scream – marketing recap

How Paramount is selling the return of a franchise that never meta trope it couldn’t disembowel.

Scream movie poster
Scream movie poster

It’s been 11 years since the Scream franchise last hit the big screen and 25 years since the first movie upended expectations and genre cliches. Now it’s back with Scream, though it’s colloquially been referred to as Scream 5 or Scream 2.0. Whatever the case, the movie is a continuation of the series, not a reboot or remake. Here’s the official synopsis:

Twenty-five years after a streak of brutal murders shocked the quiet town of Woodsboro, a new killer has donned the Ghostface mask and begins targeting a group of teenagers to resurrect secrets from the town’s deadly past.

Original stars Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette are back as their characters return to Woodsboro to help newcomers played by Melissa Barrera, Mason Gooding, Jenna Ortega and others survive the new threat they face. And once again we’re promised lots of self-referential humor as the screenplay – by James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick – skewers what’s come before and more.

announcement and casting

The movie was announced in March 2020, not too long after the filmmaking team had scored a notable win with Ready Or Not. Paramount announced in June, 2020 it would be distributing the film, with casting announcements – mostly involving the return of those involved with the first series – coming out in the following months.

Williamson’s end-of-production announcement also served as confirmation the film’s title was simply Scream.

Late in 2020, Campbell was interviewed about what it took to lure her back to the series, especially given Craven wasn’t involved.

the marketing campaign

Things started in September of last year with a promotional tie-in campaign from Airbnb that let people book the house from the movie, with Arquette appearing in character in the ads to convey that it’s actually his Sheriff Dewey renting the house out.

The first poster, released in early October, just shows a shadowy Ghostface holding a knife to convey the simple message the the series is returning and will look roughly like what audiences have seen before.

Just before the first trailer was released a number of first-look stills came out showing new characters as well as the return of a few from the original movies.

That first trailer (18.2m YouTube views) opens in a very familiar way, with Tara (Ortega) getting a series of mysterious texts followed by a phone call before opening the door only to find Ghostface there. That’s just one in a new series of attacks that leads Dewey to call Sidney and bring her back home. Once again whoever the killer is seems to have a connection to the group of teens they’ve targeted, but this time the kids have the help of experienced adults like Dewey, Sidney and Gale to help guide them and maybe help some of them survive.

Call of Duty promoted the film by adding Ghostface to the game as part of a general “The Haunting” campaign run at the end of October.

TikTok users could make their voice sound like Ghostface’s via a text-to-speech audio filter added to the app.

Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett were interviewed about taking their turn with the franchise with the help of original screenwriters Kevin Williamson and Ehren Kruger, including how their love of the first four movies made them want to do right by the late Wes Craven, who directed all four of those earlier entries. They covered similar ground when the pair appeared on “CBS Sunday Morning” to talk about this movie specifically and scary movies in general.

An exclusive featurette was shared with Buzzfeed that has Cox, Williamson, Barrera and others talking about how the returning characters have evolved over the years, how the new characters come to get involved in the story and how scary and surprising this new installment is.

Lots of profiles started to emerge around this time of costars Ortega, Jasmin Savoy-Brown and others that introduced their characters, focused on how they are fans of the original films and other related topics.

A motion poster was released in late November that has Ghostface in the background while his knife cycles through the faces of the main characters, with copy reminding the audience that “It’s always someone you know,” hinting that one of those seen is the person behind the mask.

Arquette appeared on “Late Night” and made a few other talk show stops to talk about returning to the series.

Moving into December, there were three character posters that showed Dewey, Sidney and Gale all suspiciously and ominously holding the Ghostface mask. Another series, this time featuring the new characters, was released via Collider around the same time as well as an exclusive featurette that leaned into the “it could be anyone” theme of the campaign to date.

Another featurette has the cast and crew discussing why Ghostface remains such a haunting and effective bad guy.

The first TV spot also came out in early December, offering a cutdown version of the first trailer that focuses on Sidney’s return amid a new wave of killings targeting the town’s younger residents.

Picking up on a trend from the first half of 2020, Paramount released a handful of Zoom background images featuring the outside of the original house and some of the rooms in that house.

In mid-December the studio kicked off the #12ScreamsForTheHolidays campaign, promising a new treat for fans each day leading up to Christmas Day. That began with the release of the final poster (via IGN) showing the entire cast arrayed above the town of Woodsboro as Ghostface looms in the background. “The killer is on this poster” the poster promises.

That campaign and theme was continued in a series of short character-centric videos, with each one mysteriously donning the killer’s mask.

A Dolby-exclusive poster featuring Ghostface’s mouth as a highway’s entrance to a cave or mountain pass was also part of the campaign, as was a Fandango-exclusive featurette timed to when tickets went on sale, an NFT collection, a 4DX-exclusive one-sheet and more.

Among all that was a featurette with Williamson, the directors and the original cast praising the genius of Craven and how integral he was to the first movies as well as how he inspired them to make this new one as good as they could.

The filmmakers participated in a Facebook Group live audio chat toward the end of December where they discussed making the movie and teased fans with what they could expect. Also on the Facebook front was an AR lens for FB, Instagram and Snapchat that added Ghostface to the user’s environment.

Around this time there were also a number of retrospective pieces with actors like Matthew Lilard, Jamie Kennedy and others as they reminisced about their participation in the original movie and discussed why it remains such a milestone piece. A profile of Arquette also had him discussing his up and down career and how he’s matured over the years, working past some of the struggles he’s endured.

The holiday campaign culminated with a new TV spot with a musical stabbing beat.

More TV ads encouraged fans to prepare for what lay ahead, called out the legacy of the franchise and characters and more.

Urban Outfitters ran a sweepstakes for the retailer’s loyalty club members that awarded a hometown screening for the winner and a group of friends.

Another feature piece had Arquette, Cox and Campbell all discussing their continued relationship with the movies and what it was like to return for this new installment.

Paramount had created a movie-branded Spotify playlist of holiday music in late 2021 and continued advertising on that streaming platform, including sponsoring a personalized list of the “songs you played to death.

Campbell and Arquette made a handful of other media appearances on late night and early morning talk shows and elsewhere. That included on “The Drew Barrymore Show”, with Barrymore reenacting her famous opening scene in the promotion of that show. More of the cast, especially the younger new additions, also stopped by that show later on.

While planned press screenings did happen in early January – including cast photo shoots and interviews – a planned red carpet event in Los Angeles was canceled in the midst of the ongoing Covid surge sweeping across the country.

Why the three original cast members were intrigued enough to return was covered in a new featurette.

A VR SurviveScreamHouse.com site was setup that let you drag your cursor around the house and have a text conversation with Sidney (with preloaded responses to send her) to see how long you can survive before Ghostface gets you. Costar Dylan Minnette hosted an episode of “MTV Cribs” that explored the same house.

The final trailer (2.6m YouTube views) came out just days before the movie’s release. It opens with Dewey explaining the rules for survival to the kids and continues to show Sidney determined to finish all the killing once and for all.

Regal Cinemas had an exclusive video interview with the main cast.

A partnership with Reddit had the studio asking people there to make their predictions as to who would live, who would die and who the real killer might be.

Some of the cast participated in a livestream of themselves and others playing the video game Among Us, which also added movie-themed character “cosmetics.”

overall

Projections have the movie scoring around $30m at this weekend’s box office, which might be enough to turn around the narrative that Spider-Man and similar super hero franchises are the only thing that audiences will come out to see. The positive reviews, which have earned the movie a 75% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, should help with that.

As for the campaign itself, it hits a few themes consistently enough that they become ingrained in the public perception of the movie leading into opening weekend:

  • The house is pivotal: There’s so much focus on the house, from the Airbnb promotional campaign to the “MTV Cribs” tie-in and more, it’s clear the studio wants to use that house as a way to tie current audiences to what’s come before.
  • The killer is in plain sight: Messages to that effect are prevalent throughout the marketing, from posters to trailers and more. It’s a nice way to clue the audience in from the outset and make the journey about which one it is, not just the more general “who could it be?” That also plays nicely with the overall self-aware nature of these movies.
  • David Arquette is ready for his comeback: That message is repeated frequently, and I’m all for it.
  • The technology has changed but the threat hasn’t: Seriously, just don’t buy any smart home appliance or other tool.

Scream Movie GIF by Scream - Find & Share on GIPHY

the tender bar – marketing recap

How Amazon Studios has sold a character drama about family.

Ben Affleck stars in The Tender Bar, available now on Amazon Prime Video after a brief theatrical run at the end of last year. Affleck plays Charlie Maguire, the owner of a Long Island bar who becomes a father figure to his nephew J.R. (Tye Sheridan) after J.R.’s mother Dorothy (Lily Rabe) and father get divorced.

The movie, directed by George Clooney, is based on the J. R. Moehringer memoir of the same name, focusing on J.R. ‘s attempts to become a writer and his family’s determination to get him an Ivy League education.

With all that in mind, let’s take a look at how it’s been sold to the public.

announcement and casting

The project, with Clooney attached to direct and star in, was announced in July, 2020 when Amazon Studios acquired rights to it after Sony let them lapse. Affleck was attached to star a few months later.

Sheridan and Rabe were added to the cast in early 2021 just before filming got underway.

the marketing campaign

Amazon released a first look still from the film back in September showing Charlie and J.R. spending time together at the former’s bar.

The movie’s formal coming out party was held in October at the Director’s Guild of America in L.A.. There Clooney, Affleck and others all commented on how excited they were to be back doing press events but also how they worked together on-set and what attracted them to the project.

As the trailer, also released in October, begins, Dorothy and a young J.R. are moving back with her father (Christopher Lloyd) after her marriage has ended. Charlie and the rest of the family quickly embrace J.R., who begins spending time with his uncle. As he gets older J.R. goes to school and meets a girl, all while trying to figure out how to make his dreams come true and carve out a life of his own.

The first poster came out at the same time. There isn’t any explanatory copy adding context to what we see, but the image of Charlie and J.R. driving together in the former’s convertible communicates the tone pretty well while the vintage car and outfits convey the setting.

Clooney talked about why he made a smaller, character-driven moving during the pandemic and what kind of work influenced his approach to this film in an interview.

How the production team recreated a real life bar and other locations was covered here while Sheridan talked about how working with Clooney differed from some of the other directors on earlier films.

The theatrical poster was released in November still doesn’t have any copy but uses another photo of the two main characters to similar effect. This time there are a number of positive quotes from early reviews to make the movie attractive to anyone who sees the one-sheet.

Clooney appeared virtually on “Kimmel” along with Daniel Ranieri, who plays the young version of J.R. Ranieri got a profile of his own shortly after that. Affleck also stopped by “Kimmel” to promote the movie.

The first clip was released in mid-December and shows Charlie encouraging young J.R. to keep working on his writing.

A profile of Affleck focused on the his evolution over the years from frat boy star to serious actor who’s unconcerned about his public image and other matters.

Two more character posters, one of Charlie and one of Dorothy, were released in early January.

overall

The positive reviews featured on the theatrical one-sheet might be hard to find given the movie’s paltry 52% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But that’s not the point, really.

As for the campaign itself, it’s not bad but never really makes a strong case for the audience’s time. There are some very strong Hillbilly Elegy vibes coming off it, and given the shelf life on that film was about two minutes, that doesn’t help. So the allure is dependent almost solely on the charm of Affleck and Clooney as the biggest names involved.

the 355 – marketing recap

How Universal has marketed star-packed action drama.

The 355 movie poster
The 355 movie poster

The 355, out this week in theaters, is a magnificent case study in the power of wish fulfillment.

Before going into that, the movie stars Jessica Chastain as Mason “Mace” Browne, a CIA agent who, when a top-secret weapon goes missing, assembles an international team of fellow agents to go after those who stole it before it can be used.

It’s a simple enough premise and the appeal is only enhanced when you consider the other agents Browne recruits are played by Lupita Nyong’o, Penélope Cruz, Diane Kruger and Fan Bingbing.

With that, as well as the fact the movie is directed by Simon Kinberg who cowrote the screenplay with Theresa Rebeck, established, let’s look at how the project came to be and had been sold to the public.

announcement and casting

While Chastain had pitched the idea to Kinberg while the two were shooting X-Men: Dark Phoenix, the first real announcement about it came when Chastain brought the *concept* of the movie to Cannes 2018. While there she essentially assembled the cast in an attempt to get someone interested in producing or financing it.

The actresses did their part too, basically presenting it as a done deal should someone be brave enough to step up and get the ball rolling. It was a nervy, risky move that generated a lot of attention and interest in the audience, at least, and one of many female-led projects at Cannes or coming out around that time. Rights were eventually bought by Universal.

The lead up to the movie included features like this that profiled Chastain as both an actress and advocate, particularly within the #MeToo movement.

Reports emerged in April that Fan Bingbing, who had been out of sight for months, was still going to be in the movie. A few months later Chastain announced production had officially begun. In August of 2019 Universal finally gave the movie a release date.

Most of the primary cast was in place from the outset, but Kruger replaced Marion Cotillard in mid-2019 as production was getting underway. Sebastian Stan and others were added over the course of that year.

the marketing campaign: phase one

With an initial release date set for January 2021, marketing got underway in October 2020 with the release of a poster that has the members of the assembled spy team standing side by side, each in front of the flag of their respective countries. And, as someone has pointed out on Twitter, it’s the rare one-sheet that actually has the actor standing under their own name.

A couple batches of character posters that break out each one of the leads came out at the same time.

The first trailer (7.4m YouTube views) – debuted by Chastain when she appeared virtually on “Late Night” – also came out then. Mace, we see, is being given an off-the-books project by the security service she works for and sets out assembling a crack team of experts to get the job done. Together they have to stop some very bad people from doing some very bad things, but their mission puts not only themselves but those they love back home in danger. Still, they manage to kick an impressive amount of butt.

A TV spot debuted right after the first trailer came out, showing not only the mission the agents in this movie are engaged in but also offering a bit of backstory behind the “355” designation.

Most of the cast appeared on Entertainment Weekly’s “Women Who Kick Ass” panel at New York Comic-Con, which happened just days after the trailer’s release. They talked about how unique an all-female action movie is, the fun they had doing the stunts and lots more as they promised audiences a good time at the movies.

In November 2020 it was announced Universal was delaying the film by a full year, pushing it from January 2021 to the same date a year later.

The 355 Movie GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

the marketing campaign: phase two

As a result of that delay things went dark on the campaign until almost exactly a year after the marketing had first kicked off with the release of the second trailer (14.7m YouTube views). It covers much of the same ground as the first, but with a few tweaks and more of a focus on the objective of the team as well as the team itself.

An interview with Chastain had her talking about how the movie addresses the idea of female secret agents within the framework of the action movie and how the idea evolved over time. That story also included a new still and other looks at the film.

Short character introduction videos like this started coming out in early December.

Also in early December, Universal held a promotional event/party (seemingly sponsored by Stella Artois) in Miami with lots of music and movie-branded swag available to attendees.

IMDb debuted the first featurette from the movie showing Chastain and others talking about making an action movie and handling their share of the stunt work.

Dolby offered an exclusive clip/featurette that, like everything else, focused on the action of the movie.

More character posters were released that put each agent against a background of all the flags instead of just the one for their own country.

Additional clips also came out over the last couple weeks showing various action sequences involving different characters.

overall

The campaign’s continued emphasis on the action of the movie isn’t different from any other ensemble picture in this genre, so that’s chalked up to a tried and true tactic being executed here.

On the one hand, that’s all well and good because it means it’s not being sold substantively differently from similar movies featuring all-male casts.

On the other hand, by fitting the movie into such a well-used format it doesn’t allow the biggest unique selling point to really shine through.

GIF by The 355 Movie - Find & Share on GIPHY

I’d almost rather have seen something unusual be done here because it would have provided a stronger hook, though it’s not assured that audiences would turn out no matter what the messaging was. That’s reflected in the $5 million the movie is projected to bring in this weekend as Spider-Man once again dominates theaters and Covid continues to sweep through the country, disrupting much of everyday goings-on.

random thoughts on: “hawkeye”

I’ve got some things to say about The Avenging Archer’s streaming series.

As has likely been previously stated on multiple occasions, I’m a long-standing old-school fan of Hawkeye, having made my comic-collecting bones with the original West Coast Avengers series.

So, despite never really loving Jeremy Renner’s take on the character in the MCU (outside of a handful of small moments), I was still excited when Marvel Studios announced Hawkeye would get a streaming series on Disney+. And I was even more excited when it came out Hailee Steinfeld would play Kate Bishop, who in the comics adopted the Hawkeye name when Clint Barton was killed during the “Avengers Disassembled” storyline.

As such I have a number of thoughts now that the series finale has aired. Spoilers after the all-time great cover art.

Still with me? OK, let’s dive in.

It’s a very enjoyable show. I still have my issues with Renner’s performance, especially since he spends half the show apologizing to someone, largely for things that were outside of his control. But Steinfeld’s exuberance, Florence Pugh’s return as Yelena Belova and more make up for it in a lot of ways. It’s a nice mash-up of elements from the Matt Fraction/David Aja Hawkeye comics series that essentially rebooted the character as well as the previous MCU films. There are plenty of surprises, lots of action and some great dialogue. And hey, we get to see Pizza Dog on screen, so it can’t be all bad.

Golden Retriever Pizza GIF by Marvel Studios - Find & Share on GIPHY

My main issue with the show is that it is premised around Avengers: Endgame existing, which isn’t a great place to start.

Renner finally has someone to play off, which improves things dramatically. In the movies to date he’s usually relegated to group scenes, which means he gets lost in the clutter because he’s not as dynamic a personality as some of his costars. If the show had doubled down on putting Clint and Kate into something even more Running Scared-esque it would have been even better.

Hailee Steinfeld Hawkeye GIF by Marvel Studios - Find & Share on GIPHY

On the topic of some supporting characters:

  • Knowing the comics history, I’m surprised we didn’t get a bigger payoff for Tony Dalton’s Jack Duquesne. As the series went on I imagined two or three different ways that could go but it just kind of fizzled out.
  • On the other end of the spectrum, thank the maker Linda Cardellini’s Laura Barton finally got some backstory and character development. The underuse of Cardellini to date has been criminally negligent, and if she is who I (and many others online) think she is, I couldn’t be happier.

Florence Pugh for the win in all of her scenes. Give me a six-part series of her and Steinfeld just talking about places to visit in New York City.

Excited Mac And Cheese GIF by Marvel Studios - Find & Share on GIPHY

We still haven’t seen Clint’s MCU origin story. Every other Avenger has had one, often in their own standalone movie. Even Natasha’s beginnings have been shown via flashback in a handful of movies. But we still don’t know how Clint got to the point where we meet him in Thor or The Avengers.

Now you can say that watching someone learn how to shoot an arrow really well isn’t that interesting, but in the comics his story is much more complex than that (and involves a character from the show). And without it we don’t know what his motivations are. Why did he join SHIELD? Where did he hone his skills?

The lack of backstory is one of the reasons I’ve never been fully on board with MCU Clint Barton. Comics Clint is not only a bit of a hothead but also kind of a flim-flam man, scamming himself out of as many situations as he shoots himself out of.

  • Avengers West Coast Epic Collection: How The West Was Won – Get the original mini-series, the start of the ongoing and more in a collection of stories that are as much about overcoming self-doubt and imposter syndrome as they are about super heroics. Roger Stern and Steve Engleheart write some fantastic comics here.
  • Avengers: Hawkeye – This edition collects Hawkeye’s first solo series, a mini from 1983, that includes the story of how he met the SHIELD agent known as Mockingbird and how he lost partial hearing, something that’s finally integrated into the on-screen character.
  • West Coast Avengers Vol. 1: Best Coast – Kelly Thompson’s 2018 WCA series is lots of fun, paying homage to the original while featuring the Kate/Clint dynamic that’s introduced by Fraction/Aja. Speaking of which…
  • Hawkeye by Fraction & Aja: The Saga of Barton and Bishop – This edition collects the whole of that series, which sets up much of what comes later and heavily influenced the style of the show.
  • Mockingbird Vol. 1: I Can Explain – You can’t understand Clint Barton without also understanding Bobbi Morse, so pick up Chelsea Cain’s excellent Mockingbird solo book while you’re at it.

Of course if you want to be a completist, don’t miss out on the additional volumes that come after what’s listed below. There are also a number of other great Hawkeye – either Clint or Kate – collections of other mini-series and solo outings, but the list here should give you a good starting point.

the matrix resurrections – marketing recap

How Warner Bros. has sold an unexpected sequel

The Matrix Resurrections movie poster
The Matrix Resurrections movie poster

1999’s The Matrix was, of course, a massive success and a groundbreaking shift in the idea of what science fiction on film could look like and, even more importantly, *be* like. After two subsequent sequels (which are better than conventional wisdom in the early 00s held them to be) the series seemed to be done, with The Wachowski Sisters moving on to other projects.

Now it’s back with The Matrix Resurrections. Lana Wachowski directs, with Keanu Reeves returning as Neo and Carrie-Anne Moss back as Trinity.

The story picks up 20 years after The Matrix Revolutions, with Neo living in what seems to be the real world under the name Thomas Anderson, working a job and occasionally seeing things he thinks are odd or unusual. He also meets Tiffany, the “real world” version of Trinity, someone he can’t help but think he has some kind of connection to. Eventually Thomas meets a new version of Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who gives him a red pill that once more opens his mind to the reality that is a new, more aggressive Matrix, with Neo and Trinity again going to war against the machines.

Neil Patrick Harris, Jessica Henwick, Jonathan Groff, Jada Pinkett Smith and others also star as those either fighting against or with the pair.

announcement and casting

The announcement of the fourth movie in August, 2019 came after a year or so of conversation about what plans Warner Bros. might have for the property. Speculation had included prequels or sequels that would go beyond the story of Neo, Trinity and the others and often didn’t include the involvement of the original creators. So when WB let it drop that most, if not all, the excitement was palpable.

The movie was one of many to have its production put on hiatus because of the Covid-19 outbreak, with the release date pushed from its original March, 2020 to April of 2021. It was later moved back to December, 2021.

In mid-2020 Ross and others were interviewed about their reactions to the project happening, what they were most looking forward to about the film and more. Harris and Reeves both commented on the story over the course of the year, as did Moss and others.

One of the first, albeit very brief, looks at the movie came via an HBO Max promo touting the same day theatrical/streaming availability of WB’s 2021 lineup.

Abdul-Mateen II talked about joining the franchise and what it was like to film the movie in an interview that covered a number of projects the actor is involved in.

down the rabbit hole: the marketing campaign begins

This past August marked the first steps toward a formal marketing campaign when Warner Bros. brought footage from the film to exhibitors and other attendees of CinemaCon.

That really kicked off in early September when a video teasing the arrival of the first trailer was released. Also in that video was the https://www.whatisthematrix.com URL where visitors could get a brief look at the first footage from the new film, with different experiences for those selecting red or blue pills.

When the first trailer (41m YouTube views) finally did come out it hinted at a very different continuation of the series than people might have imagined. Neo – now living in The Matrix under the name Thomas and with no memory of what’s come before – is having dreams of things he knows couldn’t have happened but is otherwise living his life. Even meeting Trinity, also suffering amnesia, doesn’t trigger anything in his mind. Things start to change when he goes off his meds (which just happen to be blue pills) and is then offered a red pill by Morpheus. So Neo has to go through the process of discovery all over again, followed by lots of visually impressive fights and other challenges he and the others have to navigate and overcome.

Later that month it was announced the movie’s premiere would take place in San Francisco.

A featurette released in early October had this movie’s cast and crew reminiscing about the first movie in particular and its legacy on their lives specifically and the overall culture more generally.

The first poster came out in late October and, like the teaser videos and other images released earlier, it focuses exclusively on the red and blue pills sitting side by side, waiting for someone to choose one or the other. Intriguingly the copy at the top reads “Now, based on real events.”

In an interview later that month Abdul-Mateen II confirmed he was playing Morpheus, albeit a different version of the character than what we’ve seen before.

United Masters launched a contest where songwriters could submit their original compositions for the chance to win $15,000 and a chance to have that song featured in the movie’s promotional and marketing campaign.

The five primary characters are arranged on the theatrical poster, released in mid-November. Neo and Trinity are dressed in familiar outfits while the other characters each get something that fits with the story as well as their role and personality, all in front of the green code that symbolizes the Matrix.

Some of the biggest moments from the trailer and more are pulled into the first of several TV spots that kicked off that part of the campaign.

Warner Bros. partnered with Niftys.com to create 100,000 NFTs inspired by the movie people could buy with the option later to keep the NFTs as they are or choose to have them transformed, with more such opportunities coming later as well.

Each of the main characters got their own poster as part of a series of one sheets that came out in late November.

One of many profiles of Reeves focused on his zen, chill approach to the acting gig he’s been in for decades as well as this movie in particular.

IMAX announced that, for the first time ever, the original film would be screened in the large format for two nights in early December, part of a move to not only bring audiences back to theaters but also of course set the stage and build anticipation for this new installment.

Short videos continued to come out regularly offering recut versions of what we’d already seen along with tantalizing glimpses of new footage that usually generated more questions than were answered.

A few new photos and comments from Henwick, Wachowski and others were included in an EW cover story focusing on the reunion of Moss and Reeves and how they quickly fell back into the easy connection and chemistry they’d developed over the filming of the first three movies.

your mind makes it real: the marketing campaign continues

Moving into December there was another interview with/profile of Abdul-Mateen II where he talked about putting his own spin on the character of Morpheus.

The “glitch in The Matrix” concept introduced in the first movie is used in an extended TV spot as a way to highlight how things have changed but are still familiar over the years.

The American Red Cross ran a sweepstakes offering the chance to win a private hometown screening of the movie to those who came in to donate blood in advance of the holiday season.

“I remember this,” Neo says in the opening moments of the second trailer (12.8m YouTube views). From there we see what’s new through the lens of what’s come before, whether it’s Neo and Trinity’s relationship, a new look for the Smith agents that safeguard the Matrix or anything else. But we’re also told “Maybe this isn’t the story we think it is,” a line reminiscent of Luke Skywalker intoning “This is not going to go the way you think” in the trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

The IMAX exclusive poster puts Neo and Trinity at the center of The Matrix. There was also an IMAX-specific TV spot that shows Neo reluctant to get back into the fight.

A MovieClips featurette focused on the relationship between Neo and Trinity and how those characters are informed by the chemistry between the actors playing them

Abdul-Mateen II talked more about becoming Morpheus and working on the film when he appeared on “The Tonight Show.”

The first official clip debuted during the “Game Awards” earlier this month. It shows Anderson being led by Bugs through a series of portals until they finally arrive at Morpheus. In a sly twist, and a hint of the movie’s overall tone, he seeks to reassure Anderson by including scenes of his previous life, saying that nostalgia can be soothing and comforting.

That show was also where Unreal Engine debuted a demo of the company’s 3D technology set in the world of the movie and featuring many of its characters, including an introduction by Reeves.

Reeves talked about the movie and more on “The Late Show” as did Groff in his appearance a few days later. Priyanka Chopra Jonas showed up on “Late Night” to talk about keeping the story’s secrets. Harris then appeared on “Kimmel.”

Another featurette was about the place the original movie now holds in our culture and how this installment builds on what’s come before. The action and stuntwork was covered in another featurette.

Nvidia ran a promotional campaign where it had creators design movie-inspired custom PC mods, which fans could win by entering a sweepstakes by Retweeting one of the posts.

Users of Snapchat and other apps could add themselves to the Matrix via an AR app. A movie-inspired effect was also added to Instagram and Facebook that could be used during video calls.

The United Masters contest mentioned above paid off recently with a new spot that featured “Back To Life” by Quantrelle.

The green carpet premiere was held earlier this week in San Francisco, just making it in under the wire given a number of other premieres and events have been canceled because of the current Covid-19 case surge in the U.S. At the premiere Wachowski talked about making the movie without her sister while the rest of the cast was just amazed the movie was made at all.

The Matrix Resurrections online ad

Another clip was released via IGN, this one showing the moment leading up to the scene in the earlier clip as Thomas is confronted for the first time by Bugs, agreeing to go with her to learn the truth of what’s seemed so unusual about his life.

Moss was interviewed again about how this movie is part of and was influenced by what had come before in her career and what’s come after her first outing as Trinity. She and Reeves then spoke more about the strength of their on-screen relationship and how that informs the story this time around.

overall

The initial reactions that came out after the premiere were mostly positive, calling out the “metatextual” nature of the story and how strong the stars are in returning to their roles. The full reviews published since then have been a bit more mixed, focusing on action sequences and other components that don’t quite live up to the promise of what was featured in the first movie and the two earlier sequels.

But the campaign itself has been *very* strong, mostly because it leans early and often on the personalities of Reeves and Moss. They may not be Bogart and Bacall, but it’s clear they have a deep friendship that helps them play off each other professionally and were both committed to only returning to this franchise if it rang true with what had come before.

It also benefits from more than a little self-awareness, with characters commenting on how expectations may be upended and things may turn out differently than anticipated. That’s a good way to set the stage for a sequel that seems to have a clear message, even if it’s not the message people might assume based on the earlier films.

spider-man: no way home – marketing recap

How Marvel and Sony have sold the third entry in the web-slinging franchise

Spider-Man: No Way Home movie poster
Spider-Man: No Way Home movie poster

Spider-Man: No Way Home arrives in theaters this week at the end of what can easily and legitimately be described as a weird year for Hollywood and the entertainment industry. At the beginning of 2021, Covid-19 vaccines were only just beginning to become widely available and many new movies were still going straight to streaming or VOD if they weren’t being delayed indefinitely.

Now the theatrical release picture has gone back to something approaching pre-2020 normal, including how only franchise blockbusters seem to score any level of success at the box office. But there are headwinds building, including new Covid variants, that could skew things going forward.

Into all this comes the third film in Sony’s third (or fourth depending on if you count Into The Spider-Verse) Spider-Man franchise. Tom Holland returns as Spider-Man/Peter Parker, as does Zendaya as Michelle “MJ” Jones-Watson and Jacob Batalon as Ned Leeds.

The story revolves around Parker turning to Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to undo the revealing of his identity as Spider-Man that occurred at the end of the last movie. But when the spell goes wrong a rift in the fabric of the universe occurs, leading to intrusions on the MCU Spider-Verse by characters from Sony’s previous two Spider-Man series.

announcement and casting

In late summer of 2019, well before the movie actually moved into production, the press was dominated by reports that the tenuous partnership between Sony and Disney that had allowed Spider-Man to appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe had fallen apart. Both sides blamed the other, saying parts of the deal had been reneged on and a new agreement was impossible to reach that would allow the crossover to continue.

Things seemed destined to go back to their pre-2016 status quo, with Spidey unconnected from the MCU until Holland himself exerted pressure on the heads of both studios, making the fan outpouring clear to them, resulting in a new deal that would at the very least allow for a resolution to the character’s arc within the MCU instead of an abrupt, unexplained exit.

In October reports emerged that Cumberbatch would be reprising his role as Doctor Strange in the film.

Sony moved the movie by a month on the release schedule in July of last year while the Covid-19 pandemic was still causing massive disruptions. In September it raised a lots of eyebrows with the news Jamie Foxx was returning as Electro, a role he played in 2014’s Spider-Man 2 with Andrew Garfield,

Production was underway, as marked by Holland in a timely mask-related post, in November of 2020.

Additional casting news came fast and furious in December of last year, when Molina, Stone, Garfield, Dunst and Maguire were all reported to be coming back, lending credence to the rumors this movie was going full multiverse.

Zendaya spoke briefly about the movie late last year when doing publicity for other projects.

In February speculation as to the movie’s official title came to head when Holland, Zendaya and Batalon all shared a few new stills along with totally fake-out title cards, a planned stunt to get fans talking and sharing. It all culminated when Sony shared a video featuring the three leaving Watts’ office frustrated by his refusal to share the title of the film, only to walk past a white board with that title written on it along with a handful of rejected contenders.

Molina confirmed in April he was returning as Doctor Octopus, but Andrew Garfield in May denied he was involved saying he hadn’t been contacted by anyone about the project.

The movie, along with other upcoming MCU entries, was name-checked in the “Marvel Studios Celebrates The Movies” video from early May.

marketing phase one: spectacular

The first good look at the characters, including hints as to what the story may involve, came when Marvel released photos of some of the toys and collectibles in early July.

The trailer leaked in mid-August, causing Sony to go through the paces to try and have it taken down from the various places it popped up.

When it was finally released by both Marvel and Sony (107.5m combined views on YouTube), it shows Peter is still dealing with the fallout of the last movie, including police suspicion he killed Mysterio. With his secret identity now public, he goes to see Doctor Strange to see if anything can be done about that. But Strange’s spell to reverse what happened goes awry – in part because of Peter’s nervous meddling – it opens up a portal to the multiverse. That means there are glimpses of characters like Green Goblin, Electro and, dramatically at the end, Doctor Octopus.

Sony addressed that leak as it showed off the trailer and other footage to attendees of CinemaCon in August.

A first TV spot from the day after the trailer came out touted how successful it had been as measured by both video views and social media conversations generated.

Cumberbatch talked about what the story has in store for Peter and Stephen when he appeared at the Telluride Film Festival to promote some of the other films he had being screened there.

As Garfield was doing the media rounds for his other projects he kept being asked whether or not he was appearing in this movie, consistently denying any cameos had been filmed.

The release of Venom: Let There Be Carnage in September included conversation about this movie because of a mid-credits sequence that hinted at Eddie Brock/Venom, played by Tom Hardy, finally meeting Spider-Man in this film because of multiverse craziness.

Holland talked more here about what it was like to finish the trilogy with Watts as well as how he was super-excited to work with Molina. Around the same time a profile of Zendaya covered her experience on this franchise as well as her other recent work. More stills were released in an Empire cover story that had Watts talking about overcoming the seemingly impossible task of assembling so much of the talent from all the previous films.

marketing phase two: amazing

The first poster wasn’t released until early November, over two months after the trailer came out. It’s surprisingly restrained for this franchise but still shows a lot, including Spider-Man balancing on one of Doc Ock’s arms while Green Goblin is seen in the background along with hints of Sandman and Electro’s involvement.

The next one-sheet came out just a week later, this one showing Spider-Man huddled with Doctor Strange against the encroaching enemies.

More small hints and comments came from Cumberbatch on “Kimmel” in November during the press cycle for The Power of the Dog.

The official trailer (58m YouTube views from Sony) came out in mid-November. This one skips some of the setup about Peter wanting to make everyone forget his super hero identity and gets straight to the incoming threats from the multiverse. After the challenges become clear, Peter learns that all these villains die in their home universe, something he’s determined to prevent before closing the rifts and sending everyone back. Doctor Strange isn’t on board with that, but Peter and his friends won’t be stopped.

Sony held events screening that trailer in various cities, with Holland showing up at a couple of them to get fans even more excited.

The star was profiled in GQ, sharing some thoughts about this movie as well as what he sees for the future of Spider-Man on film.

At this time Liberty Mutual began running a cross-promotional campaign that worked the idea of Spider-Man saving the city into the company’s commercials about saving people money and hassle. There were also commercials from Hyundai that showed Peter getting picked up by Ned in the middle of nowhere as he tries to clear his name.

More TV spots were released that cut down the message of the second trailer to a shorter runtime while still conveying the multiverse nature of the story and the attendant villains.

Tickets going on sale was announced by the cast in a Fandango video on what was called “Spider Monday,” the Monday after Thanksgiving. Another video had Foxx joining Holland. AMC Theaters promised those buying advance tickets a free “eco-friendly” Spider-Man NFT.

An interview with producer Amy Pascal, who’s been involved with the franchise since she was the head of Sony Pictures, had her confirming there will be future Spider-Man movies, that those will be made in cooperation with Marvel Studios and that Holland wasn’t quite done with the suit yet.

The IMAX poster released at the end of November shows Spidey swinging through a distorted cityscape, hinting at how the universe is unraveling because of what’s happened. The Dolby poster shows him swinging through the city, this time upside down.

Lots of different elements are brought together on the theatrical poster, which has Spider-Man, Doctor Strange and MJ at the center of a twisted reality vortex as the various villains swirl around them. Electro, Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus all got individual posters as well.

Just leaving these here.

Two movie-inspired costumes were added to the Spider-Man video game from Insomniac.

At CCXP in early December there were a couple promotional moments, including a video of Molina, Dafoe and Foxx together talking about the legacy of their characters and working together for the first time, at least in this series, and how production technology has changed since the last time they suited up.

G Fuel released a commercial for its cross-promotional campaign, including new drink flavors and movie-branded cans and packaging.

Holland talked about the movie on “Late Night.” In another interview he cast more doubt on his future in the series while also reflecting on his involvement as being one of growth and enjoyment.

Liberty Mutual came back to the campaign to sponsor Daily Bugle newsstands in New York City filled with newspapers that had Spider-Man pictures and news.

A video of the Paris kickoff to the cast’s press tour was released.

An ESPN commercial that had fun with some of the rumors circulating around the movie and its cast was part of a larger element of the campaign focused on what was or wasn’t known. That included the cast discussing fan theories amongst themselves and then later asking those who had begun seeing the movie not to spoil anything for those who hadn’t yet.

Holland, Zendaya and Batalon all appeared on “GMA” to promote the movie while those three were joined by Cumberbatch for an appearance on “Kimmel.” Marisa Tomei showed up on “Late Night” by herself, though.

Literally everyone, including Marvel’s Kevin Feige and costars Tomei, J.K. Simmons, Jon Favreau, turned out for the red carpet world premiere. Even Jared Leto, who stars in the upcoming Morbius, was there. That event was sponsored by Hyundai and TikTok, which had been a major promotional platform for the movie to date, offering clips, filters, stickers and more. It even released its own commercial touting the features.

PlayStation put out a clip showing the disagreement between Peter and Strange that causes some of the story’s conflict.

One more video of the cast warning against spoiling the movie came out right at the end of the campaign.

overall

First: We have to address the very last part of the campaign, the one where the cast of the film was enlisted in the War Against Spoilers. While I get that there are a lot of plot twists and surprising characters, the entire premise of the story is that the multiverse is coming together, which means that anything is possible. So learning that X has been cast as a character they played previously isn’t exactly an outlandish statement that can upend one’s enjoyment of the film.

Second: You have to love how the three leads – Holland, Zendaya and Batalon – have seemingly formed this tight knit group over the course of three movies. Putting them all together in various components of the campaign, from the title announcement to press appearances and other videos, only works because they’ve clearly bonded and are now a family, with an easy rapport that makes the banter believable.

Third: Everyone needs to get their stories straight regarding Tom Holland’s future in the Spider-Man series. He seems to be pulling a Daniel Craig-esque “Yeah, I had a good run but I’m done” move while Pascal and Fiege are trying to pull him back in. The latter may just be marketing positioning by the executives who don’t want to blow up audience expectations, but then someone needs better media training.

Fourth: If you are brining back Willem Dafoe but also still putting him behind a mask that doesn’t allow for his natural expressiveness to come through, you’re doing it wrong. But am I right in understanding that the one villain from the Holland movies still alive – Michael Keaton’s Vulture – isn’t in this while almost all the villains from the other series are? OK I guess…

Fifth: I forgot what this was going to be.

Sixth: The campaign has a lot going for it but it might actually be too much. While super hero movies tend to be plot-heavy this feels excessively so. Still, it gave us this extremely relatable Doctor Strange GIF so it wins on points.

Benedict Cumberbatch Fire GIF by Spider-Man - Find & Share on GIPHY

Finally: While the reviews have been generally positive and anticipation for the movie seems high, it’s hard to believe the $150m opening weekend projections will wind up being accurate. We’re fully in the midst of a Covid-19 surge (thanks, everyone refusing to get vaccinated!) that is already causing Broadway shows to close, sports teams to cancel games and more. It might be big, but it won’t be that big. And if it is, it might be the last one to reach that mark for a little while here, at least until the spring.

don’t look up – marketing recap

How Netflix has sold a satire of looming disaster

Netflix Don't Look Up movie poster
Don’t Look Up movie poster

Writer/director Adam McKay is back with another in his series of satirical takes on very serious issues. This time around it’s not the inherent corruption of the financial industry but the inaction around climate change in Don’t Look Up.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence star as Dr. Randall Mindy and Kate Dibiasky, two minor astronomers who discover a planet-killing comet is hurtling toward Earth. When they try to warn President Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep), she and her son/Chief of Staff Jason (Jonah Hill) dismiss them, insisting on making no changes and not warning people. So Mindy and Dibiasky go straight to the media, but find they’re still not taken seriously.

The story is being widely received as an allegory for the indifference among leaders, media and many citizens toward the effects of climate change. In addition to those named above, the film – released in select theaters a couple weeks ago before coming to Netflix this week – features Cate Blanchett, Tyler Perry, Mark Rylance, Rob Morgan and a slew of others likely attracted by McKay’s helming.

announcement and casting

Paramount Pictures originally announced development of the project in late 2019 with McKay attached. Netflix acquired the film in early 2020.

Lawrence’s addition to the cast was announced shortly after that, about two months before filming was expected to begin. In October 2020, after filming was delayed due to the coronavirus, DiCaprio, Streep, Blanchett and Hill were announced as also appearing. Chris Evans joined in December.

Streep talked about the movie during an appearance on “The Late Show” late last year.

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

In an interview from April McKay talked about the work DiCaprio put into the script before he agreed to star in the film.

the marketing campaign

In September the campaign began in earnest with the release of a batch of first look stills in a Twitter thread that also offered a recap of the movie’s story and showed off many of the big names in the cast, even if just in supporting roles.

The first teaser trailer (13.5m YouTube views) came out shortly after that. It doesn’t go into great detail about the plot but does show the basic premise as well as the various reactions to the news of the comet’s imminent arrival. Those reactions range from bored indifference from the White House to amusement from the media, with the public either not paying attention or going crazy, all while the scientists themselves become increasingly panicked. The spot also sets the humorous tone of the film.

The impressive cast is shown off on the poster, with their faces shown through the cut-out letters making up the title. How the story is but isn’t real is communicated through the copy “Based on truly possible events.”

NASA shared a video of McKay talking about how his fictional story is a parallel to the agency’s real mission to test how it might deflect potentially threatening asteroids in deep space.

An exclusive clip came out later that month showing Dibiasky and Mindy attempting to brief Pres. Orlean on the danger of what’s coming but being dismissed as alarmist as she chooses inaction over other potential responses. The clip was released as part of Netflix’s TUDUM virtual promotional event, joining other interviews, clips and trailers from upcoming high-profile releases.

McKay talked about how the comet is a stand-in for climate change in an interview from November. He also commented on the state of political satire, the impressive cast he assembled for the film and lots more. Both McKay and Streep talked about how they crafted her character and what role she fills in the story in a joint interview.

The full trailer (10.3m YouTube views) also came out in mid-November. This one offers a lot more details of the story, from the “wait and see” response from the president to how Dibiasky and Mindy decide to take matters into their own hands and go to the media, who treat it as diversionary entertainment. Eventually there’s a mission to intercept the comet, but it’s mainly in the service of mining its mineral resources.

In an interview with Vanity Fair, Lawrence explained the characters, situations and other details shown in the trailer to help audiences grasp what it is they’re watching.

The cast and crew kept talking about the making of the movie and the message of the story at a BAFTA screening, with Lawrence sharing her non-chill reaction to the on-set presence of Arianna Grande, who has a small role in the movie and recorded a new song with Kid Cudi, who also appears. The Q&A also had Streep talking about Hill’s knack for improvising insults that would have her breaking during filming.

“Just Look Up,” that new song from Grande and Kid Cudi, was released in early December.

A New York City premiere event was held a few days later with the cast and crew walking the red carpet. At that event McKay talked more about the climate change nature of the story, as did Dr. Amy Mainzer, the film’s scientific advisor who weighed in on the script and other details. DiCaprio, long known for his climate advocacy, also commented on that and the movie in general.

How McKay hounded Streep into accepting her role and more was covered in another interview with the filmmaker. An even more comprehensive profile of the director covered a lot of ground both about this movie and his career in general, with most secondary coverage focusing on his story of having a professional falling out with frequent collaborator Will Ferrell. Another later interview had him covering similar ground while also commenting on how the absurd comedy of his early years has morphed into something more serious.

Composer Nicholas Brittell was also interviewed about working with McKay for the fourth time and creating the movie’s score as well as some of the film’s smaller incidental background music.

Lawrence was her normal charming and goofy self when she appeared on “The Late Show” to talk about working with Streep and other aspects of the movie. How he reacted to some of his costars was also the subject of discussion when both Perry and Hill each appeared on “The Tonight Show.”

Each of the stars of the film gets their time in the spotlight in a series of a dozen character posters.

A second clip came out as the movie was hitting select theaters showing the performance sequence Grande and Kid Cudi are in with their song. The two planned to perform the song on this week’s episode of “The Voice.”

Bon Iver also released a snippet of their new song on the film’s soundtrack.

The movie got a profile bump when it was named one of AFI’s Movies of the Year for 2021. It was later nominated for a number of Critics Choice Awards.

Short videos like this might have been TV spots but were also used as online promos, distilling some of the movie’s humor for the more condensed running time.

overall

You really see two distinct campaigns happening here:

First is the “satire about serious issue” campaign that is spearheaded by McKay and, to a lesser extent, DiCaprio. This part focuses on the real threat posed by climate change and how, to make a point about the underwhelming public response to date, the story uses a comet as a more tangible stand-in. Multiple interviews and profiles of McKay are all part of this as he talks about the science behind the story and the kinds of characters that serve as ways to communicate the points he’s trying to make.

Second is the “star-studded and kind of goofy” campaign, spearheaded by Lawrence, Hill and Streep. This part is more about sharing crazy stories from the set, including the melding of different kinds of actors and how that went. It’s meant to appeal to the celebrity magazine crowd more than the cinephiles or issues-awareness groups within the audience.

Both are fine and often complement each other, but the latter also serves to make the former a bit less impactful.

Still, the push by Netflix has a solid darkly comic tone throughout and sells the movie, which has a lackluster 55% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, as an entertaining albeit disturbing choice.

random thoughts on: tick…tick…boom!

A few things I thought about after watching the musical biopic on Netflix…

There are a lot of feelings I have about Tick…Tick…BOOM!, on Netflix now. In no particular order:

We need more entries in the “inspirational biopic” genre that aren’t about sports stars or company founders. Those are played out and serve largely to reinforce pursuits that are fine but are already emphasized by parents, teachers, guidance counselors. Let’s see more movies about musical theater lyricists, oddball artists, struggling actors and others with more artistic sensibilities.

Basically, we’re worn out STEM and sports as sources for these stories, so let’s give the arts and humanities – the kind who are bullied and tormented by kids in those other categories – crowd a turn.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched “Sunday” from the movie on YouTube. The piece is incredible in and of itself, a great Sondheim homage, but director Lin-Manuel Miranda’s decision to fill the movie version with some of the great performers of Broadway gives it exactly the emotional heft it deserves. And it’s ridiculous how smoothly Andrew Garfiled glides through the number.

Miranda’s directorial debut is remarkable self-assured, confident of where the camera is placed, where it’s pointing and what it’s capturing. It likely helps that this is in a genre he’s already familiar with, but film and theater are still very different. I’m going to assume his work on In The Heights and other recent movies helped him pick up some pointers and tricks to aid this transition.

Speaking of which, Miranda is really carving out a niche for himself of stories about writers who feel they’re running out of time.

The central tension of the story isn’t anything romantic or professional, it’s that Jonathan Larson knew how his story began and ended but needed to figure out an actual plot reason to get from Point A to Point B and this is the most relatable thing I’ve seen on film in like decades.

There’s a featurette where the cast talk about filming the “Boho Days” sequence where one says Garfield really explored the space and yeah, that’s clear. He moves around like someone who’s been choreography all his life.

On that note, I would have put my money on Tom Holland being the first on-screen Spider-Man to show up in a movie musical, but I’m not mad it was Garfield.

Paramountnetwork GIF by Lip Sync Battle - Find & Share on GIPHY

No wait, I’ve watched this video of Alexandra Shipp and Vanessa Hudgens performing “Come To Your Senses” more than “Sunday.”

the unforgivable – marketing recap

How Netflix has sold a drama about rehabilitation and rebuilding

The Unforgivable movie poster
The Unforgivable movie poster

Sandra Bullock stars in The Unforgivable, out this week on Netflix following a brief theatrical release period. Based on a British TV series, the movie focuses on Ruth Slater (Bullock), a woman just released from prison, having served her time after being convicted of a violent crime. Despite having theoretically paid her debt to society she finds that few are willing to give her the chance to prove she genuinely wants to turn her life around.

The movie, directed by Nora Fingscheidt, also stars Viola Davis, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jon Bernthal and others as those in Slater’s orbit. Let’s take a look at how it’s been sold.

announcement and casting

While development of the film dates all the way back to 2010, shortly after the original British series aird, things didn’t really begin moving forward until 2019. That’s when Bullock was announced as the lead (as well as producer) with Fingscheidt directing and Netflix distributing.

The rest of the cast was added between late 2019 and early 2020.

the marketing campaign

Netflix kicked off the marketing push in September of this year with the distribution of a still showing Bullock in character that also served as the announcement of a release date.

An extreme close-up of half of Slater’s face is used on the poster, released in late October. That doesn’t do much to communicate the story but the copy “No one walks free of their past” picks up the slack by hinting that there’s something that will continue to haunt her throughout the story.

The trailer (6.2m YouTube views) came out at the same time. As it starts Ruth is just getting out of prison and we quickly see she’s still being harassed after release. We learn some of the details of why she was sent away and then that she’s now looking to reconnect with her little sister Katie (Aisling Franciosi). That effort, though, is met with resistance from just about everyone, despite some taking her side. Ruth refuses to give up.

A clip came out in mid-November showing Ruth getting a dressing down from her parole officer (Rob Morgan).

Shorter promos like this came out later in November and were used as social and video pre-roll ads and likely for TV spots as well. They distill the trailer down to its core elements to make a quick, punchy appeal to the audience.

A premiere red carpet event was held at the beginning of December with Fingscheidt, Bullock and the rest of the cast in attendance. While at that premiere the cast talked about telling stories of people at society’s margins, working on the film during Covid restrictions and lots more.

overall

I think what appears to me to be the biggest missing element is something overt that calls out organizations that deal with helping former prisoners reenter society, or those working to reform the system that spits people out with little support or other ways to deal with life outside prison.

Other than that, it’s a nice little campaign Netflix put together, but the 35% the movie has on Rotten Tomatoes speaks to some issues critics have had with the film. A stronger appeal from the cast and crew, especially from the topline stars, might have made the message delivered to the audience a bit stronger.

west side story – marketing recap

How 20th Century Studios is selling a new adaptation of a classic musical

West Side Story movie poster
West Side Story movie poster

Years ago there was a rash of movies that updated Shakespeare plays, Jane Austen novels and other literature classics for modern times, changing the dialogue and settings as appropriate.

West Side Story, out this week in theaters, is the latest film adaptation of a classic of this subgenre, deftly updating Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet for the 1950s, with the original movie released in 1961.

This new version comes from director Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner but still features the same greatArthur Laurents book, Leonard Bernstein music and Stephen Sondheim lyrics.

Rachel Zegler and Ansel Elgort star as María and Tony, respectively, star-crossed lovers from different backgrounds, she part of the Puerto Rican community and he a part of the white community. Their love is tested by the racial tensions in the New York City neighborhood as exemplified by the rivalry between the Sharks (the Puerto Ricans) and Jets (the whites) street gangs.

announcement and casting

There had been news about the movie, particularly around casting, for a while leading up to Spielberg’s first real comments in October 2018 about how this version would adhere to the stage musical.

Casting news and various small updates followed over the next several months, starting with Elgort. Throughout early 2019 more additions were made, including Zegler, David Alvarez, Ariana DeBose and others. Notably, Rita Moreno joined not only as a member of the cast but also as a producer on the film, helping to guide the story’s development.

marketing phase one: not tonight, tonight

Disney used the social media app Weibo to release a special poster designed in the style of Chinese tapestries to celebrate Lunar New Year in 2019.

A first look photo showing the Jets and Sharks released in mid-June of 2019, with a photo of DeBose as Anita released a month later.

The first real look at the movie came in an April 2020 feature with a batch of new photos along with comments from Spielberg about why he chose this project, what it was like working with the cast and lots more.

A profile of DeBose in October of last year mentioned this as one of two breakout roles for her in the last year or so.

In September, 2020 Disney announced it was pushing the release date back an entire year because of Covid-19 related delays and theater closures.

marketing phase two: something’s coming

A brand identity that would last throughout the campaign was established on the first poster, released in April. It doesn’t show much outside of the title treatment, displayed here as white bricks seen through a black background.

The first trailer (3.1m YouTube views), which debuted during the April broadcast of this year’s Academy Awards, makes the case for the movie based on it being visually gorgeous. It focuses on the cinematography and staging of the story and less on the story itself, seemingly assuming some level of familiarity on the part of the audience. It’s relatively short and doesn’t feature any dialogue and just a few lyrics, but the impact is certainly felt.

A “Special Look” came out in late July that functions like a short trailer or extended TV spot. Little dialogue is featured along with the music, but it definitely reinforces the fact the movie will look incredible.

It was mid-September before the full trailer (6.6m YouTube views) was released, debuting on “Good Morning America.”. It offers the basic outlines of the story we all (hopefully) know, that Maria meets and falls in love with Tony despite them coming from different cultural environments. That causes tension in her family and others as those opposing forces get ready for a clash. Notably, it specifically calls out the racial hatred that powers one side, which is angry over how “other” people keep taking over their territory. That’s an important message to highlight in this day and age.

That was followed by another poster, this one using the same title treatment but pulling the camera out to show the rest of the building wall and, importantly, the shadows of Tony and Maria who are standing on a neighboring building.

The movie received an important endorsement when Sondheim appeared on “The Late Show” and praised the work of Spielberg and Kushner.

A TV spot came out shortly after the trailer debuted that cut down the story to its broad strokes, still featuring those bright visuals as well as “Tonight.” Another focuses more on Maria and her attempts to fit in in America and make a life for herself.

Ziegler was interviewed about how surreal it was to work with Spielberg on the film.

A bit of behind-the-scenes footage is seen in another “Sneak Peak” released at the end of October. Two more posters – one showing Maria and Tony dancing the other with Bernardo and Anita dancing – came out at the same time.

Tony has a choice to make in a TV spot from early November that highlights not the romance of the story but the dangerous choices everyone is about to make and the danger those choices will create. Another spot brings the focus back to Tony and Maria and their doomed love.

The theatrical poster indicates how the Tony/Maria romance is the central selling point of the film, specifically their singing “Tonight.” It shows the pair on the fire escape where they sing their love to one another, making sure the audience knows this will be the centerpiece of the movie.

More commercials – some of which would be repurposed as social ads or video prerolls – continued to be released. Another behind-the-scenes featurette was built around Spielberg toasting the first day of filming but focused on the work that went into preparing the music, sets, choreography and other aspects of production before the camera actually rolled.

Character posters were released showing individual looks at Maria, Tony, Bernardo, Anita and Valentina (the character played by Moreno).

An extended spot debuted during the American Music Awards broadcast. Spielberg talks about how making West Side Story has long been a dream of his, as well as how unfortunately the story of racial divisions is still timely, in another featurette.

The movie’s red carpet premiere was held in New York City at the end of November, with the cast and crew all in attendance.

While on the red carpet Kushner shared how he turned to a Puerto Rican friend to make sure his Spanish language dialogue was accurate to that community at that time, with more and more people weighing in to the point it became a regular group discussion. Spielberg and members of the cast also reflected on Sondheim’s contributions and legacy since he had passed away just days before the event.

Reactions from that premiere screening praised the movie as a whole and especially the performance of Zegler in her film debut and DeBose. Spielberg’s first outing helming a musical was also called out as a highlight.

Unsurprisingly given it’s been featured in almost every asset to date, the first clip is an extended look at “Tonight.”

Dolby and IMAX exclusive posters feature slightly different arrangements but both take a more artistic approach to one-sheet design, using painted images of the characters and locations to create a retro feel appropriate to the era the story is set in.

Moreno talked about returning to the story 60 years later when she appeared on “The Tonight Show.” Zegler promoted the film on “GMA” and “Live with Kelly and Ryan” among other media stops.

Brian James D’arcy, who plays Officer Krupke, was interviewed about this movie specifically as well as his thoughts on remakes. Kushner later spoke about how intimidating the project was when he agreed to take it on.

AMC Theaters shared exclusive video interviews with the cast.

A few videos were released that had Spielberg offering his thoughts on Zegler, who he calls the high bar no one else cleared during the audition process, and DeBose, whose charisma and talent he praises. Another focused on Moreno, from how it was Kushner’s husband who had the idea to cast her in a role originally created for a man to how she shared stories of the original production during filming to the part she played in conveying a real Puerto Rican experience to everyone on set.

Alvarez was profiled for how his career includes a break while he served in the U.S. military.

Another premiere event was held just recently, this one in Los Angeles.

The movie got a final push when the AFI named it one of the 10 best movies of 2021.

overall

It’s interesting, if not a bit maddening, that this movie is being held up as an indicator of whether or not non-franchise blockbusters have any future at the theatrical box office. That issue has been very much up in the air this year, with the answer too frequently being “No, not really.” But asking it overlooks the fact that, as an adaptation of a perennially popular musical that was already made into one a cinema classic, it doesn’t really fall into the “original idea” bucket even if it’s not a comic book or YA novella adaptation.

The movie certainly comes with the endorsement of critics, as represented by its 95% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But tracking estimates an opening domestic weekend of $12-17m, which would be just slightly above the $11m opening of In The Heights last June, a result that was roundly considered disappointing. Yes, the winter yardstick for success is different than that used in summer, but still…

Putting all that aside, 20th Century Studios has mounted a very good campaign that:

  • Has a strong brand identity throughout the effort, as exemplified by that white brick title treatment
  • Knows the audience is there to see the two leads sing “Tonight” to each other and so uses that footage every single chance available
  • Highlights, especially in its back half, the role GOAT Rita Moreno played in guiding this film through production and the respect paid to her by everyone from Kushner to Zegler and all in between
  • Communicates consistently that this isn’t a period piece locked in amber for 60+ years but one that is both respectful of tradition and updated a bit to make it timely and relevant to modern audiences

Finally, it manages to look and feel like something that is both a big screen musical and all that entails while also looking like a Spielberg film, no doubt thanks to the cinematography of the director’s long-time collaborator Janusz Kamiński.

It’s also coincidental that this is the second of two Sondheim-related projects to come out in just a few weeks, the first being Tick…Tick…Boom!, which featured the late writer (as portrayed by Bradley Whitford) mentoring a new generation of musical theater creators. So that celebrates the future he was instrumental in shepherding while this celebrates one small part of his legacy.