the french dispatch – marketing recap

How Searchlight Pictures has sold a symmetrical literary movie from a symmetrical literary filmmaker.

The French Dispatch poster

There’s been a startling – and disappointing – lack of hot takes about how The French Dispatch is opening the same weekend as Dune means a showdown between two filmmakers who, unlike many assigned that title by studio marketing departments, can truly be called visionary. Dune’s Denis Villeneuve creates stark, massively scaled backdrops for the characters to perform within, while Wes Anderson is known for creating detailed, symmetrical dollhouse rooms that are just as quirky and slightly dingy as the characters inhabiting them.

(Both of those movies also star Timothée Chalamet, which in and of itself is…wow…)

Anderson’s films have always carried highly literary themes. Playwrights abound in his films and characters are always journaling, sending cables or handwritten letters or writing books about their experiences. Now he brings those themes to the fore with what’s been described by him and others as “a love letter” to journalists and magazine writers.

At the center of the story is The French Dispatch, a magazine modeled after The New Yorker. Edited by Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray), the periodical has a number of writers, illustrators, photographers and writers, each of whom are followed in their own sub-stories. Playing those contributors are Anderson regulars like Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Angelica Huston, Edward Norton and others, with Elisabeth Moss, Léa Seydoux, Timothée Chalamet and others joining in the highly-stylized hijinks as well.

announcements and casting

Initial news about the movie came in mid-2018, with initial reports saying Anderson was developing a musical comedy set in France. The casting of Tilda Swinton and Mathieu Amalric was announced at that time with most of the rest of the principle cast joining in the last months of 2018.

Plot details were revealed in September 2019 at the same time Fox Searchlight announced it had acquired the film. A few months later in January 2020 a release date in July of that year was announced.

the first try at marketing

In February 2020 the first set of exclusive photos debuted in, of all places, The New Yorker.

The poster released at that time is so on-brand for an Anderson film it hurts a little. Illustrated by Spanish artist Javi Aznarez (whose work is seen in the movie as well), it displays the offices of the titular magazine as quirky drawings, the faux French city it’s based in seen in the background. Each of the top-billed cast is shown and named here.

The first trailer (5.5m YouTube views) came out at that time as well. It starts by introducing us to Arthur Howitzer Jr. and his publication, The French Dispatch, intended to share stories of interest about politics, culture and more. After briefly meeting some of the people who work at the Dispatch the trailer shifts to showing us the three stories being covered by the magazine and which the movie will follow. What’s shown is an assortment of dry wit, colorful quirkiness and odd characterizations that are part and parcel in Anderson’s work and therefore immediately attractive to anyone who’s a fan of the filmmaker’s.

While reports abounded that the movie would premiere at the 2020 Cannes Film Festival that wound up not happening because the festival itself didn’t happen save for a scaled-back virtual event.

Cinematographer Robert Yeoman was interviewed about the books and movies Anderson put together as a reference library for the cast and crew to use.

There was a feature profile of Chalamet in October 2020 that covered the actor’s role in this film as well as his rise to stardom over the last few years, including comments from Anderson.

At this point Disney/Searchlight pulled the movie from its release schedule for the time being while the pandemic continued to cause uncertainty and delays across the board.

a second attempt at marketing

Things picked back up in May of this year when a new release date was announced along with the news it had been selected to screen at both the Cannes Film Festival and New York Film Festival

Details on the film’s soundtracks, always a highlight of Anderson’s work, were released in early June.

During the Cannes press cycle, which included the cast arriving to the screening in a party bus, Wilson was interviewed about his decades-long collaboration with Anderson and how original he feels this latest movie is. That cycle also produced a much-circulated meme using a photo of Anderson and the three primary leads.

A clip was released at the same time showing Zeffirelli soliciting feedback on his manifesto.

Costar Henry Winkler, a newcomer to the Anderson troupe, spoke about the movie on “Late Night” in July.

In early August Searchlight revealed fans could sign up to receive an actual issue of the titular newsletter, with a video promoting the newsletter released showing the cast flipping through it and reacting to its contents.

August also brought a new poster, this one showing the massive cast assembled via obviously cut-out photos pasted together into a collage.

A number of short videos came out around that time that each focused on stories for the paper being filed by the various reporters and writers. There were videos from Sazerac, Berensen, Krementz and Wright.

Anderson begins a featurette by explaining just exactly what the movie is and what format it takes. Murray, Wilson and others from the cast also appear to introduce their characters and offer insights into what those characters add to the story.

The producers and production designers were profiled here about how they went about creating that signature Anderson look of symmetry and scale.

A set of character posters all featured those characters standing or sitting in a pose that hints at who they are and what they do, with the design background helping to communicate their actual background.

An Anderson-directed video for “Aline” came out toward the end of September to keep things going and hint at what the rest of the soundtrack would sound like.

New York’s MoMA held a screening of all 10 of Anderson’s films, including this one, over 10 consecutive nights at the beginning of October.

How the set designers, costumers and others created the world of the movie was covered in this profile of the technical aspects of production.

Murray and others appeared at the BFI London Film Fest screening of the movie earlier this month. The same kind of pop-up cafe experience was also staged in London around this time. The film also screened at the Chicago International Film Festival.

A featurette that focused on the eclectic and impressive cast was released last week. Another had that cast talking about bonding on set and how Anderson creates a family-like atmosphere during filming.

TV spots like this finally started running just days before the film’s release, selling little about the story but instead communicating both the cast and the very Anderson-like tone and look.

Also in New York City, Searchlight launched another pop-up cafe experience where visitors could come by and immerse themselves in a small bit of the film’s world.

overall

If a Wes Anderson movie campaign communicates that it’s for a Wes Anderson movie and contains all the necessary elements – dry line delivery, balanced imagery, clever illustrations, unique use of aspect ratios etc – then it can objectively be considered successful. After all, this is not going to bring in many converts. Instead it’s meant to speak primarily to Anderson die-hards who are already on board with the director’s style.

Wes Anderson Applause GIF by Searchlight Pictures - Find & Share on GIPHY

The Invisible Man – Marketing Recap

You can read my full recap of the marketing campaign for The Invisible Man at The Hollywood Reporter.

Online and Social

You see the same “He’s standing right behind you” vanishing artwork used in motion form on the movie’s official website. That’s the most interesting thing about the site, though, as it only has minimal content and no other features to speak of.

Media and Press

Comments about the story from Whannell accompanied a first look photo that came out in early November just before the release of the first trailer.

Things went largely quiet until just before release. As that approached there were interviews about how how director Leigh Whannell and Moss worked to update the story to make it relevant to modern times and how the production and costume teams made the most of the limited budget to increase the tension. Those topics were covered again at the movie’s premiere while Jason Blum made the overt connection to the empowerment of the #MeToo movement.

Whannel was very much the focus of a good amount of the press, commenting on how he stopped Universal from spoiling any more of the story in its marketing and how modernizing the story meant making the monsters less mythical and more realistic.

In an Esquire interview, Moss revealed Whannel actively sought her input on the script to make sure the female perspective on what happened in the story was accurate and didn’t overlook anything. Moss later appeared on “The Tonight Show” to talk about the film and lots more.

Universal released a fun “prank” video featuring Moss and Jackson-Cohen a few days ago.

Overall

Much different vibe than what’s on display here.

James Whale GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Picking Up The Spare

Moss admitted on late night that she may have overdone it when she offered to do her own stunts in the movie.

How the production achieved a slick look on a limited budget as well as how he ignored test screening feedback was covered in this interview with Whannel. Also on the production front, the creation of the invisibility suit was the subject of this interview with designer Alex Holmes.

Jackson-Cohen talked about his character and how he got involved with the project here.

Interesting theory from producer Jason Blum that competition from streaming is what causes traditional studios to spoil so much of their movies in the marketing.

Another profile of Moss had her talking about the early on-demand release and more.

The Kitchen – Marketing Recap

the kitchen poster“The Kitchen” started life as a comics series from the now-defunct Vertigo imprint of DC Entertainment. Written by Ollie Masters with art by Ming Doyle, the story followed a trio of women whose husbands – all leaders in the local crime scene – are in prison. Promises by others to keep them afloat are abandoned, leading all three women to take matters into their own hands and get into the family business themselves.

This week’s big screen adaptation The Kitchen retains that much of that story. Tiffany Haddish, Melissa McCarthy and Elizabeth Moss star as Ruby, Kathy and Claire, respectively. The three are determined to survive Hell’s Kitchen of the 1970s. What surprises each one of them is that not only do they find they’re adept at the kind of violence and intimidation necessary to control their territory, they kind of enjoy it. Specifically, they enjoy the freedom that comes from no longer being dependent on anyone else for their survival and wellbeing.

[Disclosure: DC Entertainment was a client of mine in 2014 when the series launched at Vertigo and I was involved in promotion for it during the eight months it ran. That, and my enjoyment of that series, has absolutely influenced how I’ve viewed the movie’s marketing campaign.]

The Posters

There’s a strong 70s vibe on the first and only poster, released at the end of May. All three women are shown in their own section of the design, which uses vertical color-coded stripes to break them up.

The Trailers

The premise of the story is laid out in the first trailer, showing the problems the Kathy, Claire and Ruby are having in making enough money to keep their families afloat while their husbands are in prison. With all other options off the table and no one stepping up to help, they begin to carve out their own criminal operations. That brings them into conflict with other established gangs and syndicates, but they’re determined to answer to no one and do what everyone else has been unable or unwilling to do.

The second trailer was released in mid-July and starts with the trio of women having already gained a reputation that brings them to the attention of a competing crime boss. It jumps back a bit to show why they have undertaken their own enterprise and why, including how they refuse to go back to how things were. At the end we’re once back to their meeting with the crime boss as they face a pivotal moment that ends on an uncertain note.

Online and Social

As is now standard, there’s almost nothing beyond an assemblage of marketing materials available on the movie’s official website. Nice use of the key art to maintain some brand consistency, but that’s about all that can be said in favor of the site.

Advertising and Publicity

Exhibitors got a taste of the dramatic work by the often-comedic cast when WB showed off footage during its CinemaCon 2019 presentation.

The movie was among those announced by AMC Theaters as part of the first curated under its Artisan Films program to highlight smaller films.

Haddish, McCarthy and Moss all appeared as a group at the MTV Movie & TV Awards in June.

Featurettes have come out in the last couple weeks including one exclusive to MovieClips that focused on the history of Hell’s Kitchen in the era depicted. Another that was exclusive to DC included nods to the original comic and talked about how the story depicted three women refusing to be beaten down by circumstance. How Berloff assembled a largely female crew was covered in another.

Some TV advertising was surely done but those spots aren’t available on YouTube and don’t seem to have been shared on social platforms.

Media and Press

While this movie’s release was still a ways out at the time, a THR cover story on Haddish included mention of it as one of the in-demand actor’s upcoming projects. Outside of casting announcements, that constituted one of the first publicity beats for the film.

A first look still was released in late October.

A few months later director Andrea Berloff was profiled in a piece that covered how and why she got involved in the project and how she went about tackling the story.

The release of the second trailer was accompanied by stories about The Highwaywomen, the country supergroup whose cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” is featured in that trailer.

McCarthy appeared on “The Late Show” in July to chat about the movie and more. A couple weeks later Moss talked with Kimmel.

The three leads were interviewed together about how they got involved in the project and what attracted them to the story. Similar comments were made by them at the movie’s recent premiere.

Berloff talked about the pressure she was under helming a female-led movie in an industry that gives lip service to expanding the range of stories being told but which puts them under a lot more scrutiny than it does the movies with men in leading roles.

Overall

The movie’s comics origins aren’t a major part of the campaign, which is too bad since it’s just these sorts of non-super hero stories that have proven so popular in the larger mainstream entertainment world. Think of how The Walking Dead, Saga and other titles have not only become comics bestsellers but raised the profile of the entire industry, before even getting to adaptations in other media.

What is being sold here is a movie about women doing it for themselves. The three lead characters are turning to desperate measures in the desperate times they face and are making no apologies for it. In fact they are embracing the power they’ve seized and finding it provides the kind of security that relying on their husbands never could.

That message is pervasive, accompanied by visuals that reinforce the vibe of 1970s New York and the crime-ridden environment it was. The work Berloff put into both elements – the female power of the story and the recreation of the period setting of the story – is on display everywhere here, making it a compelling pitch even for those unfamiliar with the original material.

Picking Up the Spare

Warner Bros. released an official video for The Highwomen’s cover of “The Chain” that includes not only footage but dialogue from the movie.

Haddish showed up on “The Late Show” to talk about the movie and more. Common later was interviewed on “The Tonight Show.”

The production team was the focus of this profile looking at how they recreated 70s-era fashion and design.

Lots more interviews with Berloff about how and why she made the movie, including what challenges she faced along the way.