How HBO is selling its new drama set in the world of public education.
This week HBO is debuting a new drama directed by Cory Finley and based on a true story. Bad Education stars Hugh Jackman as Frank Tassone, superintendent of a Long Island school district and the architect of the district’s ranking as the fourth best in the country. He’s beloved by staff and popular with parents and can seemingly do no wrong.
His end begins with what should be a routine story for the school newspaper being written by student Rachel Kellog (Geraldine Viswanathan) about the budget. Kellog’s investigation, though, uncovers irregularities that point to potential embezzlement. Tassone, on the verge of having all his work undone, begins scrambling to cover up the emerging scandal, ultimately turning him from hero to criminal.
HBO’s campaign for the feature has focused on Jackman and costar Allison Janney as the company worked to keep positive buzz from festival screenings going.
Earlier this month the first and only poster (by marketing agency Leroy and Rose) came out. It features Tassone and coworker Pam Gluckin (Janney) sitting on stadium bleachers, firmly establishing the story’s setting. Both of the actor’s names include the fact Jackman is an Academy Award nominee and Janney is a winner, helping to give it an air of prestige. That sense is reinforced by a couple positive pull quotes from festival reviews. The copy reading “Some people learn the hard way” hits on the education theme but doesn’t offer a lot of insights into the story.
There are certainly shenanigans afoot in the first trailer (since removed from YouTube) released at the end of January. Frank has been placed in charge of an effort to raise the school district’s profile, something that’s meant to help the whole community. But how he does so may not be strictly ethical, and the hints we see of his plans falling down around him show a scramble to maintain a coverup even as those around him still see Frank as the key to fixing the problems.
Things are going well as the full trailer, (383,000 views on YouTube) released in March, begins, with Frank and his team enjoying the success of their efforts to raise their school’s prestige. The discovery of some budgetary discrepancies puts everyone on edge, though, threatening to expose embezzlement and other problems with the school leadership. All of this because of a story being written for the school newspaper.
Online and Social
No unique online presence of note, but the movie has been given plenty of promotion on HBO’s social channels.
Advertising and Promotions
A debut screening at the Toronto Film Festival led to widespread positive reviews, especially for Jackman’s performance as well as the timeliness of the story. HBO picked up distribution rights shortly after the festival ended. It was later scheduled at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Beginning in early April a series of commercials and other promoted spots started running. Some were cutdown versions of the trailer while others were formatted as more traditional spots. There were also videos that focused on some of the main characters, including Bob (Ray Romano), Pam, Frank, Rachel and others. Some of those offered more insights into what kind of trouble exactly the people have gotten themselves into than the trailers do.
Media and Press
An interview with Jackman had the actor talking about working to perfect a Long Island accent as well as the process of playing a man with multiple layers of both personal and professional deceit going on. Another had him offering some admiration for Tassone, pointing out that despite the problems many of his solutions were so good they’re now in widespread use.
Jackman was also among the celebrities dialing into talk shows – in this case “The Late Late Show” – to promote the film and talk about all sorts of other things.
Many of the stars and filmmakers were quoted in a piece that explored the movie’s background, why it fits into HBO’s history of original films and more.
Having Jackman in the lead is never really a bad thing, and the campaign makes sure everyone knows he’s in it and that he’s a big reason to see the movie. That effort is helped by the plethora of positive festival reviews there were to draw quotes from, many of which are sprinkled liberally around the campaign. Janney too is a big presence here.
Sometimes that emphasis, though, gets in the way of the story. As mentioned above, the trailers never really explain what’s going on other than that it’s financial shenanigans in some manner, but that is cleared up later in the marketing as the paid spots began running.
HBO is likely hoping the movie is attractive enough not only to retain its current subscribers but maybe even add a few who are in the midst of isolation and social distancing. Goals like that explain why, more than some of its other recent features, this one seems particularly geared to garner mainstream attention, positioned as a breezy drama with a bunch of extremely likeable actors.