How Quiver has sold a drama about making peace with those who don’t understand you.
Not only does Viggo Mortensen star in Falling, the movie marks the actor’s directorial debut. Mortensen plays John Peterson, who lives with his partner Eric (Terry Chen) and their children. John’s father Willis (Lance Henriksen) is getting older and showing signs of dementia so comes to live with John and his family. That situation creates tension between the father and son, the latter having never accepted the former for who he is. But it also creates an opportunity for everyone, including John’s sister Sarah (Laura Linney) to come to terms with each other and start a new chapter together.
The movie, out this week from Quiver Distribution, has a solid 72% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and has gotten a campaign that represents the story in all its messiness.
There were a few posters that came out last year but the official release one-sheet was released in mid-January. It shows the core relationship and drama of the story, with John and Willis having what looks to be a heated conversation. It’s a simple message on display here, which is complimented by the icons for the festivals it’s appeared at on the bottom of the layout.
John has brought his father home to live with him as the first trailer (11k views on YouTube), released in mid-January, opens. Willis is having memory problems and can’t handle living on his own, but the two fall into conflict frequently as the elder man disapproves of his son’s life while also struggling with his own problems. The story seems to slip between time periods, intermingling the past with the present to show how the relationships in the family have or haven’t changed, adding to the poignancy of what’s presented here.
Online and Social
The only web presence I can find for the movie is a single page on Quiver’s site that has some elementary information but not the trailer or other marketing materials.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
The movie was announced as among those screening at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. It was also selected as a Cannes feature, despite that event happening virtually because of the Covid-19 pandemic. It was also chosen for the San Sebastian Film Festival and Toronto Film Festival.
Media and Publicity
While Mortensen was promoting Green Book this film was announced as his directorial debut.
In an interview at Sundance, Mortensen talked about drawing on his family for inspiration, even if the story isn’t actually about them. Similar themes were the subject of another interview with the actor, who commented on what is or isn’t real in the film. A video conversation with the cast touched on the same subject matter.
Later on Mortensen again talked about preparing for the film and working out the story. He also addressed the topic of him, a non-gay man, playing a gay character. Other interviews with the actor/director covered similar ground, especially focusing on his experience behind the camera for the first time.
Mortensen appeared on “The Late Show” to talk about the movie.
I’m not qualified to speak to whether or not the story is a positive portrayal of a gay man and his partner or related issues. But the campaign does show a good story with good performances from all the leads. Obviously the focus is on Mortensen and Henriksen, but there’s no bad that’s going to come from showing the two of them going head-to-head in some highly-charged scenes.
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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.
From writer Amanda Idoko and director Tate Taylor comes this week’s comedy Breaking News In Yuba County. Allison Janney stars as Sue Buttons, a suburban housewife who becomes something of a local celebrity after her husband Karl (Matthew Modine) goes “missing” and she embarks on a search to find him. Entranced by her newfound fame, Buttons keeps the charade going through a series of increasingly desperate actions that bring her into contact with local crime figures, persistent police officers and other colorful characters.
The movie also stars Mila Kunis, Wanda Sykes, Awkwafina, Regina Hall and others.
You definitely get a sense of the movie’s sense of humor on the poster (by marketing agency Art Machine), released just a couple weeks ago. That comes through not only in the wild artistic design of the primary images, which place the supporting cast around a wide-eyed Sue while offering glimpses of the locations of the story’s action, but also in the copy reading “Sue Buttons has one killer story.”
The trailer (1.2 million views on YouTube), also released in mid-January, follows the rough flow of the story itself, from Sue’s panic over what to do about her dead husband through the notoriety she gains when it seems like he’s been kidnapped and into how it all starts to fall apart when it becomes clear she made much of it up. Along the way we meet some of the unusual local personalities that get involved in some manner and really see the dark sense of humor the film is selling, one conveyed well by the cast, especially Janney.
Online and Social
There is a website listed at the end of the trailer, but repeated attempts to load it were unsuccessful, so it’s not clear what’s on the site. MGM did give the movie some support on its social channels, including running regular little “daily affirmations” featuring brief clips from the film.
Advertising and Promotions
MGM, through its relaunched American International Pictures, acquired the project in October of last year, announcing a January release date at that time.
Some shorter versions of the trailer were run as pre-roll on YouTube, but that’s all the paid advertising I’m aware of.
Media and Press
Janney stopped by “Kimmel” recently to talk about the movie and lots more.
That is, surprisingly, about the end of the press efforts.
A good poster and strong trailer make me want to like this campaign a lot more than I actually do. The disconnect is caused in large part by the lackluster effort elsewhere, including the site that won’t load, the mostly non-existent press push and so on. Such a showcase for Janney in particular needs more support, not provided here.
It’s such a small campaign, it actually makes me wonder if the theatrical-only release plan for the film caused MGM to scale back the marketing because what’s the point of going big when your maximum box-office take is around $5 million?
Picking Up The Spare
Bridget Everett appeared on “The Tonight Show” to promote the film.
How Netflix has sold a story about grief and coming to terms with a new situation.
In Penguin Bloom, based on the book of the same name from writer Cameron Bloom, the story focuses on how a family adjusts to a new and very different dynamic and situation. Sam Bloom (Naomi Watts) is paralyzed after an accident, throwing the vibe of the family household completely out of whack. Her husband Cameron (Andrew Lincoln) is put in the position of having to help their three young kids adapt to their new reality, finding inspiration to do so in the form of a young magpie whom they name Penguin unexpectedly enters the house. Jackie Weaver also stars as Sam’s mother.
Netflix’s campaign for the film has been relatively brief, but highlights the emotional nature of the story, inspired by true events. It sports a middling 60% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, but let’s take a look at how it’s been sold.
Sam and Penguin are, of course, the primary elements on the first and only poster (by marketing agency The Refinery), released in early January. The latter is perched on the former’s shoulder as they both look longingly out the window, in which the rest of Sam’s family is reflected. So it conveys the “inside looking out” nature of the story, how Sam is isolated from those around her in a relatively simple but effective manner.
The trailer (147,000 views on YouTube) starts by showing the Bloom family on vacation in happier times. When she has an accident on that vacation things get understandably tense, though the kids try to make the best of it. Still, Cameron and Sam are struggling, but the appearance of Penguin provides something for everyone – even Sam – to rally around and be inspired by, showing there’s a better way forward.
Online and Social
Nothing here. Netflix didn’t even give it that much support on social channels, with other movies taking precedence apparently.
Advertising and Promotions
The movie’s premiere was held at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival, with positive reviews calling out Watts’ performance in particular.
Netflix acquired the film in November of last year and set a quick January release date.
Media and Press
Watts was interviewed in early October of 2019 about the movie and its story as well as what drew her to the project and how she feels it reflects a modern audience.
During TIFF 2020, Watts and others in the cast were interviewed about the unique nature of working with live animals, how they bonded during production and more.
Oddly, given there are major stars in the film, there doesn’t appear to have been much press activity in the weeks leading up to release.
I’m a little surprised at how understated the campaign seems to be. The lack of press activity in particular comes off as a missed opportunity to get some more buzz about the film going after a long break since festival season. And it’s disappointing how little attention the film got from Netflix in terms of social promotion.
On the more positive side, the trailer is great, selling a movie that might be a bit emotional – especially since it’s based on a true story – but also looks funny and charming. More than anything, the campaign knows what it’s presenting; a story about the isolation that can come from an accident and how that creates tension in a family, but also how through hard work those impacted can find a way to survive together.
Picking Up The Spare
Watts appeared on “Kimmel” to talk about the movie and more. The filmmakers talked here about using a handful of trained birds in order to get the perfect performance.
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.”
In Pieces of a Woman, written by Kata Wéber and directed by Kornél Mundruczó, Vanessa Kirby and Shia LaBeouf play Martha and Sean, a young married couple who experience a terrible tragedy during the birth of their first child. The story follows the two – especially Martha – over the course of the ensuing year as she works through the grief of the event as well as the other related emotions that come with it. The movie also stars Ellen Burstyn as Martha’s mother, whose overbearing nature complicates the situation.
Netflix has been selling the film as a prestige piece, especially focusing on Kirby’s performance in part because LaBeouf has once again become a toxic persona. Generally positive reviews have given the film a 78% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so let’s take a look at the campaign as a whole.
Kirby’s Martha fronts the movie’s one poster (by marketing agency P+A), released in mid-November. The photo is of her looking longingly at something off-camera, but it’s enough to convey the general idea that the movie will be an emotional one with Martha as the main character. tw
The first and only trailer (1.7 million views on YouTube) came out in mid-November and starts with Martha and Sean preparing for the arrival of their much-anticipated child, which we quickly see dies during birth. That understandably rocks Martha, who is exploring who she can legally blame for her loss, ultimately going to court to testify against the midwife she holds responsible. Alongside all of that, she clashes with her mother, husband and others as she seeks to direct her grief in some useful direction.
Online and Social
Not only wasn’t there a standalone site for the film, which isn’t unusual for Netflix releases, but it seems there also weren’t social profiles set up either. It did get some support on Netflix’s brand channels, though.
Advertising and Promotions
The movie’s debut at the Venice Film Festival garnered positive reviews, especially for the performances by Kirby and LaBeouf. Kirby’s was so good she won the festival’s Best Actress Volpi Cup.
A short clip debuted while Venice was underway. Those positive reviews were likely instrumental in Netflix deciding to acquire the film, which it did shortly after the Venice premiere.
It was also screened at the Toronto Film Festival as well as for the American Film Institute and at EnergaCamerimage Film Festival.
Media and Press
A profile of Kirby from early September included this as one of a couple highly-anticipated projects she was involved in.
Weber and Mundruczo were interviewed during Venice about how they expanded on earlier material for this film and how they secured the cast they did. In another interview during teh festival they talked about tackling taboo subjects and more.
Kirby and Burstyn were interviewed together about making the movie and what drew them to the project. Elsewhere Mundruczo talked about the story and what made it so powerful while also praising his cast.
Closer to release there was another feature profile of Kirby that had her talking about taking on her first major role specifically because it seemed scary and imposing. She also promoted the film in an appearance on “The Tonight Show.”
Mundruczó and Wéber were interviewed about developing such a raw and personal story, and then doing so again for a feature version. There was also an interview with Burstyn, whose performance has created a good percentage of the film’s buzz and been called out in many reviews.
If you’re wondering where LaBeouf was during the press campaign, he either declined to participate or was told not to following recent allegations of abusive, harassing behavior by various women as well as new reports of erratic and problematic behavior on-set.
Making Kirby the focal point of the campaign was absolutely the right call here, not only because she bears the brunt of the story’s emotional baggage but because her performance anchors the film and is where the audience is intended to throw their attention.
It’s a slow and deliberate campaign, especially exemplified by the trailer, and that gives it an appropriate sense of drama and stakes. Not only that, it’s one of the best from Netflix, particularly in how the company has finally fully embraced giving its movie stars the chance to fully engage the press.
Picking Up The Spare
Kirby and Burstyn were interviewed about working together and how the film is important in telling a woman-centric story, while the filmmakers later commented on working with LaBeouf and what they thought of the harassment and abuse allegations leveled against the actor.
Kirby also spoke about how the film depicts grief and mourning in the face of unbelievable tragedy and then on one particularly traumatic scene. Mundroczo spoke about telling that kind of heartbreaking story here.
Even a dumpster fire can yield some interesting results.
If compiled, the articles, think-pieces and hot takes written between March and December of 2020 on the present and future of movies and theater-going would fill volumes rivaling the collected works of Marcel Proust, though they would be far easier to summarize.
A year unlike any other certainly proved even more disruptive to aspects of the film industry – production, distribution and exhibition alike – than anything like MoviePass or other threats once held to be dire could have dreamed. No one could have engineered a scenario where over 90 percent of the nation’s movie theaters would close for months at a time, studios would shut down filming on major motion pictures and so on ad infinitum because of a virus outbreak around the globe.
All of that, as well as the pivot by studios and media owners to streaming, upended, delayed or otherwise altered a great many movie marketing efforts. That doesn’t mean 2020 didn’t have plenty of interesting campaigns, though. It just means in some cases what made them “interesting” or otherwise notable was a little different than what would have qualified in prior years.
More than anything else, 2020 was a year of unexpected firsts. WarnerMedia finally launched HBO Max and offered a number of original films before announcing it would be home to its entire 2021 theatrical release slate. Disney rushed Onward over to Disney+ before later using it for titles like Hamilton and Soul that otherwise would have gone to theaters and for Mulan as a test for a new pricing model. Paramount sold off many of its titles to Netflix or Amazon. Apple released a handful of original features while trying to provide Apple TV+ with some momentum. Universal essentially reinvented and reinvigorated PVOD.
So, with all that said, these are some of the most intriguing movie marketing campaigns of a year for which “intriguing” is such an understatement as to almost be irresponsible.
Why It Made The Cut: Many campaigns for period films include some element or another meant to evoke the era the story takes place in. No movie takes that as far as Netflix’s Mank, where the whole campaign was designed to seem as if the film were being released in the late 1930s/early 1940s, just like Citizen Kane. Trailers were cut and narrated in the style of that period, posters were designed to look similar to the kinds of one-sheets seen then and more. It shows something unique can be created if the marketing team goes all-in on a concept.
Why It Made The Cut: The campaigns for many movies that had their release plans changed dramatically saw subsequent alterations made to their marketing campaigns. Few were as innovative as Disney’s shift of Mulan. Not only was the film sent directly to Disney+ (as well as limited theaters), but the introduction of a “Premier Access” PVOD tier to that streaming platform set this one apart from the others. By all accounts this experiment was a success, one that may be replicated with other titles in the future. It also essentially set the stage for what Warner Bros. would wind up doing with HBO Max beginning with Wonder Woman 1984, though Disney remains committed to sending its Marvel Studios titles exclusively to theaters.
Why It Made The Cut: Few films felt as timely as The Assistant, which came out at the same time Hollywood was dealing with not only the continued fallout of Harvey Weinstein’s fall from grace due to sexual harassment and assault but also the burgeoning protests by assistants in the industry over lack of adequate pays and other mistreatment. While other campaigns made big, flashy statements to audiences, this one played it so quiet and understated it sometimes fell off the radar, but kept coming back to show how powerful the story and performances were.
Why It Made The Cut: Before May of last year, Warner Bros. and DC Films seemed to be actively apologizing for the dark, dystopian tone (not to mention storytelling shortcomings) of earlier films from Zack Snyder and David Ayer. The campaign for Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) was part of that, presenting a new take on the best character to come out of Suicide Squad that freed Harley Quinn from the male gaze and other traps. In contrast to some of those earlier movies, this campaign was funny, bright and full of women taking their power back. It was also one of the last major fully-theatrical campaigns of the year before things got weird.
Why It Made The Cut: Universal’s unsuccessful effort to launch its Dark Universe film franchise on the back of 2017’s The Mummy is legendary as a case study in corporate hubris. That made the campaign for The Invisible Man so notable as it not only looked like a powerful and compelling story in its own right but also was the first example of the studio’s new approach of making smaller movies driven by creative filmmakers, not the dictates of a shared cinematic universe.
Why It Made The Cut: These two kid-targeted movies were some of the earliest efforts by their respective studios into the burgeoning world of premium video-on-demand, an avenue theater owners had kept off-limits for a decade. Most notably, each represented early adoption of the studio-hosted watch party, encouraging fans to engage in a communal but remote viewing experience anchored by Twitter chats. While Trolls World Tour was a first-mover, Scoob! in particular went all-out for its watch party with downloadable party packs, recipes and other items for those at home to use as part of the event.
Why It Made The Cut: The New Mutants is included here simply because it actually came out after years of delays, rumors of extensive reshoots and other issues. Not only was it finally released – after a campaign that shifted over time from a horror-centric push to one that was more of a conventional super hero message – but it came out theatrically instead of, as many expected, via streaming.
Why It Made The Cut: With so many movies coming out on PVOD or streaming, Tenet’s theatrical release is a bright shining example of a powerful stakeholder intentionally not reading the room. The film’s massively disappointing box-office performance shows there was no audience in September willing to brave theater-going in sufficient numbers, a lesson so well-learned by Warner Bros. it’s cited as being a major reason for the studio’s decision to send #WW84 and eventually all its 2021 releases to HBO Max. It would rather anger directors, agents, production partners and others than go through that again, and with good reason.
Why It Made The Cut: Few films of late have tried so hard – and to a great extent so successfully – to redefine an entire genre as The Happiest Season. Its holiday-centric campaign was perfectly in keeping with the movie’s story, and the emphasis on providing a new take on the Christmas movie category was felt throughout the marketing by Hulu.
There’s been a lot of good storytelling in the Marvel Cinematic Universe over the last 12 years. Black Panther, Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor: Ragnarok and others particular stand out from among the 20 movies as particularly enjoyable and well-told stories offering something new and creative in the superhero genre.
There’s also a problem with many of them that I never quite noticed until recently rewatching Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Now Winter Soldier is a movie I’ve watched and greatly enjoyed a few times before. It’s usually ranked among my favorites of the MCU for how it uses Marvel characters to tell an updated version of a late-70s paranoid political thriller. Chris Evans fully comes into the role of Cap in the film, Scarlett Johansson gives my favorite of her performances as Black Widow and you can never go wrong with Robert Redford gliding through every scene.
This last time through it, something stuck out at me, though. It’s a moment right at the end of the film, with Natasha Romanov testifying before Congress about how Hydra was able to infiltrate SHIELD for decades, coming within seconds of killing millions of citizens because it deemed them a potential future threat. Why, one individual asks, shouldn’t she and others who aided – albeit unwittingly – this massive conspiracy be put behind bars?
In response she says they won’t put her in jail because, despite the role they played previously, they’re the ones best qualified to fix the very problems they contributed to.
You’ll recognize this logic from every appointment of an oil industry executive to the EPA because “they have experience with this subject matter.” Or the committees making recommendations on reform in the financial sector that are staffed solely be executives from the biggest firms in that industry.
It’s not an uncommon sentiment in the MCU, either. In the first two Iron Man movies, Tony Stark’s entire philosophy is that despite the fact that his irresponsible business practices having put terrible weapons in the hands of terrible people, he should be trusted to clean up that mess. Not only that, but he embodies the conservative notion that the duties traditionally entrusted to government should instead be handed over to the wealthy elite. He resists any government oversight or accountability of Iron Man, asking instead he simply be trusted.
At the end of The Avengers, Nick Fury is asked if he knows where the various heroes are and how he’s planning on reassembling them if the world faces another day like no other. Not really, he says, simply hoping and believing they’ll be there when needed. That sentiment is picked up by Secretary Ross in Civil War, when he asks if anyone knows where Thor or Hulk are, rightfully pointing out he’d be in a heap of trouble if he lost a couple nuclear weapons.
While there are plenty of issues that can be taken with the story in Civil War, Ross’s point is not necessarily one of them. But in this case, Tony Stark’s conversion from “I privatized world peace” to “We need to be put in check” comes off less as realizing he and those like him are part of the problem than from, it seems, him wanting to pass the buck of accountability on to someone else.
That mindset is understandable from characters like Rhodes and Romanoff, who have both operated extensively within military structures and who feel comfortable there. Stark, though, has seen his high-flying adventuring go badly and would like to have someone else deal with it, thank you very much.
(Side note: Captain America might be expected to take a similar approach as Rhodes given his military background. His intransigence on the issue always seemed somewhat arbitrary, especially since it’s justified solely by saying they can be trusted to make the best decisions on their own. More than any other MCU character, Cap has had his belief in “the system” shaken, first finding out SHIELD was using Hydra weapons in The Avengers and then finding out SHIELD *is* Hydra in The Winter Soldier. If Civil War had grounded his stance in this experience it would be a lot more defensible.)
It’s equally understandable why Barton, Wilson and others would disagree, given they don’t come from such privileged backgrounds even if many of them were also military in some fashion. The opposing side is made up of those who have been in the muck a lot longer and worked to lift themselves out. Barton doesn’t have a super suit, he’s just *really* good at what he does. Wilson is like Rhodes in many ways, but doesn’t have the benefits of a long friendship with a playboy billionaire philanthropist aiding his way. Scott Lang, of course, is a criminal who operates outside the system. Wanda is an orphan who lost her brother.
When Romaoff says she and the other heroes are the ones most qualified to clean up the mess created by the fall of Hydra, she’s hinting at what’s to come in Civil War. She’s also mimicking the testimony of every executive in the wake of some crisis. Consider how little changed in the 10 year following the 2008 financial crisis, with many of those who were in charge then still in charge a decade later. This quote from a story on what some of those leaders said in a Congressional inquiry is indicative of that “those who created the problem should be trusted to clean it up” philosophy and sounds a lot like Romanoff’s rebuke:
The witnesses said they supported tighter oversight, but warned against going too far.
Right. Because you wouldn’t want to “go too far” in the wake of the complete collapse of the American housing market, one caused by banks and not homeowners. And you wouldn’t want to go too far in the wake of revelations that an international terrorist organization had compromised a global security force.
Those in power are loath to relinquish that power, especially when the opportunity comes along to be free from any negative repercussions that might happen while exercising that power. It’s unfortunate to see that kind of privilege on display in the MCU.
How Focus Features is selling a twisted revenge story.
Actress and writer Emerald Fennell makes her directorial debut with this week’s Promising Young Woman. The movie stars Carey Mulligan as Cassandra, a woman who experienced severe trauma in her past. Now she is channeling that trauma, combined with her sense of justice, in the direction of seeking to set things right. That means trouble for the men who get in her way.
Focus Features’ campaign for the film has sold a kinetic, story of revenge and dealing with the events of the past in some manner. With an impressive 92% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, the movie has been pegged as a potential awards contender, especially for Mulligan.
“Take her home and take your chances” the audience is warned on the first poster (by marketing agency Art Machine), released just a week ago. The image of Cassandra lounging on a sultry, dripping wet mouth combined with the style of the title treatment gives this the look of an 80s teen sex comedy, albeit one that might be a bit twisted.
The image on the second poster (by marketing agency Territory Studio) is a bit more straightforward, just Cassandra staring at the camera and holding a tire iron in a very purposeful way. Some positive review quotes are placed in the background to help make the case.
Cassandra is writing the title on a mirror in lipstick on the final poster (once again by Art Machine). That takes us back into twisted territory, while the copy here reads “Revenge never looked so promising.”
The first trailer (3.8 million views on YouTube) came out in mid-December and immediately sells a crazed story of vengeance and justice. As it opens it looks like Cassandra has had too much to drink and is passing out at a club, with a man seeing that as his opportunity to take advantage of her. She reveals herself to be just fine, though, much to his surprise. Turns out this is something she does regularly, exposing the lie of the “nice guy” who has darker motives. Her mission is driven by a past that involves leaving college after accusing a man of raping her and receiving no support from the school or other people. Seems her journey may even bring her back into contact with her assailant, giving her the opportunity to achieve some real closure and have some real fun.
Cassandra is attempting to restart her studies in the second trailer (2.9 million views on YouTube), released in mid-October. She explains that she left years ago after a girl was attacked and her assailant never punished. Turns out the administrator she’s speaking with is the same one who fielded the initial report and failed to take action. Mixed in with that is footage of the kind of vengeance she doles out herself on men who feel they’re entitled to certain things regardless of consent. It still looks crazy, but the framing of the interview grounds the story a bit more effectively.
Online and Social
Visitors to the movie’s official website will find Focus’ standard design in place, offering the trailer, bios on Mulligan, Fennelll and many of the costars and more. There are also social network profiles specifically for the film.
Advertising and Promotions
Sundance 2020 was announced as the movie’s public coming out, with Focus Features picking up distribution rights in advance of the festival.
The video for “Drinks” by Cyn was released in early March as details of the star-studded soundtrack were made public.
Dolby offered an exclusive interview with Fennelll where she talked about using the company’s technology and tools to bring her story to life.
AMC Theaters also got an exclusive behind-the-scenes featurette.
Focus Features showed a bit more in an installment of the “60-Second Film School” web series.
Media and Press
While Fennell wasn’t in Sundance with the movie, he was interviewed at that time about the inspiration behind the story, how production worked and what they hoped the audience’s reaction would be. Burnham spoke about the difficult time he had while filming and how intimidated he felt when acting alongside Mulligan.
Fennell and Cyn were interviewed about the process of assembling the movie’s soundtrack and what the songs on it were meant to represent.
An interview with Mulligan allowed her to talk about how she got involved in the project and why it seemed attractive to her at this point in her career. Brie also talked about her part in the film.
A Variety cover story featured both Fennell and Mulligan talking about why they made this movie right now, the…emotional reactions test audiences had and lots more.
How set designer Michael Perry created the visual look of the film was covered in an interview with him.
A joint interview with Fennell and Mulligan had them talking about female revenge stories and how they accomplished the movie’s unique look and feel. They also shared a story of a fistfight among audience members breaking out during a test screening.
Other interviews with Fennell had her talking about getting the rights to use a song by Paris Hilton in a key sequence and why she cast perfectly nice and sweet actors to play some of the story’s terrible male characters.
A big profile of Fennell had her reflecting on how her career to date has led her to this point and what she wanted the story to convey. A similar piece on Mulligan had her talking about the…unfortunate…reactions of some men to the movie.
What the movie’s quick production was like was covered in an interview with Mulligan. Fennell talked about how she wanted to take a comedic, though a darkly comic, look at violence in the story.
I’m on board with this campaign for a number of reasons, including the fact that it creates a strong, instantly recognizable brand identity from the outset and never lets up. It’s twisted, colorful and a little bit funny, anchored by a strong performance from Mulligan.
Not to be overlooked is Fennell’s contribution to the campaign, outside of her helming the film itself. She’s been out in front of the publicity and other aspects of the marketing, making it clear she is in charge and working to carve out some recognition for herself while also selling the movie.
Picking Up the Spare
Mulligan appeared on “Kimmel” and then later on “Late Night” while she and Fennell were interviewed about striking the right tone in the story. Mulligan was interviewed on her own here while Fennell was interviewed here about telling such a dark story.
How Warner Bros. has mounted an oft-delayed and ultimately unusual campaign for its first legit superhero sequel since 2012.
To call Wonder Woman 1984’s trip to an eventual release date “unconventional” would be a severe understatement. Originally scheduled for December 2019, it was later moved to June, 2020, then later and later in the year following the theatrical closures resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. The final release date of December 25, 2020 seemed iffy as late as last month but has finally come to pass because WB – and parent company AT&T – pulled a bold move that has subsequently disrupted the entire film industry, sending the movie to both whatever theaters are open and the HBO Max streaming platform.
Just as the title implies, the movie – directed once more by Patty Jenkins – jumps several decades from the World War I setting of the 2017 installment to the 80s. Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) is now an anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institute, where she meets coworker Barbara Ann Minerva (Kristen Wiig). Barbara’s insecurities make her a ripe target for Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), a megalomaniac businessman who acquires the ability to grant wishes and fulfill desires, an ability he uses to increase his own fortunes. Eventually Barbara wishes for superhuman powers and is transformed into Cheetah, setting the stage for an epic showdown with Diana. Along all that, Diana is confounded by the mysterious return of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), who she believed dead 60 years ago and who doesn’t appear to have aged at all.
Before the HBO Max release was announced, #WW84 had taken Tenet’s position as the movie exhibitors were pinning all their hopes for a moviegoing revival on. The simultaneous distribution may have dashed those hopes (along with the fact that the pandemic is nowhere near controlled in the U.S., meaning most theaters are still closed), so the film is now seen as an example of what could becomeHollywood’s future. At the very least, it set the stage for Warner Bros. announcement its entire 2021 slate was following the same pattern.
In addition to the copious discussions and analysis of what all of the above means for theaters, HBO Max and other studios, initial reviews have praised it as a feel-good sequel to help close out an infection-filled tire fire of a year. Those reviews have been mixed enough to give it a lackluster 76% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but the marketing of the film has struck the same colorful, powerful tone as that of the original.
The first teaser poster, Tweeted out by Jenkins in early June 2019 along with the news the movie would not have a panel at 2019’s San Diego Comic-Con, shows Diana looking imposing in golden full body armor. She’s set against a colorful backdrop that forms a slight “W” to reinforce the branding. It’s an impressive first image communicating what may be the movie’s brighter tone.
Four character posters – one for Diana, Trevor, Lord and Minerva – retained that colorful background branding while also offering one of the movie’s biggest revelations: that Trevor sports a fanny pack in the film.
In March two more posters came out showing Diana kneeling in her ceremonial armor, a colorful backgroundswirling behind her. Those posters also served as announcements of the new (at the time) June release date.
An exclusive IMAX poster, released in November, shows the armored Diana crouched and ready for battle while promoting the fact some sequences in the film were shot with IMAX cameras, the better to lure in audiences hoping for an immersive experience.
More posters came out earlier this month that took the same kind of visual approach, making sure to include the new selling point of simultaneous theatrical and HBO Max availability.
The “#WeekofWonder” campaign run the first week of December included another poster showing Wonder Woman walking purposefully and powerfully toward the camera. AT&T debuted another showing a more relaxed, though still armored, Diana.
A Dolby-exclusive poster loses some of the colorful background but continues the emphasis on Wonder Woman’s shiny armor, as does one for Cinemark and one for RealD 3D.
Diana is explaining to Barbara that her life has been different than she might imagine as the first trailer (37.3 million views on YouTube), released at the beginning of December 2019, begins. We see momentos from her past before seeing Wonder Woman break up a group of armed criminals in a shopping mall. As that’s happening, a TV commercial features Lord promising people they can achieve all their dreams and have what they want. Somehow Steve Trevor returns, having not aged a day in the 40 years since he apparently died. They set off on a mysterious adventure while we’re shown footage of them in combat mixed with scenes of the Amazons competing in some form of organized games.
All of that is bookended by title graphics and other animation seemingly pulled directly from a 1984 video cassette, including fuzzy static that mimics what would happen when a VHS tape got stretched after too many plays.
In conjunction with DC Fandome in August a new trailer (23.8 million views on YouTube) was released that starts by showing a young Diana in the midst of her training followed by a grown Wonder Woman using her magic lasso to swing between lightning bolts. That gives you an idea of how epic the story is. After that there’s more footage showing Barbara’s quest for power that turns her into Cheetah, Lord’s megalomania that has to be stopped and the mystery surrounding Trevor’s return. At the end there’s a nice flip from a scene in the first movie, with Trevor trying on clothes to fit into the current world while Diana judges his choices.
In mid-November in conjunction with the announcement of the HBO Max release plans the “Official Main Trailer” (4.3 million views on YouTube) came out that is almost exactly the same as the Fandome trailer from August.
Online and Social
Whatever website might have once existed for the movie it’s been replaced by a single page on HBO Max’s site with the trailer and information on either signing up for that service or purchasing theater tickets. It’s really disappointing, though there were still stand-alone social profiles that went more in-depth on promotions and other marketing assets.
Advertising and Promotions
With so much going on, it’s necessary to break all of this up a little bit.
Microsoft, which had a substantial campaign using the movie and character as a way to encourage kids to develop tech skills and learn to code by playing game, engaging in online scavenger hunts and more. There was also a Bing extension that added movie key art to browsers and an Edge browser theme.
Dorito’s, which put movie branding on chip bags, some of which came out earlier this year before various delays, leading to packaging hitting shelves with inaccurate dates.
Hot Topic, which offered all kinds of movie and character merchandise, some exclusive to the retailer.
Reebok, which offered a line of movie- and character-themed footwear. That campaign included an emphasis on highlighting healthcare workers as well as promoting the company’s education initiatives.
The movie also was included in a number of ads for AT&T encouraging people to sign up for the company’s fiber home internet service so they had the bandwidth to fully enjoy Wonder Woman 1984 via HBO Max.
Promotions for the movie kicked off all the way back in June, 2018 in advance of that year’s San Diego Comic-Con as Gadot and Jenkins Tweeted out a handful of first looks at Trevor, Barbara and Diana. That Trevor’s presence in the movie was revealed at the outset of the publicity cycle is notable since the question of whether or not he would show up could have been a significant part of the campaign. Instead, Jenkins – and presumably the studio – felt there was more to gain from getting it out there early and not making everyone endure months of speculation, which is appreciated.
The movie was also part of that year’s CineEurope presentation from the studio.
Jenkins, Gadot and Pine all appeared at SDCC 2018, an appearance that was followed by the launch of an Omaze campaign where people could win a role as an extra on the film.
Warner Bros. sat out Hall H at SDCC 2019 but Jenkins and Gadot did appear at Comic Con Experience in Sao Paulo in December, talking about the movie and what audiences could expect while giving attendees an early look at the first trailer.
The film was included in WB’s 2019CinemaCon presentation that included footage from the film and comments from Jenkins. It was also featured in that year’s CineEurope presentation.
Gadot appeared as a presenter during the recent Oscars broadcast.
Shortly after that news came the movie would be among those included in DC FanDome, a virtual event planned for August. That panel, which included the debut of another trailer, had Jenkins and others discussing both this and the first film and fielding some questions from fans. There was also a surprise appearance by the original on-screen Wonder Woman, Lynda Carter. More promotions for the film, including another appearance by Jenkins, were part of the second part of FanDome a month later.
The news the movie would debut in theaters and on HBO Max was accompanied by a short promo making that point to audiences. It was also prominently included in promos for WB’s later announcement of its 2021 theatrical/HBO Max plans.
Additional longer commercials showed an abridged outline of the story.
A new extended spot was unveiled at this year’s CCXP, one that focuses on the emotional journey Diana goes on over the course of the story.
Immediately leading up to release WB bought Promoted Trends on Twitter.
DC FanDome was reactivated in mid-December for the movie’s virtual premiere, including exclusive looks at the film and more. That premiere supported World Central Kitchen, which has been doing a lot of work to feed hungry people across the world – including the U.S. – during the pandemic.
DC Comics Tie-Ins
There’s been a full-throated promotional effort from DC, not only because that division is home to the Wonder Woman IP but also because the movie’s release roughly coincides with the 80th anniversary of the character’s print debut. That effort has included a number of on-domain “get to know X character” stories and videos as well as insights into the design and creation of Wonder Woman’s golden armor, an interview with Tina Guo, the guitarist behind the now-famous Wonder Woman movie theme and more.
A planned movie tie-in comic with cover art by Nicola Scott, who shared her work on Twitter in March. More details came out in July, including that the book – “Wonder Woman 1984 No. 1” – would debut exclusively in Walmart stores and feature multiple stories, including a direct prequel to the film co-written by Louise Simonson and associate producer Anna Obropta.
A handful of Zoom chat backgrounds, released earlier this year (as many companies were doing) so people could add some film branding to their video calls.
Lilly Aspel, who plays the young Diana, appeared on an episode of DC’s Kids YouTube show to talk about the movie and play games.
#WonderWomanDay was celebrated in October with all sorts of merchandise sales, events at comics retailers and more.
With all the delays and date changes, publicity didn’t truly kick off – outside of a few interviews and comments, including those from Pine and Jenkins from the “I Am The Night” set – until February of this year.
That’s when more photos were released to EW, which also hosted a roundtable conversation with Jenkins and the cast as well as an interview with Gadot about the continuation of Diana’s story as well as that spiffy new armor.
Another interview with Gadot had her talking about this movie as well as her career, public image and more.
New images and comments from Gadot and others emerged in April, as Warner Bros. execs reiterated their commitment to the theatrical model for this movie. At about the same time, Jenkins hinted at the four-film arc she has in mind for the character if she gets the chance and more. She discussed more details and ideas in another interview later on.
As the reality of the pandemic became more clear in May, Gadot surprised a group of Wonder Woman-inspired healthcare workers in Detroit with an appearance to lift them up during difficult times.
Wiig was interviewed about what a career change it was to take a role in a big-budget production like this and how that went.
DC interviewed Magnus Lygdback, Gadot’s trainer on the film, about how he helped her get ready for production, while Jenkins offered more information on how she intended to bring back Trevor.
Pascal was the subject of a feature profile that included comments from Jenkins about working with him and more.
In an interview earlier this month Jenkins said she was essentially ignoring the theatrical cut of Justice League, directed by Joss Whedon, because she felt it contradicted what she had done and had planned, unlike the way she had worked with original JL director Zack Snyder
Gadot spoke in a later interview about returning to the role and what she hoped that meant for the character, feminism and the world as a whole. In another she acknowledged again how rough a year this has been for many people and expressed her hope this movie brings them and everyone else some joy and relief.
Wiig also returned to her “Saturday Night Live” home the weekend before release.
A substantial profile of Jenkins made lots of headlines for including her thoughts on the HBO Max situation, the prolonged negotiations that finally allowed her to return for a sequel, her plans for a third film and more. Another interview had her revealing how studio notes influenced the ending to the first movie.
Let’s face it, the campaign is one of the best of the year, even despite all the delays and awkwardness, because of this single image.
On top of what it’s selling to audiences, the campaign has a strong message for entertainment industry executives who feel threatened by change they’re not in charge of.
Picking Up The Spare
Gadot appeared in a quick video recapping and setting up the movie’s story. She was also interviewed about this movie and state of the industry.
Another DC post covered the process of bringing the film to life.
Connie Nelson was interviewed about the new film and more. There were also additional features and interviews about how the filmmakers customized Cheetah for Wiig, what prompted Wiig to take the role, Pascal’s approach to this film as well as his history with Wonder Woman and more.
More on how Gadot and Wiig bonded was covered in a joint video interview with the two.
The film’s costume designer explained how she created the film’s 1980’s fashion aesthetic.