beckett – marketing recap

How Netflix has sold a drama of conspiracy and intrigue.

Beckett poster

John David Washington stars in the title role of this week’s new Netflix release Beckett. Beckett and his girlfriend April (Alicia Vikander) are vacationing in Greece when the two are involved in a terrible car accident that kills April and leaves Beckett alive but injured. He finds answers about what happened surprisingly hard to come by, with officials reluctant to mount any sort of investigation. Soon Beckett finds himself on the run as he tries to reach the U.S. embassy in Athens before those on his trail kill him.

The 64% Fresh rating the movie has on Rotten Tomatoes indicates middle reviews in advance of it hitting Netflix this week. Let’s take a look at how it’s been sold to date.

announcement and casting

Washington and Vikander, along with costars Boyd Holbrook and Vicky Krieps, were all included in the cast list when the movie was announced in early 2019. At that time the film was titled Born To Be Murdered, which is simultaneously both more interesting than its current moniker and more vague and confusing.

Netflix acquired the title in October of 2020, retaining the original title (for the moment) but not immediately setting a release date. The new, current title was announced in April of this year.

the marketing proper

The first poster (by marketing agency Concept Arts) came out in late June, marking the first element in the official marketing campaign. It’s a bit vague in how it shows Beckett walking across the roof with a gun in his hand, but it still helps to set a tone for the film. Still, it isn’t an overly-engaging design and without any kind of copy to help out there’s little to explain the story or plot to the audience.

That poster release also served as an announcement the movie’s premiere would happen at the Locarno International Film Festival in August, just days before its planned release.

Beckett and April are enjoying their secluded Greek vacation as the trailer (1.5m views on YouTube), released at the beginning of July, opens. After a car accident kills April and leaves him injured, Beckett finds no one will believe there may be witnesses to the accident. When he investigates on his own he winds up being hunted and chased by those who want him silenced. Even the American embassy isn’t of much help, leaving Beckett on his own to find out what he’s stumbled into the middle of and try to survive.

The second poster came out in mid-July and shows a closeup of Beckett, obviously a bit confused, or at least on high alert. Again, this isn’t the most engaging or informative poster, despite the inclusion of copy reading “Survival lies within.” But it does show the movie is focused on Washington, who might be on the run in some manner.

During the Locarno Film Festival Washington and director Ferdinando Cito Filomarino were interviewed, the former talking about this being a different kind of role for him compared to some of his other recent work and the latter about why he wanted Washington and what kind of influences he pulled from while making it. The actor also spoke at the festival about the importance of the theatrical experience

overall

Netflix’s campaign has some good things going for it, especially the charisma that Washington seems to bring to all his roles. The posters are unfortunately a bit lackluster, however, and don’t adequately convey key elements of the story in an efficient and easily-comprehended manner. And it didn’t receive a whole lot of social media support from the brand in the lead-up to release.

The greatest sin, though, has nothing to do with the marketing and everything to do with a story that a) casts Alicia Vikander as “generic girlfriend” and b) kills “generic girlfriend” in order to set the plot in motion. It’s notable that she’s nowhere to be seen in the publicity for this movie, though whether that’s because her role appears to be thankless or because she was just out there for Green Knight is unclear.

The Glorias – Marketing Recap

How Amazon Studios sold a biopic about a key feminist leader.

There are few people who had a bigger impact on American history in the 20th century than Gloria Steinem, and few actors who have a more stellar track record of outstanding performances than Julianne Moore. That makes it a natural fit for the latter to play the former, which is exactly what happens in the new film The Glorias.

It’s not just Moore, though. In the film, directed by Julie Taymor, that spans Steinem’s life from youth through her 40s, she’s also portrayed at various points by Alicia Vikander, Lulu Wilson, Ryan Kiera Armstrong and even Steinem herself. Based on her own memoir, the story follows the icon from her childhood through her career as a writer and into her role as a political and cultural activist fighting for women’s rights in the post-WWII era.

The movie has bounced around a few studios due to the coronavirus pandemic and the scheduling issues it’s created but comes to Amazon Prime today with a 72% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Posters

Just one poster (by marketing agency LA), which came out earlier this month. It shows two of the versions of Steinem featured in the film – those portrayed by Moore and Vikander – along with costar Janelle Monáe as Dorothy Pittman Hughes, who along with Steinem founded both Ms. Magazine and The Women’s Action Alliance. Her inclusion here seems highly intentional not just because of Monáe’s stardom but also because of the criticism often leveled at mainstream feminism, that it is primarily aimed at and designed for white women. Along with those individuals, the poster features a collage of key cultural artifacts such as the first Ms. Magazine cover, an Equal Rights Amendment button and some of Steinem’s media headlines.

The Trailers

The teaser trailer (430,000 views on YouTube), released at the beginning of September, offers a good first look at not only the story and how it uses multiple actors in the role of Steinem to span the eras depicted but also at how the movie has Taymor’s trademark visual panache. You get the basic high points and main messages here, especially about how Steinem used every opportunity to not take the safe path but instead break ground when necessary.

The official trailer (634,000 views on YouTube) only hit in the last two weeks and features even more of Taymor’s visuals and how she’s constructed the story. Steinem’s early years get a bit more attention as well, showing how she has to make compromises in order to get into the system she wants to change. It’s powerful and effective, especially at showing it to be a somewhat unusual or at least non-traditional biopic.

Online and Social

The movie’s official website opens with the trailer and has most of the usual marketing content. Along with that are a couple sections that are highly relevant to the subject matter.

First there’s “Get Involved,” which has information and links to When We All Vote and The United States of Women. The former is focused on turning out the vote while the latter is all about addressing issues specific to women across racial, ethnic and other lines.

Second is “Trailblazing Women,” where you can find information on some of the important women who influenced Steinem and her work, many of whom are featured in the film. Links to organizations associated with those women can also be found there.

Advertising and Promotions

The 2020 Sundance Film Festival served as the movie’s first public screening venue, earning positive reviews and buzz as a result. The cast and crew, along with Steinhem, were there to help promote the film.

LD Entertainment and Roadside Attractions partnered to acquire distribution rights after the festival ended.

In August the movie was officially removed from the theatrical calendar and a release directly on Amazon Prime scheduled for late September. At the end of the month a screening was held at Donna Karen’s home in The Hamptons.

Clips from the movie included Steinem and others fielding stupid questions at a press conference and more.

Media and Press

Taymor was interviewed during Sundance about the unusual format she applied to the movie instead of the usual biopic template and how she connected with Steinem, eventually getting her blessing to pursue the project. Steinhem was there herself and was just as opinionated on a number of topics, including the movie, as you’d hope she would be.

Other interviews with Taymor had her talking about adapting Steinem’s memoir and lots more, with some recent pieces touching on how the story relates to current events like the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Other media appearances included the cast talking on ExtraTV and Vikander chatting with Seth Meyers on “Late Night” and Moore on “The Tonight Show.”

Overall

There’s so much about this campaign that makes it fascinating, from the casting to the look and feel that comes with Taymor at the helm and more. It sells a movie that offers something unique and has a story to tell, one that should be more common than it currently is. The whole thing features a consistent brand, albeit one that is a whirlwind collage of imagery and visuals, all with Moore and the other stars at its center.

What jumps out most, though, is that the story doesn’t just feature a woman doing the unexpected for the period she lived in, but also clearly shows the misogyny and other attitudes that kept them out of certain jobs and environments for so long. Steinem is helped and encouraged by the other women around her, but there’s no “good guy” male figure here, one that wants to help breakdown boundaries. Instead they all want to keep her in her place, which is likely more realistic. For not shying away from that, it deserves kudos.

Picking Up The Spare

Costume designer Sandy Powell was interviewed about capturing the look of various periods in the story. 

Interesting roundtable here with Taymor and others about how the movie was made and the struggles the filmmakers had with securing financing. 

Tulip Fever – Marketing Recap

We’ve had quite a few “women in corsets” type movies this year. Lady Macbeth, My Cousin Rachel, A Quiet Passion…all of them have not only featured elaborate period costuming but also to various degrees tales of forbidden passion being let loose. To both categories we now add this week’s Tulip Fever.

The story of the movie focuses on Sophia (Alicia Vikander), a young woman who’s forced to marry a powerful businessman named Cornelis Sandvoort (Christoph Waltz) to escape a life of poverty. She doesn’t love him, of course, so when he commissions a young artist named Jan Van Loos (Dane DeHaan) to paint her portrait he unknowingly lets a fox into the henhouse. The two young people start up a passionate affair set in 17h century Amsterdam, seeing the key to their escape in the thriving tulip market that dominates the city.

The movie has been finished for almost three years but has languished on the shelf of The Weinstein Co. More on this below, but it’s important to keep in mind as we move through the campaign.

The Posters

In the movie’s first – and only – poster we’re presented with a gauzy period drama that’s being sold through the beauty of Vikander. She stands alone, looking down through a window holding a flower looking very proper, an expression of longing and maybe dissatisfaction on her face. It’s not hugely revelatory but it tells us what we need to know to make at least a half-informed decision about the movie.

The Trailers

We’re told in the opening of the first trailer that Sophia is an orphan and that she’s being married off because that’s what society expects for her own good. So she’s given to Cornelis, an older man whom she obviously doesn’t love but who has been arranged by the nuns that care for her. When he arranges for their portrait to be painted she meets Jan, a painter who is not only her own age but who stirs her imagination of what could be. The two begin an affair as they conspire how to be together. There are lots of shots showing the young lovers in a passionate embrace and of the married couple being more cold and formal.

If the trailer is to be believed, there’s a strong Romeo & Juliet element to the proceedings. Outside of that, it looks a lot like other period movies that deal with these kinds of arranged marriages. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. Vikander looks like she’s doing great work, but this is a scenario we’ve seen before.

After some release date finagling, the second trailer starts out by establishing the time and setting before explaining that Cornelius has hired a painter, with whom Sophia quickly becomes involved. The love affair between the two and their plan to escape together forms the rest of the trailer, presenting it as a story of true passion that must break free from the shackles of an arranged marriage.

It gives the same sort of vibe as the first spot but focuses much more on the affair between the illicit lovers. It’s a bit stronger for that focus but makes the same basic value proposition to the audience.

After all the date changes that moved the release all around the calendar a red-band trailer was given to Vanity Fair just a week out in a last-ditch effort to get people talking. The trailer outlines much of the same story as the earlier effort but includes a lot more nudity and sexual situations to underline the passion the characters feel for one another.

Online and Social

There doesn’t appear to be an owned website for the movie. If you visit TWC’s site, the link to the movie’s official site just takes you to YouTube trailer. That means the film just has Twitter and Facebook profiles to help sell it online. There’s almost nothing on those profiles, though, both of which have less than a dozen updates that date back just to April of this year, with most of the activity happening in roughly the last month. I will say, though, this is the first usage of Facebook’s new feature allowing for videos to be used as cover photos and…I don’t like it.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

There appears to have been to have been a TV spot created by the studio but it was rejected by Fox for being too inappropriate, with TWC very loudly refusing to cut anything from the commercial. This is a common tactic from the Weinstein’s, causing a big ruckus over content as a way to drum up a bit of conversation and buzz.

There was at least one TV spot the focused almost exclusively on the passion of the young lovers and their plans for escaping, despite the power and anger of Sophia’s husband.

If there was any other advertising, even online, I’m unaware of it.

Media and Publicity

Unfortunately, much of the press early on was not great. As has become commonplace for Weinstein releases it suffered from a handful of release date shifts, moving from 2016 to early 2017 to mid-2017. Even in the last few weeks, it’s changed dates from a limited release on 8/25 to a wider one on 9/1. The history of the film, including early reactions and a complete timeline of dates the movie was supposed to open on, was recounted by Vulture in a widely-discussed and shared piece.

Overall

I’m not even sure what kind of scale to put this campaign on, what to measure it against. It’s been a year-and-a-half since the first trailer was released, with the second coming almost exactly a year later. That’s a long time to sustain anyone’s interest, particularly in the face of such commentary about the movie being a mess and the apparent lack of faith the studio had in it. I’m actually kind of surprised TWC didn’t just dump it onto Amazon Prime or something and cut their losses without the expense of a theatrical release.

That lack of commitment to the movie comes through loudly in how the studio is still going all-guns with the marketing of Wind River, which came out a few weeks ago. That movie is more prominently displayed on the studio’s website and just recently got a new trailer to keep word-of-mouth going. Which horse TWC is backing is obvious.

All that aside, it’s not a bad campaign. The beats feel a bit overly familiar as we’ve seen plenty of movies about unhappy arranged marriages, the stories set in less enlightened times and almost always featuring the woman risking everything to leave an elder husband and be with her more age-appropriate young lover. Everyone looks game and TWC knows how to make this kind of movie, which makes it all the more surprising that it’s been so badly handled.