hustle – marketing recap

How Netflix has sold another dramatic Adam Sandler turn.

Hustle movie poster from Netflix
Hustle movie poster from Netflix

Adam Sandler plays Stanley Sugerman, a talent scout for the Philadelphia 76ers, in Hustle, new on Netflix now. While on a recruiting trip in Spain, Sugerman comes across an unknown talent named Bo Cruz (Juancho Hernangómez). When the 76ers aren’t interested in Cruz, Sugerman leaves the team to get the player ready for the draft. Helping him out are his wife Teresa (Queen Latifah) and others.

Robert Duvall, Ben Foster, María Botto and others also star while a handful of real life NBA players make appearances as themselves to add authenticity to the story.

This is just the latest film Sandler has produced and starred in for Netflix, a batch that includes dramas such as Uncut Gems along with lots of the comedies Sandler is well known for. So let’s take a look at how it’s been presented to audiences.

announcement and casting

The project got off the ground in mid-2020 when Sandler signed on. Netflix had acquired the project with Jeremiah Zagar directing a script from Taylor Materne and Will Fetters.

Latifah, Foster, Duval, Bottol and others joined the cast over the last half of 2020.

Netflix released some stills of the cast in October of last year, revealing some of the story points at that time.

In an interview from August of last year, Sandler revealed that Netflix – famous among filmmakers for staying out of production and not sending overly-prescriptive notes – requested part of the script be changed from China to somewhere in Europe because the company doesn’t operate in the former country.

the marketing campaign

Things got started in February with the release of the teaser trailer (2.4m YouTube views). The framing of the trailer is a pep talk Sugerman is giving Cruz about needing to love the game and be obsessed with being the best in order to succeed. While that’s happening we see lots of footage of Cruz on the court and training, sending the message that there will be lots of inspirational montages and other footage as we’re shown how hard he’s willing to work.

We get more of that in the full trailer (4.4m YouTube views), released in May. As it opens, Sugerman is a bit frustrated at being stuck as a scout when his dream is to coach a professional team. His enthusiasm upon finding Cruz is squashed when the team owner says Cruz doesn’t have a shot. So he takes it on himself to train him and after some rough patches things seem to be falling into place, meaning both men may be able to achieve their goals.

The movie’s one poster, which just shows Sugerman sitting on the bench as the blurry bodies of players run past him, also came out at the same time.

Sandler, Latifah and others all spoke at the movie’s recent Hollywood premiere about how they got involved in the project, what it was like to film all those basketball sequences and more.

An interview with Zagler had him talking about preparing for production, including how to best shoot all that basketball action, and what kind of movies he used as sources of inspiration.

That same speech used in the teaser trailer of Sugerman explaining how much he loves the game and how hard Cruz is going to have to work was released on its own as a clip.

Latifah stopped by “Kimmel” to promote the film while Sandler made the rounds of “Kimmel”, “The Tonight Show” and “Late Night” to do likewise while also engaging in some of his usual pranks and such.

There are plenty of pull quotes praising the film – and especially Sandler’s performance – in an extended spot released just the other day. It plays like the second trailer, just arranged a bit differently for a different kind of dramatic impact.


Despite the fact that he’s now established a decent track record of dramatic roles, anytime Sandler steps out of his comedic comfort zone it becomes the centerpiece of that movie’s campaign and this is no exception. That’s powered to a large degree by the reviews that can’t help comparing his performance here to those from his lackadaisical efforts with Kevin James, David Spade and others.

But the marketing itself is pretty solid here, establishing a tone for the movie that’s consistent throughout the campaign. So it works, especially if the goal is to attract the same crowd that gravitated toward Uncut Gems and other similar titles.

Uncut Gems – Marketing Recap

How A24 is selling a new dramatic performance by Adam Sandler.

uncut gems posterPairing Sandler and the directorial team of Benny and Josh Safdie may seem like an odd call, given the former’s penchant for lowbrow, lazy comedy and the latter’s reputation for avant garde cinema, but that’s exactly what’s happened with the new release Uncut Gems.

In the film Sandler plays Howard Ratner, a New York City jeweler with a tendency to gamble and take big risks in the hopes of a payoff, living by the seat of his pants and just trying to stay ahead of the people he’s in debt to. When he goes out on a limb to score a big payday he finds himself walking an even finer line as he tries to stay out of trouble while also not letting his family life fall apart more than it has.

The disconnect between the material and the public’s expectations of what an Adam Sandler movie is have formed the crux of A24’s marketing for the movie.

The Posters

In September the first poster (by marketing agency BLT Communications) came out. There’s nothing extravagant about it, simply showing a grainy photo of Howard looking a little worse for wear but seemingly unphased by it. The story isn’t communicated at all through text so the message is just for audiences to come see a dramatic turn by Sandler.

The Trailers

At the beginning of the first trailer (4.1 million views on YouTube), released in September, Howard is seen as the kind of fast-talking low-grade con man who’s constantly getting himself into and out of trouble. That includes placing lots of bets and selling expensive jewelry. At the midpoint things take a turn and we see Howard may have overdone it, putting himself and his family in danger from powerful men who aren’t happy with how he’s been conducting himself.

Online and Social

Not much information beyond the marketing materials on the studio’s page for the film. Somewhat surprisingly, there were Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles created to share promotional material and, in the case of Twitter in particular, amplify early enthusiasm and positive reviews.

Advertising and Publicity

News the movie was among those that would screen at this year’s Toronto Film Festival hit in late July, accompanied by a first look at Sandler’s character. Reviews out of the festival heralded it as another great accomplishment from the Safdie brothers, with Sandler’s performance being called out by many. It later screened to similar acclaim at the Telluride Film Festival and was revealed to be the “secret” screening at the New York Film Festival.

Late October brought news the film had received three Gotham Awards nominations.

AMC released an exclusive featurette with comments from the directors and cast.

Premiere screenings were held at the Arclight in Boston and then the Arclight in Hollywood, bringing out the cast and crew.

Media and Press

While the cast and crew were in Toronto there were a number of interviews where they talked about the positive reaction the film received and what it was like to work with the Safdies and what they did to prepare for their roles. Sandler spoke during NYFF about similar things.

Safdie talked about working with Sandler while the actor shared some of the research he engaged in prior to production in an October interview.

Sandler appeared on “The Tonight Show” to talk about the movie and react to early critical praise. Fox appeared on “Kimmel” to talk about working with Sandler.

There were a handful of profiles of Sandler that all seemed to focus on how he approached taking a more dramatic role and whether it might mean awards consideration for the usually dismissed comedic actor. Similarly, a last couple profiles of the Safdies related how they had spent a decade or more trying to get this film made. Another interview with them focused on their hands-on filmmaking style.

At the premiere Sandler and the rest of the cast spoke about the movie and various other topics related to the state of the film industry.


Early reactions to the movie have been overwhelmingly enthusiastic, leading to a 92 percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, something that can’t be said for most other Sandler films.

And that’s the point of the entire campaign. The Safdies have a reputation among critics and serious cinephiles for their innovative filmmaking techniques and original stories, but casting Sandler in this movie may have caused a few people to scratch their heads. So the marketing has worked overtime to present the actor as rising to the occasion and putting in the best work of his career. It’s not that he hasn’t given great performances in the past, it’s that drama isn’t his forte.

Notably, there’s been little effort – at least to my eyes – to bring in Sandler’s existing fanbase and have them take a chance on something outside his usual wheelhouse. It’s like the studio understands that the one audience can be swayed while the other can’t, so it’s not even worthy trying.

Picking Up the Spare

Sandler and Garnett made a joint appearance on “Kimmel” to promote the film.

There were additional profiles of Garnett along with costar Idina Menzel. Also getting some attention was editor Ronnie Bronstein.

A24 launched a pop-up experience filled with jewelry, including replicas of the pieces seen in the film, in New York City at the same time the movie was hitting theaters.

A new trailer came out just as the movie was hitting theaters set to Billy Joel’s “The Stranger” that amped up the drama of the story.

Another interview here with the Safdie brothers.

A24 brought a new version of the movie back to theaters to capitalize on the buzz it had built up.

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation – Marketing Recap

hotel translyvania 3 poster 4I’ll be honest, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the first two installments in the Hotel Transylvania series. Where they could have been lazy toss offs that take a decent premise and deliver the least interesting take on it, director Genndy Tartakovsky and his crew have consistently delivered solidly entertaining animated comedies that are genuinely funny and original. Helping matters is that star Adam Sandler’s voice work as Dracula is his most interesting, committed performance ever, a stark contrast to his usual DGAF attitude.

Now Drac and the other monsters are back in Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation. This time around Mavis (Selena Gomez) and Johnny (Andy Samberg) have convinced Dracula and everyone else to head out on a cruise vacation. Little do they know the ship is captained by a descendant of Van Helsing, the famous vampire hunter, who’s out to complete her ancestor’s work. Things get complicated though when she and Dracula fall for each other.

The Posters

The first two posters were the first indicators (at least that i was aware of) as to what the plot was. That came not only through the subtitle that was shown but in how on one Drac is shown wearing flip flops, his cape blowing to show he’s also sporting shorts and a floral print on the inside of that cape. The other has him in full Hawaiian regalia, his suitcases around him and a scowl on his face. That one also has the copy “Family vacation. It will suck the life out of you.” A third that came later shows Drac pulling his coffin-shaped luggage with stickers from places like the Bermuda Triangle all over it.

The whole gang is buried up to their necks on the theatrical poster, Dracula looking less than thrilled though everyone else seems to be having a good enough time. “He’s going to need a vacation after this vacation” is a tagline that seems designed more to resonate with the adults in the audience than the younger crowd.

The Trailers

The first trailer starts out by familiarizing the audience with Drac and his hotel before showing that Mavis has arranged for him and all the other regulars to take a cruise specially geared for monsters. He’s not thrilled about this, particularly when his father shows up.

It’s not all that detailed but gives the audience the basic idea of what they’ll be seeing in this installment in the franchise and assuring them it’s more of what they’ve already enjoyed.

When the official trailer opens Drac is looking for a date but having zero luck with apps and technology. Mavis convinces him to take a break and so the whole gang heads out on a cruise that offers plenty to do for everyone. Drac is resistant to give into efforts to set him up with someone until he sees Erika and is smitten. She has a secret, though, and is only getting close to him to exact generations-old revenge. Mavis is suspicious but Drac’s clueless.

That storyline isn’t explored in-depth by any means, nor are any of the others. A lot of the same gags from the teaser are repeated here with just enough of the plot shared to show people there is one.

Online and Social

There’s not much of interest on the official website, just the standard information like trailer, story recap, gallery and more. A few casual games lighten things up a bit, but overall this is just a standard minimal effort site.

A custom Snapchat filter unlocked a “Dancesylvania” dual lens

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A brief TV spot was released on Valentine’s Day that showed all the different forms love can take.

Amazon, which partnered with Amazon to offer Prime members exclusive screenings two weeks before the general release, a stunt that netted the movie an early $1.3 million. That partnership also included adding a skill to Alexa that allowed users who asked about the movie to hear a bedtime story.

Media and Publicity

Sony, as it’s done for a few animated features recently, brought it to Cannes (out of competition) with a big publicity stunt meant to induce lots of social sharing. Right around that time the studio released an extended clip showing the assembled monsters on the flight they’re taking to their vacation destination. It later was part of the Annecy Animation Festival, where it received positive buzz and audience reaction and where Tartakovsky spoke about why he came back to the series.

If there was a massive press push in the final days before release, I can’t find it.


OK, cool. I like it. There’s something here for all audiences and it certainly sells the same tone and vibe as the previous two efforts. I don’t know if the love story with Drac is going to be a big incentive for younger crowds, but it also likely won’t hurt things. The main value proposition the movie has to offer, it seems, is that it’s not a super hero movie and could give people a little bit of a break while still offering a familiar property for them to enjoy relatively worry free.


Kathryn Hahn has made a few media appearances recently, showing up on “Kimmel” to tell stories and promote the movie a bit.


The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) – Marketing Recap

Dustin Hoffman is the family patriarch Harold Meyerowitz in The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), the new movie from writer/director Noah Baumbach. Harold is a well-known New York City artist whose career is being celebrated at an upcoming event.

That brings together Harold’s grown children Jean (Elizabeth Marvel), Danny (Adam Sandler) and Matthew (Ben Stiller). Each has their own issues, some of which they trace back to being rooted in their father’s upbringing and the imposing shadow he cast over their lives. As usual, such gatherings are mixed with emotion and chaos as everyone deals with whatever baggage they’re carrying.

The Posters

The primary poster Netflix created shows Harold in two separate pictures, each accompanied by just one of his boys. He’s walking with Danny in the one at the top and with Matthew in the one below the title. That conveys at least a little about the story we’ll be watching, but the overall vibe is similar to that of an indie drama from Miramax circa 1994.

Three more posters were released, each showing Harold with a different character. In one he’s sitting at dinner with Maureen while the other two are just expanded versions of the photos shown on the primary one-sheet.

The Trailers

The first trailer establishes this as an ensemble dramatic comedy, focused on Danny playing piano and having a laugh with his dad. Around that are short other clips from the film showing the rest of the family and including a number of quotes from critics who saw early screenings. It’s clear this is a loving but dysfunctional family we’re watching, though.

The second trailer is much more focused on the story. Matthew is trying (unsuccessfully) to impress his dad while the two are out for a meal. Then we hear Danny talking about how he never really spent time with his dad when he was a kid. Those two scenes establish the family dynamic, along with someone’s surprise that Harold has two sons. Other hijinks, hilarity and family pathos follow as we find out more about how all these characters relate to each other.

The idea here is to sell the movie as family comedy/drama, that much is clear. But it never actually digs into what it is that has everyone coming together or what the motivating plot elements are. So we see characters and get a sense of their actions, but we don’t know why they’re doing what they’re doing. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just obviously the approach Netflix is taking in selling the movie.

Online and Social

No web presence here, as usual for Netflix. Some support was offered on brand social media channels but no distinct profiles were created for the movie.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

There were a few paid social posts around the time the trailer premiered but that’s about it unless there are loads of banner ads across the web I haven’t seen.

Media and Publicity

The first real news about the movie came when it was announced it had been picked up by Netflix. The movie was one of the handful that had its premiere at this year’s Cannes International Film Festival. Prior to that Hoffman and Baumbach interviewed each other at the Tribeca Film Festival about the genesis of the project, how they worked together and more.

A short time later some first-look stills were released. While at Cannes Baumbach talked about how he made the movie for the big screen but also loved working with Netflix to help get the movie out there. And Sandler, whose performance was praised by many as his best in a long, long time, talked about the pressure of working on a picture like this and his desire to not let anyone down. Later on it was announced as one of the films that would screen at the New York Film Festival.

The part Stiller plays was, according to this story, written by Baumbach specifically for him after working with the actor on two previous films. The actor and director talked there about their senses of humor and more as well. Baumbach kept talking about the inspiration behind the story, the family dynamic he was hoping to capture and more.

Shortly before release Netflix announced it would give the movie a limited, awards-qualifying theatrical run in select cities.

Hoffman and Baumbach talked jointly about how the director, through Sandler and Stiller, persuaded the actor to finally join the production, the comedy found in the relationships portrayed in the story and more.


We’re no stranger to stories of the privileged but angsty lives of New York creatives. That’s been the basis for countless movies, a trend I’ve called out as problematic a few times in the past. So the movie being sold here doesn’t appear to be breaking any new ground on that front and is easy to dismiss by anyone who’d like to see a bit more racial and socioeconomic representation on screen.

So how does the campaign try to work around that sizable roadblock?

First, it focuses much of its attention on Sandler, who is turning in a much more dramatic performance than he usually does here. Sandler often appears to be sleepwalking through the comedies he makes, putting the minimum viable effort into the work and sometimes even appearing to be annoyed he has to be there in the first place.

Second, it keeps reinforcing the connection all the characters have to Hoffman’s Harold. Everything is centered there, both the backstory and the current story. While I still feel some motivation would have been nice to offer in the campaign, the fact that we’re constantly reminded of how everyone is relating to their father and his influence is a smart move.

Add in appeals to fans of Baumbach’s previous work and you have a decent campaign that’s surprisingly full-throated for a Netflix original release.

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