cry macho – marketing recap

How Warner Bros. has sold the latest Clint Eastwood joint.

Cry Macho poster

Remember when Unforgiven was considered “late career Clint Eastwood? Now that revisionist Western, which opened up a wave of similar films reevaluating the “good guys wear white hats, bad guys wear black” model of previous decades, turns 30 next year but Eastwood has continued steadily working, especially as a director.

This week Cry Macho, the latest in which Eastwood both appears and directs, comes to HBO Max as well as theaters. Based on the 1975 novel of the same name by N. Richard Nash, the story follows Mike Milo (Eastwood), a retired rodeo rider who now breeds and trains horses. Milo is approached by his former boss Howard Polk (Dwight Yokam) to travel to Mexico to find and ultimately bring back Polk’s son Rafeal (Eduardo Minett) who is involved in an illegal cockfighting ring there.

announcements and casting

Warner Bros. announced the movie in October, 2020. One of the first, albeit very brief, looks at the movie came via an HBO Max promo touting the same day theatrical/streaming availability of WB’s 2021 lineup.

Eastwood’s multi-pronged role was part of the original announcement but the rest of the cast wasn’t confirmed until after production, which took place with Covid-19 safety protocols in place, was completed in mid-December of last year.

A release date was finally announced in March, 2021.

marketing campaign launches

The marketing campaign officially kicked off just over a month ago in early August with the release of first look stills showing Eastwood, Minett and others along with comments from the actor/director about getting older, directing during the pandemic and more. Another piece with more from Eastwood and a second round of photos came out shortly after that.

The movie’s one and only poster is so on the nose in terms of what you’d expect from a 90 year old Eastwood it almost slips into parody. It just shows an extremely grizzled and leathery Milo looking off into the middle distance. Copy on the one-sheet explains this is “A story of being lost…and found.”

We hear all about how great Milo once was on the rodeo circuit as the trailer, also released at the beginning of August, opens. After engaging in some barbs with his former boss, he accepts the job of going to Mexico to find Polk’s son. But Rafeal isn’t exactly eager to return. The journey the two embark on won’t be smooth, we see, but it will involve more than a few opportunities for both a discussion of what being “macho” means and examples of what being a man actually looks like. It’s short on story and long on sentimentality, honing in on the idea of Eastwood himself and his character looking back over a long life of ups and downs.

Things were relatively quiet for a while with the exception of CinemaCon at the end of August, where Warner Bros. included footage from the movie in its presentation to exhibitors and press.

Just in the last week or so leading up to release things picked back up, starting with a featurette about the legacy of Eastwood as a director along with an overview of the story.

Another interview with Eastwood had him again talking about getting older as well as the experience of riding a horse on screen for the first time since Unforgiven.

Another featurette continued focusing on Eastwood’s legacy and how that translates to this movie.

Even more explicit was a short video that looked specifically at Eastwood’s evolution as a director going back all the way to Play Misty For Me with interviews from many of the actors that have appeared in his films along with fellow directors like Spielberg, Scorsese and others.

overall

With a very much middling 50% on Rotten Tomatoes, the movie seems like it might benefit from getting the hybrid theatrical/streaming release even more than other titles. There’s not a lot here for anyone who doesn’t already have decades of appreciation for Eastwood and his work. In fact the vast majority of the marketing only gives the smallest amount of attention it reasonably can to the story or anything about the movie itself, instead almost wholly focused on making sure the audience knows what a legend Eastwood is, not why they should see this film specifically.

That may work and it may not, but it doesn’t seem likely there will be a lot of word of mouth that carries this along in the weeks following release.

Richard Jewell – Marketing Recap

How Warner Bros. is selling the latest story of an aggrieved white man from director Clint Eastwood.

richard jewell posterThere’s no question that there was nearly an injustice perpetrated on Richard Jewell, the security guard who found an explosive at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and helped save countless lives. Now his story is coming to the big screen in the appropriately titled Richard Jewell.

Paul Walter Hauser plays the title character, a well-meaning but slightly schlubby individual who suddenly is vaulted into the national spotlight. By virtue of his finding the device, he also unexpectedly finds himself at the top of the suspect list being put together by law enforcement, including the FBI. So too, the press – embodied by Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde) latches on to him as a likely suspect, someone to hang the narrative of the bombing on.

While the movie, which costars Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Jon Hamm and others, fits into Eastwood’s thematic motif of making sure white men are recognized as the under-appreciated heroes they naturally are, it also has come under fire for how it goes about communicating that message. Despite that, it’s being sold by Warner Bros. as an awards season drama based on a moment from recent history.

Tracking estimates have the movie opening around $10 million this weekend, which would put it far off the pace in terms of winning the frame, but the 87 percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes shows it could be helped by largely positive reviews.

The Posters

“The world will know his name and the truth” is the awkwardly structured tagline that appears below the title on the poster (by marketing agency Legion Creative Group) from October. As the main image, Jewell is shown fighting his way through a crowd of eager reporters and others, trying to keep his face down as his mother (Kathy Bates) appears despondent over the whole thing. At the bottom we’re reminded this is based on a true story.

The Trailers

Released in early October, the first trailer (9.1 million views on YouTube) starts off with Jewell dealing with the aftermath of finding the bomb. The authorities consider him a suspect, mostly because he’s the one who did actually find it. So investigators and journalists focus almost solely on him, but he and his lawyer continue to push back against what they see as a conspiracy to hang the crime on him without actual evidence. The story being presented, then, is of an innocent man being railroaded by a lazy and likely corrupt system.

Online and Social

The official website for the movie opens with the trailer and is replaced by the key art when you close that. The content is pretty standard and boring, though.

Advertising and Publicity

Eastwood had originally set the project up at Fox, but following that studio’s acquisition by Disney it was moved over to his long-time home Warner Bros. The studio finally gave it a release date in September.

A few weeks later it was announced the film would debut at AFI Fest. That screening generated generally positive reviews but also altered critics to the fact that Eastwood and the writers created a fictional scene of Scruggs having sex with an FBI official in order to get information, something that seems offensive and unnecessary, especially in a movie about media manipulation.

Online ads featured a cropped version of the key art and linked to the movie’s official site.

richard jewell online ad.png

The first – and to date only – clip released has Richard’s mother Barbara at a press conference proclaiming her son’s innocence while expressing sympathy for the victims of the bombing.

An exclusive featurette hosted by MovieClips featured Eastwood and others talking about making the movie, beginning with the article the story is based on. Another featurette titled “An American Tragedy” dove into the story a bit more while focusing on the injustice done to Jewell, though that may be overstated by just a bit.

Media and Press

Perhaps it’s because of the condensed timeline that resulted from Warner Bros. only giving it a release date a few months ago. Or perhaps the lack of substantial pre-release press activity is because the media narrative has been dominated by discussions of the filmmakers creating Scruggs’ trading sex for information.

Wilde defended her portrayal of Scruggs, saying the idea of a sexual transaction was merely “inferred” in the film and that there’s no evidence to suggest she did so. Still, even that inference is enough to be harmful when added to other movies that have made similar suggestions or stated it outright, even if there’s no basis for doing so.

Just days ago, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution – where Scruggs worked – issued a statement asking WB to add a disclaimer making it clear that is a fictional element of the story. The editors and others at the paper made the point that not only is it disrespectful toward Scruggs, who passed away at a young age, but it also shows a lack of interest in how journalists of any gender do their jobs.

In response, the studio’s statement says the newspaper is simply trying to distract people from how the movie shows it got the initial story wrong. That doesn’t address the core issue the AJC raised and so reads more like a company more interested in defending its director than setting the record straight.

Rockwell’s appearance on “Kimmel” was one of the few press stops by the cast.

Overall

There have been a number of good writeups of the controversy surrounding the portrayal of Scruggs on screen from both media commentators and film columnists. They should be sought out and read for a fuller understanding than I can provide here on what such an unnecessary addition does to the reputation of not only the real person portrayed on screen but also women journalists as a whole.

What keeps sticking in my mind is why telling this story was deemed to be essential or important. Yes, Jewell was unfairly maligned in the press before all the facts came out, at which point he was cleared of suspicion. That doesn’t undo the damage done, but it does come as the result of organizations like the press and law enforcement diligently doing their jobs. And he went on to lead a relatively normal life after doing no time in jail.

Compare that to the countless people currently imprisoned for minor drug offenses, or there only because they took a plea deal upon realizing they couldn’t afford to mount a defense against charges they had no connection to. It’s just that kind of story told in Ava DuVerney’s recent Netflix miniseries “When They See Us” about the Central Park Five, some of whom were in jail for decades for crimes they were not involved in.

The campaign never really answers the question of why the movie is here or what it’s essential elements are. Instead, in the lack of any other compelling messages, the idea seems to be that any time a white male is falsely accused it’s worthy of being called out in a feature film. Eastwood and the writers seem to simply want to vilify the very organizations that keep us safe and informed simply because they sometimes get it wrong, but by focusing on such a minor example of that injustice it makes their point hard to swallow.

Picking Up the Spare

Hamm appeared on “The Tonight Show” to promote the film but wound up talking about other things for the most part. Hauser appeared on “Kimmel” to talk about the movie just before release.

The Mule – Marketing Recap

Recapping Warner Bros.’ marketing campaign for The Mule.

the mule posterDirector Clint Eastwood is back in theaters with the new movie The Mule. Based on a true story originally published as a story in The New York Times, the focus is on Earl Stone (Eastwood), a retired WWII vet who becomes involved with a Mexican drug cartel, transporting their merchandise into and through the U.S.

His activities put him on the radar of the DEA, who seek to not only arrest him but use him as a way to bring down the cartel as a whole. But he’s not doing it because he’s a hardened drug dealer, just because he wants to leave something behind for the family he wasn’t there for in the past.

The Posters

Eastwood’s face dominates the movie’s only poster, hovering over the highway where we see his truck cruising down the road. Other than the note that it’s “Inspired by a true story” there’s no copy here that explains what the movie is about or what that story is, so Warner Bros. is obviously hoping the face of the actor/director will be enough to inspire people to check the movie out. Either that or it couldn’t figure out anything new to say.

The Trailers

The first trailer, which came out shortly after the announcement of a release date, introduces us to Earl as he’s in the middle of a potentially dangerous encounter with a police officer while in the middle of a drug run. As we shift into a montage of clips that come largely without dialogue, Earl narrates an explanation of how he wanted to do something that would in some way make up for the failure he was to his family, even if it is dangerous work he’s doing. Amidst that we see a group of what are presumably federal agents who seem to be closing in on him and those he works for. It ends by setting up a conclusion that may not work out well for Earl and those he cares about.

Online and Social

Not much on the movie’s official website, just the trailer and a story synopsis along with information on release dates and links to the Twitter, Facebook and Instagram profiles.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Nothing I’ve come across, though it may be that WB has run some targeted ads in the markets getting the movie early.

Media and Publicity

Speculation had run rampant for a while about whether or not the movie would make it in time to be considered for the 2018 awards season. That was put to rest in late September when Warner Bros. announced its mid-December release date.

His role in the movie was part of a short interview with Pena about his tendency to play drug enforcement characters.

The New York Times journalist whose story inspired the movie wrote a remembrance of how he discovered the story and how it feels to see it on the big screen.

A video for an original song from Toby Keith was released just a couple weeks ago that featured scenes from the movie.

At the movie’s premiere the cast spoke about the process of working with Eastwood while the director shared what it was that drew him into the project. He was also interviewed about the unusual nature of the story and how it got on his radar.

Overall

I mean…alright. This seems to fit in with Eastwood’s late career theme of playing cranky old guys who won’t let go of the past while at the same time seeking to make amends with the family they’ve neglected over the years.

What’s kind of surprising is that this is all there is. It may be, especially given the late date at which the movie was finally put on the release calendar, that WB is looking to make as small a deal about it as possible. That’s reinforced by the lack of early reviews and the overall small publicity push it received.

Picking Up the Spare

Eastwood’s daughter Alison spoke about her decision to return to acting, particularly with her father.

Warner Bros. released a featurette including Eastwood talking about the story and his long-lived career.

There was an interview with jazz musician Arturo Sandoval, who created the score for the movie.

The 15:17 to Paris – Marketing Recap

1517 to paris poster 2Director Clint Eastwood continues the “true life stories” phase of his career he began in 2009 with this week’s 15:17 to Paris. Like some of his other recent films this movie tells the story of ordinary people who rose to the occasion when something extraordinary was asked of them. In this case, it’s the 2015 attempted terrorist attack on a Paris-bound train that was scuttled by three American soldiers who happened to be on the train and who apprehended the attacker before he could do serious harm.

Notably, Eastwood cast the three actual individuals to play themselves. So Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos all reenact the events of that day as well as the journeys that lead them to be on that train at that place at that time. Helping them along are seasoned pros like Jenna Fischer, Judy Greer and others who play the family, friends and other influences on the lives of the three soldiers.

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Unforgiven (25th Anniversary Flashback Marketing)

Today’s multiplex is filled with sequels to movies that last graced theater screens a decade or more earlier. These “legasequels” or whatever you might want to call them are an attempt by studios to revive dormant IP, hoping that people will be pulled in by a nostalgia-driven campaign and the promise of a return of old favorite characters.

Unforgiven, which turned 25 this past Monday, wasn’t a long-delayed sequel to anything. It was a wholly original story written by David Webb Peoples and directed by Clint Eastwood, who also starred. In its own way, though, it was not only a call back to the era of Westerns – a genre Eastwood was plenty familiar with – but also a sequel of sorts to the stories those movies used to tell.

It’s easy to see William Munny (Eastwood) as the older, more grizzled version of the same sort of cocky gunslinger that had been a staple of film from the 1930s, hitting their heyday in the 50s. Munny was a bandit back in his younger years, now retired and raising his kids on a small farm. One day a young man calling himself The Schofield Kid comes to Munny’s door, asking him to join him on a quest to collect a $1,000 reward. That prize has been offered by a group of prostitutes for the death of two cowboys who disfigured one of their number and was let off with merely a fine by Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman), the sheriff of the town. Munny reluctantly agrees and brings along his friend Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman) for the journey.

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