Dan Fogelman, creator of popular TV shows like “Parenthood,” “This Is Us” and more, comes to the big screen this week with the ensemble drama Life Itself. The movie focuses on Abby (Olivia Wilde) and Wil (Oscar Isaacs), a couple that meets in college and goes on to get married and have a family.
But that’s not where the story end. Instead it expands out across generations and continents to see how the ordinary lives lived by Abby and Wil have impacted all sorts of people, both those they’re directly connected to and others.
A teaser poster didn’t do much other than show the name of the movie, tell people it was coming out in the fall and make sure they knew it was coming from the creator of “This Is Us,” all of which are primary selling points. Oddly there’s no cast list, which would have been a great addition, just a stock photo of a garden of some sort in the background.
The second poster once again mentions Fogelman’s TV show but this time does include the cast list as well as the “This September, life will surprise you” copypoint. That’s all laid over a triptych showing some of the bigger name actors involved.
In late August there were a series of posters that showed different characters from the film going on about their lives in various ways. All keep using that “Life will surprise you” tagline but don’t really go into the story very deeply.
The first teaser doesn’t offer much in the way of story points but does present the movie as one that spans an array of characters, all of whom are dealing with life’s ups and downs in their own way. The ensemble is emphasized, as is the fact that the movie comes from the creator of the super-popular “This Is Us”, so it wants to draw the connection between how emotional that show is and how emotional this is going to be.
There’s more story fleshed out in the second trailer. It’s more clear here that the central focus will be on Will and Abby and their love story over the course of several years. Something undefined happens, though, to make Will very sad toward the end of the trailer as we also see some of the other characters their lives come in contact with and impact.
Another trailer released around the time of the Toronto Film Festival highlighted some of the social media reactions to earlier trailers and other promotions.
Online and Social
A “Synopsis” is the first bit of content available after accessing the menu in the top left, a section that mentions Fogelman but not the rest of the cast. Those are saved for the “Characters” section, which offers GIFs and stills for each of the main characters.
The “Share Your Story” section encourages you to share a personal story of your own by using the movie’s Facebook camera filter and then, of course, posting it there. There’s all sorts of media to view and download in both the “Posters” and “Photos/Videos” sections. “Partners” finishes off the site.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
The first teaser mentioned above was actually run as a TV spot during the season finale of Fogelman’s show “This Is Us,” a platform that exposed the movie to a huge audience. Oddly, I haven’t been able to find any further TV spots, though some videos were used as social and online ads along with elements from the key art.
Promotional partners lined up to ride the movie’s coattails included:
- Chuao Chocolatier, which offered a special movie-branded gift box including entry into a sweepstakes.
- Dempsey and Carroll, which offered movie-themed correspondence stationery that’s perfect for keeping in contact with a special someone.
- Dry Bar, which offered customers at select locations a free blowout sponsored by the movie.
- Tasting Room, which launched a sweepstakes giving people a chance to win a trip to Napa Valley.
- Tessemae’s, which offered a movie-themed pack of beverages
Media and Publicity
The movie was announced as one of those screening at the Toronto International Film Festival. A clip released around the time of that screening shows the fateful moment of Will asking Abby out, something that has repercussions throughout the rest of the stories. The same couple was also the focus of the second clip, released a bit later.
Reception at Toronto was not great, with a significant amount of bad buzz quickly circling around it. Still, Fogelman and the cast spoke about the emotional nature of the story and what it was like to shoot the film. The writer/director emphasized the difference between this movie and his hit show at the premiere, though that distinction is one the rest of the campaign has been loathe to make. He also said he doesn’t just want people to cry with the story, but enjoy a compelling story.
The cast made various appearances on the late night and early morning talk shows to promote the movie, talk about the scope of the story and how emotional it is.
The way Amazon has been selling the movie is basically as bridge content to get the audience from one season of “This Is Us” to the next, hoping Fogelman’s name and the promise of another emotional family drama will bring in the massive audience that’s made the show a hit. Almost every bit of material references the show to make sure the connection is made in everyone’s mind.
More than anything else coming out this week, this seems like it will live or die at the box-office based on word of mouth. The campaign might generate curiosity, but if they don’t come away from the theater with a good feeling about it and wind up telling their friends to stay away, the prospects don’t look great.
PICKING UP THE SPARE
While he eventually walked it back, writer/director Dan Fogelman made waves when he went out and blamed poor reviews on while male critics who disliked anything involving emotions.
A featurette explored the interconnected stories and the characters that are part of it and an interview with Fogelman covered similar ground.