call jane – marketing recap

How Roadside Attractions has sold a drama that couldn’t be more timely

Call Jane movie poster from Roadside Attractions
Call Jane movie poster from Roadside Attractions

It’s hard to overstate how well-timed this week’s release of Call Jane actually is. Directed by Phyllis Nagy, the movie stars Elizabeth Banks as Joy, a suburban housewife in the 1960s who becomes pregnant, only to learn carrying the pregnancy to term would put her own life at risk. With abortion outlawed at the time, she turns to the informal network of women referred to collectively as Jane that helps women find safe abortion providers. Sigourney Weaver, Wunmi Mosaku, Kate Mara, Chris Messina, Chad Michael Smith and others costar.

As for the timing, the movie comes out just a few months after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion legal nationwide and just weeks before midterm elections that have been largely framed as a referendum on whether a woman’s right to make her own medical decisions is revoked entirely.

The story is “inspired by” real events, and the Jane organization was very real and a documentary on the group can be found on HBO Max. So with all that in mind, let’s take a look at how Roadside Attractions has sold the film.

announcements and casting

Weaver, Banks and Mara were all attached when the project was announced in October 2020. Messina, Smith and others joined in mid-2021 when production began.

A well-received debut at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival this past January was followed by Roadside acquiring distribution rights a month later.

the marketing campaign

Marketing for the film began in earnest in mid-August with the release of the trailer (1m YouTube views). It opens with Joy finding out her pregnancy is dangerous to her own health and life, with abortion being the only option to make sure she herself survives. But the board of her hospital refuses to grant an exemption, so she reaches out to Jane for help and gets the procedure. Determined to then help others Joy joins the group, only to then be investigated by the police for her role in what at the time was aiding an illegal activity.

Banks interviewed Weaver about how this movie relates to the latter’s own social activism over the years as well as just her career in general.

“You are not alone” says copy on the poster, which came out in early September. It shows Joy in her car driving through a protest calling for women to be given the right to choose, Virginia (Weaver) most clearly seen through the window amidst the throng of women.

A feature profile of Banks focused on this movie specifically but also tied it to both her career as a whole and her increased advocacy for issues like abortion and LGBTQ+ rights and more.

There were some short promo videos that came out before but a full TV spot was released just a few weeks ago that follows a condensed version of Joy’s journey, from finding out her pregnancy is dangerous to her own health through joining the cause.

Joy gets picked up by Gwen (Mosaku) and learns more about the Jane group in a clip that came out earlier this month.

Just last week Roadside held the movie’s Los Angeles premiere with the cast and crew in attendance along with long-time activist Gloria Allred. The screening had the added benefit of aiding Planned Parenthood.

Weaver appeared on “CBS Mornings” to promote the film. She and Banks both appeared on “The View” to talk about the movie and the story it tells of life in the 1960s for women seeking abortions. That all followed Weaver’s time doing publicity for The Good House which came out just last month (also from Roadside) where she often mentioned this film as well.

overall

To repeat myself, it’s remarkable how this movie is coming out at this moment, when the Dobbs decision from SCOTUS coupled with the potential return of Republican control of Congress has opened up the possibility of a return to the pre-1973 world of abortion being outlawed across the nation. That could then lead groups like Jane once again springing up to fill a need in the lives of women that would otherwise be unavailable, at least legally.

That point is made but not necessarily underlined in the campaign, by which I mean there’s clearly a point of view at work but it never becomes so overt as to lose all meaning. Also on the positive front, I could listen to Banks and Weaver banter with each other for a good long while.

If there’s a weakness it’s similar to other stories about various social issues from the mid-20th century: Namely, that it’s very white. There’s a brief moment where Mosaku’s Gwen calls out the rest of the group for making choices that once again put women of color at the bottom of the list, but that’s all the acknowledgement that’s offered. The movie itself may address the issue more fully, but that’s all we see here.

ticket to paradise – marketing recap

How Universal has sold a romantic comedy with two mega-stars

Ticket To Paradise movie poster from Universal Pictures
Ticket To Paradise movie poster from Universal Pictures

Julia Roberts and George Clooney have been Hollywood royalty for a few decades now and have worked together before, notably on Ocean’s 11 and its sequel Ocean’s 12. Now they’re back together in this week’s Ticket To Paradise, opening in theaters from Universal Pictures.

The two play Georgia and David Cotton, a divorced couple who are brought back together when they find out their daughter Lily (Kaitlyn Dever) is about to marry Gede (Maxime Bouttier), a man she just met in Bali. Determined she’s making a mistake that will haunt her for the rest of her life, David and Georgia put their differences aside and work together to sabotage the upcoming nuptials. Of course it’s not quite that simple for anyone.

Written and directed by Ol Parker and costarring Billie Lourd and Lucas Bravo, the movie’s expected to enjoy an opening weekend of about $15m after already bringing in $75m overseas so let’s take a look at the campaign Universal put together.

announcement and casting

Universal Pictures announced the film at the end of February, 2021. Parker was attached to direct and both Clooney and Roberts were already set to star at that time.

Lourd, Dever and Bravo were added a couple months later as production ramped up.

Dever spoke briefly about the movie toward the end of 2021 while promoting other projects.

The movie’s original September 2022 release date was pushed back a month in October of last year.

Universal showed off the trailer to attendees of CinemaCon in April 2022.

the marketing recap

As the trailer (34.1m YouTube views), released at the end of June, begins, Georgia and David find themselves on the same flight and make the life of the person stuck between them miserable. We then see a brief shot of Lily falling in love in Bali. When they arrive they call a truce in their sparring in order to undermine their daughter’s plans, but those plans are soon discovered. As things progress the couple find themselves actually having a good time despite themselves, which is probably going to lead exactly where you think it’s going to.

The poster that came out at the beginning of August knows exactly what it’s selling and what the audience is looking for: Two big stars all dressed up and set against a tropical backdrop. It’s not exactly the world’s most innovative graphic design, in fact it’s quite boring visually, but the appeal here is clear and can’t really be argued with.

The first of many profiles of Clooney and Roberts that focused on how they are such great friends in real life and how much they enjoyed working together on a breezy romantic comedy like this came in The New York Times in early September.

Everyone was in attendance at the London premiere of the movie around that time as well.

Clooney and Roberts explain the premise of the film and show off their chemistry in a short video that kind of seems like it might have been used as a commercial or pre-roll, but the exact purpose isn’t clear. Another similar video featured Dever and Lourd also declaring what great friends they are and how that made working together even more fun.

When he appeared on “The Late Show” Clooney kept hitting the same topics, selling the film based largely on the chemistry between all the stars.

A promo for the film aired during an episode of “Bachelor in Paradise” in late September.

The first clip shows the moment Lily introduces Gede to her parents, who can’t stop their sniping for even a minute.

Roberts and Clooney praise their younger costars in a short featurette that keeps the fun, light vibes going.

Ticket to Paradise online ad featuring the same poster art of Roberts and Clooney.
Ticket to Paradise online ad

Promotional stops on “Today,” “CBS Sunday Morning”, “Kimmel” and other shows had both of the older stars appearing together so their charm and banter could be fully displayed to the potential audience. Dever stopped by “Today” and “Late Night” to talk about what a fun set it was during filming on her own while Bravo appeared on “Kimmel” to share what it’s like to kiss Roberts on camera.

Online ads used the poster key art to drive traffic to the official website, where people could find out more and buy tickets to a showing near them.

The L.A. premiere happened just earlier this week, with the cast and crew once more turning out. On the red carpet the mutual admiration society kept going as everyone talked about how wonderful everyone else was and what a great time it was filming the movie. Clooney also commented on how “brave” Universal has been by insisting the movie open theatrically when there was pressure from a lot of angles to sell it off to one of the streaming services.

overall

Centering the entire campaign around the chemistry and friendship of two of the most likable and bankable movie stars of the last 40 years can’t be a bad bet, right? That $15m opening weekend estimate may be the clearest message yet of how the theatrical landscape has changed in recent years than anything that’s come before.

Everyone’s mileage will vary, of course, but I’m pulled all the way in on this because, as has been made clear before, I’m a sucker for movies that actually feature two seasoned professionals playing off each other like this. And to make that the entire focus of the marketing just increases its appeal that much more.

black adam – marketing recap

How Warner Bros. has sold a change in the hierarchy of power in the DC Universe

Black Adam movie poster from Warner Bros.
Black Adam movie poster from Warner Bros.

Black Adam, in theaters this weekend, is ostensibly the 11th film in the DC Extended Universe of movies that began with 2013’s Man of Steel, though you’d need a protractor and slide rule to actually make all those movies fit together into a cohesive narrative. And that’s without trying to figure in one-off projects and TV/streaming series.

The movie stars Dwayne Johnson as Teth-Adam / Black Adam, a slave boy from the city of Kahndaq five thousand years ago who, after his father is killed for angering the king, is given the power of the wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou, who played the character in 2019’s Shazam!) before being imprisoned. When he’s woken in the present day by those searching for the same mystical artifact the ancient king was after he goes on a rampage that draws the attention of the Justice Society of America, who go after Adam. Alliances shift but Adam resists the call to become a hero, even if he is not quite a villain.

As the above implies, Black Adam is connected to the hero Shazam, though Zachary Levi (who played the hero in his own 2019 movie) doesn’t appear here. Viola Davis, though, is back as Amanda Waller, who calls in the JSA composed of Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell), Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo) and Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan). Sarah Shahi plays Adrianna Tomaz, the modern day researcher who awakens and eventually befriends Adam.

The movie is directed by Jaume Collet-Serra and seems inspired by various elements of Black Adam’s backstory from both DC’s Post-Crisis and New 52 eras. So let’s say the magic word and take a look at how the movie’s been sold to the public.

long road to adam

Johnson has been trying to get this movie made for years, constantly talking it up on his social media profiles and saying the script is amazing and so on. He officially announced he was playing Black Adam in 2014 after speculation he may play either that character or Shazam.

His bravado was muted somewhat by the 2019 release of Shazam!, in which he wasn’t featured, but later that year it was announced director Jaume Collett-Serra had come aboard, perhaps breathing new life into things.

In October of 2019 Johnson Tweeted an announcement that production would finally begin in July of 2020 and then shared the news of an official release date. An interview from that time also had him hinting that the movie would include the Justice Society of America. Johnson confirmed in April his belief that production would begin at the end of summer, despite most things being shut down because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Centino was added to the cast as Atom Smasher in July, 2020.

dc fandome 2020 makes things instagram official

The lineup of DC’s “Fandome” virtual event in August 2020 included Johnson, fueling speculation he might offer a first glimpse at this movie. That speculation proved accurate when Johnson started sharing first looks at the design of Black Adam on social media, leading up to the Fandome panel where he and others shared more information – including that he would be butting heads with members of the Justice Society – and debuted a sizzle reel of animated concept art with Johnson narration added.

More JSA-related news came a month or so later when Hodge was cast as Hawkman. Brosnan and Mirren were added to the cast in March, 2021.

Pandemic-related production and other delays prompted WB to take the movie off its schedule in October, 2020, leaving it off the calendar at that point.

It was added back to the release calendar in March, 2021. At that time Johnson shared a video of a big outdoor display in New York City that revealed the film’s planned July, 2022 date. That announcement was also aired on TBS during the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

A number of interviews like this with Collett-Serra had him teasing what he was taking away from his experience filming Jungle Cruise and applying to this film, including working with Johnson and developing cutting edge special effects. During the Jungle Cruise press cycle Johnson was also frequently asked about this movie, saying it was the hardest production he’s been a part of to date and offering other vague teases.

continuing adventures in pre-marketing

Warner Bros. gave CineEurope attendees a look at the movie in October 2021.

A year after those first official looks, fans were promised another tease of the movie during DC’s 2021 installment of Fandome. That came in the form of a video showing Adam’s first appearance in the film, though his full look still isn’t seen clearly. Garcia later commented on how the movie wouldn’t pull any punches with the character or story. An interview with Johnson had him sharing how the initial costume had too much padding for his liking.

In March 2022 the movie’s release date was moved back three months to late October, reportedly because of a VFX backlog plaguing the entire industry that meant the effect just wouldn’t be ready for the July release date.

Despite that delay, that same month DC announced a new Black Adam comics series from writer Christopher Priest and artist Rafa Sandoval scheduled to debut in June. A trailer for the series was released a bit later.

At CinemaCon in April both Centineo and Swindell were in attendance to give executives and journalists a look at the first trailer.

Some new looks at character designs were offered a little while later when the movie’s Funko POP! Figures were revealed.

marketing finally says the magic word

Things more officially got underway in early June with the release of the first poster, which shows Adam in profile with the copy “The world needed a hero. It got Black Adam.” helping to set the tone of the story.

That was followed by the first full trailer. We get a little bit of Adam’s history going back centuries. In the present, Adam has embraced the powers he has, which brings him into conflict with the heroes we then see, including Atom Smasher, Hawkman and Dr. Fate. Whether or not Adam is a hero is up to him, Dr. Fate intones.

It’s not a bad trailer, but there are several questions it generates, including whether the heroes we see here exist at the same time as those in the Justice League universe, whether Johnson is capable of playing anything other than a variation on his own persona and more.

Just after the first trailer debuted DC announced one-shot comics offering introductions and backgrounds on characters like Cyclone, Dr. Fate, Hawkman and Atom Smasher.

WB made this movie a centerpiece of its Hall H presentation at San Diego Comic-Con in July. Johnson appeared there in costume to introduce a new “sneak peak” that doesn’t expand too much on the earlier trailer but does feature a few new shots. The rest of the main cast along with Collet-Serra, who had previously clarified the movie does *not* include either Shazam or Superman.

As part of its SDCC coverage, EW debuted a new image of Johnson in costume along with comments from Collet-Serra about the characters in the story and more. The cast was also interviewed at Comic-Con by AMC Theaters.

Vanity Fair debuted a number of new stills along with an interview with Johnson about the character’s moral philosophy and how that unique take on an anti-hero is what has drawn him to Adam for a long time.

There was a massive tie-in promotion in early September with the Los Angeles Rams that included the players sporting the film’s branding, Johnson appearing in promos and other videos and the second trailer debuting during the game’s broadcast.

That trailer (22.6m YouTube views) begins with the same history lesson from the first one and shows a lot of the same bits about Adam’s journey and how he isn’t a hero. It’s primary focused on the showdown between Adam and the Justice Society, though we continue to hear how Adam isn’t necessarily a bad guy, just one who refuses to yield or bow before anyone, which brings him into conflict with the heroes.

That emphasis on the JSA is reinforced by their appearance on a new poster that came out at the same time as the trailer and by the character posters that include members of the team along with Adam himself.

The next Vanity Fair profile was of Centino, who gushed about the opportunity to work with the veteran actors in the cast.

The next one-sheet features Black Adam sitting on his throne looking somber and serious while the copy declares “The time of heroes is over.”

“There’s no one on this planet that can stop me” Black Adam declares in a TV spot from mid-September that features more of his fight with the JSA as well as dialogue making it clear Adam is willing to cross lines heroes can’t. Another extended spot hits many of the same notes but ties his story into the broader legacy of heroes and villains on Earth.

The IMAX, 4DX and Dolby Cinemas exclusive posters both feature slight variations on the JSA assembled around Adam.

A global press tour with Johnson and others from the cast and crew kicked off at the beginning of October and took them to screenings and events in New York, London, Mexico City and elsewhere.

Swindell was interviewed in October about making the movie and the process of undergoing so much physical training for the role.

Warner Bros. put street teams around New York Comic-Con giving out tickets to the world premiere screening that ended the above-mentioned press tour.

While the cast was in New York City Centino promoted the movie in an appearance on “The Tonight Show” while Hodge and Brosnan showed up on “GMA.” Brosnan also appeared on “The Tonight Show” and “Late Night”. Johnson confirmed a much-anticipated cameo by another DC character when he promoted the film on “The Tonight Show”.

A Black Adam skin and powers were added to Fortnite. The character was also added to the Injustice 2 mobile game.

An extended clip of Adam being awakened by Intergang and tearing through the over-matched mercenaries was released just before the premiere.

A partnership with EVgo gave those using the company’s charging stations a $5 Fandango promo code they could use when buying tickets for this movie. Circle K Stores also offered a Fandango code to those who engaged with the company on Twitter.

At the premiere Johnson weighed in on whether he would consider taking an advisory position in the development of future DC projects and talked more along with the rest of the cast about the long road involved in bringing this movie to fruition and more.

HBO Max offered an exclusive featurette about Black Adam’s moral gray area and how that impacts the other characters as well as the world the story is set in. Rotten Tomatoes also had an exclusive featurette focusing on the costumes of the characters.

DC shared an interview between Johnson and Echo Kellum, who has appeared in a few DC TV series.

overall

Projections have the movie bringing in about $75 million in its opening weekend, which would be a good start for a title like this that has more than a few question marks around it.

The campaign is, as such things tend to be, almost completely driven by Johnson’s personality and will. What seems like half the social media updates from the official movie account are reposts or shares from Johnson’s profile and that’s on top of him spending the better part of the last two decades simply forcing this movie into existence through public statements in addition to whatever behind-the-scenes politicking he’s been doing at the studio.

A decent single brand identity has been created around Black Adam’s defining character traits, namely his willingness to go to dark places, his repeated assurances he’s not a hero and his belief he’s the new major power in the world. Those have been repeated time and again across marketing elements.

What sticks out, though, is how most of the trailers, TV spots and other clips seem to draw most of their footage from the same 15 minutes of the movie, especially Adam’s slugfest with the JSA. That’s fine in and of itself but it also indicates there’s a lot of the movie that’s still unseen by the general public. Such things aren’t uncommon with movies like this, but it seems especially prevalent here.

the school for good and evil – marketing recap

How Netflix has sold a magical YA story of friendship and destiny

The School For Good and Evil movie poster from Netflix
The School For Good and Evil movie poster from Netflix

The School for Good and Evil comes out this week on Netflix. Based on the 2013 novel of the same name, the movie is directed by Paul Feig, who cowrote the screenplay with David Magee.

Sofia Wylie and Anne Caruso play, respectively, Agatha and Sophie, two friends who one day are suddenly whisked away to The School for Good and Evil, a mysterious place where one half teaches students how to be heroic and good while the other half teaches its students to be villainous and evil. While there, Sophie and Agatha find their friendship tested as they are thrust into a world of fairy tales and powers prompting them to question who they were meant to be.

An impressive roster of actors has been assembled to play the instructors and others at the school, including Michelle Yeoh, Charlize Theron, Kerry Washington, Laurence Fishburne, Rob Delaney and others.

announcements and casting

The movie was announced with Feig attached as director in late May 2020. Several months later Feig revealed much of the main cast, with Washington and Theron joining in February of the next year.

Chiani met some of the cast for the first time and interviewed them about their impressions of the book and story in a first look featurette released in early June as part of Netflix’s “Geeked Week” campaign.

A brief video was shared at the end of July to announce the end of production.

Bloom, Kingsley and a host of others were added to the cast in November, 2021.

Footage from the film was included in Netflix’s 2022 feature film preview.

Fieg then revealed Blanchett had been cast as the story’s narrator in June.

the marketing campaign

“There are two sides to every story” the first poster, released in June, declares. Two figures are seen in the distance on the bridge connecting the two schools, showing that the conflict between those schools will be embodied by a couple specific characters.

https://mobile.twitter.com/NetflixGeeked/status/1533886443042512896

The first teaser (1.9m YouTube views) came out at that time as well. It’s a very good teaser, primarily focusing on vague imagery of the school as Theron’s Lady Lesso introduces the concept of the school to students as well as the audience. Toward the end we see Sophie and Agatha as they’re plucked from the woods by a giant bird and transported toward their destiny.

Those both appeared during Netflix’s “Geeked Week” campaign, which included a featurette interview with Wylie and Caruso as well as Soman Chainani, the author of the original book. Those two stars also appeared in a trailer reaction video.

July brought a second poster. This time the schools are used as background to the four main characters, now front and center.

The first trailer (3.1m views on YouTube) came out in mid-September. As it begins Agatha and Sophie have been selected to join the school and learn it plays a role in teaching those who go on to live the lives others only read about. The two friends have very different experiences at the school, though, as Sophie sees it as a path to power and respect while Agatha isn’t convinced this is what she wants. So a confrontation is set between them.

A clip showing new students being tested for their magic potential before Sophie interrupts and begins to embrace her new status and powers was released later in September as part of Netflix’s Tudum promotional event. A couple character posters came out at about the same time.

The original song “Who Do You Think You Are” from Kiana Lede came out earlier this month.

The dynamics of the school and how Agatha and Sophie adjust to being on opposite sides of the spectrum are on display in an extended spot/trailer released a week before the movie came out. Sophie is convinced she was sent to the wrong school before embracing the darkness despite Agatha’s attempts to “save” her, making it clear what conflict will be driving the story.

overall

It doesn’t break any new ground or give the impression of being wholly unique, but there’s a fun vibe to the campaign that makes it seem like it will be a fun time to watch. And we certainly need a new “kids learning to harness their powers at a mysterious magical school” franchise these days.

What stands out to me as the biggest question here is whether the campaign has been strong enough or achieved a wide enough reach to challenge the two big releases hitting theaters this week: Black Adam and Ticket to Paradise.

quick takes: movie marketing news for 10/17/22

A few brief thoughts on stories that have caught my eye while considering when the G.I. Joe team will be assembled to stop Elon Musk from completing whatever world-dominating project he’s working at the moment.

The theater industry keeps having very bad months, up to and including this past September, despite a number of films performing better than expected or beating their projected opening weekends. There seem to be a lot of people out there who are blaming streaming (as if it isn’t four of the same five companies supplying both distribution points) but it’s not as if there weren’t options at the box office. It’s simply that there’s a lack of audience desire to go see anything that isn’t a known quantity, at least not en masse.

To illustrate how it’s an audience interest issue, Blonde didn’t last very long at the top of Netflix’s “most popular” list before being supplanted by Gerard Butler’s latest generic action flick.

Also, the price of a movie ticket keeps going up, though the National Association of Theater Owners hasn’t updated its figures since 2019. NATO claims the more current figures wouldn’t be comparable to pre-2020 years because fewer kids and seniors are going to the theater and the discounts they enjoy have always heavily influenced the average it tracked. That may be but if fewer kids and seniors are going to the movies then that in and of itself is significant news, as is the fact that a major trade organization doesn’t want to publicize prices if it can’t put its thumb on the scale.

Movie Theater Popcorn GIF by filmeditor - Find & Share on GIPHY

Oh, and all this isn’t going to get better anytime soon given housing, food and energy costs keep going up so people have less disposable income for entertainment. And while streaming services are also raising prices, the per-unit cost is still drastically lower than it is for theaters and so is a better bargain.

I had a similar thought as Alissa Wilkinson at Vox, that so many recent movies feature a half-dozen or more stars that just a few years ago would have been carrying their own film. My theory on this has two parts:

  • That fewer non-IP movies are being made and so if they want to keep working they’ll jump into an ensemble project even if the role they’re offered isn’t at the level they would prefer
  • That movies have entered the same era the live music industry did in the mid-90s, where if you were either The Eagles commanding hundreds of dollars a ticket from well-off Boomers or a younger band still making their bones at smaller ballrooms. Anyone inbetween signed up for a “festival” tour with three to six other mid-range bands all hoping the combined appeal would keep them going for another couple years.

Adam B. Vary is a good writer but I have to take issue with the part of his recap of the “She-Hulk: Attorney At Law” finale where he says “part of the MCU’s gargantuanly successful appeal is that it’s never been a self-serious endeavor.” If anything the MCU has always been remarkably self-serious, treating every moment like it matters *so much* and everyone involved is not having any fun at all. Even the supposed comedic entries are tremendously self-important.

Super Hero Disney GIF by Marvel Studios - Find & Share on GIPHY

Oh are we supposed to be surprised that the same terrible people who harassed Amber Heard a few months ago are now going after Angelina Jolie as the latter goes public with the abusive behavior of her ex? I’m not, largely because this is all an extension of Gamergate-era behavior that platforms haven’t adequately dealt with.

The release of Halloween Ends has provided an opportunity for two of my least favorite modern media story types, specifically:

  • Is [insert name of movie” streaming?” This isn’t really a question given the campaign for every movie will make it clear the film is “Only in theaters” or prominently display the name of the streaming service it’s debuting on.
  • Is this movie really the end of the franchise it’s part of?” Come on, we know that even if a release is the end of one particular cycle it’s not the last time we’ll see that franchise in theaters. Sure, when Tom Holland moves on from playing Spider-Man his particular story arc will conclude, but it won’t be more than a couple years (if that long) before another Spider-Man movie comes out.

till – marketing recap

How MGM has sold a drama about a terrible tragedy

Till movie poster from MGM
Till movie poster from MGM

Till, out this week from MGM, begins with one of the most tragic stories in American history before turning it into one of the most empowering and inspirational.

Danielle Deadwyler stars as Mamie Till, a Chicago mother who one day in 1955 sends her son Emmett (Jalyn Hall) to visit family in Mississippi. While there, and having never lived in under that South’s extreme Jim Crow rules, he accidentally offends a white shopkeeper and is subsequently beaten to death by a racist mob. In the years following that terrible incident, Mamie Till went on to become one of the leading speakers and activists in the burgeoning civil rights movement. Frankie Faison and Whoopi Goldberg play Mamie’s father and mother.

The movie is directed and co-written by Chinonye Chukwu, so let’s look at how MGM has sold it to the public as we get deeper into awards season.

announcements and casting

The movie was announced in late-July 2020, with director Chinonye Chukwu attached to helm the project.

Goldberg and Deadwyler were announced as cast leads in July, 2021. Hall was cast in the title role a month later and Bennett added in November of that year along with others as filming was getting underway.

the marketing campaign

A poster showing Emmett hugging his mother – her yellow dress the only color in the otherwise black-and-white photo – was released in July, 2022.

Goldberg appeared on “Good Morning America” to debut the trailer (3.5m YouTube views) at that time. It begins with Mamie sending Emmett off to Mississippi with warnings about minding his behavior while he’s down there. His death incites her to activism, beginning with her well-known decision to leave his casket open so everyone can see exactly what was done to her son. That’s only the beginning of her work, though.

MGM announced the film’s world premiere would take place during the New York Film Festival and include a Q&A session with the filmmakers that would also be shared with classrooms across the country.

In mid-September a featurette was released that has the cast and crew, including the president of Orion Pictures and others, talking about why they wanted to tell this story and how important it is for today’s audience to see it. Also addressed is how the movie does not feature violence against black bodies because of how exploitative and traumatic such incidents are often portrayed.

Along those same lines, an interview with Chukwu has her talking about how she and others wanted to focus on Mamie’s story as a source of inspiration and the legacy she created as opposed to the terrible tragedy that befell Emmett.

Goldberg hosted a screening in New York City with Chukwu talking about making the movie and crafting the story. A number of notable names from Hollywood, journalism and the ongoing civil rights movement were in attendance to lend their support to the film and its message.

The first TV spot that aired a bit later in September plays like a short featurette, with Chukwu and Goldberg talking about what the movie’s story is and how they want to share an important and inspiring chapter of American history. Later commercials alternated between that or a more traditional approach.

News came at that point that the movie’s soundtrack would feature the new song “Stand Up” from Jazmine Sullivan and D’Mile. That song was released a few weeks later.

Most of the cast and crew appeared at the NYFF premiere at the beginning of October. While there Goldberg made it clear the events depicted in the film are the result of systemic racism, which was and is a real thing. She also implied that the movie had been considered by other festivals earlier in the year but weren’t chosen because it wasn’t seen as the right fit for those audiences.

A second trailer (2.3m YouTube views) came out at that time, perhaps to capitalize on the positive buzz coming out of the screening. It follows the same basic outline as the first trailer but with some new footage that continues to emphasize how Emmett’s murder in Mississippi galvanized Mamie to speaking out about the kind of racism faced by Black people everywhere.

Another poster was released as well, this one just showing Mamie Till in close-up, making it clear this is her story the audience can expect to see.

Deadwyler appeared on “Kimmel” to promote the film and working with the other filmmakers to tell such an important story.

There was another premiere, this time in Los Angeles, where those involved once again walked the photo line along with others from activist circles.

One last interview with Deadwyler had her talking about what a privilege it was to play Mamie Till with all her strength and fire.

overall

It’s not uncommon to see a campaign for a movie based on real-life events to focus on *why* the story was important to tell.

What’s less common is what we see here, which is the filmmakers explaining repeatedly why they decided to tell a story *in this way.” Specifically, Chukwu, Goldberg and others have made a point of explaining that despite Emmett Till’s terrible, violent death being the incident that incites Mamie to activism, that event is not shown on-screen.

The rest of the marketing doesn’t stray too far from standard tactics and beats, but that in particular stands out and illustrates how much the people who are making a movie – or any other piece of art – matter. A group of white filmmakers may not have been as sensitive to how triggering or traumatic yet another depiction of violence might be, but this group was and made a different choice.

halloween ends – marketing recap

How Universal has sold the final installment in the horror franchise.

Halloween Ends movie poster from Universal Pictures
Halloween Ends movie poster from Universal Pictures

Halloween Ends hits both theaters and Peacock this weekend. As the name implies, this is the third and final installment of the series that began in 2018 when director David Gordon Green and others gave the franchise a fresh start by ignoring everything except John Carpenter’s 1978 original.

Jamie Lee Curtis is back – reportedly for the last time – as Laurie Strode, the woman who has survived a number of encounters with the villainous Michael Myers and the killing sprees he’s gone on in the past. When yet another tragedy hits her hometown, Laurie and her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) set out to make it the last time Myers is able to terrorize anyone and the last time their lives are dictated by his actions.

As with the previous two installments the movie is directed by Green, who co-wrote the screenplay with Danny McBride. Let’s dive into how the marketing campaign has been run.

announcement and casting

Comic-Con 2019 included news this movie as well as its predecessor were on the release schedule with the same cast and creative team intact.

Along with the other sequel, this one was pushed a full year from 2021 to 2022 as the Covid-19 pandemic kept theaters closed.

Universal gave CinemaCon 2021 attendees in August of that year a look at footage from this and other upcoming movies.

As he was doing press for Kills, Green hinted that he’d come up with a new twist ending for this movie, which would have a slightly different tone than the other films.

In April of this year Curtis appeared at CinemaCon 2022 to show off more footage and thank theater owners for their support over the years.

the marketing campaign

It was just this past July that the campaign kicked off with the release of the first trailer (4.9m YouTube views). Laurie is clearly not playing around as we see multiple instances of her taking the fight to Michael as he stalks around in the shadows threatening her and others. The main point is to communicate this is the end of the story, and so uses a few shots from the original film to mark the passage of time in addition to showing off what’s new.

The poster that came out at the same time is a variation on those used for the previous two movies, showing Michael’s mask up close and looking more than a little worn while sparks float up from an off-screen fire.

In August Universal announced the movie would be available on Peacock at the same time it was distributed to theaters. While there was uncertainty at first, theater chains soon made it clear they would still book the film despite the hybrid release, apparently not wanting to lose out on a horror title that always does well when it comes to selling tickets.

The one-sheet that helped make that announcement shows Laurie and Michael back-to-back.

Total Film debuted several new stills from the movie along with comments from Curtis about where Laurie is when this story opens and how this time she’s ready for Michael in a way she hasn’t been before.

Around that same time news came the film’s premiere was scheduled for the opening night of Beyond Fest later in September.

In a short featurette Curtis talks about the conclusion of the story and how this movie represents a “final reckoning” between Laurie and Michael.

The final trailer (10.3m YouTube views), released at the end of September, begins by establishing it’s been four years since the events of the last movie. Laurie is convinced Michael is back but people aren’t sure and believe she’s just obsessed and refuses to move on. When the killings start the attitudes change, but this time Laurie is prepared to do whatever’s necessary to end this once and for all.

Another featurette a week or so later makes it clear this is the final battle between the characters while Curtis shares Laurie’s journey in a third.

An interview with Curtis had her talking about her 45 year history with this franchise, what she thought about playing Laurie one last time and lots more about her career in general.

The Dolby Cinemas-exclusive poster that came out at the end of September shows Michael holding a knife placed between the company’s brand logo. Similarly, the IMAX logo gets slashed by that knife on the poster for that format.

Universal used Peacock to release a special titled “Halloween in Hollywood” that included exclusive interviews with the cast and crew along with first-look footage from this movie.

Short videos that were used as online and TV commercials had come out for a while before this, but full 30-second spots don’t seem to have been used until earlier this month.

Street teams were out around New York Comic-Con last weekend handing out tickets to those who found them that could be redeemed at the movie’s booth for exclusive swag.

NYCC also hosted a panel with Curtis celebrating the role these movies have played in her career, praising the skill with which Green reinvented the franchise and generally giving fans a big “thank you” for supporting it all.

While she was in New York City Curtis stopped by both “Kimmel” to promote the film and reiterate her commitment to this being the last time she plays Laurie Strode. On “Late Night” host Seth Myers had his “cousin” Michael Myers on for an interview that went very poorly.

overall

The main message being conveyed to the audience is that they better not miss this movie because it’s the summation of everything that’s been going on to date, at least if you make sure not to count all those sequels that have been retconned out of the franchise’s canon. Whether it’s in theaters or on Peacock, this is your last chance to see Curtis as the original Scream Queen in anything new so you’d better get on it.

That appeal has included lots of praise and thanks offered to fans of the franchise as well as lots of Curtis reflecting on her experiences playing Laurie. But many of those aren’t substantively different from her comments about *returning* to the character for 2018’s Halloween, so the impact of them is somewhat muted.

amsterdam – marketing recap

How 20th Century Studios is selling a star-studded period piece

Amsterdam movie poster from 20th Century Studios
Amsterdam movie poster from 20th Century Studios

Writer/director David O. Russell is back with Amsterdam, out this week in theaters. The movie revolves around actual events from 1933 where a group of businessmen and other powerful individuals sought to overthrow the U.S. government and install a fascist regime.

Christian Bale, Margot Robbie and John David Washington star as Burt Berendsen, Valerie Voze and Harold Woodsman, respectively, a trio that uncovers the plot and seeks to disrupt it but who become the prime suspects in that scheme and have to prove their innocence.

The movie also stars a diverse cast including Chris Rock, Ed Begley Jr., Mike Meyers, Zoe Saldaña, Robert De Niro, Timothy Olyphant, Taylor Swift and others as the people the main characters interact with over the course of the story.

Let’s dive in and see how 20th Century Studios has sold such a unique film to audiences.

announcements and casting

The project was announced in early 2020 as Russell’s next project, though the name of the movie remained unknown at that time. Robbie was the first to join a month or so later along with Michael B. Jordan, who soon dropped out. Bale, Washington and others signed on toward the end of that year.

A title was finally announced in late April of 2022 as part of 20th Century Studios’ presentation at CinemaCon. A first look still of Swift and Bale came out at that time as well.

the marketing campaign

Things started off in June with the release of the first trailer (6.8m YouTube views). After first seeing there’s been a murder we flashback to how Burt, Valerie and Harold first met and became inseparable friends during and after World War I. That friendship is tested as they have to find out who actually killed a U.S. senator, a goal that involves making lots of deals, needing to trust each other like they never have before and plenty of running away from the cops.

The poster that came out at the same time doesn’t offer much of anything in the way of story hints or anything else, just the names of the impressive cast Russell assembled.

“Let the love, murder and conspiracy begin” we’re told on the next poster released at the end of August. This one still has everyone’s name at the top but also features the core trio arranged in the middle around the sunburst symbol we’ve already seen with the New York City skyline at the bottom of the image.

An interview with costar Alessandro Nivola had him talking about Russell’s unique filming style, reuniting with Bale and other aspects of making the movie.

An extended TV spot came out in early September that offers a better look at the coup conspiracy the main characters find themselves in the middle of. Because of that it works a little better than the earlier trailer while still showing off both the dramatic and more humorous elements of the story.

Russell and Bale took part in a Q&A following a very private screening in Los Angeles that was just for select friends and others.

The dynamics of the trio’s friendship are on display in the first TV spot that was also used as an online pre-roll and promo.

A series of character posters pulls out many of the biggest names from the cast and puts them against the same sunburst design background we’ve previously seen. Another one-sheet with just the main cast came out a little bit after that.

Those were followed in mid-September by more TV spots, these featuring a better look at Taylor Swift in the film in an attempt to get her fanbase activated.

A green-carpet premiere was held in New York City at that point with a screening followed by a cast and crew Q&A moderated by Ben Stiller and introduced by Drake, who’s a producer on the film. While there everyone praised Russell and shared how they bonded on set and developed their chemistry. Robbie also appeared on “The Tonight Show” while she was in New York.

Everyone is rearranged slightly within the same general motif on the IMAX-exclusive poster. An IMAX Live Experience featuring the cast and a screening of the movie was scheduled for later in September, about a week out from wide release.

Burt is looking for his eye in a clip given exclusively to Fandango while everyone is trying to figure out what’s going on.

Another premiere event was held, this time in London, with the cast and crew once again coming out to get fans excited.

The new song “Time” by Giveon was featured in another TV commercial at the same time the full song was released digitally and elsewhere.

More clips came out that offered better looks at the characters played by Chris Rock, Mike Meyers and Zoe Saldaña while also offering small additional details about the story.

Along those lines, an interview with Bale had him sharing how hard it was to work with Rock because Rock was so funny during all their scenes. In another interview Bale talked about his first foray into producing and the opportunity to sing with Swift.

A short featurette was released that had the cast and Russell talking about the story and characters along with how much fun they all had on set. Another featurette focused on the production design, costumes and other trades behind making the movie.

overall

Reviews haven’t been especially positive so far and tracking estimates a relatively paltry $10-12 million opening weekend.

But the marketing campaign here conveys a solid sense of fun about the story, one that’s helped by the actors involved constantly talking about the great experiences they had during filming. It looks like an old-fashioned caper movie involving mistaken identities, corrupt politicians and other tropes that on paper add up to a good time with a movie, especially with a cast as charismatic as this one.

It also looks like one released as counter-programming to some of the movies coming out on streaming services recently as well as an offering to anyone who’s not excited for whatever the next super hero or wizards movie might be. In fact it may be aimed directly at those who aren’t invested in a high-profile cable series about dragons etc.

the good house – marketing recap

How Roadside Attractions has sold a story about rekindling romance

The Good House movie poster from Roadside Attractions
The Good House movie poster from Roadside Attractions

Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver reunite in this week’s new release The Good House. Directed by the pair of Maya Forbes and Wally Wolodarsky – who also wrote the script with Thomas Bezucha – the story follows Hildy Good (Weaver) as she leads a comfortable life as a New England realtor. Things take a turn, though, when her old flame Frank Getchell (Kline) comes back into her life. As the two of them become closer, Hildy is also faced with the changing relationship between her and her daughters along with everyone else.

The movie, based on Ann Leary’s 2013 novel of the same name, also stars Morena Baccarin, Beverly D’Angelo, Rob Delaney and others as the people in Hildy’s circle.

Let’s dive into how Roadside has sold it to the public.

announcement and casting

The movie was announced – and filmed – in late 2019, but sat around for a while until it finally debuted at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival. While there Weaver was interviewed about the unique nature of her character, working with Kline for the third time and more.

Universal Pictures initially planned to release the movie but pulled it from its calendar. Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions then partnered to acquire the film in June 2022. A September release date was announced at that time.

the marketing campaign

Roadside released the trailer (1.5m YouTube views) in early August. Hildy is giving some clients (and therefore us) her background and credentials before addressing the camera directly to admit that things haven’t turned out like she planned. After a few scenes explaining the issues she has with her family – and which they have with her – she and Frank reconnect. That relationship has some unintended positive consequences as she has some uncomfortably honest conversations with her daughters and herself about what she wants, what they want and how they can all move forward.

The poster came out later in August and offers a very simple value proposition to the audience. Namely, the opportunity to watch Kline and Weaver be adorable and talented together in a movie filled with cute houses along the beach. I’ve yet to find a message that’s more personally attractive this year.

Hildy shares some of her problems with her friend Rebecca (Baccarin) in a short clip released in mid-September.

Commercials like this that started running around that same time offer glimpses of the story, mostly by just cutting down things already seen in the trailer but occasionally adding to them to emphasize some aspect of Hildy’s personality.

Another clip shared by Fandango shows an extended look at the intervention Hildy walks into as her family confronts her about her drinking. It also acts as a more thorough introduction to some of the supporting characters. HIldy and Frank share a dinner in yet another clip.

Weaver promoted the film in an appearance on “Good Morning America” as well as in a handful of other interviews, some of which also featured Kline.

Most of the cast and crew came out for the premiere event that took place as part of the Tribeca Film Festival.

overall

As I said above, the idea of two actors like Weaver and Kline having a good time with each other and reminding the world what “chemistry” looks like is one I can enthusiastically get behind. So the campaign works for me based on that alone and only gets stronger by adding someone like Morena Baccarin, who’s so tragically underused by Hollywood, to the mix.

You pretty much know what you’re getting with a marketing push like this, but that’s all good since there are enough campaigns out there concerned with spoilers as they set up high-concept stories. This is as low-key and comfortable as they come and is the better for it.

bros – marketing recap

How Universal has sold its latest romantic comedy

Bros movie poster from Universal Studios
Bros movie poster from Universal Studios

Billy Eichner stars in – and wrote with Nicholas Stoller – this week’s new release Bros. Eichner plays Bobby Lieber, a neurotic museum curator who’s so in his own head about everything he hasn’t been very successful when it comes to relationships. That starts to change when he meets Aaron (Luke Macfarlane) and the two dance around each other on the way to actually dating, all as Bobby works with his team to open a museum dedicated to the LGBTQ+ experience and history.

The movie features what Universal is touting as “an entirely LGBTQ+ principal cast” and indeed has been positioned Eichner as the first openly gay man to both write and star in a major romantic comedy from a big studio.

With all that, along with the fact it was directed by Stoller and produced by Stoller and Judd Apatow, in mind, let’s take a look at the details of the campaign.

announcement and casting

Universal announced the movie in mid-2019 with Eichner writing and starring and Stoller directing.

The cast –all of whom are LGBTQ – was revealed in September 2021. Rash and others were added a month later and Yang and Fierstein a while after that.

Universal made the movie part of their CinemaCon 2022 presentation, with Eichner and the rest of the cast in attendance to get exhibitors and other executives excited for the film.

the marketing campaign

The first trailer (393k YouTube views) – labeled as NSFW – was dropped in mid-May. Bobby is recording an episode of his podcast, which allows him to explain to his listeners and therefore the audience what the plot of the story is. Namely, that he’s been hired to write a romcom about dating and love in the LGBTQ+ world, but that the reality may not be what the people who hired him expect it to be. Along the way we see Bobby meet Aaron and interact with others in his personal and professional life and it all looks very funny.

It’s presumably Bobby and Aaron we see on the poster released at that time, though all that’s shown is two guys from the back, each one grabbing the other’s ass. Which really tells us a lot of what we need to know about the story.

Eichner was interviewed in The New York Times about what it was like to make the movie and how as a story exclusively about gay relationships it’s still an outlier among Hollywood’s output. He then was part of a conversation with collaborator Joel Kim Booster about being gay men in comedy and how that’s played out in making this movie along with other projects over the past few years.

When he appeared at the “MTV Movie & TV Awards” Eichner spoke about how an LGBTQ+ cast brings an experience to their roles that straight actors playing the same characters just can’t.

The second trailer (11.8m YouTube views) came out in mid-June. It eschews the framing device of the first trailer and also drops the plot about Bobby working on a movie script in favor of focusing on how awkward he is when it comes to relationships, even when he meets Aaron. We also see more of the drama surrounding his work on the museum and how all of that informs the problems Bobby experiences.

Because the world is just this random, Mariah Carey hosted a New York City screening of the movie complete with red carpet and a Q&A with Eichner later in June.

A feature in Rolling Stone had Eicher, Stoller and Apatow all talking about the unique aspects of a romantic comedy focused on two gay men, including how Stoller admits how he had to get over some of his more generalist impulses to fully appreciate how this story was different than those told about straight couples.

In July it was announced the film’s world premiere was scheduled for September’s Toronto Film Festival.

Macfarland got his own profile covering his career to date and how this might be the star-making turn he’s been waiting for.

In late August Eichner gave an impassioned speech at the “MTV Video Music Awards” that combined promoting the movie with railing against the majority-conservative Supreme Court that seems inclined to undo the rights of anyone who’s not a land-owning hetero cis white male.

An Out cover story featured Eichner and Macfarland talking more about the movie’s unique status. Eichner also got interviews in Rolling Stone and Variety. Additional interviews with Macfarland covered his experiences coming out as gay and filming sex scenes for the movie as well as being a gay man in the entertainment world in general.

Fathom Events in early September held movie-sponsored screenings of Forgetting Sarah Marshall (directed by Stoller, featuring Eichner and produced by Apatow) and Knocked Up (directed by Apatow).

The cast and crew were on the red carpet for the TIFF premiere, which generated almost exclusively positive reviews from those who saw it.

Fandango shared an exclusive featurette with Eichner talking about casting the movie, making it with Stoller and more.

Eichner resurrected his “Billy on the Street” gag with some help from Paul Rudd to get out and promote the movie on the streets of New York. He also talked more about the movie when he appeared on “The Late Show” and then “Late Night.” That coincided with the New York premiere event where the cast and crew once again walked the red carpet.

There was lots of advertising for the movie that began in mid-September and continued up until…roughly now. That included TV spots, online promos and pre-roll and audio spots.

A clip shows an extended look at the scene where Bobby and his other museum executives are trying to figure out the theme for the opening.

Jack Black then joined Eichner in an L.A. version of “BotS” around the time of the premiere on that coast.

One final extended commercial has Bobby talking about the confidence he feels or at least fakes as he goes through life, citing moments when he’s been told to suppress who he is or not do something he feels passionate about.

overall

The campaign is very good. Sometimes it feels like the “history making” aspects of the narrative are being oversold a bit, but that’s a small quibble when Eichner is out there selling the film through sheer force of will and charm. And if you check out the official Twitter account you’ll see it’s been endorsed by a who’s who of modern comedy, including many of the actors and others that Eichner, Stoller and others have worked with previously.

Whatever the movie’s opening weekend – predicted to be about $10 million – is, it stands as reasonable we should be nearing a point where stories like this don’t *have* to be heralded as so unique and groundbreaking. They can just be part of the landscape and their commercial success or failure doesn’t have to be seen as indicative of any particular narrative.