Happiest Season – Marketing Recap

How Hulu has sold an updated take on the Christmas movie genre.

In The Happiest Season, out now on Hulu, Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis play girlfriends Harper and Abby respectively, a happy couple who are about to put their relationship through a significant test: the holiday season. Specifically, they plan to visit Abby’s family for Christmas. Taking advantage of the celebration, Harper plans to propose to Abby while there.

Writer/director Clea DuVall’s story, though, adds the complication that unbeknownst to Harper, Abby’s family doesn’t know she’s gay. They believe instead that Abby is bringing her orphaned friend with nowhere else to go. Harper then begins to question much of their relationship, often with the support of her friend John (Dan Levy). The movie also stars Victor Garber, Mary Steenburgen, Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza and others.

Originally planned for a theatrical release by Sony Pictures, in October Hulu announced it had picked up the movie and would release it to streaming in late November. To date, the film has received largely positive reviews, giving it a solid 92% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Posters

Just one poster, which was released barely over a week prior to the film becoming available. The major cast, with Stewart and Davis in the forefront, are assembled in a picture as if they’re all part of the same photograph. How that photo is hanging cockeyed over the fireplace indicates how off-kilter the family – and story – is while festive holiday decorations visible around the frame make the setting of the action clear to the audience. It’s a fine, if innocuous, image but for the fact that all the faces save those of Stewart and Davis are clearly Photoshopped into place.

The Trailers

Released in mid-November, the trailer (6 million views on YouTube) starts by showing how much Abby is looking forward to meeting Harper’s family over Christmas. As they’re on their way, Harper breaks the news that her parents don’t know she’s gay, much less that she’s bringing her girlfriend with her. Instead, she’s told them Abby is an orphan with nowhere to go. Hilarity and awkwardness ensues, especially when Abby’s friend John gets involved.

Online and Social

Advertising and Promotions

The buzz-heavy cast was announced in January as the movie was heading into production. That filming was finished in late February, just before Covid-19-related shutdowns went into effect.

Earlier this month a drive-in premiere for the film was held. The artists contributing to the movie’s soundtrack were also announced.

In the days leading up to release online ads like the one below were placed around the web, using the key art to encourage people to click over to the movie’s page on Hulu.

Short videos like this were produced and used both as organic promotions as well as paid ads.

Media and Press

First look stills accompanied by comments from Stewart, Levy and others were included in EW’s Fall Movie Preview.

Following the release of the trailer there were features on how Duvall worked to offer a twist on the holiday rom-com genre tropes as well as on Steenburgen feels about being a Christmas movie go-to player.

Meanwhile, Levy appeared on “The Tonight Show” to talk about the movie and lots more. Brie did likewise on “Kimmel” as did Stewart. Levy and Stewart showed up together on “The Today Show.”

Themed gift packages of promotional items were sent to select members of the press.

Teegan & Sara appeared on “The Kelly Clarkson” to perform their new song on the film’s soundtrack, with DuVall and much of the cast also appearing on that show.

Appropriately, there was significant coverage of the film in the LGBTQ press, including a cover story with multiple features in The Advocate as well as stories like this in Pride, all of which covered how DuVall and the cast worked to bring something new to the genre.

That same theme was carried over into much of the press, including additional interviews with DuVall as well as Stewart and the rest of the cast. There were also breakout profiles of Stewart, Davis and Brie along with more general holiday hijinks with the cast.

Overall

It’s hard not to be completely charmed by the campaign Hulu has put together in the space of less than a month. Some of the material was likely brought over from whatever Sony had already produced, but generating such significant buzz in so short a period is a testament to not only the strength of what’s presented here but also to the obvious passion of the audience that has been drawn to it in that time.

It benefits greatly from having such talented and outspoken talent like Stewart, DuVall, Davis and others involved, all of whom have reiterated the movie’s core value proposition – that it’s part of the “awkward family Christmas” genre while offering an updated variation on what’s come before – throughout their press activities. That it’s coming to streaming and not theaters allows it to reach more of the audience immediately, which will likely help its prospects for success.

Picking Up The Spare

Another interview with Stewart had her talking about what made her sign on to this project. 

Costar Mary Holland also got a profile all her own. There have also been a number of interviews like this with DuVall about reaction to the ending, the potential for a sequel and more. That ending was also covered by Plaza when she appeared on “The Late Show.” 

Nice little behind-the-scenes featurette from Hulu.

Details here on a new partnership between the movie and GLAAD and Outfest for a holiday season PSA. 

A couple new featurettes have come out along with a lyric video for Tegan And Sara’s “Make You Mine This Season.” There was also a short blooper reel that’s just great.

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.

Horse Girl – Marketing Recap

How Netflix is selling a psychological thriller revolving around mental illness.

horse girl posterAlison Brie stars in and cowrote with director Jeff Baena the new movie Horse Girl. Brie plays Sarah, a woman who most people think is just a bit odd and awkward, never quite able to be fit in with family or coworkers. When she begins having strange dreams and incidents where she finds herself in places she doesn’t remember going to, the walls around her mental stability begin to erode. That becomes even more acute when she realizes she’s about the same age her grandmother was when she experienced a psychological break.

Netflix’s marketing of the feature has been brief but makes a strong case for Brie as not only an actress but also a voice for an issue that isn’t discussed frequently.

The Posters

Sarah is shown in extreme closeup on the only poster (by marketing agency InSync Plus). It’s a common graphical approach, but one that matches the movie’s theme of mental health and the way someone’s eyes change when they’re going through a kind of break or episode. The poster was released so recently there’s no date here, just a “Watch now” prompt.

The Trailers

The first trailer (1.1 million views on YouTube) came out in late January. We meet Sarah, who at first seems like simply an awkward young woman who seems to want to have fun but isn’t quite sure how. Things become more serious when she reveals she’s having trouble sleeping and might be having hallucinations, finding herself in strange places with no idea how she got there. It turns out her grandmother had a history of psychological issues, and Sarah is concerned the same thing may be happening to her. And that behavior may be increasingly erratic and violent, leading to a potential break.

Online and Social

Nothing here, as usual.

Advertising and Promotions

The movie premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival to generally positive reviews.

It was given one of the key promotional blocks on the Netflix signed-in homepage. Not above the fold, but still not down very far.

horse girl promo

Brie expanded on her own family history with trauma and how she used that to inform this story in a featurette released by Netflix.

Media and Press

Brie was interviewed about developing the story and what kind of reaction she hoped it would have while at Sundance. She also talked about how the movie was shot in a largely improvisational manner, with the actors working out dialogue as they went and then filming what they felt was best.

Overall

The best parts of the campaign are the ones like the featurette where Brie talks so passionately about how personal this story is and the work she put into finding the right take on Sarah. It’s there that she makes the case that this is an unusual movie that touches on topics that aren’t discussed in many mainstream films, especially not with any nuance or detail.

It would have been great to see Netflix give this a bit more attention, but it seems that with so much else going on, especially given this is Oscars weekend, it just got pushed out with a minimal amount of effort and fanfare.