Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver hit theaters last weekend. In the story Baby (Ansel Elgort) is an in-demand getaway driver for crime boss Doc (Kevin Spacey), sought after for his incredible skills behind the wheel of any car. That talent comes in part because of innate skill and partly because he keeps headphones in his ears, with music constantly playing to not only drown out the buzz caused by a childhood injury but also to eliminate any distractions from the road in front of him.
Baby Driver is just the latest Hollywood story of getaway drivers, the guys who sit in the car waiting for the heist or robbery to go down so they can get everyone out of there in a hurry. And there are some common elements to how all those movies, including Baby Driver, have been sold to the public.
Rule #1: Show the Car, Preferably in Motion
Makes sense, right? If you want to sell a movie about fast cars then you need to put a fast car on the poster. That’s true for Baby Driver as well as for the one sheets for 2012’s Hit & Run and 1978’s The Driver. All three prominently feature the vehicle the driver will use to get away from the scene of the crime or whatever else the story needs him to escape from. Notably the theatrical one sheet for Drive, starring Ryan Gosling, doesn’t take an action-oriented approach, instead opting for a shot of him sitting contemplatively behind the wheel. That hints at the story’s more dramatic, character-driven approach.
Fast-moving cars are obviously a big part of most all these trailers as well. Drive, Baby Driver and Hit & Run all put the spotlight squarely on the car at various times. All those are high-octane action sequences compared to The Driver, where the scenes of the cars in action come off more like the requisite car chases that were part of almost every episode of “The Rockford Files,” but we’ll try not to hold the 1970s against anyone.
Rule #2: Show the Conflict
The poster for 1997’s Heaven’s Burning shows Russell Crowe in one shot while masked thugs are seen in surrounding photos. So we don’t get a clear sense that he’s a getaway driver of any sort but do see he’s surrounded by armed tough guys who he’ll likely go up against. Similarly, the poster for The Driver, starring Bruce Dern and Ryan O’Neal, makes it clear those two, one a cop and one a driver, are going to butt heads.
The trailer for The Driver hits that especially hard, making it clear there’s a girl that stands between the two men, with the cop leaning on that woman in an effort to get the driver he’s trying to arrest. Hit & Run takes a much more comedic approach, explaining to the
audience that Dax Shepherd’s character is reformed and while Bradley Cooper’s is out for the money he’s owed they can still get along.
Rule #3: Emphasize the Skill of the Driver
Watch the trailers for both Baby Driver and Drive and there’s someone, in both cases a crime boss, who’s extolling the talent of the driver and his ability behind the wheel. That’s usually accompanied by a montage of clips showing just how talented they are. There isn’t that kind of boasting in trailers for The Driver or Hit & Run, though. In both those cases the drivers aren’t repeatedly referred to as “the best,” just as very good at what they do, or at least good enough to not be either in jail or dead yet.
That skill level is a little harder to convey on the posters, but it’s still clear who the talent behind the wheel is from the way they’re arranged. It’s assumed no one is calling Kevin Spacey “Baby Driver” and Gosling, as he moodily stares into the middle distance is obviously ready to “Drive.” Similarly, the one without the gun on The Driver’s poster is probably the one ready to do the driving. Hit & Run’s poster is less clear, just showing the car and cast headshots.
Rule #4: Use a Car Pun or Reference In The Tagline
Drive: “There are no clean getaways”
Hit & Run: “A comedy that never takes its foot off the gas.”
OK, both are fine, but are kind of on the nose when you’re selling a car-centric movie. You can’t really take points off because they’re thematically appropriate, but you also can’t help but wince a bit at the obviousness.
There are two exceptions in this case. Baby Driver used “All you need is one killer track” is more of an extension of the campaign’s overall focus on the music and soundtrack than anything else. Throughout the marketing of the movie the music has come up again and again, so it makes sense that this is the approach taken when it came to copy. The Driver used “To break the driver, the cop was willing to break the law,” which similarly continues that campaign’s emphasis on the looming showdown between two men on opposite sides of the law.