How Focus Features is selling a new version of a classic novel.
Adaptations of Jane Austen’s most famous novels are relatively common on the big screen. Some take a more faithful approach to the source material (see 1995’s Sense and Sensibility) while others update the characters and situations to a more modern setting.
The new version of Emma – directed by Autumn de Wilde and starring Anya Taylor-Joy in the title role – seems to split the difference, keeping the time period of the original while updating some of the sensibilities of the characters. Remaining intact is the premise of the story, that Emma Woodhouse is the undisputed social queen of her town, becoming a matchmaker for those around her. While trying to get everyone married and attached she has trouble setting down herself until she finds a solution has been in front of her the whole time.
Focus has been selling the film, getting a limited release this week with an 88 percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with a wicked sense of humor behind a story of gender roles and class in 19th century England.
Emma is “Handsome, clever and rich” we’re told on the first poster (by marketing agency P+A). She’s shown standing and looking ready to match wits with all comers, perched on a flat rock on the edge of a massive estate garden. The plants in the foreground look deliberately fake while the background looks like a matte painting, giving the poster the look of a stage production of sorts. It’s a great look.
“Love knows best” is the copy used on the second poster, released in mid-January), which adds Mr. Knightly and Mr. Churchill, both of whom play significant roles in the story, to either side of Emma in the same setting.
Just last week a series of character posters came out that shows more of those in Emma’s social sphere, also in the same background. Using the same setting for the entire poster campaign creates a great sense of brand consistency, all while presenting the movie like a stage play.
As the first trailer (4.3 million views on YouTube), released in November, makes clear, this is not a traditional take on Jane Austin’s material. All the story elements might be there – though the trailer doesn’t take pains to communicate them in any sort of linear fashion – but the attitude is much more arch and comedic. It’s a fast-paced trailer that shows the material is every bit as malleable as other classics, even if you keep the time period setting.
Online and Social
The movie’s official website uses the standard Focus Features site template but offers a lot more content than has been seen on other recent efforts. For the most part that takes the form of curated social updates that offer behind the scenes and other looks at the production and stars. There are also profiles on the major social platforms.
Advertising and Promotions
A 60-second commercial was released last week that cuts the story down slightly while retaining everything about the sense of humor the movie contains. Emma is presented as a willful and slightly subversive young woman, seeking to maneuver those in her orbit into marriages, all while oblivious to the romance in front of her.
Promotional partners for the movie included:
PaperSource, which offered a line of stationary and more featuring designs inspired by Emma or by Jane Austen.
BellaCures, which gave movies tickets to those coming to one of their salon locations for a manicure or pedicure.
Vogue Magazine hosted a screening of the film earlier this month.
Media and Press
EW hosted a sweepstakes awarding tickets to the movie’s premiere.
Interviews with the cast included Taylor-Joy and costar Johnny Flynn talking about their experiences with the costumes and others including costars Bill Nighly commenting on the importance of continuing to adapt Austen’s works.
In a nice nod to one of the most popular of those adaptations, Taylor-Joy talked with Clueless director Amy Heckerling about their various approaches to the story and more. Taylor-Joy was the subject of a feature profile about her experiences filming the movie and more.
A group of young women are playing a game of which Emma does *not* approve in an exclusive clip given to Town and Country, the outlet appropriate given the important role real estate and locations play in this and other Austen stories.
To use a term that would fit in with the time the story is set in, the entire campaign features such a wicked sense of humor it’s enough to make one blush.
That sense of humor is apparent in the posters in how everything is staged like the promotional photos from an amateur stage production of the story, with the actors posed on a rock with plants placed around them and a painting of a scenic backdrop behind them.
In the trailers it’s more subtle but still very much there. It takes the form of arched eyebrows and sly, suppressed smiles. And volumes could be written about that moment Emma looks at the woman next to her while delicately putting a strawberry in her mouth.
It’s a great example of how to sell a movie that retains its period setting while clearly offering something relevant to the audience, showing modern awareness that is still respectful of the original. More than that, it just looks like a lot of fun.
Picking Up The Spare
Costume designer Alexandra Byrne was interviewed about collaborating with de Wilde on the look of the characters and more.
Costumes were also the focus of an interview with Flynn about his character and another about how he wrote an original song for the film and what he felt the core of his character was.
Taylor-Joy was interviewed again about how this movie allowed her to expand her range a bit as well as her experience working with de Wilde. Another had her talking about adding a sense of whimsy to a very dramatic story.
MovieClips got an exclusive clip of a key scene between Emma and her potential suitor.
How de Wilde got her first directorial gig and her approach to the movie was covered in this interview. She also talked about why Emma made sense as her first attempt.
The locations featured in the movie were the subject of the latest installment of Focus Features’ “Reel Destinations” web series. The film’s food was also given the spotlight in another featurette. There were further featurettes where the cast gave etiquette lessons and shared stories from the set.
A later interview with de Wilde had her talking about the movie’s early home video release.