How Focus Features is selling a twisted revenge story.
Actress and writer Emerald Fennell makes her directorial debut with this week’s Promising Young Woman. The movie stars Carey Mulligan as Cassandra, a woman who experienced severe trauma in her past. Now she is channeling that trauma, combined with her sense of justice, in the direction of seeking to set things right. That means trouble for the men who get in her way.
Focus Features’ campaign for the film has sold a kinetic, story of revenge and dealing with the events of the past in some manner. With an impressive 92% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, the movie has been pegged as a potential awards contender, especially for Mulligan.
“Take her home and take your chances” the audience is warned on the first poster (by marketing agency Art Machine), released just a week ago. The image of Cassandra lounging on a sultry, dripping wet mouth combined with the style of the title treatment gives this the look of an 80s teen sex comedy, albeit one that might be a bit twisted.
The image on the second poster (by marketing agency Territory Studio) is a bit more straightforward, just Cassandra staring at the camera and holding a tire iron in a very purposeful way. Some positive review quotes are placed in the background to help make the case.
Cassandra is writing the title on a mirror in lipstick on the final poster (once again by Art Machine). That takes us back into twisted territory, while the copy here reads “Revenge never looked so promising.”
The first trailer (3.8 million views on YouTube) came out in mid-December and immediately sells a crazed story of vengeance and justice. As it opens it looks like Cassandra has had too much to drink and is passing out at a club, with a man seeing that as his opportunity to take advantage of her. She reveals herself to be just fine, though, much to his surprise. Turns out this is something she does regularly, exposing the lie of the “nice guy” who has darker motives. Her mission is driven by a past that involves leaving college after accusing a man of raping her and receiving no support from the school or other people. Seems her journey may even bring her back into contact with her assailant, giving her the opportunity to achieve some real closure and have some real fun.
Cassandra is attempting to restart her studies in the second trailer (2.9 million views on YouTube), released in mid-October. She explains that she left years ago after a girl was attacked and her assailant never punished. Turns out the administrator she’s speaking with is the same one who fielded the initial report and failed to take action. Mixed in with that is footage of the kind of vengeance she doles out herself on men who feel they’re entitled to certain things regardless of consent. It still looks crazy, but the framing of the interview grounds the story a bit more effectively.
Online and Social
Visitors to the movie’s official website will find Focus’ standard design in place, offering the trailer, bios on Mulligan, Fennelll and many of the costars and more. There are also social network profiles specifically for the film.
Advertising and Promotions
Sundance 2020 was announced as the movie’s public coming out, with Focus Features picking up distribution rights in advance of the festival.
The video for “Drinks” by Cyn was released in early March as details of the star-studded soundtrack were made public.
Clips started coming out a couple weeks ago showing Cassandra being asked out and bantering with a coworker at the coffee shop.
Dolby offered an exclusive interview with Fennelll where she talked about using the company’s technology and tools to bring her story to life.
AMC Theaters also got an exclusive behind-the-scenes featurette.
Focus Features showed a bit more in an installment of the “60-Second Film School” web series.
Media and Press
While Fennell wasn’t in Sundance with the movie, he was interviewed at that time about the inspiration behind the story, how production worked and what they hoped the audience’s reaction would be. Burnham spoke about the difficult time he had while filming and how intimidated he felt when acting alongside Mulligan.
Fennell and Cyn were interviewed about the process of assembling the movie’s soundtrack and what the songs on it were meant to represent.
An interview with Mulligan allowed her to talk about how she got involved in the project and why it seemed attractive to her at this point in her career. Brie also talked about her part in the film.
A Variety cover story featured both Fennell and Mulligan talking about why they made this movie right now, the…emotional reactions test audiences had and lots more.
How set designer Michael Perry created the visual look of the film was covered in an interview with him.
A joint interview with Fennell and Mulligan had them talking about female revenge stories and how they accomplished the movie’s unique look and feel. They also shared a story of a fistfight among audience members breaking out during a test screening.
Other interviews with Fennell had her talking about getting the rights to use a song by Paris Hilton in a key sequence and why she cast perfectly nice and sweet actors to play some of the story’s terrible male characters.
A big profile of Fennell had her reflecting on how her career to date has led her to this point and what she wanted the story to convey. A similar piece on Mulligan had her talking about the…unfortunate…reactions of some men to the movie.
What the movie’s quick production was like was covered in an interview with Mulligan. Fennell talked about how she wanted to take a comedic, though a darkly comic, look at violence in the story.
I’m on board with this campaign for a number of reasons, including the fact that it creates a strong, instantly recognizable brand identity from the outset and never lets up. It’s twisted, colorful and a little bit funny, anchored by a strong performance from Mulligan.
Not to be overlooked is Fennell’s contribution to the campaign, outside of her helming the film itself. She’s been out in front of the publicity and other aspects of the marketing, making it clear she is in charge and working to carve out some recognition for herself while also selling the movie.
Picking Up the Spare
Mulligan appeared on “Kimmel” and then later on “Late Night” while she and Fennell were interviewed about striking the right tone in the story. Mulligan was interviewed on her own here while Fennell was interviewed here about telling such a dark story.
More clips as well as a new featurette on the cast came out after the film was in theaters.
More insights from the film’s costume designer as well as another profile of Fennell. Brie was also interviewed on “The Tonight Show” while Mulligan stopped by “The Daily Show.”