don’t worry darling – marketing recap

How Warner Bros. has sold movie that’s been as dramatic off-screen as it is on-screen

Don’t Worry Darling, new in theaters this week from Warner Bros., stars Florence Pugh and Harry Styles as Alice and Jack Chambers, a young couple whose marriage is tested by the mysteries of the town they live in, Victory, CA. Victory is a company town created by Jack’s employer, run by Frank (Chris Pine). Alice becomes obsessed with discovering the truth behind the enigmatic “Victory Project” her husband works on and her investigation leads to problems throughout the town and its citizens.

Olivia Wilde directed the movie and plays Alice’s friend Bunny, married to Bill (Nick Kroll). Kiki Layne, Kate Berlant, Gemma Chan and others also play members of the Victory community.

There’s lots going on here, some of which even has to do with selling the movie to audiences, so let’s take a stiff drink and get started.

announcement and casting

After reports there were multiple interested parties the script was finally acquired last August by New Line in a deal reported to be unusual in the high “backend” fees the creators can see if/when the movie succeeds.

Wilde shared a first look on Instagram in March but it wasn’t until September that New Line/Warner Bros. set a 2022 release date.

Warner Bros. gave CineEurope attendees a look at the movie in October 2021.

In other interviews later that year Wilde shared how the films of Adrian Lyne served as inspiration and warned audiences should expect to see more female desire and pleasure than is usually shown in films.

WB finally shared a release date in late April and made the movie part of their CinemaCon presentation to exhibitors and journalists. Things got weird, though, when Wilde was served with legal papers on stage, reportedly custody papers from her ex-husband Jason Sudekis. A back and forth over who knew what when commenced over the next few weeks.

This is no longer the weirdest off-topic anecdote about this film, as we’ll see later.

the marketing campaign

The first trailer (5m YouTube views) was released at the beginning of May. It opens showing a party with all the key characters having a good time before offering us a glimpse of how in love Alice and Jack are. Frank then explains, via voiceover, how important the wives are to the work their husbands are doing for the mysterious “Victory Project”, which the women are encouraged to not ask about. When Alice starts doing just that strange things start happening, including a couple suicides and other incidents. In the end it looks like a slightly trippy drama about the illusory nature of 1950s domestic bliss and all its confines.

A plane flies over the idyllic planned suburb of Victory on the poster released in mid-June, but a trail of smoke comes from the back of the plane. Not only that, but on the motion version of the poster the whole image flips upside down, indicating everything isn’t as it seems.

There’s even more of an overt horror vibe given off by the second trailer (2m YouTube views), which came out in July. We get the same basic premise as the first, but the strange hallucinations and other happenings begin even sooner and are even more disturbing.

Shortly after that confirmation came the film was scheduled to screen at the Venice Film Festival.

Chan was featured in a cover story for Harper’s Bazaar UK. A short while later Pugh got similar treatment on the U.S. version of Harper’s while Styles was profiled in, naturally enough, Rolling Stone.

Another motion poster takes the image of Jack and Alice in a warm embrace and mixes in a few quick glimpses of something terrifying lurking beneath the surface.

At the end of August Wilde was the subject of a Variety cover story in which she praised the other actors, talked about the film’s sexuality and lots more. It also served as the flame striking the tinder of a number of controversial issues and topics, many of which dominated as everyone prepared for Venice. They included:

  • Wilde’s assertion she fired Shia LaBeouf, who had originally been cast as Jack, in 2020, citing his “combative” on-set energy. LaBeouf subsequently denied he was fired but that he quit, with the truth eventually landing somewhere in the middle.
  • While Wilde had nothing but nice things to say about Pugh, the latter didn’t offer her own comments for that story, resulting in continued suspicion of on-set tension between the two and a general lack of enthusiasm on Pugh’s part to promote the movie.

Another interview with Wilde later on had her saying that as steamy as some of the shots in the trailers are, the MPA cut out even more explicit clips. She also shared how the lousy experiences she’s had on previous projects has informed her own directing approach and who the real-life inspiration for Pine’s character was.

As Venice approached things continued to get uncomfortable when it was reported Pugh was to be on the red carpet for the screening but not participate in the press conference with the rest of the cast.

That press conference and screening were notable for many reasons, including:

  • Wilde refusing to comment on her reported conflicts with Pugh
  • The festival moderator intercepting questions about LaBeouf so Wilde wouldn’t have to answer them again
  • A massive internet investigation into whether Styles spit on Pine at the screening (he didn’t)
  • Pine’s many fantastic facial expressions at the press conference that quickly became memes on social media

Things got more tense when Pugh said she wouldn’t attend the film’s New York premiere, once again citing her commitment filming Dune Part 2.

All that tension was once more dismissed by Wilde as the internet eating itself in another profile about how her personal life has become so enmeshed with the promotion of this movie.

At the beginning of September IMAX announced it would feature a live Q&A session with the cast in advance of early screenings of the movie just before the official release date.

An exclusive Dolby Cinemas poster was a reworking of the image of Jack and Alice in bed.

The first clip offers an extended look at the dinner scene where Alice challenges many of the other attendees, especially Frank, as she looks for deeper answers than she’s been getting about what it is the guys are working on and where everyone else is from.

Another clip shows Alice having a very odd moment in front of some dance studio mirrors, a moment glimpsed in the trailers.

Cinematographer Matthew Libatique did what he could to talk about the film’s look and feel in an interview of his own but also had to deny there was any on-set tension between the talent.

Wilde appeared on “The Late Show” to promote the film and talk about her character but also, of course, had to deny Styles spit on Pine and so on.

overall

There’s at least some speculation that, based on tracking, the film could open to a healthy $20 million in its first weekend, either in spite of or because of all the drama and controversy that has enveloped it and seeped out into the public conversation.

The campaign itself is pretty good, dipping occasionally from being a straight drama to elements that are more in the realm of psychological thriller. Pugh is clearly the main attraction here as she’s seemingly asked to carry the burden of the story while all the other actors support her.

It’s a shame, then, that it’s been overwhelmed by all the inside-baseball rumor mills and other pettiness. The press cycle could have been about Wilde’s second directorial outing after the much-acclaimed Booksmart and other more relevant topics, but instead we’re trading gossip like we all just came out of a junior high assembly. If I were a cynically-minded person I’d say that’s been the focus because it gives the press (and public) an opportunity to once again pit one woman against another.

black widow – marketing recap

How Marvel Studios has sold a long-awaited – on multiple levels – super hero solo film.

Over a decade after being first introduced in Iron Man 2 and following several supporting appearances in other MCU movies, Scarlett Johansson strikes out on her own in this week’s Black Widow.

Set in the aftermath of Captain America: Civil War, which gets around the fact that Natasha Romanoff sacrificed herself in Avengers: Endgame, the story follows Natasha as she’s on the run from the authorities. A series of events lead her to reunite with Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), a fellow agent of Russia’s Red Room who shares a sister-like bond with Natasha, as well as former Black Widow Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz) and Alexei Shostakov / Red Guardian (David Harbour), the Russian equivalent of Captain America. All four, a surrogate family of sorts, face off against Taskmaster (Olga Kurylenko), a villain who can copy anyone’s movements and who is after the same MacGuffin sought by Natasha and Yelena.

Originally scheduled for May of last year but delayed multiple times because of Covid, the movie hits both theaters and Disney+ Premier Access this week. It’s notable for a number of reasons:

  • It is, of course, the first solo movie Marvel Studios has released with a female lead character, the only founding Avenger other than Hawkeye to not get a standalone story (and his turn is coming via a Disney+ series later this year).
  • It’s the first MCU release in two years, the longest the franchise has been absent from audiences since the gap between the first two Iron Man movies.
  • It’s the first MCU feature film to be released on Disney+ day-and-date with theatrical, a circumstance brought on because plans made during the worst of the pandemic were hard to adjust on short notice.

First reactions have been largely positive, with critics calling out the movie’s spy genre heritage as well as the strong performances, particularly Pugh’s. That’s resulted in an 81% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes for a film that’s received a full court press campaign from Disney that’s focused on Johansson finally getting her own turn in the spotlight. This confluence of events has led to speculation the movie could score a pandemic-high opening weekend box office of $80 million or more.

The Posters

In November 2019 the first teaser poster (by artist Andy Park) came out offering a look at Natasha as she stands at the forefront of an arrangement of the other characters, the red “X” that will dominate the film’s branding from here on out in the background.

The second poster (by marketing agency LA) from December of that year brings that branding even more to the surface as the solid red “X” dominates the design, Natasha shown at the bottom walking toward the camera ready for action. It’s inspired by a cover from the character’s 2016 comics series.

An exclusive poster handed out at CCXP in early December 2019 features an artistic drawing of Natasha’s face looking weary and tired, as if she’s come through a difficult battle.

Disney used the social media app Weibo to release a special poster designed in the style of Chinese tapestries to celebrate Lunar New Year.

The four major heroes received character posters released in February 2020, each standing in front of a background made up of heavily-redacted documents, the kind a bunch of spies would be very interested in.

Everyone’s brought together on the initial theatrical poster, which came out in March of last year, including a handful of faceless women at the bottom who look very much Black Widow and are walking away from the Kremlin, establishing them as part of the same program that trained Natasha.

Another poster came out in March of this year that shows Natasha in her white uniform.

More character posters, including ones for Taskmaster and the agent played by O-T Fagbenle, came out in May.

A similar approach from the character posters is taken on the final one-sheet, with Natasha at the center of her surrogate family, with other supporting characters scattered around as well.

Additional posters for RealD 3D, Dolby Cinemas, ScreenxUSA and IMAX offered their own takes on the character and settings.

The Trailers

The first trailer, released in early December 2019, opens with Natasha’s lines from Endgame about how the Avengers gave her a home and a family. At this point she’s ready to confront her past and so heads home, leading to an interesting reunion with her sister. The two set out to investigate the organization that made them what they are, but why is unclear. What is shown are brief looks at Taskmaster and his goons along with an extended introduction to Natasha’s father, who can still fit into his Red Guardian costume.

One thing that’s not clear is the movie’s time period. Natasha’s comments and narration are vague, so you have to have some foreknowledge that the story takes place before the events of Infinity War.

A “Special Look” trailer came out in mid-January 2020 that introduced a key premise of the film, that there is a new generation of Widows being trained that Natasha and her family must confront before they’re loosed upon the world.

The bond between Natasha and her chosen family is the focus of the next trailer, released in early March. It starts with her and her sister reconnecting and sharing the lies they’ve told and ends with everyone gathered around the table as we see the same kind of dynamic that might be found in any family. In between we’re shown Natasha has found some of the mistakes she made before becoming an Avenger have caught up with her. The Taskmaster is introduced as the new head of the Russian training facility she came out of, but he’s more cruel and so she sets out to stop him and free the girls that have been sent to kill her.

The final trailer, released in early April, is all about secrets and dealing with the sins of the past. It’s the same basic message being sold here about family and such, but with a few new shots and the promise of a lot of action and a lot of drama.

Online and Social

Marvel’s page for the film featured some videos, posters and other background information, but not much details on other aspects of the marketing campaign. There were also social profiles that offered a bit more.

Advertising, Press and Publicity

After years of speculation, rumors, comments by Marvel Studios execs about how they’d “love to” make a Black Widow movie (as if they were subject to someone else’s whims), it finally moved into the realm of reality when Cate Shortland was hired to direct the feature. Many people pointed out as the synopsis was released that the story sounded more or less just like 2018’s Jennifer Lawrence-starring Red Sparrow about a female Russian agent trained to seduce and spy at all costs in the service of the Motherland.

The topic of the movie’s existence came up during the Avengers: Endgame press tour, but Johansson remained mum on whether it was happening or not, part of Marvel’s strategy of not officially announcing any future projects.

Plans became much more official when the movie was part of Marvel’s Hall H panel at San Diego Comic-Con 2019. That event featured revelations about the cast, characters and story, including Johansson commenting on her desire to keep playing Natasha over the last decade. Marvel put out a video of footage from the panel that included insights from the cast.

There were more comments from Johansson about the timing of the project and what it means for her and the character. She kept teasing the movie while promoting other projects in 2019.

In addition to the trailer shown, attendees of Disney’s D23 Fan Expo in August of 2019 were able to see costumes from the movie on the show floor.

The first paid promotion came via a commercial aired during the College Football Playoffs on ESPN in January, 2020, when the movie was still expected to be just a few months away.

A featurette released in mid-January 2020 had Johansson talking about the potential for future stories the character has while also reflecting on the fact she’s been playing Natasha for 10 years now, with this movie offering audiences something new as well.

Marvel had three Black Widow comics already on the schedule for May, all of them focusing on characters that would be seen in the movie, when it announced in January the launch – also in May – of a new ongoing series for the character. Later on the publisher showed off movie-themed variant covers for some issues of those titles.

Widow has unfinished family business in the Super Bowl commercial that shows the drama and action of the story, including some of the threats she’ll face off against.

An explanation of who Red Guardian is was the subject of a video released by Marvel in mid-February.

The movie was a major part of Marvel’s promotional presence at two major conventions earlier this year. Toys based on the film were shown off at ToyFair in February, while C2E2 in March included Black Widow merchandise for sale.

A profile of Johansson had her talking about her long history with the character and what it means to finally have her stand on her own in a film. Another piece had her sharing what she felt were the character’s best scenes from over the years.

An Omaze campaign was launched in March with a video featuring Johansson telling people they could win a trip to the movie’s premiere. That was followed by an International Women’s Day greeting from Johansson and Pugh.

At that point – early April 2020, about a month after Disney pulled it from the schedule – the first date change happened as the movie was pushed to November, when we thought things would be back to normal again.

Harbor spoke about his character of Red Guardian and what it means in the context of the story.

In an interview from last July, Shortland revealed the film essentially puts a cap on Johansson’s time in the MCU and lets Pough’s character pick up the baton going forward. Another feature package in Empire came out in September that had more comments from Johansson and others along with exclusive new images. Shortland also commented on how the story, which mixes super heroics and family drama, evolved during development and production.

Another interview with Johansson and Pugh had the two talking about production of this movie, the pandemic-related delays and what future plans there might be for both of their characters.

In November Black Widow, sporting the same white uniform she’s wearing in many of the trailers, was added to Fortnite.

The question of release seemed to be settled in December of last year, when Disney made it clear during its investors presentation that the movie was still planned as a theatrical-only title. It reiterated that commitment in February during the company’s earnings announcement, which also included the news Disney+ had grown to 94 million subscribers.

A few months later, in March, that commitment was (unsurprisingly) called into question when Disney announced A) one last date shift – from May to July – as well as B) that the movie would get a simultaneous theatrical and Disney+ Premier Access release.

Johannson presented the movie as being a chance for audiences to finally get to know Natasha’s true story in a video released on National Super Hero Day in early May.

Additional footage was included in the “Marvel Studios Celebrates The Movies” video also from early May. It’s not a lot, but it puts this film in the context of the previous MCU entries while also playing up the communal experience of theatrical viewing.

The first clip came in mid-May during the “MTV Movie & TV Awards” broadcast, where Johansson accepted the “Generation Award.”. It shows Natasha and Yelena bickering like the sisters they are while trying to get away from a bad guy.

A “special look” came out in early June telling fans the wait is over, though technically there was still another month or so to wait.

Weisz talked about the movie when she appeared on “Kimmel” in June, as did Pugh when she appeared a week or so later.

Tickets going on sale in early June unlocked a host of content, almost like a tide that’s been held back for a year and was suddenly unleashed. That included:

Around that same time, Shortland was interviewed about what movies and other stories she drew inspiration from.

Harbour talked more about the movie when he appeared on “The Tonight Show” in June of last year

In a much-shared interview, Johansson talked about how her character has evolved since being introduced in 2010’s Iron Man 2 where, she said, Natasha was overly-sexualized and objectified, underestimated because of that by almost all the other characters at some point or another.

Harbour had some fun speculating on his character’s backstory and what potential there might be in that unexplored territory while the rest of the cast talked about working with Shortland.

In a video released on Father’s Day Harbour read some corny “dad jokes” much to the embarrassment of his costars.

Johansson appeared on “The Tonight Show” to hype the movie, convince people to see it in theaters and tease some revelations.

A ton of commercials and other promo spots started running in early June, each taking a slightly different take on the story but all selling the movie as a fast-paced action romp with the Romanov family.

Weisz answered a handful of questions about the production like the person most likely to pull a prank on set in a video from mid-June. Later on Johansson, Harbour and Pugh answered their own sets of fan questions.

A joint interview with Johansson and Pugh had the two of them sharing anecdotes over how they bonded on set, particularly over the ridiculousness of some of the fighting poses they were expected to perform and more.

A fan screening event was held in Los Angeles recently with some of the cast in attendance and some appearing virtually. Similar events, each with some subset of the cast and crew, were held in major cities around the world.

Another interview with Shortland had her talking about the multiple times she declined taking on the project, only to eventually be worn down/won over by the persistence of her agent and Marvel.

Regal Cinemas shared an exclusive video interview with the cast.

More background on Taskmaster was shared by Marvel in a featurette released just a week or so ago. There was also a recap of Widow’s character journey through the 10+ years since her introduction to the MCU.

The last wave of commercials like this explicitly called out this being Marvel’s return to theater screens after a two year absence.

Natasha and Yelena are breaking Alexei out of prison in the last official clip released before the movie was made available.

One last featurette had the cast talking about the makeshift family the characters have formed.

Additional interviews with Shortland like this had her talking about the opportunity that exists for more female directors to be brought into the MCU. Meanwhile Feige talked about how this story takes place during the third phase of the MCU arc but sets the stage for things that will happen moving forward.

Disney+ released a movie-themed episode of the “Legends” series, offering more background on the character and her history.

Promotional partners for the movie included:

  • Geico, which has the company’s spokesgecko imagining what it would be like to ride along with Natasha and Yelena.
  • BMW, which released exclusive interviews with the cast in support of a campaign that shows the company’s cars executing some of the movie’s big driving stunts.
  • Synchrony Bank, which launched a campaign encouraging people to learn about its savings tools.

Overall

This is probably the biggest campaign in terms of sheer volume of elements in quite a while, even bigger than F9 and other recent releases. As such it’s hard to judge on an objective level. But what’s impressive is how Marvel Studios has maintained a sense of brand consistency despite the unexpectedly long period of time the marketing has been forced to stretch over. Add to that a very professionally enthusiastic push from Johansson and a focus on Pugh that sets her up as the future of this part of the franchise’s future and you have a solid campaign that hopes audiences are ready for more of the series after a prolonged break.

Now we just see if it can stick the landing.

Scarlett Johansson GIF by Marvel Studios - Find & Share on GIPHY

Lady Macbeth – Marketing Review

The moniker “Lady Macbeth” is a derogatory term affixed to a woman who someone deems to be overly-ambitious and cruel in her determination to succeed. That’s based on the character from the Shakespeare play who urges her husband on to accumulate more and more power, taking out any and all threats to them. She sees his success as hers and pulls the strings.

The new movie Lady Macbeth is not based on that character or that play but the main character is no less determined to succeed. Katherine (Florence Pugh), is a young woman in 19th century England who’s been sold into marriage to Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis), a man twice her age. As with many such stories, she begins an affair with a younger man who works on the estate. But this affair isn’t enough and she finds herself taking desperate action to get what she wants and take control over her own life.

The Posters

The first poster shows Pugh in period dress clutching the back of a chair and looking around as if she has some scheme or plan on her mind. A positive quote from an early review is at the top and we’re told below the title that this is based on a source novel. The movie’s festival history is toward the bottom to make it more attractive to moviegoers who are interested in such things.

Another poster took the same basic approach, just this time with a photo of Pugh sitting on a small couch. Her name is given more prominent placement at the very top, showing that there’s more of a focus on her in selling the movie. A variety of positive review quotes appear between her name and the title.

The Trailers

The first trailer starts off by showing Lady Katherine is married to a mean, heartless man who doesn’t care for her dreams or personality at all. While he’s gone she starts an affair with a local farmer who’s nothing like her husband, who’s not thrilled. The lovers take matters into their own hands, which leads to more drama in the small town and in her own home, but she remains in control of the situation at all times.

It’s great, selling a psychological thriller with a story that’s both original and recognizable. Pugh looks fantastic as the woman who decides she will not be subject to anyone else’s idea of what her fate should be and goes after what she wants. The trailer hints at plot twists that should be expected in a movie like this but it looks very enjoyable.

Online and Social

The official website opens by playing the official trailer, which is certainly worth watching again. “Trailer” is actually the first item on the content menu at the top. If you go back to “Home” you can see some full screen video featuring footage from that trailer along with the same image that’s on the poster of Katherine sitting on the couch. A series of positive quotes from early reviews rotates at the top. Farther down the page you can “Save to calendar” a reminder of when tickets are on sale in your area.

The only other content on the site aside from a link to the movie’s Facebook profile, is “Synopsis.” That offers a pretty short recap of the story along with the names of those involved.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Nothing I’ve seen or am aware of here. Roadside probably did some localized advertising in the initial cities it’s playing in but that’s likely about it.

Media and Publicity

Positive buzz from a screening at the Toronto International Film Festival got things off on a good note, particularly for Pugh as her performance was pegged as being impressive. It was soon picked up by Roadside Attractions. It was later announced the movie would also head to Sundance 2017 before its eventual release.

Pugh’s performance was singled out for effusive praise and called the single best reason to see the movie. She talked in that interview about the role and how she approached while director William Oldroyd about what made her right for the part.

Overall

This is the second movie in about a month to emphasize the idea of women retaking their agency in its marketing, the first being The Beguiled last month. It shows just enough of Katherine’s motivations and actions to make it clear she’s had enough of the situation she’s been put into and is taking matters into her own hands, whatever that might entail. She will no longer be anyone’s possession but will follow her passions.

The main issue is that we’ve seen this movie before. There are countless stories in the last 10 years or so about women of the 18th or 19th century who take a lover after finding themselves married to cold or cruel men out of necessity or familial political mechanizations. There’s even one that’s supposed to come out later this year, assuming The Weinstein Co. eventually remembers it owns Tulip Fever. That’s why, I think, the press has focused so much on Pugh’s performance, because it has the potential to be the differentiating factor from those other stories and make Lady Macbeth worth seeing.