Tesla – Marketing Recap

How IFC Films is selling a movie about the birth of electricity. No, not that one. Not that one either.

I think there’s widespread consensus that David Bowie’s turn as Nikola Tesla in The Prestige is the premiere on-screen depiction of the famous inventor. He was slightly mysterious, a bit conceited and completely awesome. Then last year Nicholas Hoult played Tesla in the much-delayed The Current War. In neither, though, was he the primary focus of the story.

Now he finally comes into the spotlight in Tesla. Ethan Hawke plays the title character in the film from writer/director Michael Almereyda, who takes what has been described as an unconventional take on his life. The story focuses on Tesla’s struggle in convincing those around him that his approach to electricity is the best one, including his conflicts with rival Thomas Edison (Kyle MacLachlan) and his work with mentor George Westinghouse (Jim Gaffigan). In addition to that, Tesla has caught the attention of Anne Morgan (Eve Hewson), daughter of tycoon J.P.

The campaign from IFC Films makes it clear that this is a prestige picture, albeit one that has more than a few elements of experimental theater in it, offering something that’s not what audiences might otherwise expect. It currently has a middling 58 percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Posters

A current of electricity slashes through the title on the one poster, released in July. Tesla himself stands behind that glowing title, looking over his shoulder toward the camera. A quote from an early review praising the film is shown along with the Sundance credentials, but no other copy or hints at the exact plot appear here.

The Trailers

As is clear from the first moments of the trailer (489,000 views on YouTube), released in July, this is not the standard biopic we’ve seen before. It seems to hit the high points of the rivalry between Tesla and Edison we’re familiar with, but does so in a way where period characters are talking about Google results, scenes play out against painted canvas backdrops and the whole vibe is unusual. That uniqueness makes it captivating, much more so than some other takes on this story.

Online and Social

Just the basic marketing materials on IFC’s page for the film, including the trailer and poster along with a decent synopsis of the story. There’s slightly more, including information on how to watch the film on-demand, on the standalone website.

Advertising and Promotions

The cast and crew came to Park City for the movie’s premiere at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. It wound up winning the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize. IFC Films acquired the film in April.

The Cinema Society hosted a screening of the movie at Donna Karen’s home in mid-August.

Media and Press

Hawke and the rest of the cast talked about the movie and more while at Sundance.

An interview with MacLachlan had him talking about playing Edison and working within the unusual structure of the film. He also appeared on “Today” to talk about the movie and more.

How Hawke prepared for production and the research he did into Tesla was covered in this interview. Almereyda discussed why he chose such an unconventional approach to what is ordinarily such a paint-by-numbers format like the biopic.

Overall

There’s a lot to like about this quirky, unexpected campaign, but it has to overcome the reality that not only is it flying largely under the radar but that it might be so quirky and eyebrow-raising that some people might pass it by because it looks a bit odd.

For others, though, it’s just that slightly-twisted approach that will form the foundation of their interest in the film. Biopics are, as I and others have mentioned in the past, somewhat stale in nature, hitting the top dozen points of interest in someone’s life but offering little in the way of flavor or style. This does not appear to be that kind of film and is that much stronger for it.

Juliet, Naked – Marketing Recap

juliet naked posterWriter Nick Hornby has provided the fodder for a number of charming and enjoyable films, often about the intersection of romance and obsessive music fandom. Along those lines comes this week’s Juliet, Naked. The movie stars Chris O’Dowd as Duncan, a guy who’s the world’s biggest fan of singer Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke), much to the chagrin and slight embarrassment of his longtime girlfriend Annie (Rose Byrne)

When Annie writes a scathing review of Crowe’s latest album, the singer contacts her and eventually comes to visit her when he’s nearby. The two strike up a somewhat friendly relationship, though Duncan at first doesn’t believe this is happening. Eventually things get complicated as the attraction between Annie and Duncan grows stronger, fueled by her discontent with the status quo and his desire for something more authentic in his life.

The Posters

Annie, Duncan and Tucker are all shown on the poster, Annie and Tucker touching and flirting while Duncan is left looking confused. All three are positioned behind a wall of record storage shelves to make sure the audience understands the story has to do with music.

The Trailers

As we see when the trailer opens, the relationship between Annie and Duncan is beginning to disintegrate as she finds herself at the end of her rope with his constant inability to commit or grow up as well as his obsession with his favorite singer. When she writes a scathing review of Crowe’s new album he reaches out and the two strike up a friendship before he travels to visit her. That doesn’t sit well with Duncan, who refuses to believe it’s really Crowe, even while the singer and Annie hit it off and the two start up a bit of an affair.

I really like Hawke when he’s loose like this and am always a fan of Byrne, who seems to glide through the movie on charm. Even if I didn’t know this was based on a Hornby story, I’d guess this was based on a Hornsby story.

Online and Social

It’s a pretty bare bones official website from Lionsgate/Roadside. The homepage has a “Save to Calendar” prompt but not an option to actually buy tickets, as well as links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles. “Videos” just has the one trailer while “Synopsis” has a story recap and cast/crew lists.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Nothing I’m aware of or have seen in the paid department.

Media and Publicity

The star power of the cast alone explains why critics often included it as one of the films they were most looking forward to screening at the Sundance Film Festival. Lionsgate/Roadside picked it up shortly after the festival finished up.

A short profile of Hawke mentioned this was one of several films he had coming out in the near future while also allow him to openly lobby for the chance to give a “meaningful” performance in a big budget sci-fi/fantasy film. There was also a profile later on of costar Lily Newmark as this was one of several high-profile films the young actress was and is appearing in this year.

GQ ran a more extensive profile of Hawke that allowed the actor to talk about his career to date, what he tries to accomplish with the roles he takes on and more. Those profiles were about it since he’s just come off the publicity cycle for First Reformed and other recent movies. Bryne, though, stopped by “The Tonight Show” to talk about the movie and other topics.

Overall

It’s not a huge campaign, but if you’re a fan of previous Hornby adaptations or just want a movie that looks breezy, charming and entertaining there’s a strong case for this being a good choice. Byrne is her usual wonderful self and Hawke is always at his best when he’s playing it loose. The poster makes it look a little more madcap than the trailer, but that’s a small quibble in what’s otherwise a solid, if small-scale, campaign.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

Star Rose Byrne talks about the shift in focus of the story from book to movie with IndieWire.

 

More on the music created for the soundtrack, this time with a focus on former Lemonheads member Jesse Peretz.

 

A clip showing the interplay between Byrne and Hawke was released to help keep some positive word of mouth going.

 

Chris O’Dowd made an appearance on late night TV while a profile of Rose Byrne calls out how she’s an extremely underrated comedic powerhouse.
The team responsible for creating the music of Ethan Hawke’s musician in the movie talk about that process here.

First Reformed – Marketing Recap

first reformed posterEthan Hawke plays Toller, a priest having a crisis of conscience in the new movie from writer/director Paul Schrader, First Reformed. Toller is a former military chaplain who now serves in a small town while still dealing with the death of his own son, though not always in healthy ways.

The priest becomes entwined in the life of Mary (Amanda Seyfried), a member of his congregation after her activist husband commits suicide. That leads him down a rabbit hole exposing the utter depravity of humanity in the modern world, something that shakes his faith even more than it has been.

The Posters

Hawke is shown as a priest of some sort in closeup, looking slightly off-camera as if he’s contemplating some point. The appearance of a fiery blaze cutting horizontally across the middle of his face seems to hint that there’s some conflict or potential division happening within him in the story, but there’s no copy to extrapolate on that idea, just a couple quotes from critics praising the film.

The Trailers

Toller explains his plan to keep, and then destroy, a journal as the trailer opens. We see him explaining to someone that he’s racked with guilt over the death of his son, who he encouraged to enlist in the military only to die in Iraq. That’s causing problems for him in his role as a priest and many people around him are trying to get him the help he clearly needs. When a parishioner calls him and shows him that someone in her house has been building bombs he dives deep – too deep – into the darkest corners of the internet and begins to question what is or isn’t a sin and whether God has a plan for any of us.

Hawke looks like he delivers a tight, coiled, powerful performance here as the priest with too much on his conscience and no outlet for his doubts. It’s all repression and inner turmoil that manifests as a quiver in his voice in public and a penchant for scotch in private. The story isn’t super-clear here but that’s alright, what we’re being sold is the performance and the atmosphere created by Schrader.

Online and Social

There’s just the trailer, synopsis and a few other details on the single page A24 created for the movie. While the movie did get some support on the studio’s social profiles, it was primarily busy promoting its horror release Hereditary so didn’t give this one a whole lot of attention.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Nothing I’ve seen to date, but I’d be willing to bet I’ll be seeing a few retargeted online ads now that I’ve visited the website.

Media and Publicity

The movie was one of those announced to be screened at the SXSW Film Festival, where it was very well received.

A short profile of Hawke mentioned this was one of several films he had coming out in the near future while also allow him to openly lobby for the chance to give a “meaningful” performance in a big budget sci-fi/fantasy film. He also talked here about what it like working with Schrader and what got him involved in the project. When he showed up on late night he joked about the different kinds of roles he’s taken over the years and how the big-scale films that feature lots of guns generally pay better than the small indie projects.

Overall

I really wish there had been more of a focus presented in the campaign, specifically around how this is a story about media overload and the kind of trauma that can cause and contribute to. That topic is hinted at in some of the interviews Hawke did and in the trailer, though even less so. It’s certainly being sold as a dark drama of the crisis faced by one man, I just think there could have been a slightly tighter picture painted.

Aside from that, the main attraction is that this is a new Paul Schrader film, something buoyed by the buzz that’s come out of the festival screenings. That probably won’t be enough to propel the movie to any great heights in terms of crossover success in the mainstream audience, but for those who come across the campaign there’s some good stuff offered here.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

A solid feature profile of writer director Paul Schrader at GQ in which he talks about not just this movie but his extensive and noteworthy career as a whole.

Ethan Hawke continues to make the press rounds to talk about the movie, which keeps getting positive reviews and buzz.

More from director Paul Schrader on the film’s disturbing characters and situations as well as his feelings and thoughts on God.

Hawke hit the publicity circuit again for interviews like this as we entered awards season.