How Sony Pictures Classics is selling a heist story set in the art world.
The Burnt Orange Heresy, opening this weekend in limited release, is one of a series of recent films set in the world of high art and about those most mercurial of creatures, the artist, as well as those around them.
The story focuses on an art critic named James Figueras (Claes Bang). Seeking to restore his tarnished reputation he brings his girlfriend Bernice (Elizabeth Debicki) on a trip to Italy to meet Joseph Cassidy (Mick Jagger), an art dealer with a mysterious offer to make to Figueras. Cassidy wants Figueras to use his position to steal a new work from Jerome Debney (Donald Sutherland), a legendary but reclusive artist who hasn’t put out anything new in years. Accepting the offer takes Figueras down a dark road that leads to more and more problems, both personal and professional.
SPC has used the positive buzz coming out of festival screenings to mount a campaign positioning the movie as a high-end heist with moral complications for all the characters involved.
It’s a great aesthetic on the movie’s one poster, which has all four of the main characters standing in front of the camera, the Italian villa where much of the action takes place at the bottom of the image. Everyone’s faces appear more or less as photographs but a paint-like veneer is added further down to lend the poster a more artistic feel. A positive pull quote from an early review is shared at the top, just above the names of previous successful films the producers have been involved in. Toward the bottom the tagline tells the audience “You can’t paint over the truth,” hinting that there’s more than a little deception happening in the movie.
Late January brought the release of the first trailer (131,000 views on YouTube). It opens with Hollis questioning Figueras about his background and childhood, with him doing a bit of deflecting. The two begin a relationship, and when they’re invited to Cassidy’s estate, on which lives the reclusive Debney. Cassidy offers to help Figueras work with Debney, but on the condition the dealer steal a valuable painting for him. Agreeing to do so takes Figueras down a dark path that threatens everything about his life.
Online and Social
There’s not much aside from the option to buy tickets and view the basic marketing materials on the official website. It hasn’t received a lot of support on SPC’s brand social channels, either.
Advertising and Publicity
It was announced in late July that the movie would be the closing night feature at the 2019 Venice Film Festival. That screening resulted in mixed reviews for the film as a whole though the performances by the leads were readily praised.
Sony Pictures Classics acquired the film shortly after that. It then screened at the Toronto Film Festival where it picked up additional accolades. In 2020 the movie was announced as the opening feature at the Miami Film Festival.
Media and Press
More than one story like this ran during the movie’s festival appearances, calling out Jagger’s role in the film. There were also interviews with Bang about the nature of his character. Oddly, there doesn’t seem to have been a major press push closer to release.
Like many such releases, the campaign here is reminiscent of the kind of movies that used to be sold to the public with some regularity in the mid-90s, when the art house really exploded. It sells a character-driven drama with plenty of twists and turns and characters making poor ethical choices, all taken very seriously amidst lush and expensive settings.
The buzz generated by festival screenings was mostly positive but hasn’t really been built upon in the bridge leading up to theatrical release. That’s a missed opportunity, but the campaign still works on most levels. While the story may not be upfront in the campaign, which is an issue, the focus on selling the classy vibe of the story and in that respect it more or less succeeds.