How Amazon has sold a thriller of friendship and betrayal.
Based on the Olen Steinhauer novel of the same name, All The Old Knives is an espionage thriller centered around the relationship between CIA agents Henry Pelham (Chris Pine) and Celia Harrison (Thandiwe Newton). The former couple reunite when Pelham is assigned to investigate Harrison and her suspected connection to an airline hijacking that’s still an open case.
Laurence Fishburne and Jonathan Pryce co-star in the movie, directed by Janus Metz and with a screenplay by Steinhauer, opens in a limited theatrical run this weekend at the same time it debuts on Amazon Prime Video.
Let’s take a look at how it’s been sold.
announcements and casting
When the movie was first announced in mid-2017, Pine was already attached to star alongside Michelle Williams.
Amazon signed on to produce the film in September of 2020. At that time Newton was cast to replace Williams, who had bowed out because of scheduling conflicts. Metz was also brought on to replace James Marsh as director.
Fishburne and Pryce joined the cast around the same time.
the marketing campaign
The campaign for the movie really began just a little over a month ago, when the first poster was released at the beginning of March. That poster doesn’t offer much in the way of story detail but does attempt to set a mood by showing all four of the main characters arranged in shadows and darkness. At the bottom a mysterious figure runs through a darkened hallway, helping to establish we’re dealing with a story of danger and intrigue.
At the same time the first trailer (4.6m YouTube views) came out. It opens with the reunion of Henry and Celia, but we quickly find that Henry has been tasked with finding out whether a team of hijackers had help from a mole inside the CIA. Specifically, with finding out if Celia was that mole. Their past relationship is both a help and a hindrance in the investigation as it becomes less and less clear who is playing who in the search for the truth.
A bit later in March the studio held a red carpet premiere for the movie in London, with Pine, Newton and others in attendance. At that premiere Pine talked about working with an intimacy coordinator for the love scenes with Newton while the whole cast also discussed what – or in some cases who – attracted them to the project and what they thought of the script and working with each other.
A second poster was released just a few days ago that shifts the focus to the relationship between the two main characters, showing them close together in an intimate moment.
It’s a surprisingly light campaign and the reason why isn’t clear in my mind. But the movie has a positive 86% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, a mark of the generally good reviews it’s been getting.
As for the marketing itself, it seems to be selling an old-fashioned kind of cerebral espionage thriller. There’s not a single explosion or car chase to be seen here. Instead it’s filled with hidden meanings, secrets between former lovers, institutional agendas and more that are less Bond and more le Carré. But it sells all that with two very good looking, popular and relatively young stars at the forefront, making it seem less boring and more steamy, which is the central message being conveyed here.
How Amazon Studios has sold a character drama about family.
Ben Affleck stars in The Tender Bar, available now on Amazon Prime Video after a brief theatrical run at the end of last year. Affleck plays Charlie Maguire, the owner of a Long Island bar who becomes a father figure to his nephew J.R. (Tye Sheridan) after J.R.’s mother Dorothy (Lily Rabe) and father get divorced.
The movie, directed by George Clooney, is based on the J. R. Moehringer memoir of the same name, focusing on J.R. ‘s attempts to become a writer and his family’s determination to get him an Ivy League education.
With all that in mind, let’s take a look at how it’s been sold to the public.
announcement and casting
The project, with Clooney attached to direct and star in, was announced in July, 2020 when Amazon Studios acquired rights to it after Sony let them lapse. Affleck was attached to star a few months later.
Sheridan and Rabe were added to the cast in early 2021 just before filming got underway.
the marketing campaign
Amazon released a first look still from the film back in September showing Charlie and J.R. spending time together at the former’s bar.
The movie’s formal coming out party was held in October at the Director’s Guild of America in L.A.. There Clooney, Affleck and others all commented on how excited they were to be back doing press events but also how they worked together on-set and what attracted them to the project.
As the trailer, also released in October, begins, Dorothy and a young J.R. are moving back with her father (Christopher Lloyd) after her marriage has ended. Charlie and the rest of the family quickly embrace J.R., who begins spending time with his uncle. As he gets older J.R. goes to school and meets a girl, all while trying to figure out how to make his dreams come true and carve out a life of his own.
The first poster came out at the same time. There isn’t any explanatory copy adding context to what we see, but the image of Charlie and J.R. driving together in the former’s convertible communicates the tone pretty well while the vintage car and outfits convey the setting.
Clooney talked about why he made a smaller, character-driven moving during the pandemic and what kind of work influenced his approach to this film in an interview.
How the production team recreated a real life bar and other locations was covered here while Sheridan talked about how working with Clooney differed from some of the other directors on earlier films.
The theatrical poster was released in November still doesn’t have any copy but uses another photo of the two main characters to similar effect. This time there are a number of positive quotes from early reviews to make the movie attractive to anyone who sees the one-sheet.
Clooney appeared virtually on “Kimmel” along with Daniel Ranieri, who plays the young version of J.R. Ranieri got a profile of his own shortly after that. Affleck also stopped by “Kimmel” to promote the movie.
The first clip was released in mid-December and shows Charlie encouraging young J.R. to keep working on his writing.
A profile of Affleck focused on the his evolution over the years from frat boy star to serious actor who’s unconcerned about his public image and other matters.
Two more character posters, one of Charlie and one of Dorothy, were released in early January.
The positive reviews featured on the theatrical one-sheet might be hard to find given the movie’s paltry 52% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But that’s not the point, really.
As for the campaign itself, it’s not bad but never really makes a strong case for the audience’s time. There are some very strong Hillbilly Elegy vibes coming off it, and given the shelf life on that film was about two minutes, that doesn’t help. So the allure is dependent almost solely on the charm of Affleck and Clooney as the biggest names involved.
How Amazon Studios has sold its latest sci-fi action movie.
Chris Prat stars as Dan Forester in this week’s Amazon Studios release The Tomorrow War. Dan is a husband and father who retired from the military but is called back into service when time travelers from the future arrive seeking recruits for a battle against an invading alien army. Determined to save the future his young daughter will ultimately live in, Dan leaves his wife Emmy (Betty Gilpin) and teams up with his estranged father James (J.K. Simmons) and a scientist from the future (Yvonne Strahovski).
Reviews haven’t come in yet, but the movie — the feature debut of “Robot Chicken” director Chris McKay — has received a campaign that’s focused on the sci-fi action in hopes of getting people excited.
Dan, Muri, Charlie (Sam Richardson) and Dorian (Edwin Hodge) are locked and loaded on the first poster (by marketing agency MOCEAN), released at the end of May. In the background is a city skyline that’s crumbling from the destruction of battle while in the sky a big portal has opened up. All of that offers some context as to the story, but the generic positioning of the characters is a bit over the top.
A second poster, released in mid-June, offers the same conceit but zooms in on Dan and Muri.
The movie’s futuristic setting, alien enemies and overall tone were conveyed in a teaser released in late April.
About a month later the full trailer (8.1 million views on YouTube) was released. When a mysterious army appears from the future seeking help in fighting an alien invasion Dan is drafted/volunteers so his wife won’t have to go. He and the other recruits are fighting with the very existence of humanity at stake, leading to lots of dramatic posturing in addition to the usual running and fighting.
The final trailer (6.5 million views on YouTube) opens with Dan reaching out to his dad for help before setting up the premise and showing how Dan decides to leave his family to take part in the fight. From there it’s lots of shooting and running and talk about the fate of humanity and such.
Online and Social
No standalone website but in addition to the Amazon Video landing page there were social outposts like this Twitter profile.
Advertising, Publicity and Promotions
Due to the massive shuffling of release dates by Paramount in 2020 due to the Covid-19 outbreak, the movie’s release was moved back several months. Reports emerged in early 2021 that Skydance Media, which produced the film, was shopping it around to streaming distributors. Those reports came to fruition in early April, when Amazon acquired it and set an official release date.
A handful of first-look stills were released a few weeks later.
Pratt and screenwriter Zach Dean were interviewed together about the story, how it’s different from other alien invasion flicks, with the rest of the cast and crew also commenting on the production and other topics, including Simmons’ buff physique.
Short promos like this pulled out different aspects of the movie’s action and/or humor to present slightly different messages to the audience.
An interview with Pratt had him extolling Strahovski’s stuntwork and talking more about the production.
Amazon exercised its monopoly powers engaged in some cross-divisional promotion by putting promotions for the movie on shipping boxes used for retail delivery, the first time it’s used that medium to sell an Amazon Studios release.
More commercials emphasized how Dan’s decision to join the fight is rooted in his desire to protect his daughter.
Amazon scheduled a watch party on Twitch (which it owns) for this Friday. There was also one planned for Amazon Video itself.
A clip given to Fandango’s MovieClips shows the moment the time travelers arrive in the present looking for help in the war they’re fighting.
JoBlo then got an exclusive featurette with the cast and crew talking about the story and the production of the film.
It also setup “The Tomorrow War Experience” at various spots around Los Angeles where people could come find out more and see one of the alien enemies.
Be warned, Los Angeles. Our team will be transporting the enemy this weekend, July 2-4, through the locations threaded below. Be sure to post your sighting using #TheTomorrowWar. pic.twitter.com/X5Ttv4fvrl
It’s a fine campaign, but what seems to be missing is a clear definable brand for the movie. The visual identity of the film isn’t very strong or identifiable. Even Pratt’s presence for the most part is just kind of general and not centered around something specific. That could be part of what seems to be a general lack of buzz around the release.
What does seem to be clear is that Amazon’s acquisition of the movie is part of its broader strategy of focusing more on big, tentpole-type titles. Whether or not this particular tactic supports that strategy remains to be seen, but the campaign doesn’t make a very strong case for this being a contender for people’s time and attention.
Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse is a movie that was originally intended to come out about 25 years ago, shortly after the release of the book it’s based on. Like most of the first several books from the prolific Clancy, the story is rooted in the generational experiences of those who came of age in the 1960s, living through the Vietnam War, America’s Cold War with the Soviet Union and other conflicts both militaristic and political.
The original book, published in 1993, follows Navy Seal John Kelly through a series of personal vendettas in the U.S. and CIA assignments in Vietnam, ending with him assuming the moniker John Clark and becoming one of the CIA’s leading clandestine operators. It was the first time Clark had been moved into the spotlight after becoming a favorite supporting character in some of Clancy’s earlier books. Clark went on to be featured in Clancy’s Rainbow Six, which served as the foundation for the popular video game series.
On the big screen, Clark was previously played by Willem Dafoe in 1995’s Clear and Present Danger and previous attempts to adapt Without Remorse have had Keanu Reeves, Tom Hardy and others attached. But this week it’s Michael B. Jordan finally bringing the character to life once again in a modernization of the story that’s similar to what Paramount Pictures did in 2014 with Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, though this doesn’t seem to be connected to that Chris Pine-starring movie.
With a new, younger lead, the story has also been updated and largely changed. Clark here is already a CIA operative whose family is killed by Russian agents after he disrupts their mission in Syria. After recovering from his own wounds, Clark embarks on a vendetta against those who enabled the attackers with the help of his friend and colleague Lt. Commander Karen Greer (Jodie Turner-Smith).
Released in February, the first poster (by marketing agency Concept Arts) shows Clark armed and ready for anything while in the middle of a very dangerous situation based on the amount of bullet holes in the wall he’s hiding behind. There’s no copy about the story itself here but you can tell what kind of audience Amazon is going after by the inclusion of “From the author of Rainbow Six” toward the top.
That same appeal is made on the second poster, released earlier in April. This time it’s a close-up of a very sweaty Clark that forms the primary image, the background showing the smoke from an explosion on one side and the Kremlin on the other.
In November of 2019, when the movie was still on Paramount’s release schedule, Skydance released a brief teaser showing flashing video of trauma and violence projected on Clark’s face, showing the kind of past he’s dealing with and problems he has to overcome
The full trailer (7.2 million views on YouTube), teased ahead of time, finally came out in March of this year. It begins with Kelly recovering from injuries sustained when a group broke into his home and killed his family and almost him. After a few shots from his past military career as well as his happy home life we see the reign of terror he goes on to avenge his family and find out who’s responsible for his loss.
The final trailer (21.6 million views on YouTube), released in early April, offers the same basic pitch, but with the additional detail that someone on the inside is working against Clark and Greer, telling the bad guys exactly where the team will be and how to stop them.
Online and Social
No website, but Amazon did create stand-alone social media profiles for the movie and provide support on its own brand channels.
Advertising, Press and Publicity
Jordan was named CinemaCon’s “Male Star of the Year” in March of last year, when the movie was still slated for later in 2020. He was also named “Sexiest Man Alive” for 2020 by People back in November.
In April 2020, Paramount moved the movie’s release back by two weeks as it shuffled much of its schedule due to the Covid-19 outbreak. A bigger shift was announced in June, as the movie was pushed all the way to February of 2021.
A few months later in July reports emerged that Paramount was in final negotiations to sell the movie to Amazon Video, one of many titles the studio was taking off its books as the pandemic dragged on.
This one seemed different, though, because it showed a studio abandoning what was intended to be a potential franchise-starter. It was unclear if future films that may have been planned were included in the deal as well. Before that deal was finalized, Paramount took the movie off its release calendar with no context given for the change. Amazon finally acquired the title in January, adding it to its “Jack Ryan” series as another Tom Clancy property it managed.
Amazon’s Super Bowl commercial in February for Alexa didn’t explicitly sell the movie as well but, between the fact that Jordan stars as the personification of Alexa and that a bus with the film’s branding appears in the background of one scene, it certainly was meant to help.
What kind of workout the star engaged in to achieve his Navy SEAL physique was covered in this interview.
Shorter cutdowns of the trailer were used as TV spots and online promos, with these videos mostly focusing on the action and big emotions of the movie.
A featurette from early April has Jordan, Smith and others talking about updating the story from the original book, honoring the characters, the legacy of the popular video game series and more.
An interview with Solima had the director talking about bringing the story into the modern period and his overall approach to telling big action stories and more. Turner-Smith was interviewed about what drew her to the role, what it was like to film such action-heavy scenes and more.
IMDb shared a short exclusive featurette on filming some of the action sequences.
Additional interviews with Jordan included him talking about his acting process and how he felt about being a black man playing a character written as white and previously played by a white actor. There were also a coupleinterviews with Lauren London, who plays Clark’s ill-fated wife whose death kicks the story into gear.
Promotional partners for the movie included:
Omaha Steaks, which offered a custom surf-and-turf package that people were encouraged to order in time to enjoy while watching the movie.
511 Tactical, which ran a sweepstakes for a collection of its pseudo-military gear.
Initial reviews of the movie have not been great, calling it a grim and depressing throwback to Cold War military politics, but that doesn’t necessarily come through in the campaign. It’s certainly presented as a standard action flick, but that is elevated by Jordan’s charm, especially in the press and promotional component of the marketing.
While I’m a sucker for anything Clancy-related, that this movie seems completely disconnected from any of the other recent character reboots – including Amazon’s “Jack Ryan” series – is somewhat disappointing. And though the story seems to discard a lot of aspects of Clancy’s original book that are now likely seen as problematic (prostitutes and other women are killed with abandon), fridging Clark’s wife to spur him to action isn’t exactly an improvement.
Still, this campaign will likely appeal to die-hard action fans and get some moderate interest from players of the “Rainbow Six” video game series and Jordan’s fanbase.
How Amazon is selling a much-anticipated and long-gestating comedy sequel.
To say there’s a fair amount of pent-up demand for Coming 2 America, the sequel to the 1988 original, a bonafide comedy classic, would be a significant understatement. 30+ years later, Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall return as Akeem and his friend and confidant Semmi, respectively. Akeem, having raised a family over the years, has now ascended to the throne of Zamunda but learned from his dying father (James Earl Jones) that he has a son he never knew back in America. So he and Semmi make their way back to Queens to connect with Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler) and, of course, engage in other hijinks.
Craig Brewer takes over directorial duties from John Landis, and the movie also stars Leslie Jones, Tracy Morgan, Kiki Layne, Wesley Snipes and a host of others both new and returning. With a disappointing 52% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, Amazon Studios’ campaign has sought to sell it as both familiar and new.
The first teaser poster (by marketing agency BLT Communications) came out in mid-December, simply showing Akeem looking joyfully out the window of his royal limousine with a highway sign pointing to New York seen in the reflection of the window.
In early February the theatrical poster came out, evoking the design of the original but with a lot more characters spread around the layout. In fact it looks more like the poster for an MCU or other super hero movie than a mid-level comedy. Whatever the case, it works by presenting a big-name cast, all apparently having a great time.
A first batch of character posters focusing on Akeem, Semmi, Lisa and King Jaffe.
The first trailer (14.7m views on YouTube) came out in late December and immediately establishes where we’re at in terms of Akeem’s story. His dying father has informed him he has a son in America and so, despite Semmi’s reluctance, the two are once again headed back to Queens to find the now-adult boy. There are lots of new characters briefly introduced, but the centerpiece, of course, is the return of the barbershop crew as well as others played by Murphy and Hall in various amounts of makeup. It’s glorious.
The second trailer (20.6m views on YouTube), released in early February, goes a little deeper into the story but hits many of the same beats. We see a bit more of how General Izzi wants to take over Zamumda and some of the hijinks that happen once they get Akeem’s son back to the country. It’s the same basic message, just fleshed out a bit.
Online and Social
No stand-alone informational website I could find, but Amazon did create social profiles like this Twitter page for the movie to share promos and other updates.
Advertising and Publicity
The movie going into production was officially announced in early January, with Murphy returning and director Craig Brewer behind the camera, the latter of which got people’s attention in a big way. Casting news – including new and returning actors – were the focus for a while after that.
In October news came that wasn’t wholly surprising given the pandemic situation. Specifically, it was reported Paramount was finalizing a deal to sell the movie to Amazon since a theatrical release date was uncertain at best. That deal was officially sealed in November, with Amazon giving it a spring release date.
It was revealed just a couple weeks ago that Amazon planned to advertise the film during the upcoming Super Bowl. That spot is essentially a cut down version of the second trailer, pulling out some of the bigger jokes and plot points.
The soundtrack, with a new song from Bobby Sessions and Megan Thee Stallion, came out earlier this month.
Morgan, Jones and others from the cast showed up in a reworked version of the Soul Glo commercial from the original.
Amazon Studios scheduled a watch party, sponsored by Pepsi, for Friday 3/5 and encouraged the audience to get in on the action by dressing up and sharing their party lewks and plans online.
Crown Royal, which offered a new movie-branded package designed by costume designer Ruth E. Carter.
Media and Press
Murphy continued talking about the movie while promoting Dolemite Is My Name through the end of 2019. And Layne commentedbriefly on it while promoting The Old Guard in mid-2020. Similarly, Jones mentioned it during an interview about other projects in October.
A handful of stills were finally released in late December, just before the trailer came out.
An interview with Fowler was part of EW’s 2021 Movie Preview, with the actor talking about how excited he was to be part of the sequel.
Ruth E. Carter was interviewed about crafting the look of the characters at about the same time she became the first Black costume designer to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
How and why the two stars came back for a sequel, something they had previously pledged not to do, became a central focus when Hall appeared on “The Late Show,” Murphy appeared on “The Tonight Show” and both of them on “Kimmel.” Fowler also talked about the movie on “The Tonight Show”
Murphy and his daughter were interviewed about the legacy of the original film and what it was like to bring the sequel to completion all these years later.
I’ll be honest when I first heard the movie was happening i was all
But then as the trailer and other assets were released I started to be all
How Amazon Studios sold a fictional story involving some of the 20th century’s most important individuals.
The new movie One Night In Miami, the directorial debut for Regina King, is one of my favorite kinds of stories, the hypothetical confluence of several historical individuals. In this case the movie focuses on the fictional meeting of Muhammad Ali (Eli Goree), Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) at a Miami hotel room in early 1964. The four men, some with their wives, take the opportunity of their meeting to discuss their various roles in the civil rights movement as well as the rest of what’s happening in the early 60s.
With an all-star cast and a well-regarded actor making her first foray behind the camera, the movie has a lot going for it in this unusual awards season. As such, Amazon Studios has mounted a campaign pulling heavily from history, even if the events of the film itself are largely fictitious.
Released in mid-November, the first poster (by marketing agency The Refinery) presents a very simple message to the audience by showcasing the four leads, all standing in front of the Miami hotel where most of the action takes place. It’s a very good, simple poster that highlights the movie’s main selling point, which is the cast and the characters they play.
Character posters showcasing the four leads came out in early January.
The first trailer (9.7 million views on YouTube) came out in mid-November and opens by immediately establishing the premise, that the film follows what happens when four icons of the civil rights movement and the 20th century as a whole come together one night following a fight between Ali and Sonny Liston. There’s lots of scenes of the four of them engaged in deep discussions, thoughtful prayer, righteous outrage and more, basically presenting the film as a showcase for the performances from the four leads.
A second trailer (131k views on YouTube) came out earlier in January and takes a bit more in-depth approach, offering the same value proposition to the audience but showing more details about the conversations that happen between the four men and what sort of dynamic is in play. It also notably differs in that it uses Odom Jr. ‘s performance of a couple of Cooke’s songs as the background music instead of something more contemporary.
Online and Social
There were standalone social profiles for the film that ran through part of last year, but which were eventually shuttered in advance of the new year. Amazon Studios did support it substantially on its brand social accounts, though.
Advertising and Promotions
Amazon Studios acquired the film in July, 2020. Shortly thereafter it was announced in the lineup for the upcoming Toronto International Film Festival. Its debut was scheduled for the Venice Film Festival in mid-September. That screening generated such positive word of mouth it seemed to jump right into Oscar contention, specifically for King.
It was then announced as the closing night feature for the Hamptons Film Festival and added to October’s London Film Festival. In September it was announced it would close the Montclair Film Festival while news later added it to AFI Fest. Reichart and costume designer Francine Jamison-Tanchuk were awarded the Golden Key Award at the Key West Film Festival.
A clip released in September, about the same time as the festival screenings, shows many of the main characters coming together for a big night out.
Eventually a release plan was announced, with the plan being for the movie to open in limited theaters on Christmas Day before being available via Amazon Prime streaming three weeks later.
EW debuted footage of Odom Jr. performing Sam Cooke’s “Speak Now” and another clip shows the main characters heading out for the night as Malcolm X reflects on the danger he’s in from many hostile parties.
Online ads used the key art to link to Amazon Video’s play page for the movie. The studio also sponsored a playlist of R&B tunes on Spotify.
Media and Press
Some of the first publicity for the movie came in an extended profile of King where she talked about making her directorial debut and lots more. Later on she offered a first look at the film along with comments about her experience making it and more.
During the Venice festival King was interviewed about the relevancy of the story, dealing with such iconic historic figures and more. She also talked about how she sees the film’s fate greatly impacting what kind of opportunities black women are given as filmmakers in the future. In another interview she discussed how she and the cast kept going during the Covid-19 pandemic, driven largely by the desire to get this story out there immediately.
The topic of so many well known real life individuals came up in another interview with King, a later interview with Ben-Adir and another one with Odom Jr. and Hodge.
She joined many members of the cast for a conversation about the timeliness of the story and got a feature profile of her own later in the year.
Screenwriter Kemp Powers got a substantial profile that focused on his part in making this film as well as Soul, also coming out in the same time period. He talked more about adapting the play for the screen here and later received another feature profile about his career to date.
King also offered more thoughts on why she was a good fit for this project and once again about what it was like to direct for the first time.
An interview with Ben-Adir had him talking about the research he did to play Malcolm X and how King was instrumental to that process. He went even more in-depth on that process in another feature profile.
Of course King not only commented on this movie but also on the race-related happenings in the current world when she appeared on “Kimmel.” She also had to weigh in on criticisms of Ben-Adir, a British actor, playing a well-known American figure like X.
It’s quite a good campaign, one that’s rooted in the performances of Odom Jrl, Goree, Ben-Adir and Jim Brown. All four of them are the real selling point to the public here, with those who are a bit more in-the-weeds also getting plenty of reminders of King’s involvement. Also good to see is the attention given to Kemp, who is having a moment with a number of projects hitting right about now.
This is, I think, the perfect example of the kind of movie that benefits from a streaming debut in that the opportunity cost of trying it out is so much lower than it would be in theaters. And the campaign has made the point repeatedly, to great effect.
Picking Up the Spare
Amazon released a “Meet The Characters” featurette to inform the audience who it is they’re following in the story.
More interviews with King had her praising her production crew and speaking about the societal and political ramifications of her work on this film. There was also another profile of Hodge and an interview with Odom, who also appeared on “Kimmel.” King then appeared on “The Daily Show” and then on “PBS Newshour.”
Here’s how Jason Lynch opens his Adweek article on where CBS is in its attempts to sell commercial time during next year’s Super Bowl:
As the NFL regular season nears its halfway point, the clock is ticking for marketers to decide whether they want to be a part of Super Bowl LV, which is scheduled to air Feb. 7 on CBS.
The clock is indeed ticking. Surely some movie studios are considering whether or not to participate and air spots for their upcoming films during the broadcast. But with the Hollywood release calendar constantly in flux – including Disney’s recent removal of Free Guy and Death on the Nile from this December – and coronavirus cases hitting new highs every day, it’s nearly impossible to even guess what movies might make the cut. Heck, it’s even legitimate to ask if the game itself will happen as scheduled.
Of course that won’t stop me from engaging in a little largely unfounded speculation, broken down by studio below.
Disney et al
The King’s Man: This one has been moved around quite a bit by the studio so far, originally scheduled for November, 2019 but is now planned for February 15, 2021. If, at the end of January, that date is still locked then Disney may hope to get a bit of last-minute awareness and attention with a commercial during the game.
Raya and the Last Dragon: The game being a month out from Raya’s current release date means a spot would be hitting right as the marketing campaign was ramping up in earnest.
Black Widow: Of all of Disney’s releases in the first half of 2021 this one seems the most likely, assuming that the current 5/7/21 date holds. The game would provide a big platform for Marvel Studios to essentially relaunch the MCU, which has now been on hold since the middle of 2019.
Cruella: Disney has only stumbled once or twice with its live action remakes/adaptations in recent years, and it’s probably hoping the charm of Emma Stone in the title role makes this one a success. Those titles seem to appeal to all age groups and a Super Bowl spot would reach a broad range of demographics.
Tomb Raider 2: The first movie wasn’t a massive blockbuster, but Paramount is in desperate need of a franchise so it was good enough to warrant a sequel. Some of the first advertising for the original happened in the 2018 NFL playoffs, so the studio might hope to tap into the audience one more time.
A Quiet Place 2: Similarly, the 2018 Super Bowl was the launching pad for TV advertising for the original movie, spots that instantly generated massive amounts of buzz for what everyone agreed looked like an intriguing concept and story.
Tom and Jerry: Even if movie theaters are still closed, it’s at least a somewhat safe bet WB keeps this on its 3/5/21 date, meaning Super Bowl spots could run that promote a Scoob!-like PVOD release.
Godzilla vs King Kong: This movie has been sporadically promoted since it was announced in late 2015, with several delays happening even before the pandemic. Assuming it’s actually happening, a commercial here would come three months before release, which isn’t unheard of for bigger titles.
In The Heights: Advertising a musical in the highest profile sporting event of the year might seem odd, but WB might hope that audiences are as enamored by musicals – especially those with a connection with Lin-Manuel Miranda – to give it a shot.
Morbius: This is just a reminder that Morbius is a movie that’s actually happening, so unless Sony decides to dump it somewhere it will likely want to promote it.
No Time To Die: This is the rare instance where the constant pushing of release dates may actually be advantageous, providing an opportunity to put commercials for it in front of a sizable audience.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife: As above, moving this to June means Sony could give this release a big platform. Such a platform might help it reach an audience that needs to be convinced to come back to the Ghostbusters franchise after the disappointing results of 2016’s Paul Feig-directed installment.
F9: If the movie is still coming out in June, it will get a Super Bowl spot. End of story. It’s not even a question.
Without Remorse: The streaming companies have for years been talking about how they want and need an blockbuster action franchise of their own but so far that’s eluded them. After grabbing this from Paramount, Amazon could want to make a huge deal about a high-profile release with a big-name star debuting on Prime Video with a commercial during the game.
Still…That’s a Lot of Money
CBS is charging $5.5 million for a 30-second spot, according to Lynch. While the studios might not have to pay that full amount, advertising during the Super Bowl would still be a big and expensive bet to make.
To make that bet worth it, the theatrical picture would have to not only be more secure it would almost have to be a mortal lock. And considering they would be making that bet at least a month or so out from release it becomes even more uncertain. Even if a vaccine is available by February, its distribution won’t be anywhere near universal, meaning there could still be closures and other restrictions in place.
A more complete picture of what studios are placing that bet and what movies they’re choosing to advertise will hopefully be more clear in the coming months.
In the first few weeks of Hollywood’s grand experiment of circumstance, where studios take movies previously bound for theaters and release them on other platforms, there was the realization that the reporting of box-office results was going to be put on pause. Studios have, for many and various reasons, never really shared VOD numbers. And the streaming services have similarly never been forthright and transparent with their viewership information.
Because releasing that data had never been a regular feature prior to the pandemic, it wasn’t surprising it wasn’t shared in the initial months. But now it’s been several months, long enough for things to have shifted from “highly unusual” to “still not ideal but hardly the exception to the rule” and those results are still not consistently forthcoming.
Which is not to say that some numbers haven’t trickled out here and there.
As reported by Pamela McClintock at The Hollywood Reporter, Universal made a big deal of reporting numbers from its initial experiment with releasing Trolls World Tour via PVOD. Recently Netflix released another of its occasional snapshots of what’s become popular there, including recent features like Enola Holmes, Project Power and more. But because those numbers aren’t subject to any sort of third-party verification and can’t be compared to anything else, it’s nearly impossible to determine what exactly they mean.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume that the viewership data from Netflix – and Amazon Studios, which recently claimed massive numbers for Borat Subsequent Moviefilm – are the rough equivalent of those that would come from Comscore and other sources for theatrical box office results. The question then becomes this:
If the movies are so popular, why is something like The Old Guard such a small part of the cultural conversation?
After all, if tens of millions of people have actually watched Enola Holmes, then where are the tens of thousands of GIFs being shared on Twitter? Where are the bushel loads of think-pieces? Where, in short, is the buzz that should accompany a success of that magnitude?
The answer, it seems, is in how drastically the marketing for these movies differs from those that traditionally would receive theatrical release.
First let’s look at some numbers.
According to Netflix’s statement, Enola Holmes was watched by 76 million households in its first four weeks. While we don’t know exactly what “watched” means (it could mean 10 minutes, it could mean 90 seconds, it could be the whole film), we can view it in the context of Pew’s research stating the average U.S. household consists of 2.58 people.
From there let’s be conservative and say half of those 76 million households watched the entire movie. That’s 38 million households.
Now, in order to try to create an equivalency between that and the kind of reporting we would get from a theatrical release, we take that 38 million and multiply it by 2.58 to get a little over 98 million. That 98 million, then, is the approximate number of movie tickets that would have to have been sold for the movie to perform that well if it were released in theaters.
To put that in context, Avengers: Endgame sold 94.2 million tickets in 2019, making it the highest grossing film of that year. Enola Holmes, then, would have outperformed every other movie of last year, including Frozen II, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and others.
A very different marketing pitch
Some have dismissed Netflix’s numbers – and with good reason because of the lack of transparency – because of just that kind of apples-to-apples comparison, as well as because there aren’t the same tectonic cultural shifts that accompany those major theatrical releases.
Allowances have to be made, though, for the substantial differences in how these movies are consumed. That list includes:
The ease of streaming something versus actually going to a theater
The lack of incremental cost for streaming each title
The lack of additional cost for each individual watching the movie
Here’s where we get into the differences in the marketing campaigns for a major theatrical release like Avengers: Endgame compared to a major Netflix release like Project Power.
Marvel Studios had to convince you that one weekend – opening weekend – was the optimal time to see the movie, lest you miss out on a major cultural moment and have the experience ruined by loose-lipped strangers online or in person. To do that it sold the film as the biggest of events, one that had to be experienced in theaters, with lots of movie stars and familiar characters. It had to be worth $10-20 per person, not including concessions, dinner, gas and time spent traveling to and from the theater.
Netflix, in contrast, just had to convince you the movie looked interesting enough to turn on when you were able. It didn’t even have to be in one sitting, and you didn’t even have to be solely paying attention to it. You just had to be sufficiently motivated by the trailer or any of the number of in-app promos it placed for the film.
That’s a much lower hurdle to clear, one that makes me inclined to more or less believe the viewing numbers it releases, especially after doing the math outlined above.
While I’ve never been a huge fan of box-office horse races (like anything else, numbers can be made to mean whatever you want them to), it would be great if Netflix, Amazon, Disney+ and other streamers started putting out verified, legitimate numbers. Likewise, studios could benefit from providing 1-to-1 reporting on VOD. But it seems like we’re going in the other direction, with studios becoming less transparent in their results, not more.
In the meantime, we would all do well to keep what numbers are available in the context of the platforms they come from and adjust accordingly.
How Amazon Studios has sold a wholly unexpected October Surprise.
It’s been 14 years since Sacha Baron Cohen brought the character of Borat to the big screen, taking the Kazakh journalist on a road trip across the United States to “investigate” what ordinary Americans were really like.
This week Amazon Studios releases Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, an appropriately awkwardly titled sequel that had long been rumored but only became reality a few short weeks ago. Once more the movie finds Borat (Cohen) – this time with daughter Tutar (Maria Bakalova) in tow – on a journey across America to conduct incredibly inappropriate interviews with the everyday folks, and a few well known individuals, to learn what makes them tick. This time the movie seems to have a more overt political agenda, specifically to shine a spotlight on the kind of people who wear MAGA hats and unquestioningly adore certain Dear Leaders.
The movie arrives, of course, as the U.S. presidential election cycle nears a none-too-soon merciful end. And, as we’ll see, the marketing has benefited from some last minute intersections with that cycle.
Borat stands on October’s one and only poster (by marketing agency Concept Arts) in an outfit similar to the…revealing…swimsuit he made famous in the first movie. This time, though, that outfit is a surgical mask, the kind people have been encouraged to wear for the last several months to stop the spread of Covid-19. “Wear mask. Save live.” is the message of the poster, one brought to use by the faux Kazakhstan equivalent of the U.S.’s CDC. It’s kind of brilliant.
A teaser (610,000 views on YouTube) released just after the news of the movie’s existence was confirmed announced the impending release of the first trailer, which happened the next day.
That trailer (7.6 million views on YouTube) shows the same sort of insanity from the original will be in this second installment as well. Borat once again is traveling to America to find out about our exotic lifestyles and this time has brought his daughter along for the antics. There’s lots of Borat goading various folks into ridiculous situations and activities, filming their reactions to his actions that are sometimes bewildered and sometimes bewildering.
Online and Social
Some of the first marketing activity took place on Twitter through a fake account purported to belong to the Republic of Kazakhstan, Borat’s home country. That account was active throughout the first presidential debate, praising Trump – including a “congratulations” message posted before the debate ended – and taking shots at Biden.
Borat himself joined Twitter shortly thereafter. Both accounts continued posting regularly over subsequent weeks, either straightforwardly promoting the film or offering Borat’s unique take on American politics and how the campaign was going.
Advertising and Promotions
Amazon made the surprise announcement in late September that the movie was coming out soon, potentially before the November 2nd presidential election. It also confirmed that the film had been filmed over the course of the last few months, including during the pandemic, largely in secret.
The same key art seen on the poster, along with short video clips, were used for different styles of online ads, all leading to Amazon’s page for the movie.
Cohen appeared in character in a Twitch livestream with a popular broadcaster. And Amazon sailed a massive inflatable Borat on a barge down the Thames in London.
A couple clips have been released showing off a small bit of what audiences can expect from this new installment. None, though, generated as much coverage and awareness of one purporting to show Rudy Giuliani – former mayor of NYC, European dictator lobbyist and current personal attorney to President Donald Trump – entering a hotel room by himself with Borat’s (fictional) 15 year old daughter. Giuliani then proceeds to stretch out on the bed and appears to put his hand down his pants before Borat comes in and stops what’s happening.
Media and Press
Cohen wrote an op-ed about the fight to save democracy and talked about aspects of filming this movie as part of that.
A substantial profile of Cohen had him talking about reviving the character of Borat specifically to draw attention to the dangers of fascism and dictatorship, both of which he felt were creeping into the U.S. over the last few years. He also shared some of the lengths he went to in order to covertly film key sequences.
The Giuliani incident, of course, dominated several news cycles and generated massive press coverage, including Giuliani’s press tour of denying doing anything wrong and labeling it as a hit job resulting from his efforts to baselessly smear the son of former Vice President Joe Biden. Of course those denials were met with responses and statements of support from Borat.
A handful of profiles of Bakalova have appeared recently, especially since her role in the film has played such an integral part of the Giuliani “incident.” She also appeared with Cohen, both of them in character, on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”
Amazon surprised everyone by dropping the film a day early, making it available just as the final presidential debate between Trump and Biden was beginning, making the timeliness of the story even more apparent.
The Borat Subsequent Moviefilm campaign dropping into the last month’s worth of news cycles is all like this.
Picking Up The Spare
Amazon released a Q&A with Cohen. He also continued talking about the scene with Giuliani that has gotten so much coverage.
There was a lot of coverage of reactions from the ordinary people who became “victims” or Borat’s antics in the film.
Super interesting that Kazakhstan is simultaneously decrying Borat as bad for tourism and using “Very nice” as its new tourism slogan to capitalize on the movie’s buzz.
There was another profile of Bakalova, cementing her status as someone worth watching in the future. And another after that.
How Amazon Studios is selling a YA movie about letting your guard down.
It’s hard to tell the story of a romance where one – or both – characters face some life-threatening disease or other impediment without becoming either offensive or treacly. Some succeed in walking that line more than others, with this week’s new release Chemical Hearts making its own attempt.
Lili Reinhart stars as Grace and Austin Abrams as Henry, two high school students who, as they’re about to start their senior year, are chosen to co-edit the school newspaper. The two take to it with differing amounts of enthusiasm, but a connection forms between the romantic Henry and the closed-off Grace, one that he interprets differently than she does. That leads to tension between the two friends as they have to grapple with how they feel, what they really know about the other person and how reality and perception aren’t always the same thing.
The movie has an underwhelming 58 percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on the mixed reviews received to date. Amazon’s campaign for the film seeks to make a similar approach to how Netflix has sold some of its recent romcoms, but with a bit darker take on familiar material.
It’s not clear what aspect of the story the copy on the first and only poster (by marketing agency BOND) is referring to. “Fall in love. Fall apart.” could be about the coming together and then breaking up of Grace and Henry, seen here passionately kissing in much the way real high school students don’t. Or it could be about how in order to truly fall in love with someone you have to let yourself fall apart internally. It could be both, of course, but the lack of additional details as well as a more informative image leaves the true meaning vague and undefined.
Henry is lamenting his unremarkable life as the first trailer (8.4 million views on YouTube), released in early August, opens. That changes for him when he meets Grace, the two of them assigned to their school’s newspaper. Grace refuses to write anything because of a previous bad experience. She has a lot of trauma that keeps her from getting close to Henry despite his best, if awkward, efforts. Those efforts also help him grow into who he feels he’s becoming, making this a good coming of age story about two outcasts who find each other at a particular moment.
In May Amazon Studios announced the movie would premiere on Prime Video in August.
A brief clip was released in mid-July to get the conversation started. Another came out just last week showing Henry and his friends navigating the high school social scene. A third had Henry leading an editorial meeting, one that Grace is reluctant to participate in.
It’s usually the kind of thing that comes out after the movie has been released, but Amazon has already put out a video featuring the “Best Of” Reinhart’s performance in the film.
Online ads like the one below were displayed to drive traffic to Amazon’s site where people can play the movie or add it to their watchlist.
Media and Press
Reinhart expressed her desire for the movie to break her out of the box that is her “Riverdale” character and more, though appearances like this on “The Tonight Show” would include as much conversation about that show as this movie.
How this movie differed from the stereotypical YA flick was covered by director Richard Tanne, who also talked about why he wanted to get involved in this project and more. In a separate interview he tried to differentiate this from other romance films.
Another interview with Reinhart had her talking about her career as a whole and, again, how she wanted to use this movie to expand her image a bit.
One’s interest in the movie being sold here is likely dependent on one’s tolerance for watching a couple 20-something actors play high schoolers who are dealing with issues in the way teenagers absolutely don’t. That’s not a problem unique to this film, but one that plagues movies like it and TV shows that run along similar lines.
That being said, Reinhart in particular stands out here, so it’s an odd choice for her not to be more central to the campaign. Instead it’s Abrams’ Henry that’s shown here to be the audience’s main point of connection with the story, his perspective that we view the other characters and events through. That perspective isn’t as effective for a number of reasons, ranging from how he seems relatively forgettable and uninteresting to how it means the character who’s differently abled isn’t given the agency to tell their own story but instead must be filtered through the lens of someone else.
It’s a decision that means the campaign isn’t quite as effective as it otherwise could be.