The High Note – Marketing Recap

How Focus Features is selling its story of showbiz dreams.

high note poster 2

The story of The High Note seems to come at music stardom from two ends of the timeline. On the one end Grace (Tracee Ellis Ross) is a massive star who continues to make a living performing the hits from her successful career and whose management wants her to keep on down that road. She, meanwhile, wants to keep growing and putting out new material.

On the other end is Maggie (Dakota Johnson), Grace’s personal assistant who has aspirations of becoming a songwriter and producer in her own right. Stressed by Grace’s constant needs and the frustrations of her own stifled ambitions, Maggie just tries to get through each day. Eventually she and Grace begin to become more entwined in each other’s lives, finding that each isn’t quite what the other expected.

Focus Features’ campaign has emphasized the story’s music industry setting, especially the talents of Ellis Ross in the lead.

The Posters

high note poster

Maggie and Grace stand side-by-side on the first poster (by marketing agency Arsonel), released in February. L.A.’s famous Capital Records building is seen in the circular frame, as are a couple palm trees and the members of the supporting cast. It seems the designers here were going for a look like an old Bill Graham-esque concert poster but couldn’t quite commit to the conceit.

The same basic design is used on May’s second poster, but this time the circle is surrounded by some bright stage lights at the bottom instead of a peaceful Los Angeles scene.

The Trailers

Maggie, we see in March’s first trailer (6 million views on YouTube), is an overworked and underappreciated for music superstar Grace. She keeps Grace’s schedule and everything else but is kept just out of the limelight. When Grace wants to record a new album instead of resting on her laurels as her managers want her to, Maggie sees an opportunity to write and produce as she’s always wanted to. Despite some resistance, the two women eventually team up to revitalize Grace’s career and realize Maggie’s ambition, which brings the two of them together.

What was essentially the same trailer (7.6 million views on YouTube) was rereleased in early May, coinciding with the news of the movie’s revised distribution details.

Online and Social

There are pics, videos and more on the movie’s official website, which at the top makes sure to link to all the VOD platforms audiences will be able to purchase the film on later this week. There are also bios of the cast as well as director Nisha Ganatra

Advertising and Promotions.

Before the movie’s promotional campaign really kicked off, news broke that Focus was taking off the theatrical release schedule and would be making it available through premium VOD platforms in late May, about three weeks after it was originally planned.

An audio track for the song “Love Myself” came out a couple weeks ago while one for “Stop For A Minute” hit YouTube just last week.

At the same time a number of clips were released. One shows Grace wanting to discuss her show, another shows Maggie getting a pep talk from her friend while she talks about her crush. Grace and Maggie discuss the singer’s stalled creative ambitions in a third while the two go over Grace’s hectic schedule in another.

the high note online ad

Online ads used variations on the film’s key art to drive traffic to the website specifically for the on-demand audience.

More clips showed Grace urgently needing Maggie’s help for a non-urgent matter and Maggie sharing her musical aspirations with her friend.

A special at-home watch part was set for this Friday to get people to tune in for a communal event.

Media and Press

Ellis Ross was the central figure in the movie’s press campaign, including lots of interviews that focused on her playing a musical superstar given she’s the real life daughter of Diana Ross, something she was understandably reluctant to do.

Overall

While the animated features that have gone straight to VOD over the last couple months have gotten lots of attention, this is the kind of movie that is much more likely to follow that path not just during a theater-closing pandemic but going forward as well. It’s the kind of mid-grade star vehicle that has, over the last few years, not performed well theatrically but has been sought by streaming companies who want to build out their libraries.

Premium VOD offers a middle ground, one where the studio retains control but doesn’t have the pressure of theatrical box-office looming over its head. Not saying these conversations won’t be difficult, but this seems like a perfect example of the middle-ground type of movie that has been lost in the shuffle of late.

That being said, the campaign supports just that kind of release. It doesn’t seem like it would generate a huge amount of interest in driving people to theaters, but it might convince people to buy it to watch this weekend as they remain indoors. It looks funny and uplifting and enjoyable, which is exactly the kind of film that is more likely to do well at home.

Picking Up the Spare

There were more interviews with Ellis Ross about living out her pop dreams, the concerns she had taking on the role and more

Johnson appeared on “Kimmel” to discuss the film as well. 

The movie’s costume designer talked about creating the look of the characters. 

Another clip showed Grace performing while a featurette covered the themes of the story. Some of the movie’s locations were included in an installment of Focus’ “Reel Destinations” series. Ross also appeared in an installment of the studio’s “My First Gig” series. 

Suspiria – Marketing Recap

suspiria poster 14As if Black Swan wasn’t enough, a dance company is once more positioned as being filled with darkness and terror in Suspiria, the modern remake of the 1970s classic erotic, psychological thriller. Directed by Luca Guadagnino, this version stars Dakota Johnson as Susie Bannion, an talented young dancer vying for a spot in a troupe lead by the enigmatic Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton).

Still set in 1977, Susie soon finds the academy is not what she believed it to be. There are strange hidden hallways, rumors of girls having gone missing and other mysteries. The question is whether or not Susie can believe what she sees and how well she might fit in.

The Posters

There’s not much graphically to the first poster, but the image of an “S” in what might probably be blood on what looks to be a concrete industrial wall certainly hints at some not good things happening in the movie. There’s not much graphically to the first poster, but the image of an “S” in what might probably be blood on what looks to be a concrete industrial wall certainly hints at some not good things happening in the movie. A series of posters used that same image with various lines and phrases inside the “S” including “Give your soul to the dance,” “Let mother take care of you” and more.

That same “S” is shown on another one-sheet, this time more overtly painted in blood, with the title treatment presented in a very disjointed, Saul Bass-esque style.

Character posters featuring Johnson, Goth (that one a Fandango exclusive), Mia Goth, Renee Soutendijk, Angela Winkler, Chloe Grace Moretz and Lutz Ebersdorf.

The theatrical one-sheet uses the same title treatment seen earlier, but this time surrounded by flame-like splatters of blood with the eyes of the characters looking out from the red.

Another series of posters placed a red “S” in the middle of photos of different locations from the story, mostly different offices and rehearsal spaces from around the academy.

More character posters followed that provided different looks at the cast.

Two additional posters presented very tribalistic, takes on the story, showing a six-armed dancer holding a woman’s head in each hand.

The Trailers

Things start out weird in the first trailer and only go more sideways as it goes on. There are shots of people standing in gray, barren fields looking at something slightly off-camera, women dancing tragically, crawling up walls and more, all with a growing dissonant swell of music in the background. The spot contains no dialogue or other means of conveying the plot, it’s all about creating a singularly creepy atmosphere and vibe.

A brief video was released a while later that included on-screen comments from YouTubers about the trailer and how shocking and unexpected it was.

Abandon all hope of understanding what’s happening in the first full trailer, as well as any hope you’ll ever feel normal again. We see Susie enter a dance studio has a hopeful young star, but things get twisted and terrifying quickly has sickles come out, secret doors are unlocked, mysterious journals hint at danger and more. It is a psychological mind-trip being sold here.

Online and Social

The movie’s official website opens with a map of nearby theater locations and prompts to buy tickets for upcoming screenings. You can access other material by clicking the Menu in the upper left corner of the site.

First there is “Intrigue” which seems to just contain a number of positive quotes from early reviews of the film. “Legends” offers a bit of information about the cast, including a collection of photos of each character.

A series of GIFs can be found in “Lessons,” which repeats the entreaty to “Give yourself over to the dance.” The trailers and clips are in “Secrets.” Finally, “Whispers” has a new song from Thom Yorke that’s featured on the soundtrack, along with a link to buy that album.

Links to the movie’s Instagram, Twitter and Facebook profiles can be found at the bottom of the site. There was a link on Twitter to Patricia’s Diary, which is only accessible via mobile browsers. That site lets you thumb through the diary kept by the character whose disappearance sets much of the story in motion and which is filled with scribblings and ramblings that sound unhinged but which may mean something.

There were also a collection of official GIFs from the trailers added to Amazon Studios’ Giphy channel.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Amazon doesn’t list any official TV spots on its YouTube channel, but there have been some promoted posts on social media that have used both the trailers and shorter videos that play like commercials. Other online ads used elements from the key art, as well as a promotional image of Johnson draped in red ribbons and surrounded by other dancers.

Media and Publicity

There had been coverage during early production but the first real press came when Johnson and director Luca Guadagnino debuted footage from the film as part of Amazon’s presentation during CinemaCon, footage that had a lot of attendees reportedly creeped out. It later skipped Cannes, presumably to open it up to make more of a fall film festival run.

A first look still was pushed out around the time Amazon gave it a release date and later on it was announced as one of the movies appearing at the Venice Film Festival.

One of the movie’s central dance sequences was the focus of an EW feature in its Fall Movie Preview issue. Shortly after that Guadagnino was interviewed about his hopes the movie really disturbs audiences as well as what he got from watching the original. Swinton then spoke about how this was the fourth film she’s made with Guadagnino and why the two work together frequently.

A clip released in late August gave audiences the first long-form look at the movie, specifically the demanding and creepy dance academy the characters populate. Another released in mid-October offered an extended look at Susie’s audition for the academy.

Screenwriter David Kajganich revealed he wasn’t a fan of the original film but that he saw an opportunity to expand the scope of the story in this version, or at least flesh out the background of 1970s Germany it’s set in. Johnson and the rest of the cast and crew spoke regularly while on the festival circuit about the story, the process of making the film and related topics.

It was announced in mid-September the movie would also screen at Beyond Fest.

A feature on Swinton had the actress finally confirming she played the mysterious male doctor and elaborating on the lengths she went to in order to inhabit the character. Guadagnino also spoke about the parts of the film he found most difficult or interesting to shoot and why he made certain stylistic choices.

Johnson has been making the TV talk show rounds as well, splitting her attention between this movie and Bad Times at the El Royale, which opened just a couple weeks ago.

Another interview with Guadagnino allowed him to talk more about casting Johnson and more with a conversation with the pair of them focused on the intense but fun set during production.

Overall

The campaign is so dense, inaccessible and filled with vague, mysterious imagery and symbolism that I can’t see this resonating with most anyone who didn’t hail mother! as their favorite movie of last year. It’s not a bad campaign, it’s just that there’s nothing about it that’s designed to appeal to a mainstream audience.

That hasn’t been helped by all the speculation about who Swinton is playing, the fact that it’s a remake of a movie that was never a popular favorite to begin with and other factors. It looks good, but there’s nothing here for anyone to actually latch on to.

Picking Up The Spare

More from director Luca Guadagnino on the parallels between the movie’s story and the current US political climate.

Amazon Studios put out a video of fans reacting to a particular scene from the film.

Amazon launched a mini-campaign to promote the movie’s coming soon to Prime Video that was drastically different in tone from the theatrical marketing.