The One and Only Ivan – Marketing Recap

How Disney is selling a sweet story that adds talking animals to a true story.

The One and Only Ivan, debuting on Disney+ after being shunted from theaters to the streaming platform earlier this year, is based on author K. A. Applegate’s young adult novel of the same name. In the story, a gorilla named Ivan (voiced by Sam Rockwell) teams up with an elephant (voiced by Angela Jolie) and a dog (voiced by Danny DeVito) to figure out where they came from before winding up at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade under the care of Mack (Bryan Cranston).

Their journey to discover their past and leave the Big Top Mall is prompted by the arrival of a baby elephant (voiced by Brooklynn Prince), who has been abused in the past and who the others seek to protect. Together they plan an escape, but to what is unclear.

Disney’s campaign for the film has featured many of the earmarks of a full-fledged theatrical release, the byproduct of those original plans, while selling a generally positive and funny film for all ages.

The Posters

A caravan of animals is seen in silhouette against a paintbrush-hewn sunset sky on the poster (by marketing agency Concept Arts), released in early July. The names of the primary cast are shown against that same sky, with those two elements making up the primary selling points presented to the audience here along with the date of the streaming debut.

That same waterbrush style was used on a series of character posters that came out just last week in mid-August. On each one, a different animal looks out from the frame created by those painted lines, with the character and actor name featured at the top.

The Trailers

As the first trailer (1.3 million views on YouTube), released in July, begins, Ivan is a playful young gorilla playing with his family in the jungle. But then he’s brought to human civilization by Mack, who makes him the centerpiece of a circus. Ivan is asked to be fearsome but is really peaceful and nostalgic for the family he hasn’t seen for years. When everyone discovers Ivan’s more sensitive – and artistic – side, a journey begins to reunite him with his family.

Online and Social

It doesn’t look like Disney created any standalone sites or profiles for the movie, but it did give it decent promotion on its brand social channels.

Advertising and Promotions

Disney announced in mid-June that the movie was being pulled from the theatrical release and instead would debut on Disney+ a week after it was initially planned.

A special behind the scenes featurette came out in early August offering a bit of background on the characters and story.

About the same time a short commercial was released that cuts down the story to make it look fun and silly and heartwarming.

The first clip from the film came out earlier this month, showing Mack getting very excited over the potential of a gorilla who can draw.

Another clip shows the animals in mid-escape, but taking a moment to have a good laugh.

A later commercial continues to present the film as a lighthearted and fun romp involving some goofy talking animals.

The cast gets another opportunity to talk about their excitement about participating in the film in a featurette released this week.

Media and Press

Cranston appeared on “The Tonight Show” to talk about the movie and the story that inspired it.

There were a few other appearances and interviews by Jolie and some of the rest of the cast, but the pre-release publicity cycle seems to have been relatively low-key.

Overall

There’s nothing wrong with the campaign, but it comes off a little…trite. That’s mostly because there seems to be something of a disconnect between the movie’s logline – which emphasizes how Ivan and his group of friends seems to be prompted by the arrival of a baby elephant to protect it – and the theme of the campaign, which presents a slightly silly story about goofy animals who talk to each other.

That could create some confusion in the audience when reviews start hitting and when people are able to view it themselves. But honestly the odds are likely low that what’s presented as lighthearted fun gets into territory that’s seriously dark.

Picking Up The Spare

Another featurette focused on the translation of the book to the screen. 

The movie’s VFX team was interviewed about how they made the graphics production as seamless and efficient as possible. 

Ads have been running on YouTube like the one below driving people to Disney+. 

Charlie Puth put out a video for a song written by Diane Warren that’s featured in the movie. 

One more promo for the film now that it’s available for streaming by subscribers.

When Hollywood Sat Out The Facebook Ad Boycott

The absence of participation was…notable, but did it matter?

There was a relatively widespread movement in July where a number of big companies signed on to take part in an organized boycott of Facebook advertising, pulling their paid ads in protest of the company’s handling (or lack thereof) of hate speech and other incendiary material. The Stop Hate for Profit campaign, made up of a number of activist and community organizations, eventually encompassed some 1,000 brands and companies including Target, Microsoft, Volkswagon and others and was intended to last all month.

Conspicuously absent from the campaign were, with the exception of Magnolia Pictures, Hollywood studios, though Disney did suspend its advertising of both Disney+ and Hulu.

While it certainly is worth noting that the studios appear to have sat out the boycott and therefore gave the impression of not fully supporting the ends it strove for, it’s also worth putting the timing of the boycott in the context of the massive upheavals rocking the entertainment industry.

The movies released in July weren’t exactly comparable to those from the same period of 2019, or any year in recent memory. Those that did come out – at least those of any note – largely did so either via streaming services, PVOD or had distribution that relied on drive-in theaters or the small number of screens still operating in states where they were allowed to do so. Expected/anticipated titles like Mulan and Tenet were either pushed back or shunted to PVOD, meaning chains including AMC Theaters, Regal Cinemas and others delayed their own reopening plans.

All that leads to the simple question: Which ads were studios supposed to be pulling?

It’s not that some of the streaming or PVOD titles, in addition to those that were still on the schedule to come out in August, weren’t running campaigns. Many were, and some of those almost certainly ran on Facebook. At the very least, studios continued to feed the Facebook maw with posts on brand pages, movie-specific pages or both. Without excusing the general lack of participation in what would have been at least the making of a statement, it’s not like there was a massive amount of advertising that would have been pulled given the very unusual circumstances that make up 2020.

Add to that the findings that “making a statement” was about all that was accomplished. Recent reports have concluded that while some companies have taken the opportunity to reevaluate their Facebook advertising and extend the boycott, the effort had a negligible impact on the social network’s revenue. Whatever that impact was, it seems to have been offset by increased spending by small and mid-sized companies as they were desperate to reach people amid continued pandemic-related disruptions.

With the timing of the boycott making Hollywood’s participation minimal at best and other realities turning it into a statement more than a debilitating protest, it’s little wonder that many consumer respondents to a recent survey want to see that boycott extended. Making it a long-lasting effort would at least increase the odds that Facebook feels a bit of pain and has to substantively revisit its policies around hate speech, which seem to have as many exceptions as there are rules.

There’s also the fact that, with the end-times level decimation of local media and the current (albeit highly questionable) ban on doing business with TikTok, advertisers find themselves more reliant on the duopoly of Facebook and Google than they have been in a while. Most major studios, along with the rest of the entertainment industry, have found TikTok to be an important platform for reaching younger and influential audiences.

Once theaters reopen in sufficient numbers, or when there are big titles like Bill and Ted Face The Music and others to promote, it’s likely studios will ramp back up to similar ad-buying levels seen pre-pandemic. To what extent will depend on the specifics of each title and the demographic being appealed to. Whatever the case, I wouldn’t expect any sort of boycott or reconsideration to last long if there are movies to sell.

Project Power – Marketing Recap

How Netflix is selling a movie where anyone can gain powers…for a price.

The premise of Project Power, debuting on Netflix this week, is relatively simple. A drug has been developed that, when taken, grants the person who took it a random super power for just five minutes, but the kind of power is unknown. That creates a very dangerous situation where anyone can become a public threat at any time, and may even present a danger to themselves.

Those creating the drug are out to expand their business, but are also being sought by a trio including Frank (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a cop who wants to protect his city, Robin (Dominique Fishback), a dealer who sees the problems the drug can create and Art (Jamie Foxx), an ex-soldier with motivations he keeps to himself. But to take on those with unpredictable powers, they might have to make difficult decisions about what they’re willing to do.

Netflix’s campaign for the film has focused heavily on the powers on display since they offer the flashiest visuals to get people’s attention.

The Posters

Art is holding up one of the mysterious, glowing pills that offer unknown powers on the single poster (by marketing agency MOCEAN) for the movie, released in mid-July. Frank and Robin flank him on either side, a dark and slightly ominous background behind the trio. Copy in the foreground asks the audience “What would you risk for five minutes of pure power?”, making it somewhat clear what the story will be about.

The Trailers

We quickly get the premise as July’s first trailer (3.8 million views on YouTube) begins, that there’s a pill on the streets capable of giving people a random power when they take it. To the police that’s dangerous, and it becomes moreso when those making the pill kidnap Art’s daughter. The exact nature of the story isn’t crystal clear here, but that’s alright since the point is just to show off some of the fun visual tricks and action sequences, which look quite entertaining.

Online and Social

No standalone site, as is standard for Netflix, and it only received limited support on the brand’s own social channels and profiles.

Advertising and Promotions

The first clip shows a sequence of Frank chasing a powered-criminal after he himself has taken a pill. Additional clips came out over the next few weeks, including one where Robin shows off her freestyle skills after Art challenges her.

Media and Press

Some first look stills came out in mid-July.

At the time the trailer was released there were profiles of Fishback, the film’s directors and more.

Foxx appeared on “The Tonight Show” to talk about the movie and more.

There were a few other scattered press appearances, but nothing very substantial.

Overall

Netflix, like other streamers, has said for the last few years it wants to expand into more franchises, particularly big-budget action series that are roughly the equivalent of what audiences usually see on theater screens. To date those efforts have only been moderately successful – we’re still waiting to hear more about the Bright sequel reportedly greenlit years ago – but you can see an effort to set this up as just such a franchise.

The story is sidelined for the most part, bits and pieces only coming through in the gaps between action sequences and visuals of people figuratively or literally exploding with powers they don’t know how to deal with or use. Foxx, Gordon-Levitt and Fishback are there in service of those visuals, with their motivations unclear.

In that regard the movie looks like a pleasant diversion for a couple hours, but what kind of impact or staying power it has remains to be seen.

Picking Up The Spare

Netflix bought a Promoted Trend ad on Twitter in the days right around when the movie premiered. 

Gordon-Levitt virtually stopped by “The Tonight Show” to talk about this movie and more. There was also another profile of Fishback. 

Two more featurettes came out after the movie was available, one that focused on Machine Gun Kelly and one that delved into how the movie’s super powers work.

A video for Chia’s “My Power” came out a little while later. How Fishback partnered with hip hop artist CHIKA on her character’s rhymes was covered in a later featurette.

Disney Carves Out An Owned Future With Mulan

None of this is that surprising, tbh.

In response to the (largely indefinite) closure of movie theaters around the country because of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, studios have generally taken one of three potential alternative paths:

  1. Punt: Just keep kicking the release date down the road, hoping that the situation improves by then and the movie can be sent to theaters.
    1. EX: Wonder Woman 1984, Tenet, Fast & Furious 9, Black Widow
  • PVOD: Accepting the reality that not everything can be held for a later date, some titles have been sent straight to VOD, with premium price points to make up for the loss of theatrical revenue.
    1. EX: Scoob!, The High Note, Bill and Ted Face The Music
  • Streaming: Whether it’s an owned platform like Disney+ or a third party like Amazon or Netflix, some titles have been handed off to streaming because the economics make more sense or it fills in some other part of an overall strategy.
    1. EX: Artemis Fowl, Without Remorse, Hamilton, The Lovebirds

With no end in sight for the Covid-19 outbreak it’s only logical studios would seek out some alternative release plan. They are in the production and release business and if they need to they will seek alternative distribution methods. That’s similar to how changes in the retail world as a whole has led to the rise in direct-to-consumer businesses and more.

Add to that the fact that so many of 2020’s planned movies have been delayed by several months – in some cases up to a year – that the 2021 release schedule is backed up all the way to the Tri-State interchange, limiting any studio’s options.

This Did Not Go Over Well

The reaction from theaters has been predictable, beginning with AMC Theaters’ promise to never play future films from Universal after it sent Trolls World Tour to PVOD in April. Most recently, those two parties announced a new deal wherein future films would have shorter theatrical-to-home windows. Smaller theater owners have also had time to express their displeasure while other large chains like Cinemark and Regal have offered their own skeptical takes.

While certainly unprecedented, the deal between Universal and AMC – which has reportedly been offered to other studios – doesn’t break many existing distribution norms in function, even if the details are largely new. The “home” release will still take advantage of the platform infrastructure developed and offered by established players like Apple, Amazon and others.

Still, exhibitors kept holding out hope that one or both of two titles – Tenet and Mulan – would provide the light at the end of the tunnel they needed, offering an attractive film that audiences would, however reluctantly, come back to theaters to see after months at home.

Alternate Futures

Those hopes faded a bit when Warner Bros. announced a unique release plan for Tenet that involved the movie coming out overseas in late August and then in whatever U.S. theaters are available over the Labor Day weekend in early September. That’s bad news for domestic audiences and exhibitors (but great news for Torrent software providers) who are essentially being pushed down the priority list and who may have one of the year’s most secretive plots spoiled for them.

Car Chase Action GIF by Regal - Find & Share on GIPHY

They diminished almost entirely last week when Disney revealed it was creating its own fourth option for the September 4th release of Mulan on Disney+. The release is notable for at least two reasons:

First, it mashes up a couple of the existing paths to create something wholly new. While many media companies have worked to create their own streaming platforms in the last year, those have largely been subscription services, and once you subscribed you had access to everything. Even tiered services like Peacock didn’t charge you extra for one specific title, you might just have to upgrade to the next membership level.

This works differently, essentially creating a PVOD service within the existing subscription framework. If you’re not a member, you don’t have access to the PVOD content, meaning the true cost of the rental is the $29.99 list price plus at least the $6.99 monthly fee. In other words, the cover charge you paid at the door doesn’t grant you entrance to the Champagne Room.

Existing platforms like iTunes, Amazon and others should be watching this as closely as theater owners have been over the last several months. If Disney – or any other company – can find some success in this way they no longer become the one-stop, producer-agnostic shop they’ve been to date.

Second, it creates a whole new marketing paradigm. The campaigns for movies like The Lovebirds, Scoob! and others have changed, often mid-stream, when their release futures were altered, with the call-to-action shifting from “In theaters on…” to “Watch it at home on…” Even still, the expected action on the part of the consumer was only a single one. Instead of “buy a ticket” it was “subscribe” or “download.”

Whenever Disney launches a new phase of Mulan’s campaign, it will have to communicate a two step process: 1) Subscribe to Disney+, then 2) Pay $29.99 for this single movie. That will be a little harder to get through audiences and could create a fair amount of customer confusion when the movie launches as people are caught unaware they have to make an additional payment to watch the movie.

What’s Next?

That the reoriented campaign for Mulan wasn’t ready at the same time the announcement was made is slightly surprising since Disney is masterful at coordinating initiatives to take advantage of a moment.

Warner Bros. not having a new phase of Tenet’s campaign is equally surprising, though a bit more understandable given how, at least for U.S. theaters, it’s still largely contingent on a best case scenario being available. It is, in other words, less concrete and so WB is likely holding its fire.

On top of those, there are still a number of high-profile titles that are supposedly coming to theaters later this year.

The New Mutants is, against all odds, still scheduled for late August.

Wonder Woman 1984 is still scheduled for late September, but at this point there’s almost no time to mount a campaign for the movie even if that date holds.

Black Widow and No Time To Die are still scheduled for early and mid-November, which is slightly more realistic but becomes less so with each passing day.

The campaigns for those last three have been paused for a number of months now, and would have to fight through the noise of the daily news cycle – a cycle that includes 1,000 or so Americans dying each day and a ramping up presidential election – to get people’s attention. That adds to the odds some alternative will be sought, as it may not be possible to get a critical mass of awareness that overlaps with the segment of the population willing to participate in mass entertainment without a Covid-19 vaccine, much less a cohesive testing and tracing strategy.

Which option is chosen will be determined by what each studio thinks it can manage as it seeks to make a wide range of stakeholders, each with competing priorities, happy with the proposal.

I Used To Go Here – Marketing Recap

How Gravitas Ventures is selling a movie about finding who you are.

Gillian Jacobs stars as Kate in I Used To Go Here, the new movie from writer/director Kris Rey. Unlike many of her female friends, Kate has not moved on to marriage and motherhood but instead has just ended a long relationship at the same time her new novel is published. That leads to an invitation to speak at her alma mater, a trip that brings with it all manner of emotions. Kate falls in with a group of students and bonds with them while she tries to figure out what she wants to do with her life and who she wants to be.

The campaign from Gravitas Ventures isn’t massive but it sells a charming movie that might offer something new to a familiar story, all of it anchored by Jacobs’ charm.

The Posters

Kate, of course, is featured at the top of the one poster. Alongside her is David (Jemaine Clement), the professor at her old school who invites her to visit and speak to his class and who might be a romantic interest for Kate. At the bottom, the group of students she gets involved with are shown having a good time and leaning against an old station wagon.

The Trailers

The first trailer (24,000 views on YouTube) debuted on IndieWire in July. it starts off with Kate having obviously just come through a breakup and dealing with the detritus of that relationship. Others around her are getting married or are pregnant, and despite having just published her first book it’s not doing very well. A trip to her old college results in a job offer to teach there, which leads to all sorts of awkward encounters with the much younger kids who are now students as Kate tries to start over and find herself in this new situation.

Online and Social

Doesn’t appear to be any online presence for the film. Not wholly surprising.

Advertising and Promotions

This, like a host of other movies, was meant to debut at 2020’s SXSW Film Festival before it was canceled because of the Covid-19 outbreak. Gravitas acquired the film in mid-June and announced an August VOD release.

Media and Press

There wasn’t a whole lot of pre-release press activity either. Jacobs appeared on “Late Night” to talk about the movie and her own college experiences but that seems to be a good percentage of the media effort.

Overall

The poster doesn’t do much to set the movie apart from others like it that have told stories of people in their 30s or 40s who are struggling with the disconnect between who they are and who they thought they’d be. And it’s not helped by a lack of activity on other fronts, or by the fact that SXSW likely would have given it a bit of a boost in terms of word of mouth.

So it falls on the trailer to do most of the heavy-lifting and encourage people to find it on VOD platforms. It’s up to that task, doing a good job of showing Jacobs’ ability to be troubled at the same time she’s confident. It’s gotten short-shrift for various pandemic-related reasons, but it looks like a movie worth checking out.

Picking Up The Spare

Another interview with Rey and Jacobs about the characters and story of the film.

An American Pickle – Marketing Recap

How HBO is selling a comedy starring dual Seth Rogens.

In the last few year, multiple projects have featured a single actor playing two roles, usually twins. Paul Rudd, Mark Ruffalo and others have all turned in split-screen performances, playing off themselves in addition to anyone else who happens to be on screen. One could make the case, like digital de-aging usage, that this is a questionable tactic to employ that deprives other actors of a role and plays down to the audience in a way.

Seth Rogen becomes the latest to take on not one but two characters, this time in the HBO Max original film An American Pickle. Rogen plays Herschel Greenbaum, an Eastern European immigrant who comes to America in the early decades 20th century with his wife Sarah (Sarah Snook). Herschel gets a job in a pickle factory and one day falls in a vat of brine, where he’s left when the factory closes. The brine preserves him and he wakes up a century later, finding himself in a world he doesn’t recognize. His great-great-grandson Ben (also Rogen) is his only relative, introducing Herschel to the 21st century and telling him what became of his family after his disappearance.

The movie, like many others this year, had a very different fate planned originally. But HBO Max’s campaign has used Rogen’s unique sense of humor and an offbeat story to hook audiences who are already streaming subscribers or who might become subscribers.

The Posters

Rogen as Herschel is the sole figure on the one poster (by marketing agency BLT Communications), released in late July. The photo is made to look like an old-fashioned photograph that would be appropriate to the ear he lived in and so helps to establish the premise and setting of at least some of the story. Both The Disaster Artist and 50/50, both movies produced by Rogen and his partner Evan Goldberg, are mentioned at the top while at the bottom the premiere date is shared.

The Trailers

We meet Herschel and Sarah Greenbaum as the first trailer (9.9 million views on YouTube), released in early July, begins. They’re living and working in a small “old world” country and are more or less happy, until the day Herschel dies after falling in a vat of pickles. Cut to a century later and he reemerges, with his great-grandson Ben his only surviving descendent. The two have a hard time getting to know each other, of course, leading to what seems to be much of the movie’s humor.

Online and Social

It doesn’t seem that HBO Max has created a stand-alone website for the movie, nor did they give it much promotion on the brand’s social profiles.

Advertising and Promotions

The movie had originally been setup at Sony for several years. In April of this year, though, with the theatrical release schedule thrown into disarray because of Covid-19, it was sold to Warner Bros., which announced it would go straight to streaming on HBO Max.

No paid promotions were apparent to me, but there were surely at least a few promoted social posts or online ads that drove traffic to the HBO Max sign-up site.

Media and Press

Rogen, of course, was the public face of the movie. He gave interviews where he talked about how this project is the latest in a string of successful productions for Goldberg and himself, how this film was conceived and created and what he made of Sony selling the movie to Warner Bros. earlier this year.

He also appeared on “The Tonight Show” and elsewhere to engage in challenges and talk about the movie.

Overall

You have to at least be partially won over just by the absurd premise that’s laid out in the campaign. It’s so over-the-top and ridiculous that it’s immediately plausible as the basis for a goofy comed that doesn’t care about common sense or believability, as long as it offers a foundation for the humor to come.

In that way it’s pretty solidly on-brand for Rogen and Goldberg, who have made a career of such notions. Therein lies the appeal for anyone who’s already a fan of their previous work.

What seems evident, though, is that this isn’t a massive draw for new subscribers like some other high-profile streaming releases over the last several months. Seth Rogen movies are the kind of thing you watch because you already can, not sign up for a whole new subscription for. That’s not a knock on their work, it’s just that this likely isn’t going to be a game-changer like Hamilton on Disney+. Instead it looks like just a pretty good movie that should be highly enjoyable, which is all it needs to be.

Picking Up The Spare

Highlights from the film’s virtual premiere can be found here

More interviews with Rogen on playing dual roles in the film and learning to speak Yiddish for the film. 

A Promoted Trend was purchased by HBO Max to drive awareness and attention. There were also standard online ads that drove people to subscribe to the service, using this movie as an incentive to do so. 

Rogen appeared on “Late Night” to talk about the difficulty of playing two roles against each other. 

HBO released a featurette that showed off some of the filmmaking techniques employed for the film. It also put out a cast Q&A and a look at how the filmmakers created the vintage photographs in the film. 

Theaters Want to Open, But Who Will Go To The Movies?

Movie tickets? In this economy?

The latest delay – this one essentially indefinite – to Tenet seems to have unleashed a wave of pent up frustrations and other emotions.

That announcement was made by Warner Bros. earlier this week following news that governors in California and elsewhere were enacting new restrictions on public gatherings as Covid-19 cases in their states spiked yet again. Movie theaters not being allowed to reopen were among those restrictions as those governors tried to keep things from getting even worse, throwing out plans by those theaters to get people back in the door to see Tenet or Mulan, both of which were supposed to finally come out later this month after multiple delays.

Following WB’s update, NATO chief John Fithian has stated his opinion, on behalf of the theater owners he represents, that studios need to just pull the trigger already and start releasing movies again. Waiting for a vaccine to be available to the entire U.S. population is foolhardy, he says, so studios should focus on getting movies onto screens in parts of the country that aren’t on lockdown. That option allows the studios to make some fraction of the money they otherwise would have and supports the theaters that, like many businesses in the country, are struggling and face an uncertain future.

Still, Tenet seems to be the north star by which the entire film industry is being led at this point. While WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey has said that movie will definitely receive a theatrical release (of some kind), other films are going to be punted to premium VOD and other platforms. And AMC Theaters has delayed opening its locations until mid- to late-August, apparently now pinning its hopes to Mulan.

Fithian’s argument makes some amount of sense. There is no nationwide stay-at-home order in place, so theaters in some areas might be able to operate, though maybe still not at full capacity. And studios may begin to take his advice as we near what may be the tipping point where the complete erasure of the 2020 theatrical landscape shifts from possibility to probability.

Even if studios do capitulate and restart the exhibition industry, the question remains who among the audience population will want to run the risk of going to the theater in the middle of a pandemic that is speeding up its rates of serious infection, not slowing down. That reality has been at the core of the (sometimes heated) discussion around reopening schools across the country, something that seems to be up to the local officials and community. It has also led colleges to drastically alter the plans they had in place for fall semester, introducing more remote options and in some cases actively encouraging students to stay away from campus. The MLB and NBA are opening their abridged seasons either in a single location to reduce the risk of infection or play in empty stadiums.

On top of that, there’s the question of who can and will be able to afford to do so.

At the end of 2019, the average movie ticket cost $9.37.

To put that in perspective, the U.S. minimum wage is $7.25/hour, meaning an adult in a family of four would have to work five hours just to afford taking everyone to the theater. Just under two percent of the U.S. population made the minimum wage or less in 2019, but those percentages go up for part-time workers as well as those in the hospitality and service industries.

More immediately relevant is the pandemic-influenced situation we find ourselves in. There are various numbers available as to the total number of people who are currently out of work, but it’s tens of millions. New unemployment assistance claims have topped 1 million for 17 straight weeks, an unheard of streak in recent history. And despite a new White House-backed ad campaign urging people to get out there and “Find Something New,” workers have made it clear the jobs aren’t even out there to be seized. So many companies have continued to lay off or furlough current employees, few are actually hiring. That’s reflected in the most recent figures showing new claims rose after a few weeks of slight declines.

To date those unemployed individuals have been able to rely on a weekly $600 assistance bonus, something that has helped prop up consumer spending over the last few months when combined with more stores reopening after closures in March and April. That runs out this week, though, and it’s uncertain if Congress – particularly the U.S. Senate – will renew it. Conservative influencers have been urging lawmakers not to do so, afraid it will take away any chance workers will return to their jobs and unaware that making the argument that unemployment assistance shouldn’t be more than their wages implies an understanding that those wages are below the level that would support a family in addition to not offering needed health care and other benefits.

Cutting off that additional $600/week in assistance would remove $19 billion per week from the economy. Things are even more dire for people’s personal financial situation because nationwide eviction moratoriums, intended to protect housing insecure parties from facing homelessness and falling even further behind, expire soon. Like the additional unemployment assistance bonus, there are proposals to extend this but those are bogged down at the moment.

So, basically, where does NATO or its member companies in the exhibition space think consumer money is going to come from?

Theaters can open, and studios can even supply new films for those theaters to play. People may even be willing to go see those movies in theaters. But that doesn’t mean they’re going to have the disposable income to make that choice from a practical perspective.

If anyone has already solved this problem, good for them. But at the moment it seems the stakeholders and interested parties seem to be only considering one part of the marketplace dynamic. There’s a much larger reality that this operates in, one that is about to get a whole lot more unsteady than it already is.

The Rental – Marketing Recap

How IFC Films is selling a confined-quarters horror rom-com.

Dave Franco wrote (with some help from Joe Swanberg) and directed this week’s new release The Rental. The movie stars Alison Brie as Michelle, who goes on a weekend getaway with her husband Charlie (Dan Stevens) as well as her sister Mina (Sheila Vand) and her husband – who is also Charlie’s brother – Josh (Jeremy Allen White).

What should be a pleasant time away for the two couples takes a nasty turn as suspicions among the group mount that someone is spying on them in the house, which they’ve rented from a home-sharing service. As the paranoia rises and the actual danger mounts, long-buried secrets among the four come to the surface, making the situation not only dangerous but uncomfortable.

IFC Films’ campaign has focused on the capsule nature of the story as well as the threats the vacationers face in their getaway house. The movie currently has a 77 percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, reflecting the mixed reviews it’s received to date.

The Posters

Just one poster for the film. Released in May (by marketing agency Art Machine), the one-sheet immediately communicates a topsy-turvy element to the story by showing a lone figure falling, but with the ground at the top and the sky at the bottom. The copy “Secluded getaway. Killer views.” is a bit on-the-nose, undermining whatever subtlety the image alone contained, but is meant to appeal to audiences looking for scares over a relationship drama.

The Trailers

As the trailer (146,000 views on YouTube), released in mid-June, opens both couples are arriving at the house they’ll be sharing during vacation. It’s not long before what should be a nice time away turns creepy and twisted, as they find hidden cameras, have to deal with strange happenings and what seems to be plenty of emotional manipulation. All of that means tension in the non-ideal marriages bubbles to the surface and everyone is ready to snap. Oh, and there may be *actual* danger in the form of someone lurking in the shadows trying to kill them.

Online and Social

Just the most basic of information on IFC Films’ website for the movie, including the trailer and information both on the audience’s watch-at-home options.

Advertising and Promotions

IFC Films acquired distribution rights in April, announcing a release date at that time.

In June the studio hosted a drive-in premiere screening at the Vineland Drive-In in L.A..

Short video promos like this were released on social media and likely also used in promoted posts there. While none crossed my radar specifically, it’s a good bet videos like that along with the key art were used in other online ads as well.

A clip released just recently shows a key moment in the story, with Michelle discovering a camera that’s been placed in one of the rental home’s showers.

Media and Press

A first-look still came out in April at the same time IFC Films announced it had acquired the film.

An interview with Franco allowed him to talk about why this felt like a good time to get into directing, how it’s part of his career path to date and more.

Stevens spoke about how Franco approached him with the project and what he thought about the story as well as the promotional efforts to date in an interview.

The unusual nature of the release – including the fact that it arrives without the kind of festival screenings it likely would have benefited from – and other topics were covered by Franco here, including why he chose to focus on directing and not also star in the film. In another interview he talked about working with his real-life girlfriend Brie, something they’ve done before and which made this project easier to manage.

Brie and Franco participated in a video interview where they talked about working together on this film as well as what inspired them to make other choices in their careers.

Overall

While the campaign has been successful in selling the thrills contained in the story, it leaves many elements – including who the characters are and why we should care about them – oddly unclear. We get that the house they’re all staying at is under surveillance, probably by the owner, but it doesn’t explain very well why they react in the manner they do and how that changes the interpersonal relationships in the group.

That’s not to say it’s ineffective, as there are plenty of elements in the marketing that will appeal to fans of both horror and straight drama, it’s just that some parts could have been brought a bit more to the forefront in order to make a more convincing case to the audience.

It also should be noted that while “four friends go away and horror ensues” isn’t exactly a new premise, I’m getting strong Baghead vibes from the campaign and the presentation of the story.

Picking Up The Spare

Additional interviews with Brie included her appearance on “The Tonight Show,” her sharing the ease of communication she had with Franco on-set and more. 

Additional profiles and interviews with Franco allowed him to talk about how his own anxieties fed the story and what freaks him out about vacation rentals.

Psych 2 is Good For What Ails You

Come on, son.

In the leadup to and immediate aftermath of the launch of Peacock, NBC Universal’s new streaming service, much of the press coverage focused either on the subscription tiers or on high-profile *Peak TV* originals like “Brave New World” and others. What blockbuster catalog movies were and weren’t included and when they would be removed from the lineup of offerings also accounted for substantial amounts of writeups.

That relatively narrow scope meant not much attention was paid to the real best reason to try out Peacock: Psych 2: Lassie Come Home.

If you’re not familiar with the premise of “Psych,” it’s pretty simple: Shawn (James Roday) is amazingly good at noticing and remembering details, a skill drilled into him by his police officer father Henry (Corbin Bernson). He uses that talent to pass himself off as a psychic and partners with his lifelong best friend Gus (Dule Hill) to become consultants to the Santa Barbara Police Department, often working with Detectives Lassiter (Timothy Omundson) and Juliet (Maggie Lawson).

Lassie Come Home is the second made-for-TV movie since the show went off the air after seven seasons in 2014. Like 2017’s Psych: The Movie, it catches up with the familiar characters and where they are professionally and personally, reuniting the team for a case that’s somehow tied to their past. In this case Shawn, Gus, Juliet and Chief Karen Vick (Kirsten Nelson) are out to investigate who shot Lassiter, leaving him severely wounded and with a foggy memory.

“Psych” has always shared more than a small amount of DNA with shows like “The Rockford Files,” with Shawn and Gus often bluffing themselves into situations they then had to fast-talk their way out of, and the latest movie is no exception to that. Just like in the show, Lassie Come Home has the pair taking unnecessary risks, sometimes motivated by a desire to see justice done or to help a friend and sometimes simply because Shawn wants to impress Juliet or Gus is trying to prove how tough he is to a girl he’s pursuing.

What’s wonderful about the Psych series to date is that it’s incredibly light-hearted, never stepping very far into deep pathology or psychosis the way other PI/detective procedurals sometimes do. The jokes are always fluffy and deserving of a chuckle, if not more. The relationships between the characters are clear and free of any massive continuity elements aside from the evolution of Shawn and Juliet’s romance. In that way it’s the perfect show for syndication, with no real long-running arc that gets in the way of watching whatever episode you like or whatever happens to be on while you’re unpacking in your hotel room.

That’s what makes it perfect for right now and why it deserved a bigger portion of the spotlight when it was announced as one of the launch day originals for Peacock. It’s not a show (or movie) that you will have to read 3,500-word explainers about, nor will you have to dissect all the Jungian principles that have been woven into the story by the creators. It is not dystopian or mind-bending and does not demand your attention by virtue of an all-star cast enlisted in the service of a cerebral adaptation of a best-selling novel.

Instead it’s a movie that will make you feel refreshed. It’s not mindless in the way some entertainment is, because you have to pay attention to catch all the rapid-fire one-liners and comebacks. Quite the opposite, it rewards careful viewing since the conclusions to the mysteries are almost always satisfying and consistent with the internal logic put in place by co-creator Steve Franks and others. More than anything, the cast uniformly delivers fun, breezy performances that make it obvious they’re having a good time on set and enjoying being reunited with the others, playing off each other with ease.

Peacock was never going to be a success or failure solely on how well Psych 2: Lassie Come Home delivered on the promise of the series or the 2017 movie. But the good news is that it *does,” in part because the model the creators have adopted means that these reunions/continuations every couple years come without the overwrought expectations and burdens of being a reunion or reboot. It only has to work on its own merits, not live up to the water-colored memories people might have from ~20 years ago.

Not only does the movie play just as funny and whimsical as the show almost always did, but it’s just as true with its feelings as well. Since the plot revolves around Det. Lassiter being shot, it naturally allows for Omundson, who suffered a stroke three years ago but has recovered to a great extent, to be involved and to serve as the emotional core of the story. Everyone is working the case because they owe Lassiter for all he’s done for them and don’t want to let him down while he’s sidelined. Still, he winds up being far from a passive observer to the action and his arc throughout the movie will make fans wonder why it’s getting so dusty in the room.

If you’ve already signed up to try out Peacock and see how it can fit into your streaming lifestyle, do yourself a favor and take two hours to watch Psych 2: Lassie Come Home. Even if you’re not a long-time fan and aren’t someone who watches closely for hidden pineapples, you’re likely to have a good time, one that won’t come with the need to go online and search for “what does X mean” in relation to every single plot point or development.

HBO Max’s Gotham Show Needs to Avoid the SHIELD Potholes

Wait, is this one actually about Batman or nah?

When news broke last week that HBO Max would be producing a new series focused on the Gotham City Police Department and set in the same universe as Matt Reeves’ upcoming The Batman, it immediately set off a few skepticism triggers.

Most notably, it seemed very similar in concept to “Agents of SHIELD,” which debuted in 2013 and is in the midst of its final season. Like the proposed Gotham PD show, the pitch sets up a show that exists alongside the movie, exploring more of what life is like for the police officers and detectives who operate in the same city as a bat-themed vigilante. Similarly, “SHIELD” offered audiences the chance to follow along with the missions of the spy agency that occasionally assisted the super heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

When “SHIELD” was being promoted and through its first couple seasons, the connective material between the series and the movies was plain to see. Not only did it feature the return of MCU’s favorite supporting character Phil Coulson but several stories followed plot elements initially set up on The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Thor: The Dark WorldI and others. As the series went on, though, it seemed to take fewer cues from the MCU, in part because it seemed to get hard to plan a TV show around the big events depicted on the big screen. Some connections remained, but the final separation seems to have occurred when the show had to largely ignore the events of Avengers: Infinity War and the Thanos snap that wiped out half of life in the universe.

The Bomb Marvel GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

“SHIELD,” as an ongoing TV series, was telling a serialized story. The problem emerged from the fact that the MCU films were *also* telling a serialized story. And it’s hard to keep two simultaneous ongoing narratives going when they are intended to be complementary. Just ask anyone in the comics industry, where creators have to make sure they’re not using a character in Book A that is in the middle of a totally different thing in Book B, or that crossovers feature accurate versions of the characters as they exist at the moment. They can feed into each other every now and again, but more often than not it can be jarring for the reader when the Iron Man who shows up in an Avengers book is drastically different than the one seen in his solo title because two different writers are telling two different stories.

It’s hard to imagine the Gotham PD show won’t run into the same problems. It may start out with the best of intentions and some solid plans to keep the story flowing in both directions, with the promise of appearances by Jeffrey Wright as Jim Gordon and the like, but it’s going to be hard to maintain. Actors will come and go, producers will realize that the story arc for a character doesn’t get her where she needs to be for the next film’s planned events. Or the monumental events of a movie will be nie impossible for the smaller scale show to accurately deal with.

Again, “SHIELD” provides an instructive lesson here. Almost as soon as the show left the gate, the very premise was blown up because of what happened in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. While it successfully kept going, that development cut out an important piece of the series’ foundation, and a lot of time was spent explaining those ripple effects and establishing a new footing for the characters.

There’s a lot of great potential in a Gotham PD show. That was clear in “Gotham,” which started off a bit unsure of itself but found its groove when the creators leaned into the insanity of the rogue’s gallery of villains populating the city. They told some big stories very well, but they also didn’t have the burden of trying to tie into anything else. Heck they didn’t even have to worry about Batman himself, who didn’t appear until the last moments of the show. A more straightforward police procedural could be just as interesting, but like “SHIELD” it will have to come up with one reason after another why the police are dealing with the problems they have and aren’t calling in the help of their local vigilante.

Season 5 Fox GIF by Gotham - Find & Share on GIPHY

In a best case scenario, the show becomes a hit on its own and a powerful part of the brand identity and marketing machine of the films. Consider me interested enough to see how this turns out