no sudden move – marketing recap

How Warner Bros. is selling the latest heist film from one of Hollywood’s most acclaimed directors.

Of the high profile directors working today perhaps none has embraced streaming quite like Steven Soderbergh. After putting out two movies for Netflix in 2019, this week brings his second straight film for HBO Max.

No Sudden Move focuses on a group of small-time criminals in 1955 who are hired by a mysterious party to steal corporate documents. They recruit a reluctant insider to actually nab the goods, with some of the crooks sent to his home to keep his family in check. But when the job goes sideways they set out to find out who it was that hired them and why.

The movie stars Don Cheadle, Kieran Culkin, Benicio del Toro and others as the criminals, David Harbour as the executive marked to actually steal the documents, Amy Seimetz as his wife Mary and Jon Hamm as the Detroit city detective assigned to investigate the crime. With a solid 87% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, the movie’s campaign has been heavy on the kind of stylized filmmaking that Soderbergh is known for.

The Posters

“Trust is a setup” we’re told on the one poster (by marketing agency The Refinery). Shown are Goynes and Russo, two of the criminals at the center of the plot played by Cheadle and del Toro. The rest of the notable cast is named at the top of the one-sheet, but the overall design is very simple and moody, setting a dark and shadowy tone for the movie more than anything else.

The Trailers

A brief teaser in late May preceded the first trailer’s release, which didn’t happen until early June.

That trailer (238,000 views on YouTube) is all about selling an attitude and a vibe. It conveys the story of how the criminals are A) convincing a mid-level auto executive to steal company secrets while B) the gang watches over the exec’s family to make sure they don’t do anything stupid and he knows what the consequences for not cooperating are. As usual, everything turns pear-shaped in a flurry of irrational behavior, divided loyalties, law enforcement investigation and other factors, but what’s clear is that this is another stylized Soderbergh production that looks fantastic.

Online and Social

The signed-out landing page for the movie on HBO Max’s site has some very basic information, including a collection of cast headshots, a small gallery of stills and the trailer.

Advertising, Press and Publicity

Casting news dominated much of the press for a while. In late September production, previously delayed because of the pandemic, resumed at the same time the movie was renamed from its original “Kill Switch” to the current title.

HBO Max and Warner Bros. confirmed in May that the movie’s world premiere would happen at the 2021 Tribeca Festival. At that premiere the cast was interviewed about the movie itself as well as the uncertain nature of the production.

Harbour promoted the film when he appeared on “Late Night” in June.

A profile of Seimetz focused on how she has bounced between acting and writing/directing her own material over her career, including how she steals the show in this film.

While it’s not actually press for the film, Alissa Wilkinson at Vox explores some of the very real social issues, including housing discrimination, highway construction and more, that inform the movie’s setting, action and characters.

Online ads like the one below were used to drive traffic to the HBO Max landing page for the film.

Warner Bros. partnered with Shinola Detroit on a sweepstakes awarding the winner a trip to Detroit’s Shinola Hotel. The company also created a movie-inspired line of handbags, watches and other apparel.

An interview with screenwriter Ed Solomon emphasized how he and Soderbergh sought to construct a story the audience would have to follow closely if they wanted to get the full experience of the payoff.

Short spots like this were used on social media (and likely elsewhere), presenting a cutdown version of the trailer that continues selling the movie as a high-drama heist story with a great cast.

HBO Max released a featurette with the cast talking about the complex nature of that story and the unique filmmaking aesthetic of Soderbergh.

Overall

What I said above really encapsulates the campaign from Warner Bros./HBO Max: Everything about the campaign is focused on presenting it as a dramatic, tense heist film with a great cast portraying characters who are always just one move away from turning on their compatriots.

Adding to that is the brand Soderbergh has for himself as a director who dabbles in seemingly every possible sub-genre and style. If you told me tomorrow he was directing a remake of The Music Man it wouldn’t surprise me at all. The point being that his involvement in and of itself is a big draw for the movie, which is why his name is so prominent throughout the campaign.

Pet Sematary – Marketing Recap

pet semetary poster 3If this seems like the 38th feature adaptation of a Stephen King story in the last five years, you’re probably not alone. The campaigns for some have put the author more in the spotlight than others, with this week’s Pet Semetary falling in the “more” category.

The movie, the second adaptation of King’s book of the same name. This time around Jason Clarke and Amy Seimetz play Louis and Rachel, a married couple that relocates their family to rural Maine. Not long after the move their daughter Ellie (Jeté Laurence) is killed in an accident. Having learned from their neighbor Jud (John Lithgow) of a mysterious graveyard in the woods that can bring the dead back to life – something they’ve already seen when their dead cat returns to the house after being buried there – Louis puts Ellie there. When she returns, though, the family finds something isn’t right and Louis may have unlocked something truly terrible.

The Posters

A lone figure walks toward the camera across a field of scattered bones and refuse on the first teaser poster, with large copy intoning “Sometimes dead is better,” which is ominous to say the least. It’s a good, monochromatic way to start off this aspect of the campaign, followed shortly by another teaser that shows a broken wooden cross with “Pet Semetary” scrawled on it.

The theatrical poster, released in February, offers a more complete look at the cast and story. A wider assortment of the characters are placed around the design, with a bedraggled looking cat looming over everyone in the background and kids wearing creepy animal face masks toward the bottom.

Regal Cinemas offered exclusive key art when users of their mobile app used that app to scan a poster in theaters. The Dolby-specific poster put the whole scene in red, with the recently-returned cat looming over everything. Human characters aren’t prominent here as it’s more about setting a spooky tone.

The Trailers

“Sometimes dead is better” the audience is told at the outset of the first trailer, which starts as the family is relocating to a new home right along the edge of the woods. They soon learn those woods have a spooky history among the locals, who tell them “the ground is bad.” It’s not long before we see lots of people crawling away from threats, going kind of crazy and more as we continue to hear about the strange nature of whatever power lurks out in the trees.

The second full trailer starts out all nice and innocent, but quickly gets to the scares as we hear about something unnatural being out there in the woods where people have been burying their pets for generations. When Louis’ daughter is killed he sees a chance to bring her back over Jud’s objections, a decision that brings back more than anyone bargained for.

Warner Bros. released a “fan reaction” video in late February showing YouTubers being shocked by what they see in that second trailer.

The final trailer, released just a week or so before the movie hit theaters, focuses on the price Jud pays to bring his daughter back to the living and just what lead him to make that choice.

Online and Social

The official website is less than exciting, just offering the ability to buy tickets alongside the trailer, synopsis and links to social profiles.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A short promo titled “Dead is Better” offered a brief explanation of the premise while showing lots of creepy shots of creatures and people returned from the grave. A first TV spot was released around the time of SXSW showing all the creepy stuff that’s about to happen.

Online ads placed on IMDb.com used a link to the site’s “Scary Good” list of horror and thriller movies, with the promotion being “Brought to you by Pet Sematary.”

I haven’t been able to find details on it and it wasn’t promoted almost at all, but WB had a green screen photo booth at C2E2 a couple weeks ago that inserted people into the teaser poster above the “Sometimes dead is better” copy.

Media and Publicity

Entertainment Weekly offered the first look at the movie in advance of the trailer’s debut. Later on the movie’s directors explained some of the changes they had made when adapting King’s story.

In early February the movie was announced as the closing night feature of this year’s SXSW Film Festival, during which an exclusive clip was released to Twitter Movies. A short featurette had the directors and actors talking about how to get to the heart of what’s scary, you have to start with King and his stories. Paramount later published a video showing fans reacting to that SXSW screening along with the other promotional activities that were taking place in Austin.

A clip released about the time of SXSW showed the family’s daughter returning to them unexpectedly.

EW published a feature package on the film that, among other things, included King commenting on the changes that had occured from the pages of his book to this new film adaptation.

The directors of the new movie along with others from the crew and members of the cast appeared in a short promotional video for a high-quality home video release of the original film. The story of making that first movie was also covered in a couple interviews with its directory, Mary Lambert.

A Fandango-exclusive featurette focused on the supernatural burial ground that is central to the story.

Lithgow talked about the movie when he showed up on “The Late Show.”

Overall

It’s a fine campaign, but what’s missing here is any sense of what makes the movie essential or important for the audience. Being a remake of an adaptation you’d expect to find something here that spoke to something vital for people to latch on to, something that made the relatively well-known story relevant for this moment. Some of the interviews speak to that a bit, but never really digs into the “why,” just covering the “what” about this version that’s new or different from what’s come before.

That being said, the campaign is less than exciting on other fronts. The posters are all very spooky in their monochromatic nature and the trailers certainly provide a few jump scares. But it also seems completely disposable and forgettable, with nothing unique jumping out and making an impression.

Picking Up the Spare

Another interview with the directors about how they went about adapting the movie for a new audience.

Clarke appeared on “The Tonight Show” to promote the movie and tell funny stories.

Great profile here of Amy Seimetz and the unconventional choices she’s making in her career.  

Another interview with the co-directors about updating a classic on two fronts.