How Vertical Entertainment is selling another hyper-efficient assassin drama.
There are a great many movies that should have gotten sequels but didn’t, for any of a variety of reasons. One of those is Salt, the Angelina Jolie spy action drama that was about as tight and well-constructed as they come.
This week’s Ava comes close to filling the gap left by the lack of a Salt sequel. Jessica Chastain stars as the title character, a highly-skilled assassin who has worked for years for a black-ops government agency. When an assignment goes wrong she finds herself on the run and struggling just to survive. That flight includes visits to the family she ran away from almost a decade earlier. At the same time she has to find out who it is that sold her out and now wants her dead.
The movie costars Geena Davis, Colin Farrell, John Malkovich, Common, Jess Wexler and others. Reception so far has not been great, with a paltry 25 percent “Rotten” on Rotten Tomatoes. Vertical’s campaign has been heavy on action and light on story, as we’ll see below.
In June the first and only domestic poster (by marketing agency Ignition) came out. It shows Ava looking glamorous but deadly, wearing a lovely evening dress and fully made up while also holding a gun and with a bloody gash on her cheek. The title treatment uses a bullseye to communicate the idea she’s an assassin, with the copy below it hinting at the danger by saying “Kill. Or be killed.
The first trailer (371,000 views on YouTube) came out in late June, quickly introducing us to Ava and her lethal skillset. Her abilities are being questioned by some, though, and she becomes a target herself. While her mentor wants to protect her, others want her dead and she has to call on all her abilities and training to get through each day. What we see here promises lots of close-up action and violence with a great cast, making it look more than a little attractive and interesting.
Online and Social
There doesn’t appear to have been a website created for the movie and it received limited support on Vertical’s social brand profiles.
Advertising and Promotions
Chastain posted a fun little video on social media showing her fight training with Farrell, joking about how they never seem to get along on film.
A clip came out recently showing just how deadly Ava is
Media and Press
There had been a bit of controversy around director Matthew Newton regarding past accusations of assault the ultimately led to him being removed from the project. It wasn’t until a while later that a first look photo was released.
Salt, of course, isn’t the only movie this one can be compared to. There’s more than a little John Wick in here as well, and there have been others that have tried to play in the same space.
This film’s biggest differentiator is Chastain in the lead role, but based on what is laid out above it looks like no one’s heart was really in it. The whole campaign is rather lackluster, not trying very hard to raise a standard action flick to any substantial level. It’s a shame since it’s not a bad premise, and the addition of a life Ava left behind is intriguing. As it is the marketing sells a slick but unexceptional movie.
How Disney is selling its latest potential franchise starter.
When Disney greenlit Artemis Fowl, a movie adaptation of the hit 2001 novel, it likely had aspirations of it starting a whole new Harry Potter-esque franchise that would diversify the studio’s top-tier brands outside of Star Wars, Marvel and Pixar. The company’s massive marketing machine could come around the movie and propel it to box-office success, opening the door for sequels covering the rest of the books in the series.
Those hopes might still be in place but the scale might be reduced a bit as the Covid-19 shutdown of the last few months means Artemis Fowl is debuting not on theaters but on Disney+.
The story is focused on the young Artemis Jr. (Ferdia Shaw), the latest in a long line of criminal masterminds who is being groomed by his father Artemis Sr. (Colin Farrell) to one day take over the family business. When Sr. goes missing, Jr. sets out to find him and discovers the job entails more working and dealing with fairies, trolls and other magical creatures than he anticipated. Artemis has to navigate dangers he never imagined with the help of a few trusted allies.
Despite the change in release platform, Disney’s campaign for the movie – directed by Kenneth Branagh – still clearly has the goal of starting a franchise of films that can work for years and span stories.
It’s “Time to believe” according to the first teaser poster (by marketing agency LA) released in November of last year. Below that copy we see Artemis’ face, mostly hidden in the shadows of blue and green lighting, with some kind of strange language reflected in the lenses of his large glasses. It nicely hints at his intelligence as well as the mysteries he’ll be uncovering.
The second poster (by marketing agency BLT Communications) came out in March and still reflects the targeted theatrical release date. For the imagery it pulls the camera back for a design that’s very familiar for the “franchise film with a star-studded cast and lots of effects” genre. The supporting characters are arranged around Artemis and a handful of locations are hinted at while in the background a huge vortex is opening that is clearly supernatural and represents the kind of dangerous journey our young adventurer will be embarking on.
An updated version of that poster was released in April to highlight the new Disney+ release strategy and date.
The teaser trailer (6.2 million views on YouTube), released in November, sells a magical journey for young people. A raspy narrator talks about why they were driven underground to avoid the humans as we see a decrepit mansion followed by some sort of incredible city filled with floating vehicles and more. Along with that there’s adventure, archery and more as the dangers Fowl faces become evident.
This isn’t about the father, we’re told as the second trailer (4.6 million views on YouTube) from March opens, it’s about Artemis, the son. He’s grown strong, but when his father disappears Artemis learns his father may not have been the good man he believed him to be. He sets out to find him and learns the truth is more complicated, that his father was also protecting the world, and so enlists allies as he dives into a world filled with magical creatures and amazing adventures.
Online and Social
As has become the norm, the movie’s website is kind of a disappointment, featuring only the barest of information on the story along with the trailer, some photos and not much else.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
On St. Patrick’s Day an “Irish Blessing” video was released showing off the action and adventure the movie had to offer. Around the same time came a featurette that had Branagh and others talking about how they approached the story and brought the books to life on the screen.
In the midst of shifting release dates for a handful of movies in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and the closure of theaters Disney made the surprising announcement, accompanied by a short promo, that the film would debut exclusively on Disney+.
A “Special Look” came out shortly after that emphasizing the special gear Artemis uses for his rescue mission as well as the friends he enlists for his quest.
Artemis is looking for clues that will lead him to his father’s secrets in the first clip released by Disney in mid-May.
Later that month the first TV spot ran making sure audiences understood this was an epic fantasy adventure they’d be able to stream on Disney+.
Media and Publicity
A first look at Dench and other parts of the movie was part of EW’s 2019 preview issue late last year.
Eoin Colfer, the author of the source book, appeared on “Good Morning, America” in late May to talk about seeing his work come to life and being involved in that process.
Colfer, along with costar Lara McDonnell, did a virtual panel for Book Con to touch on similar subject matter.
The promotional efforts on display here are quite good, setting a solid tone for the audience and selling a story filled with adventure and mystery. That’s a good message to send as it makes lots of promises that the movie can eventually deliver on.
Of particular note here are the trailers and the advertising elements, which are able to show off the spectacle of the movie. The lack of substantive publicity and press efforts are a bit surprising, though given the turmoil washing through the media world it might be that there are simply no more outlets to interview talent.
What’s most capturing my interest, though, is that unlike many of the movies that have gone straight to streaming or VOD recently, this is a big, live-action flick that, as mentioned before, is clearly intended to kick off a cinematic series. It’s one thing for an animated feature, of which there are plenty for all platforms, as well as for low-budget indies and rom-coms.
So the campaign here is a good one, but it’s selling something that has been almost exclusively a theatrical experience. There’s little doubt it will still be popular on Disney+, but it might not be the kind of streaming experience people are looking for.
Picking Up the Spare
The troubled road the movie took during development is covered here, making it seem as if the final version was always destined to be written off as quickly as possible.
A series of seven character posters came out just as the movie was hitting Disney+. There was also a new short video promo to mark its availability.
Branagh was interviewed about the making of the film and the process of finishing it during quarantine. The main characters were introduced again in a new featurette.
After winning widespread acclaim for The Lobster two years ago, writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos is back with The Killing of a Sacred Deer. The movie reteams him with star Colin Farrell, who here plays Dr. Steven Murphy, a successful surgeon who leads a comfortable, respectable and luxurious life with his wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) and their two teenage children.
Steven has, unbeknownst to most everyone, taken a teenage boy named Martin (Barry Keoghan) under his wing. That turns out to be a poor decision as Martin’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic and dangerous. Not only does he threaten to expose a secret of Steven’s from long in the past but he also makes it clear he’s a danger to the whole family.
Farrell stands alone in an absurdly tall hospital room on the first poster, facing two empty beds as if pondering the people who are no longer in them. There’s no other copy aside from the title and credits and nothing to provide additional story context, so it’s just about selling a unique look and feel here.
The second poster features an upside down image of Martin, a photo of Steven and Anna appearing inside the outline of Martin’s picture. That’s meant to convey how the two parties have become intertwined, the fact that Martin’s photo is upside down adding to the sense of disorientation in the audience.
There’s no clear story in the first trailer, instead it’s more focused on setting up some sort of medical mystery and family drama. Somehow a young girl winds up not able to move and that has an impact on the rest of her family as well as the surgeon who has handled her case. What else is happening isn’t apparent, other than that there will be both psychological and physical torture going on.
A second short trailer has Martin coming to the house of Anna and the rest of the family. Martin makes cryptic, threatening comments to Steven about his family and how they’re all going to get sick and die. There’s a connection between the two that’s not great and which is going to have an impact on everyone around Steven and Anna.
The primary feature is “Doctor What’s Wrong With Me?” That takes you to a stand-alone website that lets you diagnose what might be wrong with you by pointing and clicking on different parts of an anatomy. All the answers, of course, are more emotional and mental than physical. There’s also a test you can take that seems designed to test your empathy and attitude toward the harsh realities of life.
It’s very similar to the site launched in conjunction with The Lobster, which was designed to see what animal you should be when you fail to find a mate.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Nothing on this front that I’ve been exposed to. There may have been some ads in the real world and online that were targeted at the movie’s initial release markets, but I’m not aware of them.
Media and Publicity
The movie was one of the handful that had its premiere at this year’s Cannes International Film Festival. It was later also added to the Fantastic Fest schedule.
The movie was one of a few Kidman appeared in at the festival, leading to a narrative in the press about the actress’s resurgence and her work ethic. Later on Silverstone talked about how she got involved with the film and what it was like shooting with Farrell.
This marking their second collaboration, there was a joint interview with Farrell and Lanthimos where they talked about how they began working together, what they enjoy about the process and lots more.
Anyone who wasn’t already a fan of Lanthimos’ previous work, including those who first discovered him through 2015’s The Lobster, isn’t going to find a lot to latch onto with this campaign. There’s no, or little, sense of the story or character offered anywhere in the marketing that A24 has offered for this new movie. Anyone who saw the trailer in front of something more mainstream likely came away confused and uninterested. It’s inaccessible, providing no easy jumping on point for the uninitiated.
For those a bit savvier and already in tune with what the filmmaker is doing, though, it offers a wealth of good stuff. The efforts shows the visual richness of Lanthimos’ style and the complex moral territory his stories frequently tread into. The publicity push hasn’t been all that substantial, but that’s a small criticism for an overall campaign that’s consistent from one element to the next and knows just what will bring in the kind of audience it’s hoping to find.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.