How Universal Pictures has sold a movie about one of culture’s most famous lackeys
Renfield, out in theaters this weekend from Universal Pictures, stars Nicolas Cage as Dracula and Timothy Hoult as Renfield, Dracula’s long-serving and long-suffering servant and whipping boy. Set in present day New Orleans, the story focuses on Renfield’s attempts to break free of the Dracula’s thrall because he’s fallen in love with Rebecca Quincy (Awkwafina), a local human police officer. But the century-spanning relationship between master and servant is complicated and cutting ties isn’t so easy.
Ben Schwartz, Shohreh Aghdashloo and others costar as the people who get sucked into the drama.
The movie is directed by Chris McKay and written by Ryan Ridley, with a story by Robert Kirkman, so let’s take a look at how it’s been sold.
announcement and casting
The project, with McKay as director and Cage as Dracula, was announced by Universal in April 2021.
Hoult’s casting in the role of Renfield came a few months later, in August, with Schwartz, Awkwafina and Adrian Martinez joining over the next couple months.
Cage commented on the experience of playing Dracula a fewtimes over the course of later 2021 and early 2022.
A release date was set in March 2022, with Universal marking the end of production a month or so later.
There was one more interview with Cage where he called this a “pop-art Dracula” story.
the marketing campaign
With the beginning of 2023 came the launch of the marketing campaign. That included a poster showing Dracula – here made to look very similar to Max Schreck as Count Orlok in Nosferatu – hovering over a skittish-looking Renfield. It pretty effectively communicates the dynamic between the two in a simple manner.
The trailer (45m YouTube plays) released at the same time opens with Renfield bursting into a support group and declaring he needs help getting out of a toxic relationship. As he struggles with what he’s asked to do for his master he saves Quincy from a group of armed robbers at a local restaurant. Eventually the support group Renfield has found discovers he’s not exaggerating the hold his boss has over him or how much power he has. It’s all very funny while bringing in plenty of straight horror elements.
The final trailer (18m YouTube plays) hit at the end of March, flashing back to Renfield’s first day as Dracula’s assistant. We get a lot of the same moments seen in the first trailer, but this time there’s more of Renfield’s attempts to push back on Dracula’s constant dark needs, as well as Dracula’s unwillingness to let him go so easily.
A short featurette has Cage, Hoult, Awkwafina and others talking about the insanity of the story as well as the action and horror aspects of the film.
The Overlook Film Festival at the end of March served as the movie’s world premiere, with the stars and others in attendance.
Last night was a hell of a time at the #RenfieldMovie world premiere. ICYMI 👇
Hoult appeared on “The Tonight Show,” “GMA” and other shows to talk about the movie and what it was like to make a horror comedy with Cage.
One of the TV spots from earlier this month begins with Cage and Hoult in character recreating the meeting of Dracula and Renfield from the Boris Karloff-starring movie before segueing into footage from this movie.
One aspect of the marketing needs to be broken out for special consideration.
Universal’s marketing team decided to go all-in on the idea of Renfield being a lowly assistant in the present day and so created a Tumblr blog for him where he complains about how demanding his boss is. They also mocked up a LinkedIn profile where he’s marked himself as being open to new opportunities, set up a Hotmail address where he is out of office on an errand for his master and even used Twitter’s “pinned conversations” feature as a way to interview applicants looking to be hired by Dracula. Finally an AR lens for Meta’s suite of networks added Dracula to the background of your camera in the same way he appears on the poster.
These are all very fun and certainly extend the joke of Renfield hoping to be on his way out from under Dracula’s thumb.
For the most part they all work, but the Tumblr blog may be a step too far as it runs afoul of my feeling that character profiles are extremely hard to pull off and often tripped up by the need to advertise the movie directly instead of consistently staying in-world. It’s a solid effort, it just can’t avoid the usual pitfalls that break the illusion.
A few minor quibbles like those directly above aside, this is a fun campaign that may have no chance whatsoever of reaching a theatrical audience. Not that there won’t be people who are interested in it, it’s just going up a combination of two big factors:
It’s in the fuzzy middle between genres that tends to fall through the cracks. At times it appears to be a straight comedy, at others it’s very much a horror picture. But the lack of clarity as to which category it really belongs in could mean some who are on the fence opt out because of uncertainty.
It’s opening against the unexpectedly powerful Super Mario Bros., which will likely continue to dominate the box office, with Renfieldprojected to eke out just about $10 million.
Still, if you’re into movies that take big swings and play around with established concepts (I am among those), this should appeal to you.
picking up the spare
How production designer transformed an abandoned hospital into one of the film’s key locations was covered here. There was also a feature on costume designer Lisa Lovaas and more comments from McKay on the story’s themes and messages.
How Amazon Studios has sold the story of a milestone consumer product
It would be hard to think of a product that more fully transformed a category and instantly became iconic than Nike’s Air Jordan sneakers. This week’s new release Air tells the story of how those sneakers were developed.
Matt Damon stars as Sonny Vaccaro, a salesman hired by Nike co-founders Phil Knight (Ben Affleck) and Rob Strasser (Jason Batman) to create a new product to help save the company from looming bankruptcy. With little to lose, Vaccaro has the idea to create a shoe centered around a single athlete. He ultimately picks Michael Jordan, at the time barely even a rookie with the Chicago Bulls. Vaccaro has to overcome internal concerns he is betting the company’s future on an unknown player, but history has shown he made the right call.
Viola Davis and Julius Tennon (Davis’ actual husband) costar as Jordan’s parents, who are the ones approached by Nike to approve the product and deal while Marlon Wayans and Chris Messina also star as others in Jordan’s orbit.
Affleck directed the movie, which was written by Alex Convery. It hit theaters today in advance of Easter weekend so let’s take a look at how it’s been sold by Amazon Studios.
announcement and casting
Amazon Studios acquired the project, which Convery had written, in April, 2022. Affleck and Damon were attached to star at that time, with Affleck already planning to direct the film.
Davis, Bateman, Chris Tucker and others were added to the cast in early June, 2022.
Amazon had originally planned to release the movie directly to its own streaming service but news came in February of this year that, based on positive early reviews, it would first get an exclusive theatrical run
the marketing campaign
Following the news of Amazon’s shift in release plans the movie’s marketing campaign kicked off in early February at a much bigger scale than anticipated.
That started with the first trailer (98,000 YouTube plays). It starts by establishing the dire straits Nike found itself in during the early 1980s as it couldn’t get over the “cool” advantage held by rival Converse. So Vaccaro comes in and wants to take a long shot with the North Carolina rookie player, but first has to convince both his bosses and Jordan’s parents (and agents and others) that it’s the right thing for everyone to do. The story is sold here as one man’s vision being met with skepticism by those around him, with the audience aware that it all turns out just fine.
That was followed in short order by an extended TV spot that aired during the Super Bowl broadcast. It hits largely the same beats seen in the trailer but with different music and in about half the running time.
In the first of what would be many promotional efforts centered around NBA games, Affleck provided the celebrity player intros at the Celebrity Game during All Star Weekend in mid-February. He also discussed the movie at a press conference with sports journalists in attendance. Affleck later took part in a discussion with basketball legend Bill Walton during a Celtics game later in the month.
Stills of the primary cast from the film are arranged on the first poster, which touts the film’s exclusive theatrical run.
A feature profile of Affleck touched on why he and Damon chose to make this movie the first production from Artists Equity, the new company they founded recently, as well as the reason Jordan himself isn’t seen in the film. There’s also plenty of non-movie talk about memes, his personal life and more.
In mid-March Amazon announced the movie’s premiere would take place at SXSW, where it would serve as the festival’s closing-night feature. That event had the entire cast in attendance, most of whom talked about the fun they had making the movie, why they signed on and more.
Around the same time both Damon and Affleck appeared on “CBS Sunday Morning” to discuss this film, their new production company and their long history of working together. There was also a profile of Davis that included the tidbit that Jordan specifically requested she play his mother when he was approached for his approval.
Davis, Affleck and Damon all promoted the movie on “GMA” and the latter two did likewise in additional talk show appearances over the last couple weeks.
There was also attention paid to this being Tucker’s first movie since 2016. At the SXSW premiere he explained that his casting as Nike’s Howard White came about thanks to the combination of Jordan requesting his friend White be portrayed in the film and Affleck’s desire to work with Tucker.
That was followed by appearances by Affleck and others from the cast on “Kimmel”, where they both promoted the movie and shared in the long-running feud between the host and Damon.
Mercedes-Benz sponsored the premiere and later made a little bit of a fuss around its inclusion as a plot point in the movie.
It was announced earlier in the month but at the end of March Amazon teamed with Jason Markk, a big name in sneaker culture, for some guerrilla marketing efforts in a variety of cities around the country where people could get tips on caring for their shoes and more.
A group interview with most of the cast had them all talking about eagerly signing on for the film, what it was like to portray the real people involved in the creation of the shoe brand and more. Later on another profile of Tucker explained how his casting came about and what it meant to the story.
There are some issues with the individual elements of the campaign, especially how the poster design is distinctly lacking in artistry or imagination. But on the whole the marketing is quite fun, benefiting greatly from how well Affleck and others have sold it as a very personal project and the positive word of mouth it’s built up from early screenings.
The projections of a $18 million extended opening weekend reflect that, as it could have been a lot lower given the state of the current box office and that the theatrical run seems designed for both awards consideration later on and to hopefully take advantage of the popularity of the product around which the story is centered.
picking up the spare
Damon appeared on “The Tonight Show”, “Late Night” and elsewhere to continue talking about the movie, working with Affleck again and more.
There were also more interviews with screenwriter Alex Convery, including a couple about how the filmmakers got Jordan’s sign-off on the story.
How Paramount has sold its adaptation of the popular roleplaying game
Does the stigma or stereotype around playing Dungeons & Dragons still exist? The game, popular now for decades, was recently featured in “Stranger Things” as the thing that made certain kids in the neighborhood weird or suspect as media portrayed it as a gateway to Satanism and violence, but that was back when non-conformity to the 1980s Yuppie ideal was a sure sign you were about to go off the deep end.
Things have certainly shifted and the game now more accepted as a harmless way to spend an engaging few hours. At least that’s the assumption one can draw given it’s been adapted into the new feature film Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.
The movie has a familiar story outline: A ragtag bunch of misfits must get over their problems and issues in order to work together and retrieve a McGuffin before it can be used by evil forces to enslave people/cause damage/end the world.
In this case, that ragtag group of heroes is made up bard Edgin Darvis (Chris Pine) barbarian Holga Kilgore (Michelle Rodriguez), paladin Xenk Yendar (Regé-Jean Page), sorcerer Simon Aumar (Justice Smith) and druid Doric (Sophia Lillis), each one filling the role of a character type frequently used in the game. Hugh Grant also stars as Forge Fitzwilliam, the rogue who has been keeping Darvis’ daughter Kira (Chloe Coleman) captive and who seeks a relic for reasons. Finally, Daisy Head plays Sofina, the Red Wizard who’s the ultimate big bad of the story.
Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley directed the film and wrote the screenplay along with Michael Grillo, so let’s roll the dice and set out on our quest of recapping the marketing campaign Paramount Pictures has run.
announcements and casting
A D&D movie has been in the works for about a decade, first at Warner Bros. until rights-holder Hasbro sued to shut them down and set it up at Universal, where it was developed by various folks, including Joe Manganiello and Dwayne Johnson. It was eventually moved over to Paramount, which brought on Daley and Goldstein after they left The Flash at WB.
Pine was named as the lead when the film was officially announced by Paramount in December, 2020. Rodriguez and others joined in early 2021
The studio revealed the official title of the film and a release date in April 2022.
the marketing campaign: 2022
A couple months later Paramount kicked off the marketing in a big way at San Diego Comic-Con 2022, where the cast and crew took part in what turned out to be the first in-person Hall H panel since the convention was canceled or moved online-only two years prior.
There was also an immersive experience set up at SDCC featuring a recreation of a tavern from the movie where attendees could take part in a 20-minute session that included exclusive footage, unique drinks and other opportunities to either take something back home (free or purchased) or create a moment worth sharing online and with others.
The trailer (19.1m YouTube plays) starts with Darvis explaining that he and his group of professional thieves made a huge mistake by stealing an item that has now been used to unleash a great evil on the world. So it’s up to them to rally and fix things. That’s about all you need to know as the main purpose here is to communicate the big visuals and fun attitude of the movie.
Page appeared on “The Tonight Show” to start press promotion of the film while he was on the West Coast.
A short while later Paramount took the trailer to a mass of screens at the Gamers8 eSports tournament in Saudi Arabia to reach the very targeted audience there. Footage and more was also brought to Lucca Comics & Games, a genre convention held in Lucca, Italy and MCM Comic Con in London over the next couple months.
Most of the cast and crew visited Brazil Comic-Con in December 2022 for a Q&A panel and to show off footage and otherwise get attendees excited.
An AR lens for the various Meta social platforms was launched that let you choose your character type and have that costume overlaid on your camera.
At about the same time a new poster was released that arrays the characters in the usual way, all centered and brandishing their weapon or item of choice, the heroes in front and the bad guys toward the back while a dragon flies over a village.
A featurette also came out in conjunction with CCXP that has the cast talking about how big and fun the movie is while showing off some of the story points as well as the practical effects featured in it.
One more poster shows the heroes – as well as Forge – all looking down at the camera as if they’re inspecting a treasure they’ve just uncovered.
the marketing campaign: 2023
As the calendar turned over to 2023, Paramount announced the film’s world premiere was scheduled to happen at SXSW in March as that festival’s opening night feature.
Another trailer (13m YouTube plays) came out in early February, accompanied by a TV spot that aired during the Super Bowl broadcast. After opening by showing how Kilgore is the much better fighter than Darvis we get the same basic story outline as before as well as more of the dynamic between the characters and what drives them to action.
The studio also ran a #superb_owlbearparty in conjunction with several streaming influencers who offered new footage from the film and more, all centered around the owlbear, one of the movie’s magical creatures that had become very popular by this time.
A series of character posters released at the same time show each one in close up, basically just lifting the photo (or one very similar to it) from the theatrical poster.
Pine and Rodriguez promoted the movie in an appearance during the Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards. Rodriguez also stopped by “The Talk” to talk about the film.
A feature profile of Daley and Goldstein focused on how the two have worked together for a decade now and how this movie is a combination of the comedy and other genres they’ve bounced between in that time.
More character posters came out in early March, around the same time Paramount partnered with more online influencers for a cosplay contest, YouTube “corpse Q&A” and other initiatives to reach the audiences of those individuals.
Tame Impala released “Wings of Time”, a new song from the film’s soundtrack.
The SXSW premiere generated a huge amount of positive reviews, with many calling out the fun sense of adventure that permeates the story along with the fact that you don’t need to be a hardcore roleplaying aficionado to enjoy it.
Lays also ran co-branded TV spots featuring lots of movie footage, apparently taking advantage of potatoes being Kilgore’s favorite food.
The cast provide another overview of the story while assuring audiences you don’t need to be steeped in D&D lore in a short video.
One more short trailer included lots of action and humor along with some positive critics quotes from early reviews of the movie.
The NBA’s Mac MccLung appears in a TV spot where he dodges some of the movie’s magical beasts on the court, inventing what he calls “dunkin’ and dragons.”
The global press tour included stops in Berlin, Paris and London before arriving back in Los Angeles for the U.S. premiere red carpet where the cast and crew talked about the humor of the story, the fun they had while making it and more. Mexico City was also visited later on.
While Daley had frequently talked about his time on “Freaks and Geeks” being what introduced him to the world of D&D, all that came truly full circle in a video posted just the other day where he reunites with his “F&G” castmates Samm Levine and Martin Starr. The three are still playing D&D 23 years later and have let time get away from them before Daley throws out the idea that someone should make a movie about it, something the other two quickly dismiss before he says at the end “It won’t.” It’s perfect.
There are a handful of tactics, themes and messages that become clear looking at the campaign from beginning to end:
That ending is perfect: Having Daley recreate a “F&G” scene with Starr and Levine is [chef’s kiss] because it’s the first thing so many people thought of as soon as they learned he was involved in the movie. And it’s that much better because they saved it to the end so as not to underline the connection too overtly.
Chris Pine plays a lute: I lost track of how many times the marketing team used this GIF, which may wind up being the movie’s single greatest contribution to popular culture.
Hugh Grant goes full Harrison Ford: Every campaign for a franchise should have at least one star who has no idea what he’s taken part in, has no patience to discuss the endless mythology of the brand and is charmingly grumpy to the press yet turns in a fantastic performance and is beloved by the cast. Grant fills that role here and honestly, him making double entendres about D&D terminology increases my desire to see the movie significantly.
Michelle Rodriguez is funny: I’ve never seen her be this loose and fun in interviews and videos and honestly why can’t she be cast in more comedies and why is she always in movies where all she’s asked to do is scowl?
It’s a massive charm offensive: The entire cast – not just Pine, Grant and Page – are out to win us over with their smile and humor and dammit it works, largely because it looks like some of that was actually captured in their performances, not just in the marketing.
Highly targeted: Finally, the number of times the cast and crew took the movie to various genre conventions, the frequent collaborations with geek influencers and other similar tactics show that while the marketing may be working to bring in all audiences regardless of familiarity with the source material it also knows exactly which group’s word of mouth will make or break opening weekend. The projected $35-40 million is good but not great and shows breaking out of that audience subset was moderately successful, though the marketing as a whole is a lot of fun and works hard to not alienate those outside the Comic-Con crowd.
How Apple has put all the marketing blocks in order for its latest feature release
This week’s new release Tetris isn’t an adaptation of the classic video game, something that would be difficult (though not impossible) to pull off. Instead, it’s a dramatic telling of the behind-the-scenes business maneuvering that helped bring the simple yet addictive game to the mass market decades ago.
Directed by Jon S. Baird and written by Noah Pink, the movie stars Taron Egerton as Henk Rogers, the business executive who in the 1980s was introduced to the game and immediately saw its potential both in Japan and the U.S. The only problem at the time was that the game had been developed within the Soviet Union, meaning the state held the copyright. A complex series of negotiations and deals ensued, all mired in Cold War politics and Soviet secrecy, ultimately leading to the game breaking out from behind the Iron Curtain.
Nikita Yefremov costars as Alexey Pajitnov, the Russian developer of the game, and Toby Jones plays Robert Stein, another executive who believed at several points he was the one who held the rights to distribute Tetris.
Let’s avoid any too-obvious metaphors and dive into the marketing campaign mounted by Apple TV+.
announcements and marketing
The project was first made public in mid-2020, with Baird attached to direct and Egerton already signed on to star. The rest of the cast joined over the rest of that year prior to filming getting underway.
Apple announced it acquired the project for its Apple TV+ service in November, 2020.
In February of this year news came the movie was scheduled to premiere at SXSW.
the marketing campaign
It’s just been a bit over a month since the first trailer (6.2m YouTube plays) was released in mid-February, launching the marketing campaign for the film. It starts with Rogers trying to explain to his boss why he’s become so addicted to Tetris since first playing it and how he feels it’s “the perfect game.” He’s tasked with getting the rights to the game so it can be packaged with the about-to-debut GameBoy handheld system. But nothing is simple with the KGB and all this is happening as the Soviet Union is on the verge of collapsing, so Rogers has to engage in more than a little spycraft to make his dream come true.
A few weeks later at the beginning of March the poster came out showing Rogers’ face with colorful Tetris blocks falling in front of it. The copy at the top reads “The game you couldn’t put down. The story you couldn’t make up.”, which promises the audience something familiar as well as something new.
Rogers and Pajitnov enjoy a party in the first clip, though that is about to be interrupted by some very serious looking individuals, likely with Soviet intelligence.
The SXSW premiere of the film included a Q&A with Egerton and others from the cast and crew along with the real-life Rogers and Pajitnov, all of whom talked about how the movie is “emotionally true” or something along those lines, even if it plays a bit loose with the facts. There was also a “Tetris Experience” at the festival where attendees could buy swag and have their picture taken.
Most everyone involved appears in a featurette where they talk about the amazing real story they’ve adapted for the screen.
Audio ads on Spotify and other platforms all used sound clips from the film to make it seem as pulse-pounding and thrilling as possible.
Another featurette goes a bit more in-depth on the real people involved, not just the story.
There’s some good stuff in the campaign outlined here, especially having the movie debut at SXSW and bringing the real life subjects along for added geek cred, but ultimately there just isn’t a lot here. It might make enough of an impact to get the attention of those who have signed up for Apple TV+ to catch the new season of “Ted Lasso” but outside of hardcore devotees of the original game I’m guessing that’s the primary audience for the marketing here.
That’s not to say it’s a bad campaign, just that there’s not much substance to it given it’s all been run in the last six weeks.
A Good Person, out this week from MGM, sees Zack Braff returning to his dual roles of writer and director.
The story focuses on the relationship between Daniel (Morgan Freeman) and Allison (Florence Pugh). Allison’s engagement to Daniel’s son Nathan (Chinaza Uche) ended when his sister Molly (Nichelle Hines) was killed in an accident while Allison was driving. After strong emotions drive everyone apart, Daniel and Allison reconnect, leading to a friendship that helps both of them move on with their lives.
The movie costars Celeste O’Connner as Ryan, Daniel’s granddaughter who he’s now responsible for raising, Molly Shannon as Allison’s mother and Zoe Lister-Jones as Simone, the woman who runs the AA meeting where Daniel and Allison come back into contact.
Let’s take a look at the campaign that’s been run.
announcement and casting
MGM was reported to be interested in acquiring the film in March, 2021, a month or so after it was announced.
Freeman and Pugh were among the first cast members announced, with Shannon joining them in September of that year. Lister-Jones and Uche were added in October.
the marketing campaign
The story is recapped nicely in the trailer (921,000 YouTube plays), released toward the end of December. We see the “before” times, when Allison was about to join Daniel’s family, including how she was friends with Molly while engaged to Nathan. After the accident Allison spirals into addiction until she finds herself at the same AA meeting as Daniel. The two begin a tentative friendship as they help each other deal with lives that are very different than how they once thought they’d have.
“Sometimes we find hope where we least expect it” reads the copy on the poster that came out at the same time. That’s a fairly straightforward line but the photos that accompany it are a bit odd as we see Daniel staring off into the middle distance alongside Allison riding her bicycle. It certainly shows the two stars, but the copy does most of the lifting in terms of communicating anything about the story.
A profile of Pugh focused a lot on her personal life and personality but also included some talk about this movie, with Braff weighing in on how he wrote the part of Allison especially for her after they had been in a romantic relationship.
There was also an interview with Braff where he talked about the personal nature of the story, why he wanted to work with Pugh and Freeman and more.
Things went quiet until early March when a featurette was released that has Braff and the main cast talking about the story, the characters and more.
Braff and Pugh appeared at the London premiere a couple weeks ago and both talked about working together, the appreciation they have of each other’s talents and how emotionally-draining filming the story could sometimes be.
The first clip features Allison playing piano at a party before the tragedy that impacts the rest of the story.
Pugh promoted the film and talked about working with Braff and Shannon on “The Tonight Show”. Braff covered the same ground as earlier conversations in an “Entertainment Tonight” segment.
A couple initial thoughts:
I know people run hot or cold on Braff, but it’s hard to deny he seems to work hard on the stories he feels motivated to tell. Whatever issues people have – and some are absolutely legitimate – Braff has carved out a nice little niche for himself as a writer/director that seems more notable than his acting gigs.
It’s too bad that we have to talk so much about Pugh’s backstory, especially all the turmoil involved with Don’t Worry Darling. Even if it isn’t addressed directly, so much of the framing of profiles of the actor wink at it, which detracts from everything else going on.
With those out of the way, the campaign is a little uneven (especially that poster) but overall very nice in a warm and slightly funny way, which is on-brand for Braff as a filmmaker. It surely won’t make much of a dent in John Wick: Chapter 4’s expected box-office domination, but should effectively reach the kind of people who enjoy this type of movie.
How Lionsgate has sold the latest action revenge drama
Keanu Reeves returns as the baddest assassin around in this week’s John Wick: Chapter 4. Continuing the story where it left off at the end of 2019’s Chapter 3, John is still on the run from the High Table, the oversight board of professional killers that John has defied since returning to the trade after his wife and dog were killed. Wanting to end his exile, John sets out to kill the members of the High Table, a quest that takes him to Osaka, Berlin and other locations where he’s helped by old friends, hunted by fellow assassins and generally still in all sorts of trouble.
Ian McShane and the late Lance Reddick are also back as the manager and concierge, respectively, of The Continental, the hotel catering to professional killers, as is Laurence Fishburne as an underworld figure that occasionally helps John out of a jam. Donnie Yen, Bill Skarsgård, Rina Sawayama and others join as well, rounding out the cast of characters that John will encounter and sometimes have to kill to stay alive.
With Chad Stahelski also back as director it’s time to take a look at the campaign Lionsgate put together for the film.
announcement and casting
The project was announced by Lionsgate in May, 2019, just as the third film was opening in theaters. At first the studio’s plan was to shoot Part 4 and Part 5 back-to-back, but it eventually dropped that due to lots of reasons.
Originally scheduled for release in May, 2021, the movie was pushed out a year. A few months later an announcement video was released revealing a further delay to March 2023.
With Reeves and Stahelski already on board, most of the rest of the cast – including McShane, Reddick, Yen, Clancy Brown, Scott Adkins and everyone else – came on board or confirmed they had signed on to return for another installment.
Both the star and director appeared at Lionsgate’s CinemaCon presentation in April, 2022 to show off the first footage from the movie to exhibitors and other insiders and press. While there they both talked a bit about what they wanted to do in this movie that was different from what had come before.
the marketing campaign
In July 2022 Lionsgate released the first official still from the film. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to get people excited.
That was followed by the first teaser, which might be the same footage shown at CinemaCon a few months earlier. It establishes the primary conflict of the story: That John is taking on the entire High Table as he tries to get his life back, facing what for anyone else would be overwhelming odds in doing so. We see some familiar faces along with some new ones and it’s all very on-brand and therefore exciting for the audience.
Things really kicked off in November of last year with the release of the first full trailer (42m YouTube plays). It starts with John talking with Caine (Yen) about what the future holds before we see that John’s only way out is to kill a high-ranking member of the High Table, but to even get to him he needs the help of his estranged adopted sister. Then, amidst all the other plot details offered, we get the kind of highly-stylized action sequences and dry humor we’ve all come to expect from the series.
In December of last year Reeves appeared at Brazil Comic-Con to ramp up fan anticipation. That’s also where the first poster, which shows Wick dressed sharply and staring at out at the camera, was revealed.
At the end of February another event week was held, this time debuting new posters each day. Those included a bunch by artists from different countries along with exhibitor exclusives from IMAX, Cinemark and others.
Fandango shared a couple exclusive interviews with the cast and director at the beginning of March while Reeves participated in a Reddit AMA.
In a much-shared interview, Yen talked about joining the series in general but specifically called out how he worked with Stahelski to not only change his character’s name but also adjust wardrobe and other aspects of the role to be less stereotypically Asian.
Most of the leading cast along with Stahelski then walked the soggy red carpet for the U.K. premiere of the movie followed by another event in Berlin and then later in Paris.
News then broke that the movie would be the “secret screening” selection at SXSW, with the star and director both appearing for a Q&A after that screening to soak in the accolades from those in attendance.
The Hard Rock Cafe announced a partnership with Lionsgate to bring movie-themed food, drinks and exclusive merchandise to its locations. The studio also worked with the website Community to let fans sign up for early screenings of the film.
Dolby finally released its exclusive poster at this time, a bit later than some of the others.
A feature interview with the director had him talking about getting actors ready for stunt work, the potential for a fifth movie and lots more.
Sawayama has appeared on “GMA,” “The Tonight Show” and elsewhere to promote the film and talk about her first experiences on a movie set. Reeves’ talk show stops also included “The Tonight Show” and more, all of which featured him being very charming and trying to share as many details as possible without going too far. Adkins stopped by “GMA” a little bit later as well while Yen chatted on “Kimmel”
Most of those happened around the time everyone was in New York for the movie’s official U.S. red carpet premiere in New York City followed by another in Los Angeles days later.
Just before the L.A. premiere, Reddick passed away, creating an outpouring of appreciation for both his acting and friendship from the cast of this movie as well as just about everything else he appeared in.
Things obviously ended on a far different note than was anticipated with the passing of Reddick, but the campaign up to that point hit on all cylinders and continually delivered exactly the kind of messages the audience was likely to react positively to. That’s part of the reason tracking projections anticipate an opening weekend box office of at least $70 million,
Most of those positive vibes come directly from Reeves, who continually put himself front and center to sell the movie directly to fans in a variety of ways.
For no reason other than it showed up in a row of recommendations on Netflix and I couldn’t decide on anything else, I rewatched the Ivan Reitman-directed Legal Eagles recently, likely for the first time in over 30 years.
For those who haven’t seen it: Robert Redford stars as Tom Logan, an up-and-coming Assistant District Attorney in New York City who’s handed the high-profile assignment of seeing whether or not there are charges to be filed against Chelsea Deardon (Daryl Hannah), the grown daughter of a famous artist who died when she was a child. She’s been arrested after allegedly breaking into the apartment of someone who might have one of the few of her father’s works to have survived the fire that took her life. Chelsea is represented by attorney Laura Kelly (Debra Winger), who winds up working with Logan to find out the truth of what happened not only with Chelsea but also all those years ago when her father died.
As is often the case when these things happen, I have some thoughts now that I’ve seen it again:
First off, that poster is really something. Nothing about the photo itself communicates any aspect of the story or characters, other than that Laura is very serious, Tom very breezy and Chelsea very blonde. The clothing styles are all over the place and that copy at the top is in desperate need of someone who can whittle it down significantly.
The movie is less the story of combative and very attractive lawyers who have to unravel a mystery surrounding art forgery and insurance fraud and more the story of how Hollywood just completely turned its back on two very talented actresses.
In any given movie, Robert Redford is the most attractive man that’s ever been on film. This is no exception.
No, seriously, I’d like to go back to the moment in time where Debra Winger was pushed to the sidelines and have a conversation about how we shouldn’t let that happen. Because, just as she does in just about every role, she shows up here and goes toe-to-toe with Redford, which is no small thing. I get that she took herself out of the system for a number of years, but still…
He’s known primarily for Ghostbusters and other straight-up comedies, but we need to more fully appreciate the romantic comedy wing of Reitman’s directorial career. While there’s certainly a Tier 1 to this list, Tier 2 isn’t terribly far behind:
Six Days, Seven Nights
No Strings Attached
No, seriously, Daryl Hannah is so good in so many things and Hollywood couldn’t get past her playing kind of a ditzy blonde and sometimes I get angry about this, especially given the conventional wisdom that her career was torpedoed by That Miramax Guy.
There’s an extended bit in the film where Winger’s character gives Redford’s a hard time about the various charming looks he utilizes to appeal to juries and I feel like we didn’t appreciate how this was essentially Zoolander’s “Blue Steel” 15 years early.
It’s also an incredibly accurate encapsulation of Redford’s entire career, which is nice.
Steven Hill as a New York district attorney, but not the one you’re thinking of.
Ladies and gentlemen, Christine Baranski, but make sure you’re looking for her because she’s easy to miss given this is 1986 and all.
Speaking of 1986, remember when even romantic thrillers meant for audiences over 30 looked this good as a matter of course? Not that the cinematography is incredibly innovative or anything, but László Kovács’ work here is representative of a period of filmmaking when it looked like people cared about how the movie looked and knew how to frame a damn shot.
How Warner Bros. has sold its latest super hero sequel
Shazam!: Fury of the Gods arrives in theaters this week four years after the first movie was released and as a new case study in creative title punctuation. Zachary Levi returns as the titular hero and Asher Angel as the young Billy Batson, his alter ego. This time he’s joined from the outset by the rest of the Shazam Family – Billy’s foster siblings who now have their own hero identities – in his adventures. Those powers have gotten the attention of Kalypso (Lucy Liu), Hespera (Helen Mirren) and Anthea (Rachel Zegler), the daughters of the Titan Atlas, who are out for revenge against the Council of Wizards, especially wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) who gave Billy his powers, for killing their father.
David F. Sandberg is back in the director’s chair as well, even as the movie arrives at an odd moment. Originally scheduled for release a year ago, it now finds itself a vestigial limb of the DC Extended Universe: It’s very much part of the universe focused around Man of Steel, Justice League, Aquaman and other entries (even if the connection in the first film was flimsy at best) but in the last few months James Gunn and Peter Safran have taken over the division and made it clear they’re largely cutting ties with that old continuity.
So the stakes in terms of what this story means and how it will influence future entries are extremely low because it seems there will be no impact as the old is replaced by the new. Still, the first movie was well-received for its less dark tone and Levi’s performance, which means it’s time to dive into the campaign and see how Warner Bros. has balanced all of that and more.
announcement and casting
WB announced in early 2020 that it was being pushed from April, 2022 to November of that year.
Well before the movie’s marketing started, Sanberg took the opportunity created by a bunch of reviews mysteriously being posted to Letterboxd to have a bit of fun and create a completely fake trailer for the non-existent film in August, 2020.
Later that same month Levi made a scheduled appearance at DC’s virtual Fandome event, revealing the movie’s subtitle and having a bit of fun with comedian Sinbad, the subject of one of pop culture’s greatest myths/prophecies.
A couple months later in October WB announced that the combination of the pandemic and production delays the release date was being moved from late 2022 to June, 2023.
Most of the original cast had confirmed their return by that point. Zegler was added in an undisclosed role in mid-2021, with Mirren and Liu joining around the same time.
the marketing campaign: phase one (first steps)
Sandberg offered a very brief teaser in June 2021, promising the movie was coming “soon…ish.” A few weeks later the director shared a picture of the adult cast in full costume, showing off the changes in those costumes since the first movie.
The movie was among those slated for the second edition of DC Fandome in October 2021. During that event a behind the scenes video was shared along with first looks at the villains played by Mirren and Liu.
In April 2022 exhibitors and others got a look at the movie when it was part of the studio’s presentation at CinemaCon.
the marketing campaign: phase two (basically just comic-con)
While it was still scheduled to hit theaters in December 2022 the cast and Sandberg appeared at San Diego Comic-Con in July of that year to share their excitement for the sequel with fans and talk about what they could expect of the movie. Mirren was not there in person but did weigh in via recorded segment.
That’s also where the first trailer (18m YouTube plays) was released. It starts by more clearly establishing itself as part of what at the time was the DCEU as Billy, in therapy as Shazam, talks about how he’s not as cool or unique as heroes like Flash, Aquaman and Batman. He explains his backstory a bit before we get into the vague conflict between the heroes and the Daughters of Atlas, who are upset that those children have stolen the powers of the gods. Billy still seems to be having fun as a super hero, though, and the tone is still much lighter than in other movies from this universe.
A month later in August, after having moved the film’s release to June it was then shifted again, this time up to March because it was ready before Aquaman 2, which had previously been in that calendar slot.
the marketing campaign: phase three (for real this time)
The first poster only came out in November of last year, once the final release date was established. It’s a variation on the one-sheets for the first movie, this time showing Shazam looking like he’s doing a fun little dance as smoke and sparks surround him.
In December DC unveiled the movie-themed variant covers planned for select March releases to coincide with the movie hitting theaters.
The next poster was shared exclusively by IGN in January. This one shows Shazam in a more traditional upright heroic pose, different parts of the background split up by a lightning bolt show the other characters, including the Daughters of Atlas, the Wizard and the rest of the Shazam Family.
Also hitting in January was the second trailer (26m YouTube plays). This one gets to the threat posed by the Daughters of Atlas right off the bat before sidetracking into Billy talking about everything that’s changed in the last few years, especially everyone getting powers. It then establishes the story as one of Billy choosing to stand up and do the right thing despite a series of setbacks and nagging self-doubt over his abilities. Also, it’s about massive CGI dragons attacking Philadelphia.
Around the same time DC released a preview of its “Shazam! Fury of the Gods Special #1 – Shazamily Matters”, a special prequel comic with a story that sets the stage for where the characters are as the movie starts.
Footage from the trailer was cut down into TV spots like this one that began running in early February.
Levi appeared in a PSA for pet adoption that ran, along with a dedicated TV commercial for the movie, during the Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet in February.
Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook users could send their friends an AR quiz to determine their super power, with the finished results including a costume of their own overlaid on the video.
An interview with Mirren had her talking about how she agreed to be in this movie because she loved the first one so much but that the story was so convoluted she couldn’t even explain it, so just don’t worry about it.
Exclusive posters were released for Dolby and ScreenXUSA as tickets were going on sale in mid-February. To mark that event Fandango also released an exclusive interview with the cast, who all gushed about the great time they had making the movie.
Oh you didn't know SKITTLES can stop a unicorn in its tracks? Luckily, Darla in @ShazamMovie does! Get your tickets to see#ShazamMovie in theaters starting March 17… keep an eye out for SKITTLES. pic.twitter.com/9AcujO8nPi
In a bold move, a short TV spot that came out earlier this week includes an appearance by Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, a cameo that was previously unconfirmed and which again comes off as kind of odd given the future of that incarnation of the character is up in the air at the moment.
Everyone came out for the red carpet premiere in Los Angeles despite the rain in that region creating a very wet experience for everyone. While there Levi and others talked about not only this movie and what it was like to return (or join) for the sequel but also speculate about their potential involvement in future films.
A feature that focused on both Mirren and Liu had them talking about joining the story, what makes their characters unique and the bulkiness of their costumes.
Adam Brody, who plays the heroic version of Freddy, appeared on “Late Night” while both Liu and Levi appeared separately on “The Tonight Show.” Those two also showed up together on both “Today” and “Good Morning America.”
Tracking for the movie indicates a fairly underwhelming $35-40m opening weekend, but there appear to be hopes that such projections aren’t fully accounting for family audiences who may be uncertain about committing to heading to theaters amid both the continued pandemic and massive inflation.
The campaign, though, has some very nice touches that have sold the movie well despite the myriad challenges it faces.
Themed and relevant PSAs: Levi personally appears in at least three cause-related PSAs designed to raise awareness/funds for social issues, including those dealing with foster care, childhood hunger and pet adoption. The actor has spoken out in the past about his own mental health issues and how he’s overcome those, so it makes a lot of sense for them to be part of this campaign and they work well in this context as well.
Continued sense of fun: Even with the elements that show how Billy is struggling with his role as a superhero, the campaign keeps communicating a lighthearted tone that’s in-line with that established in the first movie.
How much those overcome the very real complications of potential superhero fatigue in the audience, the uncertain future of these characters in the DC film franchise and more remains to be seen, but on the whole it’s an entertaining and engaging marketing effort.
PICKING UP THE SPARE
Lots of talk following the movie’s release from Sandberg about how the post-credits cameo came about and what he thought about the film’s marketing. He also commented on how this might mark his last super hero movie, at least for a while.
Adam Driver stars in this week’s new theatrical release 65. The title refers to how many million years back in Earth’s history a pilot named Mills (Driver) finds himself after his craft crashes on what at first appears to be an unfamiliar planet along with fellow survivor Koa (Ariana Greenblatt). The two then have to survive an environment filled with a multitude of dangers, including the massive dinosaurs that dominated the planet at the time and make their way to the one point that offers them a chance to return to their own time safely.
Directed and written by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods – who previously wrote A Quiet Place – the movie costars Chloe Coleman and Nika King. Sony Pictures’ campaign hasn’t been all that extensive, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
announcement and casting
Driver was the first of the cast to sign on in September, 2020 with the others joining between then and the end of that year.
Without much preamble the campaign kicked off in December of last year with the first trailer (24m YouTube plays). After it establishes itself as coming from the writers of A Quiet Place we see the premise, that Mills’ transport ship has crashed and can’t communicate with his base. He believes he’s on an alien planet, albeit one with breathable air and potable water. The truth of the situation becomes apparent, though, when he and Koa start encountering what are clearly dinosaurs on ancient Earth, but that doesn’t make things less dangerous as they try to find a way home.
The poster that came out at the same time sets things up by not only making the same pitch about the story’s origins but by showing Mills with his rifle at the ready while a dinosaur lurks behind him.
In keeping with how the movie has been heavily branded as coming from the writers of A Quiet Place, there’s no dialogue in the TV spot Sony aired during February’s Super Bowl broadcast. But there are plenty of jumps and scares and big dinos terrorizing the human characters.
Additional commercials began running shortly after that both on TV and as online pre-roll spots. They offer more explanation of the movie’s story, but still rely heavily on promising the audience a lot of thrills.
Sony again went to make an appeal to sports audiences with a commercial that aired during an NBA game broadcast in late February and which features basketball star Anthony Edwards, who’s digitally inserted into the action to react to what’s happening and make fun of what Mills is doing.
Another poster came out earlier in March that shows both Mills and Koa making their way through a cave, with the T-Rex stalking them through the waterfall they’ve already passed.
Driver appeared on “The Tonight Show” to promote the film and talk about a handful of other things. Earlier in the month Greenblatt responded to fan questions in an Instagram AMA session and later on the directing duo along with producer Sam Raimi participated in a Reddit AMA.
The cast and crew turned out for the premiere screening in New York City earlier this week
Both Driver and Greenblatt were interviewed about their experience making the movie, including working with all the special effects, the physical demands of their roles and Greenblatt’s attempts at making the famously focused Driver break up a little on set.
The weak sub-$10 million opening weekend projected for the film shouldn’t, I don’t think, reflect on the quality of the campaign. While this certainly can’t be said to be a massive or all-encompassing effort, it’s well put together and knows what’s being sold.
Its biggest hurdle is one faced by a lot of movies these days that aren’t already part of a franchise, series or established IP. Specifically, that while the campaign may have generated sufficient awareness it wasn’t able to convert that into interest.
That’s why at every opportunity the marketing reminded audiences that the movie involved the writers of A Quiet Place. Without a brand of its own to rely on, this was the next best thing.
How Paramount has sold yet another entry in the horror satire series
It was just over a year ago that directors Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin successfully restarted the Scream franchise with a sequel that resonated with both critics and audiences. Now they and the series are back with this week’s Scream VI hitting theaters.
Melissa Barrera and Jenna Ortega return from the previous film as half-sisters Sam and Tara Carpenter. After surviving Ghostface’s last attack the two have moved from Woodsboro, where all the previous movies were set, to New York City. But the new location has the same old threats as they’re soon plagued by another Ghostface killer.
Once again written by Guy Busick and James Vanderbilt, the movie also stars Samara Weaving, Mason Gooding, Jasmin Savoy Brown and others. Courtney Cox also returns as journalist Gale Weathers and Hayden Panettiere reprises her role of Kirby Reed from Scream 4. Legacy cast members David Arquette and Neve Campbell are not here, though, for reasons expanded on below. So with all that said, let’s take a look at the marketing campaign.
announcement and casting
The movie was announced in February 2022, about a month after the successful opening weekend of the first (fifth?) installment. The surviving cast from that movie were revealed to be returning, with Panettiere reported to be coming back as the same character she played in Scream 4 a short while later.
Mulroney joined in June 2022, but just a little while later Neve Campbell announced she was not returning, citing what was apparently a lowball offer from the studio she didn’t feel was representative of her talent or value. Weaving and Revolori were added in July.
Barrera assured fans that despite the change in venue there’d be plenty of blood and gore in the new installment.
the marketing campaign
The first poster that came out in mid-December got the campaign underway and, by showing Ghostface peering through a subway car window, sets up the change of venue nicely even if it weren’t emphasized by the copy reading “New York. New Rules.”
The teaser trailer (4.7m YouTube plays) released at the same time does similar work, showing a bunch of the characters riding the subway on what in the rest of the country would clearly be Halloween but which in New York might a random Tuesday before they see one of the several Ghostfaces in the car with them staring a bit too intently before approaching and attacking them.
The New York City subway setting was used in a clever graphic released in early January showing Ghostface’s mask formed by a map of the different train lines.
Comments from some of the cast about the story and its’ new setting accompanied a handful of new stills in EW.
Later in January another poster came out that this time shows most all of the cast arrayed around two separate photos of Ghostface as well as a massive knife coming out from the bottom, all with New York City in the background. Fans and others of course spent a good amount of time analyzing the poster for clues about who might be the killer, who are the victims and more based on how they’re standing, whether they’re looking at the camera or not and other details.
The official trailer (14m YouTube plays) came out then as well. It starts out dramatically with Ghostface hunting Sam and Tara through a corner bodega. They wind up connecting with Gale and Kirby over their shared trauma before going on the hunt for the killer, whoever they are this time. There’s an extended look at Ghostface’s attack on Gale in her apartment but otherwise it’s mostly about the characters being hunted or doing the hunting.
More new footage was seen in a commercial that aired during February’s Super Bowl broadcast. It offers a bit more with Kirby as well as the various forms of peril everyone will find themselves in as they’re chased around New York City.
Dolby, RealD 3D, Fandango and 4DX released exclusive posters, all of which focused exclusively on Ghostface and eschewed the rest of the cast, indicating where the real appeal of the franchise is seen to lie.
Cinemark also served fans by bringing back some of the chain’s popular Ghostface-themed popcorn and soda cups.
Also in early February an advance “Fan Event” screening of the movie was announced for March 9th at select theaters across the country, with ticketholders receiving an exclusive poster.
“Try to cut it in the Big Apple” says another poster that came out showing a massive knife stuck into a bleeding apple.
Bloody Disgusting revealed a set of 13 character posters showing off all the various characters in the movie. Shortly after that Demi Lovato shared the title of her new song appearing on the soundtrack.
Ortega was scheduled to host “Saturday Night Live” on March 11th, just as the movie was hitting theaters.
Online ads like the one to the right began running around this time to drive traffic to the official website where people could find showtimes and buy tickets.
As has become common, an in-person “immersive walk-through” event titled “Scream VI: The Experience” happened in Santa Monica, CA the last weekend of February and first weekend of March promising visitors a look at props from the entire the series as well as a few surprises.
Cox was in the spotlight when she was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame last week.
Paramount launched a web app where you could request a call from Ghostface themself in case you felt that was something missing from your life and you could add a Snapchat AR lens where to add Ghostface’s mask to your own face. There was even a ChatGPT-powered “Survive Scream VI” bot users could add to their Discord server to get AI-generated scenarios to see if they could survive them.
The studio sent people dressed like Ghostface to towns across the country with no context or warning in what seems to be an official stunt designed to get people thinking about the character and by extension aware of the movie coming out.
The studio used some corporate synergy to get some of the “Reno 911” cast to create a short video where Lt. Dangle gives a briefing about a new serial killer that just happens to be Ghostface, which seems troubling until they realize it’s about New York.
Last-minute talk show appearances included Ortega on “First We Feast,” Gooding on “The Daily Show,” Barrera on “CBS Mornings” and “Late Night”, Cox on “Kimmel”, and more, all leading up to the movie’s red carpet premiere in New York City where the cast and crew talked about Campbell’s decision not to return, the location shift and what might lie ahead for future installments.
One final short trailer was released just days ago that sells the movie as a pulse-pounding ride full of jump-scares while sharing pull quotes from some of the positive reviews it’s accumulated to date.
The $35 million the movie is projected to earn at this weekend’s box office is reported to be a best for the now six-film strong Scream franchise. That reflects well on the film’s marketing campaign, indicating that it’s done a good job of raising awareness and showing that the very tight window since the last movie hit theaters might be helping, not hurting.
That help might be in part because these movies are so closely tied to particular moments in time and culture that getting them out quickly to capitalize on a hot cast or other element makes a big difference in how the campaign resonates with audiences.
So on that front: Nice work.
On the other hand, what seems to be largely missing from this campaign (and it was an issue in the marketing of the previous installment as well) is any of the meta, self-aware fun that the first few movies had. From the marketing materials, this looks a lot like just another horror/slasher flick, not anything that deconstructs the elements of the genre or comments on the current state of these movies.
The stunt of sending people dressed like Ghostface to random towns and cities is exemplary of that in how it’s similar to how the recent straightforward horror hit Smile and other movies like it were sold.
Still, these movies are almost always enjoyable, even if they seem to occasionally forget to not take themselves or the genre so seriously, and the campaign effectively sells a fun continuation of the franchise’s story.
picking up the spare
THR covered some of the marketing campaign’s more effective strategies, including Ghostface’s in-person stalkings.