finch – marketing recap

How Apple has sold a drama of cataclysm and friendship.

Finch poster

It’s easy to draw comparisons between Cast Away and Finch, the latter debuting on Apple TV+ this week, which is why so many people have done just that. After all, both movies star Tom Hanks and have him acting opposite a non-human object in a largely solo performance.

This time it’s not an uninhabited island he’s seeking to escape but the desolated Midwest. Hanks plays Finch, an inventor who has survived the devastation caused by a massive solar flare that destroyed crops and killed nearly everyone on Earth. Along with his dog Seamus he tries to stay alive while building a robot companion (Caleb Landry Jones in a motion capture performance) he names Jeff. With a dangerous storm approaching where he lives, Finch decides the time is right, with Jeff’s help, to make a treacherous journey to where he hopes he’ll find safety and maybe other survivors.

announcement and casting

News of the movie, then called BIOS, first came in late 2017. Both Hanks and Sapochnik were already attached at that time and the project was reported to be the subject of a decent bidding war between various studios. Amblin Entertainment acquired it shortly after that and set distribution through Universal Pictures.

Jones was cast in early 2019 to provide the motion capture performance for Jeff, with others added later in the year.

With production completed in 2019, Universal originally set a release date in October 2020. In response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting theater closures and other delays various further release dates in 2021 came and went.

Finally news came in January of this year that Universal had sold the movie to Apple TV+, which gave it a new title and, in August, a new (and ultimately final) release date.

the marketing campaign

The first trailer (4.8m YouTube views) came out in September, effectively kicking ffo the actual marketing push. As it starts Finch is explaining how a sudden powerful solar flare destroyed crops and killed much of the population. He survived in part because he found a canine companion he took in. Now he’s working on a robot to help the two of them escape their shelter and find somewhere safer to live but time is running out and other threats are waiting for them on the road.

A poster showing Finch, Jeff and Seamus (the dog) looking out over the apocalyptic wasteland that surrounds and awaits them. It’s not a marvel of design by any stretch but effectively that Hanks is in a movie with a dog and a robot and that’s really the core message anyway.

Sapochnik was interviewed in October about working with Hanks, pandemic-related production shutdowns, the shift from Universal to Apple and more.

A “First Look” came out at the end of October that features Hanks explaining the movie’s story, setting and characters as well as the drama and relationships between the characters.

Hanks then appeared on “Kimmel” to talk about the movie and more, including the recent passing of friend and frequent collaborator Peter Scolari. He made a number of other media rounds as well.

A premiere event was held in Los Angeles with Hanks, Jones and others in attendance.

The first (and only) clip was released via PlayStation.

overall

With a 70% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes it’s not doing too badly in the reviews department, with many critics specifically noting they were surprised at how heartwarming and emotional the movie was.

In part that’s because the campaign hasn’t done a great job of communicating that emotional element. A lot of time is spent on the technical aspects of Finch making Jeff and planning their escape ahead of the encroaching storm but even though Hanks can be seen emoting throughout the trailer it’s not clear what those emotions are based on or what they mean.

Still, it’s Tom Hanks, and that’s never really a bad thing.

Cherry – Marketing Recap

How Apple is selling a story of trauma, addiction and how they intersect.

No matter what else you might say about Joe and Anthony Russo, they certainly seem to inspire loyalty among the actors the directing brothers work with. Nearly every post-Avengers project they’ve been involved with has included at least one of the actors from the MCU, and this week’s Cherry is no exception.

Based on the novel by Nico Walker, Tom Holland stars in the film as the title character, a young man who’s a romantic at heart in the early 2000s. He meets and immediately falls in love with Emily (Ciara Bravo), but when complications in the romance emerge he enlists in the military and is shipped to Afghanistan. When Cherry returns, the relationship with Emily restarts, but his trauma from his time overseas leads them both into dangerous drug addiction, which is financed by Cherry beginning to rob banks both for the money and the rush.

Early reviews were largely positive, praising Holland’s mature and charismatic performance, but the movie sports a less enthusiastic 43% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. The movie received a limited theatrical release a few weeks ago but hits Apple TV+ this Friday.

The Posters

In December a teaser poster showing Cherry staring straight ahead at the camera, his haircut and look conveying a sense of someone who’s seen some stuff and has little left to lose was released. That poster was notably misprinted online when it debuted on Variety, with the title messed up to the extent lots of people had a laugh at its expense. It was republished quickly.

A short while later a series of posters that retained the dark red background but this time showed each character in profile with a noun that describes them came out.

The theatrical poster from January has the same aesthetic but while Cherry is the only one really seen, arms presumably belonging to Emily are shown reaching from off-camera to hold his face in her hands.

The Trailers

Cherry is robbing a bank as the first trailer (4m views on YouTube(, released in mid-January, starts. Via voiceover he’s wondering what the point of life is before we flashback to his earlier life, including meeting Emily and then, much to her dismay, joining the Army. When he returns he’s suffering from PTSD Emily can’t help with, so he turns to robbing banks to try and silence the voices in his head or at least do something that feels like anything. It’s a powerful trailer, made more so by the glimpses we get of Cherry narrating his actions and life to the camera.

Online and Social

Nothing special on the web page for the movie from Apple TV+, which didn’t set up individual social pages but did support the film on its brand profiles.

Advertising and Publicity

The Russos brought the still-in-production movie to Cannes 2019, hoping to lure buyers with the promise of the project’s potential. They discussed it further, including that Holland was starring in the film, during their panel at San Diego Comic-Con in July of that year.

With Covid-19 shutting down most all theaters for an indeterminate period of time in early 2020, the Russos admitted they weren’t sure what the distribution future for the film was going to be. That changed in September when Apple acquired the movie following a brief period of speculation Netflix might pick it up.

In early January the Russos offered the first real look at the movie via a clip showing Cherry enlisting in the military.

A featurette came out at the beginning of March that had Holland and Bravo talking about the story and their characters.

Shorter promos like this were shared online and may have been used as ads or commercials.

Media and Press

An interview with the Russos offered more details about the story and more as well as showing off some of the first official stills from the film. Another later interview with the brothers had them talking about Holland’s performance, the origins of the story and more.

Shortly before the movie came out there was a feature profile of not only Joe and Anthony Russo but also their sister Angela, who wrote the film.

An interview with Holland had the actor talking about taking on such a risky – both emotionally and physically – role. He later appeared on “The Tonight Show” to talk about the film.

There were additional interviews with the Russos about the personal nature of the story and how the production of the film was such a family endeavor. They also talked about what sort of generational elements inspired the story.

Henry Jackman was interviewed about creating the film’s score. The movie’s cinematographer talked about how the story is divided into a handful of distinct chapters.

An appearance by Holland on “The Tonight Show,” as many of his interviews did, talked briefly about this movie but also went heavily into talking about Spider-Man.

Overall

Having seen the movie (thanks to a Hollywood Reporter-hosted virtual screening) I can safely report the campaign as outlined above matches the finished product pretty well. There are a few story elements, especially the extent and cause of Cherry and Emily’s descent into addiction that aren’t fully communicated here, but the marketing’s focus on Holland’s performance is justified.

Having said that, it’s Bravo’s performance that really centers the story and shines through. So much of that performance involves her speaking directly to the camera, a surrogate for Holland’s Cherry, and her calm but emotional demeanor comes through strongly. It’s a shame she wasn’t more fully involved in the publicity and press components of the marketing.

On the Rocks – Marketing Recap

How A24 and Apple TV+ have sold a comedic drama about coming to terms with yourself.

Written and directed by Sofia Coppola, On The Rocks received a limited theatrical release earlier this month and this week comes to Apple TV+.. The movie stars Rashida Jones as Laura, a woman who has begun to question her relationship with her husband Dean (Marlon Wayons), feeling oddly detached from him and beginning to worry he’s having an affair. While Dean is out of town, Laura takes the opportunity to reconnect with her playboy father Felix (Bill Murray) in the hopes that getting to know him a bit better will offer insights into her own issues.

Between Coppola and the cast, the film is one of the first high profile releases from the partnership between A24 and Apple TV+. With that pedigree, it’s been sold as a breezy character piece filled with plenty of walking and talking through the streets and restaurants of New York City. Reviews to date have been largely positive, earning it an 87% “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Posters

The primary selling point – the pairing of Jones and Murray in a Sofia Coppola joint – is communicated loud and clear on the one poster, released in late August. The two actors are shown in the booth of a nice restaurant. There’s not a whole lot of visual style to the design since it’s just a photo, nor is there a lot of extra information added, so the studio really is counting on the popularity of those two stars to get people’s attention.

The Trailers

It’s clear, from August’s first trailer (1 million views on YouTube), that Felix and Laura have a complicated father/daughter relationship, but that they’re trying to make it work. That’s made slightly more difficult by the fact that her husband is engaging in the same kind of sketchy behavior Felix did when Laura was younger and which led in part to the estrangement. Still, Felix is protective of her and the pair embark on an adventure to not only find out what’s happening but also reconnect with each other.

Online and Social

You’ll only find the very basic information and marketing material on the film’s website.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

News that A24 had partnered with Apple for the production of original films came out in late 2018, but the specifics weren’t revealed until the middle of January, when it was announced the film would reteam the Lost in Translation duo of Sofia Coppola and Bill Murray.

Conversations about the movie potentially debuting at the Venice Film Festival did not prove successful, despite the festival’s desire to serve as the film’s coming out venue. It was, though, included in the New York Film Festival, where it was scheduled to make its premiere.

Heard in the trailer is “Identical,” a new song from Phoenix that the band released a video for at about the same time the trailer came out.

MovieClips received an exclusive clip in late September showing Felix being kind of a bad influence on his granddaughters.

Online ads like the one here were run in the week leading up to release, with both the theatrical and Apple TV+ dates noted there.

On The Rocks online ad

Media and Publicity

Coppola revealed some story and character points in an interview earlier this year. She and Jones were interviewed together about bringing elements of their own lives and more to the story and production as a whole.

Murray talked about the movie a bit but was generally his random self in an appearance on “Kimmel,” with Wayans showing up as well on the same episode. A few days later it was Jones’ turn.

The music of the movie was covered in an interview with Phoenix lead singer Thomas Mars, who talked not only about the band’s contribution to the soundtrack but also his role as music supervisor for the film in general.

Additional interviews with Murray had him talking about how his working relationship with Coppola has grown over the years since Lost In Translation. Meanwhile, Coppola also talked about what events and ideas inspired her to tell this story at this point in her career.

Overall

The bet that’s been placed throughout the marketing campaign – that Murray and Jones are likeable enough to be enticing to the audience in and of themselves – is not a bad one to make. That’s made even more sure when you add in Coppola, especially given her previous collaboration with Murray.

While there’s a lot of good material in the campaign, the entirety of the comes off as somewhat lacking. There just isn’t a lot here, and most of it dates back to August or so. Aside from the online ads that have run, there hasn’t been much new put out to the public since then, which means it may have fallen off the radar of a lot of folks. If there had been a few new clips, spots or other assets released in the immediate lead up to release it may have done a bit better in breaking through the clutter of [waves in the general direction of everything].

Picking Up The Spare

Additional stories about the movie focused on how the crew made Murray feel welcome on set and how Jones feels this project fits in with her career overall

Jones was interviewed on “The Daily Show.” 

A new behind-the-scenes featurette came out a few weeks after the movie was released. 

Phoenix singer Thomas Mars talks more here about how he selected the music for the movie. 

Jones shared a story about the antics she and Murray got into while filming when she appeared on “The Tonight Show.”

Greyhound – Marketing Recap

How Apple is selling the latest WWII film starring Tom Hanks

As is the case with many recent films, we should have marked the theatrical release of Greyhound a while ago. As it stands, though, the movie is coming to VOD this week via Apple TV+.

Based on “The Good Shepherd” by C S Forester, Tom Hanks stars as Captain Krause, a relatively inexperienced naval commander who is assigned to an Allied convoy crossing the Atlantic in the early days of World War II. Krause, still unsure in his post, faces a number of challenges, from the elements to the crew to the phalanx of Nazi submarines that stalk the convoy. Determined to keep his crew alive, Krause has to dig deep to balance all the problems in need of solving.

The campaign – first from Sony and then Apple – focuses on Hanks and his role as Krause, a no-nonsense commander in a no-nonsense situation. Reviews have been somewhat mixed so far, with the movie scoring 76 percent “Fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes at the moment.

The Posters

In March the first poster (by marketing agency Works Adv) came out, showing Krause looking to the side with a colorful sunset – as well as a billowing American flag – behind him. Flying through the sky are warplanes to help establish the military setting. Copy at the top reads “The only thing more dangerous than the front lines was getting there,” hinting at how it’s a story of troop transportation logistics we’re in for.

That same text, and the same photo of Krause, is used on the second poster (by marketing agency Art Machine), also from March. But this time the conflict of the story is made a bit more explicit with the inclusion of images from a naval battle between submarines and destroyers. This fixes a key shortcoming of the first poster.

The same design was used on a new poster from June that ditches the copy but adds the Apple TV+ logo to signal the platform the movie will wind up being available on.

The Trailers

Krause is commanding a ship across the dangerous waters of the North Atlantic in 1942 as the trailer (12.5 million views on YouTube), released in March, opens. As part of a convoy of Allied ships, that means dodging U-boats and coming to the rescue of other ships. This is his first trip, but the choices he makes keep him and his crew alive from one moment to the next, even as others in the flotilla aren’t as lucky. It’s a tense story of survival being sold here, all told in colors that are just as saturated as the emotions are heightened.

Online and Social

Apple didn’t manage any sort of website for the movie, just a product page that has some rudimentary information and plenty of information on how to try the streaming service. It looks like a Twitter account was setup, but likely just to post the trailer so it could be used as an ad on that network.

Advertising and Promotions

Almost as soon as the marketing campaign kicked off in March the studio announced the release date was being pushed back by a month, but the reasons for doing so were unclear. In May news broke that Sony had offloaded the movie to Apple TV+ with no theatrical release potential in sight because of the Covid-19 situation. Finally in mid-June an early-July Apple TV+ debut date was announced.

At the same time, ads on YouTube and elsewhere promoted its upcoming Apple TV+ availability, using elements of the key art along with the trailer.

Apple released a featurette just a few days ago that had Hanks and others talking about the film’s story, the history behind it and more.

Media and Press

An interview with director Aaron Schneider allowed him to talk about how he approached making the film, especially working with Hanks, who also wrote the screenplay.

Overall

It’s strange to see the release imminent and for there to have been so little press involvement from Hanks, who was reportedly extremely disappointed when the film shifted from theatrical to VOD release. He’s usually been the biggest resource his film’s campaigns can rely on, and while he’s been out talking about Covid-19 testing and mask wearing, he doesn’t seem to have talked much about this film.

Despite that, this is a decent campaign for what looks like a Very Serious Movie. But it remains puzzling why it was ever slated for a summer release when it seems more like an October or November title with its subject matter, tone and visual style. I’m not sure who the summer audience for this would have been, especially if things had gone as planned and Tenet had been sucking up all the Serious Summer Movie air from the room.

Also missing is any mention of the source book or context for the period that would help audiences get their heads around it. So while it’s good, there’s definite areas where it falls short in capturing people’s attention.

Picking Up The Spare

Hanks and Schneider were interviewed here about their goal of authenticity in how the characters and situations were depicted on screen. Similar ground was also covered in an interview with costume designer Julie Weiss. 

Another featurette with Hanks and others offered additional looks at the filming of the movie. Similar ground was covered when Hanks stopped by “The Late Show.”

There was a bit of coverage as awards season started on the behind-the-scenes details of making the film. 

Apple Wants Indie Films Because Of Course

Apple’s Eddie Cue has made Apple TV’s content strategy at least a little more clear: The company will focus on producing fewer shows of higher quality, hoping that beats others who have taken a “more is more” approach. This comes just a little while after a similar statement was made about the company’s feature film ambitions, which include making a half-dozen or so films a year that are positioned as award nominees.

It also comes at about the same time Netflix is reportedly scaling back some of its ambitions, tightening the purse strings a bit, with some recent movies – Triple Frontier was apparently called out – not proving to be successful for the streaming company.

That Apple wants to focus on smaller, prestige movies that will bring with it accolades makes sense given it’s where just about where all of these streaming services start.

Think about Netflix’s first few releases: Beasts of No Nation, Talullah and others all play like the kinds of movies Fox Searchlight or Paramount Vantage would have put out back in the day. So too Amazon Studios, which kicked off with Chi-Raq, The Neon Demon and more.

They start there for a number of reasons:

  1. It’s cheap: Unlike movies like Bright and others, these smaller movies are usually inexpensive. The same goes for the kind of broad comedies Netflix has been making with Adam Sandler and the end-of-the-world sci-fi stories.
  2. It’s notable: These movies generate headlines and gain attention for the same reasons their they do when they’re released in theaters, because they involve talented actors participating in interesting stories.
  3. It’s long-term: As we’ve seen time and again, independent, character-driven movies rely much more word of mouth than massive blockbusters. Set It Up, Velvet Buzzsaw and others all generated a ton of conversations following release. That likely lead additional subscribers to watch them and even sign up for that specific purpose. So they have a long shelf life, much longer than a big, stupid action film like Bright probably had.

Contrast that with what Disney is doing with their nascent streaming service, which is go all-in on big titles with massive name recognition. That’s because they can and don’t have the same risks others do with the properties it manages.

If Apple follows the same path carved out by Netflix and Amazon Studios, it will eventually start to weave in more “blockbusters” over time, probably after the third or fourth New York Times article about how the movies it’s producing are too niche to really catch on with the mainstream. It will start to experiment with bigger budgets and higher concepts and, much like those other companies have, eventually find that smaller works better because the economics are more manageable. Not everything needs to bring in 100,000 subscribers, you just need five or six titles that bring in 25,000 subscribers each and keep the budgets reasonable.