the french dispatch – marketing recap

How Searchlight Pictures has sold a symmetrical literary movie from a symmetrical literary filmmaker.

The French Dispatch poster

There’s been a startling – and disappointing – lack of hot takes about how The French Dispatch is opening the same weekend as Dune means a showdown between two filmmakers who, unlike many assigned that title by studio marketing departments, can truly be called visionary. Dune’s Denis Villeneuve creates stark, massively scaled backdrops for the characters to perform within, while Wes Anderson is known for creating detailed, symmetrical dollhouse rooms that are just as quirky and slightly dingy as the characters inhabiting them.

(Both of those movies also star Timothée Chalamet, which in and of itself is…wow…)

Anderson’s films have always carried highly literary themes. Playwrights abound in his films and characters are always journaling, sending cables or handwritten letters or writing books about their experiences. Now he brings those themes to the fore with what’s been described by him and others as “a love letter” to journalists and magazine writers.

At the center of the story is The French Dispatch, a magazine modeled after The New Yorker. Edited by Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray), the periodical has a number of writers, illustrators, photographers and writers, each of whom are followed in their own sub-stories. Playing those contributors are Anderson regulars like Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Angelica Huston, Edward Norton and others, with Elisabeth Moss, Léa Seydoux, Timothée Chalamet and others joining in the highly-stylized hijinks as well.

announcements and casting

Initial news about the movie came in mid-2018, with initial reports saying Anderson was developing a musical comedy set in France. The casting of Tilda Swinton and Mathieu Amalric was announced at that time with most of the rest of the principle cast joining in the last months of 2018.

Plot details were revealed in September 2019 at the same time Fox Searchlight announced it had acquired the film. A few months later in January 2020 a release date in July of that year was announced.

the first try at marketing

In February 2020 the first set of exclusive photos debuted in, of all places, The New Yorker.

The poster released at that time is so on-brand for an Anderson film it hurts a little. Illustrated by Spanish artist Javi Aznarez (whose work is seen in the movie as well), it displays the offices of the titular magazine as quirky drawings, the faux French city it’s based in seen in the background. Each of the top-billed cast is shown and named here.

The first trailer (5.5m YouTube views) came out at that time as well. It starts by introducing us to Arthur Howitzer Jr. and his publication, The French Dispatch, intended to share stories of interest about politics, culture and more. After briefly meeting some of the people who work at the Dispatch the trailer shifts to showing us the three stories being covered by the magazine and which the movie will follow. What’s shown is an assortment of dry wit, colorful quirkiness and odd characterizations that are part and parcel in Anderson’s work and therefore immediately attractive to anyone who’s a fan of the filmmaker’s.

While reports abounded that the movie would premiere at the 2020 Cannes Film Festival that wound up not happening because the festival itself didn’t happen save for a scaled-back virtual event.

Cinematographer Robert Yeoman was interviewed about the books and movies Anderson put together as a reference library for the cast and crew to use.

There was a feature profile of Chalamet in October 2020 that covered the actor’s role in this film as well as his rise to stardom over the last few years, including comments from Anderson.

At this point Disney/Searchlight pulled the movie from its release schedule for the time being while the pandemic continued to cause uncertainty and delays across the board.

a second attempt at marketing

Things picked back up in May of this year when a new release date was announced along with the news it had been selected to screen at both the Cannes Film Festival and New York Film Festival

Details on the film’s soundtracks, always a highlight of Anderson’s work, were released in early June.

During the Cannes press cycle, which included the cast arriving to the screening in a party bus, Wilson was interviewed about his decades-long collaboration with Anderson and how original he feels this latest movie is. That cycle also produced a much-circulated meme using a photo of Anderson and the three primary leads.

A clip was released at the same time showing Zeffirelli soliciting feedback on his manifesto.

Costar Henry Winkler, a newcomer to the Anderson troupe, spoke about the movie on “Late Night” in July.

In early August Searchlight revealed fans could sign up to receive an actual issue of the titular newsletter, with a video promoting the newsletter released showing the cast flipping through it and reacting to its contents.

August also brought a new poster, this one showing the massive cast assembled via obviously cut-out photos pasted together into a collage.

A number of short videos came out around that time that each focused on stories for the paper being filed by the various reporters and writers. There were videos from Sazerac, Berensen, Krementz and Wright.

Anderson begins a featurette by explaining just exactly what the movie is and what format it takes. Murray, Wilson and others from the cast also appear to introduce their characters and offer insights into what those characters add to the story.

The producers and production designers were profiled here about how they went about creating that signature Anderson look of symmetry and scale.

A set of character posters all featured those characters standing or sitting in a pose that hints at who they are and what they do, with the design background helping to communicate their actual background.

An Anderson-directed video for “Aline” came out toward the end of September to keep things going and hint at what the rest of the soundtrack would sound like.

New York’s MoMA held a screening of all 10 of Anderson’s films, including this one, over 10 consecutive nights at the beginning of October.

How the set designers, costumers and others created the world of the movie was covered in this profile of the technical aspects of production.

Murray and others appeared at the BFI London Film Fest screening of the movie earlier this month. The same kind of pop-up cafe experience was also staged in London around this time. The film also screened at the Chicago International Film Festival.

A featurette that focused on the eclectic and impressive cast was released last week. Another had that cast talking about bonding on set and how Anderson creates a family-like atmosphere during filming.

TV spots like this finally started running just days before the film’s release, selling little about the story but instead communicating both the cast and the very Anderson-like tone and look.

Also in New York City, Searchlight launched another pop-up cafe experience where visitors could come by and immerse themselves in a small bit of the film’s world.

overall

If a Wes Anderson movie campaign communicates that it’s for a Wes Anderson movie and contains all the necessary elements – dry line delivery, balanced imagery, clever illustrations, unique use of aspect ratios etc – then it can objectively be considered successful. After all, this is not going to bring in many converts. Instead it’s meant to speak primarily to Anderson die-hards who are already on board with the director’s style.

Wes Anderson Applause GIF by Searchlight Pictures - Find & Share on GIPHY

dune – marketing recap

Dear Paul Atreides…

If you’ve seen David Lynch’s 1984 version of Frank Herbert’s Dune you know that the conventional wisdom of the novel being essentially unadaptable might not entirely be hyperbole from die-hard fans who want their favorite book to remain unadulterated. Herbert’s text is dense with detail and story, making it an imposing wall to climb for anyone trying to translate it to another medium.

Dune movie poster

This week brings another attempt to scale that wall in the form of Dune, directed by Denis Villeneuve. Timothée Chalamet stars as Paul Atreides, the son of Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) and his concubine Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson). House Atreides is called by the emperor to take on stewardship of the desert planet Arrakis, important because it’s the only source of spice – a drug that extends human life and which is so pervasive it’s now essential to life itself – in the galaxy. But the enemies of House Atreides stand in the shadows to attack. And once on Arrakis, Paul and the others will have to work with the Fremen, natives of the planet that include Chani (Zendaya), a young woman Paul has been having visions of in his dreams.

Josh Brolin, Jason Momoa, Charlotte Rampling, Dave Bautista, Javier Bardem and others round out the cast.

That the movie, which runs over two-and-a-half hours, only covers the first half of the first book indicates just how dense that book is, though Villeneuve’s luxurious, unhurried style surely contributes as well. With that in mind, let’s see how it’s been sold.

announcement and casting

While there had been other projects that had attempted to get off the ground over the years, this one was officially announced all the way back in 2017, when Villeneuve was revealed as the director of this new version.

Though Blade Runner 2049 wasn’t a smash success, that didn’t dampen the enthusiasm for Villeneuve to take on Dune, with the director being called the “sci-fi remake master” in this interview where he discussed both movies. Later on he revealed he planned to make the adaptation a two-parter, a format he confirmed in a separate interview.

Chalamet and Ferguson were cast in mid-2018, with others added that year and up to the beginning of production in mid-2019.

One of the first cross-media expansions of the story announced was a video game from Funcom, news that showed the movie was renewing interest in the universe as a whole.

Warner Bros. announced in May 2019 that the series “Dune: The Sisterhood” would debut on its upcoming WarnerMedia streaming service. The series would focus on the women of the Bene Gesserit, the enigmatic mystical power brokers in the story’s universe and be produced by Villeneuve, who would also direct the first episode.

marketing phase 1: pandemic is the release date killer

An interview with the filmmakers was accompanied by a number of first-look photos from the film in April 2020, showing off Chalamet, Issac and others in the cast. More photos along with additional comments from Villeneuve came a bit later.

Also on the tie-in front, a comic version of the “House Atreides” novel was announced in May, telling a story set some 30 years prior to the events of the movie.

Reports circulated in mid-June that WB was planning to release a first look at footage from the film along with Inception when that movie returned to theaters to celebrate its 10th anniversary.

A Q&A featurette with the cast was released in early September at the same time as the first trailer.

Despite the marketing seeming to get up and running through September, in early October reports emerged that WB was pulling the movie from its planned December release date and pushing it all the way to October, 2021.

A first-look package in Empire included Villeneuve talking about the expanded role he gave Lady Jessica, Issac talking about the relevance of the story in today’s world and more.

Warner Bros. debuted the first trailer in theaters in front of Tenet’s release at the end of August 2020, weeks before it came online.

When it did (37.5m YouTube views) at the beginning of September of last year it went a long way toward making even skeptics eager with anticipation. The focus of course is on Paul as we follow from his training to his life on Arrakis and the adventures and people waiting for him there. It offers significant glimpses at other major characters as well, especially in how they relate to Paul, but only at the end do we get a look at the worms that dominate the planet, offering the key to its place in the universe while also presenting a clear threat to the humans living there. It’s…just great.

Just after the first trailer came out, Zimmer was interviewed about working with a full choir on the version of Pink Floyd’s “Eclipse” that appears in that spot. The use of Floyd is also a nod, intentional or not, back to the development of a Dune adaptation in the mid-70s with Alejandro Jodorowsky set to direct. At the time, Jodorowsky intended to have the movie’s soundtrack created by the band.

There was a feature profile of Chalamet that covered the actor’s role in this film as well as his rise to stardom over the last few years, including comments from Villeneuve.

Like the rest of Warner Bros.’ 2021 slate, the release of Dune was altered in December of last year to include both theaters and HBO Max, a concession of pandemic reality by the studio. But that didn’t sit well with financier Legendary, who blasted the decision, or with Villeneuve, who penned an op-ed criticizing WB for grabbing cash instead of respecting artists.

When Chalamet appeared on “Saturday Night Live” in December of last year, about the time the movie was originally meant to be in theaters, his choice to wear a “Legendary” branded t-shirt raised lots of eyebrows given that company’s disapproval of WB’s HBO Max decision.

Zendaya commented on making the movie when she was promoting Malcolm & Marie earlier this year.

Rumors came early in 2021 that the studio may not have completely settled on a release plan for the film despite it appearing in a number of HBO Max promos, but nothing solid was reported or announced. Eventually WB execs confirmed it would receive a hybrid release just like the rest of this year’s lineup, and not be exempted from that plan.

marketing phase 2: hope clouds observation

With Warner Bros. now committed to that theatrical/HBO Max release plan, the marketing restarted in July of this year.

That’s when a series of character posters came out showing extreme close-ups of Paul, Chani and others.

The second trailer also came out at this point. It opens with Chani describing how beautiful the planet Arrakis can be but also how that beauty is marred by the greed and brutality of the outsiders who want her homeworld for the spice, regardless of who gets hurt. The focus then shifts to Paul and the rest of House Atreidis, which has been tasked with managing the spice and the world as a whole. As loyalties are betrayed and war comes to the planet, we’re reminded numerous times that Paul may have a destiny that’s unknown and unexpected by others, one that seems intimately tied to the Fremen and Dune as a whole.

IMAX offered theater goers at that time not only the trailer but also an exclusive look at even more of the film at a special event slated for late July.

An interview with Villeneuve had him talking more about the imposing nature of the story and how casting Chalamet was crucial to his deciding to make the movie at all.

“It begins” we’re told ominously on the next poster, released in early August. It shows Pau wandering the vast nothingness of Dune at the bottom while above the main cast is shown assembled in the standard franchise design.

IGN offered introductions to the heroes of the movie that included exclusive images and character backgrounds. The site would later publish similar roundups of the Fremen, House Harkonnen and other major groups from the story.

marketing phase 3: if you don’t see this movie in theaters, we’ll kill this dog

At this point the director began hitting on a notion that would become common through the rest of the publicity campaign, namely that this may be the first movie but it’s just the first part of the larger story he’s telling. Building on that, he makes it clear fans shouldn’t take the second installment for granted as it will depend on this first one being successful.

The message is this, then: You better go to the theater because that’s the yardstick WB is using to measure whether or not it greenlights Part 2. The fate of Dune as a movie series is thus clearly placed in the hands of the audience. That message is underlined by his additional comments about how moviegoing is an almost religious experience, one that should take place communally, not just on your own at home.

Screenwriters Eric Roth and Jon Spaihts were interviewed about the challenges in adapting what’s long been seen as an unfilmable book and story. A later interview with the movie’s costume designers covered their own struggles with recreating the looks described in such detail in the book, as would the director of photography in his own conversation.

Warner Bros. included footage from the movie in their presentation to exhibition executives and others at CinemaCon in August.

Shorter videos – likely used as TV spots, social media and other promos – started coming out at this time that each focused on a slightly different aspect of the story, from Paul’s journey to the other characters like his mother and father that influence his path and more.

The IMAX exclusive poster simply zooms in on the image of Paul in the desert seen on the earlier one-sheet while calling out that the movie was “filmed for IMAX” to lure in those who want to see it in the format it was apparently intended for. The same message was shared in a commercial for IMAX and in an exclusive featurette on how Villeneuve shot the film specifically for big screens.

The movie’s appearance at the 2021 Cannes International Film Festival was confirmed in May. It was also scheduled (out of competition) for September’s Venice International Film Festival and as a “special presentation” at the Toronto Film Festival. Villeneuve received the TIFF Ebert Director Award at Toronto. It was later added to the lineup of the New York Film Festival.

That Venice appearance garnered mostly positive buzz and reviews, with critics calling it some mix of exhilarating and impressive and mildly disappointing, though many of the latter comments seem to stem from this not being the complete story. In interviews from the festival Villeneuve again called for audiences to see it on the big screen and urged for them to turn out in droves so the studio will allow him to make the sequel.

We’re introduced to the characters, especially the warring houses that drive the action and drama, in a featurette given to Fandango’s MovieClips.

The director joined Chamalet and Zendaya in a short featurette about the process of making the movie together. In another he talked about working with composer Hans Zimmer on the score of the film.

Dolby’s exclusive poster shows Paul still wandering the desert, but this time from a slightly different and harsher looking point of view. It also had its own featurette on how Villeneuve directed and crafted the sound of the movie.

The cast and crew headed to Paris in early September for a screening there.

Additional interviews with Villeneuve had him talking about why he chose Abu Dhabi to serve as Arrakis and how he wanted the screenwriters to focus specifically on the influence and importance of the story’s female characters.

A takeover ad campaign run on IMDb at the beginning of October caused more than a few negative reactions for being too obtrusive, covering information on pages and rendering the site largely unusable because the ads couldn’t be minimized.

Both Ferguson and Villeneuve appeared on “The Late Show” to hype the movie while revealing as little of what it entails as possible.

An exclusive poster for RealD 3D pulls the camera out a bit but, like the others, shows Paul walking along a massive sand dune

MovieClips received an exclusive featurette that had the cast and crew talking about the massive scale of the movie and how it was filled with visuals and more that the audience had never seen before.

The final trailer (3.1m YouTube views) came out in the first week of October. It doesn’t have a whole lot that’s brand new, though there are a few scenes we haven’t seen before, but does sum up the story and the epic nature of the movie nicely, including some quotes from positive reviews to help make the case to the audience.

At the same time, Villeneuve and composer Hans Zimmer were hosting a screening and Q&A at New York Film Festival.

EW ran a cover story package of features that went into the making of the movie, including how Villeneuve first began considering how a new adaptation might be made, the process of bringing the cast together and lots more.

Momoa praised Chalamet when he appeared on “The Tonight Show.”

AMC Theaters had a couple exclusive interviews with the cast and crew, as did Regal Cinemas.

Cinematographer Greig Fraser talked about how he worked to make a big movie that felt small in terms of the focus on the characters.

The movie took over @TwitterMovies this week, sharing videos of the cast and crew answering fan questions.

Another interview with Villeneuve had him making it clear that he took this job not in spite of being seen as difficult but because it was seen as difficult, which is a nice sentiment.

HBO Max announced just days before release that the movie would be available on Thursday, not Friday, as part of a “special preview event.”

overall

Let’s be about what works in the campaign.

It focuses on Paul Atreides, which makes sense given the entire story revolves around that character, but it doesn’t go too hard in the paint in setting him up as a white savior out to rule the native people and their lands. Nor does it spend too much time tipping its hat toward Paul’s role as a prophet or Christ-like figure. Instead he’s a young man put in a rough situation and making the best of it and trying to fulfill his destiny as well as his father’s expectations for him.

It highlights bits of comedy – or at least levity – that are wholly missing from the source novel or previous adaptations. Those especially come through in some of the scenes featuring Isaac’s Duke Leto Atreides and Duncan Idaho, played by Jason Momoa. With such a weighty product being pitched to audiences, it’s good to include a few lighter moments added by screenwriters Ross, Villeneuve and Jon Spaihts to make it a bit more attractive.

It keeps the scale both massive and human. This is addressed in one of the interviews linked above, but the marketing nicely balances showing how big the movie is while also making it clear the story hinges not on those huge ships or the grand, detailed buildings we see but on the characters walking around and through them. That helps communicate that the audience won’t be overwhelmed or wonder who they’re being asked to care about or why they should care.

Mood Protect GIF by Dune Movie - Find & Share on GIPHY

With those all in mind there’s one thing that strikes me as odd about the marketing.

Namely, the message sent by Villeneuve and others that the fate of the second movie being made at all hinges on audiences going to theaters in huge numbers to see this one.

It’s odd, especially in this age of franchises being central to studio success, that there would be any contingency placed on the second installment, especially given the admission that this is only the first half of the first of multiple stories that could be told. If not “odd” then it’s at least out of character for a major studio to not immediately say that both movies will be made and released. After all, that’s the approach WB itself took with both the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, reassuring fans that they would see the whole thing over a few years and wouldn’t be left hanging without The Return of the King because The Two Towers had underperformed. We know when the next 12 Marvel Cinematic Universe movies are coming out, so why not lock dates in for the entire Dune two-parter?

Instead we have the cast and crew sounding increasingly desperate in their appeals.

Critics, who have given the movie positive reviews adding up to an 87% Fresh Rotten Tomatoes ranking, have added to that. For a while now the unofficial line has been that the movie needs to be seen on the biggest screen possible to get the full experience. While that may be true and is relatively common/innocuous, many have gone further recently and suggested anyone who doesn’t go to the theater is someone who doesn’t actually love movies.

That’s not fair and does a disservice to critics in general, who should be more concerned with substance than delivery platform. And, based on what’s seen in the marketing campaign, Dune has plenty of substance and style, both of which can be just as easily enjoyed at home as on a big theater screen.

the harder they fall – marketing recap

How Netflix has sold a high-octane and star-studded Western.

The Harder They Fall poster

Regina King, Jonathan Majors, Idris Elba, Lakeith Stanfield, Zazie Beetz and Delroy Lindo are just a few of the big names in this week’s new Netflix feature The Harder They Fall.

In the film, labeled as based on a true story, Majors plays Nat Love, a former enslaved person who, once free, moved from Tennessee to Kansas to find work as a cowboy. One day he finds out his nemesis Rufus Buck (Elba) has escaped imprisonment he gathers those loyal to him to set out and find Buck and bring him back to justice, or exact revenge himself. But Buck has his own gang and the two groups are fated to face off against each other.

With a solid cast and the promise of a new-fangled Western, Netflix’s campaign has been slick and action-packed, even if it hasn’t been particularly sizable.

announcement and casting

The movie was announced in mid-2019 with Majors and first-time director Jeymes Samuel attached at that time. Elba joined later that year with others added over the course of 2019 and into 2020.

Production started in mid-2020 but, like many other films, had to be suspended because of a Covid case in October.

The first footage came in January, part of Netflix’s announcement of its ambitious 2021 feature film slate.

the marketing campaign

The first trailer (3.1m YouTube views) came out in late June, starting off with the outlaws robbing a train to free one of their number. But there are those who preferred Buck remain in jail, leading to a good old-fashioned showdown in a small town. It looks like a great, stylized Western with lots of action and humor and a fantastic cast.

Two posters that show the two different sides of the law that are presented in the story also came out in June.

Netflix announced in August that the movie would open the London Film Festival.

It was August when the official trailer (1.1m YouTube views) was released. There’s more footage than was included in the first one but the same message is being sent here: That the film is violent and funny, with a story about warring outlaw gangs each determined to get what they feel is theirs. Most of all it looks like a lot of fun, with some great actors playing Old West for a while.

Short promos like this also began appearing at this time that play up the splashy visuals and high-energy tone of the film.

Another poster came out in September that combines elements from the previous two, bringing the main four characters into a single one-sheet.

At the London Film Festival there were a number of interviews with the cast and crew where they talked about discarding stereotypes of the Western genre, how this film broadens the scope of the kinds of stories that can be told of that era and more.

Similar themes were covered in an interview with Samuel.

Majors stopped by “Kimmel” recently to talk about this movie as well as other upcoming projects.

At the movie’s L.A. premiere event Majors again pointed out that this isn’t an alternative history of the Old West so much as it was an additional chapter of that era that hasn’t been widely told.

Overall

The 83% Fresh rating the film currently has on Rotten Tomatoes represents it’s been received more positively than some of the other recent Netflix titles, and even more positively than many other recent releases regardless of platform.

Aside from that, the marketing has been solidly consistent through what is admittedly its short life span. It sells the movie as being a Western, yes, but one with a more modern sensibility and tone despite the frequent assertions by Samuel and others that this isn’t an alternate history or revisionist take on the genre.

It also puts its all-star cast right at the front with an especially strong focus on Majors, who could use this and a couple other high-profile roles to break out into the big-time.

the last duel – marketing recap

How 20th Century Studios has sold a movie of honor and sexual politics

The Last Duel poster

The Last Duel, out this week from 20th Century Studios, is based on the true story of exactly what you would think based on the title.

Set in 14th century France, Matt Damon plays Jean de Carrouges. When his wife Marguerite (Jodie Comer) accuses de Carrouges’ friend and squire Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) of raping her, de Carrouges challenges him to a duel which would become the last one in France to be legally sanctioned.

Directed by Ridley Scott, the movie was co-written by Damon and Ben Affleck – who also costars – along with Nicole Holofcener, brought in by the pair specifically to strengthen the female perspective of the story.

announcement and casting

The announcement that the movie was coming and that it would feature an on-screen reunion of Affleck and Damon hit in late July of 2019, though the film had been in development for a few years prior to that. Comer and Driver joined the cast later that year.

the marketing campaign

The first trailer (6m YouTube views) came out in late July, opening with what seems to be Marguerite being questioned after the fact about events we see depicted, indicating there’s been some kind of fall out from what takes place. Those events involve charges that have been leveled against Jacques Le Gris – namely that he raped and assaulted Marguerite – and the challenge to a duel that’s proposed by Jean de Carrouges. But while that duel extends into what appears to be all out war, it’s Marguerite that is about to pay the price if she’s found guilty of making a false accusation.

At the same time the first poster was released, nicely conveying the story by showing two swords pointed in opposite directions, Marguerite’s face shown in the blade of one to indicate she’s somehow the reason this duel is happening.

Comer talked about the movie, including her experience on a Ridley Scott production, in an interview from mid-August. She covered similar grounds in another interview a short while later.

Affleck and Damon talked about reuniting as a writing team and bringing in Holofcener to help them tell a uniquely female-centric story in the best way possible.

The first TV spot came out in early September, cutting down the story to its basic beats and managing to be a lot more clear than the trailer, losing some of the vague mystery and getting straight to the drama.

Damon, Affleck and Comer were joined by Holofcener and Scott at the Venice Film Festival, where the movie had its world premiere.

While at Venice – which also served as the first big public appearance of Affleck and Jennifer Lopez as a couple again – Affleck was interviewed about how the story reminds audiences that women haven’t been treated as full human beings for centuries.

Positive reviews, especially for Comer’s performance, came out of that premiere and kept buzz for the movie building.

Another feature story covered Holofcener’s recruitment into the writing team and what it means for how the story is told.

Additional TV spots/online promos came out after that, most of which focused on the drama over the accusations that’s been made by Marguerite and what results from that. Others focused more on how the movie is based on a true story, showing the gritty nature of the events.

A featurette released in late September goes behind the scenes to show Scott directing and talking about his process.

Comer appeared at the UK premiere of the movie.

Marguerite stands at the front of the next poster, released at the end of September. The rest of the characters are arrayed behind her but it’s clear she’s at the center of the story. Again the two sword motif is used here, with copy explaining that not only is this a true story but that the woman in the middle of it will drastically upset the status quo.

More TV spots were released over time that played up how powerful the film and its performances are. The audio for some of the shorter commercials was repurposed for ads on Spotify and elsewhere.

The first clip shows Marguerite confronting her husband about whether it’s her honor or his reputation he’s fighting for as he goes forward with his duel.

Fandango was given the first few minutes of the movie showing preparations for the duel, the king of France looking on.

The cast and crew turned out for the movie’s premiere in New York City last week, with the studio releasing a video of highlights from that event. From that premiere came several interviews with Comer, Affleck, Holofcener, Damon, Scott and others.

Another featurette focuses on how Damon and Driver in particular were suited up for the duel and how those outfits restricted their movements.

overall

Things are summed up nicely in one of the last TV commercials released in the campaign. That spot includes pull quotes from some of the positive reviews the movie has accumulated, all of which have given it an 87% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Ridley Scott GIF by Regal - Find & Share on GIPHY

It’s that word of mouth that has really powered the campaign in the last two weeks. Positive buzz for Scott’s direction, Comer’s performance in particular and the better-than-expected script have all built on a strong start that sold the movie as a powerful experience that must be seen in theaters. That’s slightly different than some other recent releases, which focus on the *size* of the action, not the intensity of the story.

Despite that, tracking projections estimate a paltry $10 million opening weekend. That is *absolutely* an indicator of how established brands and franchises are better-suited for the new normal of theatrical distribution than other stories, especially since the reviews are better or at least similar in aggregate.

halloween kills – marketing recap

How Universal is selling the sequel to a movie that was a sequel that ignored the previous sequels to the original well I’ve gone cross-eyed…

Halloween Kills poster

2018’s Halloween got, by all accounts, better reviews than it was expected to, going on to bring in $255m at the domestic box office. Now the sequel to that film, Halloween Kills, is finally being released.

Picking up roughly right where the first movie left off, this one again pits Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) against the masked homicidal maniac Michael Myers, who is still bent on killing her and everyone around her. That list includes Laurie’s daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). It’s up to the three Strode women to try and bring Myers’ rampage to an end.

But of course this isn’t the end, and everyone knows it, as Halloween Ends, the final part of this trilogy, is scheduled for this time next year, all of which have been or will be directed by David Gordon Green. Until then, let’s see how this installment has been sold.

announcement and casting

That this movie – as well as the third installment – was coming was announced by Blumhouse during San Diego Comic-Con in 2019, with McBride, Green and Curtis all slated to return.

Shortly after that announcement the producers spoke about how unexpected this whole ride was. McBride and Green were interviewed about some details of the story, letting audiences know more or less what they could expect. Curtis talked about the movie in an interview last October, touching on the relevancy of the story to the current era.

At that same time a very short behind the scenes tease of what Green and the cast were shooting.

the marketing kills

Originally scheduled for October 2020, the release date was shifted a full year last July, with Green and producer John Carpenter issuing a statement explaining to fans why they felt the change was necessary to preserve the film and its intended presentation.

A short teaser was released in conjunction with that statement showing the Strodes being taken away from the scene of the fire while hoping that fire is allowed to continue burning in order to end Myers’ threat. Another came out on Halloween of 2020, promising the film would be coming out that time a year later while showing that things are far from safe for the citizens of Haddonfield.

An interview in late 2020 with Green had him assuring fans the filmmakers were not simply going to retread the story of the first film.

Curtis rightfully earned the title of Greatest Of All Time Scream Queen at the MTV Movie & TV Awards in December 2020.

The first full trailer (10.5m YouTube views) wasn’t released until June of this year, starting with the immediate aftermath of the previous movie. Michael has, of course, survived, with a body count following everywhere he goes. Laurie and her family are determined to end him, but he’s getting stronger the more he kills, setting up yet another confrontation between the two characters.

Myers’ cracked, scorched mask is the sole element on the first poster, also released in June. Embers swirl behind him, with the whole thing creating a very dark and gritty tone for the film.

In June of this year the movie’s premiere at the Venice Film Festival was announced along with Curtis’ receiving of a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Carpenter previewed “Unstable” from the movie’s soundtrack in August.

At Venice in September Curtis talked quite a bit about the series’ continued appeal, her award and how the movie’s message of evil being something not easily dispatched is relevant to the modern world.

Universal then announced the movie would debut day and date in theaters and on the company’s Peacock streaming service.

TV advertising began around that time as well, with spots like this that cut down the trailer while showing it’s not just the Strodes who are out to put a final end to Myers but the whole town, with the three core women leading the charge.

The final trailer (8.5m YouTube views) was released in late September. It shows that Myers is out once again on Halloween, terrorizing the residents of Haddonfield. He survived the fire Laurie set, but this time it’s not just her and a few others that have had enough but the whole town.

Early October brought a featurette that had the cast and crew talking about returning to the characters and story, whether their absence has been long or short. A second short featurette had Curtis talking about how the fight against Myers is multigenerational. In a third video everyone promises audiences that this is a *very* different movie and that the audience can expect lots of shocks.

The film screened at Beyond Fest earlier this month, with the cast and crew in attendance to answer fan questions and generally get folks excited.

A new poster released just over a week before the movie came out shows all three Strode women standing defiantly as their house burns in the background. There were also breakout character posters for Karen and Allyson.

Two more behind-the-scenes videos have Green talking about the technical difficulties of shooting this movie, including some of the more complicated effects sequences.

Overall

While this isn’t necessarily my cup of tea, the marketing campaign Universal has put together is cohesive, makes strong appeals to the target audience and spends only as much time as necessary connecting this to past films while keeping the focus on what’s new and upcoming. Those are all strengths. And you have to stand up and applaud how Curtis commits to the project, selling the movie with conviction and making sure to call out her costars and others.

Initial reviews haven’t been strong, with a paltry 54% on Rotten Tomatoes at the moment. But tracking projects a strong opening weekend total of $35-55m, which may not be Bond numbers but certainly indicates strong audience interest. Whether or not the hybrid theatrical/streaming release impacts those projections will, I imagine, be watched with great interest.

Michael Myers GIF by Halloween - Find & Share on GIPHY

the box office is back! (again)

theatrical distribution revived for third time this year

For the last few weeks there’s been a consistent narrative throughout much of the Hollywood trade press: Finally, the box office has returned to normal!

We’ve seen that in the wake of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which was the first movie of the Pandemic Era to pass $200m domestically.

Shang Chi GIF by Marvel Studios - Find & Share on GIPHY

We’ve seen that in the wake of Venom: Let There Be Carnage scoring, with $90m, the biggest opening weekend of the Pandemic Era.

Venom 2 Sony GIF by Venom Movie - Find & Share on GIPHY

We’ve now seen that in the wake of No Time To Die opening to a completely respectable (especially in the Pandemic Era) $65m weekend, which is almost exactly what tracking had projected.

Daniel Craig GIF by James Bond 007 - Find & Share on GIPHY

While I certainly understand that a return to the horse-race nature of box-office reporting is good for the trade press, and that the exhibition industry is happy that the numbers on these high-profile releases are up, I can’t shake the notion that we’re yearning for a “normal” that may no longer be attainable.

This isn’t unique to the movie industry. Between Covid variants, unvaccinated holdouts and the behaviors that have become entrenched during closures and shutdowns, we never get back to pre-pandemic normal on a number of fronts.

If that includes the movie industry (and it does), then everyone involved will need to redefine what “normal” stands for and looks like.

We already see that in how, over the last year or so, 45-day theatrical windows are now standard and agreed to by most major exhibition chains where not that long ago they were so short as to be unthinkable.

counting on things going well has never been a great strategy…

Now studios will be threading the needle between continuing to support the theater industry and meeting audience expectations for very quick home release. There may indeed be more demand for moviegoing than there has been, but the positive forecast of that analyst makes two big presumptions:

  • That the “studios continue to play ball”, and
  • “…a film slate that is more likely to hold…”

Not to sound like a broken record, but if there’s anything that should be assumed, it’s that things are going to be more uncertain and unreliable. If it’s not major weather events that are more severe because of climate change, it’s supply chain problems that could impact the all-important concessions portion of the business.

More than that, the continued health of the exhibition business depends on selling more expensive tickets for variations on the same three dozen franchises to a smaller number of people. 2019 ticket sales were near their 25 year low even as prices were over twice what they were in 1995. So this isn’t a growing market, just one that is hoping it doesn’t lose any more ground.

And, despite the assertion that there is massive pent-up audience demand to actually go to the theater, it’s hard to imagine more ground won’t be lost overtime.

Warner Bros. may not stick with their 2021 strategy of releasing all movies day-and-date to theaters and HBO Max. And other studios may make alterations to their streaming release strategies. But given Universal’s decision to bring Halloween Kills to Peacock at the same time it’s in theaters and other moves by other companies, it’s clear something fundamental has shifted and we now live in a world where decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis.

As such, we’re all going to have to come to terms with the reality that reality, as it used to be understood, needs to be put out to pasture.

no time to die – marketing recap

How MGM and Universal have sold the capstone of the latest James Bond era.

No Time To Die poster

It’s impossible to even begin discussing the marketing for No Time To Die, the latest entry in the James Bond franchise, without putting in the context of two realities.

First, that this is clearly being sold as the last time Daniel Craig would star as the British super-spy. When he took over the role in 2006’s Casino Royale it was clear the franchise was headed in a new direction, one whose more realistic tone was seen as a direct response to movies like The Bourne Identity that featured more graphic violence and a flawed, human hero. Craig has hinted at leaving before, but this fifth outing seems to really be his last.

Second, that the movie’s release has been greatly impacted by events in the real world. Fears over the spread of novel coronavirus lead the studio in February 2020 to cancel the movie’s planned premiere in China. Things escalated after that when the planned release in April of last year was shifted to November by MGM, the studio citing an abundance of concern over audiences being exposed to what was then known as Covid-19 in theaters. That came after a Bond fansite launched a petition encouraging MGM and Eon to make that change.

Doing so meant the studio and producers stood to lose around $30 million in sunk costs, but the movie bombing because people were avoiding public spaces like movie theaters had the potential to be much worse financially in addition to being a public health nightmare.

With all that as context, we now come to the moment at hand. Here’s the official synopsis for No Time To Die:

In No Time To Die, Bond has left active service and is enjoying a tranquil life in Jamaica. His peace is short-lived when his old friend Felix Leiter from the CIA turns up asking for help. The mission to rescue a kidnapped scientist turns out to be far more treacherous than expected, leading Bond onto the trail of a mysterious villain armed with dangerous new technology.

What’s promised, though, is an end to the story begun 15 years and four films ago. That’s relatively unusual for the Bond franchise, to have a single storyline run through multiple installments, and it’s made the marketing of the movie that much more emotional and interesting. Let’s dig in.

announcements and casting

A lot of news came in one fell swoop as it was announced MGM and Annapurna would team up for distribution, having wrestled the rights away from Sony, that Danny Boyle would direct, that Craig would return for another go and that it was already scheduled for release. Boyle’s involvement wouldn’t last much longer as it was announced in mid-August he had departed the film due to the frequently-cited “creative differences.”

That set off plenty of speculation about who might be considered as a replacement, a decision the studio wanted to make quickly to keep things on track. Eventually Fukunaga was picked to sit in the chair, a decision that most everyone approved of given his talents shown in previous films.

There was a bit of coverage of the movie when it was revealed Craig had specifically requested Phoebe Waller-Bridge do a pass on the script to punch things up and bring an original take to the story and tone. A few weeks later in late April the cast and some of the locations were announced via livestream, though the title remained secret.

After months of being known publicly as simply “Bond 25” the official title was announced in mid-August 2019. In October the movie’s Instagram account marked the end of principle photography.

not the time to die: marketing phase one

It was all the way back in October 2019 – two solid years before the eventual release – that the marketing of the latest James Bond film began, back when the world was pure and you could go to the theater relatively certain you wouldn’t contract a deadly virus.

That’s when the first teaser poster was released, though it, like the character posters that followed in December, have all been subsequently updated to replace the “April 2020” date that was quickly obsolete.

Costars Lynch and de Armes were jointly profiled as part of THR’s “Next Gen Talent” feature, with the pair talking about the complicated process of joining the world of Bond and what it meant to be part of the team trying to modernize the character for new times and new audiences. A bit later Waller-Bridge was interviewed about how she came on to provide some help with the script and what she encountered when she joined. She offered more clarification on what she positioned as her limited role later on.

Just as has been the case with the previous two movies, Craig proclaimed this would be his very last outing as Bond while on the publicity circuit for last year’s Knives Out. Given how often he’s said this in the past, it remains to be seen if he’s serious this time or just negotiating through the press.

Late June brought a behind-the-scenes look at the movie’s filming in the Caribbean.

The first official still from the film was released in early December at the same time as the initial trailer. That release was also accompanied by the entire cast appearing on “Good Morning America” to celebrate the moment.

Also in December came the first teaser trailer (21.4m YouTube views). As it opens we see Bond is living peacefully in Jamaica, but is brought back into the fold to face an increasingly dangerous world. Nomi, a new 00 operative, isn’t thrilled about retrieving the relic from seclusion but the two pair up regardless, eventually reuniting with Moneypenny and Q as well. After encountering Madeleine, Bond interrogates Blofeld, eventually leading to a face off with Safin. Along the way there are just the sort of shots of well-choreographed action and adventure that are synonymous with the franchise.

With that April 2020 release date still kinda sorta realistic, more marketing efforts continued to pop up.

TV advertising began in early February of that year with a Super Bowl commercial that promises secrets will be unveiled that will “be the death of” Bond. In fact the spot sets the expectation that major changes will result from what happens, teasing that this might indeed by the last outing for this incarnation of 007. A commercial that aired during the NBA Finals is more basic, selling it as a big-screen action flick with a familiar character.

Total Film shared a first look at the villain played by Rami Malek, with the actor adding a few comments while continuing to keep the actual identity of the character he played a secret. Malek would later present at the 2020 Academy Awards ceremony.

Costar Latasha Lynch received a profile where she was quizzed on 007 history and talked about the character she plays. Ana de Armas also got her own Vanity Fair profile a short while later.

Pop superstar Billie Ellish was announced as the performer of this movie’s title number in January, just before she swept the major categories at this year’s Grammy Awards. At the same time it was revealed Hans Zimmer was composing the film’s score. The audio of the title track was released in mid-February, earning a fair amount of praise. Ellish performed that song at the Brit Awards just a short while later and talked about writing the song when she appeared on “Good Morning America.”

In January a THR feature focused on longtime Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, including their thoughts on the future of the character. A little while later EW ran a cover story on the movie that offered a handful of interviews with the cast who teased what audiences could expect and addressing some of the issues – Boyle’s exiting the project, Craig’s occasional reluctance to continue and more – that have been part of the narrative to date.

Additional TV spots continued to come out throughout February of 2020, all showing off the action audiences could expect from the film. There was also an exclusive IMAX poster of Bond on a motorcycle, an image pulled from the trailers and commercials that had already come out.

Another poster shows a very grimy and dirty Bond alongside Madeline Swann (played by Léa Seydoux) looking out of a bullet-riddled car window.

A short featurette narrated by Fukunaga had the director talking about where Bond as a character is when the story opens and how this movie will deliver on audience expectations for this final chapter of Craig’s Bond.

still not quite the time to die: marketing phase two

At this point everyone pumped the brakes as it became clear the Covid-19 pandemic was going to be serious and disruptive. That’s when, in early March 2020, the announcement came the movie was being delayed from April to November of that year.

Not everything came to a stop though. Craig still hosted “Saturday Night Live” in March as planned, still promoting the movie while addressing the delay in his monologue as well as in subsequent sketches. It also needs to be noted that his hosting turn resulted in one of the most viral Twitter accounts/trends in recent years, something the actor only recently became aware of.

There was a big interview with Ellish where she talked about writing her song, how she got involved with the producers and more. Similar ground was covered in a later interview.

Craig then was profiled in both the UK and US editions of GQ.

Unlike some others, Fukunaga said in July he was not using the extra time afforded by the delay in release to continue fiddling with the film.

An official James Bond podcast was launched in late September featuring interviews with the cast and crew.

A second trailer (18m YouTube views) – teased the day before release – came out in early September and continues making the case for this being an essential endpoint for this era of the Bond franchise. Bond is up against a very personal foe, one that has drawn him back into the game, and has to work with Nomi to stop a massive threat. There are lots of dramatic moments and music along with the requisite running, jumping and shooting that are hallmarks of the series.

A new official poster, this one simply showing Bond armed, well dressed and ready for any kind of action, was released as well. Another shows Bond in more tactical gear lurking through a dark hallway.

Shortly after that there was a new featurette released with Malik and Fukunaga introducing us to Safin and explaining what some of his motivations are.

The official video for the song was released in early October. A month later in November Ellish’s song was nominated for a Grammy, despite the film the song is attached to being pushed to the next year, eventually winning the Song Written for Visual Media award.

A blow was dealt to the fall 2020 box-office picture when, at the beginning of October, Sony announced the movie was being booted to April, 2021. The news wasn’t wholly surprising, of course, as Covid-19 continued to sweep across the U.S. in particular. What *was* surprising was a report emerging in late October that MGM had openly explored selling the movie to Apple, Netflix and other streaming companies, hoping to get somewhere in the neighborhood of $600 million. That price tag was apparently too high, with the talks fizzling out without a deal being made. Additional details came later on how much of a financial drain those delays were becoming to the studio and its partners.

GIF by James Bond 007 - Find & Share on GIPHY

An additional delay was announced at that point, moving the release date from November 2020 to April 2021 because the pandemic situation – particularly the availability of movie theaters in major markets – had not improved sufficiently, as we all now know.

Craig appeared on “The Tonight Show” in early October of last year, shortly after the latest delay was announced, to discuss the movie and rationalize the change in release dates. Ellish also showed up to both discuss and perform her title song.

Of course the studio and producers marked the passing of Sean Connery, the original on-screen Bond, in November. Comments from Craig as well as the other actors who have portrayed the character came in as well.

In an interview from last November, Lynch talked about the attacks she’s been subjected to since taking on the role, primarily from those who don’t feel a woman – much less a woman of color – should play any sort of leading part in the Bond franchise.

ad break: the promotional partners

Promotional partners for the movie include:

  • Heineken, a returning Bond sponsor, which released an extended commercial in January that playfully shows Craig having difficulty navigating his own life as people constantly mistake him for his super spy alter ego. A later commercial pokes fun at the frequent delays of the movie while also playing up the quality of its beer in a spot titled “Worth the Wait.”
  • Nokia, which released a long-form commercial featuring Nomi using the company’s devices to engage in surveillance and gather evidence on a mission.
  • Land Rover, which launched a campaign for its Defender SUV, selling it with the same kind of attributes – unflappable, able to adjust to any situation etc – as are normally associated with Bond himself.

Shoot Out Nomi GIF by James Bond 007 - Find & Share on GIPHY

One big problem with these product placements is that many of them, while cutting edge and new at the time the film was made and meant to be released, are less shiny and may even be outdated a year later. The money those companies paid, then, becomes a much poorer investment, even if the reasons why are largely outside of most individual’s control.

finally time to die: marketing phase three (for real this time)

What would eventually turn out to be the final release date change came in January, when the movie was moved to October, 2021.

In March Ellish found herself in a wholly unprecedented situation, winning a Grammy for her “No Time To Die” theme song to a movie that hadn’t come out yet.

In the wake of the news that Amazon was buying MGM in May, Broccoli issued a statement assuring audiences (but actually exhibitors) that the movie would not go to streaming as so many other delayed blockbusters had but would receive a theatrical release around the world.

Another interview with Lynch had her talking about the role she plays as a black woman on screen, especially in big titles like Bond and others.

Things really started to ramp up in August, beginning with the release of the final trailer (13.5m YouTube views). It starts off with scenes and dialogue from Casino Royale, counting off and showing some of the people he’s encountered, missions he’s been on and more since then. Despite the talk of the world being different and enemies being “in the ether” as opposed to across the room from you, the latter is exactly what we get, with Bond facing off against Safin for the fate of the world.

In September came the announcement of “Being James Bond,” a retrospective documentary on Craig’s time with the character and franchise.

TV advertising also restarted last month with spots like this that featured the banter, the action and the overall vibe of the movie and franchise as a whole.

The new agents played by Lynch and de Armes are introduced in a featurette. There was also a new IMAX featurette that had Fukunaga talking about shooting for the big screen.

Tickets went on sale in mid-September, the occasion marked by a new TV spot.

Additional profiles of and interviews with Craig continued to come out, many of them pulling out newsworthy comments and other elements from the “Being James Bond” documentary on Apple TV+ or from the podcast episodes. The actor talked about his time with the character, what it will be like to watch whoever succeeds him in the role and lots more, including the fact that, despite the multiple times he’s almost walked away, he’ll ultimately miss it.

Additional interviews with Lynch had her talking more about how she wanted to make her character unique and real.

There was also a profile of Fukunaga that, among other things, made it clear that the entire fate of the global box office and theatrical industry is on his shoulders. A similar profile of the director covered why he signed on to the project to begin with and how he’s handled the long delays.

All that really culminated in late September when the official premiere was held at London’s Royal Albert Hall with the cast, crew and lots of other celebrities (and royalty) in attendance.

Malek talked about the movie when he appeared on “Kimmel” just days ago.

overall: was it indeed worth the wait?

This movie should have been in theaters 18 months ago. That’s somewhat astounding, no less so because there was virtually no conversation about it being diverted to other platforms to get it out sooner, even with pressure coming from brand partners.

As it is, it arrives with a projected $60-70 million opening weekend and a solid 84% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes representing the largely positive reviews the movie has racked up so far.

It also comes after a marketing campaign that has been the very definition of stop-and-start.

After at least three attempts to get the ball rolling and build momentum toward release, what’s surprising is that the campaign has been remarkably consistent throughout. From the first elements in late 2019 through pre-roll ads that have run today, they keep hitting the idea that Craig’s Bond is about to hit the end of the road he began when he became a 00 in one of the best opening sequences of the entire franchise.

It remains to be seen whether that will be enough to get audiences interested enough to head to the theaters. The improved performances of Shang Chi and Venom 2 in the last few weeks are good indicators, but as the THR story above mentions, the Bond series has always skewed a bit older and that could make a bit of difference.

Also acting as an X factor is whether whatever interest there was two years ago has remained in audiences after multiple delays, not to mention [gestures broadly at everything else that’s happened since March, 2020, including 700,000 dead Americans]. It may be that some people have been waiting so long they figure it’s not worth it to go to the theater and they’ll just hold out for on-demand or other home video.

the many saints of newark – marketing recap

How Warner Bros. has sold the much-anticipated prequel to a critically-acclaimed series.

The Many Saints of Newark poster

“The Sopranos” retains its status as one of the most acclaimed and influential series of all time even 14 years after its final episode aired. It is still a cultural touchpoint alongside fellow HBO series “The Wire” and a handful of others that have been off the air (so to speak) for over a decade.

This week the world of mob boss Tony Soprano – memorably brought to life by the late James Gandolfini – returns in the form of The Many Saints of Newark. Jumping back to 1967 Newark, the prequel movie is still centered on Tony, whose younger self is now played by Michael Gandolfini, James’ son. At this point, though, he’s just an underachieving teen who idolizes his uncle Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola), who leads the family’s criminal operation. Tony’s ruthlessness grows as time goes on under the influence of Dickie and others, setting the stage for his eventual ascent to power.

Leslie Odom Jr., Joe Bernthal, Corey Stall, Ray Liotta, Vera Farmiga, Billy Magnussen and others also star, some as wholly new characters who will influence the direction Tony and others take, some as younger incarnations of characters familiar to viewers of the show and who are part of Tony Soprano’s orbit. Let’s take a look at how Warner Bros. has sold what should be a slam-dunk with a built in audience of loyal super fans.

[disclosure statement: I’ve never watched a full episode of “The Sopranos” but I do believe the ambiguous cut-to-black ending is incredible simply because it refuses to neatly tie things up. Watching people freak out was highly enjoyable, even if the next 10 years of endless debate and discussion made me sometimes want to walk into traffic. Let’s move on…]

announcement and casting

Ever since the elder Gandolfini’s passing, series creator David Chase had ruled out telling stories that would take place after the end of the show. His idea of telling a story set earlier in the timeline, though, remained intriguing and it was this idea that New Line and HBO Films finally greenlit in 2018. Alan Taylor, who had directed a number of episodes during the original show’s run, was hired to helm the movie at that time.

Nivola was one of the first to be cast later in 2018, with others added over the course of 2019. That included the younger Gandolfini, who reportedly was hesitant to step into his father’s shoes and who, despite the genetic connection, had to audition for the role.

Originally scheduled for September, 2020, in April of last year the date was pushed to March, 2021 because of pandemic-related theater closures and other delays. This past January release was moved to October at the same time Warner Bros. announced it, like the rest of its slate, would debut simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max.

selling the movie

One of the first, albeit very brief, looks at the movie came via an HBO Max promo in January touting the same day theatrical/streaming availability of WB’s 2021 lineup. But the campaign didn’t really kick off until just this past June.

That’s when the first trailer (9.5m YouTube views) came out in late June. It starts with the older Tony’s voice introducing us to his younger self on screen. After getting into a fight we see his mother being told by a high school teacher that Tony is smart, a born leader, a label she disagrees with since he’s not doing well in school. He eventually gets involved in the “family business,” first as a lark and then as he accumulates more power and influence. But it’s clear there will be hurdles he has to clear on the way up, including lots of violence and betrayal.

The first poster was released at the same time. Using the same stylized typeface and black-and-white photography – albeit with a single pop of color – it shows the primary dynamic of the story with a young Tony looking to Dickie

Van Zandt talked in July about how he had consulted on parts of the movie’s story at the request of Chase, even though he doesn’t appear in the film.

Director Alan Taylor talked about the difficulty he had in taking the story from the small to big screen while keeping Chase’s vision intact. For his part, Chase was interviewed about not only the pressure of returning to a story he’d already left behind but also the difficulty in casting many of the parts.

TV spots/social media promos began running in late August, cutting down the trailer to focus on a few key moments in the criminal development of young Tony Soprano and how that’s enabled by Dickie.

A sprawling feature from early September went in-depth on the making of the film, especially how the actors sought to capture the spirit of well-known characters, making them familiar to those who know them from the show without doing impressions. It also covered the long road the movie took to finally being made all these after the end of the original show.

Rolling Stone followed that with profiles of the cast members, including Gandolfini, Odom Jr. Stoll, Liotta and Bernthall.

About about the same time there was an interview with/profile of Chase, who talked about how the original show came to be, the passing of Gandolfini and what eventually convinced him to return to the world of Tony Soprano for this prequel story.

Chase talked more about casting Gandolfini to play a young version of the same character his father brought to life when he appeared on “Kimmel.” Gandolfini himself appeared on “CBS Sunday Morning” to talk about the same thing, including sharing how at times he went a little hard in that direction and had to be pulled back. Bernthal’s appearance on “Late Night” had the actor telling fans of the show they shouldn’t just expect more of that in the movie.

Like many others, Chase was asked for his thoughts on the movie going day-and-date on streaming and theatrical, saying he wasn’t thrilled with that decision and, if he’d thought it was a possibility, he might not have made it at all.

Dickie is looking to make a name for himself as the second trailer (2.9m YouTube views) released in early September, begins. His aspirations have made enemies, of course, but they also overlap with his nephew Tony’s burgeoning interest in the family business. It’s a more fast-paced trailer that has more of an emphasis on Dickie’s story than Tony’s, along with what I’m sure are a few nods to stories from the show that fans will enjoy.

Dickie is all on his own on the next poster, also from early September. The same design aesthetic from the first one-sheet is used here. This time he’s labeled as “Who made Tony Soprano.” That the copy is declarative instead of being framed as a question is intriguing, telling the audience that the movie won’t so much be a journey to find out who it is that made the future mobster the man he would become but that this is the guy, so come along and see what happens.

A series of almost a dozen character posters came out shortly after that, showing off the movie’s impressive cast.

At this point the younger Gandolfini began a substantial media tour that would, in the three or so weeks leading up to the film’s release, include “CBS Sunday Morning,” “The Tonight Show,” “Late Night” and elsewhere. He was also the subject of a number of feature profiles like this.

Odom Jr., Bernthal, Liotta, Nivola and others from the cast also made appearances on a handful of morning and late night talk shows.

A featurette from later in September had Taylor, Chase and many of the cast members talking about returning to these characters and this world or, in many cases, entering for the first time.

Just a couple weeks ago the movie’s world premiere happened at the first ever Tribeca Fall Preview, an offshoot of the Tribeca Film Festival. At that premiere Chase, Taylor and the rest of the cast hit on similar themes about their experiences with the movie and the franchise as a whole.

Betting site DraftKings ran a free sweepstakes where fans could simply name their favorite “Sopranos” character for a chance at a $5,000 prize.

The focus is more squarely on Dickie in some of the additional TV spots run in the last couple weeks, continuing a shift begun in the second trailer.

AMC Theaters had an exclusive video interview with some of the primary cast members, as did Regal Cinemas.

overall

It’s not terribly surprising that many of the reviews of the movie have been lukewarm, resulting in a 71% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. To some extent no movie, whether it was set before or after the series, could live up to the reputation the show developed or the hallowed place it has been elevated to in the intervening years.

WB’s campaign for the movie has been solid, though, designed to give fans exactly what they want, which is more tales of Tony Soprano and his “family.” To that end, much of the marketing has been designed to evoke or outright mimic the key art and other elements of the show. Other elements are more geared to make fans react to an important mention or appearance that’s explicitly tied to the show that has come before.

Leonardo Dicaprio Reaction GIF by Once Upon A Time In Hollywood - Find & Share on GIPHY

What’s missing is a message to those (like myself) that haven’t yet explored the show. This could be an excellent on-ramp to that broader experience, allowing us to start with a young Tony and then continue on with his later, more established years. That could leave people in that category feeling shut out for one reason or another and therefore uninterested in checking out the movie.

venom: let there be carnage – marketing recap

How Sony has sold a sequel like a…well…you know

To call the first Venom movie a bit of a surprise would be a significant understatement. Part super-anti-hero movie, part romantic comedy, part buddy cop movie and featuring one of the all-time great “he doesn’t even know what movie he’s in” performances from star Tom Hardy, it was at the same time a terrifying misfire and also somehow great, it defied expectations to gross a decent $213 million at the domestic box-office.

Now the sequel, Venom: Let There Be Carnage, arrives in theaters. Directed by Andy Serkis and with Hardy returning as Eddie Brock/Venom and Michelle Williams returning as his ex-fiancee Anne Weying, the story picks up a year after the events of the first film. As the title implies, this one delivers on the tease from the end of the 2018 movie with Woody Harrelson appearing as Cletus Kasady, a serial killer Brock attempts to interview and who will have his own symbiote dynamic.

announcement and casting

Hardy was talking about the potential for sequels even before the October 2018 release of the first film. Sony was quick to capitalize on the positive buzz for that movie, though, and announced a release date for the second one in November 2018.

Harrelson had already signed on to the project as part of his agreement to appear as Kassady in the teaser at the end of the original. Rumors and vague reports about what was in store for the sequel were brought into finer focus when, in early August of 2019, Serkis was announced as the director of the film, replacing Ruben Fleischer.

Later that year additional cast members – including Naomie Harris as Frances Barrison / Shriek, a character from the comics that is a love interest of Kassady/Carnage – were announced, with principal photography wrapping up just before the pandemic shut many productions down in early 2020.

In April of last year Paramount both gave the movie an official subtitle and a new June 2021 release date (it was originally scheduled for October 2020) as the studio pushed titles in response to the Covid-19 outbreak. A video announcement confirmed both elements of that.

official marketing gets underway

Things were very quiet for a good long while between that April 2020 announcement and the May 2021 kickoff of the movie’s actual marketing campaign.

That kickoff included the release of the first trailer (34.4m views on YouTube) which quickly catches us up on Eddie and Venom’s relationship, which is that of a weird even more symbiotic Odd Couple that helps protect local bodega owners. But we quickly get to Kasady being cryptic and weird with Eddie, eventually becoming Carnage and wreaking havoc on the city. It’s not much, but it delivers on the promise setup in the first movie, so it’s all good.

At the same time the first poster came out, immediately establishing the conflict in the story as the camera peers out from Venom’s mouth to show Carnage *very* close and clearly on the attack. This is an object lesson in how to not beat around the bush and just send the message the audience wants, in this case that the movie is all about two symbiotes beating each other to a pulp for two hours.

In June Serkis appeared in a video announcing a fan art contest in conjunction with Talenthouse. Some of these submissions would be featured on the movie’s social media profiles throughout the remainder of the campaign.

An interview with screenwriter Kelly Marcel had her talking about developing the script, including collaborating with Hardy, who is getting his first “story by” credit.

Movie-themed stickers featuring both Venom and Carnage were made available for TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat. Also on the mobile front, a selfie lens that put Venom or Carnage’s head on your own was released for Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram.

The second trailer (36.8m views on YouTube) came out at the beginning of this past August. It focuses much more on Kassady, from his instance on speaking only to Brock while in prison to how he gets the Carnage symbiote to the kind of mayhem he causes after breaking out. There are a few small appearances from Shriek but Anne Weying doesn’t show up until close to the end for a couple gags about Brock’s ability to control Venom’s actions.

Apple TV+ hosted an exclusive behind the scenes featurette after that trailer came out.

Two more posters then came out in mid-August. One once again features both symbiotes but this time they’re positioned as two halves of the same face instead of squaring off against each other. The other goes back to having Carnage attack Venom

At that point energy drink G-Fuel began promoting its movie-themed collectors cans, with both aliens featured on different can designs.

A much-shared interview with Hardy had the actor commenting on a number of things, including how much he wants to see the Venom/Spider-Man that everyone has been speculating on actually happen and what he already has in mind for a third movie.

The traditional super hero ensemble design is used on the theatrical poster, released at the end of August. The two symbiotes are seen at the top of the “V” shape formed by the assembled heads of the characters, with Carnage shown more fully toward the bottom.

Regal Cinemas released a video promo for its 4DX presentation, which adds motion and other sensations to the viewing experience.

Shorter videos started coming out at about the same time, roughly a month ahead of release, that were used for social media promotions as well as TV spots and pre-roll video ads. Some were just action-based while others delved into the dynamic between Brock and Kassady.

Given all other delays, including one in August that moved the release to mid-October, it was a little surprising when, at the beginning of September, Sony brought it up two weeks to early October.

A “FansFirst” screening was held in mid-September with Hardy and Serkis in attendance to help get those lucky enough to get in hyped up for the movie.

Dolby Cinema’s exclusive poster takes an artistic approach to the fight between Venom and Carnage, using the same sort of pose seen on other posters but with a minimalist design. The IMAX poster takes the opposite approach, still using a painted design but this time so detailed and graphic it looks like literally any comic book cover from 1994. The 4DX poster has the two faces sort of bleeding into and over one another.

A series of character posters followed that put the characters head in a “V” design that had their silhouette then featured at the bottom. The one for Anne Weying is notable for showing her at the bottom as the She-Venom she briefly became in the first movie, hinting that there may be additional transformations in store for her.

NFL star George Kittle appears in an ESPN promo that has him talking about moving in as Venom’s new roommate, which is just as hilarious and problematic as you’d imagine.

Of course, as is now standard, there was a Venom skin offered in Fortnight.

Sony hosted “Venom Day” the Monday prior to release, encouraging fans to contribute to the conversation and share their fandom. It also included videos from a handful of minor celebrities where, in the middle of having a conversation, they actually transform into Venom.

The first clip shows Kassady first transforming into Carnage as he breaks out of prison just as he’s about to be put to death.

Serkis talks about where Brock and Venom are as a couple in this installment and how that forms the foundation of the story in a featurette. In another we meet Shriek, with comments from both Serkis and Harris.

Another FansFirst screening was held just days ago with Serkis in attendance.

One final TV spot, released in the last couple days, uses the new song “Last One Standing” by Skylar Grey ft. Polo G, Mozzy, and Eminem, who had the title song in the original film.

overall

You have to hand it to Sony Pictures, the studio really leaned into the “glorious, psychotic trainwreck” vibe of the first movie and the unexpected way audiences latched onto it when promoting this second installment. Everything here is done with as much of a tongue-in-cheek attitude as a major motion picture studio can allow.

From the outset of the actual campaign, Sony understood the assignment was to show large-scale fights between Venom and Carnage and so included that in as many elements as possible. Most of the posters use that confrontation as their sole visual element while the trailers work through whatever character development is necessary to get to the more action-oriented point.

That means, interestingly, that Hardy’s screen time as the human side of the Brock/Venom duo is somewhat limited, which is a shame since his unhinged performance was widely seen as the highlight of the 2018 film. Still, it’s not as limited as Williams’ time on screen, which is a shame in and of itself.

the starling – marketing recap

How Netflix is selling a story of grief, love and Metaphor Birds.

The Starling poster

The Starling, streaming now on Netflix, stars Melissa McCarthy and Chris O’Dowd as Lilly and Jack, a married couple who are in the midst of a rough patch in their relationship. Jack is in an institution working to come to terms with the grief he feels following the death of their child (it’s unclear if it was a miscarriage or came later) while Lilly has to continue on through life without him. Helping her on the outside is Dr. Larry Fine (Kevin Kline), a former counselor now working as a veterinarian.

announcement and casting

McCarthy and O’Dowd were cast as the leads in mid-2019, reuniting them with their St. Vincent director. Others were added to the lineup later that year.

While the movie was still in post-production Netflix reportedly acquired distribution rights.

the marketing

In June news came that the film would screen at the Toronto Film Festival ahead of a limited theatrical release followed by wide availability on Netflix.

The trailer (1.8m views on YouTube) was finally released in late August. As it starts we see Lilly is working to adjust to life with Jack in a facility to deal with his issues. Lilly has her own problems, though, and is referred to Dr. Fine despite him no longer being a counselor. The couple are working through their problems and, with Fine’s help, trying to find new ways to be a couple after experiencing a common loss.

Shortly after that the planned TIFF premiere took place, but the reviews and word of mouth that came out were decidedly mixed if not outright negative.

The poster came out in mid-September, just a week or so before the movie was available. The focus here is on Lilly as she lays in her garden, the starling of the title perched on her shoulder. Everything about the design is meant to convey heartfelt emotions, right down to the serif-heavy font and the soft colors of the sky in the background.

McCarthy appeared on “The Late Show” to talk about the movie, including the technical difficulties involved in acting against an invisible bird and more. A later interview with her had her sharing her own experiences as a mom and with wild animals along with more.

An interview with Melfi had him talking about shooting parts of the movie with the actors in different locations due to the conflicting schedules as well as how he worked to change the perspective of the original script to focus more on McCarthy’s character.

Just prior to release Netflix put out a clip expanding on a scene between Lilly and Dr. Fine talking about the grieving process.

overall

The campaign’s major obstacle to overcome are the aforementioned negative reviews, which have just continued since Toronto and currently give the film a paltry 22% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Whether it achieves that goal is questionable. McCarthy and O’Dowd are two incredibly likeable, charismatic actors and having Kline batting clean up is never a bad thing. Everything in the marketing makes it clear that the characters are all dealing with big emotions and having difficult conversations, so your reaction to the trailer et al will likely depend on how attractive that all seems.