the french dispatch – marketing recap

How Searchlight Pictures has sold a symmetrical literary movie from a symmetrical literary filmmaker.

The French Dispatch poster

There’s been a startling – and disappointing – lack of hot takes about how The French Dispatch is opening the same weekend as Dune means a showdown between two filmmakers who, unlike many assigned that title by studio marketing departments, can truly be called visionary. Dune’s Denis Villeneuve creates stark, massively scaled backdrops for the characters to perform within, while Wes Anderson is known for creating detailed, symmetrical dollhouse rooms that are just as quirky and slightly dingy as the characters inhabiting them.

(Both of those movies also star Timothée Chalamet, which in and of itself is…wow…)

Anderson’s films have always carried highly literary themes. Playwrights abound in his films and characters are always journaling, sending cables or handwritten letters or writing books about their experiences. Now he brings those themes to the fore with what’s been described by him and others as “a love letter” to journalists and magazine writers.

At the center of the story is The French Dispatch, a magazine modeled after The New Yorker. Edited by Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray), the periodical has a number of writers, illustrators, photographers and writers, each of whom are followed in their own sub-stories. Playing those contributors are Anderson regulars like Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Angelica Huston, Edward Norton and others, with Elisabeth Moss, Léa Seydoux, Timothée Chalamet and others joining in the highly-stylized hijinks as well.

announcements and casting

Initial news about the movie came in mid-2018, with initial reports saying Anderson was developing a musical comedy set in France. The casting of Tilda Swinton and Mathieu Amalric was announced at that time with most of the rest of the principle cast joining in the last months of 2018.

Plot details were revealed in September 2019 at the same time Fox Searchlight announced it had acquired the film. A few months later in January 2020 a release date in July of that year was announced.

the first try at marketing

In February 2020 the first set of exclusive photos debuted in, of all places, The New Yorker.

The poster released at that time is so on-brand for an Anderson film it hurts a little. Illustrated by Spanish artist Javi Aznarez (whose work is seen in the movie as well), it displays the offices of the titular magazine as quirky drawings, the faux French city it’s based in seen in the background. Each of the top-billed cast is shown and named here.

The first trailer (5.5m YouTube views) came out at that time as well. It starts by introducing us to Arthur Howitzer Jr. and his publication, The French Dispatch, intended to share stories of interest about politics, culture and more. After briefly meeting some of the people who work at the Dispatch the trailer shifts to showing us the three stories being covered by the magazine and which the movie will follow. What’s shown is an assortment of dry wit, colorful quirkiness and odd characterizations that are part and parcel in Anderson’s work and therefore immediately attractive to anyone who’s a fan of the filmmaker’s.

While reports abounded that the movie would premiere at the 2020 Cannes Film Festival that wound up not happening because the festival itself didn’t happen save for a scaled-back virtual event.

Cinematographer Robert Yeoman was interviewed about the books and movies Anderson put together as a reference library for the cast and crew to use.

There was a feature profile of Chalamet in October 2020 that covered the actor’s role in this film as well as his rise to stardom over the last few years, including comments from Anderson.

At this point Disney/Searchlight pulled the movie from its release schedule for the time being while the pandemic continued to cause uncertainty and delays across the board.

a second attempt at marketing

Things picked back up in May of this year when a new release date was announced along with the news it had been selected to screen at both the Cannes Film Festival and New York Film Festival

Details on the film’s soundtracks, always a highlight of Anderson’s work, were released in early June.

During the Cannes press cycle, which included the cast arriving to the screening in a party bus, Wilson was interviewed about his decades-long collaboration with Anderson and how original he feels this latest movie is. That cycle also produced a much-circulated meme using a photo of Anderson and the three primary leads.

A clip was released at the same time showing Zeffirelli soliciting feedback on his manifesto.

Costar Henry Winkler, a newcomer to the Anderson troupe, spoke about the movie on “Late Night” in July.

In early August Searchlight revealed fans could sign up to receive an actual issue of the titular newsletter, with a video promoting the newsletter released showing the cast flipping through it and reacting to its contents.

August also brought a new poster, this one showing the massive cast assembled via obviously cut-out photos pasted together into a collage.

A number of short videos came out around that time that each focused on stories for the paper being filed by the various reporters and writers. There were videos from Sazerac, Berensen, Krementz and Wright.

Anderson begins a featurette by explaining just exactly what the movie is and what format it takes. Murray, Wilson and others from the cast also appear to introduce their characters and offer insights into what those characters add to the story.

The producers and production designers were profiled here about how they went about creating that signature Anderson look of symmetry and scale.

A set of character posters all featured those characters standing or sitting in a pose that hints at who they are and what they do, with the design background helping to communicate their actual background.

An Anderson-directed video for “Aline” came out toward the end of September to keep things going and hint at what the rest of the soundtrack would sound like.

New York’s MoMA held a screening of all 10 of Anderson’s films, including this one, over 10 consecutive nights at the beginning of October.

How the set designers, costumers and others created the world of the movie was covered in this profile of the technical aspects of production.

Murray and others appeared at the BFI London Film Fest screening of the movie earlier this month. The same kind of pop-up cafe experience was also staged in London around this time. The film also screened at the Chicago International Film Festival.

A featurette that focused on the eclectic and impressive cast was released last week. Another had that cast talking about bonding on set and how Anderson creates a family-like atmosphere during filming.

TV spots like this finally started running just days before the film’s release, selling little about the story but instead communicating both the cast and the very Anderson-like tone and look.

Also in New York City, Searchlight launched another pop-up cafe experience where visitors could come by and immerse themselves in a small bit of the film’s world.

overall

If a Wes Anderson movie campaign communicates that it’s for a Wes Anderson movie and contains all the necessary elements – dry line delivery, balanced imagery, clever illustrations, unique use of aspect ratios etc – then it can objectively be considered successful. After all, this is not going to bring in many converts. Instead it’s meant to speak primarily to Anderson die-hards who are already on board with the director’s style.

Wes Anderson Applause GIF by Searchlight Pictures - Find & Share on GIPHY

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.”

We Need To Talk About That Jeep/Groundhog Day Commercial

There are so many problems here it’s hard to keep count.

Groundhog Day, most people would acknowledge, is a classic comedy of the late 20th century. Directed and cowritten, along with Danny Rubin, by Harold Ramis, Bill Murray stars as a misanthropic, egotistical weatherman laid low by having to spend anywhere from decades to centuries reliving February 2nd in Punxsutawney, PA, where he’s been sent to cover the famous groundhog’s prognostications.

As is commonly known, the filming of the movie caused a rift between Ramis and Murray that lasted until just before Ramis passed away in 2014. The two reportedly clashed during production as they had different visions of how the story should play out, with Murray exhibiting difficult behavior while shooting and refusing to speak with Ramis directly on many occasions.

Thus ended one of the more fruitful and groundbreaking professional relationships in comedy for the 20 years prior. The two worked together in various capacities since they met while both at National Lampoon Radio Hour, going on to make several movies together, including many that are landmarks of the genre.

As much as Murray’s performance, Ramis’ direction and script are the elements that have made Groundhog Day so beloved. The two creators are equally regarded when it comes to the movie.

Murray hasn’t commented on the fractured friendship with his collaborator of two decades in the years since Ramis passed. So it was a little odd when the actor reprised his role of Phil Conners in a Super Bowl commercial for Jeep.

The story of how Olivier Francois, chief marketing officer at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, conceived of the spot and navigated Murray’s famously difficult method of getting in contact is interesting, including how they secured signoff from Sony Pictures, is interesting enough. But notably missing is any mention of working with anyone associated with Ramis.

Given Ramis’ role as cocreator of the characters and story, it would seem to be only polite, even if it might not be completely necessary from a legal point of view, to have gotten the blessing of Ramis’ widow or children. Fiat Chrysler Automotive could have presumably done so relatively easily.

More problematic for me, though, is that there was no statement from Murray that he had done so. Given the place the movie holds in the history of their relationship, taking the step six years after Ramis passed away to revisit a movie he was instrumental in crafting seems like it should have been a moment to continue mending fences. Addressing the issue would have been a good move simply from a reputational point of view if nothing else.

To be fair, there may have been private communications that haven’t been discussed. But the lack of statement by Murray or anyone on his behalf is disconcerting and only makes the actor seem like he continues to hold a grudge, as if he wants to continue writing Ramis out of the narrative of the movie and its history.

It’s interesting that Murray chose this project as his first television commercial. And he certainly looks like he’s having fun in the spot, which nicely nods to the original in various ways. I just wish there were a little more self-awareness of the history it’s drawing upon as well as a bit more humility about the talent involved in crafting that history.

The Dead Don’t Die – Marketing Recap

dead dont die poster 10Zombie movies aren’t exactly uncommon in theaters. This week’s The Dead Don’t Die offers something new though as it comes from writer/director Jim Jarmusch, a filmmaker more well known for his thoughtful and occasionally quirky low-key character dramas. Add on to that a cast that includes Bill Murray, Chloë Sevigny, Adam Driver, Selena Gomez, Tom Waits and others and you have something that’s intriguing at the very least.

Murray, Sevigny and Driver play sheriff department officers in a small town that finds itself at the center of the zombie apocalypse as the dead start breaking free from their graves. Wholly untrained for this sort of thing but still responsible for the citizens in town, the officers set out to do what they can to keep the undead at bay while keeping those still alive safe.

The Posters

dead dont die posterThe first poster from early April proclaims the movie sports “The greatest zombie cast ever assembled,” the king of hyperbole that’s reminiscent of the old days of B-movie horror flicks designed to be seen in between make out sessions during a summer matinee. A single undead hand rises from the grave while the names of that impressive cast are featured on either side of the arm extending toward the night sky’s full moon.

A series of character posters came out a bit later, with each one bringing the character in question to the foreground while a zombie lurks behind them, the actor’s name highlighted in the cast list still running along both sides of the design.

 

 

The photos of Murray, Driver and Sevigny as well as costar Tilda Swinton from those posters was combined into a single image on the theatrical one-sheet, which maintains the branding and tagline seen previously.

The Trailers

The first trailer, released in early April, presents an offbeat and ridiculous zombie story. When a small town is hit by a wave of the undead it perplexes local law enforcement and just can’t be believed by anyone but eventually some of the rules are figured out and people start to take action. Overall, though, it’s a dry zombie comedy featuring great actors from a director you wouldn’t associate with such a story, which is most of the appeal here.

A restricted trailer came out a month later that had the police discussing the rules and laws of killing zombies as well as making seemingly arbitrary decisions about which residents are and aren’t informed about the dangers facing the town.

Online and Social

Focus Features’ official website opens with the second trailer. A synopsis of the story can be found once the front page loads and more photos, bios of the actors and other information is available by scrolling down the page and clicking on some of the pictures found there.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A promoted Tweet featuring the first trailer helped generate awareness and hopefully interest.

In mid-May the first TV spot was released, covering the rules for killing zombies while showing how the small town has become infested with the undead, much to the dismay of local law enforcement.

Media and Publicity

In early April it was announced the movie was selected as the opening night feature at this year’s Cannes International Film Festival. Its U.S. premiere, though, was scheduled for the New Orleans Film Festival. It also later screened at Beyond Fest, with Sevigny appearing for a Q&A with attendees.

The first clip, debuted by People, came out in mid-May showing innocent travelers asking about local hotels in exactly the way characters in horror movies usually do. A second from moviefone featured the three police officers in the town being honest about how maybe it’s not going to be OK.

While at Cannes, the cast talked about what kinds of things scare them, including Jarmusch revealing what real world topics he was dealing with using the zombie metaphor. Swinton was also interviewed about her character and working with the rest of the cast, as was Sevigney.

A feature profile of Jarmusch focused on how he got this eclectic cast – which includes some previous collaborators – together for a very unconventional project. He also talked about his love of zombie movies in another interview.

Gomez was interviewed by Jimmy Fallon about working with the other actors and what kind of shenanigans Murray played at Cannes.

Overall

While the early reviews from Cannes and elsewhere haven’t been universally positive – often because they view the film from the perspective of Jarmusch’s previous films instead of on its own merits – the zombie genre is certainly one that needs a fresh perspective. It’s one that’s morphed over the years from an allegory for assimilation and numbness to one that seems rooted in survivalist fantasies involving fear of outsiders replacing “regular” people.

The campaign doesn’t make it clear what exactly zombies are being used as a metaphor for in this movie, but that’s because it’s too busy poking fun at the genre’s conventions. The focus is on how a bunch of well-meaning but clueless law enforcement professionals are reacting – or under-reacting, as it were – to what’s unfolding around them, which is at least an original take.

Picking Up the Spare

MovieClips got an exclusive clip that featured an extended look at one of the most popular lines from the trailer. 

There’s a video for Sturgill Simpson’s title tune from the movie. Sevigny participated in a game of “This/That” for Focus.