Lean on Pete – Marketing Recap

lean on pete posterCharlie Plummer plays Charley Thompson in the new movie Lean on Pete, getting a limited release this week. Charley lives with his father as the two of them travel one place to another as dictated by his father’s ability to find work. When they arrive in Portland Charley gets work at a local racetrack where he meets Del (Steve Buscemi), the owner of a horse named Lean on Pete as well as the horse’s jockey Bonnie (Chloë Sevigny). Everything is going well as Charley feels some attention and acceptance.

Unfortunately he learns Lean on Pete is destined for the slaughterhouse soon. Unable to imagine the horse meeting that fate and unwilling to accept another change, Charley takes the horse and sets off on his own, searching for an aunt he only vaguely knows in the hopes she’ll provide both sanctuary and stability. That leads to a series of adventures that mean Charley has a lot of growing up to do quickly.

The Posters

lean on pete poster 1The first poster shows Charley, wearing a jacket and some sort of satchel or bag, greeting his faithful horse. His face is a bit scuffed up as if he’s been outdoors but there’s little other information conveyed here.

The second shows him and the horse walking along a fence, with a dusky sky above and behind him to give the audience more of a clear sense that we’re on a farm or in some other rural environment. The movie’s festival credentials are at the top along with a note about how it’s based on an “acclaimed” novel. Copy in the middle of the poster tells us “You can’t get anywhere on your own,” the implication being that it’s Charley who will need Pete for a journey.

The Trailers

As the first trailer opens we see Charley is happy working with horses, constantly on the go with Del from one small race to the other. He meets Lean on Pete and forms a bond with the horse while we hear that Charley’s parents are basically non-factors in his life. He’s reminded not to get too attached to Pete because he’s being sold, leading him to essentially steal the animal and take him on the run to keep him safe. That leads him into one rough situation after another.

It’s an emotional trailer, showing the story is focused on the bond between man and horse. It’s really the performances, especially that of Plummer, that the draw here as we’ve seen the “kid takes off on his own and quickly gets in over his head” story before. So what we’re being sold primarily is a gentle story about someone willing to do anything to save his horse and find a place where he belongs.

Online and Social

A24’s official website doesn’t have a lot going on, just the trailer, poster, story synopsis and cast and crew list. There are also links to the movie’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram profile and that’s about it.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

No paid efforts I’m aware of.

Media and Publicity

The movie debuted at last year’s Venice Film Festival and appeared at a few festivals since then, including a recent screening at the SXSW Film Festival. Director Andrew Haigh spoke about the festival screening as well as how this fit in with his other films both on his own and with Plummer in a few interviews but overall there wasn’t a massive publicity effort mounted.

Sevigney also spoke about how toned down the brutal nature of the story in the movie is from the source novel and what it was like shooting in the Pacific Northwest


While there was decent buzz that came out of the festival appearances, this campaign does little to nothing to break into the mainstream audience. There’s a nice little story on display, but it’s the kind of thing that isn’t going to get anyone’s attention until it shows up as a streaming recommendation somewhere and they decide to half-watch it while doing something else.

Plummer does look like he gives a solid performance, as does Buscemi, who’s the other big draw here. I just don’t think “nice enough” is going to cut it without a lot more word of mouth propelling it to limited release success, which this movie doesn’t seem to have.


Director Andrew Haugh speaks here about how he worked to tell the story of working-class residents of the Pacific Northwest in an authentic, respectful and non-cliche way.


Star Charlie Plummer was interviewed here about all aspects of the movie, from being cast in the role to the kind of story he and the others were trying to tell to working with the horse he stars alongside.
I didn’t get around to reviewing the marketing for The Rider, but both represented movies that, as Sam Rigby at Quartz points out, revisit that unique bond between man and horse.

Author: Chris Thilk

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist with over 15 years of experience in online strategy and content marketing. He lives in the Chicago suburbs.

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