In 1977 Ben (Oakes Fegley) has been in an accident and is now deaf, all this coming shortly after his mother Elaine died. He’s set out to New York City to find the father he never knew. Meanwhile in 1927 Rose (newcomer Millicent Simmonds), who was born deaf, has run away from the father who keeps her hidden away in shame. She’s also going to New York, in this case to find the actress Lillian Mayhew (Julianne Moore), who she idolizes. Both stories are connected in unexpected ways that appear as the story continues.
“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see” is the copy at the top of the first one-sheet. The rest of it is a photo from the inside of the natural history museum where much of the action and story seemingly take place, with a dinosaur skeleton on one side, a stuffed giraffe on the other rand a massive walk-in area filled with smaller items in the center. I know it’s bad, but I can’t help thinking this looks like a more serious-minded version of Night at the Museum.
A poster was given out at San Diego Comic-Con (with the same image made available online later on) that presents the story in coloring page form. So the main characters are seen walking down a New York City street, with animals from the museum arranged all around them.
Elements of that version were used in the theatrical poster, which had the two children walking down opposite sides of the street, showing the time period their story takes place in. Meanwhile, the animals and creatures hover in the background.
The teaser trailer starts off by showing us the scenes of the two children from the two eras we’re following and what sort of adventures they get up to in the museum where the story takes place. There’s some sort of connection that’s very mysterious and which is hinted at as we get various small character moments. It’s a good teaser that certainly sets up lots more to come.
We finally find out more about Ben in the first full trailer. It opens as he’s asking his mom about the father he never knew. He has an accident and can’t hear and that seems to send him down the path that winds up intersecting with Rose across the decades. Both are, in their own way, trying to solve mysteries that eventually lead them to the same museum.
There’s a great sense of childlike innocence that’s on display here. The kids never seem to be, at least not based on what’s seen here, in any real danger. It’s just about being where adults think you shouldn’t and having to make your way on your own. Looks great.
What was notable was that a captioned version of the trailer featuring an introduction by Simmonds was released at the same time, a nice touch that acknowledges the hearing impaired audience and recognition of the fact that Simmonds herself is deaf.
Online and Social
On the main page of the official website you’re greeted with full-screen video that;s pulled from the trailer. There’s a prompt to get tickets, a critic quote praising the movie and release dates all on that page.
If you open the menu in the upper left you can visit “Novel,” which has more information on the source book as well as “Videos,” which has both the trailers and a clip. That’s also where you’ll find links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles.
Back to the home page, there’s the option to switch between 1977 and 1927. Each one changes the footage that’s shown on the splash page as well as the information and photos that are available as you scroll down the page. That’s a nice way of continuing the split nature of the story to the web and set audience expectations.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
It doesn’t appear Amazon/Roadside did any TV advertising, but there was plenty online. Key art and clips were used in online ads and the trailer was used in promoted Twitter posts to drive interest and ticket sales.
Media and Publicity
The first official marketing effort came just before the movie debuted at Cannes and took the form of an extended clip showing Ben and another boy chasing each other around a museum intercut with black-and-white scenes from the same museum, this time from years in the past and featuring Rose examining the exhibits. While at Cannes, Haynes and the rest of the cast spoke frequently about making the movie, the unique story structure and, Amazon’s support of cinema and filmmakers more. That screening resulted in plenty of positive buzz for the film.
Haynes also talked about how he intends this as a “Kids’ movie” and how he worked with the child actors that make up a good chunk of the film. Moore also talked about Simmonds in particular, praising her performance.
The movie’s profile was raised when it was announced as the “Centerpiece” selection of the New York Film Festival. EW shared a profile of Simmonds in its fall movie preview issue where Haynes also commented about the magnetic presence of the young actor and more.
While Moore was interviewed occasionally, including this joint piece with Simmonds where they talked about learning new languages and how that impacted filming, the majority of the press was actually done by Haynes. He talked about how he wanted to make an intelligent kids movie, not one that played to the lowest common denominator, how this fits in with his other work, what it was like to work with child actors so prominently and how critical the film’s score is to the story.
The campaign works hard to create and maintain that sense of childhood wonder we feel when we’re exploring and on our own, that magical sensation that feels the awe of being in the presence of something greater than ourselves but also the curiosity to explore it and learn more about it. Emotionally, that’s what the studios are going for and that’s reflected in the way the teaser trailer, in particular, is framed as well as how the movie is sold on the posters. We’re looking up at the world from a child’s point of view, which sometimes is too sure of itself to be more careful.
More concretely, the focus on both Simmonds as the breakout star and on Haynes shows where the studios have identified the strongest appeals to be. These tactics speak more to film fans than the general audience, who are meant to be pulled in with the emotional approach above. Film fans are going to be drawn in by the promise of a truly unique performance by a young actor and by the promise that this is another in a long line of outstanding films from the director, particularly in the wake of Carol a couple years ago.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.