A couple weeks ago I saw Lauren Galloway shared a GIF from Empire Records on Twitter and got into a brief conversation with her about the movie was a classic. In the last few years it’s been alternately hailed as a classic of 90s youth culture, one whose reputation has improved in the 20+ years since it came out, or one that’s actually a lousy movie that doesn’t make any sense.

I fall into the former line of thinking. It’s not a great movie, but it’s a great movie. In 1995 after seeing it in the theater I remarked “That’s what Clerks looks like from a major studio.” The characters were hip young people working a fun, go nowhere job who were trying to figure out their lives. It had a loose attitude that glossed over the story and character problems and kept you moving.

More than that, it has lines that are appropriate for a variety of life’s situations.

For When You’re Going to Have a Great Day No Matter What

“We mustn’t dwell… no, not today. We CAN’T. Not on Rex Manning day.”

rex manning day

Rex Manning Day isn’t an actual day. It’s a state of mind we should all aspire to.

For When You Just Walked Into an Uncomfortable Situation

“Who glued these quarters to the floor?”

who glued these quarter down

It’s the perfect non-sequitur to break the tension in a moment you’d rather not be in.

For When Your Friends Don’t Appreciate Your GIF Skills

“I don’t feel that I need to explain my art to you, Warren.”

explain my art

You can then either walk away triumphantly or stare them down menacingly.

For When You’re Encouraging Someone to Go Off-Brand

“Always play with their minds.”


You have to keep people guessing to maintain an aura of superiority and respect.

For When You Won’t Be Bound By Society’s Constraints

“Damn the man. Save the Empire.”

damn the man save the empire

Then spend the next five minutes you weren’t talking about The Galactic Empire.

For When You’ve Been Over This Already, Dammit

“Empire Records, open ’til midnight, this is Mark. [beat] Midnight.”

Particularly galling in the age of Google. Who calls anymore, anyway?

For When You’re Introducing Someone New to the Group

“His name isn’t Warren.”

his name isnt warren

You can still call him Warren if you want to, though, that’s cool and he doesn’t mind.

For When Your Coworker Shows Up In Dress Clothes On a Random Tuesday

“What’s with you? Yesterday you were normal and today you’re like the Chinese guy from the Karate Kid. What’s with you today?”

whats with you today

Also appropriate for when that one burnout friend suddenly is the most insightful person in the room.

For When You Want Someone To Just Get to the Point Already

“What do you want Warren?”

stop calling me warren

Can we skip the subtext and make a decision? I have a dinner to get to.

For…Like…Every Moment of Every Day

“I don’t know. I’m either going to jail or hell I can’t decide.”

jail or hell

If you’re not living your life where this can be asked regularly, step up your game.

For When You’re Eating The Fish You Just Microwaved In the Office Break Room

“Isn’t it customary to leave the scene after committing the crime?”

leave the scene of the crime

Not cool, man.

For When Your Actual Social or Professional Status Becomes Too Real

“Let me explain it to you. Mitchell’s the man. I’m the idiot. You’re the screw-up. And we’re all losers. Welcome to Music Town”

music town

It’s a harsh reality, but one we’ve all grappled with at one moment or another.

For Performance Review Time

“I wonder if I’ll be held responsible for this.”

held responsible for this

You really didn’t think it was going to be that big a deal when it happened.

For When You’re Four Drinks In On Wednesday Afternoon

“I guess nobody really has it all together, huh?”

nobody really has it all together

I mean look at that guy. How can *that* guy be so much more successful than I am?

For When You’re Quitting That Morning

“Welcome to MusicTown, may I service you?”

welcome to music town

You’re all out of cares and have had enough of this job.

For When You Forget You’re 42 and Are Pondering an All-Nighter to Catch Up on Your To Do List

“My dad always said that there’s 24 usable hours in every day.”

24 usable hours

It’s a bad idea, just take my word for it. Past the age of 20 this is never true.

For When Someone Questions Your Spotify Playlist Choices

“This music is the glue of the world Mark. It’s what holds it all together. Without this, life would be meaningless.”

music is the glue

You have your opinion of Genesis and I have mine, Doug.

For When You Feel Like Life Is Working Out Just Fine

“I am guided by a force much greater than luck.”

guided by a force

Everything is firing on all eight and you can’t lose. At least for the next 27 minutes.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

the disaster artist poster 2You can be forgiven if you’ve never seen The Room. No, not Room, the Brie Larson drama from a couple years ago. The Room, written, directed and starring Tommy Wiseau, is widely held to be one of the worst movies ever made, but was a passion project of both Wiseau and his friend Greg Sestero. The film has quite a cult following among film fans who don’t quite glorify its cheesiness but who definitely acknowledge its role in cinematic history.

The story behind the film’s making is now being told in the movie The Disaster Artist. James Franco directs and stars as Wiseau, with the story following his friendship with Sestero and the process of making The Room. That includes a look at the mysterious Wiseau, whose background and personal life have always been unknowns.

The Posters

the disaster artist poster“I did naaaht! Oh, Hi Mark.” is the big copy that’s on the first poster, with that text shown on the green screen of the movie set. The title only shows up in the form of a hashtag in the lower left corner as we’re primarily shown Franco as Wiseau, with a studio light in the background and a boom mic hanging above him.

The second poster uses one of the first publicity stills released as its central element. So we see Tommy and Greg sitting in a theater, their crew behind them, presumably at a screening of the movie they’ve made. A positive quote from a critic helps to establish its quality.

The Trailers

The first teaser is just that, a teaser of something more to come. It just shows Wiseau trying to get through shooting one scene and consistently flubbing his line. The crew becomes increasingly frustrated as the number of takes tops 50 but eventually he gets it, though, of course it’s not a great performance. Still, he got it.

This is mainly about showing off the cast and the general idea of the movie. It’s not going to resonate at all with general audiences who likely aren’t going to have the context of the original’s reputation and so is meant for an audience who’s already well-versed in The Room’s history and reputation.

The story of how Tommy Wiseau created The Room is much more clearly explained in this trailer. We meet Wiseau as a frustrated actor. After meeting Greg Sestero, who’s in a similar position, they decide the only want to succeed is to create their own movie. So they assemble a crew and get to it. The rest of the trailer shows the sometimes hilarious process of doing so.

Honestly, this looks great. While there’s lots of insanity on display here, I most want to see Rogen as The Room’s director. He’s positioned here as essentially the voice of the audience, reacting with bewilderment to Wiseau’s often unconventional – but 100% committed – choices.

Making an appearance in that trailer is the original billboard Wiseau bought to promote the original film and which stayed up for over five years, well after it had come and gone. People quickly found that the website shown on the billboard still worked and that calling the number still played a message from Wiseau inviting them to a screening of The Room.

The second full trailer once more starts out in an acting class but this time focuses on Wiseau’s mysterious nature and tendencies toward secrecy. He introduces the movie as “his life” before jumping back to show how he goes about making The Room, from rejection by other directors to the production itself. There’s conflict and other problems as we keep seeing he doesn’t like people asking questions about his life.

it’s a bit darker than the other trailers but fills in some important gaps in what’s been presented to date, so it works as one element of a bigger picture.

Online and Social

The movie’s official website opens with a headshot of Franco as Wiseau and a loading message encouraging the visitor “Don’t worry about it.” After that the page switches to one with a carousel of positive critical quotes along with the message “Oh, hi! Welcome to Tommy’s Planet.”

Scroll down the page and you’ll come across stills, more review pull quotes and lots more. There’s a printable headshot of Franco as Wiseau you can download if you sign up for A24’s email newsletters, links to stories about the movie, Giphy Stickers to download, background on the billboard campaigns mounted for this movie as well as the original, embedded Tweets with reactions to the film and lots more.

You can also access the main, more traditional content like “About,” “Videos” and “Tickets” via the menu in the upper right of the site. That’s also how you can find links to the movie’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter profiles. There’s a cool feature when you open that menu that plays a couple scenes from both The Room and The Disaster Artist showing how the original was recreated accurately.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The promotional billboard mentioned above came back up in the movie’s paid efforts. An outdoor sign that basically recreated the original was created and erected in Los Angeles, this time featuring the new movie’s title and website. A phone number was also included that really worked in much the same way Wiseau’s first one did, only this time with Franco.

TV advertising kicked off with a spot that not only promoted the movie but which encouraged people to film themselves performing a scene from The Room and post it on social media using #ImADisasterArtist for a chance to win “The Tommy.” That’s a nice bit of meta marketing in a campaign full of it.

Social media ads were run in conjunction with the release of each of the trailers. There were also Twitter promoted posts bought that used a Variety cover story on Franco (linked below) as the basis for the ad.

The teaser poster of Franco declaring his innocence on the film set was also used for a theater standee that included space for visitors to step on and have their picture taken.

Media and Publicity

SXSW was the movie’s big coming out party, resulting in a ton of positive buzz for the whole thing as well as Franco’s performance in particular. There were lots of strange stories that came out of that press conference as well as subsequent press like how Franco stayed in character the whole time and so on. It was later announced as one of the films screening at the Toronto International Film Festival.

There were a number of other stories about the unusual shoot that kept the movie in the minds of the audience in unique ways, including comments about Franco directing the whole thing in Wiseau’s voice and what he had in common with the guy he was playing. The younger Franco also addressed what caused him to hesitate for so many years to work with his older brother.

Franco was the subject of a Variety cover story that included an interview with him about how he maintains such frantic schedule, his insecurities around his career and this film and lots more. His brother Dave also spoke about working James in such a big way and what the production was like. James was also interviewed about how he found The Room and what lead him to try and tell the story behind such an infamous film along with coproducer and longtime collaborator Seth Rogen.

There were also plenty of stories that revisited the original material and the history it has amassed. There was an interview with Sestero, on whose book the film is based, and the legacy he feels it has as well as how it grew into a cult phenomenon. Reports came out saying that Franco had shot almost a half hour of shot-for-shot recreations of The Room’s scenes for use in the film, or at least on the DVD release. There were considerations of what about The Room is real and what has been embellished by history.

Franco was announced as one of the final hosts of this season of “Saturday Night Live” and did various media appearances to talk about the film and drum up interest in the general audience that doesn’t know the history behind the story.


I have to admit that when the campaign first kicked off – heck, even back when the movie was first announced and started screening – I had zero interest in what was going on. Watching a corny production of a low-quality film didn’t appeal to me on any level. That changed pretty quickly when the first teaser trailer popped up and the attitude of the movie was more clearly on display.

A24 and Franco have worked hard to change attitudes like mine with a campaign that honors but doesn’t necessarily glorify The Room. It’s never disrespectful to Wiseau. And the way it overtly borrows elements like the L.A. billboard and more shows a deep love and appreciation for the filmmakers and their dedication, even if the result of that hard work and dedication isn’t all that great. It’s a fun, interactive and engaging campaign that should appeal to cinephiles and lovers of bad movies as well as those who are on board for Franco, Rogen and their previous work together.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

The fate of a free and open internet seems to be hanging in the balance, with the Federal Communications Commission seemingly on the cusp of repealing the safeguards put in place to ensure a level playing field for everyone. The FCC, led by chairman Ajit Pai, seems intent on removing the agency’s powers to regulate internet providers, thereby allowing them to create all sorts of new revenue models. They could package internet services into cable-like bundles that only allow you to access the portions you’ve paid (them) for. They could throttle bandwidth for companies that don’t pay them additional fees, or really anyone if it competes against a service they provide. The future, at least for ISPs, is wide open.

What’s almost certain is that a removal of net neutrality safeguards will be bad for the consumer, who will in some way or another have their choices made for them and who will likely be on the hook for additional fees, either directly to the ISP or to the internet service as they pass on *their* additional fees to users. And that’s not to mention the effect it will have on stifling online innovation by making launching a new business extraordinarily cost-prohibitive.

At the very least, a world lacking net neutrality rules will drastically impact how media is sold to the audience.

Imagine if YouTube is throttled or unavailable because your ISP doesn’t want to promote or allow easy access to any Alphabet company.

Imagine if the parent company of a studio, which also owns an ISP, decides to block or throttle the websites of movies from other studios.

Imagine if an ISP blocks or throttles the speed of the social networks you’re using to find out about movies and discuss them with your friends and acquaintances.

Imagine if your ISP has throttled or restricted access to your preferred streaming service in favor of their own VOD option, which sells all movies but heavily discounts those from their corporate sibling studio.

In short, what if the only movies you can view the marketing for are the ones your ISP has a vested interest in?

Current net neutrality rules are based on the idea that the internet is a utility like water or power. Even if a company in a certain market is the only electricity provider it can’t charge more for you to charge your iPhone than it would to charge your Android phone. That’s exactly what could happen if ISPs are allowed to go crazy and begin profiting off making the internet a scarce and costly resource.

Now ask all those same questions about media in general and you’ll also understand how the drive by the current administration to loosen the rules around media ownership are just as troubling to players at all levels. Competition could be stifled, the flow of information to the audience filtered to solely align with the interests of the parent company (which is tied to their desire to curry favor with the administration) and more.

The media landscape, both online and off, is about to undergo a serious upheaval. Watch for how things change in the next year because, if these and other proposed changes are implemented, it’s going to be a bumpy period of media history.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.


planes trains automobiles posterIt’s hard to believe 30 years have gone by but that’s exactly the case with Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Originally released in 1987, the Steve Martin/John Candy comedy is rightly held up as a modern classic and so is where we’re turning our attention today not only because today is its actual anniversary but because of its relevance to the recently passed Thanksgiving holiday.

Martin plays Neal Page, a successful marketing executive on a trip to New York to get client approval for a new campaign. It’s two days before Thanksgiving and he just wants to get home to Chicago. He keeps encountering a traveling salesman named Dell Griffith (Candy), a mildly obnoxious but very friendly guy with few personal boundaries. Through a series of weather-related delays, they wind up seeking alternate transportation home but keep having the worst luck whether it’s with rental cars, trains or other modes of transportation.

Considering how big the two stars were in 1987 it’s no surprise that they are practically the sole focus of the theatrical poster. Page is clearly uncomfortable as Griffith sits with his arm around him, a worried and slightly terrified look on his face. Griffith, on the other hand, seems to be having the time of his life, sitting there smiling while wearing a heavy parka and bright red mittens. While Page has only his briefcase on his lap, Griffith is carrying along a massive trunk with stickers all over it from his travels.

The audience then was clearly sold a comedy of mismatched personalities, the uptight Page suffering the overly gregarious Griffith’s antics. That matches up with the cinematic personas of the two stars. Candy often played outsized personalities, the kind of person who wore his heart on his sleeve. For Martin, this was coming at the end of one phase of his career where he was overly comedic and the beginning of the next where he took on more dramatic roles, or at least approached comedy from a drier, more dramatic perspective. So the public perception of both actors is emphasized in the position of the characters.

Meanwhile, the story is shared with the copy explaining “What he really wanted was to spend Thanksgiving with his family. What he got was three days with the turkey.” That makes it clear to the audience that it’s Martin’s character we’re following and his point of view the story is taking.

The trailer makes that same point, explaining that Page is just having the worst luck in his simple attempt to get home for the holiday. The two don’t get off to a great start and things often get uncomfortable through their travels. What’s surprising is that there isn’t much of an arc that’s shared here, just a series of gags involving the unlikely pairing of the two very different personalities. There’s also a shocking amount of footage here that didn’t make it into the final film.

The point here is just to come out and watch two very talented and popular comedians riff off each other in a pleasant holiday comedy. Some of the personal drama that results from the clash of the two is shown here but it’s mostly just about the laughs. Also missing is the more heartwarming aspect of the story, something that surely would have been a focus if the movie were coming out today.

For 1987 it did its job. But it’s interesting to think about how not only would the whole story arc, including the emotional finale, would have at least been hinted at in a more modern campaign but how tone would have been so different as a whole. The conflict between the two would have been intact but it would have been much more overt as a result of the difference in social mores. Much of the comedy in the film is derived from Page’s continued insistence on being a nice guy, even if his patience does run out from time to time. And Griffith is rarely presented as a truly awful person, just one who doesn’t put on a lot of pretense. A remake would take very different approaches to both characters.

As it stands, the campaign sold the film well 30 years ago and the movie holds up as a go-to holiday classic, thanks largely to the talents of Candy and Martin. That’s why it was exactly those talents that were emphasized in 1987 in selling the movie to the audience.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

In the last couple of weeks, director Terry Gilliam has been making the press rounds talking about his film Jabberwocky, which recently received a new edition from the Criterion Collection. As part of that he’s also updated everyone on the status of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, a film he’s been working on to one extent or another for almost two decades.

For those not familiar with the project, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote was first developed by Gilliam and writer Toni Grisoni in the late 1990s with Jean Rochefort playing the titular hero and Johnny Depp a 21st-century marketing professional who’s sent back in time, finding himself teamed with Quixote. Almost immediate the production was beset by problems of various kinds that caused delays, budget overruns and more, ultimately leading to it being shut down. Much of this is chronicled in the documentary Lost in La Mancha, released around 2003 as a standalone film after originally being conceived as a “making of” feature for the film’s eventual DVD release.

With filming finally finished – including a whole new cast, of course – and test screenings happening now according to Gilliam, it seems the film could finally see the light of day after 20 years of false starts and well-intentioned promises. There are still legal issues that are plaguing that release, but we’re closer than we have been.

Gilliam’s comments about this long-gestating film put me in mind of other movies that have been promised by the talent involved for long periods of time but which never seem to get off the ground.


Ever since the popular X-Men character first appeared on screen in X-Men: Origins – Wolverine (Writer’s Strike) as portrayed by Taylor Kitsch, fans have been clamoring for a solo film that would be a bit more authentic and true to the character’s comic book incarnation. In 2014 Channing Tatum, still riding a high after Magic Mike and a few other well-received roles, announced he was interested in starring in that film. He’s been attached to it ever since.


The movie has moved in and out of production more times than a family in witness protection changes houses. Doug Liman was initially attached to direct but left the project a couple years ago. Since then a few different directors have been approached or rumored but it wasn’t until earlier this year that Gore Verbinski finally took on the project. Fox recently set a February 2019 release date and cast Lizzy Caplan as an unidentified character. Reports have emerged recently that production has started but I remain skeptical.

Avatar 2, 3,4, 5 (…) 78, 79 or 80

You’d think that making a sequel to the biggest movie of all time would be a no-brainer. But if anyone was capable of overthinking such a project, it was director James Cameron.

Sequels to the 2009 3D blockbuster have been discussed since about a week after that first film hit theaters. If that initial schedule had held, the first sequel would have come out in 2014. As it is we’re still waiting for what’s now a 2020 release, with a third installment coming in 2021 since both films are being shot at the same time.


Those films are reportedly in preliminary production now but that doesn’t mean Cameron can’t shut the whole thing down at any time because the cameras are two ounces heavier than they need to be to get the shot he’s been planning for 14 years.

Die Hard: Year One

Announced in late 2015, this prequel is reportedly the combination of elements of stories from previously-scrapped film projects as well as a TV series that went nowhere telling the story of a young New York cop named John McClaine. Ever since news broke of it being planned people have wondered how it wouldn’t completely ruin the first Die Hard since that story was premised on McClaine being totally out of his element in a high-stakes terrorist situation. Any prequel story is going to have to make it seem as if he had the necessary skills all along, which takes the magic away from the original.

die hard

Len Wiseman has been attached to direct but that’s about it, with no other cast announced or story shared. That makes the 2018 release that has been planned unlikely. I’d be shocked if this one didn’t die of inertia and complete lack of interest.

Black Adam

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has been signed to play Black Adam, a magical villain from the DC Comics universe, in a movie for years now. He’s been teasing it repeatedly on his social media accounts, offering the occasional update that seems as if he’s gearing up for it any minute now, including hints he would appear in other movies before one featuring Shazam, his arch-rival, could get off the ground. Just as that project picked up speed, it was announced by DC’s Geoff Johns that it would not star Johnson or feature Black Adam.

black adam

That makes it unclear who Shazam will square off against in the solo movie coming in 2019 and starring Zachary Levi as the hero. Black Adam was also given his own film, likely due to the actor’s stature and popularity, though a release date for that remains in limbo. There are rumors he could appear in Suicide Squad 2, though those are unconfirmed and would seem to have the same issues that spiked his appearance in Shazam. Until this is officially on a release calendar I’m not convinced it’s actually happening given the ups and downs to date.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

darkest hour poster 3Winston Churchill is having his moment in the spotlight. His presence was felt, though not seen, in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk earlier this year and has appeared in a couple different TV shows recently, including Netflix’s “The Crown.” Now an integral part of Churchill’s life is coming to the big screen as he’s played by Gary Oldman in director Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour.

The movie follows Churchill in the time immediately before and after he becomes Prime Minister of Great Britain. That’s the same time Nazi Germany is rolling across Europe, a fate some in British government wish to avoid by signing a peace treaty. Having seen how Hitler has honored other treaties, Churchill insists on rejecting that approach and instead using the military to stand against encroaching fascism. To do so he’ll have to rally not only the government but the nation.

The Posters

“Never never never surrender” is the copy on the U.S. one-sheet, with that copy laid over a red-tinted photo of Oldman as Churchill. That’s a powerful message, especially in today’s political climate. The message at the top makes it clear that this comes from the director of Atonement, which should help draw in the fans of that movie.

Another handful of posters came later. One proclaimed Churchill as “A man with the heart of a nation” as it showed Oldman in character, his face largely obscured by a huge trail of smoke emanating from his cigar. Another showed only the bottom of his face and used the copy “Never give up. Never give in.” A third showed more of the man himself, with similar copy used. All make sure you know this comes from the director of Atonement.

The Trailers

As the trailer starts we hear how those in power don’t really care for Churchill or his policies or politics. Still, he’s been selected and he immediately inherits a calamitous situation in the war. While those around him are talking peace and negotiations, he pushes for continued resolve to avoid a fate worse than defeat.

It’s all very tense, a feeling that’s aided by the mounting music. These are moments anyone who’s paid attention in high school social studies class should recognize and Oldman brings them to life wonderfully. Wright’s usual cinematic flair is also on display here and that’s a substantial draw.

Another short trailer shows the obstacles, especially those internally, Churchill faced as he assumed power. It’s meant to be very tense, with the tick-tock beat and the constant cutting away from his political machinations and footage from the war he was trying to win.

Online and Social

The primary trailer opens the official website. Close that and you’re taken to a landing page featuring full-screen video clips in the background, promos to buy tickets or subscribe to the Focus Features newsletter as fellas links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feed.

Scroll down the page and you see the standard Focus site template. Content starts with an “About” synopsis and cast list but then photos, social updates, videos, review quotes and other material is mixed together in the usual style. Many of the behind-the-scenes production photos are presented in black-and-white, giving them the appearance of being historical, or at least showing them in a way that evokes the history being told.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

There are a few online ads I’ve seen that have used variations on the key art as well as a handful of social ads that repurposed the trailers. No TV spots appear to have been run, or if they did they’re not being made available online.

Media and Publicity

The first look at the movie presented an almost-unrecognizable Oldman in character as Churchill. The movie was announced as one of those that would screen at the Toronto International Film Festival as well as at Telluride.

The movie’s appearance at Telluride resulted in generally positive reviews and praise for Oldman’s performance as Churchill, which was pegged as a potential awards contender. While at TIFF, Thomas spoke extensively about the research she did into who Clementine was and the relationship she and her husband had, as well as how the production reignited her desire to work in films again. Both Oldman and Thomas also talked about the intimidation they felt taking on two such powerful historical figures.

In conjunction with some efforts by Focus Features to actively involve them, descendants of the Churchills, as well as experts in the history of the period, endorsed the film as largely accurate, giving it their seal of approval.

Writer/author Anthony McCarten addressed the reality that there’s a wave of Churchill projects in popular culture right now, something he attributed to nostalgia for the days when leaders took decisive and defiant stances, not walking back statements when they turn out to be less popular than intended.

Oldman did some media appearances, as did Thomas, showing up on late night talk shows to promote the movie and engage in hijinks with the hosts. He also continued talking about how difficult the role was physically, both from a makeup point of view and just the effort to embody Churchill and his mannerisms.

There was also a profile of Lily James, who plays Churchill’s loyal secretary in the movie, where she talked about researching the real person, working with Oldman and more. Thomas talked about doing the same sort of research into Clementine Churchill as well as her insistence that the character in the story be just as fully fleshed-out and integral as the woman was in real life. Wright also spoke about the challenges of production, including sometimes showing Churchill to be less than perfect.


You can argue that the last thing the world needs is an overwrought period drama. Some people in our current surreal political world may even argue that there were fine people on both sides and that glorifying Churchill means discounting the viewpoints of those on the other side of…World War II. I’m struck, though, by the comments made by McCarten when he mentions that the world is lacking decisive leaders willing to take a stand for what they know to be right for everyone, not just themselves.

That message is there in the campaign, even if it’s not at the forefront. Watch the trailer and you hear Churchill’s critics deride him as being interested only in self-aggrandizement. He’s not afraid to take on the burden of making the hard calls and ruffling the feathers of anyone who would try to lead him down a more cautious path. If the audience isn’t too busy seeking fluffy entertainment that distracts them from the problems of the world this weekend, it might just find inspiration in this story.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

When Even Aquaman Shouting “My man!” Can’t Save a Movie

aquaman my manJustice League should have been a slam-dunk. Just days before it was released projections had it earning somewhere around $110 million in its opening weekend. That would have been decent, more than Wonder Woman but less than both Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad. Not great, but clearing the $100 million mark domestically is always important from an optics point of view, particularly when the production budget was reportedly somewhere around $300 million. As it stands now it is, instead, the worst-performing entry in the DC Cinematic Universe, or whatever we’re calling it.

So what happened? How do you fail to capitalize on the promise of assembling some of the best-known superheroes in popular culture into a single film? We know this works because The Avengers did it just five years ago. Turns out there are a variety of factors that lead to Justice League underperforming, and that’s without even counting

Whatever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow?

Batman v Superman was supposed to begin the march toward a full-fledged team film by bringing Superman (Henry Cavill), who we already met in 2013’s Man of Steel, into contact with Batman (Ben Affleck), making his debut in the role. And both of them were going to meet Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), also in her first outing. Hence the “Dawn of Justice” subtitle. But if you saw BvS you know that Superman’s status is, like any given Chicago Bears quarterback, unavailable.

superman man of steel

The hero was kept out of almost the entire marketing campaign save for, notably one trailer just weeks before release where he seems to be appearing only as a figment of Lois Lane’s (Amy Adams) imagination. But you can’t do Justice League without Superman and everyone knew it. He still showed up on consumer product packaging and in a couple early promotional images. So everyone knew he would show up, no matter what the campaign was trying to tell us. Not only does it seem like a misstep to keep your heaviest hitter benched, but until the final trailer his absence wasn’t even noted by the other characters or offered as a motivation.

Crisis On Infinite Earths

Marvel Studios has taken pains to make sure everyone knows its various TV and streaming shows do take place in the same world of The Avengers, even if references are only oblique and we’re reminded that no, Luke Cage will not be appearing in Infinity War because…reasons. Still, it’s a cohesive universe that became more so in the last year as Sony agreed to allow Spider-Man to appear in Captain America: Civil War, a cameo that paid off with this past summer’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, which co-starred Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man.

the flash tv

Contrast that to the fragmented approach of DC Entertainment (Disclosure: For four years I worked with DC in my role at a PR agency), where the plethora of TV shows are not only disconnected from the movies but largely from each other. So Ezra Miller plays The Flash in Justice League but Grant Gustin has been playing him on TV for three years now. Until last year, “Supergirl” was almost wholly separate from other DC shows until it moved from CBS to The CW, home of “Arrow” and others. “Gotham” is still doing its own thing. And DC/Warner Bros. recently announced it would create a new label for movies based on DC characters that weren’t connected to the Justice League world of characters. Not only does having multiple actors play the same character in different media cause confusion, the difference in tone from to the other is a bit jarring.

A League of One

The success, both critical and popular, of Wonder Woman just a few months ago should have opened the door for Justice League even further. Everyone loved Gadot’s enthusiastic portrayal that showed how love and the desire to protect is just as, if not more, powerful than motivations rooted in revenge and pain.

wonder woman movie

It turns out that *is* what people wanted and they weren’t so interested in gritty, CGI-rendered battle sequences against hordes of winged invaders with vague motives. In fact if you look back at Wonder Woman reactions, the final battle against Horned Bad Dude V7.3 is often called out as the weakest part of the film. It was never going to be possible to pivot Justice League entirely to account for what the audience loved about Wonder Woman, but there also wasn’t much of a change in the marketing for the team film to put her in more of a prominent role.

New World Order

Back in the day, the period between mid-October and Christmas was largely one for “serious” films vying for awards nominations. All the blockbusters were finishing up their last runs to make way for character-driven dramas and biopics until a few family-friendly films were released in time for Christmas vacation to start. Now, though, the blockbuster season runs all year, or at least March through December.

thor ragnorak pic

That means Justice League was facing some pretty stiff box-office competition. Thor: Ragnarok is still going strong and came in third over the weekend, even though it’s dropped by 53% and 61% respectively in the weeks since it came out. The family drama Wonder came in second with a strong $27 million, showing that well-reviewed counter-programming against big-budget superhero action can still work when done well. The problem is, there was really no way for DC/WB to avoid Disney entirely. If it had pushed Justice League any further it would have opened against Disney/Pixar’s Coco this week or started to get too close to Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

[Retailers: Creator and Artwork In Solicitations May Change]

justice league logoEarly on in the Justice League production – and publicity – process, director Zack Snyder and others talked about how it was going to be shot as one massive production but split into two films, one released now and the other six months or so into 2018. That was eventually discarded.

aquaman unite the sevenAlso early on, a poster showing Jason Momoa as Aquaman was released with the copy “Unite the Seven.” It was widely believed that was a reference to seven heroes coming together. The Justice League campaign only showed five heroes, not including Superman, and this was retconned to refer to the “seven seas” but that’s not how it was initially received.

Snyder, because of a family tragedy, had to bow out of post-production and reshoots and so Warner Bros. brought on Joss Whedon to both write new sequences and film additional footage.

ben affleck batman justice leagueAffleck’s future as Batman changes weekly. At one point he was both writing and directing a solo film that was supposed to come out before Justice League but was pushed to later. Now he’s doing neither and may not even play the character again.

In short, there’s been a lot of uncertainty around the movie that has been very public and which can’t help but have shaded the public’s pre-release opinion of it. Not even the withholding of the movie’s Rotten Tomatoes score until the day before release (a hugely controversial tactic) could change that.

Hard-Traveled Tales

So where does DC/WB go from here? Here’s what’s already in the works:

  • Wonder Woman 2 (for which Gadot hasn’t yet even signed, though director Patty Jenkins has) doesn’t come out for another two years.
  • Momoa will reprise his role as Aquaman in a solo film scheduled for next year, though it may be reshot to just be him shouting “MY MAN!” to various characters (not really, but it should be).
  • The Batman, initially Affleck’s project, is now helmed by Matt Reeves and was essentially restarted by him.
  • Zachary Levi will play the title role in SHAZAM! next year as well, marking that character’s debut.
  • Whedon was hired months ago to write and direct a Batgirl movie.
  • There are rumors of a Superman: Red Son feature adaptation.
  • Director Todd Phillips could helm a Joker solo movie that does not star Jared Leto, who played the character in Suicide Squad, part of that “Elseworlds” cinematic strategy.
  • Miller is slated to play The Flash again in a solo movie tentatively titled Flashpoint and based on that 2011 story that reset the DC comics universe.
  • Ray Fisher is also scheduled to play Cyborg again in a 2020 solo film.

justice league kingdom come

What we’re seeing are the issues that come up when a studio sets so many films so far in advance before seeing if that’s what the audience is actually interested in. We’re also seeing that play out at Universal, where a planned “Dark Universe” series of films was planned to follow The Mummy but that movie’s poor showing may have scuttled that series before it really began.

Not all of the projects above will come to fruition and some will change drastically before hitting theaters. As I mentioned, part of the problem with Justice League is that people reacted much differently to Wonder Woman’s tone than they did Batman v Superman or Suicide Squad. To date, Zack Snyder has played a large role in defining the tone and approach of the movies, but I’d be surprised if that didn’t change after Aquaman as it becomes clear that vision doesn’t translate to guaranteed box-office success and often leads to a critical drubbing.

coco poster 6Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez), feels the draw of music on his soul in the new Disney/Pixar release Coco. He idolizes his late ancestor, the famous singer and actor Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt) but has to keep his passion secret because his grandmother and others strictly forbid music in their house and lives on any level.

One day while visiting Cruz’s local memorial Miguel suddenly finds himself transported to the mysterious Land of the Dead, where he’s the only living soul around. He has to enlist the help of both his ancestors and a friendly skeleton named Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal) to make his way out and back to the living world before he becomes a permanent resident of the afterlife.

The Posters

The first poster is concerned primarily with establishing the setting, showing Miguel’s pet dog against a wall adorned with the title treatment. The guitar that informs the story sits propped against the wall and patting the dog’s head is a skeletal hand. A few paper cutouts depicting various scenes provide some clues as to the story in a nice, subtle way.

The next poster shows the young boy walking down the street, his beloved guitar hanging off his back and his dog by his side. The dog is looking behind them at their reflection in a puddle that shows the spirit world they’ll come to visit, a couple of skeletal residents of that world visible there. It’s still super-colorful, keeping up the brand identity established earlier but does more here to hint that there’s something a bit spooky lurking in the story as well. Interestingly there are no other Pixar movies name-dropped here.

The theatrical poster puts the whole cast around the guitar that’s central to the story. The land of the living is on one side while the land of the dead is on the other, showing the two settings of the story.

Another shows Miguel and the skeletal musician he befriends in the Land of the Dead walking along a brightly-colored bridge, the rest of the characters in the background.

The Trailers

The first trailer starts off by showing us that Miguel is a big fan of singer/actor Ernesto de la Cruz, watching his old show in a room dedicated to his idol. He travels to a shrine to the later actor and steals the guitar that is still there. Playing it transports him to the land of the dead. That’s about all that’s offered here, as the implications of doing so or what Miguel is searching for aren’t explained in this first look.

A short released a bit after that called “Dante’s Lunch” introduced us a bit more to the dog in the movie as he has some unfortunate experiences with a bone he’s trying to gnaw on.

The second trailer starts off by focusing on the supernatural, talking about how the dead come back to our world once a year, but that Miguel is going to be the first to go in the other direction. From there on out it’s about his confusion and sense of wonder at being among all these skeletons, ghosts and other souls of the departed.

The next trailer starts of with Miguel needing to hide his love of music due to his family’s history. He’s transported to the Land of the Dead, where he meets the deceased members of his family who, along with others, help him navigate this strange place and find his famous great-grandfather before he’s stuck there forever. It’s bright and colorful and sells the movie well, showing off the fantastic visuals it offers the audience.

The final trailer, released just a few weeks before the movie hit theaters, has Miguel making nice with his family as they prepare for the Day of the Dead. He needs to hide his artistic tendencies and eventually winds up in the Land of the Dead, where he has to escape and embrace who he is before it’s too late. “Nothing is more important than family” is the theme here that’s hit repeatedly.

Online and Social

The colorful key art sits atop the movie’s official website, showing Miguel and Dante exploring the colorful Land of the Dead. Scroll down and you can watch the final trailer, which is something you really should do.

There’s a brief synopsis that’s followed by a series of videos featuring various Disney talent talking about the movie, interviewing its actors, sharing set visits and more. The site ends with an extensive list of promotional partner companies.

They are unlisted on the hub site but there were Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles created for the film as well.

A virtual reality experience was announced, including a trailer, at Facebook’s recent Oculus Connect developer event, allowing players to explore the Land of the Dead that’s featured in the movie. More details on that execution were revealed when it was finally released to widespread acclaim.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The first TV spot positioned the movie as exploring the one world Pixar hasn’t gone to yet, namely the land beyond the veil of death. It’s part of the studio’s usual approach, which is to tie each movie into as many of its previous films as possible.

There were a number of promotional partners for the film, including:

  • Ancestry.com, which had directors Adrien Molina and Lee Unkrich along with producer Darla Anderson explore their own family tree using the site’s DNA test and archive of records. It also created a portal where you could trace Miguel’s family and begin the process of finding your own ancestors. It also published posts like this on its blog that talked specifically about Mexican heritage, mentioning the movie as it did so. The effort was supported by TV ads including this commercial. The company was mentioned frequently on the movie’s social media accounts, with various promotions and sponsored featurettes offered.
  • National CineMedia, which made Coco the first movie to receive promotion via Noovie, its new pre-show segment from. Specifically, the Backlot segment of the package was used by Disney (a premiere studio sponsor) to show a real dog going on adventures around the Pixar studios.
  • Airbnb, which launched a campaign including this TV spot that used the journey Miguel goes on in the film to inspire people to use the site to book their own Mexican vacations.
  • Chatbooks, which offered a customizable family photo album featuring illustrations from the movie.
  • Guitar Center, which partnered with guitar maker Cordoba to offer a series of instruments inspired by the movie and featuring designs like those seen in the film.
  • Herdez, which offered a free movie ticket with the purchase of select items.
  • Purple, which ran a co-branded TV spot that seems to be the extent of the tie-in other than the use of the phrase “your tired bones.”
  • Southwest Airlines which reskinned a 737 with movie branding.
  • Subway, which offered backpack clips featuring characters from the film in its kids meals.
  • SunRype, which ran a sweeps awarding movie tickets and other prizes.

Online and social ads used elements from the key art as well as either the full trailer, TV spots or other video clips. I’m sure there were plenty of outdoor ads that also used parts of the key art to make a bright, colorful impression on the audience.

Media and Publicity

EW provided the first look at the movie along with a few brief comments from director Lee Unkrich. While casting news isn’t usually part of the publicity activity I cover here, the announcement of an all-Latino cast was notable enough and generated enough coverage and discussion for me to make an exception.

A later edition of Entertainment Weekly had a couple interviews and stories about the movie, including an interview with Bernal about the skeleton he plays and how he worked to bring some heart to the character and how the Land of the Dead’s design and structure was inspired by Pixar’s work for Monsters, Inc.

Just days before release the reputation of the entire Pixar operation came under fire when chief John Lasseter suddenly stepped down amid reports there was a known culture of sexual harassment at the studio, with him at the center. That’s a big hit for an operation that’s part of the family-friendly Disney operation and one that could impact the perception of Pixar’s future films, including this one.


Pixar has put together another great effort that sells the movie as an adventure rooted in one specific culture but accessible to anyone. The extent to which the story is laid out varies from one element to the next but that’s not too surprising considering the visuals and tone are just as important in making the case to the audience as that story, sometimes even more so.

More than that, there’s a wonderful branding that flows throughout the campaign. From the colors to the title treatment, no matter where you encounter an element of the marketing it’s clearly tied to the movie. That’s the strongest thing the push has going for it, especially since it’s the rare Pixar film that’s about a human character, meaning it can’t tap into the same emotional tactics used on other movies.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

One of the frequent criticisms leveled against Hollywood is that it’s obsessed with existing properties. It parades an endless series of adaptations, sequels and other derivative material to the audience in the hopes that familiarity with the originals or the source material will translate into there being a built-in market for this new version.

Decrying how the issue is only getting worse or more pervasive is a time-honored tradition, though it’s one that has built up some speed in the last 10 years as movie studios seek to build shared cinematic universes centered on familiar core characters. Sometimes that results in an Iron Man. Other times you get The Mummy.

What seems to be building speed is not just the adaptation of existing material but taking second or third stabs at doing so in a very short period of time. Consider the following two examples:

Amazon is creating some sort of adaptation of Lord of the Rings, though that planned series seems to be focusing on the events that lead up to the story that was told in the classic novels as well as the landmark films from just 15 years ago.

Damon Lindelof is continuing to work on developing a Watchmen TV series, claiming that a story of the antiheroes is essential now despite the Alan Moore-penned comic series still being widely available and a movie version released in 2008.

Those are by no means the only cases where Hollywood seems to believe there are only a handful of properties and characters available. There have been three cinematic Hulks, Spider-Men and Supermen in my lifetime and five Batmen. Each new take varies from the previous mainly in the shading, not the actual structure.

Meanwhile, other characters continue to sit on the sidelines. Wonder Woman only *just* made her feature film debut. I would have traded at least one of those Hulk movies for one with She-Hulk, who could have provided something fresh to say because of the differences between her and her cousin.

That’s all without even getting into the plethora of wholly original material that’s out there. While not every story yet to be adapted into another medium is worthy of making the transition, many are. But they sit unused because someone has deemed them less commercially viable than A) What’s already been done or B) Another attempt at what’s already been done.

Hollywood is rightfully chided for relying so heavily on nostalgia in guiding its creative direction. That was the focus of a lot of commentaries back in 2007 when the first Transformers movie came out, that it was shamelessly appealing to Gen Xers who grew up with the classic cartoon, comic, and toys. While there were other (lesser) cartoons for the franchise, it was 20 years between the end of that first series and the movie, enough time for that original audience to have kids who could then be exposed to the characters around a shared experience.

Now it seems we’re lucky if we can go a decade between reboots and alternate adaptations. There not only isn’t enough time for a new audience demographic to emerge, there’s barely enough time for us to stop discussing the first one. Nostalgia is eating itself, the window shrinking further each passing year.

What’s all the more shocking about this is that it’s not demonstrably working. Justice League opened to less than $100 million dollars this past weekend, the latest example of a big movie flopping expensively. Meanwhile, The Big Sick, Get Out, Lady Bird and other smaller films featuring original stories told by original creators are not only successes critically but also financially.

At some point Hollywood will realize it doesn’t need *another* take on an existing property that’s already been adapted once or twice in the last 30 years. Unfortunately, that probably won’t happen until we’ve been presented with the second cinematic version of “The Office” that tries to create a shared universe for a variety of potential spinoffs.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

call me by your name posterSet in 1983, Call Me By Your Name tells an uncomfortable story, one made all the more so by the news dominating the headlines at this very moment. Elio (Timothee Chalamet) is in Italy with his father, a prominent professor on a research trip. Elio is a bright and outgoing 17- year-old who spends his time in a variety of intellectual pursuits, as well as hanging out with is friend Marzia (Esther Garell).

Joining them on the trip is Oliver (Armie Hammer), the professor’s research assistant. Oliver and Elio become fast friends and bond over shared backgrounds and interests. Eventually that turns into something else as the closeness with Oliver seems to bring Elio’s own sexuality and identity more to the forefront. The seven years between them – Oliver is 24 – remains a problem, though, given that Elio is still young and figuring out who he is.

The Posters

The first and only poster was pretty simple, just showing Elio and Oliver sitting together and looking up to the clear blue sky, the younger’s head resting on the shoulder of the older’s. Aside from that p, oto the primary element is all the quotes from early screenings conveying how incredible the movie is.

The Trailers

The first trailer, which debuted on Vulture, opens by introducing us to Elio, who soon meets the visiting American Oliver. The boy offers to show him around and they begin to hang out more, Elio both attracted to the mature Oliver and his girlfriend Esther. Things progress on both fronts and Elio isn’t sure what to do.

The goal here is to offer the audience the barest outline of the story, instead focusing on the attitude and emotions of the characters. Elio is, of course, the primary focus and we see him go through all the usual stages of doubt and insecurity that are common with his age. This is designed to show everyone what festival goers were buzzing about and succeeds on that front.

Online and Social

The movie’s official website opens with the trailer playing against a cropped version of the key art. Once that’s over the past has links to get tickets as well as for the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles Sony Classics has created.

Scroll down the page or use the menu on the right and the first section you come across is the “Synopsis,” which has a brief writeup of the story, followed by “Cast” and then “Filmmakers,” both of which feature bios and histories of those involved in making the movie.

The “Gallery” has 14 stills from the production. There’s a section for “Reviews” but you can also read pull quotes from select reviews scattered throughout the site in the breaks between sections. Finally, “Links” has links to the source novel, the soundtrack and the Facebook page.

One social media promotion in particular didn’t go over very well. The studio’s UK account Tweeted an image of Elio and Marzia looking fondly at each other with copy touting the intensity of the romance in the story. The implication being that this is the romance that’s depicted and not the one between Elio and Oliver.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

There didn’t seem to be any TV advertising done but there was this 30-second spot shared by Landmark Theaters that hits a coupe of the high points in terms of the angst being shared, the beautiful locations of the story and the dynamic between at least some of the characters. While I didn’t see any, I’m sure some online advertising was done as well, particularly in the select markets the film opens in this weekend.

Media and Publicity

The first bit of publicity came when it was announced the movie would have its official premiere at Sundance 2017. A first look still from the movie came out around that same time. It was picked up by Sony Pictures Classics before that screening, which garnered almost universal praise and a whole cottage industry of positive word-of-mouth. Sony then scheduled it to screen at the New York Film Festival. It also screened on the opening night of the Toronto Film Festival, where it continued racking up significant positive buzz.

A substantial profile of Hammer allowed the actor to talk about the unexpected and unconventional path his career has taken, his initial reaction to reading the script for this movie and much more. That was also the focus of this profile which talked about his career and personal life and how despite a series of setbacks on both fronts, this seems to be the year things are coming together for him.

There was also attention paid to Chalamet, who’s having quite the year himself in both this movie and the recent indie smash Lady Bird. In that extended interview he talks about how he’s gotten to this point in his career along with how he balances the personal and professional.

Hammer did some publicity and media rounds, as did Chalamet, to talk up the movie. There was even a profile of the sets of the film and how the designer recreated a very specific look for the story.


Sony has put together a nice campaign for the movie that emphasizes not only the emotions felt by Elio and Oliver but, of course, the gorgeous locations in which the story takes place. This *looks* like a high-end art film that is going to have limited appeal in the mainstream audience. At a time when not only homophobia but nativism and anti-intellectualism are all rampant, making a movie about two gay men visiting Italy because of their work or relation to a history professor means some people will reject the story on its face.

To counter that there’s been a strong word of mouth campaign resulting from festival screenings that has sold the movie to the niche audience it seems meant to reach and resonate with. The focus on Hammer is particularly notable since for a few years now Hollywood has tried to turn him into a marquee star but here he’s clearly more comfortable in the role of character actor, presenting a more human front when selling the film as opposed to being overshadowed by the stunts and more.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.