How Vertical Entertainment is selling a relationship drama centered on space flight.
There have been a handful of movies and series recently focused on the personal toll felt by astronauts embarking on long-term missions to space. Between Ad Astra, “Away” and others, we have certainly gotten the message that such missions are emotionally devastating in many ways.
Adding to that sub-genre is this week’s Proxima. Eva Green stars as Sarah Loreau, the only woman slated for an upcoming year-long mission to the International Space Station. While training for that mission, Sarah’s relationship with her young daughter becomes increasingly strained as they get closer to the extended time they’ll be apart.
Vertical Entertainment has mounted a small but solid campaign over the last month for the movie, which has an impressive 82% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
The one poster, released in mid-October, does a great job of summing up the main ideas of the film in a single image. Sarah, already decked out in her mission gear, and her daughter are shown looking lovingly at each other with a massive rocket on the launchpad behind them. It communicates both the setting and what the drama contained in the story will be and works pretty well.
Vertical released the first trailer (3,700 views on YouTube) shortly after it picked up the project in early October. The team is preparing for their mission to the ISS, the last one before an eventual trip to Mars, but Sarah seems to be having some last-minute issues. That’s especially evident in her relationship with her daughter, who is acting out just before her mother leaves. That dynamic is what will drive most of the story’s movement, making it less about space travel and more about love and isolation.
Online and Social
Unless I’ve missed it, there’s no real online presence for the film from Vertical.
Advertising and Promotions
The movie debuted at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival and won the Special Jury Prize at that year’s San Sebastian Film Festival. But it was almost a year before Vertical Entertainment acquired the film, setting a November PVOD release.
MovieClips got an exclusive clip of Sarah doing some pre-mission shopping.
Media and Press
Green and others did some press interviews during TIFF and San Sebastian in 2019, but there doesn’t seem to have been anything more recent, timed to coincide with the film actually being released.
While it’s not uncommon for VOD – premium or otherwise – releases to get campaigns that are smaller than their theatrical brethren, this seems unnecessarily minimalist given the overall positive reviews the movie has received. Green is a well-known and well-liked actor and not putting her out there for the press in the last month is a surprising move given she could have provided a bit of momentum for the film leading into it becoming available.
What campaign is there is good, though, selling a movie that offers a complicated but not overwrought drama showing how deep a mother/daughter bond can be as well as what kinds of trials it is sometimes tested by. It’s also nice to see Green in a role that isn’t overtly sexual, showing how wide her actual range is.
In the first few weeks of Hollywood’s grand experiment of circumstance, where studios take movies previously bound for theaters and release them on other platforms, there was the realization that the reporting of box-office results was going to be put on pause. Studios have, for many and various reasons, never really shared VOD numbers. And the streaming services have similarly never been forthright and transparent with their viewership information.
Because releasing that data had never been a regular feature prior to the pandemic, it wasn’t surprising it wasn’t shared in the initial months. But now it’s been several months, long enough for things to have shifted from “highly unusual” to “still not ideal but hardly the exception to the rule” and those results are still not consistently forthcoming.
Which is not to say that some numbers haven’t trickled out here and there.
As reported by Pamela McClintock at The Hollywood Reporter, Universal made a big deal of reporting numbers from its initial experiment with releasing Trolls World Tour via PVOD. Recently Netflix released another of its occasional snapshots of what’s become popular there, including recent features like Enola Holmes, Project Power and more. But because those numbers aren’t subject to any sort of third-party verification and can’t be compared to anything else, it’s nearly impossible to determine what exactly they mean.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume that the viewership data from Netflix – and Amazon Studios, which recently claimed massive numbers for Borat Subsequent Moviefilm – are the rough equivalent of those that would come from Comscore and other sources for theatrical box office results. The question then becomes this:
If the movies are so popular, why is something like The Old Guard such a small part of the cultural conversation?
After all, if tens of millions of people have actually watched Enola Holmes, then where are the tens of thousands of GIFs being shared on Twitter? Where are the bushel loads of think-pieces? Where, in short, is the buzz that should accompany a success of that magnitude?
The answer, it seems, is in how drastically the marketing for these movies differs from those that traditionally would receive theatrical release.
First let’s look at some numbers.
According to Netflix’s statement, Enola Holmes was watched by 76 million households in its first four weeks. While we don’t know exactly what “watched” means (it could mean 10 minutes, it could mean 90 seconds, it could be the whole film), we can view it in the context of Pew’s research stating the average U.S. household consists of 2.58 people.
From there let’s be conservative and say half of those 76 million households watched the entire movie. That’s 38 million households.
Now, in order to try to create an equivalency between that and the kind of reporting we would get from a theatrical release, we take that 38 million and multiply it by 2.58 to get a little over 98 million. That 98 million, then, is the approximate number of movie tickets that would have to have been sold for the movie to perform that well if it were released in theaters.
To put that in context, Avengers: Endgame sold 94.2 million tickets in 2019, making it the highest grossing film of that year. Enola Holmes, then, would have outperformed every other movie of last year, including Frozen II, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and others.
A very different marketing pitch
Some have dismissed Netflix’s numbers – and with good reason because of the lack of transparency – because of just that kind of apples-to-apples comparison, as well as because there aren’t the same tectonic cultural shifts that accompany those major theatrical releases.
Allowances have to be made, though, for the substantial differences in how these movies are consumed. That list includes:
The ease of streaming something versus actually going to a theater
The lack of incremental cost for streaming each title
The lack of additional cost for each individual watching the movie
Here’s where we get into the differences in the marketing campaigns for a major theatrical release like Avengers: Endgame compared to a major Netflix release like Project Power.
Marvel Studios had to convince you that one weekend – opening weekend – was the optimal time to see the movie, lest you miss out on a major cultural moment and have the experience ruined by loose-lipped strangers online or in person. To do that it sold the film as the biggest of events, one that had to be experienced in theaters, with lots of movie stars and familiar characters. It had to be worth $10-20 per person, not including concessions, dinner, gas and time spent traveling to and from the theater.
Netflix, in contrast, just had to convince you the movie looked interesting enough to turn on when you were able. It didn’t even have to be in one sitting, and you didn’t even have to be solely paying attention to it. You just had to be sufficiently motivated by the trailer or any of the number of in-app promos it placed for the film.
That’s a much lower hurdle to clear, one that makes me inclined to more or less believe the viewing numbers it releases, especially after doing the math outlined above.
While I’ve never been a huge fan of box-office horse races (like anything else, numbers can be made to mean whatever you want them to), it would be great if Netflix, Amazon, Disney+ and other streamers started putting out verified, legitimate numbers. Likewise, studios could benefit from providing 1-to-1 reporting on VOD. But it seems like we’re going in the other direction, with studios becoming less transparent in their results, not more.
In the meantime, we would all do well to keep what numbers are available in the context of the platforms they come from and adjust accordingly.
It’s always 67 degrees with a 40% chance of rain with these important life lessons.
Christopher Guest’s Best In Show has been widely discussed this year, the 20th anniversary of its release. Widely regarded as the best of Guest’s faux-documentaries, BiS is indeed a marvel, featuring some of the finest performances that manage to be both absolutely absurd and also completely grounded.
But if you’re looking for a movie that offers a ton of guidance for how to live your best life and interact with the world around you, Waiting For Guffman is the one to turn to. Released in 1996, this was Guest returning to the format he and Rob Reiner, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer pioneered over a decade prior with This is Spinal Tap. Guffman also introduced us to the cast that would form a kind of troupe, various subsets of which would subsequently return for BiS, A Mighty Wind, For Your Consideration and most recently Mascots.
Here are just a few of the nuggets from the movie that will definitely help you navigate some of life’s more difficult moments.
For When Your Coworker Declines The Third Proposed Calendar Invite In A Row
And I’ll tell you why I can’t put up with you people, because you’re bastard people. That’s what you are, you’re just bastard people and I’m going home and I’m gonna… I’m gonna bite my pillow is what I’m gonna do!
For When You Finally Get Around to Stating Your Thesis In the Fifth Graf Of Your Post
I dream of Genie with the light brown hair. Floating like a vapor on the soft summer air. LOOK OUT!
For When You Tell Your Boss You Have Lots of Options and Don’t Need to Take This
I’ll always have a place at the Dairy Queen.
For When It’s Finally Time to Present That Big Proposal You’ve Been Working On
It’s opening night, y’all.
For That Moment When Things Are Just About to Get Out of Hand
We need to hitch up our panties and RUN.
For When You’re Filling Out That Self-Assessment
I do indeed have talent.
For When You Close Your Office Door and Crank Steely Dan
For When a Random Coworker Suddenly Sends You a Message on Snapchat
How Amazon Studios has sold a wholly unexpected October Surprise.
It’s been 14 years since Sacha Baron Cohen brought the character of Borat to the big screen, taking the Kazakh journalist on a road trip across the United States to “investigate” what ordinary Americans were really like.
This week Amazon Studios releases Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, an appropriately awkwardly titled sequel that had long been rumored but only became reality a few short weeks ago. Once more the movie finds Borat (Cohen) – this time with daughter Tutar (Maria Bakalova) in tow – on a journey across America to conduct incredibly inappropriate interviews with the everyday folks, and a few well known individuals, to learn what makes them tick. This time the movie seems to have a more overt political agenda, specifically to shine a spotlight on the kind of people who wear MAGA hats and unquestioningly adore certain Dear Leaders.
The movie arrives, of course, as the U.S. presidential election cycle nears a none-too-soon merciful end. And, as we’ll see, the marketing has benefited from some last minute intersections with that cycle.
Borat stands on October’s one and only poster (by marketing agency Concept Arts) in an outfit similar to the…revealing…swimsuit he made famous in the first movie. This time, though, that outfit is a surgical mask, the kind people have been encouraged to wear for the last several months to stop the spread of Covid-19. “Wear mask. Save live.” is the message of the poster, one brought to use by the faux Kazakhstan equivalent of the U.S.’s CDC. It’s kind of brilliant.
A teaser (610,000 views on YouTube) released just after the news of the movie’s existence was confirmed announced the impending release of the first trailer, which happened the next day.
That trailer (7.6 million views on YouTube) shows the same sort of insanity from the original will be in this second installment as well. Borat once again is traveling to America to find out about our exotic lifestyles and this time has brought his daughter along for the antics. There’s lots of Borat goading various folks into ridiculous situations and activities, filming their reactions to his actions that are sometimes bewildered and sometimes bewildering.
Online and Social
Some of the first marketing activity took place on Twitter through a fake account purported to belong to the Republic of Kazakhstan, Borat’s home country. That account was active throughout the first presidential debate, praising Trump – including a “congratulations” message posted before the debate ended – and taking shots at Biden.
Borat himself joined Twitter shortly thereafter. Both accounts continued posting regularly over subsequent weeks, either straightforwardly promoting the film or offering Borat’s unique take on American politics and how the campaign was going.
Advertising and Promotions
Amazon made the surprise announcement in late September that the movie was coming out soon, potentially before the November 2nd presidential election. It also confirmed that the film had been filmed over the course of the last few months, including during the pandemic, largely in secret.
The same key art seen on the poster, along with short video clips, were used for different styles of online ads, all leading to Amazon’s page for the movie.
Cohen appeared in character in a Twitch livestream with a popular broadcaster. And Amazon sailed a massive inflatable Borat on a barge down the Thames in London.
A couple clips have been released showing off a small bit of what audiences can expect from this new installment. None, though, generated as much coverage and awareness of one purporting to show Rudy Giuliani – former mayor of NYC, European dictator lobbyist and current personal attorney to President Donald Trump – entering a hotel room by himself with Borat’s (fictional) 15 year old daughter. Giuliani then proceeds to stretch out on the bed and appears to put his hand down his pants before Borat comes in and stops what’s happening.
Media and Press
Cohen wrote an op-ed about the fight to save democracy and talked about aspects of filming this movie as part of that.
A substantial profile of Cohen had him talking about reviving the character of Borat specifically to draw attention to the dangers of fascism and dictatorship, both of which he felt were creeping into the U.S. over the last few years. He also shared some of the lengths he went to in order to covertly film key sequences.
The Giuliani incident, of course, dominated several news cycles and generated massive press coverage, including Giuliani’s press tour of denying doing anything wrong and labeling it as a hit job resulting from his efforts to baselessly smear the son of former Vice President Joe Biden. Of course those denials were met with responses and statements of support from Borat.
A handful of profiles of Bakalova have appeared recently, especially since her role in the film has played such an integral part of the Giuliani “incident.” She also appeared with Cohen, both of them in character, on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”
Amazon surprised everyone by dropping the film a day early, making it available just as the final presidential debate between Trump and Biden was beginning, making the timeliness of the story even more apparent.
The Borat Subsequent Moviefilm campaign dropping into the last month’s worth of news cycles is all like this.
Picking Up The Spare
Amazon released a Q&A with Cohen. He also continued talking about the scene with Giuliani that has gotten so much coverage.
There was a lot of coverage of reactions from the ordinary people who became “victims” or Borat’s antics in the film.
Super interesting that Kazakhstan is simultaneously decrying Borat as bad for tourism and using “Very nice” as its new tourism slogan to capitalize on the movie’s buzz.
How Hulu is selling a unique take on the body horror genre.
Set in the innocent era that was the late 1980s, Bad Hair is a story of how far someone will go in order to achieve their goals. In the movie, directed and written by Justin Simien, Anna (Elle Lorraine) aspires to become a DJ at the height of the popularity of music videos as cultural touchstones.
Told she doesn’t have the right look for the job, Anna decides to get a weave, but doing so has a terrible cost when it turns out the hair is, for lack of a better term, haunted. In fact, it seems to have a mind and desires of its own, and is using Anna to act in the world.
The movie, which has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 63% “Fresh,” costars everyone from Vanessa Williams to Jay Pharoah to Blair Underwood to Lena Waithe and a host of others. Its campaign has been chilling and atmospheric.
It’s hard to not thoroughly enjoy the fun being had on the poster (by marketing agency Gravillas), released at the beginning of October. A head of hair, turned upside down, has a hand reaching out of it as if someone is trying to escape. Meanwhile the copy “Terror takes root.” is just spot-on perfect. The message here isn’t that it’s a satire or horror comedy, but that the story will have a wicked sense of humor that shouldn’t be missed.
The first teaser (89,000 views on YouTube) finally arrived in mid-August, opens with Anna entering a hair salon for a new style that we see quickly becomes more than she bargained for and much more dangerous than she anticipated. Her new extensions, we see, are not just a betrayal of who she really is but also have an agenda of their own and begin to exact a terrible price, throwing her life into chaos and endangering both Anna and those around her.
A full trailer (5.5 million views on YouTube) came out from Hulu in early October, offering a more complete look at just what motivates Anna to seek out a change in hairstyle while showing roughly the same look at what happens when that cursed hair starts trying to take over and cause all sorts of mayhem.
Online and Social
Nothing, but Hulu did promote it on social media channels.
Advertising and Promotions
The movie was among those premiering at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, where it received pretty good reviews and buzz. Hulu acquired distribution rights toward the end of the event and finally gave it a release date in mid-August, but that date was shifted to October. Neon, which partners with Hulu, announced a limited drive-in theater release for just prior to its streaming debut.
A handful of creepyspots were shared on social media that showed the extent of the closeups on Anna’s hair will be.
There were also promotions for Hulu’s larger “Huluween” campaign that included this title along with the other scary films and shows it was debuting or showcasing.
Media and Press
While at Sundance Simien was interviewed quite a bit about how he developed the idea for the story, how the marketplace has changed since his last festival feature, how the movie is a tribute to the women in his life and more. He was joined by the cast to talk about the realities of showing off natural black hair.
Lorraine was interviewed about this film and its story, Hulu’s release and more, including broader topics like diversity and inclusivity in Hollywood.
As with most horror films, your receptivity to the campaign for this movie will vary based on your fandom for the genre as a whole. But – and this was the point of the NYCC panel earlier this month – Black horror is having a moment over the last few years, and seems uniquely suited to serve as a metaphor for the lengths Black individuals are expected to go to in order to fit in or succeed in White-dominated society.
This campaign hits that on the head. While that’s not an experience I can speak to in any way, I’m aware enough to know when a story is being told that is outside my worldview or unusual in the kind of project being made.
Picking Up The Spare
Pharaoh appeared virtually on “Kimmel” to talk about the movie and more.
How A24 and Apple TV+ have sold a comedic drama about coming to terms with yourself.
Written and directed by Sofia Coppola, On The Rocks received a limited theatrical release earlier this month and this week comes to Apple TV+.. The movie stars Rashida Jones as Laura, a woman who has begun to question her relationship with her husband Dean (Marlon Wayons), feeling oddly detached from him and beginning to worry he’s having an affair. While Dean is out of town, Laura takes the opportunity to reconnect with her playboy father Felix (Bill Murray) in the hopes that getting to know him a bit better will offer insights into her own issues.
Between Coppola and the cast, the film is one of the first high profile releases from the partnership between A24 and Apple TV+. With that pedigree, it’s been sold as a breezy character piece filled with plenty of walking and talking through the streets and restaurants of New York City. Reviews to date have been largely positive, earning it an 87% “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
The primary selling point – the pairing of Jones and Murray in a Sofia Coppola joint – is communicated loud and clear on the one poster, released in late August. The two actors are shown in the booth of a nice restaurant. There’s not a whole lot of visual style to the design since it’s just a photo, nor is there a lot of extra information added, so the studio really is counting on the popularity of those two stars to get people’s attention.
It’s clear, from August’s first trailer (1 million views on YouTube), that Felix and Laura have a complicated father/daughter relationship, but that they’re trying to make it work. That’s made slightly more difficult by the fact that her husband is engaging in the same kind of sketchy behavior Felix did when Laura was younger and which led in part to the estrangement. Still, Felix is protective of her and the pair embark on an adventure to not only find out what’s happening but also reconnect with each other.
Online and Social
You’ll only find the very basic information and marketing material on the film’s website.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
News that A24 had partnered with Apple for the production of original films came out in late 2018, but the specifics weren’t revealed until the middle of January, when it was announced the film would reteam the Lost in Translation duo of Sofia Coppola and Bill Murray.
Conversations about the movie potentially debuting at the Venice Film Festival did not prove successful, despite the festival’s desire to serve as the film’s coming out venue. It was, though, included in the New York Film Festival, where it was scheduled to make its premiere.
Heard in the trailer is “Identical,” a new song from Phoenix that the band released a video for at about the same time the trailer came out.
MovieClips received an exclusive clip in late September showing Felix being kind of a bad influence on his granddaughters.
Online ads like the one here were run in the week leading up to release, with both the theatrical and Apple TV+ dates noted there.
Media and Publicity
Coppola revealed some story and character points in an interview earlier this year. She and Jones were interviewed together about bringing elements of their own lives and more to the story and production as a whole.
Murray talked about the movie a bit but was generally his random self in an appearance on “Kimmel,” with Wayans showing up as well on the same episode. A few days later it was Jones’ turn.
The music of the movie was covered in an interview with Phoenix lead singer Thomas Mars, who talked not only about the band’s contribution to the soundtrack but also his role as music supervisor for the film in general.
Additional interviews with Murray had him talking about how his working relationship with Coppola has grown over the years since Lost In Translation. Meanwhile, Coppola also talked about what events and ideas inspired her to tell this story at this point in her career.
The bet that’s been placed throughout the marketing campaign – that Murray and Jones are likeable enough to be enticing to the audience in and of themselves – is not a bad one to make. That’s made even more sure when you add in Coppola, especially given her previous collaboration with Murray.
While there’s a lot of good material in the campaign, the entirety of the comes off as somewhat lacking. There just isn’t a lot here, and most of it dates back to August or so. Aside from the online ads that have run, there hasn’t been much new put out to the public since then, which means it may have fallen off the radar of a lot of folks. If there had been a few new clips, spots or other assets released in the immediate lead up to release it may have done a bit better in breaking through the clutter of [waves in the general direction of everything].
How Netflix has sold the latest adaptation of a gothic romance classic.
Rebecca, out this week on Netflix, is the latest in a series of adaptations of Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 novel of the same name. This version, written by Jane Goldman and directed by Ben Wheatly, stars Armie Hammer as Maxim de Winter and Lily James as Mrs. de Winter. The couple, married after only a brief courtship, soon move back to the huge seaside estate of his to begin their life together.
It’s at that point trouble begins. The new Mrs. de Winter is haunted by Rebecca, the first to carry that name. Sometimes that haunting is literal in how she still seems to be inhabiting the home, with bits of her life and possessions around and about. More figuratively, the young bride is constantly being reminded of she who came before by the housekeeper Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas).
Mixed reviews for the film started emerging last week, giving it a lackluster 55% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, though most at least called out the fantastic production values. Netflix’s marketing has played up the atmospheric aspects of the story and the psychological trauma being visited on the young woman.
The newly-married couple are the prime elements on the first poster (by marketing agency Empire Design), released in early September. They’re embracing but he, at least, appears somewhat distracted, which hints at some of the drama to come.
A series of additional posters came out in early October that each take a slightly different atmospheric take on the story. All, though, visually play with the ideas of the new couple being close but somehow separated in some manner, often by Mrs. Danvers herself. They’re some very interesting designs that do more to present the tone of the film than the primary version.
The first trailer (1.25 million views on YouTube) came out in early September, starting with the meeting of Maxim and the young woman followed by the evolution of their romance. They are soon married, but when she joins him at his home at Manderlay things become dark quickly. The new Mrs. de Winter, as she’s becoming acclimated to her surroundings, finds the memory of Maxim’s first wife is still very much alive in the house, with physical evidence all around her. Not only is Maxim acting strangely when it comes to Rebecca but so is Mrs. Danvers, who keeps introducing the specter of the late wife into every situation and emotion. It’s an increasingly tense story being sold here, one filled with atmosphere and huge rooms containing layers of mystery.
Online and Social
Nope, but Netflix did provide some support on its brand social channels. It wasn’t much, though, as the company seemed focused on other recent releases over the last few weeks.
Advertising and Promotions
Netflix released the first official stills in early August, announcing the October debut date at the same time.
After the first trailer came out a short explainer video offering an overview of the story and introducing the cast was released. Hammer and James appeared in a featurette on how the book was adapted in this latest version.
James starred in a featurette focused on movie trivia and more.
Media and Press
In an interview from early September, Wheatley clarified that he wasn’t attempting to remake Hitchcock’s film but was instead offering his own adaptation of the source material.
Hammer appeared on “Kimmel” earlier this month to talk about the movie and did a few other interviews. James’ participation in the final publicity push seems to have been stifled by rumors regarding her personal life.
Outside of the book, the most famous version of this story is likely Alfred Hitchcock’s film adaptation. Compared to the marketing of that film, this one very much comes off as a kind of goth-lite, one that’s more concerned with shots of massive hallways and such than in effectively creating a sense of dread or terror akin to what the new Mrs. de Winter is supposed to be feeling.
But there is still a consistent visual brand that’s been established by the campaign. It’s just that this time around it’s a bit brighter and slicker than what’s come before. Hammer and James glide through that and look good doing it, but it remains to be seen if that’s a strong enough hook to get audiences interested.
James was interviewed on “The Tonight Show” about the film and other projects she’s involved in. She and Hammer were interviewed together about how this version is based on the original book and not meant to be a remake of Hitchcock’s classic film.
Speaking of the source novel, a new featurette had Hammer reading select passages from the book. There was also a new behind-the-scenes video released.
There were also twoprofile of the film’s costume designer about creating the look of the characters and how it plays into the style of the movie as a whole. Using a specific scene as an example, the filmmakers drilled into creating that production style. That was followed by a story about
How Netflix is selling a historial, but unfortunately still timely, drama.
The right of citizens to assemble freely while seeking redress from their government is one of those ideas and ideals, like “all Nazis are bad,” that seemed relatively settled and uncontroversial up until about four or five years ago. Those in power, though, often don’t care for it when those who aren’t rise up en masse and point out problems, inequalities or other issues plaguing society. We’ve seen…several…examples of that in recent months.
The Trial of the Chicago 7, out this week on Netflix from writer/director Aaron Sorkin, tells the story of a similar protest from over 50 years ago as well as the aftermath of those actions. Sacha Baron Cohen, Jeremy Strong, John Carroll Lynch, Eddie Redmayne, Alex Sharp, Daniel Flaherty, Noah Robbins and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II play, respectively, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines, Lee Weiner and Bobby Seale.
Those men all assembled in Chicago for the 1968 Democratic Convention, leading and organizing protests against the Vietnam War, racial inequality and other social issues. Those protests were met with violent pushback from the Chicago police, who used tear gas and other methods on those in attendance. Ultimately the eight were charged with conspiracy to cross state lines to incite a riot, though the conventional wisdom is those charges were only an excuse to punish those who had embarrassed then Mayor Richard J. Daley, who had denied many of the requested protest permits.
The movie arrives just as the U.S. has seen months of protests – the vast majority of which have been non-violent – over some of the same types of issues, especially the treatment of Blacks by police. Then, as now, those involved have been labeled as agitators or worse. The lack of headline-making charges and trials may only be because many individuals have been disappeared by shady Department of Homeland Security agents, though everyday police have certainly done their part as well.
Paramount originally developed the movie but sold it off to Netflix in July, seeing no other options given the multiple issues caused by this year’s pandemic. While it hits streaming this week, Netflix did give the film – which has a 94% Fresh Rotten Tomatoes rating – a small drive-in release in the last few weeks.
Hoffman is walking up the courthouse steps on the poster (by marketing agency Concept Arts), released in mid-September. He’s flanked not only by Chicago PD but by supporters of him and the other defendants. Not only does it label the movie as “Based on a true story” and call out Sorkin’s dual involvement, but the narrative is framed in the copy reading “In 1968, democracy refused to back down.” That makes it clear those being persecuted are on the side of light in this story, while those doing the persecuting are the adversaries. It’s almost a case of those in power exhibiting facist tendencies in trying to quell speech while others take more of an “against facism” approach.
The teaser trailer (809,000 views on YouTube) came out in mid-September and immediately establishes both the setting of the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention protests and the resulting trial, which is clearly shown to be an attack on free speech and political thought.
All of that is expanded on in the full trailer (767,000 views on YouTube), released shortly thereafter. On one side you have the establishment that is tired of a bunch of punks telling them how to do their jobs. On the other you have Hoffman and his allies, who are clear in their plans to protest the Vietnam War in Chicago. The resulting trial is shown to be, for all intents and purposes, rigged from the outset as the judge and prosecutor have their thumbs on the scales of justice. But those on trial have numbers on their side, as we hear repeatedly the cries of “The whole world is watching.”
Online and Social
Surprisingly, there was actually a website Netflix created for the film, though it had only the basic marketing information along with details on where those in-person screenings were happening.
Advertising and Promotions
A clip released at the end of last month shows Hoffman testifying in court and making his feelings on the proceedings known. Additionalclips came out over the next few weeks.
The singer Celeste released a video for her new song “Hear My Voice” that’s featured on the film’s soundtrack.
Last week Netflix hosted a drive-in premiere screening at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena with Sorkin and others in attendance.
Spots like this distilled the story down to the core drama, especially the courtroom sequences, while highlighting the all-star cast featured in the film.
Media and Press
During TIFF Sorkin talked about how he staged the filming of the movie, including how he felt it could have been a musical.
A THR cover story in the film had Sorkin, Cohen and others from the cast all commenting not only on the film itself and its release strategy but also on the relevance of the story as it relates to the protests happening across the country right now.
Sorkin was interviewed on similar topics, including how his history as a playwright factors into how he crafted the story and shot the movie. More details also came out about how Netflix adjusted its release plans to cope with the pandemic once it acquired the title and how Sorkin was anxious for the film to finally come out, regardless of what format that took, as well as how he worked to create something that was true to the period but also timeless for today.
How Strong prepared for the role was covered in an interview with the actor while Redmayne appeared on “The Tonight Show” to talk about working with Sorkin. Despite having a prominent role, Cohen seems to have not done much press for the film, maybe because he’s ramping up the marketing for his surprise Borat sequel that comes out soon.
As stated at the outset, the story here is unfortunately still pertinent to the times we find ourselves in now. That has been reflected in the publicity push more than anything, while the rest of the actual marketing has been more focused on Sorkin and the cast.
What jumps out the most is that both the teaser and full trailers have surprisingly low viewing numbers. Combined they amount to just over 1.5 million views, which is below even what other mid-level dramas have racked up. Perhaps Netflix didn’t use paid advertising to boost those numbers, but even so, for a movie with a cast like this and from a popular writer/director that doesn’t seem to indicate widespread awareness or interest.
Whether or not that would have been different if everything else had remained normal and it were coming from Paramount to theaters is a question without an answer. But at this point its best hopes may lie in getting people’s attention through in-app promotions and recommendations.
Picking Up The Spare
The movie’s costume designer was interviewed about channeling the styles of the era and making them part of the film’s look.
A new featurette had Sorkin talking about how he developed the story and what inspired him while working on it. Another focused on the real story the film is based on.
Sorkin also spoke in an interview about meeting the real Tom Hayden and shooting in Chicago.
[Editorial Note: I’ll be honest, I must have gotten my dates mixed up. In early September HBO announced an October release date for the movie, putting out a new trailer that took a more dramatic take on Mouse’s story. It hit a lot of the same notes but upped the angst he seems to be balancing as well as making the dreams he’s chasing a bit more clear. Below is the original marketing recap published in August. –CT]
How HBO Max is selling a story of following a dream to make your mark.
Just what someone will do to make the intolerable tolerable seems to form the core of the story in this week’s new release Charm City Kings. The movie stars Jahi Di’Allo Winston as Mouse, a young kid growing up in Baltimore whose options for the rest of his life are limited. Because they’re the coolest people in the neighborhood, Mouse idolizes those in The Midnight Clique, one of the dirt bike gangs who come out every summer. That he’s too young and doesn’t have the money to get his own bike to join them are small matters to Mouse, who refuses to be deterred, even if it means he has to do things that are dangerous.
The movie then is about Mouse’s conflict in choosing whether to do whatever is necessary to achieve his dream or be the law-abiding young man his family and friends want him to be.
The campaign for the film has been a disjointed affair, thanks in large part to a recent shift in release plans, to the extent that it’s lost a lot of momentum and could completely pass audiences by.
Just one poster, released in February, so it still sports Sony’s branding at the bottom. The overall design features Blax (Meek Mill) looking out over the dirt bike racing action that’s happening below him. Copy reads “3 kings. 2 choices. 1 summer.” in order to establish the overall dynamic between the characters and the situations they will face over the course of the story.
In mid-January the teaser trailer (now unavailable) was released, introducing us to Mouse as it opens. He has aspirations of joining a team of dirt bike riders who race along the city streets, but not only is it dangerous but his mother forbids him from doing so because that’s how his older brother died. The spot shows the rough world Mouse lives in and the things he does because of that environment.
The second trailer, released in early March, offers much more explanation of the story. It starts with Mouse sharing his aspirations to join the biggest biking group in the area, something he feels he’s old enough and good enough to do. When his attempts to get a bike of his own through legitimate methods don’t work out he takes up other, illegal tactics. That gets him in a fair amount of trouble but he’s focused on his goals and so does what he feels he has to.
Online and Social
Nothing here, including what seems to be a complete lack of support for the movie on HBO Max’s brand social accounts. Even the URL featured on the first poster has been taken down completely, redirecting to a DNS server.
Advertising and Promotions
With the debut screening scheduled for the Sundance Film Festival, Sony Pictures Classics acquired distribution rights for the movie. It won the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Ensemble Cast at Sundance. As that festival was winding down the news came it would later screen at the Miami Film Festival. A planned appearance at SXSW was cancelled when that festival was scrapped.
In early May news broke that the movie had been sold by Sony to HBO Max, becoming one of the new streaming platform’s handful of original features at launch. Sony’s original release plans had been shut down when the Covid-19 outbreak shuttered most theaters, with the studio pulling it from the schedule at that time.
Media and Press
The cast and crew spoke about the movie and its story while at Sundance, including how they hoped the story would be seen as universal to kids everywhere.
Cinematographer Katelin Arizmendi was interviewed about her attempts to bring a starkly realistic look to the film and its environment.
Since then there’s been almost nothing.
It’s striking how in some very real ways the campaign simply doesn’t exist. Both of the trailers were taken off of Sony’s YouTube channel and HBO Max never reuploaded them after it acquired the film. So the only apparent “official” versions of the trailer are those shared by co-star Meek Mill and producer Will Smith. Add that to the fact that there’s no website and no apparent social support and it’s almost like the movie is intentionally being given as little attention as possible.
That’s a shame because it came out of Sundance like a rocket, with a fair amount of positive buzz that made it out to be a movie people shouldn’t miss, which is part of the reason Sony scooped it up. That Covid-19 pandemic, though, seems to have thrown a wrench in those gears and it’s now coming out with nary a whimper and with much of its past marketing efforts erased.
How Netflix has sold a movie about starting your second chapter.
Radha Blank wrote, directed and stars in The Forty-Year Old Version, out this week on Netflix. In the story, Radha (Blank) is a playwright in New York City who years ago was celebrated as an up-and-coming talent to watch. Now, a decade later, she finds herself teaching writing but frustrated at her lack of success and further recognition. So she sets out to reinvent herself as a rapper, seeking to balance her love of writing with a desire to tell the unique story of who she is and where she’s at.
Netflix’s marketing campaign hasn’t been massive but definitely gets its point across and, importantly, keeps Blank as the focus of the appeal to audiences. Almost exclusively positive reviews to date have given it a 97% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
“Find your own voice” is the message being sent on the first poster (by marketing agency Gravillis), released at the end of August. Like the movie itself, the photo of Radha is in black and white, with her shown looking off into the distance.
A series of additional posters came out earlier this week, each showing off a specific element of the movie’s story, from a mix-tape to Radha’s big gold “40” earrings to a necklace depicting the New York skyline.
The first trailer (103,000 views on YouTube) came out at the end of August and immediately introduces us to Radha as someone who experienced some recognition years ago but who has languished since then. With students who disrespect her and others who discount her, she seeks to reinvent herself and tell her story through hip-hop. It’s a rough start but with some inspiration and a bit of help she gets going. It sells a movie that’s not quite inspirational but certainly inventive and all about creativity.
Online and Social
The movie received a fair amount of support on Netflix’s brand social media profiles but that’s about it.
Advertising and Promotions
Among others, the movie’s premiere was scheduled for the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, where it generated pretty positive buzz. It went on to win the Directing Award for U.S. dramatic entries. Shortly after the festival ended Netflix acquired distribution of the film.
Media and Press
How editor Rob Wilson crafted the story was covered in an interview during Sundance.
Netflix itself published an extensive interview with Blank about how she prepared for her directorial debut. That was one of a few similar profiles of the multi-hyphenate where she talked about hitting a creative high point at this point in her life and how the project was the result of her own creative frustration.
There are lots of movies about white men going through a midlife crisis or trying to reinvent themselves late in life, but not too many about women of color. So this is a great addition to that sub-genre, one with a point of view that’s uncommon on screens.
Not only that, but the marketing is courageous for putting Blank at the center of every aspect of the campaign given she’s not exactly a household name. But she dominates what’s seen here and sells a movie that’s engaging and interesting with someone with a story clearly worth telling.