cocaine bear – marketing recap

How Universal Pictures has sold a for realzies true story

As hard as it may be to believe, the new movie Cocaine Bear is based on a true story. Even harder to believe is the cocaine-powered bear of the title *isn’t Larry Kudlow.

Directed by Elizabeth Banks and written by Jimmy Warden, the movie’s premise is this: A duffel bag full of cocaine falls out of a plane as it’s being transported by criminals and lands in a national park where it’s ingested by a massive grizzly bear, which then proceeds to act exactly as you would expect a coked-out bear to.

Keri Russell stars as Sari, one of the local residents that gets involved in efforts to wrangle the bear after it takes its disco nap. O’Shea Jackson Jr., Ray Liotta, Brooklyn Prince, Alden Ehrenreich and others play those who encounter the bear or are searching for it, whether they’re locals just trying to survive or criminals trying to get their drugs back.

The real story the movie is inspired by is much less dramatic, but that doesn’t make for good cinema so let’s take a look at the marketing campaign Universal Pictures put together.

announcements and casting

The movie was announced in March, 2021, with Banks as director. Russell, Ehrenreich and others were added to the cast in June.

A release date was revealed in May of last year.

Unfortunately just a short while later Liotta passed away, though it was clarified he had finished filming his scenes already.

the marketing campaign

Universal kicked off the campaign in late November with the release of the first trailer (16 million YouTube plays). It is…insane…but shows the basic premise and major characters pretty well. Basically, a bear eats an entire package of cocaine and everyone is just trying to not die while a bunch of criminals are trying to recover said cocaine and also not die. It plays as very over-the-top, which is the only choice you can make with material like this.

The poster accompanying the trailer shows the bear of the title dancing around in a shower of cocaine, communicating to the audience exactly what the movie is about. A motion poster that came out a month later illustrates this point even more clearly.

Banks talked about how the story is really about the dynamics between the characters and that there’s a lot of empathy for the poor bear that didn’t know what it was getting into in an interview from December.

In late January TV advertising began with a commercial that takes the opposite approach of the trailer and juxtaposes that insane footage with a very serious score and pacing, making it seem like an awards-contender type of release, not a ridiculous commercial film about bears, drugs and death.

Rotten Tomatoes shared an exclusive featurette that had Banks and much of the cast talking about how nuts the movie was and how in tone it’s a comedy wrapped instead a horror movie.

Banks was the subject of a Variety cover story in early February that focused on how she went about preparing to tell a story like this as well as how this was her first directorial effort after her version of Charlie’s Angels didn’t connect with audiences. She then promoted the film when she appeared on “The Tonight Show” to tell lots of crazy stories.

What it was like to reunite with producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller as well as working with Liotta were both covered along with other topics in an interview with Ehrenreich.

A Snapchat lens was released that added Cocaine Bear to the background of your photos or videos.

Most everyone turned out for the premiere red carpet where they talked about hitting the right tone with the film, how wonderful Banks is as a director and more.

Warden was also interviewed about the process of taking the true story and turning it into something even more outrageous, including what liberties he took with the real events.


The movie is projected to open with about $15 million this weekend, which is a testament to how good the campaign is that it might be able to reach beyond the niche appeal film’s like this often have.

But really, inspired by Banks’ comments she would be open to making a movie about a coked-out shark, we need to think about the future and speculate about what other drug/animal stories might be coming soon:

  • Heroin Hedgehog
  • Oxycontin Ostrich
  • Marijuiana Manatee
  • Ecstasy Elephant

What else you got?

call jane – marketing recap

How Roadside Attractions has sold a drama that couldn’t be more timely

Call Jane movie poster from Roadside Attractions
Call Jane movie poster from Roadside Attractions

It’s hard to overstate how well-timed this week’s release of Call Jane actually is. Directed by Phyllis Nagy, the movie stars Elizabeth Banks as Joy, a suburban housewife in the 1960s who becomes pregnant, only to learn carrying the pregnancy to term would put her own life at risk. With abortion outlawed at the time, she turns to the informal network of women referred to collectively as Jane that helps women find safe abortion providers. Sigourney Weaver, Wunmi Mosaku, Kate Mara, Chris Messina, Chad Michael Smith and others costar.

As for the timing, the movie comes out just a few months after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion legal nationwide and just weeks before midterm elections that have been largely framed as a referendum on whether a woman’s right to make her own medical decisions is revoked entirely.

The story is “inspired by” real events, and the Jane organization was very real and a documentary on the group can be found on HBO Max. So with all that in mind, let’s take a look at how Roadside Attractions has sold the film.

announcements and casting

Weaver, Banks and Mara were all attached when the project was announced in October 2020. Messina, Smith and others joined in mid-2021 when production began.

A well-received debut at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival this past January was followed by Roadside acquiring distribution rights a month later.

the marketing campaign

Marketing for the film began in earnest in mid-August with the release of the trailer (1m YouTube views). It opens with Joy finding out her pregnancy is dangerous to her own health and life, with abortion being the only option to make sure she herself survives. But the board of her hospital refuses to grant an exemption, so she reaches out to Jane for help and gets the procedure. Determined to then help others Joy joins the group, only to then be investigated by the police for her role in what at the time was aiding an illegal activity.

Banks interviewed Weaver about how this movie relates to the latter’s own social activism over the years as well as just her career in general.

“You are not alone” says copy on the poster, which came out in early September. It shows Joy in her car driving through a protest calling for women to be given the right to choose, Virginia (Weaver) most clearly seen through the window amidst the throng of women.

A feature profile of Banks focused on this movie specifically but also tied it to both her career as a whole and her increased advocacy for issues like abortion and LGBTQ+ rights and more.

There were some short promo videos that came out before but a full TV spot was released just a few weeks ago that follows a condensed version of Joy’s journey, from finding out her pregnancy is dangerous to her own health through joining the cause.

Joy gets picked up by Gwen (Mosaku) and learns more about the Jane group in a clip that came out earlier this month.

Just last week Roadside held the movie’s Los Angeles premiere with the cast and crew in attendance along with long-time activist Gloria Allred. The screening had the added benefit of aiding Planned Parenthood.

Weaver appeared on “CBS Mornings” to promote the film. She and Banks both appeared on “The View” to talk about the movie and the story it tells of life in the 1960s for women seeking abortions. That all followed Weaver’s time doing publicity for The Good House which came out just last month (also from Roadside) where she often mentioned this film as well.


To repeat myself, it’s remarkable how this movie is coming out at this moment, when the Dobbs decision from SCOTUS coupled with the potential return of Republican control of Congress has opened up the possibility of a return to the pre-1973 world of abortion being outlawed across the nation. That could then lead groups like Jane once again springing up to fill a need in the lives of women that would otherwise be unavailable, at least legally.

That point is made but not necessarily underlined in the campaign, by which I mean there’s clearly a point of view at work but it never becomes so overt as to lose all meaning. Also on the positive front, I could listen to Banks and Weaver banter with each other for a good long while.

If there’s a weakness it’s similar to other stories about various social issues from the mid-20th century: Namely, that it’s very white. There’s a brief moment where Mosaku’s Gwen calls out the rest of the group for making choices that once again put women of color at the bottom of the list, but that’s all the acknowledgement that’s offered. The movie itself may address the issue more fully, but that’s all we see here.

Charlie’s Angels – Marketing Recap

You can read my full recap of the marketing campaign for Charlie’s Angels at The Hollywood Reporter.

Online and Social

In addition to the standard marketing materials, the movie’s official website has (of course) a link to buy or stream the soundtrack. It’s a bit better than most recent movie sites, including a link to find out how to get a sponsored Snapchat lens

Entertainment Weekly offered exclusive movie-themed lenses for Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram as well.

Media and Press

Well in advance of the movie coming out – indeed before production had really started – Stewart was out there talking about how Banks was approaching the material and how no one was interested in just ripping off earlier versions. Lucy Lui, who starred in the movies from the early 2000s, gave her blessing to the project. And Stewart commented on the attitude of the movie while promoting other projects last year.

While promoting J.T. Leroy earlier in the year Stewart spoke briefly about the movie, explaining how Banks and the other filmmakers told a relevant story using a slightly anachronistic concept, promising plenty of humor as well. Banks also mentioned the movie while she was promoting Brightburn and other projects.

There was a profile of Stewart back in August where she talked about this movie and her career to date.

Del Rey was interviewed about how her musical collaboration with others got started.

In September the whole cast and Banks appeared on “Kimmel” to talk about working together and offer some footage to the TV and studio audiences. Banks spoke about her directing career to date and why she wanted to take on this movie in particular in a feature interview. Another interview had her talking about her love of the original series and more.

Stewart hosted an episode of “Saturday Night Live” in late October as part of a promotional push that included a stop at “The Tonight Show” as well. The topic of showing off hardworking women came up when Banks appeared on “The Late Show” while Scott’s time on “The Tonight Show” was more fun.

That was also the focus of a behind the scenes profile that included comments from Banks and the rest of the cast. She talked about how the film was meant to celebrate working women when she did a Q&A at a recent Fast Company-hosted event. A later interview had her putting the pressure on studios to hire more women filmmakers.


Picking Up the Spare

Balinska was interviewed about the production, including her training regiment to get in shape for the physical stonework.

Banks brought the thunder when asked why a reboot of the franchise was necessary at this point in time.

Brightburn – Marketing Recap

brightburn trailerThe multi-talented James Gunn has made a career of telling stories that both amuse us and scare the heck out of us in good old-fashioned, B-movie ways. This week, putting on his producer hat, Gunn brings audiences Brightburn.

The story can be summed up simply as “What if a young Superman was bad?” Elizabeth Banks and David Denman star as Tori and Kyle Breyer, a farmer couple who discovers a mysterious alien craft has landed on their land. They raise the boy inside the craft as their own, hoping to bring him up right. But as Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn) gets older he begins acting out and using the incredible powers he’s developing to terrify those around him, confused and angry by the mysteries that surround him with no answers but incredible abilities.

The Posters

brightburn poster 2Brandon hovers over the ground with a makeshift cape on his back and a strange alien mask on his head on the first poster. It’s an ominous image, not a heroic one, especially given the black and red colors used in the design. The second is even creepier, featuring a close-up of that mask. Both communicate that the movie comes from the team behind Guardians of the Galaxy

Gunn, working with the artist agency Talenthouse, judged a fan art contest that had designers creating their own posters for the film. The winning designs can be seen here, some of which are quite good.

The Trailers

The trailer, which Sony debuted at last year’s Brazil Comic-Con, starts out looking like it’s selling an updated version of Richard Donner’s Superman, with a young boy struggling to figure out who he is with the help of his mother. We see he fell to Earth in a pod that crashed into a farm field and was adopted by a kindly couple who wanted a son of their own. He develops powers that make him special but seems to be using those powers to terrorize the locals, all while drawing a strange, alien symbol everywhere he can.

Early March saw the release of the second trailer, which shows that a young boy with super powers who’s been bullied is a dangerous individual. Brandon deals with terrible adults and kids and, as he figures out what he can do, begins to exact some revenge, giving into his darker impulses even as his adopted mother continues to believe there is good in him. Gunn later debuted an extended version of that trailer that contained a bit of new footage.

A final short trailer came out earlier this week that doesn’t offer much that’s new but does make the case again for the movie being filled with super powered frights and scares.

Online and Social

After the second trailer plays when the front page of the official website loads, the only information you’ll find there is an “About” section and details on the “Fan Art Contest” mentioned above. The page shows the key art with prompts to buy tickets with links to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram profiles in the upper right corner.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Online banner and other ads have used the key art to drive traffic to the official website where people can buy tickets and find out more. I haven’t seen any promoted posts on Twitter or elsewhere but it wouldn’t surprise me if there had been some run to increase the reach of the trailers. Short versions of the trailer were used as pre-roll videos on YouTube and it’s safe to assume at least some of these could also be found as TV spots.

IGN shared a video of people stuck in a room under the pretense of being in a “research project” that turned terrifying and was actually a sponsored promotion for the movie.

A sponsored Facebook Lens allowed people to add Brandon’s eye laser powers to their videos.

Media and Publicity

Gunn had been teasing the project for a little while and a big announcement was planned for Sony’s panel during last year’s San Diego Comic-Con. Those plans were discarded when the bad-faith controversy over Gunn’s decade-old Twitter jokes erupted, resulting in this being taken off the promotional schedule at the same time he was fired from Guardians of the Galaxy 3. A month or so later rumors began emerging the movie would be essentially dumped by Sony in theaters in September. It sat there for a while until it was finally given its current release date at the same time the actual title was announced.

Gunn described the movie as the perfect one for summer audiences, with others offering some details and background on the characters and unusual story.

An extended clip released in early May freaked everyone out by showing a key scene from the movie where Brandon terrorizes a lonely waitress at a local diner. It’s a tense sequence meant to show how powerless the average person would be against someone with super powers who decided to be a villain. Another shorter clip released a bit later has Brandon experimenting with his newly-discovered invulnerability.

Denman was interviewed about the movie, including how the drama around Gunn and Guardians 3 might have helped by giving Sony some breathing space to reconsider its initial release plans.

A Fandango-exclusive featurette had the cast and crew discussing the movie and setting the expectation that it was unlike anything audiences had seen before.

Sony released a brief “motion comic” that is quite intriguing, offering an overview of the story and showing some of the terror Brandon inflicts on those around him in animated form, which is often more disturbing than the footage from the actual film.

Banks stopped by “Jimmy Kimmel Live” to share her thoughts on scary movies and more. She also appeared on “The Late Late Show.”


It’s not as if there haven’t been plenty of Elseworlds-type stories that use as their premise the idea that Superman or other all-powerful heroes might have turned out to be evil (or at least less good) if the situations around their origins and upbringing had been different in some way. DC itself has long published comics featuring Ultraman, the Earth-3 version of Superman who uses his powers to become a crime boss. And the “Red Son” story wondered what would have happened if Kal-El’s capsule had landed in Soviet Russia.

None of those have been as flat-out scary and what’s presented in the Brightburn campaign. What’s shown here isn’t the big, bold threat to humanity that Lex Luthor has often feared, but a smaller, more intimate danger that comes from someone terrifyingly powerful being right beside you. All the mysteries that compel Clark Kent to learn more about his Kryptonian heritage and become the good person his adopted parents have raised him to be are here shown to be psychological scars Brandon doesn’t have the emotional or mental tools to deal with. The symbols he draws, used generously in the marketing, are a recurring image he can’t shake or explain. So his actions are the result of being driven somewhat mad.

Whether or not Sony made the right decision in giving the movie a bigger release platform in summer as opposed to dumping it earlier in the year remains to be seen. The $13 million opening predicted would be totally respectable for a horror film of this kind, especially given the box-office competition. Regardless, the brand-consistent marketing has created a strong identity for the film that makes it intriguing, especially to those who enjoy cross-genre stories like this is shown to be.

Picking Up the Spare

A short featurette released after the movie was in theaters had Gunn and members of the cast talking about how it’s a horror twist on the super hero genre. Another emphasized how Brandon isn’t a hero who’s here to help us. 

An interview with the other two Gunn brothers who wrote the film had them talking about how they didn’t want audiences to identify or empathize with Brandon in the story. 

The LEGO Movie: The Second Part – Marketing Recap

The bulk of my marketing recap for The LEGO Movie: The Second Part can be found at The Hollywood Reporter, with the rest below.

Online and Social

You get the second trailer playing as soon as the official website loads. After that finishes or is closed the landing page plays music from the soundtrack (which can be muted) and offers a rotating series of prompts to play games and engage in other activities along with links to the official Twitter, Facebook and Instagram profiles.

The menu on the left first offers you a complete list of the “Fun & Games” available, including some activity sheets to download along with games to play online or buy for playing at home. “Characters” lets you click on each character to open up a short video snippet of them in action.

Both trailers as well as the holiday video are available in the “Videos” section while a brief synopsis can be found in “Story.” Aside from information about release dates, the site finishes off with links to the movie’s promotional “Partners.”

Media and Publicity

With all eyes on her because of a well-reviewed documentary and a feature film starring Felicity Jones as her, Warner Bros. seized the opportunity in mid-January to reveal Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg would appear in the movie in minifig form.

Pratt, Banks, Arnett and others from the cast made the talk show rounds to engage in various hijinks and stunts as well as to talk up the movie in general.

One of the key elements of both movies is the way characters from franchises owned by other companies come together, a process that’s explained here.


lego movie spaceship

Picking Up the Spare

Pratt finally got in the publicity game, appearing on “The Late Show” to talk about the movie as well as other matters.

Pitch Perfect 3 – Marketing Recap

pitch perfect 3 poster“We’re getting the band back together” seems to be the main focus of Pitch Perfect 3. After going their separate ways, the members of the Barden Bellas find that adulting is hard and nothing makes them feel as good as singing in a college a cappella group did. Not only that, but a new generation has come along and taken the group’s title, reminding them of how old they’re getting and how their lives aren’t turning out as expected.

At a get together with Beca (Anna Kendrick), Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), Aubrey (Anna Camp) and the others, Chloe (Brittany Snow) suggests they try to get aboard a USO tour of Europe, bringing their vocal stylings to the troops. Heading overseas presents an opportunity to not only recapture former glory but also get into a whole new set of hijinks and outrageous situations.

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