How 20th Century Studios is selling a star-studded period piece
Writer/director David O. Russell is back with Amsterdam, out this week in theaters. The movie revolves around actual events from 1933 where a group of businessmen and other powerful individuals sought to overthrow the U.S. government and install a fascist regime.
Christian Bale, Margot Robbie and John David Washington star as Burt Berendsen, Valerie Voze and Harold Woodsman, respectively, a trio that uncovers the plot and seeks to disrupt it but who become the prime suspects in that scheme and have to prove their innocence.
The movie also stars a diverse cast including Chris Rock, Ed Begley Jr., Mike Meyers, Zoe Saldaña, Robert De Niro, Timothy Olyphant, Taylor Swift and others as the people the main characters interact with over the course of the story.
Let’s dive in and see how 20th Century Studios has sold such a unique film to audiences.
announcements and casting
The project was announced in early 2020 as Russell’s next project, though the name of the movie remained unknown at that time. Robbie was the first to join a month or so later along with Michael B. Jordan, who soon dropped out. Bale, Washington and others signed on toward the end of that year.
A title was finally announced in late April of 2022 as part of 20th Century Studios’ presentation at CinemaCon. A first look still of Swift and Bale came out at that time as well.
the marketing campaign
Things started off in June with the release of the first trailer (6.8m YouTube views). After first seeing there’s been a murder we flashback to how Burt, Valerie and Harold first met and became inseparable friends during and after World War I. That friendship is tested as they have to find out who actually killed a U.S. senator, a goal that involves making lots of deals, needing to trust each other like they never have before and plenty of running away from the cops.
The poster that came out at the same time doesn’t offer much of anything in the way of story hints or anything else, just the names of the impressive cast Russell assembled.
“Let the love, murder and conspiracy begin” we’re told on the next poster released at the end of August. This one still has everyone’s name at the top but also features the core trio arranged in the middle around the sunburst symbol we’ve already seen with the New York City skyline at the bottom of the image.
An interview with costar Alessandro Nivola had him talking about Russell’s unique filming style, reuniting with Bale and other aspects of making the movie.
An extended TV spot came out in early September that offers a better look at the coup conspiracy the main characters find themselves in the middle of. Because of that it works a little better than the earlier trailer while still showing off both the dramatic and more humorous elements of the story.
Russell and Bale took part in a Q&A following a very private screening in Los Angeles that was just for select friends and others.
The dynamics of the trio’s friendship are on display in the first TV spot that was also used as an online pre-roll and promo.
A series of character posters pulls out many of the biggest names from the cast and puts them against the same sunburst design background we’ve previously seen. Another one-sheet with just the main cast came out a little bit after that.
Those were followed in mid-September by more TV spots, these featuring a better look at Taylor Swift in the film in an attempt to get her fanbase activated.
A green-carpet premiere was held in New York City at that point with a screening followed by a cast and crew Q&A moderated by Ben Stiller and introduced by Drake, who’s a producer on the film. While there everyone praised Russell and shared how they bonded on set and developed their chemistry. Robbie also appeared on “The Tonight Show” while she was in New York.
Everyone is rearranged slightly within the same general motif on the IMAX-exclusive poster. An IMAX Live Experience featuring the cast and a screening of the movie was scheduled for later in September, about a week out from wide release.
Burt is looking for his eye in a clip given exclusively to Fandango while everyone is trying to figure out what’s going on.
Another premiere event was held, this time in London, with the cast and crew once again coming out to get fans excited.
The new song “Time” by Giveon was featured in another TV commercial at the same time the full song was released digitally and elsewhere.
Along those lines, an interview with Bale had him sharing how hard it was to work with Rock because Rock was so funny during all their scenes. In another interview Bale talked about his first foray into producing and the opportunity to sing with Swift.
A short featurette was released that had the cast and Russell talking about the story and characters along with how much fun they all had on set. Another featurette focused on the production design, costumes and other trades behind making the movie.
Reviews haven’t been especially positive so far and tracking estimates a relatively paltry $10-12 million opening weekend.
But the marketing campaign here conveys a solid sense of fun about the story, one that’s helped by the actors involved constantly talking about the great experiences they had during filming. It looks like an old-fashioned caper movie involving mistaken identities, corrupt politicians and other tropes that on paper add up to a good time with a movie, especially with a cast as charismatic as this one.
It also looks like one released as counter-programming to some of the movies coming out on streaming services recently as well as an offering to anyone who’s not excited for whatever the next super hero or wizards movie might be. In fact it may be aimed directly at those who aren’t invested in a high-profile cable series about dragons etc.