Promising Young Woman – Marketing Recap

How Focus Features is selling a twisted revenge story.

Actress and writer Emerald Fennell makes her directorial debut with this week’s Promising Young Woman. The movie stars Carey Mulligan as Cassandra, a woman who experienced severe trauma in her past. Now she is channeling that trauma, combined with her sense of justice, in the direction of seeking to set things right. That means trouble for the men who get in her way.

Focus Features’ campaign for the film has sold a kinetic, story of revenge and dealing with the events of the past in some manner. With an impressive 92% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, the movie has been pegged as a potential awards contender, especially for Mulligan.

The Posters

“Take her home and take your chances” the audience is warned on the first poster (by marketing agency Art Machine), released just a week ago. The image of Cassandra lounging on a sultry, dripping wet mouth combined with the style of the title treatment gives this the look of an 80s teen sex comedy, albeit one that might be a bit twisted.

The image on the second poster (by marketing agency Territory Studio) is a bit more straightforward, just Cassandra staring at the camera and holding a tire iron in a very purposeful way. Some positive review quotes are placed in the background to help make the case.

Cassandra is writing the title on a mirror in lipstick on the final poster (once again by Art Machine). That takes us back into twisted territory, while the copy here reads “Revenge never looked so promising.”

The Trailers

The first trailer (3.8 million views on YouTube) came out in mid-December and immediately sells a crazed story of vengeance and justice. As it opens it looks like Cassandra has had too much to drink and is passing out at a club, with a man seeing that as his opportunity to take advantage of her. She reveals herself to be just fine, though, much to his surprise. Turns out this is something she does regularly, exposing the lie of the “nice guy” who has darker motives. Her mission is driven by a past that involves leaving college after accusing a man of raping her and receiving no support from the school or other people. Seems her journey may even bring her back into contact with her assailant, giving her the opportunity to achieve some real closure and have some real fun.

Cassandra is attempting to restart her studies in the second trailer (2.9 million views on YouTube), released in mid-October. She explains that she left years ago after a girl was attacked and her assailant never punished. Turns out the administrator she’s speaking with is the same one who fielded the initial report and failed to take action. Mixed in with that is footage of the kind of vengeance she doles out herself on men who feel they’re entitled to certain things regardless of consent. It still looks crazy, but the framing of the interview grounds the story a bit more effectively.

Online and Social

Visitors to the movie’s official website will find Focus’ standard design in place, offering the trailer, bios on Mulligan, Fennelll and many of the costars and more. There are also social network profiles specifically for the film.

Advertising and Promotions

Sundance 2020 was announced as the movie’s public coming out, with Focus Features picking up distribution rights in advance of the festival.

The video for “Drinks” by Cyn was released in early March as details of the star-studded soundtrack were made public.

Clips started coming out a couple weeks ago showing Cassandra being asked out and bantering with a coworker at the coffee shop.

Dolby offered an exclusive interview with Fennelll where she talked about using the company’s technology and tools to bring her story to life.

AMC Theaters also got an exclusive behind-the-scenes featurette.

Focus Features showed a bit more in an installment of the “60-Second Film School” web series.

Media and Press

While Fennell wasn’t in Sundance with the movie, he was interviewed at that time about the inspiration behind the story, how production worked and what they hoped the audience’s reaction would be. Burnham spoke about the difficult time he had while filming and how intimidated he felt when acting alongside Mulligan.

Fennell and Cyn were interviewed about the process of assembling the movie’s soundtrack and what the songs on it were meant to represent.

An interview with Mulligan allowed her to talk about how she got involved in the project and why it seemed attractive to her at this point in her career. Brie also talked about her part in the film.

A Variety cover story featured both Fennell and Mulligan talking about why they made this movie right now, the…emotional reactions test audiences had and lots more.

How set designer Michael Perry created the visual look of the film was covered in an interview with him.

A joint interview with Fennell and Mulligan had them talking about female revenge stories and how they accomplished the movie’s unique look and feel. They also shared a story of a fistfight among audience members breaking out during a test screening.

Other interviews with Fennell had her talking about getting the rights to use a song by Paris Hilton in a key sequence and why she cast perfectly nice and sweet actors to play some of the story’s terrible male characters.

A big profile of Fennell had her reflecting on how her career to date has led her to this point and what she wanted the story to convey. A similar piece on Mulligan had her talking about the…unfortunate…reactions of some men to the movie.

What the movie’s quick production was like was covered in an interview with Mulligan. Fennell talked about how she wanted to take a comedic, though a darkly comic, look at violence in the story.

Overall

I’m on board with this campaign for a number of reasons, including the fact that it creates a strong, instantly recognizable brand identity from the outset and never lets up. It’s twisted, colorful and a little bit funny, anchored by a strong performance from Mulligan.

Not to be overlooked is Fennell’s contribution to the campaign, outside of her helming the film itself. She’s been out in front of the publicity and other aspects of the marketing, making it clear she is in charge and working to carve out some recognition for herself while also selling the movie.

Carey Mulligan GIF by Coolidge Corner Theatre - Find & Share on GIPHY

Wildlife – Marketing Recap

wildlife posterPaul Dano makes his directorial debut with Wildlife, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Carey Mulligan. The two play Jerry and Jeanette Brinson, a couple in 1960s Montana whose marriage is falling apart all around them and right in front of their son Joe (Ed Oxenbould).

That dissolution is coming from the fact that Jerry has lost his job and abandoned the family while Jeanette is left behind with Joe. The story, co-written by Zoe Kazan, is a simple one but contains all the powerful elements of a relationship flaming out in dramatic fashion.

(Ed. note: Yes, once again I got release dates wrong as this opened in limited areas last week. Let’s just move on.)

The Posters

The movie’s poster is simple, showing Jeanette and Jerry looking at each other from opposite chairs, looking vaguely dissatisfied with the other. That photo is crowded by not only the icons of the festivals the movie has appeared at but also a number of positive quotes from early reviews.

The Trailers

Jerry is going through a rough patch, we see in the trailer, as Jeanette tries everything she can to both support him and explain his moody and erratic behavior to their son and others. Their son Joe observes all of this, upset by what’s going on but unable to really do anything about it. We see scenes of the family dynamic in various iterations and get a sense of Jeanette’s loneliness and isolation.

The visuals are enough to really hit you where it hurts, particularly all the emotions on display in Mulligan’s performance. We don’t see a lot of Gyllenhaal, but that seems to be the point. Throughout the trailer the audience is shown quotes from critics praising the movie to reinforce the idea that this one is worth seeking out.

The second trailer, released in early September, features much more dialogue and explanation of the story, showing how Jerry is reeling from a recent setback, dealing with it by having his own version of a midlife crisis. Jeanette tries to reassure Joe that everything is going to be alright while at the same time explaining to him the world isn’t as cut and dried as he’d like it to be.

A 60-second trailer from late September hit roughly the same story points, just in more condensed form.

Online and Social

There’s just the basic information found on IFC’s page for the movie, including the trailer, a synopsis and the poster.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV spots that debuted in early October focused on Jeanette and Jerry, showing scenes from previous trailers to sell the two aspects of the story.

Media and Publicity

With a great cast and Dano in the director’s chair, along with quality source material, it was almost immediately one of those people were most excited to see when it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival. The cast and crew spoke frequently about the film, with Dano and Williams talking about working together after being friends for years and Kazan and Dano talking about the collaboration they undertook as real life romantic and now screenwriting partners. It was a couple weeks after the festival ended when the movie sold to IFC Films.

It was later announced as one that would screen in a sidebar series at the Cannes Film Festival, where Dano spoke more about taking on directorial duties for the first time and what it was like working with Kazan. Around that time Mulligan was interviewed about why she signed on for the movie and also answered questions about #MeToo and other industry issues.

The movie was announced as one of those screening at the Toronto International Film Festival. It also made the list for the New York Film Festival and the Chicago Film Festival. The movie was added to the lineup of the Austin Film Festival.

Kazan and Dano were often asked what it was like to work together, eventually making it clear they weren’t likely to do so again. Dano talked more about why he decided to step behind the camera here.

Two clips were released in mid-October, one featuring Mulligan and one featuring Gyllenhaal in scenes that expanded on what we’d seen in the trailers.

The two leads were interviewed together about working with Dano and each other to create the nostalgic tone of the story.

Overall

The focus has been placed on two pairings: Dano/Kazan and Gyllenhaal/Mulligan. Those pairings have given the press – and the studio – some clear hooks on which to hang their stories about the movie. That’s good since, while the movie does look affecting and dramatic, it’s also lacking a strong hook in and of itself. So we’ve heard plenty about Dano taking up directorial duties, both from him and some mix of Kazan, Gyllenhaal and Mulligan, providing the strongest appeal for discerning audiences to turn out to theaters.

Picking Up The Spare

Mulligan appeared on “Jimmy Kimmel” to talk about the movie and tell some amusing anecdotes. Meanwhile Dano showed up on “Late Night.” She was also interviewed about the fearless, emotional performance she offers in the film.

Dano talks more about his career and what went on behind the scenes of making the movie here.

Mudbound – Marketing Recap

mudbound posterThe racial divide in America is a terrible thing. There are countless examples of blacks being held to different standards than whites, both in general society and through the constructs of our legal system. When a black man jaywalks he runs the risk of being shot by police, while a white man who guns down mall shoppers is portrayed as a troubled lone wolf who needs mental health care.

Mudbound, the new movie from director Dee Rees, jumps back 70 years in America’s history to show just one example of how things vary greatly depending on the color of your skin. Based on the novel by Hillary Jordan, the story follows two soldiers returning home to Mississippi after serving in World War II. Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell) is black and Jamie McAllen (Garrett Hedlund) is white. Coming back to the Jim Crow South means means that despite both putting their lives on the line to protect the world from despotism, one is welcomed much more warmly than the other.

The Posters

The first poster features the whole cast arrayed around the real estate of the image. Along with the cast list at the top and the prominent placement of the Netflix logo we also see the marks of TIFF and Sundance to tout the movie’s screenings at those festivals.

A series of character posters showed each individual up close in a grainy, high-resolution shot that showed the misery and despair on their faces along with the lines, dirt and sweat that comes with the lives each one leads. These are a stark collection that’s meant to evoke photos we’ve seen of people living through droughts and other events in this country.

The Trailers

The first trailer starts out with a Jamie hitting the dirt after hearing a car backfire, the after-effects of his time in the war. Ronsel helps him up and we see the Jim Crow-heavy world everyone’s living in, even Ronsel, who served his country in the war. Racial tensions impact everything and everyone, despite the fact that they’re all living in the same squalor and desperate conditions regardless of race.

The second trailer begins from the perspectives of the women who were left behind while their husbands went off to war. Those men, when they return, find a world that hasn’t changed to anyone but them. Jim Crow is still in place and there are still other dramas that are impacting everyday life and, it seems, those things are just always going to be so.

The movie is sold here more like a general drama than one that’s explicitly about race relations. Not that that’s unspoken or hidden, it’s just one part of a larger picture here where it’s been the focus in the other efforts. I don’t think that marks any great shift in strategy, just an evolution of messaging.

Online and Social

While, as usual, Netflix didn’t create an official website for the movie there were both Twitter and Facebook profiles. That may not seem like much but it’s more than is usually put in place and shows the commitment the company had to selling the movie more fully.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Online ads placed a few weeks prior to release used the key art showing the faces of the leads, with some including positive quotes from early festival reviews. There were also reports on Twitter that some TV spots were run but I’ve not been able to find them or otherwise confirm.

Media and Publicity

The first bit of publicity came when it was announced the movie would have its official premiere at Sundance 2017. The first look at the movie came shortly after that. That screening garnered a tidal wave of positive word-of-mouth, including speculation that the 2018 Oscar race was now official underway. Much of that praise was directed at director Rees, who talked about the story and why she opted to tell this story. And it stood out as one of a few movies taking a look at the toll of war on individuals. Netflix eventually bought distribution rights despite the steep asking price. The movie was then scheduled for a screening at the New York Film Festival, where Rees commented on how Netflix was an ideal creative partner because none of the other studios felt the movie was commercial enough to acquire and release.

Later on Rees talked about how she’s worked to position her career and the choices she’s made over the years that have impacted it, including a commitment to smaller movies that require passion, not studio gigs that come with big paychecks and lots of publicity.

Rees and others talked here about the movie’s early festival buzz, the potential for awards consideration and how long it took to find a distributor willing to pick it up. That last point, it turns out, was the result of the backlash to and disappointing results of The Birth of a Nation last year, which made some distributors gun-shy about signing on for a period movie dealing with racial issues. Oh, and there’s the fact that the story, which involves clashes with the KKK, is super-relevant today, which caused additional squeamishness.

There was also this group chat where Rees talked about what inspired the story and the cast talked about how shocked they were at the poor treatment of former soldiers. The movie was also announced as the opening night feature at AFI Fest. Another joint interview with Rees and members of the cast talked about the difficulty of filming the many emotional scenes in the movie and more.

Mary J. Blige, who plays Florence Jackson, Ronsel’s wife, was a major focus of the publicity campaign mounted by Netflix. She appeared on both late night and morning talk shows and was the subject of numerous profiles and feature interviews like this where she talked about taking on such a transformative role as well as her career in general along with issues of race, sex and more. Blige in large part became the central figure of the campaign right alongside Rees, who did her own publicity work to talk about being a black female filmmaker, the inspiration her family provided and more.

If it wasn’t a glowing portrait of Blige is was a profile of Mitchell and how he’s the next big star about to break into the mainstream. Or commentary on how this might be Netflix’s most serious play for Oscar validation. Carey Mulligan, who plays the sister-in-law of Jamie McAllen, also made various media appearances to talk about the movie and acting in general.

Overall

I kind of love this campaign. It’s low key but intense, just like the characters in the story. Unfortunately, any portrait of unequal treatment based on race is not only going to present a look back into the past of our country but an uncomfortable spotlight on our own times. That comes through loud and clear in the official marketing and is underlined in the publicity, where issues of race and gender were mentioned repeatedly.

That focus is going to make this a campaign people respond to very differently. It’s being sold as a prestige drama, exactly the kind of thing that wouldn’t fly at the box office going up against Justice League this week. And it’s attracted all the right kinds of attention, especially for Rees and Blige, to gain traction in that capacity. But the fact that the message of the film still has unfortunate timeliness may turn off some people who don’t want to be preached to or who feel, wrongly, that we should be moving beyond discussions of race.

Whatever the reception, the campaign itself is damn powerful, presenting a movie that pulls few punches in telling the story of people just scraping by.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

The movie’s screenwriters Virgil Williams and Dee Rees talk here about finding the right tone in one of the key scenes between the lead characters.