Mank – Marketing Recap

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

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

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

The Posters

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

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

The Trailers

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

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

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

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

Online and Social

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

Advertising and Promotions

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

Media and Press

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

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

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

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

Overall

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

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

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

Nomadland – Marketing Recap

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

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

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

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

The Posters

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

The Trailers

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

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

Online and Social

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

Advertising and Promotions

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

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

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

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

Media and Press

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

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

Overall

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

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

Hillbilly Elegy – Marketing Recap

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

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

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

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

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

The Posters

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

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

The Trailers

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

Online and Social

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

Advertising and Promotions

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

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

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

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

Media and Press

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

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

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

Overall

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

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

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

Happiest Season – Marketing Recap

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

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

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

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

The Posters

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

The Trailers

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

Online and Social

Advertising and Promotions

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

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

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

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

Media and Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall

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

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

SuperIntelligence – Marketing Recap

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

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

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

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

The Posters

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

The Trailers

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

Online and Social

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

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

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

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

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

Media and Publicity

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

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

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

Overall

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

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

Ammonite – Marketing Recap

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

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

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

The Posters

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

The Trailers

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

Online and Social

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

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

NEON acquired distribution rights to the movie in January.

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

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

Media and Publicity

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

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

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

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

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

Overall

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

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

Let Him Go – Marketing Recap

How Focus Features is selling a drama showing how determined grandparents can be.

In an episode of “The West Wing,” President Bartlet talks about the determination of grandfathers, but his comments can be applied to grandparents of all kinds. “We’ll make enemies,” he says, “we’ll break laws, we’ll break bones but you will not mess with the grandchildren.”

That quote sums up the story of the new movie Let Him Go, out this week in limited (of course) release. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane play George and Margaret Blackledge, a couple whose only son has recently passed away. Their former daughter-in-law Lorna (Kayli Carter is now involved with the son of a local family of dubious reputation, something they believe is dangerous for both her and her young baby, George and Margaret’s only grandchild. The two set out to rescue the child from the Weboys, headed by matriarch Blanche (Lesley Manville), who has no intention of letting the baby go.

Focus Features’ campaign for the movie, which has a strong 75% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, has focused especially on the performances from Costner, Lane and Manville.

The Posters

“Fight for family” says the one poster (by marketing agency AV Print), released in August. George and Margaret take center stage here, their faces shown on one side of the poster looking weathered and determined. On the other half of the poster, the two sides divided by a large shotgun being held by George, we see Lorna with her child in her arms as the two appear to escape a burning house behind them.

The Trailers

George and Margaret, as August’s trailer (5.7 million views on YouTube) opens, are setting out to track down the grandson they barely know after the death of their son and the remarriage of his widow to an abusive man. They’re warned repeatedly that the man they’re after is dangerous, something that applies to his whole family. Their former daughter-in-law is afraid for her life as well as that of her son. Things are going to get violent as they seek to protect both of them against some bad people, but they know it’s the right thing to do and so plow ahead.

Online and Social

The movie’s official website uses Focus Features’ standard format, with items like the trailer, social updates, a synopsis and more linked from the photos and other images that are placed on the page. There were also social profiles created specifically for the film.

Advertising and Promotions

Focus Features originally scheduled the movie for August but pushed it to November amidst continued coronavirus problems and theater closures.

Beginning in the last few weeks of October and running through release (at least), the studio sponsored NPR’s “Morning Edition” to promote the film. Pre-roll ads like this were also placed on YouTube, Hulu and other streaming video platforms.

Other spots were shared that were likely used as TV commercials.

AMC Theaters and Cinemark Theaters got exclusive interviews with Costner and Lane or clips from the movie. Yahoo! Entertainment also got an exclusive clip from the film, as did MovieClips.

A free screening was held in New York City that included a Q&A with writer/director Thomas Bezucha.

In the last week or two Focus has released a short featurette with interviews with the cast and crew on the set. The setting of 1960s Montana and North Dakota were highlighted in a recent episode of the studio’s “Reel Destinations” YouTube series.

Bezucha created a sponsored Spotify playlist titled “Exploring the New Western” with song choices that either inspired him or which are inspired by the themes of the movie.

Media and Press

Interviews with Lane had her talking about this film and the circumstances surrounding its release, what made her choose this project at this point in her career and what it was like reuniting with Costner after the two played Jonathan and Martha Kent in 2013’s Man of Steel. She also appeared on “Good Morning, America” to talk about the movie.

Overall

There have been so many movies and shows in the last 30 years that have called themselves the “new American Western” or something similar, going all the way back to Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven. The campaign for this movie generally steers clear of such hyperbole, but comes close on occasion, which is a bit more aspirational than is necessary for a movie like this.

Focus Features’ marketing works best here when it’s about the quieter aspects of the film, especially the dynamic between Costner and Lane, who are both such professionals that they play off each other with ease. That’s the real draw of campaign, with the premise and story a solid addition to that core message.

Proxima – Marketing Recap

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 Posters

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.

The Trailers

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.

Overall

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.

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm – Marketing Recap

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.

The Posters

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.

The Trailers

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.

Overall

The Borat Subsequent Moviefilm campaign dropping into the last month’s worth of news cycles is all like this.

Happy Sacha Baron Cohen GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

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. 

Bad Hair – Marketing Recap

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.

The Posters

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 Trailers

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 creepy spots were shared on social media that showed the extent of the closeups on Anna’s hair will be.

The cast and crew participated in a virtual New York Comic-Con panel earlier this month along with others talking about Black horror as a unique genre.

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.

Overall

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. 

Hulu has released a number of music videos for songs featured in the movie. 

The movie’s producers talked more about the movie after it was released. 

Coverage here of the hair brands that got a promotional boost from the film.