The United States Vs. Billie Holiday – Marketing Recap

How Hulu has sold a biopic of a civil rights icon.

The United States vs. Billie Holiday is not the first time the story of the singer and civil rights figure has made it to feature film, first in 1972’s Lady Sings The Blues. This time around Andra Day plays Holiday and instead of being an all-inclusive biopic, the story focuses on an era of her career where she was targeted by federal agents for instigating racial unrest, specifically with her song “Strange Fruit.” As a pretense, the government goes after her for her drug uses, adding a racial element to the burgeoning war on drugs.

Directed by Lee Daniels and written by Suzan-Lori Parks, the movie also stars Natasha Lyonne as Tallulah Bankhead, whom Holiday was at least friends with and may have had an affair with, and Garrett Hedlund and Trevante Rhodes as two of the federal agents going after the singer. It currently sports a paltry 58% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, indicative of the mixed reviews it’s received. But Hulu’s campaign has played it as an awards-contender, especially based on Day’s performance in the title role.

The Posters

Elements of the layout on the one and only poster (by marketing agency BLT Communications) released in January are meant to reinforce each other through apparent contradictions. Specifically, the copy “Her voice would not be silenced” both contradicts and supports the image of Holiday with her mouth hidden by the microphone. That shows how Holiday used music and song to keep her message going out, even under pressure.

The Trailers

The first trailer (307k views on YouTube) was released by Hulu in mid-January, opening by showing us Holiday as a woman who knows what she wants. After some standard biopic elements, we see that her efforts to integrate the music scene and other activities have gotten the unwelcome attention of lawmakers in Washington, who want to discredit her and shut down whatever influence she has. That leads to her arrest, after which she has a hard time getting started again. Still, she’s determined to follow the path she believes in, even if it means putting herself in danger.

Online and Social

No website that was easily found, but Hulu did give the movie some promotional support on its brand social media profiles instead of creating one-offs.

Advertising and Promotions

The project was one of those up for grabs at the 2020 Cannes Virtual Market, with Paramount eventually winning the competition and acquiring distribution rights. Later on Paramount took it off its schedule as Hulu picked it up.

Daniels and Day participated in a video conversation about making the film and telling Holiday’s important story. Another video featured Daniels talking with the whole cast.

A featurette from early February had Day and others talking about Holiday’s part in the Civil Rights Movement and her continued influence today.

Day’s full performance of “Strange Fruit” was released to show just how powerful that song still is.

More videos came out of a conversation with the cast and crew and Day talking about the original song she wrote for the film.

Audible announced a tie-in limited-series podcast that framed contemporary issues through the lens of Holiday’s life and struggles.

At the recent virtual premiere the cast and crew were joined by a handful of celebrities, including some government officials, to talk about Holiday’s legacy and continued relevance.

Media and Press

How Day prepared for the role, including the singing she was going to have to do, was covered in an interview with the actress.

Writer Suzan-Lori Parks was interviewed about how she portrayed Holiday’s conflict with U.S. law enforcement officials and what similarities her protests have with those of today. Costume designer Paolo Nieddu spoke on not wanting to recreate Holiday’s style exactly but offer a twist on that style to make it more dramatic.

An extensive profile of Daniels not only touches on how and why he told this story but also on the fact he’s newly sober and how that played into the production. He was then interviewed about capturing the legacy of Holiday’s real-life activism, his desire to expose Holiday to a new generation of audiences, the importance of highlighting her battle with the government and more.

In a joint interview with Day, Daniels talked about how studios weren’t interested in the project for a long time as well as how they wanted to portray Holiday as realistically as possible. He also touched on the potential comparisons with Lady Sings The Blues, the previous film about Holiday.

Additional interviews with Day covered how she physically and emotionally embodied Holiday, especially on stage, the physical changes she made – including gaining weight and smoking – for the part and more.

When she appeared on “The Tonight Show” she shared again how she initially turned down the role and what she did to make herself ready for it and shared a video for a remix of “Strange Fruit”. Day performed “Tigress and Tweed” on “The View” and was interviewed by Trevor Noah on “The Daily Show.”

Overall

The campaign understands that the story is (or at least should be) compelling enough, but if the audience isn’t pulled in through that, Hulu’s hope appears to be they will tune in for Day’s performance as Holiday. That’s why she has performed “Strange Fruit” on a number of occasions and in a number of ways and why so many of the interviews with the actress have focused on the work she did to fully take on the role.

That’s coupled with the other major element of the campaign, which is Daniels’ focusing on the importance of telling Holiday’s story, one that has a number of elements making it relevant decades after the events happened. He’s been talking the entire time about her legacy and related topics in an attempt to make it less of a period piece, which may turn off some members of the audience, and more contemporary.

It also needs to be noted that this is the second movie released in February about a real life black activist being targeted – under questionable if not completely fabricated auspices – by law enforcement. If I had to guess I’d say there are countless similar stories, many of which the white public aren’t familiar with or aware of.

I Care A Lot – Marketing Recap

How Netflix has sold a story that asks audiences to sympathize with a con artist.

The new movie I Care A Lot, out today on Netflix, seems to have as its premise “What if we made a film about John Mahoney’s character from Say Anything…, but with Rosamund Pike instead of Mahoney?” Pike plays Marla Grayson, a woman who has created a nice racket for herself as a court-appointed guardian for elderly individuals. Once she has control of their assets, she funnels them into various shady investments, pocketing the profits and leaving the estates with almost nothing. When Grayson sets her sights on her latest mark, Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest), she inadvertently runs afoul of a local gangster (Peter Dinklage) and is forced to think even faster than usual to get out of a dangerous situation.

Written and directed by J Blakeson, the movie has a solid 81% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and has gotten a quick, breezy campaign from Netflix that plays up Pike’s turn as a fast-talking con artist.

The Posters

The first poster, released in January, has Grayson wearing sunglasses as she looks toward the camera, her hair perfect through the title treatment, shown here in big, bold letters. A pull quote calling the film “deliciously nasty” is shown near the Toronto International Film Festival branding.

A series of pop-art-esque character posters came out earlier this week, continuing the trend of visuals using just a few bold colors to really make the photos jump in the eyes of the audience.

The Trailers

Mid-January brought the release of the first trailer (1.6m views on YouTube), which introduces Marla as a professional carer, albeit one who might be a bit of a scammer as well. While much of what she does is barely legal, she’s warned not to further harass one woman in particular, someone who has dangerous and powerful friends. Marla is unperturbed, though and continues on with business as usual, confident she’ll come out on top.

Online and Social

Nothing here, at least nothing unique. Netflix gave the movie a bit of support on brand social channels, though.

Advertising and Promotions

Netflix acquired the film in September, shortly after its well-received debut at the Toronto Film Festival.

A short clip released just as the movie became available shows Grayson getting some new and potentially valuable information from an attorney (played by Chris Messina) for Peterson’s powerful friends.

Media and Press

Blakeson, Pike and others were interviewed about the story and why they got involved in the project during TIFF.

Both Gonzalez and Pike appeared on “Kimmel” within a day or so of each other to talk about the film.

Overall

It’s surprising there hasn’t been more on the promotional and publicity fronts, especially given the positive reviews Pike’s performance has received. But you can’t say the campaign doesn’t make a point to highlight that performance, one that pops off the screen in the trailer just like the image does on the bold-hued posters.

Supernova – Marketing Recap

How Bleecker Street has sold a romance of celebrating a life together.

In the new movie Supernova, written and directed by Harry Macqueen, Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth play Tusker and Sam, respectively, a married couple dealing with an unfortunate reality. Namely, Tusker has been diagnosed with dementia and is losing his memory of their life together. So the couple has decided to take an extended RV road trip before his condition gets worse, checking in with friends and family and revisiting some of their favorite places from their relationship.

Bleecker Street has sold the movie, which has an 88% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with a sweet, gentle campaign based around the relationship at the heart of the story.

The Posters

Sam and Tusker are shown in a close embrace on the single poster (by marketing agency The Posterhuse) that came out in mid-September of last year. There’s no tagline or other copy, but the scenic photo in the background of what I’m guessing is the English countryside certainly helps establish the story’s setting. And the star chart superimposed over all that is a nice touch considering what else we’ll see in the campaign.

The Trailers

The first trailer (784k views on YouTube) was released in early January, starting out by showing how Sam and Tusker are taking a road trip together, something they’ve done frequently in the past. They’re out visiting family and friends and revisiting some of their old haunts in part because Tusker is losing his memory and they want to have one last outing together before it gets worse. It’s funny and emotional and sweet, all focused on the performances of Tucci and Firth.

Online and Social

Not much on the studio’s official website for the film. In addition to just a small amount of marketing material the site is focused primarily on helping people buy tickets to the movie’s limited theatrical showings or via various VOD platforms.

Advertising and Promotions

The movie screened at the San Sebastián International Film Festival in September and the screened at BFI Film Festival in October. That same month Bleecker Street acquired the film.

A clip came out after the trailer showing Tusker embarrassing Sam – in a nice way – at a roadside diner. Another shows the couple in a tender moment first glimpsed in the trailer.

Media and Press

The two leads spoke about how they worked on the details of their characters’ relationship, how they each got involved with the film and more. Similar ground was covered in another interview where they and Macqueen revealed the parts were initially meant for the other actor before they proposed switching.

Both Firth and Tucci appeared on “The Late Show” while Tucci showed up by himself on “Late Night.”

Overall

If you remember a movie called The Leisure Seeker from a few years ago, you’ll know this is just one of a few recent movies that have dealt with couples navigating the difficult terrain of one member no longer being fully present mentally. The difference here is not only in the sexuality of the couple in question but in how Tusker and Sam are still relatively young. While the overall trend of dementia-related movies may be in part a reaction to the aging of the Baby Boom generation, this one dials the character ages back several years to show a couple that should still be in its prime.

The marketing itself is very nice, but I do have to note that the campaign seems to downplay the relationship between the leads to some extent. That’s not to say that it’s completely ignored or overlooked, but it also doesn’t seem to emphasize that the two are more than just close friends, despite the fact that the personal friendship between Tucci and Firth is a cornerstone of the campaign.

Land – Marketing Recap

How Focus Features sold a drama of emotional and physical escape.

(ed note: Yes, this came out last week. Let’s move on.)

Robin Wright makes her directorial debut with Land, in which she also stars. Wright plays Edee, a woman who experiences great personal tragedy and, fed up with the pressure of those around her, decides to escape to the wilderness of Wyoming. There she hopes to find solitude and peace. But she also finds the harsh environment there more dangerous than she anticipated, but gets by with the unexpected help of a local hunter named Miguel (Demián Bichir), someone who is also there to get away from it all.

Focus Features has run a relatively short campaign for a movie released in limited theaters, one with a 69% Fresh Rotten Tomatoes rating.

The Posters

This is super-nerdy, but I love the comma in the middle of the copy “A story of humanity, in the face of uncertainty” on the poster (by marketing agency Cold Open), released in December. That punctuation slows down the sentence and asks the reader to pause and consider both halves and what they mean both on their own and together. Other than that, the message is simple in how it shows Edee in front of her Wyoming cabin with the callouts of the festivals the film screened at placed toward the top.

The Trailers

Toward the end of December the first trailer (2.8 million views on YouTube) came out, opening by showing us how Edee is grieving by moving away from everyone who just wants her to be better and get over her loss. Her life in the Wyoming wilderness is hard, though, and almost gets the better of her until others help her out. One of those people is a local hunter and recluse himself, who teaches her how to survive on her own, though it’s implied from the trailer that the two may wind up alone together by the end of the story. Still, it’s a powerful proposition made here that’s anchored by what looks to be a fearless performance by Wright.

Online and Social

The official website for the film is primarily focused on selling tickets to the limited theatrical screenings, with only a little other information available. There were also social profiles that shared various promotions and more.

Advertising and Publicity

Wright and her team brought a sales pitch for the movie to Cannes 2019. A few months later in October Focus Features acquired distribution rights.

The movie was among those scheduled to screen at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.

The first clip shows Edee getting help from the mysterious hunter who comes by her remote cabin. Additional clips showed more of the movie, including extended looks at scenes glimpsed in the trailer.

There was also a video of a song from the film’s soundtrack performed by Ben Sollee and Time For Three.

Cinemark Theaters shared an exclusive behind the scenes featurette.

Shorter versions of the trailer were cut down and shared as promos on social media and, I imagine, elsewhere.

Media and Press

Wright talked about how she wanted to create an uplifting film and story while sharing a handful of stills from the movie.

Additional interviews with Wright had her talking about what it was like to direct herself, how real events informed her telling a story of grief, the process of shooting in such a remote location, how she directed out of necessity and more. She hit on some of those topics when she appeared on “Kimmel.”

A profile of Bicher was published in early February.

Later on Wright was interviewed on “CBS Sunday Morning” and NPR’s “Morning Edition.”

Overall

The emphasis on Wright playing roles in front of and behind the camera is great, showing how the actor is taking another step in her career, though she’s directed episodes of TV before. That’s something that’s hit time and again throughout the campaign, which is good for her and helps to differentiate the film.

Unfortunately that’s about all that does. The rest of the campaign sells a movie that we’ve seen in various forms a number of times before, though with the promise there may be something new being offered here.

Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar – Marketing Recap

How Lionsgate is selling a comedy about…well…something, I’m sure.

Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar is a movie that’s been in development and pre-production for a number of years, back to shortly after Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo had a hit in 2011 with Bridesmaids. Now it’s finally coming to PVOD via Lionsgate.

Mumolo and Wiig star as Barb and Star, respectively, two lifelong best friends who finally embark on a long-planned vacation to Vista Del Mar, Florida, where they expect to have lots of fun in the sun. Instead, in true comedic fashion, they get mixed up in a criminal plot to kill everyone in town and other hijinks.

Given the pedigree of those involved, let’s see how Lionsgate has sold the long-gestating film.

The Posters

The two friends are seen only from the neck down as they descend from the bright blue sky on the first poster (by marketing agency Leroy and Rose), released in mid-December. Of course it calls out the fact that the same team brought audiences Bridesmaids.

On the second poster (by marketing agency P+A), released in January, we still don’t see the faces of the main characters, who this time are sitting in a giant clamshell, surrounded by pink flamingos, leaping dolphins and other decorations that scream “Florida!” Copy at the top reads “The friendship we all want. The vacation we all need.”

There are even more sea and beach items scattered around the design of the final poster, released later last month. We finally see Barb and Star’s faces this time as they ride a giant shrimp while they happily hold fancy cocktails, the resort where the story’s action takes place in the background.

The Trailers

The first trailer (153k views on YouTube) finally came out in early January. Labeled a “teaser,” the spot takes a meta approach, centered around Barb and Star discussing how much they love movie trailers. Only a few scenes, none of which show the faces of the two leads, are shared, but you still get the very pastel vibe of the film.

The next trailer (5.6 million views on YouTube), released at the end of January, starts out by having a bit of fun with a “Stranger Things” vibe, right down to the title treatment font and music. From there we see just how awkward the two are, though they’re very comfortable with who they are and the choices they’ve made. There’s not much story on display here, it’s just about the laughs, which works just fine.

Online and Social

You’ll find information about the movie and where to rent it on the official website, but not much else. There were promos and other updates shared on the social profiles created by Lionsgate, including stickers and GIFs on the movie’s Giphy channel.

Kristen Wiig Heart GIF by Barb & Star Go To Vista Del Mar - Find & Share on GIPHY

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Lionsgate released the first photo from the movie in early July, 2020 to get conversations started. Things remained quiet until January, when the studio announced a mid-February PVOD release.

A short while after the teaser trailer came out a “Fashion Video” was released showing a number of women wearing some of their finest vacation outfits on a picturesque beach.

That was followed by a clip of Barb and Star checking into their hotel room, which is super-exciting. Additional clips, including one sharing a…provocative…song that’s played at the resort the pair visit, followed over the next couple weeks.

A short video purported to be a Zoom call between some of the characters.

TV spots like this started running in early February that, like the trailers, don’t worry about the story, instead selling the movie as just a good laugh from the Bridesmaids creative team.

Additional spots took a similar approach.

Finally, Lionsgate put out a comedic instructional video on how you can watch the movie.

Media and Publicity

An interview with Mumolo and Wiig included them talking about the script, the creative origins of the characters and more, including the story behind the long delay in getting the film made.

Trayce Gigi Field, the movie’s costume designer, was interviewed about creating the unique fashions worn by the two main characters as well as the rest of the cast.

Dornan spoke about the film when he appeared on “Kimmel.” Wiig then appeared on “The Late Show” to talk about how long she and Mumolo have been working on the film and how much fun it was to finally film it.

That same topic was covered in a feature profile of the two collaborators.

Overall

There are a couple things worth calling out here.

First, it was a bold move by Lionsgate to not only keep the faces of Barb and Star hidden for the first half of the campaign, especially considering that campaign only launched in earnest a couple months ago. It’s not like the studio is hiding how some beloved pop culture figure will look, but it did create a sense of fun that works here.

Second, the constant reminders that it took Wiig and Mumolo the better part of a decade to get the film made after scoring such a big hit with Bridesmaids should serve as a reminder of how much Hollywood distrusts women, especially comedians. Meanwhile, Adam Wingard, who’s made one successful movie and runs a fetish Tumblr blog, directed the upcoming Godzilla vs. Kong.

Finally, if the state of Florida hasn’t already adopted the poster designs and other graphics in its official tourism campaigns I’m not sure what we’re doing here.

Judas and the Black Messiah – Marketing Recap

How Warner Bros. has sold a story of power, politics and betrayal.

Judas and the Black Messiah, directed by Shaka King and co-written by him and Will Berson (with the story from Keith and Kennth Lucas), travels back to 1960s Chicago to tell the story of Illinois Black Panther leader Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya). Specifically, it focuses on Hampton’s betrayal by William O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield). That betrayal by O’Neal comes after he’s picked up by the FBI and told the only way he can stay out of jail is by informing on Hampton and his organization’s activities at a time when the Black Panther movement was viewed by law enforcement as a terrorist organization.

The movie, which also stars Jermaine Fowler, Martin Sheen, Dominique Fishback, Jesse Plemons and others, is hitting both limited theaters and HBO Max this week as part of Warner Bros.’ day-and-date release strategy. With a 98% “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes and already either having been nominated or won a number of awards, WB’s campaign has focused on the performances as well as the real-life drama that inspired the story.

The Posters

Last September the first poster (by marketing agency Statement Advertising) came out, showing O’Neal in the foreground with a red-tinged photo of Hampton and the crowds that believed in him in the background. That design, even independent of the copy reading “You can kill a revolutionary but you can’t kill the revolution”, is similar to the look and feel of propaganda posters, with the red usually indicating a socialist or similar message, one that’s appropriate for Hampton’s mission.

The second poster (by marketing agency Concept Arts) came out in January and pares things down to just Hampton and O’Neal. While it keeps that red shading, it also loses the copy but adds all the festivals the film has appeared at and claim that this is “One of the best films of the year.”

A final poster (by marketing agency GRAVILLIS) came out just last week and takes a different approach but keeps the idea of generally looking like some sort of propaganda poster. This time though it’s a blue and black color scheme and a design that also kind of mimics a paperback book, with the title at the top and the imagery in the bottom two-thirds. This one was designed for artist and former Black Panther member Emory Douglas.

The Trailers

The first trailer (2 million views on YouTube) was released in early August, opening with Hampton introducing himself and then showing how he is ready to lead a revolution. It quickly switches to focus on O’Neal, who is being interrogated by the FBI, who want him to inform on Hampton. Scenes of violent uprising are mixed with shots of Hampton and his organization helping feed and support communities, showing the good and the bad that the FBI was so eager to quash.

The second trailer (6.9 million views on YouTube) came out in January, showing Hampton and the community work he and the Black Panthers are doing. That’s far from the terrorist threat the FBI makes them out to be, something O’Neal comes to realize after he’s already in too deep. There’s an awful lot of powerful emotion here, selling a movie that’s focused on presenting a much more accurate picture of that period than may be taught in many history classes.

Online and Social

You’ll find information on showtimes (where applicable) as well as a synopsis and other very basic information on the film’s website, which uses a variation on the key art at the top.

Advertising and Promotions

As with the rest of the studio’s 2021 slate, it was among the titles named by Warner Bros. as debuting simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max.

The movie’s profile was raised significantly when it was added as a late entry to the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, which served as the film’s premiere.

A featurette released during Sundance in early February went into the real people and stories that influence the movie.

Cutdown versions of the trailer were used as preroll ads on YouTube and elsewhere.

The song “What It Feels Like” from Nipsey Hussle and Jay-Z came out earlier this week, one of the tunes on the movie’s “inspired by” soundtrack.

Media and Press

Right about the time the trailer debuted, King was interviewed about the controversial casting of a British actor to play a prominent Black American, something he said he was aware of but had to make the best choice he could regarding. Kaluuya was later interviewed about how the movie follows a path he’s carved out in her career to date along and more.

There was a feature profile covering how long King and others had worked on the project, how there were at times two Hampton-oriented films in development and how a number of studios passed on the film for reasons that seemed based more on “no one wants to see a movie about Black power” than anything else.

How Kaluuya researched his role and what that research exposed him to in terms of American history, as well how he worked with King and others were covered in an interview with the actor.

Stanfield appeared on “The Tonight Show” to talk about the film, though the conversation of course spilled over into more of his recent and upcoming projects.

King was interviewed about focusing on Hampton’s story and making it as realistic as possible, while Fishback spoke about how the film is part of her effort to tell important stories.

H.E.R. performed their song from the soundtrack on “The Late Show.”

Overall

WB’s campaign here is very strong, selling a biopic about a public figure that’s too often marginalized in many history books and lessons. Kaluuya and Stanfield are rightly front and center here, but so is King and that’s great to see since, as a filmmaker himself, the opportunity afforded by a higher profile is that he will be able to tell more like this.

The performances by the leads are at the forefront of a marketing push that has a clear and easily recognizable brand identity, one that makes it clear the film does not shy away from addressing sometimes uncomfortable societal issues. It’s not one that will likely drive massive amounts of new subscribers to HBO Max, but it does make the case that it’s a movie that needs to be watched if you can.

The Super Bowl LV Movie Commercials

OK, but we can all still agree Tom Brady is the worst, right?

As the date of Super Bowl LV approached, there were a number of stories indicating Hollywood studios may not be throwing the game much support. Indeed, in a year where the number of overall commercials that were teasing their spots in advance – or releasing them in full – in advance of the game seemed to be low, studio advertising seemed to be following the trend.

The reality turned out to be slightly different. While the number of movie commercials was certainly lower than it has been in past years, there were more than appear to have been expected.

Reasons for the dearth of movie spots likely vary, but factoring heavily into studio considerations has to be that of the nine movies advertised during last year’s Superb Owl, six still haven’t come out. That’s in part because of the coronavirus theater closures and the insistence – on the part of the studios, filmmakers or both – that the movies go to theaters and not streaming. Of the remaining three, only two actually did get a traditional theatrical release, but only just under the pandemic wire. The other one – Disney’s Mulan remake – went to streaming via Disney+.

So what movies were advertised last night?

The Super Bowl LV Lineup

Nobody (Universal, 4/2/21): Bob Odenkirk as a criminal “auditor,” someone who comes in to clean up a mess someone else has left, may seem like an odd choice given it’s not a franchise or remake. But when you see that Universal is selling it as a slightly more comedic John Wick and consider Odenkirk’s profile is still high given his starring role in “Better Call Saul,” it makes a bit more sense.

Old (Universal, July): This is the first look at the new film from M. Night Shyamalan, who is enjoying a career and reputation resurgence, so Universal must have felt it had enough appeal to advertising during the game. It teases the usual Shyamalan mystery, clearly trying to get some word of mouth speculation and anticipation built up.

Raya and the Last Dragon (Disney, 3/5/21): Like Mulan, Disney will offer this Raya on Disney+ via “Premier Access,” meaning an additional fee on top of the standard subscription charge. I’m a little surprised, then, that the spot is so action focused and doesn’t offer more of a comedic pitch like the recent trailer.

F9 (Universal, 5/28/21): The only repeat from last year, F9 was one of the first movies to have its release date pushed an entire year, meaning unlike others it hasn’t gone through 13 cycles of “oh it’s coming out now…no, now…no, wait…”.

Coming 2 America (Amazon Studios, 3/5/21): The only pure-play streaming movie of those advertised, Amazon is looking for a return on the money it paid Paramount to acquire this film and so sells it using scenes and other gags that are likely familiar to fans of the first movie.

Without Remorse (Amazon Studios, 4/30/21): OK, not actually a full-blown movie commercial, but Amazon took advantage of Michael B. Jordan being in their commercial for Alexa (which oddly sexualizes technology in a way that we shouldn’t be wholly comfortable with) to also plug the Tom Clancy adaptation he stars in. The movie, another Paramount acquisition, got a new release date as well.

What Was Missing?

With just five movies making the cut, and knowing the struggles studios have had with release dates, it’s hard not to read into which titles were notable by their absence from the ad lineup.

No Marvel: You might think if Marvel Studios/Disney believed Black Widow was actually sticking to its early May release date, a commercial would have run. Instead, the only Marvel property to be advertised was the upcoming “Falcon and the Winter Soldier” Disney+ series. That decision may also represent producer Kevin Feige’s recent focus on series over movies, but still…

No HBO: This is actually the most surprising of the omissions. HBO has been releasing a number of commercials and other promos in the last two months to raise awareness and interest in the fact that HBO Max will stream Warner Bros.’ entire 2021 lineup day-and-date with theatrical release. So to not see a commercial here that touts the release of titles like The Suicide Squad, Godzilla vs. Kong and others – in addition to the rest of the service’s catalog, seems like a missed opportunity, especially after the success of Wonder Woman 1984 on the platform.

No Netflix: Similarly, Netflix made headlines recently when it announced it would release a new feature film every week of 2021. Given the…fungible…nature of studio release dates over the last 11 months, such reliability coupled with ease of access could have been a great boost to subscriber numbers. That’s especially true when you consider some of those movies are big-budget action films and comedies starring Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds and others in addition to the usual mid-tier dramas and tear-jerking romances.

Malcolm & Marie – Marketing Recap

How Netflix has sold a shot story of love and all the messiness that entails.

Malcolm & Marie gained notoriety early in 2020 for being one of the first films to be shot after pandemic-related closures and other restrictions went into place. Appropriately, the movie features a small cast of just two and takes place in a single location.

Zendaya and John David Washington play Marie and Malcolm, respectively. The couple live together in Los Angeles, with the story opening as they return from the premiere of a film directed by Malcolm. As they wait for reactions and reviews to come in, the two engage in a number of conversations that alternately solidify and call into question their relationship, with each speaking their real feelings – both good and bad – about the other.

Written and directed by Sam Levinson, the movie currently has a poor 58% on Rotten Tomatoes, having been sold as a stark drama anchored by the performances of the two leads.

The Posters

“Madly in love” is a nice way for the copy on the poster (by marketing agency P+A), released in January. That communicates some of the range of emotions in the story, while the black and white photo of the two reinforces that with its image of the two in a passionate embrace. The retro title treatment also acts as a nice hint to the slightly throwback nature of the drama being sold.

The Trailers

Netflix released the first trailer (2.8 million views on YouTube) in early January. “This is not a love story. This is love.” is the message displayed on title cards halfway through the trailer, and that’s certainly the message that’s sent. We see the couple laughing and loving and fighting and running, all seemingly over the course of a short period of time. The performances really come through here, which is good since those are the central selling point of the film.

Online and Social

The movie did have its own social media accounts, including a Twitter profile where promos and other updates were shared. Netflix also created a Giphy collection of GIFs from the film.

John David Washington Dancing GIF by NETFLIX - Find & Share on GIPHY

Advertising and Promotions

Zendaya released a still from the film in early July, effectively announcing the film was coming. Details emerged after that about how the film was shot in secret and during the Covid-19 pandemic’s quarantine period, with multiple safety protocols in place for everyone involved.

Netflix acquired worldwide distribution rights to the film in mid-September, later setting a February release date.

A clip released late last month shows just one of the heated conversations the couple has over the course of the night.

Media and Press

A feature profile of Zendaya had the actress offering lots of insights into the origins of the story and how she and Washington worked in the early pandemic conditions. For his part, Washington talked about similar topics, and addressed the decade-plus age difference between the leads, in an interview later on.

Zendaya was interviewed by Carey Mulligan about making the movie. She also appeared on “The Late Show” to promote the film and had a feature profile that covered her career to date as well as what’s next for her.

Couple Love GIF by NETFLIX - Find & Share on GIPHY

Both Washington and Zendaya spoke about how they used their real life relationships to influence their performances.

Overall

While sure there’s a certain cloyness to some of what’s presented here, it comes off even more like a stage play than some of the actual filmed stage plays that have come out recently. That’s a positive thing, since it brings with it connotations of it being an actor’s showcase, kind of like a play being produced in a black box theater in order to strip away some of the distracting artifice in order to focus on the story.

We can take issue with the age difference between Washington and Zendaya, but it’s not so great – and neither so young – that it becomes overly creepy in a Woody Allen kind of way. And purely from an acting perspective, it’s clear Zendaya can hold her own against her older costar. So it’s a solid campaign that sells a throwback, performance-centric drama that, if nothing else, will serve as one of the first artifacts of how very weird 2020 was for film productions.

John David Washington Love GIF by NETFLIX - Find & Share on GIPHY

Falling – Marketing Recap

How Quiver has sold a drama about making peace with those who don’t understand you.

Not only does Viggo Mortensen star in Falling, the movie marks the actor’s directorial debut. Mortensen plays John Peterson, who lives with his partner Eric (Terry Chen) and their children. John’s father Willis (Lance Henriksen) is getting older and showing signs of dementia so comes to live with John and his family. That situation creates tension between the father and son, the latter having never accepted the former for who he is. But it also creates an opportunity for everyone, including John’s sister Sarah (Laura Linney) to come to terms with each other and start a new chapter together.

The movie, out this week from Quiver Distribution, has a solid 72% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and has gotten a campaign that represents the story in all its messiness.

The Posters

There were a few posters that came out last year but the official release one-sheet was released in mid-January. It shows the core relationship and drama of the story, with John and Willis having what looks to be a heated conversation. It’s a simple message on display here, which is complimented by the icons for the festivals it’s appeared at on the bottom of the layout.

The Trailers

John has brought his father home to live with him as the first trailer (11k views on YouTube), released in mid-January, opens. Willis is having memory problems and can’t handle living on his own, but the two fall into conflict frequently as the elder man disapproves of his son’s life while also struggling with his own problems. The story seems to slip between time periods, intermingling the past with the present to show how the relationships in the family have or haven’t changed, adding to the poignancy of what’s presented here.

Online and Social

The only web presence I can find for the movie is a single page on Quiver’s site that has some elementary information but not the trailer or other marketing materials.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The movie was announced as among those screening at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. It was also selected as a Cannes feature, despite that event happening virtually because of the Covid-19 pandemic. It was also chosen for the San Sebastian Film Festival and Toronto Film Festival.

Media and Publicity

While Mortensen was promoting Green Book this film was announced as his directorial debut.

In an interview at Sundance, Mortensen talked about drawing on his family for inspiration, even if the story isn’t actually about them. Similar themes were the subject of another interview with the actor, who commented on what is or isn’t real in the film. A video conversation with the cast touched on the same subject matter.

Later on Mortensen again talked about preparing for the film and working out the story. He also addressed the topic of him, a non-gay man, playing a gay character. Other interviews with the actor/director covered similar ground, especially focusing on his experience behind the camera for the first time.

Mortensen appeared on “The Late Show” to talk about the movie.

Overall

I’m not qualified to speak to whether or not the story is a positive portrayal of a gay man and his partner or related issues. But the campaign does show a good story with good performances from all the leads. Obviously the focus is on Mortensen and Henriksen, but there’s no bad that’s going to come from showing the two of them going head-to-head in some highly-charged scenes.

Breaking News In Yuba County – Marketing Recap

How MGM has sold a dark comedy.

From writer Amanda Idoko and director Tate Taylor comes this week’s comedy Breaking News In Yuba County. Allison Janney stars as Sue Buttons, a suburban housewife who becomes something of a local celebrity after her husband Karl (Matthew Modine) goes “missing” and she embarks on a search to find him. Entranced by her newfound fame, Buttons keeps the charade going through a series of increasingly desperate actions that bring her into contact with local crime figures, persistent police officers and other colorful characters.

The movie also stars Mila Kunis, Wanda Sykes, Awkwafina, Regina Hall and others.

The Posters

You definitely get a sense of the movie’s sense of humor on the poster (by marketing agency Art Machine), released just a couple weeks ago. That comes through not only in the wild artistic design of the primary images, which place the supporting cast around a wide-eyed Sue while offering glimpses of the locations of the story’s action, but also in the copy reading “Sue Buttons has one killer story.”

The Trailers

The trailer (1.2 million views on YouTube), also released in mid-January, follows the rough flow of the story itself, from Sue’s panic over what to do about her dead husband through the notoriety she gains when it seems like he’s been kidnapped and into how it all starts to fall apart when it becomes clear she made much of it up. Along the way we meet some of the unusual local personalities that get involved in some manner and really see the dark sense of humor the film is selling, one conveyed well by the cast, especially Janney.

Online and Social

There is a website listed at the end of the trailer, but repeated attempts to load it were unsuccessful, so it’s not clear what’s on the site. MGM did give the movie some support on its social channels, including running regular little “daily affirmations” featuring brief clips from the film.

Advertising and Promotions

MGM, through its relaunched American International Pictures, acquired the project in October of last year, announcing a January release date at that time.

Some shorter versions of the trailer were run as pre-roll on YouTube, but that’s all the paid advertising I’m aware of.

Media and Press

Janney stopped by “Kimmel” recently to talk about the movie and lots more.

That is, surprisingly, about the end of the press efforts.

Overall

A good poster and strong trailer make me want to like this campaign a lot more than I actually do. The disconnect is caused in large part by the lackluster effort elsewhere, including the site that won’t load, the mostly non-existent press push and so on. Such a showcase for Janney in particular needs more support, not provided here.

It’s such a small campaign, it actually makes me wonder if the theatrical-only release plan for the film caused MGM to scale back the marketing because what’s the point of going big when your maximum box-office take is around $5 million?

Picking Up The Spare

Bridget Everett appeared on “The Tonight Show” to promote the film.