The Trial of the Chicago 7 – Marketing Recap

How Netflix is selling a historial, but unfortunately still timely, drama.

The right of citizens to assemble freely while seeking redress from their government is one of those ideas and ideals, like “all Nazis are bad,” that seemed relatively settled and uncontroversial up until about four or five years ago. Those in power, though, often don’t care for it when those who aren’t rise up en masse and point out problems, inequalities or other issues plaguing society. We’ve seen…several…examples of that in recent months.

The Trial of the Chicago 7, out this week on Netflix from writer/director Aaron Sorkin, tells the story of a similar protest from over 50 years ago as well as the aftermath of those actions. Sacha Baron Cohen, Jeremy Strong, John Carroll Lynch, Eddie Redmayne, Alex Sharp, Daniel Flaherty, Noah Robbins and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II play, respectively, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines, Lee Weiner and Bobby Seale.

Those men all assembled in Chicago for the 1968 Democratic Convention, leading and organizing protests against the Vietnam War, racial inequality and other social issues. Those protests were met with violent pushback from the Chicago police, who used tear gas and other methods on those in attendance. Ultimately the eight were charged with conspiracy to cross state lines to incite a riot, though the conventional wisdom is those charges were only an excuse to punish those who had embarrassed then Mayor Richard J. Daley, who had denied many of the requested protest permits.

The movie arrives just as the U.S. has seen months of protests – the vast majority of which have been non-violent – over some of the same types of issues, especially the treatment of Blacks by police. Then, as now, those involved have been labeled as agitators or worse. The lack of headline-making charges and trials may only be because many individuals have been disappeared by shady Department of Homeland Security agents, though everyday police have certainly done their part as well.

Then, as is the case now, the whole world is watching.

Paramount originally developed the movie but sold it off to Netflix in July, seeing no other options given the multiple issues caused by this year’s pandemic. While it hits streaming this week, Netflix did give the film – which has a 94% Fresh Rotten Tomatoes rating – a small drive-in release in the last few weeks.

The Posters

Hoffman is walking up the courthouse steps on the poster (by marketing agency Concept Arts), released in mid-September. He’s flanked not only by Chicago PD but by supporters of him and the other defendants. Not only does it label the movie as “Based on a true story” and call out Sorkin’s dual involvement, but the narrative is framed in the copy reading “In 1968, democracy refused to back down.” That makes it clear those being persecuted are on the side of light in this story, while those doing the persecuting are the adversaries. It’s almost a case of those in power exhibiting facist tendencies in trying to quell speech while others take more of an “against facism” approach.

The Trailers

The teaser trailer (809,000 views on YouTube) came out in mid-September and immediately establishes both the setting of the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention protests and the resulting trial, which is clearly shown to be an attack on free speech and political thought.

All of that is expanded on in the full trailer (767,000 views on YouTube), released shortly thereafter. On one side you have the establishment that is tired of a bunch of punks telling them how to do their jobs. On the other you have Hoffman and his allies, who are clear in their plans to protest the Vietnam War in Chicago. The resulting trial is shown to be, for all intents and purposes, rigged from the outset as the judge and prosecutor have their thumbs on the scales of justice. But those on trial have numbers on their side, as we hear repeatedly the cries of “The whole world is watching.”

Online and Social

Surprisingly, there was actually a website Netflix created for the film, though it had only the basic marketing information along with details on where those in-person screenings were happening.

Advertising and Promotions

A clip released at the end of last month shows Hoffman testifying in court and making his feelings on the proceedings known. Additional clips came out over the next few weeks.

The singer Celeste released a video for her new song “Hear My Voice” that’s featured on the film’s soundtrack.

Last week Netflix hosted a drive-in premiere screening at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena with Sorkin and others in attendance.

Spots like this distilled the story down to the core drama, especially the courtroom sequences, while highlighting the all-star cast featured in the film.

Media and Press

During TIFF Sorkin talked about how he staged the filming of the movie, including how he felt it could have been a musical.

A THR cover story in the film had Sorkin, Cohen and others from the cast all commenting not only on the film itself and its release strategy but also on the relevance of the story as it relates to the protests happening across the country right now.

Sorkin was interviewed on similar topics, including how his history as a playwright factors into how he crafted the story and shot the movie. More details also came out about how Netflix adjusted its release plans to cope with the pandemic once it acquired the title and how Sorkin was anxious for the film to finally come out, regardless of what format that took, as well as how he worked to create something that was true to the period but also timeless for today.

How Strong prepared for the role was covered in an interview with the actor while Redmayne appeared on “The Tonight Show” to talk about working with Sorkin. Despite having a prominent role, Cohen seems to have not done much press for the film, maybe because he’s ramping up the marketing for his surprise Borat sequel that comes out soon.

Overall

As stated at the outset, the story here is unfortunately still pertinent to the times we find ourselves in now. That has been reflected in the publicity push more than anything, while the rest of the actual marketing has been more focused on Sorkin and the cast.

What jumps out the most is that both the teaser and full trailers have surprisingly low viewing numbers. Combined they amount to just over 1.5 million views, which is below even what other mid-level dramas have racked up. Perhaps Netflix didn’t use paid advertising to boost those numbers, but even so, for a movie with a cast like this and from a popular writer/director that doesn’t seem to indicate widespread awareness or interest.

Whether or not that would have been different if everything else had remained normal and it were coming from Paramount to theaters is a question without an answer. But at this point its best hopes may lie in getting people’s attention through in-app promotions and recommendations.

Picking Up The Spare

The movie’s costume designer was interviewed about channeling the styles of the era and making them part of the film’s look. 

A new featurette had Sorkin talking about how he developed the story and what inspired him while working on it. Another focused on the real story the film is based on. 

Sorkin also spoke in an interview about meeting the real Tom Hayden and shooting in Chicago. 

Strong was interviewed about reuniting with Sorkin and going all-out in his performance. Abdul-Mateen II spoke about his experience shooting the film and hanging with the cast

Michael Keaton wasn’t a big part of the initial publicity or marketing push but has done a couple interviews since then. 

Netflix bought a paid Trending Topic on Twitter to drive awareness of the film. 

While he was promoting Borat, Cohen also talked more about filming this movie. 

The Aeronauts – Marketing Recap

How Amazon Studios is selling a historical adventure of scientific exploration.

aeronauts poster 2The Aeronauts seems like the kind of story that would act as the prelude to some sort of fantasy adventure. In fact, it’s (kind of) based on a true story. Felicity Jones plays Amelia Rennes, a pilot in 1800s London who is sought out by scientist James Glasher, who wants to use the gas balloon she flies to test his theories on weather prediction. Facing pushback from the Royal Society over those ideas, he partners with Rennes on his own, but their flight into the upper reaches of the sky goes horribly wrong and the two wind up adrift, struggling for survival.

While Glasher is a historical reality, Rennes is a composite of female scientists from the period, a fictional character inserted into the story to give Glasher someone to play off in events that are largely true, but slightly dramatized.

Amazon Studios has put together a campaign that emphasizes the peril the duo find themselves in as well as the desperate need to be taken seriously by their peers that has driven them.

The Posters

aeronauts posterThe movie is “Based on a true adventure” according to the poster (by marketing agency BLT Communications), released in late August. The balloon where much of the story takes place is shown floating into the cloudy sky. It’s a peaceful image until you notice a person is dangling from the edge of the basket, holding on for dear life.

That balloon – and the person in danger – are the central elements on the theatrical poster from October. This time, though, the faces of the two leads are added to either side of the balloon, each looking out into the distance as if considering the new territory they’re on the cusp of exploring. It’s actually slightly less effective because the additional elements clutter the impact a bit

The Trailers

The first trailer (7.6 million views on YouTube) wasn’t released until August. It begins with Amelia talking about her search for answers in the sky. Meanwhile, James is encountering pushback from fellow scientists when he suggests weather conditions can be forecast. He enlists her help for his experiments, but a freak storm on one of their outings sends them off course and unable to return to Earth. So it becomes a struggle for survival as extreme conditions pound them and their balloon until it looks like all hope may be lost.

James is desperate to prove his theories about weather prediction in the second trailer (4.2 million views on YouTube), released in October. To that end he gets Amelia to agree to fly him higher than ever before, where they marvel at the wonders around them. Only toward the end do we see the perils the pair face as things get out of hand and hardware begins to fail.

Online and Social

Not much beyond the standard marketing content on the movie’s official website, unfortunately. There was plenty of potential for an interactive history of ballooning or the science of weather prediction, or features on the real life characters portrayed in the story, but all those were passed by.

Advertising and Publicity

When Amazon did finally announce, in mid-May, a release date for later in the year it came with the surprising caveat the movie would screen in IMAX for a week prior. That made it Amazon’s first foray into IMAX releases, not all that shocking given it’s primarily trafficked in smaller dramas and the like.

Those plans changed in late July, though, when it was announced Amazon Studios was releasing it only to limited theaters and then making it available for streaming a short two weeks later, the latest in a series of moves showing less strict adherence to the theatrical model. In fact it was noted this film, along with The Report, represented the first salvo in a shift by Amazon away from applying the theatrical model to all its feature releases, something it had previously committed to as a way to stay in the good graces of exhibitors and studios.

In August the movie was listed among those slated to appear at this year’s London Film Festival as well as the Toronto Film Festival and Hamptons Film Festival. Redmayne and director Tom Hooper appeared at the movie’s Chicago Film Festival premiere also.

The American Federation of Teachers promoted the film with a sweepstakes awarding an educator with a private screening. Also on the educational front, the Museum of Flight held an advance screening for those interested in flight.

Amazon created a traveling promotional event titled “Aeronauts Incredible Journey” that launched in Los Angeles and has or will make a handful of other stops in major markets. The event included movie-themed attractions and experiences along with a period-specific food festival.

Two featurettes released by Amazon focused on the journey the characters embark on and the heights the story reaches for, the process of building the balloon used for filming and the recording of the score.

Online ads used video from the trailers along with the key image of the balloon to drive traffic to the ticket-selling website.

aeeronauts online ad

Media and Press

A still was released showing Redmayne and Jones before the movie had a US release date secured. Redmayne and Jones talked about working with filming a key moment with a dog. Sound designer Lee Walpole was interviewed about creating the unique mix of atmospheric and other noises for the story.

While at AFI Fest, Hooper and others spoke about the technical production details as well as how the story is still relevant to today.

Jones appeared on “The Tonight Show” and other talk shows while Redmayne included “The Late Show” among his promotional stops.

Overall

There’s almost a sense of “hurry up and wait” about the campaign Amazon Studios put together here. The branding never really comes together and it seems to have been a series of starts and stops, with no groove or momentum to what’s put before the audience.

It’s telling that the strongest parts of the marketing are those that just focus on the balloon itself. That’s a key image and one that has the strongest, most unique brand value from what’s here. When the actors themselves get involved things start to slow down and become far less interesting, maybe because the story is hard to explain. That balloon, though, is simple and evokes a strong response.

That’s why so many of the featurettes and other paid promotions used the balloon as the central component. Keeping the attention on that is the best choice the campaign does, including the traveling carnival, but it may not be enough to keep audiences interested enough in a movie that may wind up passing everyone by as they wait for higher profile holiday releases.

Picking Up the Spare

More featurettes on the movie’s score and actors, along with new interviews with Jones and Redmayne that focused on those stunts, which was also the subject of a profile of the movie’s cinematographer.

Another interview with Jones about how she worked to meld the various elements of the movie’s story in her character.

A handful of clips like this one have also been released.

Another featurette from Amazon Studios on the work that went into shooting the film.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald – Marketing Recap

The marketing of Fantastic Beasts: Crimes of Grindelwald is the subject of my latest recap at The Hollywood Reporter.

The wizarding world established in print by J.K. Rowling and then on film by Warner Bros. keeps expanding with this week’s Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. The movie, the second in the Fantastic Beasts series that is set decades before Harry Potter enrolled at Hogwarts, picks up with Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) being enlisted by Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) to find the recently escaped magical criminal Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp).

Online and Social

The official website is stocked with the standard content and little else. The exceptions are two elements that are meant to engage fans, part of the larger campaign that played into that specific portion of the audience.

Media and Publicity

Later on director David Yates made some remarkably tone-deaf comments that seemed to insinuate the accusations against Depp weren’t real because the actor is such a nice guy on set, a perspective that is exactly what got us to this place. Shockingly, Rowling herself made similar comments.

Without going into too much detail, it’s hard to see how this interview Depp did with Rolling Stone months later helped anyone’s case. If anything, it made the actor seem even more problematic, to the extent of wondering why – especially given his diminishing box office returns – anyone would want to work with him again.

That was followed shortly by an extensive feature in Entertainment Weekly where various elements of the story and characters were shared. There was talk of Young Dumbledore and what he’s like, details on Grindelwald as played by Depp, comments on what the audience could expect in the sequel, confirmation of the story being largely set in Paris and more.

After that largely blew over another set of stills was released along with the news that each film in the Fantastic Beasts franchise would take place in a different city, which was interesting for some reason. Yates in an interview confirmed people’s suspicions/fears, that the film would not address Dumbledore’s sexuality directly, instead just leaving things in the mind of the audience. He tried to thread the needle even more later on, saying this was just one aspect of a massive story that wasn’t being addressed directly, but that there were “sensual” scenes with the character.

More first look photos offered glimpses of a young Newt and other characters, including Dumbledore in an interview with Law where he awkwardly confirmed the future headmaster was gay but that it would not be explicitly addressed in the movie. Redmayne was also interviewed and talked about the darker tone the sequel has compared to the original.

Trying to keep things light, the studio released a first look at baby Nifflers in EW’s Fall Movie Preview issue. Later on Kravitz offered a few odds and ends about her character and the various relationships to others in the Potter universe.

The debut of the final trailer revealed Claudia Kim played Nagini, who at this point is still able to transform from human to snake. The actress spoke about that, but the overall audience reaction wasn’t positive as people felt making an Asian woman less than human was slightly derogatory.

An EW cover story just a couple weeks ago featured all kinds of new interviews and details about the movie, including Depp’s first on-the-record interview about how he got involved with the movie, what the future of the character might be and, to a very small extent, the controversy surrounding his casting.

A bit later the production crew was interviewed about how they created the historic settings for the movie.

Miller became a major face of the movie’s campaign, including a THR profile where he talked about his experience in Hollywood and lots more and a GQ profile where he was hailed as the gender-fluid, whimsical personality that perfectly fit the current cultural moment.

Law talked about the movie on “The Late Show” while Redmayne appeared on “The Tonight Show” to talk about how he prepared to wield a wand once more. Meanwhile Kravitz was interviewed about how she wanted to be more than a token minority in the movie.

Overall

If I were a cynical person I’d say all that “Hey fans, this is just for you!” messaging – both overt and implicit – was a bit cynical in nature, an admission the film is too dense for general audiences and might be kind of a mess.

Research from Fandom released in the last couple days shows that all those negative stories about Depp aren’t likely to make a difference among the core Potterverse fans. They are still going to turn out for the movie, even if they have to hold their noses while doing so. That explains to a large extent why Warner Bros. made the decisions they did with the campaign, putting the rest of the cast out there for fans to interact with, reinforcing that emotional connection and giving them a reason to buy tickets.

Picking Up The Spare

What was likely a sponsored bit on “The Tonight Show” had someone intentionally mispronouncing the movie’s name to unsuspecting people on the street.