Joel and Ethan Coen return to the Old West once more with this week’s Netflix original release The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. Originally conceived and produced as an anthology series of loosely connected stories, those six vignettes have been condensed and combined into one feature.
The movie stars Tim Blake Nelson as the singing gunfighter Buster Scruggs in just one of those stories, with Zoe Kazan, Brendan Gleeson, Liam Neeson, Tom Waits and a handful of others featured in the other chapters, each dealing with an aspect of life on the American frontier in the 1800s.
The different paths taken by the characters in each of the stories all lead to one point on the first poster, with that point being Buster Scruggs based largely on how the title is placed at the intersection of those trails. The dark, dry, cracked earth seen shows that we’re out in the desert in some way, while the copy at the top tells us “Stories live forever. People don’t,” indicating that not everyone is walking away with a happy ending here. A variation on that art was used for the second poster, which has the look of a leather bound book.
There’s so much going on in the first trailer, but at the same time it offers little in the way of clarity to the mainstream audience. It definitely conveys the general idea that the movie contains a number of different stories, set apart here if you can follow along with the different color palettes, characters and general tones that are used in each one. And Buster seems to tie them all together in some way, though how is not made clear. Generally what you get is the message that yes, the Coens have made another Western, but this time they’re taking a slightly less serious approach than they have in the past.
It’s a similar message being sent in the second trailer, which once more gives the audience a look at the different stories that make up the film. There’s a bit more background offered on some of the characters, but for the most part this is simply presented as another unusual, offbeat from from the Coens.
Online and Social
As usual there wasn’t any sort of actual website created for the film, but Twitter, Instagram and Facebook profiles shared updates and promotional content while pointing to the movie’s page on Netflix.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
I’ve seen some online and social advertising that’s been done using the trailers and key art, but that’s about it.
Media and Publicity
To the surprise of just about everyone, what had previously been announced as a series was changed in late June to an anthology movie that was scheduled to hit Netflix, which had committed to the series, before the end of the year. That news came when the now-movie was named among those appearing at the Venice Film Festival. It also made the list for the New York Film Festival. Both brought the movie great amounts of positive buzz.
Like some of the other movies coming from Netflix this year, the company opted to go against its standard procedure and give it a theatrical release in advance of it appearing on the service. It was then added to the AFI Film Festival lineup, though it was among the movies whose red carpet there was canceled due to the California wildfires.
There was a nice interview with Nelson about the movie and his career. A bit later the Coens were interviewed about the movie, its story, the process of working with Netflix and lots more.
As I’ve said about other movies from the Coen Brothers, there’s little about the campaign that’s going to bring in someone who’s not already a fan of their work and on board with their unique take on storytelling. The campaign sells a lot of quirk that’s conveyed through rough looking characters, long-shots on uncomfortable reactions and other trademarks of the Coens’ work, so if you find that a bit inaccessible you’re not likely to be converted here.
The difference in this case is that because the movie is coming to Netflix the barrier to experimentation is lower to the point of being almost non-existent. Someone may be intrigued enough when they see the trailer or a promo within the Netflix app and decide to give it a try because why not.