heights bodega owner, Leslie Grace as Nina Rosario, a young woman returning to the neighborhood after dropping out of college, Corey Hawkins as Benny, Usnavi’s best friend and Melissa Barrera as Vanessa, who works at a local salon and dreams of getting out. The story follows these and other characters over three days and involves a winning lottery ticket sold at Usnavi’s bodega, that changes being experienced in the largely Dominican neighborhood and more.

Initial reviews have praised the movie, which currently has a 96% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes as bold and exuberant. And in a sign of the world reopening post-pandemic, some 96% of respondents to a recent Fandango survey say it’s the first film they plan to see in theaters since they closed down over a year ago. Helping that is not only the public health situation in the U.S. but also that school years are ending, all of which adds up to a projected opening weekend of $20 million.

With all that as context, let’s see how Warner Bros. has marketed what has shaped up to be the kickoff event of the summer.

The Posters

While the image of a New York City bridge is wonderfully colorful and striking, the main selling point on the first poster from December (by marketing agency Statement Advertising) is that the movie comes from the creator of “Hamilton” and the director of Crazy Rich Asians. That’s what’s going to convince people to take a chance on a movie whose source material they may not be familiar with.

A half-dozen posters came out in mid-March of this year, all of them taking a slightly different approach to selling the story. Some pull the camera out to show the neighborhood from a wider perspective, others focus more narrowly on the main characters. All keep the same brand of bright, joyous celebrations, though, and so work together to sell a good time with lots of singing and dancing.

Two waves of character posters were released in early May that position either one or two of those characters in different parts of the neighborhood where they live or work.

“The time has come” declares the Dolby Cinemas poster, which shows the main characters in the midst of a raucous neighborhood rally.

The final poster was released later in May, showing the two lead couples in the story dancing in the streets, the other neighborhood residents also celebrating around them.

The Trailers

The first trailer (11.6 million views on YouTube) was released in mid-December and starts out by reminding people it comes from the creator of “Hamilton,” a reasonable message to send. Benny is telling a story of the Washington Heights that was to a group of kids. Back in the day Benny was a dreamer but the neighborhood around him, his friends and his family was changing to shut out anyone who aspired to rise above their station. It’s filled with big, glorious musical numbers and big, glorious emotions, just like a musical should be.

A second trailer (2.6 million views on YouTube) came out in early March, debuting during the Grammy Award broadcast. It’s still focused on Benny and Nina, but is really about loving your neighborhood and embracing all that it has to offer. Not only that, but it’s unapologetically an appreciation of Lantino culture and all that means. Another slightly different version of that trailer came out at the same time, offering a few additional scenes but telling the same story.

Online and Social

In addition to the standard synopsis, videos and photos the official website for the movie has Meme Generator function allowing visitors to choose from a selection of GIFs, add their own message to it and then export it for sharing on the social network of their choice.

There were also standalone social profiles on most major platforms, including Giphy.

Advertising, Press and Promotions

Warner Bros. kicked off the film’s marketing by bringing a video containing the first footage as well as comments from Chu to CCXP in December 2019.

Miranda was interviewed about the movie while he was in Sundance earlier this year promoting other projects.

The movie’s production designer spoke about how he sought to accurately represent the cultures of the movie’s characters.

Both Ramos and Miranda were presenters during the 2020 Academy Awards ceremony.

Ramos, Barrera and others were interviewed about the movie and how they felt a great deal of cultural responsibility to get things right and present the neighborhood and its people respectfully and accurately.

In March of last year Warner Bros. pulled the movie from its original June release, one of several such changes in the midst of the Covid-19 outbreak. It was later rescheduled for June when the studio made its big HBO Max announcement in late 2020.

A few of the actors took part in an interview during the virtual edition of the National Association of Latino Independent Producers 21st Annual Media Summit in June, talking about the tone of the film and how production went.

Miranda talked about writing the original stage show late last year, making it clear he was moved to do so at least in part because of the lack of representation elsewhere in the entertainment world. Later on he was interviewed about what drew him to Chu as a director for the movie

Early April brought a short TV spot/promo that didn’t have much details but certainly conveyed the spectacle of the film.

Disney worked to get some early buzz going for the movie in April by both allowing critics and others to share their early reviews and announcing the film’s world premiere would be held at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in June. It was also scheduled as the premiere film for the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival.

An extended TV spot titled “Change The World” came out at the end of April that plays up the aspirational nature of the story, showing how the characters are out to not only preserve and celebrate their neighborhood and life but change the world while doing so. Another similar spot – this one titled “96,000” – is centered on how someone in the neighborhood has one the lottery and shows the characters talking about what they would do if they came into that kind of money.

Unsavi sings about his love for his neighborhood in the first clip, which debuted during the broadcast of the “MTV Movie & TV Awards” in mid-May.

Gold House, the Asian Pacific-Islander advocacy group that has coordinated support for movies with AAPI creators and leads, announced a spinoff #LatinxGoldOpen campaign in conjunction with the National Association of Latino Independent Producers.

An exclusive MovieClips featurette covered how the themes of the story are universally applicable to everyone.

Ramos was the subject of a THR cover story where he talked about his history with the stage musical, his career to date and more while his work ethic and performance were praised by Miranda, Chu and others. He also received an NYT profile where he shared the pressures of so much attention right now as well as how he’s defined his career to date.

IMAX released a TV spot encouraging audiences to come see it on the big big screen.

In June Smits was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, with the actor talking about his long love of the stage production and lots more.

Grace was interviewed about this being her big screen debut as well as the cultural history she and the rest of the cast strove to portray and represent. That history and heritage was the focus of a feature with the whole cast sharing their thoughts on those topics and more, something they along with others also did at the movie’s recent Los Angeles premiere. They also commented on the relief and thankfulness they felt at the movie finally coming out a year after it was originally scheduled. An interview with costar Daphne Rubin-Vega had her talking about how her character was changed to be queer in the film when she was straight in the original show.

Both Ramos and Miranda appeared on “The Tonight Show” recently.

Additional interviews included conversations with Chu as well as the movie’s costume designer, screenwriter, cinematographer and production design team.

Regal Cinemas had an exclusive collection of interviews with the cast. Dolby shared an interview with Chu about the process of filming the movie in Washington Heights. Another Dolby video with Chu had him presenting the movie as a welcome way to celebrate the reopening of the world as the worst of the pandemic fades, at least here in the U.S.

Along with a few more clips, Warner Bros. released the first eight minutes of the movie on YouTube and made the same footage available within HBO Max.

An extended spot proclaiming the movie the “event of the summer” includes not only the critical praise it’s received to date but also endorsements from celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Hugh Jackman and others.

One final featurette has Miranda, Chu and others who are actually from the neighborhood portrayed on screen about how special Washington Heights is and how it’s always been an immigrant community of some form or another.

Chu was scheduled to appear on TCM to introduce three classic movie musicals that inspired this film.

Promotional partners for the movie included:

  • Travelocity, which ran a sweepstakes giving the winner a dream vacation to either the Domincan Republic or another destination of their choosing.
  • Roblox, which is hosting a virtual block party in-world through June 20th featuring recreations of Washington Heights as well as some of the characters.
  • Foot Locker and Fila, which collaborated on a movie-inspired sneaker coming soon.
  • Open Table, which suggested people celebrate the movie’s release by ordering in from a local restaurant.

Overall

As is appropriate for screen musicals, there are no small emotions in this campaign. Everything is big, everything is colorful, everything is heightened. That comes through in almost every aspect of the marketing, from trailers to posters to Gifs.

In addition to the constant reinforcing of Miranda’s personal brand, what comes through most strongly is how different this movie is from others that tell stories of immigrant or similar communities. This isn’t a dark, serious look at the struggles of people in those neighborhoods, though the problems they face are still evident. Instead it’s a celebration of the people in a neighborhood and how they take joy in life, want to preserve their heritage and make the best of each day, dreaming of not just making it big but then coming back and helping those they grew up alongside. That’s pretty unique and makes this campaign pretty special.

You Got It Salute GIF by In The Heights Movie - Find & Share on GIPHY

Infinite – Marketing Recap

How Paramount+ is selling a time-twisting action movie.

Infinite, starring Mark Wahlberg and directed by Antoine Fuqua, is the first non-Spongebob movie to make its debut on the Paramount+ streaming service, arriving there later this week. As such it represents something of a statement on the part of Paramount, indicating the platform is for more than kids programming, library content and a few prestige series.

Wahlberg stars as Evan McCauley, a man haunted by recurring visions and confused when he finds he has skills he’s never trained for or practiced. One day he’s tracked down by a mysterious group calling themselves Infinites, who tell him these are memories and skills he’s accumulated in past lives. The group needs his help to track down others like them who are determined to end life on Earth. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sophie Cookson and Jason Mantzoukas among others also star.

The Posters

Just one poster (by marketing agency Bond) for the film. Released in late May, it shows McCauley behind concentric circles that ultimately form an infinity symbol in order to reinforce the title’s branding. There’s no text or other copy to explain the story, so either the studio felt it was too hard to explain on the one-sheet or that Wahlberg’s presence was enough to generate audience interest.

The Trailers

Ted Murray (Ejiofor) is talking with McCauley about the voices McCauley hears and more as the first trailer (10.7 million views on YouTube), released at the end of May, begins. Murray taunts McCauley with a series of random objects until he finally triggers McCauley’s memories. Just as that happens a car bursts through the interrogation room wall and we’re off to the races. We hear about how McCauley is an Infinite and how unlocking his past will offer a guide for his future.

The second trailer (3.6 million views on YouTube) came out just a week later and begins with clips from the same interrogation scene mixed with shots of McCauley’s unremarkable but slightly confusing life. This time it’s Tammy McCauley (Cookson) who provides the backstory exposition before we get to lots more chases and fight sequences in exotic locales around the world. Oh, and we finally see the real draw of the movie, which is Mantzoukas’ unhinged tech guy performance.

Online and Social

Nothing here that was specific to the movie, but it was given some support — though not as much as recent high-profile series and other material — on Paramount+’s brand social profiles.

Advertising, Press and Publicity

In May Paramount announced the movie, originally scheduled for theatrical release August of last year but pushed because of the coronavirus pandemic, would instead bypass theaters and debut exclusively on Paramount Plus. An actual release date was finally revealed in May, just about two weeks before that date.

IGN debuted an exclusive first photo from the movie in late May in conjunction with the release of the first trailer.

A short promo was released at the end of May that presents many of the main characters and sets up the presence of a mystery that spans lifetimes and eons. It’s meant to be serious and important but it comes off a bit silly, like some kind of futuristic wrestling match

Taking a more traditional approach is another TV spot-like video that features an off-screen voice explaining to Evan how he’s lived countless lifetimes and is crucial to the future of the world.

Overall

I’m not sure how much of the marketing materials here were set and ready a while ago when the movie was originally scheduled for late 2020, but the tight timeframe mandated by how it’s been less than two months since a new release strategy was announced doesn’t help the campaign much. Everything feels rushed and breezed over, when a story like this typically benefits from taking a bit longer so some of the more ridiculous plot points can be ironed out and explained.

That extremely-condensed campaign is filled with sci-fi speak in what appears to be an attempt to position it as something similar to Inception, but there’s not enough of the story on display to create those stakes. Fuqua’s directing, then, might be the most engaging element of the marketing.

soc (save our cinemas)?

What a wild [checks calendar] three or four weeks it’s been…

Cruella and A Quiet Place Part II came out this week. F9 hits at the end of June. All are coming to theaters, open in most all parts of the country, and so Hollywood studios as well as the theater industry are feeling optimistic that the Summer 2021 season will be a strong one.

Emma Stone GIF by Walt Disney Studios - Find & Share on GIPHY

To help that along, the industry, buoyed by surveys indicating people are ready to head back to the theater and may be willing to pay a premium when doing so, recently launched a “The Big Screen Is Back!” campaign with a massive star-studded event in Los Angeles. A PSA for the campaign debuted during the recent Oscars broadcast, with Matthew McConaughey talking about how great theaters are as some of the employees who have been impacted by shutdowns appeared along with him.

At the Century City event celebrities like J.J. Abrams, Arnold Schwarzenneger, Jason Blum and others all declared their love of moviegoing, talking about how seeing movies on the big screen is an experience like no other. Overall, though, that event seems to have been a bit of a dud, with little new shown to the press and other attendees. If studios were keeping their powder dry and saving bigger moments for other events later in the year, it’s unclear what that campaign is meant to accomplish.

All that comes in advance of the Cinema Week campaign planned to run June 22-27, a period that A) is not a week, and B) I’m sure just coincidentally overlaps with Universal’s release of F9.

Charlize Theron Wink GIF by The Fast Saga - Find & Share on GIPHY

Whether they are independent of these campaigns or part of them, the marketing pushes for both F9 and A Quiet Place Part II have both prominently featured “back to theaters” messaging. In the latter’s case it was a significant message throughout, especially when the marketing restarted earlier this year. With the former, the spectacle is certainly shown to be best experienced on a big screen while individual spots have specifically and clearly called out that the movie will be in theaters exclusively.

Changing the Viewing Experience

I’m glad movie theaters are reopening. There’s a lot that’s great about the theatrical viewing experience, including the sensory deprivation tank you essentially put yourself in for a few hours. You relinquish control for that time to the movie, allowing yourself to be completely immersed in it.

At least in theory.

In practice, going to the local multiplex is a mix of logistical hassle, Frogger-esque evasion of the distractions that are still present and the nagging fear that in the end it won’t be worth all of that. Between the pre-show ads for local car dealerships and herbal spas and the fact that you can’t actually turn off your phone because you have both college-aged children and older parents who might need help at any moment, your attention can still be pulled in quite a number of directions. And while critics love to wax poetic about the “booming sound” and “crisp visuals” in theaters, you have about a 1-in-3 chance of there being some problem with either the audio or video portion of the presentation. Or maybe the house lights never go down. Or maybe masking is off. Or maybe [fill in the blank].

Yes, some types of movies definitely play better on a big screen with deep bass, which is why the titles touted during the “The Big Screen Is Back” event were heavy on super heroes, franchise sequels and other similar releases. The experiential differential between Mortal Kombat on the big screen and the home screen is substantial, whereas the gap for something like I Care A Lot is not nearly as wide.

Let’s also be clear that as some of these “event” movies get longer, they’re harder to sit through because some of us need to go to the bathroom.

For movies in the second category, home viewing is just fine, and should be accepted as such by all involved. And that’s not even getting into the question of actual quality, which can make the $14/ticket you just spent seem very, very wasted. At home, even if you finish a bad movie, it’s just a matter of time spent because the cost is spread out over all the movies/shows you watched on that particular streaming platform.

Oh Hey, An Elephant. In *This* Room

There’s also the fact that most all of the studios praising the power of communal viewing in a shared physical environment are hedging their bets by sending some of their movies to their owned streaming service. Black Widow, In The Heights and others are all getting day-and-date theatrical/streaming releases either because plans were made when pandemic uncertainty was still high and haven’t been changed or because these companies are experimenting with new models to see what works.

Washington Heights Pride GIF by In The Heights Movie - Find & Share on GIPHY

Recent deals between the studios and exhibitors seem to have solidified a 45-day theatrical window as the new normal, and even then theatrical exclusivity may be on its way out as power shifts in the industry. While consumers may be willing to head back to the movie theater, they’ve also developed habits — and expectations — over the last year that will be hard to break.

While the notion of exclusive theater runs has been flailing in the water recently it got a lifeline when the producers of the James Bond franchise, in the middle of Amazon buying MGM, committed to a worldwide theatrical release for the upcoming No Time To Die. That statement seemed necessary because Amazon’s overall strategy for MGM is to use the studio as an instant catalog of movies and shows either to stream directly or remake, reboot and turn into content properties.

James Bond GIF by Regal - Find & Share on GIPHY

In short, the purchase continues the overall assault on what had previously been an unshakable paradigm, even if one-off examples continue that tradition. Long-term the trend toward shorter — or non-existent — windows will continue as studios find find some iteration of a hybrid approach where releases are tiered to their distribution points.

Theaters Matter; Or They Should

Eric Kohn at Indiewire makes a good point here:

The driving force of the “Tribeca Festival” is just that: a physical presence with curated experiences. Trust the brand and it might be worth the price of admission.

Studios keep throwing product into theaters, which those theaters are then obligated to run. But the “experience” that everyone references is one that involves frustrating parking lots and the risk that the trailers we saw last month will wind up being better than the full movie.

There’s no curation behind it. The pre-show ads are not specially chosen to match the movie being presented. The experience lacks any sense of being personally arranged, from the lineup of titles at the theater to how you’re greeted by staff when you walk in.

To that point, the importance of a great staff can’t be overlooked here. Pay them well so they actually care about their job, encourage them to interact with customers on a personal level, educate them in film history and other details and then watch them become ambassadors for both theaters and movies. It’s a simple equation, but one that’s frequently overlooked.

Theaters can be a magical place. I’ve been to several and worked at one that worked hard to achieve that level of enjoyment for patrons. But instead of being an egalitarian venue for both escapism and contemplation they’re becoming premium venues for big screen spectacle, one location indistinguishable from any other. That’s the wrong direction to be heading in.

A Quiet Place Part II – Marketing Recap

How Paramount is selling the aurally-fixated sequel.

We should have had this conversation a year ago.

I’m a walking’ down the street and I’m talkin’…

That’s when A Quiet Place Part II, the follow-up to 2018’s surprise hit starring Emily Blunt, John Krasinski and Millicent Simmonds, was originally scheduled for release. But thanks to delays resulting from coronavirus-related theater closures and an instance from all parties that this not debut on streaming or PVOD, it finally arrives on screens this week.

The story picks up right where the first left off, with Evelyn Abbott (Blunt) trying to keep her daughter Regan (Simmonds) and son Marcus (Noah Jupe) as well as her newborn baby safe and quiet in a world where aliens hunt based on the smallest sound someone might make. They are on the move after the destruction of their home and their quest brings them into contact with the disillusioned and paranoid Emmett (Cillian Murphy) and others who have become cynical and distrustful following the collapse of society.

Initial reactions are very positive, praising the tension and suspense of the story as well as how the world is expanded, with Rotten Tomatoes currently ranking the movie as 90% Fresh.

Additionally, Fandango has touted how ticket sales were, a week or so out from release, pacing ahead of where they were a year ago the first time we went through this. That’s made this movie a big part of the “people are ready to get back to theaters” narrative currently circulating through the industry and media, a narrative that’s been a big part of the movie’s marketing.

First Take: The 2019/2020 Campaign

The original release date for the film was March 20th, 2020, a date that wound up being roughly a week after many U.S. schools and businesses, including movie theaters, shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic that was at that point merely picking up speed. But it’s a date that was the focal point of the first half of the film’s campaign.

That was evident on the first poster (by marketing agency BLT Communications), released in December 2019. A sense of familiarity in the audience is established by using a photo of Evelyn, Regan and Marcus walking along one of the sandy paths laid down in the forest to aid in silent movement. The family are walking toward a more urban setting of power lines and highway overpasses, communicating how the story expands a bit.

A short :30 teaser was released online at the same time, though it was shown in theaters several days before that, the first indication of the theater-centric nature of the campaign.

A first look photo came out shortly after that teaser accompanied by comments from Blunt and others.

On New Year’s Day 2020 the first full trailer (30.2 million views on YouTube) came out, more clearly explaining the movie’s story. It starts with a flashback to the day the aliens invaded and the chaos they caused. We then catch up with the Abbotts immediately following the events of the first movie as they continue to move around silently to avoid the sound-hunting predators. When the family encounters another group of survivors they find their apparent saviors aren’t exactly the nicest, most understanding people but instead might be just as dangerous as the creatures who have taken over the planet.

Paid promotions began with a Super Bowl spot at the end of January that emphasizes the chase elements of the story, showing the family on the run as it seeks safety and continues, despite the insistence of others, that there are good people in the world worth saving.

A featurette was released at the same time as that commercial that had the stars and filmmakers talking about returning to the story and where their characters are as the sequel begins.

Blunt and Krasinski partnered with Omaze on a charitable campaign giving the selected winner the chance to go on a double date with the couple.

An “exclusive look” released in late February plays like an extended TV spot, showing the basic outline of the story as the remaining Abbotts seek safety as they keep moving.

In February Paramount announced a double feature of the first movie and an early screening of this sequel that was scheduled for March 18th, a couple days before general release.

Simmonds was interviewed about being a hearing-impaired actor in Hollywood and her role in these movies. Blunt and Krasinski were interviewed about their initial reluctance to extend the story with a sequel and how they changed their minds, finding ways to keep the characters going. In an interview of her own, Blunt talked about this role as well as how she’s carved out a career for herself over time.

The Abbots triggering a trap set by other survivors, a key moment of tension from the trailers, was shown off in the first clip released at the end of February. Another clip from March takes place during the first wave of the alien invasion, as the Abbots are just trying to survive the chaos around them.

TV commercials like this that continued emphasizing the movie’s drama as well as the action ran steadily beginning in mid-February and through the next few weeks.

A second poster released late in February shows the four surviving members of the Abbott family huddled in a storm sewer or other underground location, trying to remain silent to avoid the hunters.

At that point Paramount debuted a movie-themed survival room experience in New York City and Los Angeles where fans could come live in the movie’s world of being hunted for a short while.

A Dolby Cinemas poster released at the end of February enigmatically shows what seems to be Evelyn walking across a bridge away from a cross left in the middle of the path as a memorial. It’s odd in that the kids aren’t seen, so you’re left to wonder why Evelyn is on her own.

IMAX’s poster, though, shows all four of them as they race across a field in front of an abandoned factory.

The dangerous loner played by Cillian Murphy, one the Abbots encounter on their journey, is the subject of a featurette released in early March as the filmmakers and cast explain who he is and what he represents.

Similar subject matter was covered by Krasinski at the movie’s premiere, one of the last major events held before the Covid-related shutdown, with Blunt adding how much she loves the character she plays.

Both Blunt and Krasinski made the rounds of various talk shows, appearing on “The Late Show,” “Kimmel” and elsewhere. Simmonds talked about the movie on “GMA.” Djimon Hounsou also appeared on “Live with Ryan and Kelly” and other shows to talk about his costarring role.

And a Pause

On March 12, 2020, just a week before the original release date, Krasinski and Paramount announced the movie was being pulled from the release schedule because theaters across the country were shutting down as the coronavirus pandemic worsened. That brought the marketing to a standstill, though there would continue to be semi-regular updates from various parties.

While the release was on hold Paramount became one of many studios and other companies releasing movie-themed virtual backgrounds for Zoom meetings, which were quickly becoming the new normal in the white collar business world.

A few weeks later a new September release date was announced, a date that reflected optimism — felt by many — that the pandemic would wane and fizzle out in the summer heat.

Other than a few comments from the cast and studio in the intervening months, things remained quiet until February of this year. There weren’t any updates to the movie’s official website or its social media profiles. That’s when the publicity around the rebranding of the CBS All Access streaming platform as Paramount+ included the news that this movie, among others, would be available on that service a scant 45 days after their theatrical debut.

The Paramount+ news in February came with the announcement this movie and others would come to the streaming service just 45 days after theatrical release. In May that announcement resulted in reports Krasinski and Blunt were seeking financial compensation from Paramount for the shortened theatrical window, which had what they claimed would be a negative effect on their back-end deals.

Let’s Try This Again: The 2021 Campaign

In early March of this year Krasinski announced a new Memorial Day Weekend release date that took into account the reopening of theaters across the country as well as the fact that a Covid vaccine had finally been introduced and more and more people were getting the jab.

A final trailer (10.6 million views on YouTube) — teased ahead of time, of course — came out in early May. With a few brief flashbacks, it shows how Evelyn and her kids are trying to keep surviving in the world as the sound-tracking aliens continue their reign of terror. There are lots of thrills and jumps and, at the end, a note about how this is the perfect movie to experience in theaters.

After the final trailer came out a short featurette/TV spot was released with Krasinski and Blunt talking about the expanded scope of the story as well as how excited they are that people will be able to experience it in theaters.

Another batch of TV spots came in mid-May that made a strong case for the movie as one audiences wouldn’t want to miss.

As release neared there were more interviews with Krasinski about the long wait he and the others have endured for release to finally happen and how there are already some ideas floating around for a potential third installment. Joint interviews with him and Blunt also covered similar ground as the press cycle for the first movie in how they almost said “No” to a sequel.

When Kraskinsk appeared on “The Late Show” he focused on how the movie was very specifically made to be experienced by people en masse in theaters. He also showed up on “Late Night” while Blunt talked about the movie on “Kimmel.” Murphy was also interviewed about joining the sequel and what his character’s story is.

The actor/director later surprised fans at a Cleveland screening of the movie and did likewise at a screening in New York City.

Dolby Cinemas released an exclusive Q&A with the cast. AMC Theaters also a brief chat with Krasinski. Cinemark hosted a live Q&A in select theaters with Krasinski being interviewed by superstar director/producer J.J. Abrams.

Overall

First off, you have to kind of hand it to Paramount for this Tweet that nicely references the “Friends” reunion special that landed on HBO Max earlier this week and which has been sucking up much of the oxygen in the entertainment press.

While it was present throughout the campaign, the second half that kicked off earlier this year prominently pointed out not only that the movie was “only in theaters” but more specifically and pointedly that it was “The movie experience theaters were made for.” That’s a none-too-subtle call to action for the audience that they’ll get something special out of seeing it on the big screen. And it’s a better message than what’s usually conveyed for format-specific options like IMAX or Dolby.

As for the campaign outside of that, it’s successful in largely recreating the mystique of the original film despite the audience now knowing what the threat the Abbott family faces is, the mystery of which formed the crux of the first movie’s marketing. It does that by showing that while the blind, sound-sensitive aliens are still present the real problem now are the other humans the Abbotts encounter.

Cruella – Marketing Recap

How Disney is selling a villain’s origin story.

Emma Stone daring you to say something on the Cruella movie poster

Giving cinematic antagonists a feature-length backstory that makes their later actions if not reasonable at least understandable has been a trend in Hollywood for a decade or more now. Disney, which has been down this road before with movies like the two Maleficent entries, is back with another with this week’s Cruella.

Emma Stone stars as Estella, an aspiring fashion designer in the punk London of the 1970’s, whose dreams never seem to come true. When she finally manages to land a position with the powerful Baroness (Emma Thompson), Estella’s talent becomes apparent as does her penchant for mayhem and cruelty. Eventually she succumbs fully to that side of her personality and becomes Cruella de Vil.

After a campaign that has run in the relatively concise period starting earlier this year the movie arrives this week both in theaters and on Disney+ Premier Access.

The Posters

When the first poster (by marketing agency Concept Arts) came out in February it immediately established not only Stone’s appearance as the title character but also the overall look and feel of the film. Specifically, a look and feel rooted in the design aesthetics of the 70s punk scene, with its title treatment that seems to be written in lipstick and more.

A similar set of messages is conveyed on the second poster (by marketing agency BLT Communications) released just a few days later.

The next one-sheet from early April pulls the camera out to show more of a full-body shot of Cruella.

In early May a series of character posters came out with Cruella and Baroness along with Cruella’s henchman Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) and her childhood friend turned journalistic nemesis Anita (Kirby Howell-Baptiste).

Another set that adds Jasper (Joel Fry), Cruella’s other assistant, to the mix came out a bit later in May.

The Dolby Cinemas poster looks exactly like the cover to a punk album, with Cruella, Horace and Jasper standing against a white brick wall, a dalmatian blurred in front of them as it runs past the camera. The Regal Cinemas poster has Cruella hovering the background as the other characters are arranged in front of her along with her signature town car.

The Trailers

It’s clear from the first trailer (13 million views on YouTube), released in mid-February, that we will be watching an origin story of a villain. That’s communicated through the handful of narrated lines about how she was “destined to be a psycho” and such, all of which sets up a twisted personality. Thankfully there’s no reason for that shown here, it just is what it is. Also unclear is what Cruella is acting out toward specifically in the story, as we just see scenes of general mayhem and craziness, not a unified goal or target. That’s fine since really it’s Stone’s performance that’s the main draw as she wears outlandish wigs and dresses and chews all available scenery.

A final trailer (6.2 million views on YouTube) came out in early April that continues selling it as a villain origin story, but one where Estella’s transformation is in large part triggered by the workplace abuse she suffers at the hands of Baroness von Hellman. It’s actually a lot more interesting for the backstory that’s offered as well as because more Thompson is always a good thing.

Online and Social

No website but there were social pages like this Twitter profile where updates were shared.

Advertising, Press and Publicity

The first big coming out party for the movie was at Disney’s D23 Fan Expo in August of last year. Costumes from the film were on display and the first still showing Stone in character was released.

More stills offering additional looks at Cruella and The Baroness came out in late February following the release of the trailer.

A new “sneak peek” video was released in mid-March during the Grammy Awards ceremony showing the indignities Cruella suffers on her way up as well as how she makes her own opportunities along the way to her eventual fate.

Unsurprisingly, Disney announced in March that the movie would receive a simultaneous theatrical and Disney+ Premier Access release.

It’s notable that one of the first big interviews with director Craig Gillespie came in British Vogue given the campaign’s focus on fashion and lewks.

TV spots like this began to come out toward the end of April, some focusing on the story’s fashion industry setting, others on how Cruella grew into the villain she would eventually become.

The first clip, also released at the end of April, shares the moment when Cruella comes into her own by making a big entrance at a party hosted by her boss.

A short featurette that came out around the same time has Stone talking about taking on the character and more.

Additional spots and promos in the weeks leading up to release include a “Meet the Villain” extended look at Cruella’s hijinks, a “Call Me Cruella” promo that focuses on the rivalry between her and The Baroness, a clip of The Baroness’ chilling entry, a commercial showing the event audiences can expect in theaters or online, another clip showing Cruella commandeering what would become her signature car, a featurette on the fashion of the characters, a commercial showing Cruella making plans for her big coming out and the music.

In mid-May the movie became one of the first major releases to hold an actual red carpet premiere event in Los Angeles, a sign that nature was indeed healing. Stone, Howell-Baptiste, Gillespie and others were in attendance while costumes and other props were on display for attendees to check out.

Just days before the movie came out Disney released Florence Welch’s “Call Me Cruella” from the film’s soundtrack, which also included a number of songs appropriate to the era and setting of the story.

cruella online ad

Online ads used various incarnations of the key art to send clicks to the Disney+ sign-up/sign-in page.

Stone talked more about taking on such a well-known character when she appeared on “GMA.” She and Thompson both talked here about the looks of their respective characters while Glenn Close, who of course previously played Cruella on-screen and was a producer on this movie, shared her ideas for a sequel.

Promotional partners for the movie include:

Overall

It’s an interesting choice made by Disney to sell this as a glam fashion period piece in addition to a villain origin story. Everything about the campaign, from the interviews in Vogue to the featurettes on the costumes to the posters that go big on the hair and feather-strewn dresses, conveys a black and white fierceness to the audience.

While you can take issue with how accurate those attempts are to the era portrayed, it certainly works to create a strong visual identity for the movie. Everything is black and white and red all over, lipstick scrawled on a photo and dangerous attitudes conveyed through determined looks.

Army of the Dead – Marketing Recap

How Netflix is selling a zombie-tastic romp through Sin City.

Imagine Ocean’s 11 but instead of Andy Garcia’s security apparatus, the thieves had to get through a horde of zombies to get to the casino safe full of cash.

That’s the basic premise of Army of the Dead from director Zack Snyder, taking a break from encouraging his most toxic fans to attack Warner Bros. for..reasons. In the movie’s story, a zombie outbreak has overtaken Las Vegas, leading casino owner Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) to hire a group of mercenaries lead by Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) to battle their way through the undead and retrieve $200 million from vault of the casino. Time is tight on the mission because the U.S. government, fearful the quarantine of Vegas won’t hold, plans on nuking the city to wipe out the threat. But everyone has their own hidden agendas.

The movie, which also stars Garret Dillahunt, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Tig Notaro and others, has a solid 72% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with early reviews calling it a fun, action-filled caper film.

The Posters

The first poster (by marketing agency P+A) came out in February, showing a massive bank vault with various playing cards and currency flying around in front of it to help establish the Las Vegas setting of the story. To convey the presence of the zombies, a number of hands can be seen reaching out from the closed door, obviously not human and obviously not doing well.

Ward and his team stand atop a bright neon-lit slots bar on the second poster (by marketing agency BOND), released in April. With more neon in the background, there are a couple of skulls, a handful of poker chips and lots of weaponry on display to help sell the elements of the story. Two additional posters came out a bit later, one showing a zombie hand holding up a playing card and one showing a human hand holding a pike with a zombie head mounted on it. The bright pop-art colors keep the visual identity of the campaign going.

A series of brightly colored posters featuring each individual character were released in late April, each featuring a different tagline along with lots of neon decorations in the background in an attempt to convey the story’s Las Vegas setting.

Three more posters came out in the weeks leading up to release. One on, the focus is back on Ward’s team as they stand in the middle of the bright lights of Vegas, a group of undead hands reaching from the bottom. The other two look like comic book covers, with Ward on one walking through the flotsam of a ruined Vegas while carrying his packs. The other looks more like some kind of Mexican or similar artwork, with The Bride — a more intelligent, advanced zombie the team encounters — standing amid a collection of flowers and skulls.

The Trailers

The first trailer (3.7 million views on YouTube) came out at the end of February, immediately establishing a harsh post-apocalyptic landscape before flashing back to Vegas prior to the outbreak. Without offering much in the way of details, we get that a small armed unit is trying to break into a casino vault, fighting their way through the zombie hordes to do so.

We get a little more context for the story in the second trailer (11.1 million views on YouTube) from early April. Ward is approached by Tanaka to see if he’s interested in breaking into Tanaka’s old casino, now surrounded by zombies, before Las Vegas is nuked by the government. But things get complicated when they realize the zombies now roaming the streets have evolved and are smarter than the ones they faced in the war years ago.

Online and Social

As is common, Netflix supported the movie on brand social channels — including creating a bunch of GIFs on Giphy — but didn’t launch any new profiles or sites for the campaign. But it *did* create a publicly-accessible Dropbox where, in a feature it called #DeadDrop, the company put new posters, GIFs, videos and other assets.

Advertising, Press and Publicity

In August of last year news broke that, despite the movie being fully shot and in post-production, Netflix announced original star Chris D’Elia was being replaced and Notaro brought in. Those reshoots were said to be scheduled for as soon as pandemic conditions would allow, and have Notaro acting largely against a green screen and stand-ins.

Netflix was apparently so entranced by the project it announced a prequel film and anime series later in August.

The first footage came in January, part of Netflix’s announcement of its ambitious 2021 feature film slate. An official release date was set in February.

Snyder was interviewed about the film as part of EW’s 2021 Movie Preview, with some first-look stills also provided. He also spoke about the more in a Vanity Fair piece that was focused on his new version of Justice League, putting the development of this film in the context of his return to directing after taking a couple years off in the wake of his daughter’s death.

A few weeks after the second trailer came out Netflix shared a video of Snyder watching and reacting to a low-budget fan remake of that spot. Maybe this is meant to humanize the director or show how in-tune with his fans he is.

How the VFX team created the zombies – including the tiger – and more topics were covered in an interview with producer Deborah Snyder.

Zack Snyder Zombie GIF by NETFLIX - Find & Share on GIPHY

In a surprise move, news broke at the beginning of May that Cinemark planned to screen the movie at many of its locations nationwide ahead of its debut on Netflix. That’s a major concession by a large chain and one that shows how the calculus may have changed over the last year and a half.

Why Bautista chose this project instead of joining the cast of The Suicide Squad was the subject of this interview, with the star saying he couldn’t pass up an opportunity to work with Snyder.

The process of replacing D’Elia with Notaro was covered in-depth in an interview with her and Snyder, including how they had to make a number of adjustments simply because of the difference in size between her and the other actor.

Tig Notaro Army Of The Dead GIF by NETFLIX - Find & Share on GIPHY

Additional interviews with Deborah Snyder and others included how production had a smaller scope than the DC Films movies, more on how they created that CGI zombie tiger, how working with Netflix differs from working with Warner Bros., the respect Bautista gained for Snyder’s work ethic as director and cinematographer, how Snyder got all the extras thinking and walking like zombies and lots more. Zack Snyder offered an overview of the story and characters as well.

Netflix released the first 15 minutes of the movie online to give audiences a taste of what they could expect when they watched the whole thing.

Cut down versions of the trailer along with other promos offered additional glimpses at the movie, mostly focusing on the mix of humor and violence it’s presumed will be most attractive to the audience.

A number of banners, some used as ads, some used just as organic promos, were created. Most simply repurposed some of the key art, but others like the one below attempt to recreate the look of classic zombie movie title treatments.

Overall

One review of Army of the Dead simply said something along the lines of “Well, it definitely is a movie” and that sums things up nicely.

With a bunch of solid actors in the lineup, there’s so little emphasis in the campaign on the human characters the message becomes they really don’t matter. Instead the primary selling point of the marketing here is the work put in by the VFX team to create a CGI tiger.

At least it hasn’t been preceded by months and months of kowtowing to online trolls, making them feel as if they have power they don’t. But, that being said, Snyder has spent a decent chunk of this movie’s publicity cycle litigating his past super hero work, which shows he’s not as interested in selling this movie as maintaining his status as Hollywood’s most persecuted director.

an appreciation of: charles grodin

The great Charles Grodin has passed away a couple days ago, meaning the entertainment world lost not only a talented and hilarious actor but also a GOAT-level late night talk show guest.

Following Grodin’s passing the tributes poured in both from fans and from his past collaborators, including Albert Brooks, Steve Martin and others.

Many of those have called out some of Grodin’s most iconic roles such as The Heartbreak Kid, Midnight Run, Heaven Can Wait, Beethoven and, of course, The Muppets Take Manhattan. While I certainly agree with those call-outs, there are three movies that received less attention but to my mind are integral elements in the Grodin filmography.

Real Life

In writer/director Albert Brooks’ debut feature, Grodin plays the husband and father of the Yeager family. They’ve agreed to let Brooks (playing a slightly fictionalized version of himself) follow them around with cameras in an early satire of the reality TV genre, back when it was mostly confined to PBS. As the experiment goes increasingly off-track, Warren Yeager is pulled between his commitment to keep things going as planned and the misgivings of his wife and family, culminating in a crisis involving a horse dying on the table – and on camera – after it’s brought into his veterinary practice/

Yes sir, Aurora’s chicken pepperoni…

The melding of Grodin’s deadpan delivery and Brooks’ deadpan writing was a winning combination, the actor serving as a great outlet for the writer’s style. His ability to sell complete panic without actually losing his cool was perfect for the story, making Yeager into a very relatable figure instead of a caricature, which would have been an easy line to jump over.

Seems Like Old Times

It couldn’t have been easy for Grodin to take his role as assistant district attorney Ira Parks opposite Chevy Chase and Goldie Hawn given those two are such “big” comedic actors whereas Grodin was a more subdued performer. But darn if he doesn’t hold his own in every scene, often winding up as the funniest person on screen. Ira has to deal with the fact that not only has his wife Glenda’s (Hawn) ex-husband Nicholas Gardenia (Chase) returned, but that it’s fallen to him to prosecute the crime Gardenia is suspected to have committed.

Neil Simon’s script gave Grodin a chance to play a completely level-headed individual who finds his nice, tidy world suddenly turned upside down, including threatening his career and marriage. He gets to play against the great Robert Guillaume frequently, but one of Grodin’s best scenes is one where his face isn’t seen. When Gardenia is hiding under a guest room bed and Glenda is trying to protect him, all we see are Grodin’s feet, but we know exactly what’s happening because of the strength of his performance.

Dave

I’m sorry, but if Grodin’s performance as Murray Blum, accountant friend of Kevin Kline’s Dave, isn’t on your list of all time greats, we can’t hang out.

quick takes on: the first snake eyes trailer

Move with the wind…

After a handful of first look stills came out late last week the first trailer for Snake Eyes debuted during the recent MTV Movie & TV Awards and I have some thoughts.

the only origin story we really need

OK, so it’s an origin story, but not only did we get an abbreviated version of that origin in the earlier G.I. Joe movies but Larry Hama wrote what every Gen X comic book reader knows is the *definitive* version in issues #26 and #27 of the Marvel Comics series in 1984.

Along those same lines, why does everything have to be an origin story? Even if Paramount wasn’t on board for a full-on adaptation of “Silent Interlude” it would have been cool to see a movie where Snake Eyes is already at the height of his skills. Give me a movie where Snake is dropped behind enemy lines and has to ninja his way to completing the mission without support.

It’s a relatively short trailer so I’ll forgive that we only get a brief glimpse of Samara Weaving as Scarlett, but let’s not repeat this blatant oversight and give people what they want next time.

Incredulous Killer Queen GIF by NETFLIX - Find & Share on GIPHY

If I’m reading between the lines correctly this movie *is* connected to the previous G.I. Joe movies, acting as a prequel to them, but does it need to be? Are those so beloved that this couldn’t have served as a chance to restart things along different lines?

Ray Park *was* great as Snake Eyes in those movies, though, and if he doesn’t at least get a background cameo in this one I will be calling my congressman.

My presumption is, though this is an origin story, Henry Golding was not cast in the title role only for him to have his face burnt away. So Snake’s wearing of a balaclava will likely once more be explained as a choice instead of a necessity.

You can’t ignore the fact that Paramount and Hasbro timed the release of the trailer to coincide with Batman/Fortnite: Zero Point #3, which features Snake Eyes, hitting comic shop shelves this week. Snake has been in Fortnite for a few months now, so this is a nice extension on a number of fronts.

Any additional thoughts?

Together Together – Marketing Recap

How Bleecker Street sold a very modern relationship dramady.

(Ed. Note: Yep, another case where the movie came out last week but I didn’t want to miss covering it.)

Together Together, starring Ed Helms and Patti Harrison and written/directed by Nikole Beckwith, came out a couple weeks ago in limited release but went into wider release last weekend. Harrison stars as Anna, a currently unattached woman who agrees to be a surrogate for similarly single Matt (Helms). As the pregnancy progresses the two grow closer, but in unexpected ways that surprise both of them as it’s not about romance but simply about being together in an uncommon way.

That unusual take on the idea of what companionship means comes through in Bleecker Street’s marketing, which emphasizes how Anna and Matt feel each other out tentatively and cautiously as they navigate their complicated relationship. The movie has a 91% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Posters

Both Matt and Anna look out at the camera on the poster (by marketing agency Cold Open). The two are sitting in front of a wall that has color samples taped to it, like they’re figuring out how to decorate a room, but there’s nothing that hints at the pregnancy aspects of the story. A handful of positive pull quotes from festival screenings are placed at the top to help show how well-received the movie has already been.

The Trailers

Matt is being super-awkward as he meets Anna as the trailer (2.6 million views on YouTube), released in late March, begins. That awkwardness doesn’t really stop as the pregnancy begins and continues, of course, though Anna tries to remain a good sport about everything that’s going on. The two find an equilibrium to their unusual relationship, though, including that they’re both alone and don’t fit into anyone’s neat boxes. It’s a cute unconventional comedy being sold here, buoyed by the performances from the two leads, especially Harrison.

Online and Social

The basic information – the trailer, synopsis and a small gallery of pictures – can be found on the official website created by Bleecker Street. It also received some support on the studio’s social channels.

Advertising, Press and Promotions

Before the movie had a chance to make its debut at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, Bleecker Street picked it up.

During Sundance there were interviews with the movie’s editor, director of photography and director.

A clip released in April shows an awkward dinner where Matt and Anna are meeting for the first time and judging each other’s food choices. Another has Anna trying to explain her unusual friendship and situation to someone else.

Harrison got a profile of her own as the breakout star of the film based on those festival reviews. Also following Sundance, the cast and filmmakers talked about the story and making the movie together.

Closer to release there was another interview with Harrison about working with Helms, how she decided to get involved in the project and more. Helms himself appeared on “Late Night” to joke around and talk about the movie.

TV spots began running in late April offering a cutdown version of the trailer with just the broad strokes of the story. Others like this featured some of the positive reviews the movie has already accumulated. Additional commercials that came later hit the same basic ideas.

Another clip shows more of Anna contending with a situation her friend doesn’t fully understand.

Overall

What comes through most clearly in the campaign is the emphasis on Harrison and her role as Anna. She’s obviously not a star as well known as Helms but she’s been the subject of more interviews and clips, which is a great way to signal that it’s her journey that may receive more attention in the story than Matt’s. There’s nothing all that groundbreaking about what Bleecker Street has done from a purely tactical way, but those small touches show who the audience will be asked to care about most and who has the most engaging arc.