In Pieces of a Woman, written by Kata Wéber and directed by Kornél Mundruczó, Vanessa Kirby and Shia LaBeouf play Martha and Sean, a young married couple who experience a terrible tragedy during the birth of their first child. The story follows the two – especially Martha – over the course of the ensuing year as she works through the grief of the event as well as the other related emotions that come with it. The movie also stars Ellen Burstyn as Martha’s mother, whose overbearing nature complicates the situation.
Netflix has been selling the film as a prestige piece, especially focusing on Kirby’s performance in part because LaBeouf has once again become a toxic persona. Generally positive reviews have given the film a 78% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so let’s take a look at the campaign as a whole.
Kirby’s Martha fronts the movie’s one poster (by marketing agency P+A), released in mid-November. The photo is of her looking longingly at something off-camera, but it’s enough to convey the general idea that the movie will be an emotional one with Martha as the main character. tw
The first and only trailer (1.7 million views on YouTube) came out in mid-November and starts with Martha and Sean preparing for the arrival of their much-anticipated child, which we quickly see dies during birth. That understandably rocks Martha, who is exploring who she can legally blame for her loss, ultimately going to court to testify against the midwife she holds responsible. Alongside all of that, she clashes with her mother, husband and others as she seeks to direct her grief in some useful direction.
Online and Social
Not only wasn’t there a standalone site for the film, which isn’t unusual for Netflix releases, but it seems there also weren’t social profiles set up either. It did get some support on Netflix’s brand channels, though.
Advertising and Promotions
The movie’s debut at the Venice Film Festival garnered positive reviews, especially for the performances by Kirby and LaBeouf. Kirby’s was so good she won the festival’s Best Actress Volpi Cup.
A short clip debuted while Venice was underway. Those positive reviews were likely instrumental in Netflix deciding to acquire the film, which it did shortly after the Venice premiere.
It was also screened at the Toronto Film Festival as well as for the American Film Institute and at EnergaCamerimage Film Festival.
Media and Press
A profile of Kirby from early September included this as one of a couple highly-anticipated projects she was involved in.
Weber and Mundruczo were interviewed during Venice about how they expanded on earlier material for this film and how they secured the cast they did. In another interview during teh festival they talked about tackling taboo subjects and more.
Kirby and Burstyn were interviewed together about making the movie and what drew them to the project. Elsewhere Mundruczo talked about the story and what made it so powerful while also praising his cast.
Closer to release there was another feature profile of Kirby that had her talking about taking on her first major role specifically because it seemed scary and imposing. She also promoted the film in an appearance on “The Tonight Show.”
Mundruczó and Wéber were interviewed about developing such a raw and personal story, and then doing so again for a feature version. There was also an interview with Burstyn, whose performance has created a good percentage of the film’s buzz and been called out in many reviews.
If you’re wondering where LaBeouf was during the press campaign, he either declined to participate or was told not to following recent allegations of abusive, harassing behavior by various women as well as new reports of erratic and problematic behavior on-set.
Making Kirby the focal point of the campaign was absolutely the right call here, not only because she bears the brunt of the story’s emotional baggage but because her performance anchors the film and is where the audience is intended to throw their attention.
It’s a slow and deliberate campaign, especially exemplified by the trailer, and that gives it an appropriate sense of drama and stakes. Not only that, it’s one of the best from Netflix, particularly in how the company has finally fully embraced giving its movie stars the chance to fully engage the press.
Even a dumpster fire can yield some interesting results.
If compiled, the articles, think-pieces and hot takes written between March and December of 2020 on the present and future of movies and theater-going would fill volumes rivaling the collected works of Marcel Proust, though they would be far easier to summarize.
A year unlike any other certainly proved even more disruptive to aspects of the film industry – production, distribution and exhibition alike – than anything like MoviePass or other threats once held to be dire could have dreamed. No one could have engineered a scenario where over 90 percent of the nation’s movie theaters would close for months at a time, studios would shut down filming on major motion pictures and so on ad infinitum because of a virus outbreak around the globe.
All of that, as well as the pivot by studios and media owners to streaming, upended, delayed or otherwise altered a great many movie marketing efforts. That doesn’t mean 2020 didn’t have plenty of interesting campaigns, though. It just means in some cases what made them “interesting” or otherwise notable was a little different than what would have qualified in prior years.
More than anything else, 2020 was a year of unexpected firsts. WarnerMedia finally launched HBO Max and offered a number of original films before announcing it would be home to its entire 2021 theatrical release slate. Disney rushed Onward over to Disney+ before later using it for titles like Hamilton and Soul that otherwise would have gone to theaters and for Mulan as a test for a new pricing model. Paramount sold off many of its titles to Netflix or Amazon. Apple released a handful of original features while trying to provide Apple TV+ with some momentum. Universal essentially reinvented and reinvigorated PVOD.
So, with all that said, these are some of the most intriguing movie marketing campaigns of a year for which “intriguing” is such an understatement as to almost be irresponsible.
Why It Made The Cut: Many campaigns for period films include some element or another meant to evoke the era the story takes place in. No movie takes that as far as Netflix’s Mank, where the whole campaign was designed to seem as if the film were being released in the late 1930s/early 1940s, just like Citizen Kane. Trailers were cut and narrated in the style of that period, posters were designed to look similar to the kinds of one-sheets seen then and more. It shows something unique can be created if the marketing team goes all-in on a concept.
Why It Made The Cut: The campaigns for many movies that had their release plans changed dramatically saw subsequent alterations made to their marketing campaigns. Few were as innovative as Disney’s shift of Mulan. Not only was the film sent directly to Disney+ (as well as limited theaters), but the introduction of a “Premier Access” PVOD tier to that streaming platform set this one apart from the others. By all accounts this experiment was a success, one that may be replicated with other titles in the future. It also essentially set the stage for what Warner Bros. would wind up doing with HBO Max beginning with Wonder Woman 1984, though Disney remains committed to sending its Marvel Studios titles exclusively to theaters.
Why It Made The Cut: Few films felt as timely as The Assistant, which came out at the same time Hollywood was dealing with not only the continued fallout of Harvey Weinstein’s fall from grace due to sexual harassment and assault but also the burgeoning protests by assistants in the industry over lack of adequate pays and other mistreatment. While other campaigns made big, flashy statements to audiences, this one played it so quiet and understated it sometimes fell off the radar, but kept coming back to show how powerful the story and performances were.
Why It Made The Cut: Before May of last year, Warner Bros. and DC Films seemed to be actively apologizing for the dark, dystopian tone (not to mention storytelling shortcomings) of earlier films from Zack Snyder and David Ayer. The campaign for Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) was part of that, presenting a new take on the best character to come out of Suicide Squad that freed Harley Quinn from the male gaze and other traps. In contrast to some of those earlier movies, this campaign was funny, bright and full of women taking their power back. It was also one of the last major fully-theatrical campaigns of the year before things got weird.
Why It Made The Cut: Universal’s unsuccessful effort to launch its Dark Universe film franchise on the back of 2017’s The Mummy is legendary as a case study in corporate hubris. That made the campaign for The Invisible Man so notable as it not only looked like a powerful and compelling story in its own right but also was the first example of the studio’s new approach of making smaller movies driven by creative filmmakers, not the dictates of a shared cinematic universe.
Why It Made The Cut: These two kid-targeted movies were some of the earliest efforts by their respective studios into the burgeoning world of premium video-on-demand, an avenue theater owners had kept off-limits for a decade. Most notably, each represented early adoption of the studio-hosted watch party, encouraging fans to engage in a communal but remote viewing experience anchored by Twitter chats. While Trolls World Tour was a first-mover, Scoob! in particular went all-out for its watch party with downloadable party packs, recipes and other items for those at home to use as part of the event.
Why It Made The Cut: The New Mutants is included here simply because it actually came out after years of delays, rumors of extensive reshoots and other issues. Not only was it finally released – after a campaign that shifted over time from a horror-centric push to one that was more of a conventional super hero message – but it came out theatrically instead of, as many expected, via streaming.
Why It Made The Cut: With so many movies coming out on PVOD or streaming, Tenet’s theatrical release is a bright shining example of a powerful stakeholder intentionally not reading the room. The film’s massively disappointing box-office performance shows there was no audience in September willing to brave theater-going in sufficient numbers, a lesson so well-learned by Warner Bros. it’s cited as being a major reason for the studio’s decision to send #WW84 and eventually all its 2021 releases to HBO Max. It would rather anger directors, agents, production partners and others than go through that again, and with good reason.
Why It Made The Cut: Few films of late have tried so hard – and to a great extent so successfully – to redefine an entire genre as The Happiest Season. Its holiday-centric campaign was perfectly in keeping with the movie’s story, and the emphasis on providing a new take on the Christmas movie category was felt throughout the marketing by Hulu.
How Focus Features is selling a twisted revenge story.
Actress and writer Emerald Fennell makes her directorial debut with this week’s Promising Young Woman. The movie stars Carey Mulligan as Cassandra, a woman who experienced severe trauma in her past. Now she is channeling that trauma, combined with her sense of justice, in the direction of seeking to set things right. That means trouble for the men who get in her way.
Focus Features’ campaign for the film has sold a kinetic, story of revenge and dealing with the events of the past in some manner. With an impressive 92% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, the movie has been pegged as a potential awards contender, especially for Mulligan.
“Take her home and take your chances” the audience is warned on the first poster (by marketing agency Art Machine), released just a week ago. The image of Cassandra lounging on a sultry, dripping wet mouth combined with the style of the title treatment gives this the look of an 80s teen sex comedy, albeit one that might be a bit twisted.
The image on the second poster (by marketing agency Territory Studio) is a bit more straightforward, just Cassandra staring at the camera and holding a tire iron in a very purposeful way. Some positive review quotes are placed in the background to help make the case.
Cassandra is writing the title on a mirror in lipstick on the final poster (once again by Art Machine). That takes us back into twisted territory, while the copy here reads “Revenge never looked so promising.”
The first trailer (3.8 million views on YouTube) came out in mid-December and immediately sells a crazed story of vengeance and justice. As it opens it looks like Cassandra has had too much to drink and is passing out at a club, with a man seeing that as his opportunity to take advantage of her. She reveals herself to be just fine, though, much to his surprise. Turns out this is something she does regularly, exposing the lie of the “nice guy” who has darker motives. Her mission is driven by a past that involves leaving college after accusing a man of raping her and receiving no support from the school or other people. Seems her journey may even bring her back into contact with her assailant, giving her the opportunity to achieve some real closure and have some real fun.
Cassandra is attempting to restart her studies in the second trailer (2.9 million views on YouTube), released in mid-October. She explains that she left years ago after a girl was attacked and her assailant never punished. Turns out the administrator she’s speaking with is the same one who fielded the initial report and failed to take action. Mixed in with that is footage of the kind of vengeance she doles out herself on men who feel they’re entitled to certain things regardless of consent. It still looks crazy, but the framing of the interview grounds the story a bit more effectively.
Online and Social
Visitors to the movie’s official website will find Focus’ standard design in place, offering the trailer, bios on Mulligan, Fennelll and many of the costars and more. There are also social network profiles specifically for the film.
Advertising and Promotions
Sundance 2020 was announced as the movie’s public coming out, with Focus Features picking up distribution rights in advance of the festival.
The video for “Drinks” by Cyn was released in early March as details of the star-studded soundtrack were made public.
Dolby offered an exclusive interview with Fennelll where she talked about using the company’s technology and tools to bring her story to life.
AMC Theaters also got an exclusive behind-the-scenes featurette.
Focus Features showed a bit more in an installment of the “60-Second Film School” web series.
Media and Press
While Fennell wasn’t in Sundance with the movie, he was interviewed at that time about the inspiration behind the story, how production worked and what they hoped the audience’s reaction would be. Burnham spoke about the difficult time he had while filming and how intimidated he felt when acting alongside Mulligan.
Fennell and Cyn were interviewed about the process of assembling the movie’s soundtrack and what the songs on it were meant to represent.
An interview with Mulligan allowed her to talk about how she got involved in the project and why it seemed attractive to her at this point in her career. Brie also talked about her part in the film.
A Variety cover story featured both Fennell and Mulligan talking about why they made this movie right now, the…emotional reactions test audiences had and lots more.
How set designer Michael Perry created the visual look of the film was covered in an interview with him.
A joint interview with Fennell and Mulligan had them talking about female revenge stories and how they accomplished the movie’s unique look and feel. They also shared a story of a fistfight among audience members breaking out during a test screening.
Other interviews with Fennell had her talking about getting the rights to use a song by Paris Hilton in a key sequence and why she cast perfectly nice and sweet actors to play some of the story’s terrible male characters.
A big profile of Fennell had her reflecting on how her career to date has led her to this point and what she wanted the story to convey. A similar piece on Mulligan had her talking about the…unfortunate…reactions of some men to the movie.
What the movie’s quick production was like was covered in an interview with Mulligan. Fennell talked about how she wanted to take a comedic, though a darkly comic, look at violence in the story.
I’m on board with this campaign for a number of reasons, including the fact that it creates a strong, instantly recognizable brand identity from the outset and never lets up. It’s twisted, colorful and a little bit funny, anchored by a strong performance from Mulligan.
Not to be overlooked is Fennell’s contribution to the campaign, outside of her helming the film itself. She’s been out in front of the publicity and other aspects of the marketing, making it clear she is in charge and working to carve out some recognition for herself while also selling the movie.
How Warner Bros. has mounted an oft-delayed and ultimately unusual campaign for its first legit superhero sequel since 2012.
To call Wonder Woman 1984’s trip to an eventual release date “unconventional” would be a severe understatement. Originally scheduled for December 2019, it was later moved to June, 2020, then later and later in the year following the theatrical closures resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. The final release date of December 25, 2020 seemed iffy as late as last month but has finally come to pass because WB – and parent company AT&T – pulled a bold move that has subsequently disrupted the entire film industry, sending the movie to both whatever theaters are open and the HBO Max streaming platform.
Just as the title implies, the movie – directed once more by Patty Jenkins – jumps several decades from the World War I setting of the 2017 installment to the 80s. Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) is now an anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institute, where she meets coworker Barbara Ann Minerva (Kristen Wiig). Barbara’s insecurities make her a ripe target for Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), a megalomaniac businessman who acquires the ability to grant wishes and fulfill desires, an ability he uses to increase his own fortunes. Eventually Barbara wishes for superhuman powers and is transformed into Cheetah, setting the stage for an epic showdown with Diana. Along all that, Diana is confounded by the mysterious return of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), who she believed dead 60 years ago and who doesn’t appear to have aged at all.
Before the HBO Max release was announced, #WW84 had taken Tenet’s position as the movie exhibitors were pinning all their hopes for a moviegoing revival on. The simultaneous distribution may have dashed those hopes (along with the fact that the pandemic is nowhere near controlled in the U.S., meaning most theaters are still closed), so the film is now seen as an example of what could becomeHollywood’s future. At the very least, it set the stage for Warner Bros. announcement its entire 2021 slate was following the same pattern.
In addition to the copious discussions and analysis of what all of the above means for theaters, HBO Max and other studios, initial reviews have praised it as a feel-good sequel to help close out an infection-filled tire fire of a year. Those reviews have been mixed enough to give it a lackluster 76% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but the marketing of the film has struck the same colorful, powerful tone as that of the original.
The first teaser poster, Tweeted out by Jenkins in early June 2019 along with the news the movie would not have a panel at 2019’s San Diego Comic-Con, shows Diana looking imposing in golden full body armor. She’s set against a colorful backdrop that forms a slight “W” to reinforce the branding. It’s an impressive first image communicating what may be the movie’s brighter tone.
Four character posters – one for Diana, Trevor, Lord and Minerva – retained that colorful background branding while also offering one of the movie’s biggest revelations: that Trevor sports a fanny pack in the film.
In March two more posters came out showing Diana kneeling in her ceremonial armor, a colorful backgroundswirling behind her. Those posters also served as announcements of the new (at the time) June release date.
An exclusive IMAX poster, released in November, shows the armored Diana crouched and ready for battle while promoting the fact some sequences in the film were shot with IMAX cameras, the better to lure in audiences hoping for an immersive experience.
More posters came out earlier this month that took the same kind of visual approach, making sure to include the new selling point of simultaneous theatrical and HBO Max availability.
The “#WeekofWonder” campaign run the first week of December included another poster showing Wonder Woman walking purposefully and powerfully toward the camera. AT&T debuted another showing a more relaxed, though still armored, Diana.
A Dolby-exclusive poster loses some of the colorful background but continues the emphasis on Wonder Woman’s shiny armor, as does one for Cinemark and one for RealD 3D.
Diana is explaining to Barbara that her life has been different than she might imagine as the first trailer (37.3 million views on YouTube), released at the beginning of December 2019, begins. We see momentos from her past before seeing Wonder Woman break up a group of armed criminals in a shopping mall. As that’s happening, a TV commercial features Lord promising people they can achieve all their dreams and have what they want. Somehow Steve Trevor returns, having not aged a day in the 40 years since he apparently died. They set off on a mysterious adventure while we’re shown footage of them in combat mixed with scenes of the Amazons competing in some form of organized games.
All of that is bookended by title graphics and other animation seemingly pulled directly from a 1984 video cassette, including fuzzy static that mimics what would happen when a VHS tape got stretched after too many plays.
In conjunction with DC Fandome in August a new trailer (23.8 million views on YouTube) was released that starts by showing a young Diana in the midst of her training followed by a grown Wonder Woman using her magic lasso to swing between lightning bolts. That gives you an idea of how epic the story is. After that there’s more footage showing Barbara’s quest for power that turns her into Cheetah, Lord’s megalomania that has to be stopped and the mystery surrounding Trevor’s return. At the end there’s a nice flip from a scene in the first movie, with Trevor trying on clothes to fit into the current world while Diana judges his choices.
In mid-November in conjunction with the announcement of the HBO Max release plans the “Official Main Trailer” (4.3 million views on YouTube) came out that is almost exactly the same as the Fandome trailer from August.
Online and Social
Whatever website might have once existed for the movie it’s been replaced by a single page on HBO Max’s site with the trailer and information on either signing up for that service or purchasing theater tickets. It’s really disappointing, though there were still stand-alone social profiles that went more in-depth on promotions and other marketing assets.
Advertising and Promotions
With so much going on, it’s necessary to break all of this up a little bit.
Microsoft, which had a substantial campaign using the movie and character as a way to encourage kids to develop tech skills and learn to code by playing game, engaging in online scavenger hunts and more. There was also a Bing extension that added movie key art to browsers and an Edge browser theme.
Dorito’s, which put movie branding on chip bags, some of which came out earlier this year before various delays, leading to packaging hitting shelves with inaccurate dates.
Hot Topic, which offered all kinds of movie and character merchandise, some exclusive to the retailer.
Reebok, which offered a line of movie- and character-themed footwear. That campaign included an emphasis on highlighting healthcare workers as well as promoting the company’s education initiatives.
The movie also was included in a number of ads for AT&T encouraging people to sign up for the company’s fiber home internet service so they had the bandwidth to fully enjoy Wonder Woman 1984 via HBO Max.
Promotions for the movie kicked off all the way back in June, 2018 in advance of that year’s San Diego Comic-Con as Gadot and Jenkins Tweeted out a handful of first looks at Trevor, Barbara and Diana. That Trevor’s presence in the movie was revealed at the outset of the publicity cycle is notable since the question of whether or not he would show up could have been a significant part of the campaign. Instead, Jenkins – and presumably the studio – felt there was more to gain from getting it out there early and not making everyone endure months of speculation, which is appreciated.
The movie was also part of that year’s CineEurope presentation from the studio.
Jenkins, Gadot and Pine all appeared at SDCC 2018, an appearance that was followed by the launch of an Omaze campaign where people could win a role as an extra on the film.
Warner Bros. sat out Hall H at SDCC 2019 but Jenkins and Gadot did appear at Comic Con Experience in Sao Paulo in December, talking about the movie and what audiences could expect while giving attendees an early look at the first trailer.
The film was included in WB’s 2019CinemaCon presentation that included footage from the film and comments from Jenkins. It was also featured in that year’s CineEurope presentation.
Gadot appeared as a presenter during the recent Oscars broadcast.
Shortly after that news came the movie would be among those included in DC FanDome, a virtual event planned for August. That panel, which included the debut of another trailer, had Jenkins and others discussing both this and the first film and fielding some questions from fans. There was also a surprise appearance by the original on-screen Wonder Woman, Lynda Carter. More promotions for the film, including another appearance by Jenkins, were part of the second part of FanDome a month later.
The news the movie would debut in theaters and on HBO Max was accompanied by a short promo making that point to audiences. It was also prominently included in promos for WB’s later announcement of its 2021 theatrical/HBO Max plans.
Additional longer commercials showed an abridged outline of the story.
A new extended spot was unveiled at this year’s CCXP, one that focuses on the emotional journey Diana goes on over the course of the story.
Immediately leading up to release WB bought Promoted Trends on Twitter.
DC FanDome was reactivated in mid-December for the movie’s virtual premiere, including exclusive looks at the film and more. That premiere supported World Central Kitchen, which has been doing a lot of work to feed hungry people across the world – including the U.S. – during the pandemic.
DC Comics Tie-Ins
There’s been a full-throated promotional effort from DC, not only because that division is home to the Wonder Woman IP but also because the movie’s release roughly coincides with the 80th anniversary of the character’s print debut. That effort has included a number of on-domain “get to know X character” stories and videos as well as insights into the design and creation of Wonder Woman’s golden armor, an interview with Tina Guo, the guitarist behind the now-famous Wonder Woman movie theme and more.
A planned movie tie-in comic with cover art by Nicola Scott, who shared her work on Twitter in March. More details came out in July, including that the book – “Wonder Woman 1984 No. 1” – would debut exclusively in Walmart stores and feature multiple stories, including a direct prequel to the film co-written by Louise Simonson and associate producer Anna Obropta.
A handful of Zoom chat backgrounds, released earlier this year (as many companies were doing) so people could add some film branding to their video calls.
Lilly Aspel, who plays the young Diana, appeared on an episode of DC’s Kids YouTube show to talk about the movie and play games.
#WonderWomanDay was celebrated in October with all sorts of merchandise sales, events at comics retailers and more.
With all the delays and date changes, publicity didn’t truly kick off – outside of a few interviews and comments, including those from Pine and Jenkins from the “I Am The Night” set – until February of this year.
That’s when more photos were released to EW, which also hosted a roundtable conversation with Jenkins and the cast as well as an interview with Gadot about the continuation of Diana’s story as well as that spiffy new armor.
Another interview with Gadot had her talking about this movie as well as her career, public image and more.
New images and comments from Gadot and others emerged in April, as Warner Bros. execs reiterated their commitment to the theatrical model for this movie. At about the same time, Jenkins hinted at the four-film arc she has in mind for the character if she gets the chance and more. She discussed more details and ideas in another interview later on.
As the reality of the pandemic became more clear in May, Gadot surprised a group of Wonder Woman-inspired healthcare workers in Detroit with an appearance to lift them up during difficult times.
Wiig was interviewed about what a career change it was to take a role in a big-budget production like this and how that went.
DC interviewed Magnus Lygdback, Gadot’s trainer on the film, about how he helped her get ready for production, while Jenkins offered more information on how she intended to bring back Trevor.
Pascal was the subject of a feature profile that included comments from Jenkins about working with him and more.
In an interview earlier this month Jenkins said she was essentially ignoring the theatrical cut of Justice League, directed by Joss Whedon, because she felt it contradicted what she had done and had planned, unlike the way she had worked with original JL director Zack Snyder
Gadot spoke in a later interview about returning to the role and what she hoped that meant for the character, feminism and the world as a whole. In another she acknowledged again how rough a year this has been for many people and expressed her hope this movie brings them and everyone else some joy and relief.
Wiig also returned to her “Saturday Night Live” home the weekend before release.
A substantial profile of Jenkins made lots of headlines for including her thoughts on the HBO Max situation, the prolonged negotiations that finally allowed her to return for a sequel, her plans for a third film and more. Another interview had her revealing how studio notes influenced the ending to the first movie.
Let’s face it, the campaign is one of the best of the year, even despite all the delays and awkwardness, because of this single image.
On top of what it’s selling to audiences, the campaign has a strong message for entertainment industry executives who feel threatened by change they’re not in charge of.
How Netflix has sold a story of isolation and desperation.
The new movie The Midnight Sky probably wasn’t intended to be as timely as it has wound up becoming. Based on the book “Good Morning, Midnight” by Lily Brooks-Dalton, the film stars George Clooney, who also directed, as Augustine, a scientist in the Arctic who has survived a global pandemic that wiped out much of the world’s population. He’s engaged in a desperate attempt to communicate with the crew of Æther, a ship returning from a mission to a potentially habitable moon of Jupiter who are unaware of the danger that awaits them back on Earth. Sending that message is difficult, though, forming much of the movie’s drama.
Also starring in the film are Caoilinn Springall as Iris, a young girl who encounters Augustine in his Arctic isolation, and Felicity Jones, Kyle Chandler, David Oyelowo, Tiffany Boone and Demián Bichir as the members of Æther.
Initial reviews were middling, calling it a bit muddled, a reception reflected in its 55% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Still, there was at least some feeling it could result in a bit of awardsspeculation, especially for Clooney. And Netflix has given it a campaign that not only seems Oscar-ready but is also far too relevant to today’s world.
Augustine stares into the sky, which is also shown inside the frame of his head, on the first poster (by marketing agency P+A), released at the end of October. It’s a simple but suitably atmospheric image, especially with the copy reading “There’s a universe between all of us.”
On the final poster (by marketing agency Concept Arts), which came out earlier in December, that copy is removed and replaced with the more vague “Hope finds a way,” which isn’t quite as effective. This time, though, the main image shows both Augustine and Iris in the arctic environment they attempt to traverse. A massive planet hangs in the sky above them, hinting at the story’s connection to space travel.
The first trailer (2.2 million views on YouTube) – teased ahead of release and promoted during a late-October edition of “Monday Night Football” – opens by showing that communication is not happening in either direction. Augustine can’t reach the crew of the Ether and they haven’t heard from Mission Control in weeks. He’s trying to warn of a cataclysmic event that’s happened on Earth while they were in deep space. From there we see he and the young girl with him try to reach a more powerful antenna while those aboard the Ether recount what’s happened on their long journey. Time is running short for both parties, though, making the stakes higher with each passing moment.
The final trailer (1.2 million views on YouTube) came out in early December, starting off by showing Augustine explaining to Iris what all is in his lab and what he’s trying to do. Their journey on Earth is shown alongside the crew of the Æther and their attempts to reach someone – anyone – on Earth as they get closer and closer to returning. It’s all very dramatic, with snowstorms and meteor showers and more, making the film look like an enjoyable piece of drama.
Online and Social
No website about the actual movie, but Netflix, in addition to supporting the film on brand social channels, created the-midnightsky.com. On that site you can record and send a message to someone, which is then played as an AR hologram placed in the room they’re standing in.
Advertising and Promotions
Netflix celebrated the end of principle photography in February, announcing the movie was coming later in the year. In September news came that Clooney would speak about this film and more during October’s 64th BFI London Film Festival.
A recent installment of Netflix’s “Bucket of Movies” had Clooney sharing his thoughts on various classic film titles. He also reminisced about his career path and the roles that contributed to that career.
Media and Press
Clooney was interviewed about the movie and how he approached directing it in an article that also included some first look stills. Another brief interview with Clooney had a few more story details and more.
A feature profile of Jones had her talking about filming the movie, including how Clooney made adjustments to the production to accommodate her pregnancy mid-filming.
Another interview with Clooney had him talking about the story of the film and finishing the project during quarantine. He and Springall both spoke on the experience of filming in Iceland, dealing with the subsequent isolation and lots more. In additional interviews Clooney also covered the challenges of directing, especially the space sequences, working with Springall and more. With composer Alexandre Desplat he talked about creating the score, especially during the recent shutdowns, and how it adds to the emotional messages of the film.
Late night talk show appearances included Clooney and Chandler on “Kimmel,” Clooney on “The Late Show” and elsewhere.
How Clooney and the rest of his team handled both the extreme conditions during production and the challenges of the post-production situation was covered in a lengthy feature just recently.
While, as stated, the reviews haven’t been wholly positive there’s a good story being sold here, albeit one that seems to mash up a handful of movies we’ve seen before. Even more than that, what the audience is being presented here is a strong solo outing from Clooney, who have a solid track record both in front of and behind the camera.
With the focus, particularly in the press interviews, on how post-production was handled in isolation a nice hook that’s relevant to the film was offered, one that everyone seized. That helps make the story, despite those reviews, something that may benefit from the fact we’ve all felt like we’re stuck on our own in a desolate arctic outpost for months, even if we don’t live in Green Bay.
How Universal has sold a period drama about the power of news.
Tom Hanks stars in News of the World, the latest film from writer/director Paul Greengrass. Hanks plays Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a retired soldier who now travels across America’s 19th century western frontier telling settlers and others stories from the rest of the country and the world. While in Texas, Kidd encounters Johanna (Helena Zengel), a young white girl who has been raised by a Kiowa tribe and is now being returned to her remaining family. The two encounter all the dangers the rural west has to offer as they try together to make it to their destination.
First reactions started coming out a few weeks ago, mostly positive, and the movie currently sits at a very good 86% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. Universal’s campaign for the film has been as serious and dramatic as you would imagine given both the subject matter and those behind and in front of the camera. Let’s take a look.
Capt. Kidd and Johanna both stare off into the middle distance with the cloudy frontier sky behind them on the poster (by marketing agency BOND), released in October. It’s a simple but effective image that shows off the main selling points of the film, particularly Hanks in a dramatic role. The “Find where you belong” copy is a little vague but is likely intended to communicate the journeying elements of the story.
The first full trailer (9.4 million views on YouTube) was released in late October, introducing us to Capt. Kidd as someone who visits remote towns to share news from elsewhere in the country. In that capacity he meets a young woman who has been raised by Native Americans after her white family was killed. But keeping her safe will be difficult given not only his own unfamiliarity with children but also the robbers and other bad people who were plentiful in the American West at the time.
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You’ll find the basic marketing content on the movie’s official website, including the trailer, synopsis and more.
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The first footage from the film came in a TV spot released in early October. That footage shows Kidd and Jane setting out on their journey, including some of the dangers and problems they’ll face along the way.
A short featurette with Hanks talking about the story of the film and the arc of his character was released later that month, just after the first trailer came out. AMC Theaters had another exclusive featurette that touched on the political and social climate the movie’s story takes place in.
Short videos like this were used as pre-roll and on social media.
Media and Publicity
While it wasn’t the first press for the movie, the news that it was among the first titles to be set loose by Fox in the wake of its acquisition by Disney was noted by many. Universal was the savior who likely rescued it from oblivion, eventually setting a Christmas 2020 release date.
Vanity Fair debuted the first stills from the movie in October along with some quotes from Hanks and Greengrass.
A profile of Zengel included comments from Greengrass along with her talking about getting the role and working on set with Hanks, who appeared on “The Late Show” last week.
I want to feel like this campaign was effective, mostly because I’m intrigued by the story and a fan of all involved in making the film. But the marketing seems like it could have happened in any year – particularly during awards season – and there’s little here that offers a sense of urgency or immediacy to what’s being presented.
What I mean is that here at the end of The Year of Our Lord 2020, we’ve all been through some stuff. So the story of the film, that Capt. Kidd is hoping to make something of himself and create an informed and entertained citizenry in the wake of a divisive and deadly conflict is more than a little timely. Hitting that element of the story could have made a stronger impact instead of seeming like a potential awards contender from any year.
That’s not to say it’s a bad marketing push, just that it could have been recalibrated to be a bit more relevant to the moment it’s being released in.
How Netflix has sold a powerful – and emotional – drama.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, out this week from Netflix, was likely always going to be a major release. Directed by George C. Wolfe, based on a play from August Wilson and starring both Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman (among others), it has all the credentials of a high-profile late year awards contender.
Of course it took on additional significance when Boseman passed away suddenly in late August, with this as his final on-screen performance.
The story unfolds over the course of a single summer afternoon in and around a 1920’s Chicago recording studio. Ma Rainey (Davis) is there to record with her band, including newcomer Levee (Boseman), a hot young horn player. As those sessions are interrupted while Ma fights with the white managers and owners for control over her music and career, Levee’s brashness leads the other, more veteran players to begin telling stories of the past, both true and exaggerated.
When reviews began coming out in mid-November, a couple weeks before its limited theatrical release, it became clear the movie was headed for potential awards consideration, especially for David and Boseman. Netflix’s campaign has sold the film as exactly the kind of performance showcase you would expect from such a release.
A series of starkly-photographed character posters (by marketing agency GRAVILLIS) came out in mid-October. All brand the movie as “August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” which is a good way to highlight the source material and give credit to the creator. They also all sport the tagline “It would be an empty world without the blues,” a great way to communicate the attitude of the characters and story.
The final poster, released just a short time later, shows just Ma Rainey and Levee in performance-like poses, this time with the copy reading “Everything comes out of the blues,” which is an accurate statement on many levels.
In mid-October the first trailer (738,000 views on YouTube) was finally released. After opening by introducing us to Ma Rainey herself and showing the status she has in the Blues community we meet Levee, the hot young horn player who comes in and immediately acts like he owns the room. While the two considerable talents clash, they are also crossing swords with the white management that owns the recording studios, night clubs and other means of getting their music out. It’s a great trailer that shows the vibe of the movie, highlighting the two lead performances in particular.
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There isn’t a whole lot of information beyond the trailer and a tool for looking up local theater showtimes on the official website for the film, but the fact that Netflix created one in the first place is unusual and indicates the level of effort it’s giving the release.
Advertising and Promotions
Plans for a virtual premiere event intended to include some of the cast and filmmakers discussing the story and more were cancelled when Boseman passed away in late August, just days before that event was going to happen.
About a month later Netflix released the first batch of stills from the film.
The virtual event was eventually held in late October and naturally the talk among the cast and crew included comments on the movie as a whole but also Boseman in particular.
MoMA announced the film would serve as the Centerpiece selection at this year’s virtual contenders showcase.
A featurette with music supervisor Branford Marsalis talking about the history of the story, the music of the film and more came out in early December.
The Gotham Awards announced it would be honoring both Boseman and Davis.
Another short featurette had Washington and much of the cast talking about Davis’ performance and more. The impact of Boseman’s presence on set and his preparation for the role was covered in another while a short video had Wolfe talking about his experience working with the cast.
Wolfe along with the movie as a whole were honored by the Museum of the Moving Image during that institution’s first virtual awards ceremony.
TV spot-like promotions were used on social media and video sites, distilling the story down to its basic dramatic elements and showcasing the performances found in the film.
Netflix scheduled a virtual watch party for this evening with input from the cast and crew.
Media and Press
Costume designer Ann Roth was interviewed about how she created the look of the characters. Similarly, DP Tobias Schliessler talked about the experience of working with Davis and Boseman.
An interview with Davis allowed her to talk about the lessons she learned from the character as well as her thoughts on making the movie.
Wolfe was interviewed about taking on one of Wilson’s plays as well as the performances he captured and more. He and Davis covered similar ground in another conversation.
Davis and much of the rest of the cast and crew talked more about bringing Wilson’s characters to life and working with Boseman on what would be his final role.
Costar Colman Domingo shared his passion for Wilson’s work and how that led him to enthusiastically take the role when it was offered. He and fellow costars Michael Potts and Glynn Turman appeared in a joint video interview talking about the relevancy of the story and more.
It’s understandable that, to a large extent, the campaign has become a sort of public eulogy for Boseman. After all, his tremendous was taken from us far too soon and far too suddenly. But it’s at least a testament to his talent that this kind of big performance became his final artistic statement to the world.
Aside from that, and the way the marketing makes sure to equally focus on Davis and her performance, what you have here is a great campaign for a period piece that’s poised to make a strong end-of-year awards run. Put together you have a message that will likely appeal to both audiences and critics.
How HBO Max has sold a story of making peace with your past.
Meryl Streep teams for the second time with director Steven Soderbergh in this week’s new HBO Max release Let Them All Talk. Streep plays Alice, a well-known author who decides to reconnect with some old friends by taking a cruise as a group. Joining them is Alice’s nephew Tyler (Lucas Hedges), who is responsible for making sure the ladies get where they need to be and so on. Candice Bergen and Dianne Wiest play Roberta and Susan, Alice’s friends and fellow travelers, while Gemma Chan plans Karen, a literary agent who gets involved with Tyler on the trip.
The movie, which has a strong 93% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, has gotten a campaign that sells it as part of the overall Soderbergh brand while also relying heavily on the charisma and talent of the three women in the leading roles.
In addition to selling the names of the director and stars, the poster makes sure to label this as a “Max Original,” a different designation given to the titles it has produced as opposed to those it’s acquired after the fact. That’s meant to apply a little cache, but with such a new brand it’s hard to put much weight behind it.
Outside of that the photo of Streep looking pensive and tense pairs nicely with the copy “Write your wrongs,” conveying a good sense of the basic story as well as the emotional tone of the film.
Alice is furiously writing as the trailer (2.3 million views on YouTube), released in mid-November, opens, but she hasn’t actually turned in anything. So Karen has booked her and her friends on a cruise to try and shake things loose. Turns out there’s some bad blood between the friends, stemming partly from Alice’s use of them as characters in her past works. The chemistry is still there, though, and the time together brings some laughs and some tears and quite a bit of soul-searching. What the trailer really sells, though, is a bunch of professionals doing their thing on one of Soderbergh’s loose sets, which is a strong message to send.
Online and Social
Nothing here specifically for the movie, but HBO Max’s corporate social profiles did provide some support leading up to release.
Advertising and Promotions
Soderbergh announced the movie in mid-August of last year, revealing he was already well into production at the time. It wasn’t long until it was reported the feature marked the first major acquisition by HBO Max for what at the time was its unlaunched streaming subscription service.
The first very brief look at the film was offered in a sizzle reel promoting HBO Max’s upcoming slate of original material.
A few short promos like this were distributed on social in the last few weeks, offering slightly different looks at some scenes previously shown in the trailer.
Media and Press
A group interview with much of the primary cast had them talking about the story as well as the unconventional nature of Soderbergh’s filming style, including how low-budget, low-tech and low-stress the shoot was. That piece also hinted at a December release for the movie.
Streep appeared on “The Late Show” to talk about both this movie and The Prom, also released this week. She, Bergen and Weist all took part in a “Today” interview.
There was a big profile of Bergen that touched on her role here as well as her life and career overall.
You won’t go wrong with a certain segment of the audience (myself included) by selling a movie by promising simply a good time watching a bunch of seasoned professionals breeze their way through a simple premise.
That’s exactly what is being communicated here, with the added bonus that it comes from Soderbergh, who has a history of guiding just those sorts of productions. There’s good stuff here specific to the story, but the real hook is simply a few naturalistic performances and a director with a knack for capturing interesting moments on film.
How Netflix is selling a flashy, glitzy feel-good story.
The Prom, directed by TV impresario Ryan Murphy, is a star-studded romp about defying small-minded attitudes with the help of a handful of massive celebrities. Adapted from a hit stage musical, the movie stars Jo Ellen Pellman as Emma Nolan, a high schooler who has been informed that the PTA, headed by Mrs. Greene (Kerry Washington), will not allow her to attend the prom with her girlfriend Alyssa (Ariana DeBose), who just also happens to be Mrs. Greene’s daughter.
When Emma’s situation makes the news it catches the attention of a handful of Broadway stars who are looking to get themselves out of a professional rut. So Dee Dee Allen (Meryl Streep), Barry Glickman (James Corden), Angie Dickenson (Nicole Kidman) and Trent Oliver (Andrew Rannells) all head to small-town Indiana hoping to find career salvation but wind up experiencing quite a bit more.
The movie itself has received middling reviews, but Netflix gave it a flashy campaign in keeping with the subject matter.
The first poster (by marketing agency L.A.) came out in September and immediately makes the showbiz-nature of the story clear by presenting both the title and the names of the cast in big neon letters, like a sign placed on top of a building. You don’t get a lot of story information here but you get a lot of background on the rest of the movie, so it works pretty well.
A series of character posters, each with the face of that actor and another thing to celebrate named, came out in November.
“Everyone deserves a chance to celebrate” the audience is told on the next poster, released later in November. This one shows Emma and Alyssa holding hands while walking toward the school building, clearly on their way to a dance. A second poster uses the same aesthetic, but turns the couple around so they’re standing triumphantly facing the camera.
The final poster has the adults in the cast walking down the downtown of the town where the action takes place, all looking like they’re having a great time with all the neon and glitz they’re wearing.
The trailer (1.3 million views on YouTube), released toward the end of October, is the very definition of glitzy. You get the basics of the story – that a bunch of Broadway superstars has come to a small Indiana town to support a young woman who is being denied the right to go to the prom with her girlfriend – but that’s just there in the service of showing off the big musical productions. There’s so much glitter, so many sequins and so much choreography it’s…well…it’s just impressive.
The final trailer (1.4 million views on YouTube) came out just a few weeks ago, opening with Emma logging into her computer to tell her story. That prompts the cadre of actors to take up Emma’s cause as their own, heading to Indiana to make a splash. There are ups and downs, of course, but ultimately the stars decide to stage a prom themselves, resulting in more than a few heartwarming musical numbers.
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No website, of course, but the movie also seems to have received limited support on Netflix’s brand social channels because the company has been busy promoting Mank as well as its lineup of holiday films.
Advertising and Promotions
The movie was announced back in April of 2019. After it was picked up by Netflix a release date was finally announced in mid-September.
A full clip of Kidman performing one of the film’s key musical numbers came out earlier this week.
Media and Press
The cast and crew were all part of a THR cover story where they talked about making the movie, what the story meant to them and more. That included a spotlight on DeBose, mentioning this as one of a couple high-profile projects she’s recently involved in.
Many members of the cast were quoted talking about this movie in a feature story on the latest wave of Hollywood’s attempt to make musicals an ongoing genre again.
Murphy praised his cast and celebrated the timeliness of the story in an interview.
DeBose was interviewed about how her cultural heritage and other factors played into this and other roles. Another interview with Murphy had him talking about assembling the cast and making the movie.
In terms of talk show appearances, Rannells showed up on “The Tonight Show” while Streep appeared on “The Late Show.”
You certainly can’t accuse the campaign of not knowing what it’s selling. That bright, shimmery pink and purple brand identity is carried across every element of the marketing, creating a consistent experience for the audience no matter where they encounter it.
What is slightly disappointing, though, is that in serving so much glitter the marketing never really settles into the story. You have to dig through several layers of musical fluff to get to what the film is actually about, and much of the drama that’s conveyed in the official synopsis isn’t communicated within the campaign itself. That includes big contradictions, such as how Washington’s character is shown in the trailer to be the antagonist who doesn’t want to let her daughter celebrate but on the posters is smiling and having a grand old time along with everyone else.
In the end it’s a mixed bag, but maybe I too don’t understand the concept of zazz.
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.
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 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.
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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.
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.