Cruella – Marketing Recap

How Disney is selling a villain’s origin story.

Emma Stone daring you to say something on the Cruella movie poster

Giving cinematic antagonists a feature-length backstory that makes their later actions if not reasonable at least understandable has been a trend in Hollywood for a decade or more now. Disney, which has been down this road before with movies like the two Maleficent entries, is back with another with this week’s Cruella.

Emma Stone stars as Estella, an aspiring fashion designer in the punk London of the 1970’s, whose dreams never seem to come true. When she finally manages to land a position with the powerful Baroness (Emma Thompson), Estella’s talent becomes apparent as does her penchant for mayhem and cruelty. Eventually she succumbs fully to that side of her personality and becomes Cruella de Vil.

After a campaign that has run in the relatively concise period starting earlier this year the movie arrives this week both in theaters and on Disney+ Premier Access.

The Posters

When the first poster (by marketing agency Concept Arts) came out in February it immediately established not only Stone’s appearance as the title character but also the overall look and feel of the film. Specifically, a look and feel rooted in the design aesthetics of the 70s punk scene, with its title treatment that seems to be written in lipstick and more.

A similar set of messages is conveyed on the second poster (by marketing agency BLT Communications) released just a few days later.

The next one-sheet from early April pulls the camera out to show more of a full-body shot of Cruella.

In early May a series of character posters came out with Cruella and Baroness along with Cruella’s henchman Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) and her childhood friend turned journalistic nemesis Anita (Kirby Howell-Baptiste).

Another set that adds Jasper (Joel Fry), Cruella’s other assistant, to the mix came out a bit later in May.

The Dolby Cinemas poster looks exactly like the cover to a punk album, with Cruella, Horace and Jasper standing against a white brick wall, a dalmatian blurred in front of them as it runs past the camera. The Regal Cinemas poster has Cruella hovering the background as the other characters are arranged in front of her along with her signature town car.

The Trailers

It’s clear from the first trailer (13 million views on YouTube), released in mid-February, that we will be watching an origin story of a villain. That’s communicated through the handful of narrated lines about how she was “destined to be a psycho” and such, all of which sets up a twisted personality. Thankfully there’s no reason for that shown here, it just is what it is. Also unclear is what Cruella is acting out toward specifically in the story, as we just see scenes of general mayhem and craziness, not a unified goal or target. That’s fine since really it’s Stone’s performance that’s the main draw as she wears outlandish wigs and dresses and chews all available scenery.

A final trailer (6.2 million views on YouTube) came out in early April that continues selling it as a villain origin story, but one where Estella’s transformation is in large part triggered by the workplace abuse she suffers at the hands of Baroness von Hellman. It’s actually a lot more interesting for the backstory that’s offered as well as because more Thompson is always a good thing.

Online and Social

No website but there were social pages like this Twitter profile where updates were shared.

Advertising, Press and Publicity

The first big coming out party for the movie was at Disney’s D23 Fan Expo in August of last year. Costumes from the film were on display and the first still showing Stone in character was released.

More stills offering additional looks at Cruella and The Baroness came out in late February following the release of the trailer.

A new “sneak peek” video was released in mid-March during the Grammy Awards ceremony showing the indignities Cruella suffers on her way up as well as how she makes her own opportunities along the way to her eventual fate.

Unsurprisingly, Disney announced in March that the movie would receive a simultaneous theatrical and Disney+ Premier Access release.

It’s notable that one of the first big interviews with director Craig Gillespie came in British Vogue given the campaign’s focus on fashion and lewks.

TV spots like this began to come out toward the end of April, some focusing on the story’s fashion industry setting, others on how Cruella grew into the villain she would eventually become.

The first clip, also released at the end of April, shares the moment when Cruella comes into her own by making a big entrance at a party hosted by her boss.

A short featurette that came out around the same time has Stone talking about taking on the character and more.

Additional spots and promos in the weeks leading up to release include a “Meet the Villain” extended look at Cruella’s hijinks, a “Call Me Cruella” promo that focuses on the rivalry between her and The Baroness, a clip of The Baroness’ chilling entry, a commercial showing the event audiences can expect in theaters or online, another clip showing Cruella commandeering what would become her signature car, a featurette on the fashion of the characters, a commercial showing Cruella making plans for her big coming out and the music.

In mid-May the movie became one of the first major releases to hold an actual red carpet premiere event in Los Angeles, a sign that nature was indeed healing. Stone, Howell-Baptiste, Gillespie and others were in attendance while costumes and other props were on display for attendees to check out.

Just days before the movie came out Disney released Florence Welch’s “Call Me Cruella” from the film’s soundtrack, which also included a number of songs appropriate to the era and setting of the story.

cruella online ad

Online ads used various incarnations of the key art to send clicks to the Disney+ sign-up/sign-in page.

Stone talked more about taking on such a well-known character when she appeared on “GMA.” She and Thompson both talked here about the looks of their respective characters while Glenn Close, who of course previously played Cruella on-screen and was a producer on this movie, shared her ideas for a sequel.

Promotional partners for the movie include:

Overall

It’s an interesting choice made by Disney to sell this as a glam fashion period piece in addition to a villain origin story. Everything about the campaign, from the interviews in Vogue to the featurettes on the costumes to the posters that go big on the hair and feather-strewn dresses, conveys a black and white fierceness to the audience.

While you can take issue with how accurate those attempts are to the era portrayed, it certainly works to create a strong visual identity for the movie. Everything is black and white and red all over, lipstick scrawled on a photo and dangerous attitudes conveyed through determined looks.

The Little Things – Marketing Recap

How Warner Bros. has sold a dramatic procedural with some big stars. 

A good number of early reviews and write-ups of The Little Things, the new movie from writer/director John Lee Hancock, have called it out as a throwback to the kind of mid-grade drama with an all-star cast that was commonplace in the 80s and 90s but which lately has fallen out of favor with studios. 

As we’ll see in the campaign for the movie, which has an unfortunate 48% on Rotten Tomatoes, those descriptions are pretty spot-on. 

Denzel Washington plays Joe ‘Deke’ Deacon, a former LAPD detective and now county sheriff who is asked to come back to the department by new guy Jim Baxter (Rami Malek) to find a serial killer before he strikes again. When Deacon becomes convinced he’s found the guy in Albert Sparma (Jared Leto), his propensity for cutting corners becomes a problem that might outweigh his ability to notice small details that often uncover important clues. 

Let’s see how it was sold. 

The Posters

It’s a split image on the first poster (by marketing agency Leroy and Rose), released in mid-December, one designed to represent the good at the top and bad at the bottom. To that end, Deacon and Baxter are seen on top and Sparma on the bottom. But the way they’re all shown on the same bridge but with different backgrounds, it seems like they’re standing across the street from each other. 

The second poster came out at the same time and uses the “horizontal stripes” format to show the three leads as well as a shot of Baxter confronting Sparma in a remote location. Both one-sheets feature the same “Some things never let us go” copy that hints at how the story will be driven by the obsessions of different characters as well as a great blue/red color scheme that creates a strong visual identity here. 

The Trailers

As the first trailer (11 million views on YouTube), released in late December, opens, Deacon is being reluctantly brought into an ongoing murder investigation by a police department that he’s not exactly on good terms with. He’s determined to do his job, though, despite the tension. When he becomes convinced he’s found a good suspect he doesn’t let the lack of evidence deter him as he continues pursuing his leads, trying to teach Baxter the value of not always playing within the rules to do what’s right. 

Online and Social

As has been the case with other HBO Max premieres, there doesn’t seem to have been a standalone website or social profiles for the movie, but it did get some support on HBO Max’s brand channels. 

Advertising and Promotions

Warner Bros. announced a date for the movie in March of last year. It was later among the titles WB said in December of last year would premiere simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max because of continued pandemic-related theater closures. 

Preroll ads for the film were placed before videos on YouTube and other streaming services. 

A featurette released earlier this week had the cast and filmmakers introducing the story and talking about their characters. 

Media and Press

Hancock reflected on the decades-long process of getting the film made, having first completed a script in the early 90s and shared his thoughts on the movie’s unexpected release strategy. He also praised Washington as a collaborator in fleshing out the characters and story. 

An interview with Leto veered too often into Joker territory but also had him talking about this film and why the character seemed attractive to him. Leto later appeared on “The Tonight Show” to talk about the movie and otherwise be his own quirky self.

Washington and Malek showed off their mutual admiration society in an interview where they talked about making the movie, its release pattern and more. Another interview with Hancock had him talking about the state of the film industry and how he went about shooting the movie from a technical standpoint. 

Malek also stopped by “The Tonight Show” to share his insights on the film. 

Leto talked about his reputation for going overboard with some of his roles and how that worked out on this film. 

Overall

The reviews may not be great, but the campaign sells a movie that has a lot of allure. Outside of the story details, the promise made to the audience is that they will spend a couple hours watching a handful of very good actors actually play off each other as opposed to reacting to CGI sky beams. That’s something special in this day and age, and so it’s a movie that seems worth checking out based solely on that point. 

What’s notable about the campaign is that it seems to be the first time we’re officially acknowledging that Washington is an elder-statesman in Hollywood. That status is something he’s earned over the decades, but yeah we see that happening here. 

Denzel Washington Pointing GIF by Turner Classic Movies - Find & Share on GIPHY

Picking Up The Spare

More interviews with Leto on why he opted to play a villain again
A featurette that came out after the movie was available for streaming had the cast and crew talking about the suspenseful nature of the story and more.

One Night In Miami – Marketing Recap

How Amazon Studios sold a fictional story involving some of the 20th century’s most important individuals.

The new movie One Night In Miami, the directorial debut for Regina King, is one of my favorite kinds of stories, the hypothetical confluence of several historical individuals. In this case the movie focuses on the fictional meeting of Muhammad Ali (Eli Goree), Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) at a Miami hotel room in early 1964. The four men, some with their wives, take the opportunity of their meeting to discuss their various roles in the civil rights movement as well as the rest of what’s happening in the early 60s.

With an all-star cast and a well-regarded actor making her first foray behind the camera, the movie has a lot going for it in this unusual awards season. As such, Amazon Studios has mounted a campaign pulling heavily from history, even if the events of the film itself are largely fictitious.

The Posters

Released in mid-November, the first poster (by marketing agency The Refinery) presents a very simple message to the audience by showcasing the four leads, all standing in front of the Miami hotel where most of the action takes place. It’s a very good, simple poster that highlights the movie’s main selling point, which is the cast and the characters they play.

Character posters showcasing the four leads came out in early January.

The Trailers

The first trailer (9.7 million views on YouTube) came out in mid-November and opens by immediately establishing the premise, that the film follows what happens when four icons of the civil rights movement and the 20th century as a whole come together one night following a fight between Ali and Sonny Liston. There’s lots of scenes of the four of them engaged in deep discussions, thoughtful prayer, righteous outrage and more, basically presenting the film as a showcase for the performances from the four leads.

A second trailer (131k views on YouTube) came out earlier in January and takes a bit more in-depth approach, offering the same value proposition to the audience but showing more details about the conversations that happen between the four men and what sort of dynamic is in play. It also notably differs in that it uses Odom Jr. ‘s performance of a couple of Cooke’s songs as the background music instead of something more contemporary.

Online and Social

There were standalone social profiles for the film that ran through part of last year, but which were eventually shuttered in advance of the new year. Amazon Studios did support it substantially on its brand social accounts, though.

Advertising and Promotions

Amazon Studios acquired the film in July, 2020. Shortly thereafter it was announced in the lineup for the upcoming Toronto International Film Festival. Its debut was scheduled for the Venice Film Festival in mid-September. That screening generated such positive word of mouth it seemed to jump right into Oscar contention, specifically for King.

It was then announced as the closing night feature for the Hamptons Film Festival and added to October’s London Film Festival. In September it was announced it would close the Montclair Film Festival while news later added it to AFI Fest. Reichart and costume designer Francine Jamison-Tanchuk were awarded the Golden Key Award at the Key West Film Festival.

A clip released in September, about the same time as the festival screenings, shows many of the main characters coming together for a big night out.

Eventually a release plan was announced, with the plan being for the movie to open in limited theaters on Christmas Day before being available via Amazon Prime streaming three weeks later.

EW debuted footage of Odom Jr. performing Sam Cooke’s “Speak Now” and another clip shows the main characters heading out for the night as Malcolm X reflects on the danger he’s in from many hostile parties.

Online ads used the key art to link to Amazon Video’s play page for the movie. The studio also sponsored a playlist of R&B tunes on Spotify.

Media and Press

Some of the first publicity for the movie came in an extended profile of King where she talked about making her directorial debut and lots more. Later on she offered a first look at the film along with comments about her experience making it and more.

During the Venice festival King was interviewed about the relevancy of the story, dealing with such iconic historic figures and more. She also talked about how she sees the film’s fate greatly impacting what kind of opportunities black women are given as filmmakers in the future. In another interview she discussed how she and the cast kept going during the Covid-19 pandemic, driven largely by the desire to get this story out there immediately.

The topic of so many well known real life individuals came up in another interview with King, a later interview with Ben-Adir and another one with Odom Jr. and Hodge.

She joined many members of the cast for a conversation about the timeliness of the story and got a feature profile of her own later in the year.

Screenwriter Kemp Powers got a substantial profile that focused on his part in making this film as well as Soul, also coming out in the same time period. He talked more about adapting the play for the screen here and later received another feature profile about his career to date.

King also offered more thoughts on why she was a good fit for this project and once again about what it was like to direct for the first time.

An interview with Ben-Adir had him talking about the research he did to play Malcolm X and how King was instrumental to that process. He went even more in-depth on that process in another feature profile.

Of course King not only commented on this movie but also on the race-related happenings in the current world when she appeared on “Kimmel.” She also had to weigh in on criticisms of Ben-Adir, a British actor, playing a well-known American figure like X.

Overall

It’s quite a good campaign, one that’s rooted in the performances of Odom Jrl, Goree, Ben-Adir and Jim Brown. All four of them are the real selling point to the public here, with those who are a bit more in-the-weeds also getting plenty of reminders of King’s involvement. Also good to see is the attention given to Kemp, who is having a moment with a number of projects hitting right about now.

This is, I think, the perfect example of the kind of movie that benefits from a streaming debut in that the opportunity cost of trying it out is so much lower than it would be in theaters. And the campaign has made the point repeatedly, to great effect.

Picking Up the Spare

Amazon released a “Meet The Characters” featurette to inform the audience who it is they’re following in the story. 

More interviews with King had her praising her production crew and speaking about the societal and political ramifications of her work on this film. There was also another profile of Hodge and an interview with Odom, who also appeared on “Kimmel.” King then appeared on “The Daily Show” and then on “PBS Newshour.”

Run – Marketing Recap

How Hulu is selling a psychological mother-daughter drama.

There are too many real life stories of parents abusing their children in some manner. The new movie Run, debuting on Hulu this week from writer/director Aneesh Chaganty, is about just that kind of situation.

Sarah Paulson plays Diane Sherman, a mother who has cared for her chronically ill daughter Chloe (Kiera Allen) throughout the girl’s life. The two have a good relationship, but now that Chloe is a teen she’s worried her mother is doing too much. Diane’s assurances that she’s fine, Chloe begins to find evidence that her mom may not be as loving as she seems and may in fact be actively keeping Chloe sick and dependent on her care.

The movie was originally set for theatrical release in March from Lionsgate, but that studio pulled it from the schedule because of the coronavirus. Hulu then acquired it in August. Since then it’s run a campaign that has sold it as a psychological thriller, albeit one focused on the mother-daughter dynamic. It also has an excellent 96% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Posters

The first poster (by marketing agency P+A) came out in February when Lionsgate still had control of the film. Its design strongly evokes the work of Saul Bass for the films of Alfred Hitchcock, with the figure of Diane looking up the staircase at the figure of Chloe. The vibe here is kind of great, with the tension of the story communicated not only by the distance between the two but also the copy “You can’t escape a mother’s love.”

That same tagline is used on the second poster, also released in February. This time, though, the image is a photo of Diane looking slightly worried with a smaller photo of Chloe placed inside of Diane’s head to show the strange connection between the two.

The Trailers

The first thing we see in February’s first trailer (13.6 million views on YouTube) is Diane looking at the tiny body of Chloe hooked up to tubes and instruments as she lies in a NICU incubator. Cut to present day and Chloe is a grown teen in a wheelchair and living with her mother, who does everything for her. But Chloe, worried she’s not doing enough, begins to become suspicious her mother is hiding something from her. Turns out that might be a great many things, including what her real name is. Not only that, it’s implied Diane might be keeping her daughter sick and needing her aid, leading to some tense and dangerous situations.

A new trailer (170,000 views on YouTube) came out in late October that establishes the drama of the story quite nicely. It starts by showing what seems to be a loving relationship between Diane and Chloe, but which soon evolves into something much more dangerous. As Chloe becomes more aware of what her mother has been doing, Diane’s actions become more desperate and all the more terrifying because they are being done out of what she considers to be “love.”

Online and Social

No stand-alone website that was easily found, but there were some social profiles to share promotions and other updates on the movie.

Advertising and Promotions

A “date announcement” spot came out in late September when Hulu finally put it on the calendar.

Further short video promotions came out on social media over the next couple months.

Some of those were used as pre-roll ads in the weeks leading up to release.

Hulu announced a watch party accompanied by a Twitter Q&A for the day after the movie was scheduled for release.

A drive-in premiere was held in L.A. earlier this week.

Media and Press

A first-look photo came out just before the trailer was released, including comments from Paulson and Allen on how they got involved in the project and what drew them to the material.

Not a whole lot of other press activity in the immediate lead-up to the movie. Most of the interviews with Paulson in particular have been about her roles on the latest iteration of “American Horror Story” or on Netflix’s “Ratched.”

Overall

The subject matter of the story is certainly disturbing, that’s beyond dispute. But the marketing offers the promise of an interesting and revelation-filled journey to find out just how disturbing things get and what exactly is happening. There are some moments in the campaign that make it seem as if Diane is not doing what it seems, showing that it’s worth the audience’s time to check it out and see what the truth of the matter is.

Picking Up The Spare

Additional profiles of Allen focused more on her status as the first wheelchair-using actress in a thriller in 70 years. 

Ads like the full-site takeover screen capped below ran in the weeks following the movie’s release. 

The movie’s DP talked about creating the tension-heightening visuals for the film.

Hulu released a couple deleted scenes as well as a behind-the-scenes featurette.

The Burnt Orange Heresy – Marketing Recap

How Sony Pictures Classics is selling a heist story set in the art world.

burnt orange heresy posterThe Burnt Orange Heresy, opening this weekend in limited release, is one of a series of recent films set in the world of high art and about those most mercurial of creatures, the artist, as well as those around them.

The story focuses on an art critic named James Figueras (Claes Bang). Seeking to restore his tarnished reputation he brings his girlfriend Bernice (Elizabeth Debicki) on a trip to Italy to meet Joseph Cassidy (Mick Jagger), an art dealer with a mysterious offer to make to Figueras. Cassidy wants Figueras to use his position to steal a new work from Jerome Debney (Donald Sutherland), a legendary but reclusive artist who hasn’t put out anything new in years. Accepting the offer takes Figueras down a dark road that leads to more and more problems, both personal and professional.

SPC has used the positive buzz coming out of festival screenings to mount a campaign positioning the movie as a high-end heist with moral complications for all the characters involved.

The Posters

It’s a great aesthetic on the movie’s one poster, which has all four of the main characters standing in front of the camera, the Italian villa where much of the action takes place at the bottom of the image. Everyone’s faces appear more or less as photographs but a paint-like veneer is added further down to lend the poster a more artistic feel. A positive pull quote from an early review is shared at the top, just above the names of previous successful films the producers have been involved in. Toward the bottom the tagline tells the audience “You can’t paint over the truth,” hinting that there’s more than a little deception happening in the movie.

The Trailers

Late January brought the release of the first trailer (131,000 views on YouTube). It opens with Hollis questioning Figueras about his background and childhood, with him doing a bit of deflecting. The two begin a relationship, and when they’re invited to Cassidy’s estate, on which lives the reclusive Debney. Cassidy offers to help Figueras work with Debney, but on the condition the dealer steal a valuable painting for him. Agreeing to do so takes Figueras down a dark path that threatens everything about his life.

Online and Social

There’s not much aside from the option to buy tickets and view the basic marketing materials on the official website. It hasn’t received a lot of support on SPC’s brand social channels, either.

Advertising and Publicity

It was announced in late July that the movie would be the closing night feature at the 2019 Venice Film Festival. That screening resulted in mixed reviews for the film as a whole though the performances by the leads were readily praised.

Sony Pictures Classics acquired the film shortly after that. It then screened at the Toronto Film Festival where it picked up additional accolades. In 2020 the movie was announced as the opening feature at the Miami Film Festival.

Media and Press

More than one story like this ran during the movie’s festival appearances, calling out Jagger’s role in the film. There were also interviews with Bang about the nature of his character. Oddly, there doesn’t seem to have been a major press push closer to release.

Overall

Like many such releases, the campaign here is reminiscent of the kind of movies that used to be sold to the public with some regularity in the mid-90s, when the art house really exploded. It sells a character-driven drama with plenty of twists and turns and characters making poor ethical choices, all taken very seriously amidst lush and expensive settings.

The buzz generated by festival screenings was mostly positive but hasn’t really been built upon in the bridge leading up to theatrical release. That’s a missed opportunity, but the campaign still works on most levels. While the story may not be upfront in the campaign, which is an issue, the focus on selling the classy vibe of the story and in that respect it more or less succeeds.

Picking Up The Spare

Debicki appeared on late night to talk about the movie and more.

Sony Pictures Classics tried to get another bite at the apple by scheduling another theatrical release for the film since the initial one had been cut prematurely short by the Covid-19 pandemic. That push included a new trailer, which was actually just the old one with the date attached, and poster. 

That effort included another interview with Jagger about his return to acting after a few decades. Later on there was an interview with Sutherland about the reclusive artist he plays. 

An extended preview was released as the movie was coming to digital and blu-ray.