The Selling of Other Getaway Driver Movies

Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver hit theaters last weekend. In the story Baby (Ansel Elgort) is an in-demand getaway driver for crime boss Doc (Kevin Spacey), sought after for his incredible skills behind the wheel of any car. That talent comes in part because of innate skill and partly because he keeps headphones in his ears, with music constantly playing to not only drown out the buzz caused by a childhood injury but also to eliminate any distractions from the road in front of him.

Baby Driver is just the latest Hollywood story of getaway drivers, the guys who sit in the car waiting for the heist or robbery to go down so they can get everyone out of there in a hurry. And there are some common elements to how all those movies, including Baby Driver, have been sold to the public.

Rule #1: Show the Car, Preferably in Motion

Makes sense, right? If you want to sell a movie about fast cars then you need to put a fast car on the poster. That’s true for Baby Driver as well as for the one sheets for 2012’s Hit & Run and 1978’s The Driver. All three prominently feature the vehicle the driver will use to get away from the scene of the crime or whatever else the story needs him to escape from. Notably the theatrical one sheet for Drive, starring Ryan Gosling, doesn’t take an action-oriented approach, instead opting for a shot of him sitting contemplatively behind the wheel. That hints at the story’s more dramatic, character-driven approach.

Fast-moving cars are obviously a big part of most all these trailers as well. Drive, Baby Driver and Hit & Run all put the spotlight squarely on the car at various times. All those are high-octane action sequences compared to The Driver, where the scenes of the cars in action come off more like the requisite car chases that were part of almost every episode of “The Rockford Files,” but we’ll try not to hold the 1970s against anyone.

Rule #2: Show the Conflict

The poster for 1997’s Heaven’s Burning shows Russell Crowe in one shot while masked thugs are seen in surrounding photos. So we don’t get a clear sense that he’s a getaway driver of any sort but do see he’s surrounded by armed tough guys who he’ll likely go up against. Similarly, the poster for The Driver, starring Bruce Dern and Ryan O’Neal, makes it clear those two, one a cop and one a driver, are going to butt heads.

The trailer for The Driver hits that especially hard, making it clear there’s a girl that stands between the two men, with the cop leaning on that woman in an effort to get the driver he’s trying to arrest. Hit & Run takes a much more comedic approach, explaining to the

 

audience that Dax Shepherd’s character is reformed and while Bradley Cooper’s is out for the money he’s owed they can still get along.

Rule #3: Emphasize the Skill of the Driver

Watch the trailers for both Baby Driver and Drive and there’s someone, in both cases a crime boss, who’s extolling the talent of the driver and his ability behind the wheel. That’s usually accompanied by a montage of clips showing just how talented they are. There isn’t that kind of boasting in trailers for The Driver or Hit & Run, though. In both those cases the drivers aren’t repeatedly referred to as “the best,” just as very good at what they do, or at least good enough to not be either in jail or dead yet.

That skill level is a little harder to convey on the posters, but it’s still clear who the talent behind the wheel is from the way they’re arranged. It’s assumed no one is calling Kevin Spacey “Baby Driver” and Gosling, as he moodily stares into the middle distance is obviously ready to “Drive.” Similarly, the one without the gun on The Driver’s poster is probably the one ready to do the driving. Hit & Run’s poster is less clear, just showing the car and cast headshots.

Rule #4: Use a Car Pun or Reference In The Tagline

Drive: “There are no clean getaways”

Hit & Run: “A comedy that never takes its foot off the gas.”

OK, both are fine, but are kind of on the nose when you’re selling a car-centric movie. You can’t really take points off because they’re thematically appropriate, but you also can’t help but wince a bit at the obviousness.

There are two exceptions in this case. Baby Driver used “All you need is one killer track” is more of an extension of the campaign’s overall focus on the music and soundtrack than anything else. Throughout the marketing of the movie the music has come up again and again, so it makes sense that this is the approach taken when it came to copy. The Driver used “To break the driver, the cop was willing to break the law,” which similarly continues that campaign’s emphasis on the looming showdown between two men on opposite sides of the law.

Fun Mom Dinner Trailer (Quick Reaction)

Well, the first trailer for Fun Mom Dinner is out and I have some thoughts.

  • There’s a hot take to be written at some point about how we’re supposed to just assume that something is funnier just because it involves mothers, with the comedy derived mainly from putting the person most responsible for everyone in outrageous situations designed to show them acting out.
  • This is being sold in almost exactly the same way as both Bad Moms (and now Bad Moms Christmas) and Rough Night. Girls Trip is a bit different, though.
  • Putting both Adam Scott and Paul Rudd in the movie is almost unfair in how it’s going to appeal to certain subsets of the female audience.
  • Speaking of which, is Rudd playing the same character he did in My Idiot Brother? Has anyone else posited this yet? I feel I’m on solid ground.
  • I’m 100% surprised there isn’t vomiting shown on-screen here.
  • Also, I’m 100% certain at some point I’ve inadvertently referred to watching my own kids as “babysitting.” Let’s just move on.
  • Is it just me or is Rudd not included in the credits at the end? What’s up with that?

Comparing Spider-Man: Homecoming’s and Wonder Woman’s Poster Campaigns

“Marvel vs DC” is an easy narrative that’s picked up both fans and critics. Goodness knows there’s been plenty of opportunity to have that discussion, either in comic shops or theater lobbies, where films based on comic book characters are squaring off against each other.

Today I’m going to focus on something that hasn’t been endlessly debated already but which came into focus in the last month. Namely, the massively different approaches taken on the posters for the two most recent comic book movies, Wonder Woman and Spider-Man: Homecoming.

If you look at the posters for Wonder Woman, many of which were created by either Concept Arts or BOND, you’ll see a sleek, simplified approach. Each poster went for one specific message while also carrying over some brand consistency. So a series of posters emphasized character traits like “Courage” and “Power” while others conveyed those characteristics simply by posing star Gal Gadot in various ways. They all tied together through the use of red, orange and blue, using visuals that reflected the light, clearly telling the audience the movie would have a brighter tone than previous DCU films. Each one was striking for its minimalism, something that may have been equal parts intentional and simply the result of not having a whole cast of heroes that needed to share the spotlight.

Contrast that with the overly-busy posters for Spider-Man: Homecoming. The designers here seem to have been given the direction to leave nothing off. Every poster, even the early ones, make it clear that Spider-Man is now part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That’s done either (relatively) subtly by just putting Avengers Tower in the background of the New York City skyline or overtly by including Iron Man and/or Tony Stark. And it’s not just that the character shows up here and there. Just like with the trailers, Stark/Iron Man is everywhere. By my count, there were eight domestic U.S. posters and six of them feature either Iron Man or Avengers Tower. All sense of understated design thinking is discarded on a couple of the posters that seem to have been created by someone pasting photos from Google Image searches together. It’s a very colorful campaign, but it’s also as subtle as an elephant with a sinus infection.

I’m not going to expect the less artistically-minded approach taken in Spider-Man’s campaign to impact its box office at all. But it’s notable how this is being sold as a movie that literally has *everything* the audience might be looking for, as compared to Wonder Woman’s posters that sold an image of a strong, confident solo woman superhero who stood out on her own. That shows a completely different mindset on the part of the studio, one that’s more committed to selling an attitude and style versus one that just needs to make sure it hits all its contractually-obligated beats.

I know which one I prefer.

Spider-Man: Homecoming – Marketing Review

Spider-Man is back in theaters in this week’s Spider-Man: Homecoming. After an extended cameo in last year’s Captain America: Civil War, this is Tom Holland’s second outing as the web-slinger and his first in the character’s own movie. Well…kind of his own movie. The corporate cooperation that began with Civil War continues here. Sony, which owns the theatrical rights to Spider-Man, is essentially loaning him out to Marvel Studios, which manages the highly successful Marvel Cinematic Universe. So Sony gets to use the successful platform of that behemoth to help launch their third go-around at Spider-Man, while Marvel gets to incorporate Spidey into their big event movies.

Continuing the story set up in Civil War, Peter Parker is enamored with the tech genius Tony Stark (played again by Robert Downey Jr.). Stark provides him with a high-tech suit to help Parker fight local neighborhood crime as Spider-Man. The stakes get considerably higher when Spidey crosses paths with, and gets on the wrong side of, The Vulture (Michael Keaton). That conflict threatens everything that Peter holds near and dear and could upend the life he leads as a seemingly unremarkable high school student.

Continue reading “Spider-Man: Homecoming – Marketing Review”

Sony Teases Close Encounters Announcement

Sony is hinting at something with the release of a video (I’m not referring to it as a “viral video” as some others are doing because you don’t get to decide that, it’s the result of it being well-received, not a designation that’s assigned) entitled “This Means Something.” The video is in some manner tied to Steven Spielberg’s classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind and takes audio from a key sequence in that movie involving an air traffic controller listening to reports of an unidentified object in the skies that’s been seen by some commercial airliners. At the end of the video the URL WeAreStillNotAlone.com is displayed and when you go there you can sign up to “receive updates on UFO sightings.”

So what’s Sony up to? There’s no official news here but it likely has something to do with this December being the 40th anniversary of the movie’s release. It’s almost inconceivable that a sequel of any sort could be in the works, so the simplest explanation is that there’s a theatrical rerelease or new Blu-ray set coming later this year to mark the movie’s fourth decade.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve begun preferring Close Encounters more than Spielberg’s other early-career science fiction effort, E.T. I enjoy the languid pacing of the story, identify with the struggles of Richard Dreyfuss’ slightly-mad father and feel the full weight of the final act on the top of Devil’s Peak more intensely. It’s just as heartwarming in its own way as anything else the director has helmed, though it comes at that somewhat sideways and takes a long time to get there. Still, I find it rewards multiple viewings more than most other Spielberg movies.

Stay tuned for updates.

A Ghost Story – Marketing Recap

A Ghost Story sees writer/director David Lowery returning to his indie-film roots after taking his turn at a big studio movie with last year’s Pete’s Dragon adaptation. The movie reunites him with the cast of Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, both Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck.

It’s a simple story: Affleck plays the ghost of a man who has recently passed away, returning to try to connect with his still-living wife (Mara) in their home. But, floating around like a cliched ghost in a white sheet, he finds he’s not in one time or place, instead floating throughout his own timeline as he’s forced to grapple with some of life’s most serious questions.

The Posters

The first poster uses one of the key images of the movie to stark, simple effect. So aside from the title, a short pull quote and the cast list, the only thing here is a photo of someone standing there in a bedsheet with the eyes cut out. “It’s all about time” we’re told in the copy toward the bottom of the design. The whole thing looks like it’s in black and white and the starry background that’s shown gives it a weird, mysterious scope, which is cool.

The Trailers

The first trailer opens with the sheet-covered figure standing in what looks to be a quarry before we get shots of M and C in bed and generally being a cute couple. She’s telling him about the notes she used to leave in an old house so she’d have something to come back to. When we see that he’s died she becomes depressed and through the rest of the trailer we see the ghost lingering on the edges of the action of M and others.

I’m not sure what exactly is going on here but I’m on board. The performances from Mara and Affleck look great and this seems like a mysterious, twisty story that really has to be seen to be fully understood or believed. It certainly lives up to the hype that came out of festival screenings.

Online and Social

The official website is wholly unique. First of all, the URL ends in .store and the point here is – or at least was – to get you to “buy” a sheet like the one worn by Affleck in the movie. There are prompts to enter to redeem a code or you can hold down your mouse button and watch a 9-minute long video of scenes from the movie with text like “Why are you here?” and “Are you feeling infinite?” over them before you’re given the chance to order your own. Unfortunately they’re all out of stock but the site still looks like it’s selling them, with promotional copy akin to what you’d find on the site of Land’s End or something. There’s even a link to a store in New York where you can, or could, get your own.

Aside from that there’s a “Synopsis,” the “Trailer” and links to the Facebook, Instagram and Twitter profiles.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Nothing I’ve been able to find. The movie isn’t big enough to get a huge ad spend so while there may be some targeted ads in select cities, there’s nothing to my knowledge that’s run nationwide.

Media and Publicity

The movie got some early votes of confidence when A24 picked up distribution rights before it even premiered at Sundance. It was there that Lowery talked about the emotional journey of making the movie and Affleck and Mara talked about working together again and what it was like to take on such a gut-wrenching story.

There were a few other interviews by Lowery, Mara or Affleck to talk about similar subjects. And there was some coverage of the small storefront A24 set up to sell sheets and the whole experience the studio created for that.

Overall

I’m intrigued by how A24 has set out to sell this as something very, very different. It’s not Ghost, with its swooning love story about eternal love. But it’s also not a story of overtly trying to set things right or come to terms with the life you lived while you were here. Instead it’s being sold as a mysterious love story that is more about the rubble one leaves behind in a life than an effort to pick up that rubble.

The campaign really has to be divided into two halves: First, the poster and trailer are nicely consistent in how they present a strange, unusual story about a man wearing a white sheet and kinda sorta haunting his widow; Second, the website and the experiential element of actually having people being able to to order and buy the sheets shows the studio having a bit of fun with the concept. That’s great, but it’s doubtful that’s going to do much to reach more than a small subset of the audience outside of film press and those who hang on their every word. Still, it’s a fun execution and deserves some kudos.

Welcome to Cinematic Slant

I’ve written a lot about movies over the years. Since 2004 I’ve been writing about film marketing campaigns and related topics in a variety of places. Cinematic Slant is meant to be a home for all of that.

It’s not just about movie marketing, though, it’s about all aspects of film that we find interesting, including analyzing marketing campaigns, doing film reviews, sharing breaking news and other opinion pieces. The list of topics covered will grow and change as time goes on, of course, and as we experiment with one thing or another to see what works both from our point of view and how you, the audience, react to what we post here.

And there’s a lot more coming soon, for sure, but in the meantime go ahead and subscribe using the options below to receive updates via either email or RSS. This journey will be one we all take together, so please, follow us and stay tuned for more. 

Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle Trailer (Quick Reaction)

The first trailer for Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is out and I have thoughts.

  • Why is every franchise adaptation now a variation on The Breakfast Club? First it was the Power Rangers film, now it’s Jumanji that starts out with a group of mis-matched high school students being thrown together in detention. Is this the only way modern screenwriters can think of to bring characters to one place so the plot can kick in?
  • Throwing a flag on flagrant underuse of Marc Evan Jackson as the principal. If this is all Hollywood can think of to do with him, there are bigger issues.
  • Why do they react to the discovery of an old game system with such shock? They’ve never seen something like this before?
  • So…it’s TRON?
  • Karen Gillan’s wardrobe was a controversial point when promotional images started coming out, but the explanations amounted to “well that’s how video game females look,” which isn’t enough. Neither is acknowledging it with dialogue.
  • Still waiting for Kevin Hart to not play Kevin Hart.
  • Oh cool, funny Jack Black is back.
  • Well of course Guns ’n’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle” was going to be used.

Celebrate National Sunglasses Day With These Movie Posters

Today is National Sunglasses Day and everyone on Twitter and Instagram is celebrating by sharing pictures of themselves – or their children – sporting shades. It may be happening on Facebook as well, but we’ll only know in two or three days when the News Feed surfaces those posts.

To mark the day let’s take a look at some iconic movie posters featuring not only the main characters from those films but shows them wearing sunglasses for whatever reason.

The Blues Brothers

“It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark… and we’re wearing sunglasses.”

The fact that Jake and Elwood Blues are perpetually wearing their sunglasses is part of the appeal of those characters, something that makes them look cooler than cool, to the extent that it becomes a joke in the final act of the story in that iconic line above. With that exception it’s never mentioned or pointed out by anyone, even when they’re still sporting them while wearing only a towel in a steam room. The only time you see either of them remove their sunglasses is when Jake is trying to stop Carrie Fisher’s character from mowing him down with a machine gun, and that removal is meant to signal just how sincere he’s being with his apology.

Almost Famous

The movie that first brought Kate Hudson to most people’s attention did so initially by making her face more or less the sole element on the one sheet.

An important part of that photo is the hippie sunglasses she’s wearing, the purple tint of which means you can’t see her eyes. But what you can see are the reflected images of the rock concert she’s apparently watching, with at least a couple performers visible in the reflection along with the adoring throng.

That worked to not just sell the time period – the sunglasses themselves should have told you the story takes place in the post-Summer Of Love 70s – but also the setting in the world of the rock music industry.

Reservoir Dogs

This poster immediately conveyed the anonymous but lethal attitude of the five gangsters who are brought together by Joe to commit a bank robbery in Quentin Tarantino’s debut feature.

Chief among those attitude-conveying elements are the sunglasses worn by all five crooks, which pair nicely with the white shirts and black tie and suits they all wear. Those sunglasses mean they’re keeping part of themselves hidden while also trying to look as cool as possible, not just that they want to keep the sun out of their eyes.

The Terminator

Again, the sunglasses are a key part of what we’ll learn about the character in James Cameron’s sci-fi action film.

On the poster Arnold Schwarzenegger wears them along with a leather jacket that’s unbuttoned down to, it seems, his knees. He’s meant to look as lethal as possible and the sunglasses convey a cool, detached, lethal professionalism that’s augmented by the fancy looking gun he’s carrying.

Importantly, those sunglasses also convey a bit of character information beyond his attitude, with what looks like a digital serial code seen on one of the lenses. That hints to the audience that this cold-blooded killer may not be entirely human.

Lolita

It’s not the 1997 remake, which was more concerned with selling star Jeremy Irons, but the 1967 original adaptation of Alexander Nabokov’s story of teen seduction that sports the notable shades.

The title character is seen on the poster suggestively eating a cherry-red lollipop, looking over the heart-shaped sunglasses she’s wearing at someone in the distance. There’s nothing in the reflection to see, so this is all about establishing the character, with those heart-shapes conveying that she’s all about love in some manner or another.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie (Flashback Movie Marketing)

mst3k movie posterToday Shout! Factory is doing something that, were I still 18 years old with nothing to do for hours on end on a summer day, I’d be totally down for: Streaming 38 episodes of the original incarnation of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” it has the rights to on its Twitch channel. The stunt has a couple goals seemingly in mind: First, i wants to show off its Twitch channel and reach the powerful, incredibly sticky audience that site has, especially around gamers and others who like to watch live broadcasts from others. Second, Shout! wants to draft off the renewed buzz for MST3K, which recently relaunched on Netflix with new episodes starring Jonah Ray and others.

So because I can, today I’m going to take this flimsy excuse and look back at the marketing of 1996’s Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie.

The movie was the product of what turned out to be a tumultuous time for the show. Shot between the sixth and seventh seasons, its production wound up shortening that seventh season. That meant it was just a season-and-a-half after the departure of original host Joel Hodgson, when fans were still kind of getting used to the slightly different style of Mike Nelson. In fact Hodgson’s departure was at least in part due to producer Jim Mallon’s desire to produce a theatrical feature. That abridged seventh season – it was just six episodes long – would be its last on Comedy Central, which no longer felt this sci-fi themed show fit into its more hip, political brand identity. So at the same time MST3K was never more popular, the result of a rabid tape-trading fanbase, and never on shakier ground.

In the midst of all that the talent and creators of the show signed up with Universal to bring MST3K to theaters. To do so they picked This Island Earth, a Universal-owned science fiction classic that unlike many films riffed by the team actually had a pretty good reputation. There’s no big conceit that’s added to the basic show formula: Mike, Tom Servo and Crow are sent a movie by Dr. Clayton Forester that is meant to drive them mad as part of his plan to rule the world. Instead, they wind up wisecracking their way through it to retain their sanity. In between movie segments the residents of the Satellite of Love engage in various hijinks, including trying to dig a tunnel through space back to Earth, attempting to repair the Hubble space telescope and more.

That’s a stark contrast to many TV-to-movie adaptations, where there’s some bigger plot that’s shoehorned onto the basic idea. This is the show writ-large, though its 75-minute runtime means it actually comes in at least 20 minutes under what a normal TV broadcast would be. Perhaps this retention of the low-concept outline was part of the reason the movie got a *very* limited release by Universal (my friends and I had to go to the one theater in Chicago it was playing at and it wouldn’t stick around long enough to expand) and has languished with barebones and infrequent releases on home video.

this_island_earth_ver2_xlgWhile Universal was anxious to release the movie at first, the marketing push perhaps showed that the “the show, but on the big screen” approach was a difficult one to sell. That starts on the poster, which is a direct appeal to the show’s existing fanbase with almost nothing to attract anyone not already familiar with this not-too-distant future. Mike and the Bots are shown in their familiar silhouette at the bottom of the image, looking up at the screen. On that screen are images from This Island Earth, though that movie isn’t mentioned at all. In addition to those images, which are pulled straight from the one-sheet for the original movie, we see the giant MST3K logo hanging in space, with “The Movie” added to it. A word balloon coming from Mike’s mouth declares “Every year Hollywood makes hundreds of movies. This is one of them.”

That’s an OK tagline in that it evokes the often dry sense of humor of the show. But it’s less than compelling and seems a bit half-hearted in the end, like no one could think of anything better so they just went with something that was mildly self-deprecating and called it a day.

The trailer opens with that same copy, which is shown and narrated as Mike and the Bots are shown entering the theater and taking their seats. The narration continues as it sells the idea of the show but this time without a censor. From there on out we get a mishmash of clips from the host segments as well as a few riffs from inside the theater itself.

It’s…weak. Again, there’s no surprise the movie didn’t find a mass audience as there’s nothing here that’s going to appeal to anyone who wasn’t already likely to have been watching the show. If you don’t know who Mike and the Bots are and what that guy in the green lab coat is doing spanking himself with the clipboard, there’s nothing for you here. There’s no decryption code offered for non-fans. Sure, you get a sense of what’s going on, but it fails to sell the audience on anything but watching a movie about watching a movie.

Perhaps that’s why the concept behind MST3K worked so well on the small screen but failed to translate to the larger one, where it takes a lot more intentional effort on the part of the audience to accept the meta nature of the idea.

MST3K: The Movie is a pretty good episode of the show, which is not an insult in any way. But the campaign, which seems to have been tossed off by Universal/Gramercy after it realized it had no idea how to sell such a low-concept movie.