How Netflix has sold a movie about racial identity.
Based on the 1929 novel of the same name by Nella Larsen, Passing tells the as Irene “Reenie” Redfield (Tessa Thompson) and her childhood friend Clare Bellew (Ruth Negga). Now grown women, Reenie goes about her life fully embracing her black identity while Clare, more light skinned and married to a white man, “passes” as white. As the two reunite for the first time in years their different approaches lead to conflict between them as the question of what is or isn’t authentic comes between them.
The movie marks the first directorial effort from actress Rebecca Hall and arrives on Netflix this week after a campaign that’s leaned into the push and pull of the two characters as well as Hall’s journey to making the film.
announcement and casting
The movie got on a lot of people’s radars quickly when it was announced in 2018 this would be Hall’s directorial debut and would feature an impressive cast.
It wasn’t until about two years later that a release date was announced.
The movie was among those scheduled to screen at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, where it got positive reviews, especially for Hall’s direction and Negga’s performance.
Shortly after that festival debut Netflix acquired the film following a brief period of speculation.
the marketing campaign
In a substantial feature story from around the time of Sundance, Hall talked about the process of making her directorial debut, including how she used her personal experience with similar subject matter to convince the studio to give her the job. Negga and Thompson also talked about how they got involved and what it was like to work with Hall.
Hall and the cast participated in a video panel conversation during the virtual Sundance festival. Also during the festival Thompson and Hall talked about how both of them immediately cleared their schedules in order to be part of the film.
A featurette from Dolby had Hall and Almada talking about the story and how they crafted the film using that company’s technology and more.
In August Hall was interviewed about another project but spoke about how this movie was driven by questions she had about her own family and more.
The trailer (790k YouTube views) was finally released in mid-September, opening with Reenie and Clare meeting when both are at a swanky restaurant. The two are friends but not really, having very different ways of looking at the world and making their way in it. In particular, Clare insists on passing as white while Reenie has no interest in doing so. There’s jealousy in both directions as each sees things to both envy and dislike in the other.
“Nothing is black and white” promises the poster, released at the same time. Clare and Reenie are shown back to back, the color of the background they’re placed against signaling the racial identity they’re chosen/accepted for themselves.
Thompson, Negga, Hall and others all appeared at the New York Film Festival screening of the film where all were interviewed about the process of making the film and working with first-time director Hall. The movie also screened at the Chicago Film Festival in October.
Unsurprisingly the book the movie is based on was selected as the inaugural title in Netflix’s newly-launched book club.
Just recently it won the U.S. Narrative Feature Jury Award at the LGBTQ Film Festival NewFest.
Another interview with Hall included her talking about how for seven years her efforts to get the film made were rebuffed by studios and producers who didn’t believe there was any audience for it.
As a longtime fan of Hall’s work, it’s great to see her positioned here as the public face of the movie’s campaign, even more so than the two leads. In fact it’s actually a bit surprising to see that Thompson and Negga weren’t given more to do, but the message Netflix is sending is that it’s Hall’s story, and a personal one at that.
How MGM and Universal have sold the capstone of the latest James Bond era.
It’s impossible to even begin discussing the marketing for No Time To Die, the latest entry in the James Bond franchise, without putting in the context of two realities.
First, that this is clearly being sold as the last time Daniel Craig would star as the British super-spy. When he took over the role in 2006’s Casino Royale it was clear the franchise was headed in a new direction, one whose more realistic tone was seen as a direct response to movies like The Bourne Identity that featured more graphic violence and a flawed, human hero. Craig has hinted at leaving before, but this fifth outing seems to really be his last.
Second, that the movie’s release has been greatly impacted by events in the real world. Fears over the spread of novel coronavirus lead the studio in February 2020 to cancel the movie’s planned premiere in China. Things escalated after that when the planned release in April of last year was shifted to November by MGM, the studio citing an abundance of concern over audiences being exposed to what was then known as Covid-19 in theaters. That came after a Bond fansite launched a petition encouraging MGM and Eon to make that change.
Doing so meant the studio and producers stood to lose around $30 million in sunk costs, but the movie bombing because people were avoiding public spaces like movie theaters had the potential to be much worse financially in addition to being a public health nightmare.
With all that as context, we now come to the moment at hand. Here’s the official synopsis for No Time To Die:
In No Time To Die, Bond has left active service and is enjoying a tranquil life in Jamaica. His peace is short-lived when his old friend Felix Leiter from the CIA turns up asking for help. The mission to rescue a kidnapped scientist turns out to be far more treacherous than expected, leading Bond onto the trail of a mysterious villain armed with dangerous new technology.
What’s promised, though, is an end to the story begun 15 years and four films ago. That’s relatively unusual for the Bond franchise, to have a single storyline run through multiple installments, and it’s made the marketing of the movie that much more emotional and interesting. Let’s dig in.
announcements and casting
A lot of news came in one fell swoop as it was announced MGM and Annapurna would team up for distribution, having wrestled the rights away from Sony, that Danny Boyle would direct, that Craig would return for another go and that it was already scheduled for release. Boyle’s involvement wouldn’t last much longer as it was announced in mid-August he had departed the film due to the frequently-cited “creative differences.”
That set off plenty of speculation about who might be considered as a replacement, a decision the studio wanted to make quickly to keep things on track. Eventually Fukunaga was picked to sit in the chair, a decision that most everyone approved of given his talents shown in previous films.
There was a bit of coverage of the movie when it was revealed Craig had specifically requested Phoebe Waller-Bridge do a pass on the script to punch things up and bring an original take to the story and tone. A few weeks later in late April the cast and some of the locations were announced via livestream, though the title remained secret.
After months of being known publicly as simply “Bond 25” the official title was announced in mid-August 2019. In October the movie’s Instagram account marked the end of principle photography.
It was all the way back in October 2019 – two solid years before the eventual release – that the marketing of the latest James Bond film began, back when the world was pure and you could go to the theater relatively certain you wouldn’t contract a deadly virus.
That’s when the first teaser poster was released, though it, like the character posters that followed in December, have all been subsequently updated to replace the “April 2020” date that was quickly obsolete.
Costars Lynch and de Armes were jointly profiled as part of THR’s “Next Gen Talent” feature, with the pair talking about the complicated process of joining the world of Bond and what it meant to be part of the team trying to modernize the character for new times and new audiences. A bit later Waller-Bridge was interviewed about how she came on to provide some help with the script and what she encountered when she joined. She offered more clarification on what she positioned as her limited role later on.
Just as has been the case with the previous two movies, Craig proclaimed this would be his very last outing as Bond while on the publicity circuit for last year’s Knives Out. Given how often he’s said this in the past, it remains to be seen if he’s serious this time or just negotiating through the press.
The first official still from the film was released in early December at the same time as the initial trailer. That release was also accompanied by the entire cast appearing on “Good Morning America” to celebrate the moment.
Also in December came the first teaser trailer (21.4m YouTube views). As it opens we see Bond is living peacefully in Jamaica, but is brought back into the fold to face an increasingly dangerous world. Nomi, a new 00 operative, isn’t thrilled about retrieving the relic from seclusion but the two pair up regardless, eventually reuniting with Moneypenny and Q as well. After encountering Madeleine, Bond interrogates Blofeld, eventually leading to a face off with Safin. Along the way there are just the sort of shots of well-choreographed action and adventure that are synonymous with the franchise.
With that April 2020 release date still kinda sorta realistic, more marketing efforts continued to pop up.
TV advertising began in early February of that year with a Super Bowl commercial that promises secrets will be unveiled that will “be the death of” Bond. In fact the spot sets the expectation that major changes will result from what happens, teasing that this might indeed by the last outing for this incarnation of 007. A commercial that aired during the NBA Finals is more basic, selling it as a big-screen action flick with a familiar character.
Total Film shared a first look at the villain played by Rami Malek, with the actor adding a few comments while continuing to keep the actual identity of the character he played a secret. Malek would later present at the 2020 Academy Awards ceremony.
Costar Latasha Lynch received a profile where she was quizzed on 007 history and talked about the character she plays. Ana de Armas also got her own Vanity Fairprofile a short while later.
Pop superstar Billie Ellish was announced as the performer of this movie’s title number in January, just before she swept the major categories at this year’s Grammy Awards. At the same time it was revealed Hans Zimmer was composing the film’s score. The audio of the title track was released in mid-February, earning a fair amount of praise. Ellish performed that song at the Brit Awards just a short while later and talked about writing the song when she appeared on “Good Morning America.”
In January a THR feature focused on longtime Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, including their thoughts on the future of the character. A little while later EW ran a cover story on the movie that offered a handful of interviews with the cast who teased what audiences could expect and addressing some of the issues – Boyle’s exiting the project, Craig’s occasional reluctance to continue and more – that have been part of the narrative to date.
Additional TV spots continued to come out throughout February of 2020, all showing off the action audiences could expect from the film. There was also an exclusive IMAX poster of Bond on a motorcycle, an image pulled from the trailers and commercials that had already come out.
A short featurette narrated by Fukunaga had the director talking about where Bond as a character is when the story opens and how this movie will deliver on audience expectations for this final chapter of Craig’s Bond.
still not quite the time to die: marketing phase two
At this point everyone pumped the brakes as it became clear the Covid-19 pandemic was going to be serious and disruptive. That’s when, in early March 2020, the announcement came the movie was being delayed from April to November of that year.
MGM, Universal and Bond producers, Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, announced today that after careful consideration and thorough evaluation of the global theatrical marketplace, the release of NO TIME TO DIE will be postponed until November 2020. pic.twitter.com/a9h1RP5OKd
Not everything came to a stop though. Craig still hosted “Saturday Night Live” in March as planned, still promoting the movie while addressing the delay in his monologue as well as in subsequent sketches. It also needs to be noted that his hosting turn resulted in one of the most viral Twitter accounts/trends in recent years, something the actor only recently became aware of.
There was a big interview with Ellish where she talked about writing her song, how she got involved with the producers and more. Similar ground was covered in a later interview.
Craig then was profiled in both the UK and US editions of GQ.
Unlike some others, Fukunaga said in July he was not using the extra time afforded by the delay in release to continue fiddling with the film.
An official James Bond podcast was launched in late September featuring interviews with the cast and crew.
A second trailer (18m YouTube views) – teased the day before release – came out in early September and continues making the case for this being an essential endpoint for this era of the Bond franchise. Bond is up against a very personal foe, one that has drawn him back into the game, and has to work with Nomi to stop a massive threat. There are lots of dramatic moments and music along with the requisite running, jumping and shooting that are hallmarks of the series.
A new official poster, this one simply showing Bond armed, well dressed and ready for any kind of action, was released as well. Another shows Bond in more tactical gear lurking through a dark hallway.
Shortly after that there was a new featurette released with Malik and Fukunaga introducing us to Safin and explaining what some of his motivations are.
The official video for the song was released in early October. A month later in November Ellish’s song was nominated for a Grammy, despite the film the song is attached to being pushed to the next year, eventually winning the Song Written for Visual Media award.
A blow was dealt to the fall 2020 box-office picture when, at the beginning of October, Sony announced the movie was being booted to April, 2021. The news wasn’t wholly surprising, of course, as Covid-19 continued to sweep across the U.S. in particular. What *was* surprising was a report emerging in late October that MGM had openly explored selling the movie to Apple, Netflix and other streaming companies, hoping to get somewhere in the neighborhood of $600 million. That price tag was apparently too high, with the talks fizzling out without a deal being made. Additional details came later on how much of a financial drain those delays were becoming to the studio and its partners.
An additional delay was announced at that point, moving the release date from November 2020 to April 2021 because the pandemic situation – particularly the availability of movie theaters in major markets – had not improved sufficiently, as we all now know.
Craig appeared on “The Tonight Show” in early October of last year, shortly after the latest delay was announced, to discuss the movie and rationalize the change in release dates. Ellish also showed up to both discuss and perform her title song.
Of course the studio and producers marked the passing of Sean Connery, the original on-screen Bond, in November. Comments from Craig as well as the other actors who have portrayed the character came in as well.
Producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli: “We are devastated by the news of the passing of Sir Sean Connery. He was and shall always be remembered as the original James Bond whose indelible entrance into cinema history began when he announced those unforgettable words —
In an interview from last November, Lynch talked about the attacks she’s been subjected to since taking on the role, primarily from those who don’t feel a woman – much less a woman of color – should play any sort of leading part in the Bond franchise.
ad break: the promotional partners
Promotional partners for the movie include:
Heineken, a returning Bond sponsor, which released an extended commercial in January that playfully shows Craig having difficulty navigating his own life as people constantly mistake him for his super spy alter ego. A later commercial pokes fun at the frequent delays of the movie while also playing up the quality of its beer in a spot titled “Worth the Wait.”
Nokia, which released a long-form commercial featuring Nomi using the company’s devices to engage in surveillance and gather evidence on a mission.
Land Rover, which launched a campaign for its Defender SUV, selling it with the same kind of attributes – unflappable, able to adjust to any situation etc – as are normally associated with Bond himself.
One big problem with these product placements is that many of them, while cutting edge and new at the time the film was made and meant to be released, are less shiny and may even be outdated a year later. The money those companies paid, then, becomes a much poorer investment, even if the reasons why are largely outside of most individual’s control.
finally time to die: marketing phase three (for real this time)
What would eventually turn out to be the final release date change came in January, when the movie was moved to October, 2021.
In March Ellish found herself in a wholly unprecedented situation, winning a Grammy for her “No Time To Die” theme song to a movie that hadn’t come out yet.
In the wake of the news that Amazon was buying MGM in May, Broccoli issued a statement assuring audiences (but actually exhibitors) that the movie would not go to streaming as so many other delayed blockbusters had but would receive a theatrical release around the world.
Another interview with Lynch had her talking about the role she plays as a black woman on screen, especially in big titles like Bond and others.
Things really started to ramp up in August, beginning with the release of the final trailer (13.5m YouTube views). It starts off with scenes and dialogue from Casino Royale, counting off and showing some of the people he’s encountered, missions he’s been on and more since then. Despite the talk of the world being different and enemies being “in the ether” as opposed to across the room from you, the latter is exactly what we get, with Bond facing off against Safin for the fate of the world.
In September came the announcement of “Being James Bond,” a retrospective documentary on Craig’s time with the character and franchise.
TV advertising also restarted last month with spots like this that featured the banter, the action and the overall vibe of the movie and franchise as a whole.
The new agents played by Lynch and de Armes are introduced in a featurette. There was also a new IMAX featurette that had Fukunaga talking about shooting for the big screen.
Tickets went on sale in mid-September, the occasion marked by a new TV spot.
Additional profiles of and interviews with Craig continued to come out, many of them pulling out newsworthy comments and other elements from the “Being James Bond” documentary on Apple TV+ or from the podcast episodes. The actor talked about his time with the character, what it will be like to watch whoever succeeds him in the role and lots more, including the fact that, despite the multiple times he’s almost walked away, he’ll ultimately miss it.
Additional interviews with Lynch had her talking more about how she wanted to make her character unique and real.
There was also a profile of Fukunaga that, among other things, made it clear that the entire fate of the global box office and theatrical industry is on his shoulders. A similar profile of the director covered why he signed on to the project to begin with and how he’s handled the long delays.
All that really culminated in late September when the official premiere was held at London’s Royal Albert Hall with the cast, crew and lots of other celebrities (and royalty) in attendance.
Malek talked about the movie when he appeared on “Kimmel” just days ago.
overall: was it indeed worth the wait?
This movie should have been in theaters 18 months ago. That’s somewhat astounding, no less so because there was virtually no conversation about it being diverted to other platforms to get it out sooner, even with pressure coming from brand partners.
As it is, it arrives with a projected $60-70 million opening weekend and a solid 84% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes representing the largely positive reviews the movie has racked up so far.
It also comes after a marketing campaign that has been the very definition of stop-and-start.
After at least three attempts to get the ball rolling and build momentum toward release, what’s surprising is that the campaign has been remarkably consistent throughout. From the first elements in late 2019 through pre-roll ads that have run today, they keep hitting the idea that Craig’s Bond is about to hit the end of the road he began when he became a 00 in one of the best opening sequences of the entire franchise.
It remains to be seen whether that will be enough to get audiences interested enough to head to the theaters. The improved performances of Shang Chi and Venom 2 in the last few weeks are good indicators, but as the THR story above mentions, the Bond series has always skewed a bit older and that could make a bit of difference.
Also acting as an X factor is whether whatever interest there was two years ago has remained in audiences after multiple delays, not to mention [gestures broadly at everything else that’s happened since March, 2020, including 700,000 dead Americans]. It may be that some people have been waiting so long they figure it’s not worth it to go to the theater and they’ll just hold out for on-demand or other home video.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
A devilishly fun night with Emma Stone, Craig Gillespie and Kirby Howell-Baptiste at the #Cruella World Premiere. Get tickets to see Disney’s #Cruella in theaters or pre-order on #DisneyPlus with Premier Access May 28 (additional fee required). pic.twitter.com/M0L9svUst8
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.”
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 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 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.”
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.
How Sony Pictures Classics is selling a heist story set in the art world.
The 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.
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.
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.
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 newtrailer, which was actually just the old one with the date attached, and poster.
That effort included anotherinterview with Jagger about his return to acting after a few decades. Later on there was aninterview with Sutherland about the reclusive artist he plays.