Scary Stories to Tell In The Dark – Marketing Recap

scary stories posterIf it’s the end of summer that means it’s time for studios to start rolling out their slate of horror movies. This week brings one of the first of the season, Scary Stories to Tell In The Dark. Directed by André Øvredal and produced/written by Guillermo del Toro, the movie is based on a series of short story collections, with those stories being woven together into a single narrative for the film.

That narrative is focused around a group of teenagers in the rural small town of Mill Valley. They discover a book written long ago by Sarah Bellows, a troubled young girl part of a family that has dominated the town’s history and legacy. As they work their way through the book they realize the terrifying stories Sarah wrote down are coming true as a series of monsters begins terrorizing them and those around them.

The Posters

In early February, around the same time the first teasers were released, the first teaser poster came out. It doesn’t show a whole lot, just a creepy scarecrow in the foreground and a dilapidated house in the back, all under ominous, cloudy skies. The second poster shows Stella looking in a mirror to figure out what is happening to her, especially regarding some sort of massive wound on her face. A third shows a lone figure standing at the end of a hallway bathed in red light, adding a stark sense of dread to the image while the fourth shows a terrifying creature walking down a dark staircase.

 

 

 

 

The Trailers

The first full trailer, released two months after the first teasers appeared, presents Sarah Bellows’ book of scary stories as the central element to everything that happens to Stella. There isn’t much of the plot that’s explained here beyond Stella intoning “You don’t read the book, the book reads you” and lots of things that go bump in the night. Still, it effectively sets the tone and promises audiences a lot of scares in theaters.

The second trailer is just as creepy. It’s also a bit more clear about the plot, showing how the book discovered by Stella contains stories that feature the names of other kids who were with her, all of whom die in various nasty ways. So she has to convince people of the danger and try and stop the stories from coming true before anyone else falls victim to the evil lurking in the book’s pages.

Released in July at the same time del Toro was appearing at Comic-Con, the Jangly Man trailer focused on that particular story in the movie and included lots of characters talking about how they don’t believe the myth of the book that causes so much trouble and death.

One final trailer released just days ago featured visuals that emphasized how the book has been brought to the screen, with illustrations of scenes transitioning into the actual filmed sequences. It shows off some of the supernatural threats the kids have unleashed by opening Sarah’s book, presenting a series of chilling encounters. This one gained a lot of attention for featuring a cover of “Seasons of the Witch” by Lana Del Ray.

Online and Social

The second trailer – the official version – opens the movie’s website. Most all of the sections introduce the content in the context of “Sarah’s stories.” So the Photos section encourages visitors to see how Sarah’s stories have been brought to life and so on. It’s an effective way to keep people in the setting of the story and reinforce the framing device used in the movie. There’s also a section where people can have their name inserted into a story that can then be shared on social media and elsewhere.

Advertising and Publicity

While the movie had been anticipated for a while, the first big coming out for the film came when CBS Films bought a series of short commercials during the 2019 Super Bowl, with each spot – compiled by the studio here – focusing on a different aspect of the story.

Both Øvredal and Del Toro were scheduled to appear at San Diego Comic-Con earlier this year on a panel to talk about this film and their love of scary movies in general.

Media and Press

Del Toro offered his insights on the stories told in the movie and talked about his love of scary stories along with similar comments from Øvredal.

Just as SDCC was about to kick off EW hosted an exclusive featurette highlighting some of the classic horror stories found in the movie.

Del Toro and others clarified why the setting and character types were chosen for their ability to tie all the disparate stories together into a cohesive narrative.

Just days before the movie hit theaters, del Toro was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. During the ceremony he spoke about this movie film as well as his career in general. Those comments contain the single best response to date from a filmmaker asked about the difference between working with a traditional movie studio and a streaming distributor like Netflix.

“I execute my craft exactly in the same way through both [Netflix and Fox Searchlight],” he says. “And the thing I have with both is a very clear relationship: they know what I do. At this point I’ve been directing and producing for more than a quarter of a century, so you become like a certain type of tree. If you come to an orange tree, you’re not going to get an apple. I’m very clear with what I want.”

Overall

It’s not surprising that del Toro’s presence has been all over this campaign, from his name being included in the trailers and posters to the big role he’s played in the publicity and press efforts. He’s a filmmaker with a lot of name recognition in the audience – particularly among discerning movie lovers – and a sterling reputation for creativity and originality, particularly in the horror genre.

It’s that creativity and originality that are pervasive throughout the marketing as CBS Films and Lionsgate seek to sell the movie as a chilling time at the theater for audiences that have had enough laughs and adventures thanks to franchise installments.

The campaign has made a point to include elements from the various stories plucked from the source books, but framing device of the kids working through Sarah Bellows’ book is sometimes less than clear. That could create some confusion in audiences not familiar with those books who are subsequently not sure what to expect, confusion that could wind up hurting the movie’s box office prospects in a weekend likely to still be dominated by the high octane action of Hobbs and Shaw.

Picking Up the Spare

A MovieClips-exclusive featurette focused on the practical makeup used to bring some of the story’s creatures to life.

Five Feet Apart – Marketing Recap

five feet apart poster 2Haley Lu Richardson plays Stella and Cole Sprouse plays Will in the new medical-themed romantic melodrama Five Feet Apart. The two play cystic fibrosis patients in the same hospital who take very different approaches to their treatment. She’s fastidious about planning her life and following the rules she needs to live under while he chafes under those guidelines and is constantly pushing back against those around him.

The two meet and form a connection, but are bound by the rule they must remain six feet apart, the minimum distance to make sure they don’t transmit infection to the other person. That means they have to find new and innovative ways to be together.

The Posters

five feet apart posterStella and Will are looking at each other while sitting on the floor of a hospital hallway, the oxygen tubes that help them breathe wrapped around their faces. They’re clearly closer than the title would imply they should be, but the designers were obviously going for intimacy over reality. There’s no tagline or anything, but you get that this is a romantic drama involving illness.

The second poster also doesn’t feature any copy that explains or expands on the story hints offered by the photo of the two characters standing at a distance from each other on a city street. It’s still obvious there are medical elements to the story since he’s wearing an oxygen circulator, but the setting tones that down in favor of something brighter and more upbeat.

The Trailers

The trailer introduces us to Stella, who has cystic fibrosis and whose life is dictated by the rules of managing her condition. When she meets Will she immediately senses he’s trouble, but they develop crushes on each other regardless. Through all this Stella finds that she still needs to have a life despite the realities of her world and gets him on board with the plan as well.

Another trailer a couple months later lightens up a bit on the medical aspects of the story in favor of focusing more on the romance between Stella and Will, one that’s problematic given their condition. Both angles on the story come together in the final trailer, selling it as a teen romance between two very sick kids who find that connection to be a big reason to keep on living.

Online and Social

Most of the movie’s official website is just the standard marketing fare, but in addition to that there’s a link to learn more about cystic fibrosis.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

There have been a few promoted social media posts around the release of the trailers and a few other online ads, but that’s about all I’ve come across.

Media and Publicity

The movie’s director and cast engaged in a surprise fan event tour, showing up at advance screenings to make them a special event and keep getting audiences excited.

Sprouse was the subject of a profile that talked about his career resurgence and the choices he’s made over the many years he’s been in the industry.

In early March, EW debuted an exclusive clip from the film. Another clip that played up the romantic elements of the story hit just before release.

As release neared there were further profiles of Sprouse where he talked about about becoming a romantic leading man and what prompted him to take the role, including how there was a CF nurse on-set to make sure things were as medically accurate as possible. Richardson was also interviewed about how they strove to tell the story of the CF community and how she got involved with the project.

Overall

There’s been a lot of commentary about the movie and how it depicts people living with the illness. What’s on display in the marketing campaign isn’t that different from how other movies about romance in a time of chronic illness have been sold, though Sprouse and Richardson bring more charm than what’s on display in other films.

The campaign stands out for that link to find out more information about CF. Notably, that site calls out the fact that the story of the movie is just one depiction of the life of someone with the disease, not one that’s representative of the community as a whole. The background and education contained there is unfortunately unique on movie websites, but with something like this it’s essential and very useful.

Winchester – Marketing Recap

winchester poster 2The great Helen Mirren takes a break from playing either royalty or assassins to take on the real-life role of Sarah Winchester, the widow of William Winchester, a member of the family responsible for the Winchester rifle, in the new movie (of course) Winchester. In the story Sarah is still grieving after the death of her husband, channeling that grief into the endless construction of her San Jose mansion, which she believes is occupied by the ghosts of those killed by the weapons manufactured by the Winchester Repeating Arms Company.

While most think her mad for her obsessive work on the house sans direction or overall vision, she believes its hundreds of rooms are necessary. Alongside her are her niece (Sarah Snook) and Eric Price (Jason Clarke), the doctor looking after Sarah as she seems to descend deeper into madness. The movie takes Sarah’s conviction she’s being haunted and makes it literal, turning the story into one of a massive, imposing, chaotic haunted house that was built to house ghosts who are no longer content being locked up.

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American Assassin – Marketing Recap

In the new movie American Assassin Dylan O’Brien plays Mitch Rapp, a young man who’s had a hard life. His parents died in a car accident when he was a teenager and his fiancé was killed by terrorists while they were on vacation. With nothing left to lose he sets out on the path to revenge, seeking to take out the kinds of bad guys who took everything from him.

That puts him on the radar of the CIA, which quickly recruits him for a black ops assassin until. Deputy Director Kennedy (Sanna Lathan) sends him to veteran operator Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton) to shave off the rough edges and make him a useful asset. As the two investigate a series of recent attacks they find the one thing tying them together may be an old trainee of Hurley’s long-thought dead or otherwise out of the picture.

The Posters

The first poster is presented as a redacted document, with all but the title, the names of the cast and the promise that it’s “Coming soon” blacked out and obscured. It’s easy to read most of that text, though so you can see comments about “assets,” “targets” and so on, enough to get the idea that we’re dealing with spy stuff here.

The second poster offers an actual look at the characters and the world they’re operating in. We see O’Brien, Keaton, Lathan, Negar and Kitsch, all arrayed along the left side of the poster and affecting various stances in relation to their character. You can see military helicopters in the background along with both the Kremlin and Eiffel Tower to give you a sense of the locations the story will take the characters to.

The third effort was pretty standard to the action genre, just showing O’Brien and Keaton with guns drawn. No copy or anything, this one is just selling the star power.

The Trailers

As the trailer begins we meet Mitch and hear about the problems he’s had since his parents, and later in life his girlfriend, were killed. Since the latter event he’s been after the kinds of people involved and now someone wants to channel that in a specific direction. So he’s enlisted in an elite program and assigned a mentor in Stan Hurley, a lone operator who’s asked to train Mitch. Hurley’s skeptical but ultimately takes him on. After that it’s about showing the kind of action Mitch gets himself into in his quest for vengeance and/or justice.

It’s a tight trailer with appropriately somber mood music in the background. O’Brien is clearly the focus here since it’s his story we’re following, though Keaton is well-represented as well. It presents a story that’s about seeking to address the wrongs that have been done to you. That in itself isn’t super-compelling but the overall package of what’s being sold here looks more than a little interesting.

A red-band trailer opens with the shooting of Mitch’s girlfriend on the beach and we hear someone talking about his desire for revenge and plans to take those responsible out. He’s told there are people who can help him reach those goals and he signs on to be trained by Hurley, where he excels in learning how to kill people. He soon get an assignment to help take out a terrorist who’s just surfaced and has a nuclear device. It turns out this baddie has a personal connection to Hurley, seemingly his former prodigy. Lots of shots of action both personal and bigger – including something involving a couple warships at sea – that finishes things off.

This one offers much more of the story on how Mitch gets involved with the program and the mission he and Hurley are sent on, which helps a lot. It’s a tighter, more interesting journey that’s being sold here, even if it all comes off a little Bourne-ish. The action is over the top and ridiculous, of course, but that’s par for the course so you just have to go with it.

Online and Social

The official website for the movie opens with a version of the key art on the front page. there are prompts to buy tickets, watch the trailer or follow the Tumblr-based site. Clicking “Enter the site” or scrolling down both have the same effect, taking you into the site’s content.

From there you can keep scrolling to use the menu to explore the three main sections of material. “Video” just has one trailer. “About” has a brief synopsis along with information on the book the movie is based on and bios of the cast and crew. Finally, the “Gallery” has a collection of production stills to browse.

There don’t appear to be links on the main site but there were also Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles for the movie where the studio shared updates. Interestingly, the URLs for the Twitter and Instagram profiles are @vinceflynnfilm, name-checking the author of the source book. Makes me wonder what sort of contractual obligations were being fulfilled here since that branding had to have a reason, especially considering the potential search impact it and name recognition.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Various TV spots sold the movie in different ways. Some like this one are all about the action, presenting a high-tension story about killing the bad guys before they do something terrible. Others like this one get to that eventually but first spend some time establishing the relationship between Rapp and Hurley. None go into Rapp’s motivations, though, obviously feeling that’s the weakest of the appeals of the story.

Some social advertising was done with the trailers, particularly in the last few days before release. It’s likely at least a bit of other online and outdoor advertising was done as well.

Media and Publicity

O’Brien and Kitsch took on most of the press duties, it seems. They appeared on early morning and late night talk shows to talk about filming. One big topic was an injury O’Brien apparently suffered while filming a recent installment of The Maze Runner series. He talked about recovering from that serious injury and whose learned determination from the recovery, lessons that helped him while filming this movie. Keaton also jumped in a bit to talk about the nuance he liked in the story, which is what convinced him to join.

The long road the story took to the big screen also was covered, as the movie has been in the works for a number of years, necessitating a few changes to the story to bring it more up to date with the world. There was also discussion of how advantageous placement of the movie’s trailer, in this case in front of the surprisingly successful The Hitman’s Bodyguard, may help what looks like a mid-grade piece of fluff resonate with the audience.

Overall

I’ll say I have to agree somewhat with Scott Mendolson’s take about this probably doing way better than it has any right to. There’s apparently a desire for middle-of-the-road popcorn action movies these days and this falls squarely into that category. There’s nothing all that notable about the trailers or the press push or anything, but the competition at the box-office isn’t all that substantial this weekend so the audience may turn out for a revenge-driven action story.

What the campaign seems to be doing more than anything is set this up as a potential franchise launch, though not as overtly as something like the marketing for The Mummy did. Instead, we’re watching the origin story of a Jack Ryan-type operative who combines personal motivation and a dedication to the craft with love of country. If this succeeds it’s easy to see at least a few more of the Mitch Rapp stories making their way to the big-screen.

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