Mank – Marketing Recap

How Netflix is selling a story about one of Hollywood’s greatest films.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t familiar with the controversy around who exactly wrote Citizen Kane until the campaign for Netflix’s new release Mank began in earnest. The movie goes into some of that story, following screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) as he develops the script for Kane, basing Kane on William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance), with whom Mankiewicz had recently had a personal falling out and Kane’s second wife Susan Alexander on Hearst’s mistress Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried ). The tension with Welles (Tom Burke) grows as production on the film gets underway and it becomes clear the director is playing fast and loose with Mankiewicz’s work, adding his own material and making a number of other changes.

Directed by David Fincher, the movie – which has a solid 89% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes – is the latest contender for the title of Netflix’s first Best Picture Oscar winner. And it’s received a campaign from Netflix that not only evokes the age in which the story takes place but even seems at times pulled straight from it.

The Posters

On the movie’s single poster, released in October, Mankiewicz is shown mid-revelry, holding a glass in the air as he stands on a dinner table obviously having a good time. The other guests seated around the table are having a far less enjoyable experience, as evident from their facial expressions.

While the design doesn’t mirror one of Kane’s actual posters, the aesthetic here certainly is meant to be reminiscent of one-sheets from the 30s and 40s. The font, the use of “Netflix International Pictures,” the paint-brush look of the title treatment are all elements seen frequently on posters from those decades and so helps to establish the tone and setting while the juxtaposition of Mankiewicz’s mood and that of the others hints at how he finds himself ostracized from those around him.

The Trailers

The first trailer (625,000 views on YouTube) came out in early October, starting out with Welles getting Mankiewicz and showing how the pair team up to take on Hearst, something that comes with its own set of risks even if it is morally righteous.

There was also a slightly longer version of the trailer released exclusively to Reddit (76,000 views on YouTube), one that showed the same basic story but presented the film as looking and feeling very much like one from the 1930s.

An “audio trailer” came out a bit later, exclusively on Karina Longworth’s excellent You Must Remember This podcast.

In mid-October the final official trailer (710,000 views on YouTube) was released. Over the course of its two-and-a-half-minutes it shows how Mank’s relationship with Hearst goes from cordial to confrontational because of his involvement in the project, which also strains his marriage and other friendships. Writing the movie is shown to be a kind of descent into madness for the man, whose existing self-destructive habits and tendencies are only exaggerated by the stress of what he’s set out to do.

Online and Social

As usual, Netflix doesn’t seem to have set up a website of its own for the movie, though it did create social profiles like a Twitter and Instagram account. There was, though, a “secret” website revealed in late October that had a couple hundred stills from the film as well as audio from Trent Reznor’s score.

Advertising and Promotions

Netflix released some first look images in early September. In late October Fincher announced the film would get a theatrical release in early November, about a month prior to it becoming available for streaming.

Media and Press

Collins discussed how she got involved in the project while promoting other things late last year.

That profile of Fincher had lots of comments from him and others about the film, including how the director has been pitching the project for over a decade. Another interview had Oldman and others in the cast talking about working with Fincher and accommodating the director’s precise vision.

There were profiles in the final weeks before release of the movie’s director of photography and costume designer, both touching on how they worked to recreate the look and feel of the story’s era. Additionally, the cast talked more about tackling the making of one of Hollywood’s greatest films and another profile of Fincher had him explaining just how long he’s been obsessed with telling this story while his tendency to expect perfection from all involved was the focus here.

Just before streaming release, Seyfried finally got a profile of her own that focused on her career to date and how she’s spent the last couple years trying to redefine herself in Hollywood, with this movie being a big part of that. She also made an appearance on “Kimmel” just before release.

Overall

There are elements of the campaign that can be questioned or that one could take issue with. In particular, the trailers aren’t enormously helpful in explaining who the characters are or what the story is, though the details are there if you’re patient enough and look for them.

But what the marketing gets right is creating a solid, easily identifiable and consistent brand message – including tone and other intangibles – across each and every element. Your mileage may vary depending on how much you like classic movies and how familiar you are with the marketing tactics from the early 20th century, but you can’t say you don’t get the vibe and feel of the film in each and every touchpoint.

On top of that, this isn’t being sold as a “making of” dramatization, unlike some past and upcoming films. This is a personal story of an artist and the frustrations behind one of Hollywood’s greatest movies, offering a small scale story against a large-scale canvas. That’s intriguing and unique in and of itself.

Nomadland – Marketing Recap

How Searchlight has sold one of this year’s buzziest dramas.

Frances McDormand stars as Fern in Nomadland, the new movie from writer/director Chloé Zhao. The movie, based on the book of the same name by Jessica Bruder, follows Fern in the wake of losing everything in the 2008 financial collapse. With nothing holding her down or back, Fern begins living out of her van, becoming one of the many nomads driving across the country engaging in piecemeal work and forming a supportive community of their own.

The story, while set a decade or more in the past, is still unfortunately timely. PBS Newshour recently reported on the older Americans who have done something similar because of the coronavirus pandemic. So this is still relevant, because capitalism still throws out the most vulnerable first.

Searchlight’s campaign has been relatively minor, relying mostly on the buzz the film built up at festival screenings. Those positive reviews have earned the film an exemplary 97% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Posters

Set against an all-white background, the first poster (released in mid-August) features the movie’s title spelled out in segments of different state license plates, a nice way to communicate the wandering nature of the story and its characters. Aside from that there isn’t much information, just McDormand and Zhao’s names along with the credentials of the festivals the movie screened at.

The Trailers

A teaser trailer (2.9 million views on YouTube) was released in early September just before its festival screenings. It doesn’t show much, just Frances walking through a camp on an evening walk, the trailers and tents of others in the background.

Surprisingly, that’s the only trailer released to date for the film.

Online and Social

Not much beyond the basic marketing information on Searchlight’s page for the film, nor on the social profiles the studio setup, which has primarily been focused on touting the festival awards the movie has earned.

Advertising and Promotions

Fox Searchlight acquired the movie after it debuted at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.

In July 2020, dual announcements came out with the news it would screen at both the Venice and Toronto film festivals, winning the Golden Lion at the former and the People’s Choice Award for McDormand at the latter. It was also scheduled for the Telluride, with Zhao receiving a Silver Medallion Award at the latter, and New York film festivals, all of which resulted in a wave of positive word of mouth and buzz about awards potential, especially for McDormand. It also was slated to open the Montclair Film Festival and screen at the Middleburg Film Festival.

Searchlight released a short featurette showing some of the highlights of the Telluride drive-in screening, held at the Rose Bowl in Los Angeles and with McDormand and Zhao in attendance. In early October the movie was named as the opening feature for the Denver Film Festival. At the Montclair Film Festival the movie won the audience award for a feature film.

MoMA announced the film would serve as the closing feature at this year’s virtual contenders showcase.

Media and Press

In advance of those festival screenings, a profile of Zhao about how she approached this project as well as what else she had coming up. Another interview with the director later on covered her filmmaking techniques and how she has a tendency to leap before she looks.

As festival season was getting underway there were a number of additional interviews with McDormand where she talked about her character, the story and more.

Overall

Throughout the life of the discourse around the movie it’s remained conventional wisdom that it would be among those seriously competing for Oscar and other award consideration when that season rolls around early next year. Searchlight has steadfastly stuck with a fall theatrical release for precisely this reason, despite so many other films being delayed or going to PVOD/streaming.

What’s surprising then is that the studio didn’t make a bigger deal of this week’s theatrical debut for the movie. There’s just the one teaser trailer that doesn’t offer much in terms of the story or characters, and the single poster isn’t much more informative. With a star like McDormand and Searchlight trying to follow the established book as closely as possible, a bigger campaign would have been expected, even if it was narrowly targeted at the film festival crowd and their ilk.

Hillbilly Elegy – Marketing Recap

How Netflix has sold the adaptation of a best-selling memoir.

For the last several years, those living in major metropolitan areas have been asked to reach out and better understand people in more rural locations. The presumption has been that major media outlets, usually based on the coasts or in other big cities, don’t represent or adequately communicate the feelings of those in the rest of the country. It’s a trend found in the countless “Here’s Why [fill in group] Voted For Trump” articles and in the more recent “Sure, but 70 million people voted for Trump so Democrats need to keep that in mind” narratives.

This dictate was given human form in the 2016 memoir by J.D. Vance that has now been adapted into the feature film of the same name, Hillbilly Elegy.

Directed by Ron Howard, the movie – currently on Netflix after a brief theatrical engagement – stars Glenn Close as family matriarch Mamaw Vance, Amy Adams as her daughter Bev and Gabriel Basso as Bev’s son J.D. The story, as the source book does, focuses on the intergenerational dynamics through the lens of an adult J.D.’s return to the Appalachian setting his family hails from. Within that there are considerations of social responsibility, governmental support and other issues, all from the more conservative viewpoint you’d expect.

Reviews for the movie have mostly been negative, resulting in a paltry 25% Rotten on Rotten Tomatoes, with many critics praising the performances of both Close and Adams but saying the direction and story as a whole leave much to be desired.

The Posters

Adams and Close aren’t as prominent on the teaser poster (by marketing agency The Refinery), released in mid-October, as are the list of Howard’s previous filmmaking credits. The goal is obviously to create appeal for the film based on his credentials and reputation over anything also about the movie or its source material, mentioned here as “the inspiring true story.” All that is presented against the backdrop of a car winding through a rural road that cuts through thick trees.

The opposite approach is taking on the second poster (by marketing agency Concept Arts) that came out later that month. Many of the same appeals are used but here we see Mamaw and Bev leaning against an old truck like they’re just outside talking on a Tuesday afternoon. This poster’s release roughly coincided with the first reviews of the film being shared, many of which called out the performances of Close and Adams among the few bright spots.

The Trailers

It wasn’t until just in October that the first trailer (1.5 millions views on YouTube) came out. It shows the story bounces between a few different periods of the lives of the characters, with the focus remaining on Bev and her relationship with her mother and oldest son. That story is just a means to an end, though, with the real message here being the dramatic performances from Close and Adams.

Online and Social

No website or anything of its own, which is standard, and the movie received surprisingly sparse support on Netflix’s brand social channels, which seemed more focused on promoting its recent holiday film lineup or the recent Shawn Mendes “documentary.”

Advertising and Promotions

Netflix acquired the project in January, 2019, about two years after Imagine Entertainment began developing it.

A featurette released at the same time as the first trailer had Howard talking about why he decided to direct the film. Another had him sharing more on the actual process of making the movie.

Online ads like the one here used the second poster’s key art to drive clicks to Netflix’s page for the movie.

Mamaw berates J.D. for his lack of ambition in a clip released earlier this week.

Media and Press

Both Close and Adams joined in an interview to talk about filming the project, including discussing their costumes and wigs and such. Howard spoke in late October about how, given the continued closure of so many theaters nationwide, he wasn’t sure what Netflix’s theatrical release plans were exactly.

There were additional interviews with the movie’s makeup team and writer, each discussing their particular aspect of making the film.

Adams appeared on both “Late Night” and “Kimmel” to promote the film while Close appeared on “The Late Show.”

Overall

The disconnect between the time the book was written in and when the movie is being released along with many of the other issues surrounding the film were covered in this feature by Rebecca Keegan at THR. That includes how the socio-political nature of the memoir was discarded by Howard in favor of a family drama, but doing so leaves the narrative incomplete. It also recounts the unusual process by which Howard’s Imagine Entertainment acquired the rights to the book.

Vance’s absence from the movie’s promotional campaign can likely be explained by that disconnect. Authors with as much media recognition as him who have adaptations coming out are often brought into the publicity cycle to talk about seeing their work adapted by others and so on. But between a string of recent controversial statements as well as a national mood that has much less patience for “maybe we should try and understand Trump voters” narratives than it did four years ago may have made his involvement a non-starter. Of course he may not have been interested in participating to begin with.

Aside from that, Netflix’s marketing campaign does the best it can to sell the film as a prestige picture, but the soundly negative reviews have likely scuttled the awards chances of those involved. Not only that but it’s…kind of boring. The posters feature little to no visual flair or creativity and the trailer is almost instantly forgettable. So the campaign suffers from a lack of any memorable spark, which doesn’t bode well for the film itself.

Happiest Season – Marketing Recap

How Hulu has sold an updated take on the Christmas movie genre.

In The Happiest Season, out now on Hulu, Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis play girlfriends Harper and Abby respectively, a happy couple who are about to put their relationship through a significant test: the holiday season. Specifically, they plan to visit Abby’s family for Christmas. Taking advantage of the celebration, Harper plans to propose to Abby while there.

Writer/director Clea DuVall’s story, though, adds the complication that unbeknownst to Harper, Abby’s family doesn’t know she’s gay. They believe instead that Abby is bringing her orphaned friend with nowhere else to go. Harper then begins to question much of their relationship, often with the support of her friend John (Dan Levy). The movie also stars Victor Garber, Mary Steenburgen, Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza and others.

Originally planned for a theatrical release by Sony Pictures, in October Hulu announced it had picked up the movie and would release it to streaming in late November. To date, the film has received largely positive reviews, giving it a solid 92% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Posters

Just one poster, which was released barely over a week prior to the film becoming available. The major cast, with Stewart and Davis in the forefront, are assembled in a picture as if they’re all part of the same photograph. How that photo is hanging cockeyed over the fireplace indicates how off-kilter the family – and story – is while festive holiday decorations visible around the frame make the setting of the action clear to the audience. It’s a fine, if innocuous, image but for the fact that all the faces save those of Stewart and Davis are clearly Photoshopped into place.

The Trailers

Released in mid-November, the trailer (6 million views on YouTube) starts by showing how much Abby is looking forward to meeting Harper’s family over Christmas. As they’re on their way, Harper breaks the news that her parents don’t know she’s gay, much less that she’s bringing her girlfriend with her. Instead, she’s told them Abby is an orphan with nowhere to go. Hilarity and awkwardness ensues, especially when Abby’s friend John gets involved.

Online and Social

Advertising and Promotions

The buzz-heavy cast was announced in January as the movie was heading into production. That filming was finished in late February, just before Covid-19-related shutdowns went into effect.

Earlier this month a drive-in premiere for the film was held. The artists contributing to the movie’s soundtrack were also announced.

In the days leading up to release online ads like the one below were placed around the web, using the key art to encourage people to click over to the movie’s page on Hulu.

Short videos like this were produced and used both as organic promotions as well as paid ads.

Media and Press

First look stills accompanied by comments from Stewart, Levy and others were included in EW’s Fall Movie Preview.

Following the release of the trailer there were features on how Duvall worked to offer a twist on the holiday rom-com genre tropes as well as on Steenburgen feels about being a Christmas movie go-to player.

Meanwhile, Levy appeared on “The Tonight Show” to talk about the movie and lots more. Brie did likewise on “Kimmel” as did Stewart. Levy and Stewart showed up together on “The Today Show.”

Themed gift packages of promotional items were sent to select members of the press.

Teegan & Sara appeared on “The Kelly Clarkson” to perform their new song on the film’s soundtrack, with DuVall and much of the cast also appearing on that show.

Appropriately, there was significant coverage of the film in the LGBTQ press, including a cover story with multiple features in The Advocate as well as stories like this in Pride, all of which covered how DuVall and the cast worked to bring something new to the genre.

That same theme was carried over into much of the press, including additional interviews with DuVall as well as Stewart and the rest of the cast. There were also breakout profiles of Stewart, Davis and Brie along with more general holiday hijinks with the cast.

Overall

It’s hard not to be completely charmed by the campaign Hulu has put together in the space of less than a month. Some of the material was likely brought over from whatever Sony had already produced, but generating such significant buzz in so short a period is a testament to not only the strength of what’s presented here but also to the obvious passion of the audience that has been drawn to it in that time.

It benefits greatly from having such talented and outspoken talent like Stewart, DuVall, Davis and others involved, all of whom have reiterated the movie’s core value proposition – that it’s part of the “awkward family Christmas” genre while offering an updated variation on what’s come before – throughout their press activities. That it’s coming to streaming and not theaters allows it to reach more of the audience immediately, which will likely help its prospects for success.

SuperIntelligence – Marketing Recap

How HBO Max has sold a high-concept comedy not too far removed from reality.

Melissa McCarthy stars in this week’s new HBO Max release Superintelligence, directed once again by her husband Ben Falcone. In the film McCarthy plays Carol Peters, an all-around unremarkable woman who one day finds herself targeted by a powerful artificial intelligence (voiced by James Corden) that is deciding if it should enslave, destroy or leave humanity alone. It plans to study Carol for a few days before making its ultimate decision.

Along the way, the AI gifts her with a fortune to see what she does when freed from other concerns. The situation also prompts Carol to attempt to reconnect with her ex, George (Bobby Cannavale), wanting to spend what might be her last few days with no regrets about the past. Meanwhile, the FBI wants to know why Carol got the AI’s attention and what can be done about it.

As with many others, the movie was originally scheduled for theatrical late last year before being pulled by Warner Bros. and ultimately replatformed for streaming.

The Posters

Carol and George are having a nice romantic moment on the poster (by marketing agency Works Adv), released in November. The two look like they’re enjoying each other’s company along with some champagne and it all seems pleasant until you realize the heart shape in the wall behind them seems to hint at some sort of violence or devastation that has created such an opening. That juxtaposition, intended to create some intrigue or interest, comes off as a bit odd, hinting at a movie that may not know which tone to take.

The Trailers

As the trailer (6.7 million views on YouTube), released in early November, opens, we see that an ultra-sophisticated computer system has set its eyes on Carol for…reasons. It knows everything about her and has led her to believe the world is going to end in three days, something it’s threatening to do if it can’t understand humanity more fully through her. With the FBI wondering why it’s targeted Carol, she takes the idea of there not being many more tomorrows to reconnect with an ex-boyfriend.

Online and Social

No stand-alone site for the movie, but HBO Max did give it regular support on its brand social channels.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A brief controversy emerged in mid-November when it was noticed that one of the groups taking part in the “20 Days of Kindness” campaign was staunchly anti-abortion, which seemed to be off-brand for McCarthy and others. She and the studio issued a statement days later saying that group had been removed from the effort.

After the trailer came out a number of featurettes were released that covered the love story of the movie, the makeover Carol gives herself to win George back and how much of an average, non-exceptional human being Carol is.

Other promos like this really leaned into McCarthy’s popularity.

Media and Publicity

McCarthy and Forte appeared on stage to do a bit during WB’s CinemaCon 2019 presentation, an effort to get exhibitors and others excited about the upcoming film. In October of last year it was announced the movie would forego a theatrical release and instead be saved for the debut of HBO Max.

The cast participated in a group interview about technology and related issues here.

Both Falcone and McCarthy appeared on late night and other talk shows to talk about the movie and once more working together.

Overall

The message of the campaign is simple, and largely the same one as most other comedies starring McCarthy. Namely, if you enjoy her antics and persona, you’ll likely enjoy this movie. If not, you may want to find something else because it’s probably going to be relatively similar to what you’ve seen before.

That’s not a bad thing, as McCarthy is a comedic powerhouse, one with a relatively solid and box-office record. Such a record makes her streaming feature debut more of a statement about the health of comedies at the box-office than it probably should be, even when adjusting for this being a pandemic year. She is who she is, especially when being directed by Falcone, and this campaign makes that abundantly clear.

Wonder Woman 1984 on HBO Max Isn’t Just the Best Choice, It Was The Only Choice

All the world is waiting for you, in the comfort of their own home.

Wonder Woman 1984, which is the last studio blockbuster standing on the theatrical release calendar, retains that status but now comes with a significant caveat: It will also be available day-and-date, December 25th, on Warner Bros.’ HBO Max streaming service.

That news came just a couple days ago, and not a moment too soon. Earlier this month there were reports Warner Bros. was considering a significantly tightened window of just two weeks between the movie coming to theaters and then to streaming. Indeed, as time ticked by that 12/25 release date seemed increasingly in doubt, given campaigns for major movies like this generally begin in earnest six weeks or so out.

In a significant shift in tone since the beginning of pandemic-related changes in studio release plans, when theater owners and NATO put out statements sounding like Luigi and Dino visiting the Army base, the CEO of AMC Theaters commented by saying it’s all good, and that this is the best solution for everyone. At the same time, Universal Pictures has signed deals with both Cinemark and Cineplex theater chains allowing the studio to shorten the theater-to-home video timeline to just over two weeks.

That change in rhetoric is welcome, especially since Warner Bros., like many other studios over the last eight months, is making not only the best choice but really the only choice when it comes to the movies it’s holding on to.

First, it’s a sign the studio is reading the broader societal landscape as it exists at the moment. The Covid-19 pandemic is, at the moment, essentially out of control in the U.S. and while a vaccine may indeed be on the way, the soonest it will be widely available enough to have a measurable impact on the population is likely the summer or fall of 2021.

Along the same lines, it’s a hedge against the last month of 2020 being even worse in terms of coronavirus infections and hospitalizations. While the CDC, as well as many governors and mayors across the country, has (finally) formally stated people should not travel or gather for Thanksgiving there are going to be plenty who ignore such recommendations and warnings. If/when that happens, cases – including deaths – will be spiking (again) just a couple weeks before Christmas Day. That may well lead to another round of stay-at-home orders and business closures even more restrictive than those put in place in recent days.

Third, it’s an acknowledgement by all parties – WB and exhibitors – that there’s no further financial relief for theaters or any other party coming from the federal government. Not only are Republican officials not taking any steps to meet with House Leader Nancy Pelosi, but Treasury Secretary and Man Who Constantly Looks Like He’s Waiting to Get Back To Kicking Orphans Steven Mnuchin recently announced he is ending several stimulus programs, the impacts of which will likely be felt well into the Biden Administration.

Outside of all that, it does seem that this may finally be the crack that brings the entire dam down. As Peter Kafka said, the pandemic has provided the impetus for the movie industry to fully come into the present and make some substantive changes. The kinds of deals exhibitors are making were first floated a decade ago but roundly rejected at the time. Meanwhile, studios have spent that time building up their own brands and distribution infrastructures, all of which is being brought to bear right now. Those deals, then, are the best chance exhibitors have for survival.

This has been such a wild week in the distribution and exhibition industries that, as big as the Wonder Woman 1984 news is, it’s not by any means the only big beats in this space. Paramount announced it had finally officially sold Coming 2 America to Amazon, which scheduled it for early next year, and there’s rumors Disney could shuffle some of its upcoming live-action remakes of Cruella, Peter Pan and others to Disney+ as it seeks to clear the shelves while playing catch-up when theaters are fully reopened.

It’s great that Warner Bros. will continue to support theaters with the WW84 release, but making it available via streaming is also an acknowledgement of the current realities. There really wasn’t any other option available, at least not one that was feasible long-term.

Run – Marketing Recap

How Hulu is selling a psychological mother-daughter drama.

There are too many real life stories of parents abusing their children in some manner. The new movie Run, debuting on Hulu this week from writer/director Aneesh Chaganty, is about just that kind of situation.

Sarah Paulson plays Diane Sherman, a mother who has cared for her chronically ill daughter Chloe (Kiera Allen) throughout the girl’s life. The two have a good relationship, but now that Chloe is a teen she’s worried her mother is doing too much. Diane’s assurances that she’s fine, Chloe begins to find evidence that her mom may not be as loving as she seems and may in fact be actively keeping Chloe sick and dependent on her care.

The movie was originally set for theatrical release in March from Lionsgate, but that studio pulled it from the schedule because of the coronavirus. Hulu then acquired it in August. Since then it’s run a campaign that has sold it as a psychological thriller, albeit one focused on the mother-daughter dynamic. It also has an excellent 96% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Posters

The first poster (by marketing agency P+A) came out in February when Lionsgate still had control of the film. Its design strongly evokes the work of Saul Bass for the films of Alfred Hitchcock, with the figure of Diane looking up the staircase at the figure of Chloe. The vibe here is kind of great, with the tension of the story communicated not only by the distance between the two but also the copy “You can’t escape a mother’s love.”

That same tagline is used on the second poster, also released in February. This time, though, the image is a photo of Diane looking slightly worried with a smaller photo of Chloe placed inside of Diane’s head to show the strange connection between the two.

The Trailers

The first thing we see in February’s first trailer (13.6 million views on YouTube) is Diane looking at the tiny body of Chloe hooked up to tubes and instruments as she lies in a NICU incubator. Cut to present day and Chloe is a grown teen in a wheelchair and living with her mother, who does everything for her. But Chloe, worried she’s not doing enough, begins to become suspicious her mother is hiding something from her. Turns out that might be a great many things, including what her real name is. Not only that, it’s implied Diane might be keeping her daughter sick and needing her aid, leading to some tense and dangerous situations.

A new trailer (170,000 views on YouTube) came out in late October that establishes the drama of the story quite nicely. It starts by showing what seems to be a loving relationship between Diane and Chloe, but which soon evolves into something much more dangerous. As Chloe becomes more aware of what her mother has been doing, Diane’s actions become more desperate and all the more terrifying because they are being done out of what she considers to be “love.”

Online and Social

No stand-alone website that was easily found, but there were some social profiles to share promotions and other updates on the movie.

Advertising and Promotions

A “date announcement” spot came out in late September when Hulu finally put it on the calendar.

Further short video promotions came out on social media over the next couple months.

Some of those were used as pre-roll ads in the weeks leading up to release.

Hulu announced a watch party accompanied by a Twitter Q&A for the day after the movie was scheduled for release.

A drive-in premiere was held in L.A. earlier this week.

Media and Press

A first-look photo came out just before the trailer was released, including comments from Paulson and Allen on how they got involved in the project and what drew them to the material.

Not a whole lot of other press activity in the immediate lead-up to the movie. Most of the interviews with Paulson in particular have been about her roles on the latest iteration of “American Horror Story” or on Netflix’s “Ratched.”

Overall

The subject matter of the story is certainly disturbing, that’s beyond dispute. But the marketing offers the promise of an interesting and revelation-filled journey to find out just how disturbing things get and what exactly is happening. There are some moments in the campaign that make it seem as if Diane is not doing what it seems, showing that it’s worth the audience’s time to check it out and see what the truth of the matter is.

Theaters On The Brink

It’s not getting better anytime soon.

For at least the second or third time since the Covid-19 pandemic closed down restaurants, bars and other gathering spots in March, movie theater owners – through NATO – are warning that without some form of federal stimulus or bailout many will fail and shut down completely. Already a number of smaller venues have gone under while AMC Theaters has recently worked to raise what has been labeled “emergency” cash to stay open.

These calls come at the same time the country is…how to phrase this…still in the midst of dealing with the fraud and grift from certain current presidents following the recent election. That drama, along with the usual problems that come from having a lame duck executive and a Congress that will still be sharply divided is part of why House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi is still at odds with Senate Majority Leader and Man Who Would Like To Know Where The Hard Candies Are Hidden Mitch McConnell over the size of another stimulus package. Republican lawmakers in Washington are busy working to delegitimize the very foundation of American democracy and don’t seem to be interested in doing any work. If they had been, they likely would have done so before the election.

And then of course there’s the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Earlier this week there was news that research on a vaccine may be getting closer to a viable result, something that would undeniably help businesses of all kinds. That news was welcomed by theater owners as well as the CEO of IMAX, who called it “a game changer” that could provide some hope that, even if 2020 is a loss there may be some hope for the 2021 box-office. It was also good for the CEO of Pfizer, who sold millions of dollars in stock after his company’s share price jumped when the announcement was released.

We’re Not Out Of The Woods

But that is in the future. In the present, coronavirus cases have increased by 40% nationwide in recent weeks and hit a record 131,000 daily infections earlier this week. That trend – and it very much is a trend – has resulted in theaters in San Francisco and Sacramento closing for the time being. Governors around the country are rethinking in-person schooling and making other changes, while Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot has issued a stay-at-home “advisory” and hospitals in cities of all sizes are finding themselves once again at or above capacity.

In the week since I wrote this post on how the rest of 2020 looked in terms of big releases, four of the seven titles broken out have been either pushed out of this year indefinitely or moved over to streaming in some manner. Given we’re coming up on the point where the two-week incubation period for Covid-19 would take us up to the end of the year and the fact the infection rates are going up at the same time people are about to start violating guidelines en masse for the holidays, it’s a pretty safe guess that early 2021 is in danger, even if a vaccine has begun rolling out.

That anyone would put so much stock in the news of an unverified vaccine seems to be an exercise in grasping at straws. By all accounts it will be well into the summer or later before such a vaccine, if it does work, would be distributed to a reasonable extent in the U.S. Add to that the really odd politicization of that vaccine (which shouldn’t be surprising for various reasons), and when theaters or any other business could operate with any degree of certainty is called even further into question.

Oh, And There’s The Economy

Even economists have warned that a vaccine won’t be the magical cure for businesses some seem to believe it will be. Part of that is because while the official unemployment rate has again fallen, the number of individuals who now qualify as “long-term unemployed” because they’ve been out of work for over six months has spiked sharply in recent months. As a result millions of people will lose unemployment benefits at the end of the year.

As I’ve stated before, it raises the question of who exactly theater owners believe will be buying tickets whenever it is they do reopen. Plus, the release schedule is more backed up than the 290/294/88 interchange in the Chicago suburbs. My suspicion is that, as we saw a few months ago with Tenet, The New Mutants and a few other high-profile titles, the box-office returns are not going to be at pre-pandemic levels.

Instead I think we’ll see an increasing amount of whatever discretionary spending consumers have go to streaming, where people get more for their dollar and where they can instantly access whole libraries of material at a moment’s notice. And the media companies that own them will be more than happy to adjust their business models to oblige.

I hope theaters can survive this. But they’re not an isolated industry, which is why those same theater owners and studios should be front and center reminding the public to wear a mask, not gather in large groups and take other precautions to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Until a vaccine is universally-available – something that may not happen until 2022 – those are the best moves we can make and will help everyone get through this period as soon as possible.

With Movies Paused, Super Bowl Ads In Question

Big Game, But What Movies Will Be Advertised?

Here’s how Jason Lynch opens his Adweek article on where CBS is in its attempts to sell commercial time during next year’s Super Bowl:

As the NFL regular season nears its halfway point, the clock is ticking for marketers to decide whether they want to be a part of Super Bowl LV, which is scheduled to air Feb. 7 on CBS.

The clock is indeed ticking. Surely some movie studios are considering whether or not to participate and air spots for their upcoming films during the broadcast. But with the Hollywood release calendar constantly in flux – including Disney’s recent removal of Free Guy and Death on the Nile from this December – and coronavirus cases hitting new highs every day, it’s nearly impossible to even guess what movies might make the cut. Heck, it’s even legitimate to ask if the game itself will happen as scheduled.

Of course that won’t stop me from engaging in a little largely unfounded speculation, broken down by studio below.

Disney et al

The King’s Man: This one has been moved around quite a bit by the studio so far, originally scheduled for November, 2019 but is now planned for February 15, 2021. If, at the end of January, that date is still locked then Disney may hope to get a bit of last-minute awareness and attention with a commercial during the game.

Raya and the Last Dragon: The game being a month out from Raya’s current release date means a spot would be hitting right as the marketing campaign was ramping up in earnest.

Black Widow: Of all of Disney’s releases in the first half of 2021 this one seems the most likely, assuming that the current 5/7/21 date holds. The game would provide a big platform for Marvel Studios to essentially relaunch the MCU, which has now been on hold since the middle of 2019.

Cruella: Disney has only stumbled once or twice with its live action remakes/adaptations in recent years, and it’s probably hoping the charm of Emma Stone in the title role makes this one a success. Those titles seem to appeal to all age groups and a Super Bowl spot would reach a broad range of demographics.

Paramount

Tomb Raider 2: The first movie wasn’t a massive blockbuster, but Paramount is in desperate need of a franchise so it was good enough to warrant a sequel. Some of the first advertising for the original happened in the 2018 NFL playoffs, so the studio might hope to tap into the audience one more time.

A Quiet Place 2: Similarly, the 2018 Super Bowl was the launching pad for TV advertising for the original movie, spots that instantly generated massive amounts of buzz for what everyone agreed looked like an intriguing concept and story.

Warner Bros.

Tom and Jerry: Even if movie theaters are still closed, it’s at least a somewhat safe bet WB keeps this on its 3/5/21 date, meaning Super Bowl spots could run that promote a Scoob!-like PVOD release.

Godzilla vs King Kong: This movie has been sporadically promoted since it was announced in late 2015, with several delays happening even before the pandemic. Assuming it’s actually happening, a commercial here would come three months before release, which isn’t unheard of for bigger titles.

In The Heights: Advertising a musical in the highest profile sporting event of the year might seem odd, but WB might hope that audiences are as enamored by musicals – especially those with a connection with Lin-Manuel Miranda – to give it a shot.

Sony

Morbius: This is just a reminder that Morbius is a movie that’s actually happening, so unless Sony decides to dump it somewhere it will likely want to promote it.

No Time To Die: This is the rare instance where the constant pushing of release dates may actually be advantageous, providing an opportunity to put commercials for it in front of a sizable audience.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife: As above, moving this to June means Sony could give this release a big platform. Such a platform might help it reach an audience that needs to be convinced to come back to the Ghostbusters franchise after the disappointing results of 2016’s Paul Feig-directed installment.

Universal Pictures

F9: If the movie is still coming out in June, it will get a Super Bowl spot. End of story. It’s not even a question.

Amazon Studios

Without Remorse: The streaming companies have for years been talking about how they want and need an blockbuster action franchise of their own but so far that’s eluded them. After grabbing this from Paramount, Amazon could want to make a huge deal about a high-profile release with a big-name star debuting on Prime Video with a commercial during the game.

Still…That’s a Lot of Money

CBS is charging $5.5 million for a 30-second spot, according to Lynch. While the studios might not have to pay that full amount, advertising during the Super Bowl would still be a big and expensive bet to make.

To make that bet worth it, the theatrical picture would have to not only be more secure it would almost have to be a mortal lock. And considering they would be making that bet at least a month or so out from release it becomes even more uncertain. Even if a vaccine is available by February, its distribution won’t be anywhere near universal, meaning there could still be closures and other restrictions in place.

A more complete picture of what studios are placing that bet and what movies they’re choosing to advertise will hopefully be more clear in the coming months.

Ammonite – Marketing Recap

How NEON is selling a period story of forbidden but undeniable romance.

Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan star in writer/director Francis Lee’s latest film Ammonite. The movie takes its name from the fossil remains of extinct cephalopods, often found in marine rocks. Set in 1840s England, Mary Anning (Winslet) is a fossil hunter who makes her living selling what she finds along the coast to tourists. One day Roderick Murchison (James McArdle) approaches Anning about taking care of his wife Charlotte (Ronan) while he works. Initially reluctant, Mary and Charlotte eventually bond, with that bond becoming something more intense as time goes on.

NEON’s campaign for the movie, which has a decent 71% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, has focused on that romance as well as the movie’s period setting in general.

The Posters

Released in August, the image on the poster (by marketing agency Legion Creative Group) establishes the coastal setting of the story by showing waves of water coming in at the bottom. The romance, then, is communicated in how the translucent photos of Mary and Charlotte’s faces overlap to become solid where they meet, indicating that only when they’re together do the two individuals become a whole person.

The Trailers

Mary is describing the work she did on a particular fossil as the trailer (667,000 views on YouTube), released in August, opens. One day Charlotte enters her shop, accompanied by her husband, who wants Mary to take his wife with her on her walks along the beach looking for specimens. After some reluctance a friendship begins and then something else, something that seems to help both women come alive in a way they weren’t. Of course there is tension as they ponder what such a relationship would mean, making this a story of love and longing.

Online and Social

The page for the movie on NEON’s website has the basic information about the film, including the trailer, poster and a synopsis. There are also Twitter and Instagram profiles which have equally promoted the U.S. and U.K. releases.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

NEON acquired distribution rights to the movie in January.

In August it was announced the film would close October’s BFI London Film Festival. It was also scheduled for the Telluride and Toronto film festivals, with Winslet receiving a Silver Medallion Award at the latter.

Those screenings resulted in somewhat mixed reviews and word of mouth, but praise for the performances of both Winslet and Ronan, whom were pegged as potential awards contenders. It was later added to the New York LGBTQ Film Festival as the opening night feature and then to the Hamptons Film Festival lineup.

Media and Publicity

Some of the first publicity about the movie wasn’t wholly positive, as the director had to defend the story against comments from Anning’s relatives that the lesbian relationship depicted was never confirmed to be real.

A feature profile of Winslet had her talking about returning to acting and the experience of shooting the film, including filming the same-sex romance with Ronan.

During TIFF directory Francis Lee was interviewed about how he assembled the cast and worked with them to make the script come to life. There was also an interview with Ronan about her career to date and how this movie fits into that. In another she talked about how she wanted to get the love story right.

Lee continued talking about how and why he made the love story work in the film. Another interview with Winslet had her talking about shooting the film with Ronan and once more commenting on how it seems to mark a turning point in her career.

Closer to release, Lee was interviewed about finding the nuance and feeling in the story. Winslet and Ronan talked more about filming the love scenes and more.

Overall

On the one hand, there’s a lot about the campaign that seems like it pulls the same 12 elements from most other period romances, including the gentle surroundings, repressed emotions and such. In that way it becomes part of a particular genre, though that also means it kind of blends into the background.

On the other hand, the performances from Winslet and Ronan are shown to be the highlight here, with the story they’re part of a secondary value proposition. That’s why not only are they paired in the marketing elements like the poster and trailer, but have also frequently done joint interviews. Everything, then, works to reinforce the message of the two being a pair, which helps consistently sell the movie in the same way.