The Hunt – Marketing Recap

How Universal is selling a movie with a metric ton of societal baggage attached.

the hunt poster 2There is a lot to say about The Hunt, and a lot that has already been said, including by me. The situation is this:

When a pair of mass shooting incidents happened in less than 24 hours in early August, ESPN pulled ads for the movie from its network citing fears they would be seen as insensitive. That was followed shortly by Universal pausing the entire ad campaign it had begun executing in support of the movie. Just a couple days later the studio took the movie off its release schedule entirely, something the producer and director had some thoughts on, basically that they hope the film would come out at some point, that the story was intended as satire and so on.

So what’s the movie actually about? Betty Gilpin plays Crystal, a woman who, along with several others, wakes up somewhere she doesn’t recognize among people she doesn’t know. What seems disturbing takes a turn for the terrifying when it turns out they are being hunted by other people, elites who kidnap individuals at society’s edges for just this purpose. They try to not only survive but fight back and exact some justice on those who are using them as playthings.

It seems like a decent premise for a societal satire with horror elements, but as the above shows it quickly became seen as an attack on MAGA-types. Hence the drummed-up controversy.

Now that it’s about to hit theaters, tracking estimates a $10 million opening weekend, which isn’t bad given the genre it exists in, even if it shows all that additional earned media and other conversation didn’t translate into increased interest. Still, early reviews have been mostly positive, especially for Gilpin’s performance.

The Posters

Last July brought the release of the first poster (by marketing agency LA), which is designed like a warning sign that’s been posted at the edge of a property. It tells any visitors that hunting season is now open, but that only designated people may be hunted. That’s a twist on the usual message that hunters are the ones requiring licensing or designation.

After the pause in the marketing was lifted, a new poster tells audiences “The most talked about movie of the year is one that no one’s actually seen.” That’s a nice nod to how the controversy around it was sparked by a thin slice of the marketing and an even thinner slice of the actual film. Also nodding in that direction is that the original release date is crossed out and a new one added. Some of the more vitriolic responses to that controversy are plastered around the edge of the poster, a pig at the bottom for…reasons.

The Trailers

The first teaser trailer (since taken down) is actually presented like a commercial for The Manor, where the story and action take place. We hear pleasant narration about how The Manor offers a unique hunting experience, only to see at the very end that experience entails hunting human beings.

Late July brought the first real trailer. It opens as Crystal walks into a general store to ask for help but winds up shooting the proprietors, who were about to kill her. Turns out everything here is a lie, that she and a group of others are being hunted by members of the 1% who pay for the privilege. Crystal keeps surviving even as others are picked off, with the trailer ending on a confrontation between her and Athena, the woman who dreamed up this idea as a way to exert the dominance of the wealthy.

Both of those trailers were taken down from studio channels in August, when the movie was pulled from Universal’s schedule.

The movie is billed as “the most talked about movie of the year” in the trailer (14.8 million views on YouTube) that came out in February, when a new release date was announced. That spot opens with Crystal and the others joining together and arming up to defend themselves against the “liberal elites” that are hunting them for sport. It becomes more apparent as the trailer goes on, though, that the situation may not be what everyone assumes, with Athena saying “It wasn’t real!” and “We were joking” at various times. What is clear is that the story is a satire of social identity, one that likely has a twist not conveyed here.

Online and Social

For a movie this outlandish it’s surprising more isn’t done on the official website. There isn’t even any additional recognition of or attempts to have fun with the delays and other topics, which is a shame.

Advertising and Promotions

In mid-February Universal announced the movie was back on and revealed a release date along with new marketing materials. In that announcement, Lindelof rightly points out that massive assumptions were being made about the movie based on less than five minutes of footage and a vague story description.

Some online advertising has been done, and spots like this have been used as pre-roll and social media ads as well as TV commercials, boiling the story down to its basic elements.

Media and Publicity

The press portion of the campaign never had a chance to get started in 2019 before things went off the rails and the movie was pulled from Universal’s schedule. As the new release date was being announced it started up (in part because of the small window before release). Interviews with Blum and Lindelof had them venting their frustration over the movie being judged without being seen and how they didn’t feel there was much that was controversial about the story.

Another interview with Blum allowed him to share his belief this could be just as big a cultural impact as Get Out was a couple years ago. Zobel shared his relief that the movie was finally coming out in a profile that recapped the developments over the last several months and vented his frustrations at all the twists and turns that have occurred.

Overall

Much like the recent Sonic marketing, you can’t judge the campaign along traditional standards given not only how Universal stopped things entirely for several months but that the controversy around the movie has shaded the lens it’s viewed through.

In that way those, like Trump, who vented about a movie they hadn’t seen and had little information on achieved a level of success. They made it impossible to discuss the film or its marketing without acknowledging on some level their arguments and therefore lending them an air of legitimacy.

While Phase 1 of the campaign was interesting – selling the movie well as a class-based comedic satire – Phase 2 was more about playing along with the joke and acknowledging the reality of the situation. That works just as much as it doesn’t, sometimes coming off as too clever by half.

A case could be made that the revived campaign would have been a bit stronger if it had simply ignored the trolls and made its case, continuing the path started in the first wave of marketing. As it is it’s fine and still sells an intriguing film, but one that shows a bit of rust around the edges.

Picking Up The Spare

Additional interviews after the movie hit theaters including Gilpin on finally being given an action role, Zobel on the unintended parallels between the story and its temporary cancelation and Lindelof on how certain individuals drastically misinterpreted the themes of the movie.

There were even more profiles of Gilpin that called out her performance in the movie and her new action-oriented identity.

Another interview with Zobel allows him to explain more clearly how not actively engaging with trolls was a deliberate choice to not enflame the situation unnecessarily.

The Invisible Man – Marketing Recap

You can read my full recap of the marketing campaign for The Invisible Man at The Hollywood Reporter.

Online and Social

You see the same “He’s standing right behind you” vanishing artwork used in motion form on the movie’s official website. That’s the most interesting thing about the site, though, as it only has minimal content and no other features to speak of.

Media and Press

Comments about the story from Whannell accompanied a first look photo that came out in early November just before the release of the first trailer.

Things went largely quiet until just before release. As that approached there were interviews about how how director Leigh Whannell and Moss worked to update the story to make it relevant to modern times and how the production and costume teams made the most of the limited budget to increase the tension. Those topics were covered again at the movie’s premiere while Jason Blum made the overt connection to the empowerment of the #MeToo movement.

Whannel was very much the focus of a good amount of the press, commenting on how he stopped Universal from spoiling any more of the story in its marketing and how modernizing the story meant making the monsters less mythical and more realistic.

In an Esquire interview, Moss revealed Whannel actively sought her input on the script to make sure the female perspective on what happened in the story was accurate and didn’t overlook anything. Moss later appeared on “The Tonight Show” to talk about the film and lots more.

Universal released a fun “prank” video featuring Moss and Jackson-Cohen a few days ago.

Overall

Much different vibe than what’s on display here.

James Whale GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Picking Up The Spare

Moss admitted on late night that she may have overdone it when she offered to do her own stunts in the movie.

How the production achieved a slick look on a limited budget as well as how he ignored test screening feedback was covered in this interview with Whannel. Also on the production front, the creation of the invisibility suit was the subject of this interview with designer Alex Holmes.

Jackson-Cohen talked about his character and how he got involved with the project here.

Interesting theory from producer Jason Blum that competition from streaming is what causes traditional studios to spoil so much of their movies in the marketing.

Another profile of Moss had her talking about the early on-demand release and more.

Fantasy Island – Marketing Recap

How Columbia Pictures and Blumhouse are selling a dark take on a television classic.

fantasy island poster 2Blumhouse has made a name for itself over the last few years as the go-to production house for thrilling low-budget horror that offers something fresh for audiences. That reputation has been diminished somewhat as Jordan Peele has created something new and socially relevant to the genre.

The producer’s latest release is this week’s Fantasy Island, an update of the classic TV series fo the same name. That series focused on a magical island where guests arrived to live out their fantasies, which often provided some kind of insight into their true personalities, sometimes uncomfortably so.

While the new movie retains the same essential premise, it takes it into a much darker direction. Michael Peña plays Mr. Roarke, the island’s host. The guests that arrive include Elena (Maggie Q) and Melanie (Lucy Hale) among others, all of whom think they’ve come for a bit of a romp. It turns out the fantasies they’re offered are not only dark but potentially dangerous to everyone. It’s up to them, then, to navigate the island and save themselves.

The $12-17 million opening weekend estimated by early tracking would appear to be a disappointing number, even measured by Blumhouse’s niche standards. While Columbia’s marketing has tried to leverage the movie’s brand appeal, that hasn’t turned into meaningful interest.

The Posters

fantasy island posterIn early November the first poster (by marketing agency Cold Open) came out offering an ariel look at the island, the shoreline of which upon further inspection forms the shape of a face screaming. The dread is further conveyed by the inclusion of “#NeverComingHome.”

Lurking danger is also the key message on the next poster (by marketing agency BOND), released later in the month. This time that’s conveyed by showing the relatively benign top of the island above the waterline while the bottom completes the form of a screaming skull. “Anything you desire. Everything you fear.”

The Trailers

At first everything seems idyllic and wonderful in the first trailer (8.2 million views on YouTube), released in November. We see Melanie and a group of others arrive on a paradise island, where Mr. Roarke welcomes them and tells them their every desire will come true during their stay. As those fantasies begin to come true, she and the others are surprised at how visceral they are. When things become even more dark they come to the realization there are more sinister motives at play on the island and they may be in danger.

The second trailer (326,000 views on YouTube) from late January opens with Melanie recording a video after having arrived on Fantasy Island. After the same basic setup that the characters have been assembled to live out their fantasies, but it seems there are powers that have twisted those fantasies into something much darker that may be a threat to all those on the island.

Online and Social

For such a potentially rich environment like a creepy, mystery-filled island, the movie’s official website uses none of that in its design or navigation. The standard content is there, but nothing else. It doesn’t even have a good interactive image or anything.

Advertising and Promotions

Videos like this cut down the trailer to its basic elements to introduce the concept along with some of the characters and establish, or try to, a sense of mystery and dread as a way to create intrigue in the audience. Those videos were used on TV as well as social media, on video sites as pre-roll ads and elsewhere.

Online ads – and presumably outdoor billboards – used the key art of the screaming island to build brand recognition.

Media and Press

The stars – particularly Pena, Hale and Maggie Q – made the talk show rounds, but that appears to be about it in terms of press activity.

Overall

It feels like there should be a lot more here. For a movie with presumably significant brand recognition – it’s likely a big reason why it was greenlit and moved into production – there’s not much being done to take advantage of that.

While the trailers and posters work well in showing the audience what to expect, including that this isn’t the kind of Fantasy Island their parents watched in reruns, the campaign also doesn’t play with the material at hand at all, which is disappointing. There’s a lot of potential here to deepen audience engagement with the brand through “What’s Your Fantasy” quizzes and interactive features, navigation of the different parts of the island and more.

Picking Up The Spare

Hale appeared on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” to hype the film even as it was getting very negative reviews.

An interview with Pena had him talking about filming and what it was like to take on such a well known role. More of the filmmakers involved talked here about turning the TV drama into a horror story.

Bear McCreary’s score for the movie got the spotlight in a featurette from Sony following release.

Halloween – Marketing Recap

One of the more interesting campaigns of the year has to be Halloween, which manages to be sold in a way that evokes the franchise’s long history while also selling something new. My full recap is up at The Hollywood Reporter.

Online and Social

The movie’s official website has a lot of standard content, including “Videos,” a “Story” synopsis, “Gallery” and a few prompts to buy tickets. Oddly, there are no links to the Twitter, Facebook or Instagram profiles established as social outposts. There’s a button in the upper left that says “Explore sightings” but instead of leading to any sort of interactive or other feature it’s just a a link to find screenings near you and buy tickets.

Media and Publicity

McBride spoke about the project while promoting other films and TV shows, talking about the story and characters and his overall approach to it. A first look at Curtis in the movie got people talking about but not about much. Later on she showed up on stage during Universal’s CinemaCon presentation to talk about returning to the character after so many years and what audiences might expect. The movie was also part of the later CineEurope presentation from the studio.

Just before that, EW offered a new photo of Michael Myers in full regala along with comments from Curtis and Green talked about how many drafts of the script he went through before it felt right to him. Curtis also spoke more about returning to the role here and about how Laurie isn’t just surviving but hunting in this new installment.

McBride popped back up around that time with another interview talking about how he wants to do right by the franchise and not let fans down with this new movie. That same topic was covered by Green in an interview about where he found inspiration for the story and what he hopes to accomplish.

A featurette released around the time of Toronto had Curtis, Carpenter and Green all talking about how intense the movie is, revisiting the legacy of the original and more. Curtis spoke with the other female cast members beside her about the multi-generational story that’s now being told while Green shared more of the advice that helped him make the movie.

Curtis represented the movie on the cover of a recent issue of EW that had a few additional stories about the film, including comments from McBride, Green and Carpenter along with an exclusive clip from the movie. Green even hinted he has ideas for a sequel.

The movie was, appropriately enough, the first one to grace the cover of the newly-relaunched Fangoria magazine. And there was another substantial feature on Curtis and her return to the role.

Curtis of course did the morning and late night talk show rounds to touch on the same topics she covered elsewhere, including how it was she wound up coming back to the role and more.

As a final bow, McBride discussed the alternate plans he had for the script if studio execs didn’t go for his initial take.

Overall

A+ for Jamie Lee Curtis playing the OG badass here, someone who refuses to not do everything she can to make sure she’s not powerless against an extreme creeper. She may be scared, but she’s also determined and Curtis looks to be just great here.

Picking Up The Spare

A new featurette has been released that focuses on the three generation of women that are key to the story and how incredible the actresses playing them are.

David Gordon Green has some additional thoughts about the horror genre.

IMAX promoted the one-week engagement the movie received with an exclusive spot.

The issue of how the story ignores the other sequels is addressed by McBride and Green here.

As Blumhouse Gains Prominence, Remember We’ve Been Down This Road Before

Quartz identifies an interesting movie marketing trend that’s appeared in the last two years: The indie horror label Blumhouse has worked its brand name into the marketing of its films to an ever-growing degree, up to and including the campaign for its recent release Truth or Dare. A steady stream of films that have resonated with both critics and audiences have grown the studio’s brand name to one that carries a lot of weight and which has become a signifier of some quality.

The reviews for Truth or Dare haven’t been quite as strong as some of the studio’s recent output. This THR review calls out how parts of the movie feel made by committee and a bit soulless, something that’s unusual for Blumhouse’s releases to date. Whether or not that represents the first cracks in the studio’s reputation remains to be seen but it’s worth remembering that almost every specialty distributor that starts out with a slate of strong films eventually loses some of its luster.

The link has eluded me, but I remember an early story following the formation of Castle Rock wherein the players behind that banner said they weren’t interested in producing a lot of movies but were instead focused on turning out two or three A+ pictures a year. Miramax and its successor The Weinstein Co. had similar quality-over-quantity mission statements at the outset. Eventually a few B+ movies sneak through or a couple movies bomb and everyone panics, compounding the problem. No one is actively seeking out bad movies, but the realities of the marketplace, where high-quality doesn’t always equate financial success, catch up with the ideal sooner or later.

Eventually Blumhouse will become just another specialty label. We’ve seen this happen with Castle Rock, Fox Searchlight and others. Even A24, which was last year’s press darling, has put out a few movies in the last couple months that don’t meet the lofty status assigned to it while releasing quirky prestige titles like The Lobster, Lady Bird and others.

That’s not even necessarily a bad thing. It’s good that these scrappy smaller players keep emerging and pushing the cinematic boundaries as established players either exit the scene or begin making safer, more financially sound choices. Blumhouse has been the cocky upstart for a year now and a year from now we’ll probably be talking about some other company playing the same role. It’s how things work.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.