last night in soho – marketing recap

How Focus Features has sold a movie steeped in, and wary of, nostalgia.

Last Night In Soho poster

For the second week in a row there’s a new film from one of Hollywood’s most unique and purposeful filmmakers. This time it’s Last Night In Soho from director Edgar Wright, who cowrote the movie with Krysty Wilson-Cairns.

Thomasin McKenzie stars as Eloise “Ellie” Turner, a young woman in London who finds she’s able to transport herself back to 1960’s Soho, becoming an aspiring singer named Sandie (played by Anna Taylor-Joy) when she does so. While Sandie’s life at first seems glamorous and free Ellie soon finds it’s not as wonderful as it first appeared.

The movie, which also stars Matt Smith, Terence Stamp and, in her last filmed performance, the late Diana Rigg, comes after a marketing campaign that’s been light on story but heavy on the kind of glossy, tightly-composed visuals Wright is known for.

announcement and casting

Wright announced he was working on a movie set in 1960s London in early 2019, though it’s gone through a couple different working titles since then. Taylor-Joy was one of the first actors cast later that year, with others added between then and when production got underway.

The director got things started in September of 2019 with a post announcing the end of principle photography and offering the first look at the film.

When Taylor-Joy was promoting Emma last year she spoke briefly about working with Wright and how they bonded on set.

The movie was pulled from the 2020 release schedule amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, eventually pushed to an early 2021 date.

Wright spoke more about the movie and shared some exclusive first look stills with Empire in January.

Shortly after that another date change, this time to its current October 2021 slot, was announced.

the marketing campaign

The teaser trailer (5.7m YouTube views)was released in late May. We get some of the point of the story and how Eloise is somehow able to bounce back and forth from the present day to the 1960s she draws inspiration from, but mostly what’s being sold here is a mind-twisting, time-bending visual treat from Wright.

At the same time the first poster was released, showing the bifurcated face of Ellie/Sandie seen through a rain-streaked window with each one’s respective time period represented in the background. It certainly communicates the neon-drenched visuals of the film, something that would become more common as the campaign went on.

In June news came that the film would screen at the Toronto Film Festival.

Wright was interviewed about casting the film, especially adding Rigg in what wound up being her final role before passing away shortly after she finished filming. He also talked about making the movie right after pandemic lockdowns were lifted and the importance of original stories.

Universal gave CinemaCon attendees in August a look at footage from this and other upcoming movies.

The movie’s screening at the Venice Film Festival in September included lots of comments and interviews with Wright and members of the cast. The director specifically requested that those in attendance not spoil anything about the story so audiences could experience it fresh when it was released, again about working with Rigg and about how dangerous it can be to get too caught up in nostalgia fetishes.

Smith was interviewed about making the movie in and about London while Wilson-Cairns talked about some of the real life inspiration she pulled from for her character.

Those came around the time the movie was not only at TIFF but also screening at the BFI London Film Festival, where Wright talked more about how making the past too idyllic in retrospect can be all-consuming to the point of self-destruction.

The second trailer (2.6m YouTube views)debuted in early September, in the midst of all that festival press and buzz. It opens in a more straightforward fashion than the first spot, with Ellie arriving in London as she studies fashion at university and gets her apartment there. What she thinks is dreaming about heading back to the 1960s is much more than that and Ellie/Sandie becomes intent on becoming a singer. But Sandie’s fate is much darker than that, leading Ellie to try and bring her some justice, even if there are risks to doing so.

Another Total Film cover story went behind the scenes on the making of the movie.

The second poster, released in mid-September, still has both Ellie and Sandie but this time the design is a little more traditional, showing all the leads arranged around the neon title treatment. This time the blue and red that demarcate the two eras of the story blend together, with characters from each one similarly moving between both.

TV spots like this began running in early October, selling the film as more of a time-twisted murder mystery than anything else, a message that’s delivered within Wright’s visuals.

Unsurprisingly given the focus his films have on music, Wright created a Spotify playlist of era-appropriate songs to help set the tone.

Costumes from the movie were on display at Universal Citywalk in Los Angeles.

AMC Artisan Films released a featurette with Wright talking about the story and characters as well as what inspired him to go down a slightly darker road than he has in the past.

Focus released a video of Taylor-Joy singing “Downtown.”

The movie was featured as part of Focus’ “60 Second Film School” series, with Wright talking about making the movie. That was followed by a featurette that had Wright talking about his own nostalgia for London in the 60s and how that was channeled into this film.

A Snapchat AR lens allowed users to transform their surroundings into 1960s London.

McKenzie and Taylor-Joy participated in a joint interview where they talked about their careers to date, working with Wright (including what movies he suggested they watch to help understand what he was going for) and more.

Two clips, one showing Sandie angling for her break as a singer and one showing Eloise entering her new apartment for the first time, came out last week.

A red-carpet screening of the film was held just days before release at the new Academy Museum’s, the first premiere to be held there since it opened. At about the same time it screened at Beyond Fest.

At the Los Angeles premiere there were interviews with Taylor-Joy about singing on-screen and more

Dolby released an exclusive poster designed very much to mimic the kinds of 1960s psychological thrillers Wright and others have cited as inspiration. The company also put out a featurette with Wright talking about his love of seeing movies on the big screen as well as the making of this film.

An interview with costume designer Odile Dicks-Mireaux had her talking about creating the fashion of the 60s.

overall

In the introduction above I noted that the campaign has been somewhat light on story details. That’s true, but it’s likely because it’s such a plot-heavy story that revealing too many details would spoil the film for those looking forward to heading to the theater.

A heavy percentage of that group is going to be made up of people who are on board with most anything Wright does, appreciating the director’s knack for beat-driven staging and unique visuals. In addition to plenty of time given to McKenzie and especially Taylor-Joy in the marketing, Wright is really the star of the campaign, having one of those reputations like Wes Anderson or Christopher Nolan where he becomes the franchise, even if the movie being made isn’t already part of one.

Adding to that as well as the festival buzz that’s accumulated, the movie arrives with whole-hearted endorsements from many of today’s top filmmakers including Rian Johnson, J.J. Abrams and others. Even Stephen King has given it his thumbs up. That gives it some impressive momentum, even if tracking projections estimate an opening weekend box-office of just around $5 million.

the card counter – marketing recap

How Focus Features has sold a drama from a Hollywood icon.

The Card Counter poster

The Card Counter, in theaters this weekend from Focus Features, is the latest feature from writer/director Paul Schrader, one of the foremost figures in the last 50 years of cinema. Oscar Isaac stars as William Tell, a former military interrogator who now makes a living as a gambler. One day a young man named Cirk (Tye Sheridan) tries to enlist Tell in a scheme to enact revenge on an officer Cirk served with and bears a grudge against. Hoping to turn Cirk from his path, Tell takes him on the gambling circuit. Financing them is La Linda (Tiffany Haddish), who also joins them on the road.

announcement and casting

The movie was first announced in October, 2019 when Isaac was cast. Tiffany Haddish, Tye Sheridan, and Willem Dafoe joined the cast in mid-February of 2020, about the same time Martin Scorcese, who famously collaborated with Schrader on several of the most important films of the last five decades, came on as an executive producer.

A first look still was released in mid-June of last year as production was resuming after a Covid-19-related shutdown had paused filming. Focus Features announced it acquired distribution rights a month later.

the card marketing

Things really started just a few months ago in July, when Focus Features announced the film’s world premiere would take place at the Venice Film Festival in early September.

The original song “Arise Sun” from Robert Levon Been came out at the end of July.

At that point the first trailer (2.8m views on YouTube) was released, the tension apparent from the start. Tell is talking about the weight of things past as it opens and we slowly learn more about him as things go on, including how he was sent to prison for crimes committed while he was in the service. Now free and making a living gambling, he’s backed by La Linda, who smells an opportunity to make money. Cirk’s intrusion on his life is unwanted, especially when Tell finds out what he’s up to but his presence sets a series of events in motion that may upset the life Tell has made for himself even as it offers a chance at closure.

Tell’s face looks out from behind a series of playing card faces on the highly-stylized poster, released a little later in mid-August. Scorsese’s name is prominently displayed at the top, indicating how much weight the studio believes he commands, especially when it’s paired with not only Schrader but also the high-profile cast. The vengeance/redemption storyline is hinted at in the copy “Reap what you sow.”

TV spots like this started running at about the same time, cutting down the story to much broader strokes but maintaining the tension and drama that was found in the full trailer. Even shorter videos served to introduce the individual characters.

Tell explains to La Linda that he’s not a typical gambler and why he’s trying to help Cirk in the first clip, also released in late August.

Schrader wound up being the central figure in the press campaign. Interviews with the writer/director had him talking about the influence his previous work with Scorsese had on this movie, the process of writing and shooting the movie, how he thinks the story reflects at least some of the trauma soldiers coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan can and will have and more.

He also spoke about what it was like shooting the film during Covid lockdowns and with strict protocols in place. Similar ground was covered in a joint interview with Haddish and Isaac as well as how the two actors bonded on set.

Three character posters released in early September showed the leads standing in front of playing cards. The same tagline is used here from the main poster, but what really stands out is the use of shadow, like they are actually standing in front of a physical object and it’s not just a background that’s been inserted.

The stars and director all appeared at the Venice Film Festival, doing interviews and otherwise promoting the film there.

AMC Theaters released a series of interviews with Haddish and Sheridan, both of whom also did a video for Regal Cinemas.

A featurette with Schrader had him talking about the story as well as how important it is to challenge the audience and make them work a little bit.

overall

With the film’s creative pedigree – both in front of and behind the camera – the positive festival reviews that have resulted in an 85% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes isn’t wholly surprising but still good to see.

The campaign has set a tense, dramatic tone from the outset, one that very much brands it as a movie intended for serious adult moviegoers. Schrader is clearly still a brand name with that crowd, which is why he’s been put front and center in the publicity. Isaac is conspicuously absent from all but a few interviews, but there are likely reasons for that. And it’s allowed Haddish to get a bit more time in the spotlight.

stillwater – marketing recap

How Focus Features sold a politically-charged drama.

(ed note: This should have been published last week, but life got in the way. Let’s move on…)

Director Tom McCarthy is back with Stillwater, in theaters now. Matt Damon stars as Bill Baker, an oil worker whose daughter Allison (Abigail Breslin) has been imprisoned in Marseille, France for the last four years. She was accused of killing her roommate but maintains her innocence. When she slips Bill a note with more information about the killing it sets into motion a series of events that has Bill doing his own investigation, lying when he needs to and doing whatever he can to free his daughter.

The movie has arrived with a campaign that’s been equally heavy on the drama of a father/daughter relationship and the political environment surrounding its release. Generally positive reviews has resulted in a 76% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so let’s see how the rest of the campaign was arranged.

The Posters

“Secrets run deep” we’re told on the first poster (by marketing agency BOND), released in May. Baker is largest element in the design, looking at the camera while around him are scenes showing the French setting of the story as well as a body floating in the water, clearly unwell.

The Trailers

The trailer (6.6 million views on YouTube), released in mid-May, clearly shows what the story entails and what audiences can expect. We see Bill travel to France to try and get Allison out of jail after she’s been arrested for murder, and that his efforts are going to be more difficult than anticipated. He’s an arrogant American, after all, presented as almost a caricature, and refuses to accept that a different approach may be necessary. There are some hints of more going on, that there may be some conspiracy at work, but for the most part it’s sold as the story of an American who’s angry he can’t bully his way through the system.

Online and Social

Not much on the ticket-focused official website, but the movie’s social profiles offer some good additional information.

Advertising, Publicity and Promotions

A first look at Damon as Baker came out in May accompanied by comments about the film and its story from McCarthy.

The actor appeared on “Today” shortly after that to talk about the movie.

News broke in June that the Cannes Film Festival would act as the movie’s world premiere.

Cottin was interviewed about what she thought after first reading the script and more.

Promo spots like this began airing at the beginning of July, cutting the story down and focusing on the drama of Bill’s love for his daughter and his attempts to prove her innocence.

A first clip showing a scene between Bill and Allison was released during Cannes. Another clip came out a short while later.

That Cannes screening was well-received, generating positive buzz for the film and Damon in particular. The actor was interviewed about his character and what he learned while preparing for the role. There was also much made of Damon’s emotional reaction to being back in a theater with other people.

More TV spots and other promos continued the buzz out of Cannes, all of them hitting roughly the same few beats as what had come before.

Damon appeared on “CBS Sunday Morning” to talk about the movie specifically as well as the more general return of theatrical moviegoing. Cottin later talked about the movie and more on “60 Minutes.”

An exclusive AMC Artisan Films featurette had comments from the cast and McCarthy about the story and more. The movie’s producer also spoke about filming in Oklahoma in an interview with the Oklahoma Film + Music Office. Regal Cinemas later offered an exclusive video interview with the cast, as did Cinemark.

Damon made another appearance on “GMA” just before release, with Breslin doing likewise a few days later.

The movie’s premiere was held in New York City last week, the cast and crew in attendance. This was Focus Features’ first in-person premiere since the beginning of the Covid pandemic last year.

An interview with Damon about what he learned – both about the people and their jobs – while shadowing oil roughnecks in preparation for the role was the first of many similar profiles to hit similar topics. Similar ground was covered in additional interviews with Damon and McCarthy where they talked about the political divide in the U.S., how respectful the movie is to the people it portrays

One more clip came out, this one exclusive to Fandango MovieClips.

News came just a week or so ago about a tie-in true crime podcast hosted by Marcia Clarke and produced by Focus Features in partnership with the L.A. Times.

An interview with McCarthy about how the story was developed resulted in Amanda Knox, famously imprisoned overseas for similar charges, to criticize an attempt to make money off her circumstances and experience. All that seemed to do was raise the profile of the movie a bit in the days before release.

A final profile of Damon focused on the actor’s ability to disappear into roles and how that serves him in this movie.

Overall

Two things:

  • If I were a cynically-minded person, the shift in the last week or two of the campaign to focus on the research Damon did in real roughneck communities and more might seem opportunistic. So many movies in the last five years have been slammed by right-leaning media anytime they portray blue collar workers or others who generally identify as conservative. This seems like an attempt to head such criticism off, with Damon and McCarthy taking pains to explain how respectful and accurate these portrayals are.
  • Labeling Damon as a kind of chameleon actor who disappears into his performances is…a stretch. He’s such a bankable face and persona that the posters for his movies – including this one here – almost universally use a giant photo of his head as the primary element. But points for trying.

Aside from those observations, it’s not a bad campaign, especially if you consider that the primary audience seems to be people in mostly red states who are alright with a gay daughter in the story if it means the righteous American character gets to be mean to a bunch of French jerks.

Land – Marketing Recap

How Focus Features sold a drama of emotional and physical escape.

(ed note: Yes, this came out last week. Let’s move on.)

Robin Wright makes her directorial debut with Land, in which she also stars. Wright plays Edee, a woman who experiences great personal tragedy and, fed up with the pressure of those around her, decides to escape to the wilderness of Wyoming. There she hopes to find solitude and peace. But she also finds the harsh environment there more dangerous than she anticipated, but gets by with the unexpected help of a local hunter named Miguel (Demián Bichir), someone who is also there to get away from it all.

Focus Features has run a relatively short campaign for a movie released in limited theaters, one with a 69% Fresh Rotten Tomatoes rating.

The Posters

This is super-nerdy, but I love the comma in the middle of the copy “A story of humanity, in the face of uncertainty” on the poster (by marketing agency Cold Open), released in December. That punctuation slows down the sentence and asks the reader to pause and consider both halves and what they mean both on their own and together. Other than that, the message is simple in how it shows Edee in front of her Wyoming cabin with the callouts of the festivals the film screened at placed toward the top.

The Trailers

Toward the end of December the first trailer (2.8 million views on YouTube) came out, opening by showing us how Edee is grieving by moving away from everyone who just wants her to be better and get over her loss. Her life in the Wyoming wilderness is hard, though, and almost gets the better of her until others help her out. One of those people is a local hunter and recluse himself, who teaches her how to survive on her own, though it’s implied from the trailer that the two may wind up alone together by the end of the story. Still, it’s a powerful proposition made here that’s anchored by what looks to be a fearless performance by Wright.

Online and Social

The official website for the film is primarily focused on selling tickets to the limited theatrical screenings, with only a little other information available. There were also social profiles that shared various promotions and more.

Advertising and Publicity

Wright and her team brought a sales pitch for the movie to Cannes 2019. A few months later in October Focus Features acquired distribution rights.

The movie was among those scheduled to screen at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.

The first clip shows Edee getting help from the mysterious hunter who comes by her remote cabin. Additional clips showed more of the movie, including extended looks at scenes glimpsed in the trailer.

There was also a video of a song from the film’s soundtrack performed by Ben Sollee and Time For Three.

Cinemark Theaters shared an exclusive behind the scenes featurette.

Shorter versions of the trailer were cut down and shared as promos on social media and, I imagine, elsewhere.

Media and Press

Wright talked about how she wanted to create an uplifting film and story while sharing a handful of stills from the movie.

Additional interviews with Wright had her talking about what it was like to direct herself, how real events informed her telling a story of grief, the process of shooting in such a remote location, how she directed out of necessity and more. She hit on some of those topics when she appeared on “Kimmel.”

A profile of Bicher was published in early February.

Later on Wright was interviewed on “CBS Sunday Morning” and NPR’s “Morning Edition.”

Overall

The emphasis on Wright playing roles in front of and behind the camera is great, showing how the actor is taking another step in her career, though she’s directed episodes of TV before. That’s something that’s hit time and again throughout the campaign, which is good for her and helps to differentiate the film.

Unfortunately that’s about all that does. The rest of the campaign sells a movie that we’ve seen in various forms a number of times before, though with the promise there may be something new being offered here.

Promising Young Woman – Marketing Recap

How Focus Features is selling a twisted revenge story.

Actress and writer Emerald Fennell makes her directorial debut with this week’s Promising Young Woman. The movie stars Carey Mulligan as Cassandra, a woman who experienced severe trauma in her past. Now she is channeling that trauma, combined with her sense of justice, in the direction of seeking to set things right. That means trouble for the men who get in her way.

Focus Features’ campaign for the film has sold a kinetic, story of revenge and dealing with the events of the past in some manner. With an impressive 92% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, the movie has been pegged as a potential awards contender, especially for Mulligan.

The Posters

“Take her home and take your chances” the audience is warned on the first poster (by marketing agency Art Machine), released just a week ago. The image of Cassandra lounging on a sultry, dripping wet mouth combined with the style of the title treatment gives this the look of an 80s teen sex comedy, albeit one that might be a bit twisted.

The image on the second poster (by marketing agency Territory Studio) is a bit more straightforward, just Cassandra staring at the camera and holding a tire iron in a very purposeful way. Some positive review quotes are placed in the background to help make the case.

Cassandra is writing the title on a mirror in lipstick on the final poster (once again by Art Machine). That takes us back into twisted territory, while the copy here reads “Revenge never looked so promising.”

The Trailers

The first trailer (3.8 million views on YouTube) came out in mid-December and immediately sells a crazed story of vengeance and justice. As it opens it looks like Cassandra has had too much to drink and is passing out at a club, with a man seeing that as his opportunity to take advantage of her. She reveals herself to be just fine, though, much to his surprise. Turns out this is something she does regularly, exposing the lie of the “nice guy” who has darker motives. Her mission is driven by a past that involves leaving college after accusing a man of raping her and receiving no support from the school or other people. Seems her journey may even bring her back into contact with her assailant, giving her the opportunity to achieve some real closure and have some real fun.

Cassandra is attempting to restart her studies in the second trailer (2.9 million views on YouTube), released in mid-October. She explains that she left years ago after a girl was attacked and her assailant never punished. Turns out the administrator she’s speaking with is the same one who fielded the initial report and failed to take action. Mixed in with that is footage of the kind of vengeance she doles out herself on men who feel they’re entitled to certain things regardless of consent. It still looks crazy, but the framing of the interview grounds the story a bit more effectively.

Online and Social

Visitors to the movie’s official website will find Focus’ standard design in place, offering the trailer, bios on Mulligan, Fennelll and many of the costars and more. There are also social network profiles specifically for the film.

Advertising and Promotions

Sundance 2020 was announced as the movie’s public coming out, with Focus Features picking up distribution rights in advance of the festival.

The video for “Drinks” by Cyn was released in early March as details of the star-studded soundtrack were made public.

Clips started coming out a couple weeks ago showing Cassandra being asked out and bantering with a coworker at the coffee shop.

Dolby offered an exclusive interview with Fennelll where she talked about using the company’s technology and tools to bring her story to life.

AMC Theaters also got an exclusive behind-the-scenes featurette.

Focus Features showed a bit more in an installment of the “60-Second Film School” web series.

Media and Press

While Fennell wasn’t in Sundance with the movie, he was interviewed at that time about the inspiration behind the story, how production worked and what they hoped the audience’s reaction would be. Burnham spoke about the difficult time he had while filming and how intimidated he felt when acting alongside Mulligan.

Fennell and Cyn were interviewed about the process of assembling the movie’s soundtrack and what the songs on it were meant to represent.

An interview with Mulligan allowed her to talk about how she got involved in the project and why it seemed attractive to her at this point in her career. Brie also talked about her part in the film.

A Variety cover story featured both Fennell and Mulligan talking about why they made this movie right now, the…emotional reactions test audiences had and lots more.

How set designer Michael Perry created the visual look of the film was covered in an interview with him.

A joint interview with Fennell and Mulligan had them talking about female revenge stories and how they accomplished the movie’s unique look and feel. They also shared a story of a fistfight among audience members breaking out during a test screening.

Other interviews with Fennell had her talking about getting the rights to use a song by Paris Hilton in a key sequence and why she cast perfectly nice and sweet actors to play some of the story’s terrible male characters.

A big profile of Fennell had her reflecting on how her career to date has led her to this point and what she wanted the story to convey. A similar piece on Mulligan had her talking about the…unfortunate…reactions of some men to the movie.

What the movie’s quick production was like was covered in an interview with Mulligan. Fennell talked about how she wanted to take a comedic, though a darkly comic, look at violence in the story.

Overall

I’m on board with this campaign for a number of reasons, including the fact that it creates a strong, instantly recognizable brand identity from the outset and never lets up. It’s twisted, colorful and a little bit funny, anchored by a strong performance from Mulligan.

Not to be overlooked is Fennell’s contribution to the campaign, outside of her helming the film itself. She’s been out in front of the publicity and other aspects of the marketing, making it clear she is in charge and working to carve out some recognition for herself while also selling the movie.

Carey Mulligan GIF by Coolidge Corner Theatre - Find & Share on GIPHY

Picking Up the Spare

Mulligan appeared on “Kimmel” and then later on “Late Night” while she and Fennell were interviewed about striking the right tone in the story. Mulligan was interviewed on her own here while Fennell was interviewed here about telling such a dark story. 

More clips as well as a new featurette on the cast came out after the film was in theaters. 

More insights from the film’s costume designer as well as another profile of Fennell. Brie was also interviewed on “The Tonight Show” while Mulligan stopped by “The Daily Show.”

Kajillionaire – Marketing Recap

How Focus Features is selling the latest from an acclaimed writer/director.

(Note: Yes, this came out last week. Let’s move on.)

The release of a new movie from Miranda July is cause for a fair amount of celebration, and something that hasn’t happened in almost a decade. Thankfully she’s back with Kajillionaire. Evan Rachel Wood stars as Old Dolio, a young woman whose parents Robert (Richard Jenkins) and Theresa (Debra Winger) have long made her a part of their petty scams and cons.

There’s a change in the family dynamic when, out of the blue, Robert and Theresa invite an outsider into their activities. Adding Melanie (Gina Rodriguez), something done while trying to get out of a tense situation, changes things substantially, including making Old Dolio begin to question what else might be out there for her.

Focus Features has given what seems to be quirky character drama an appropriately quirky campaign, one that relies heavily on the indie cache of July. The film currently has an 87 percent Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with reviews praising Wood’s performance as well as July’s handling of the story.

The Posters

Old Dolio is literally surrounded by the detritus of her makeshift life on the poster, released at the end of July. There are pancakes, cash, watches and other items are all around her while she, in the center, looks disinterested and somewhat distracted but it’s clear her life revolves around all of this. The tagline “Know your worth” is at the bottom, indicating that Old Dolio is struggling with who she is and what her role in the world is, especially as it relates to the other characters who appear at the bottom of the swirl.

The Trailers

The first trailer (5.3 million views on YouTube) was released in early August and starts by showing how Old Dolio participates in the petty crimes, hustles and schemes of her parents. Everything is fine in their world until those parents introduce an outsider, Melanie, into the dynamic. That creates new feelings in Dolio, who has to finally grapple with the kind of life she is leading versus the one she wants to be leading, and she finds she has to make some big decisions in order to bridge the gap between the two.

Online and Social

Focus’ website for the film has the standard material, including that trailer, a synopsis and a handful of photos. There’s also, notably, a survey for those who have already seen the movie to take. That’s interesting since it seems, based on the questions, designed to help the studio gauge reception in a way that may guide its thinking going forward.

Advertising and Promotions

At Sundance 2020 the movie received its debut screening in the Premieres portion of the festival. After initial reports A24 was about to close a deal, it was picked up by Focus Features after the festival ended. A release date4 was announced in March, but it was pushed because of the Covid-19 pandemic to September.

Singer Angel Olsen recently released the song “Mr. Lonely,” one that’s labeled as being inspired by the film.

Focus Features worked with the Brooklyn Academy of Music and American Cinematheque on a virtual retrospective of July’s previous work.

MovieClips was given an exclusive clip showing the family dynamic at the heart of the story.

Media and Press

At the festival, Rodriguez talked about the easy time she had working with Wood and the rest of the cast.

July was interviewed about the making of the movie and her career in general. There were a number of similar interviews where she talked about creativity, making a family drama crossed with a heist film,

A brief interview with Angel Olsen let her talk about collaborating with July on the cover of “Mr. Lonely.”

Rodriguez spoke about how she stepped into a role July had written specifically with her in mind. Similar ground was covered in an interview with Wood, which also included her comments on other projects she’s involved in.

Overall

If July’s previous films are any indication, there’s lots waiting for the audience that’s not contained in this campaign. The story is pretty well laid out, as are the relationships between the major characters, offering something intriguing if a bit unconventional for the general audience. Those more familiar with the writer/director’s earlier work will find more nuance in what’s shown here, especially since July’s name is generously attached to all aspects of the marketing, making it clear this is her latest effort.

Picking Up The Spare

A feature profile of the movie’s production team had them talking about creating the look and feel of the film in L.A.

July appeared on “Late Night” to talk about the movie and what inspires her. 

Irresistible – Marketing Recap

How Focus is selling a political satire with big names and big expectations.

In any other year, the timing of Irresistible hitting theaters (or some other platform) would be immaculate. It is, of course, a presidential campaign year and, given the hyper-politicized world of the last 30 year, a biting satire of those behind the scenes seems like a great idea. That only increases when you consider the names of those involved both in front of and behind the camera.

Unfortunately, even aside from the Covid-19 pandemic that led Focus Features to shift release from theaters to premium VOD, this is not any other year. With trust in government continuing to fall among Americans, and a current situation where the realities of inequality are being laid bare in a way even the most stubborn idealogues have to work to ignore them, the timing of a comedic take on the problems inherent in the system is…sketchy.

The movie, written and directed by Jon Stewart, stars Steve Carell and Rose Byrne as competing political strategists who see a mayoral campaign in rural Wisconsin as key to nationwide success. So Democratic operative Gary Zimmer (Carell) and Republican operative Faith Brewster (Byrne) take over the town, with Zimmer trying to boost the chances of local “everyman” Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper).

Focus’ campaign has emphasized the talent, especially Stewart, as well as the subject matter. But the 44 percent the movie currently has on Rotten Tomatoes speak to reviews that frequently have been more critical of the tone and the timing than of the movie’s actual quality.

The Posters

Zimmer’s forehead is seen at the bottom of the first poster (by marketing agency Arsenal), released in March. The black and white photo of him contrasts with the bright red, white and blue of the “Uncle Sam” hat he’s wearing. Amidst what’s most white blank space, Stewart’s name is prominently displayed at the top, as is the fact that the movie will be available in homes everywhere upon release. The comedic tone is communicated through the tagline “Send in the clowns.”

Most of those elements are removed on the second poster (by marketing agency Cold Open), which came out just last week. Instead it features color photos of both Zimmer and Brewster, but Stewart’s name is still a major value proposition shared with the audience.

The Trailers

Democrats are getting their “asses kicked” Zimmer explains as the first trailer (5.4 million views on YouTube), released in January, opens. They need to add more rural appeal, he says, and shows his team a clip of a farmer and retired veteran making an impassioned speech at a local meeting in Wisconsin. Zimmer convinces Hastings to run for mayor of his town, but he himself has trouble fitting in with the locals. Still, his efforts attract the attention of the Republican party, turning the small town into an ideological battlefield between the two parties, who each see it as key to victory in the state.

The timing of the trailer’s release seems designed for maximum relevance and timeliness. Late January was both right before the Iowa Caucus (which wound up featuring the Democratic party tripping over its own feet repeatedly amidst technical problems) and in the middle of the Senate impeachment hearings, which wound up in the acquittal of President Trump as Democrats couldn’t find enough Republicans to vote for conviction.

Online and Social

An “About” synopsis along with the trailer and a featurette are all that’s on the movie’s official website, which seems paltry. There’s no photo gallery or other information to be found. Surprising there wasn’t something like an essay from Stewart on why he made the film or other additional context. VOD information is available on that site as well as a separate page setup specifically for that.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

In late May, shortly after the change in release was announced, a short promotional featurette came out includes a few comments from Stewart – who’s his usual dry self – along with clips from the movie. It plays half like an informational piece and half like a TV spot, leading me to believe it was used in some sort of paid slot.

A couple of TV spots ran that boiled down the story to a showdown between the warring political consultants. Some split their time between that story and comments from Stewart as well.

Zimmer’s awkwardness in a small town setting was conveyed in a clip given exclusively to The Playlist. Another clip has Zimmer strategizing with Hastings and his daughter. ET shared another clip as well.

An installment of Focus’ “You Know That Scene” YouTube series featured a discussion of a few key moments from the film.

A Twitter Watch Party was scheduled for this Friday with Stewart participating.

Online ads like the one below featured elements of the key art, with the primary call-to-action being to find information on how to watch the film this weekend, especially at home.

Media and Publicity

Focus Features acquired the movie while it was still in pre-production. A release date in late-May was finally announced in January.

Stewart pulled one of his “pop out from under Stephen Colbert’s desk” gags to debut the trailer on “The Late Show.”

In mid-May Focus announced the movie, like many others, was going to skip theaters since they were closed because of Covid-19 outbreaks anyway. Instead a new plan involving a late June premium VOD release was planned.

A substantial profile of Stewart came out last week, but his comments about the movie were overshadowed by his reaction to the current situation involving the police and their disproportionate response to black citizens.

Unsurprisingly, Stewart stopped by (virtually) “The Late Show” to talk about the movie and more with his good friend Stephen Colbert.

Overall

Let’s address a few standout ideas that are evident in how Focus Features has conducted this campaign, as well as a few issues that are influencing how it’s being received.

First, neither the studio nor Stewart had much influence on the world the movie is being released out into. Sure, they could have delayed it a year because a satire about largely-white politics in the middle of protests for racial equality and justice seems out of touch. But doing so would have meant losing the timeliness of coming out during the campaign cycle. It was a no-win situation here.

Second, reviews seem to be focusing on how the satire of the story isn’t sharp enough, as if everything needs to be merciless in its takedowns. That’s a false measurement, especially since nothing in the campaign here promises anything more than a few laughs at the machinations of sociopathic political strategists.

Third, it seems Focus recognized early on that the story itself was only one part of the potential appeal of the film and that Stewart’s involvement was at least as big a draw given his continued popularity post-”The Daily Show.” And it aligns well with the role he’s played over the years as an outspoken voice for various political causes important to him. Unfortunately, his advocacy in those areas has meant that most all of the interviews he did as the movie’s primary public face were more about the politics of today than the film he made.

All of that being said, it’s a strong campaign that stands up with some of the other major political satires of the modern era. It makes the case that the movie is a pleasant good time with a few laughs from some very funny people. It may not be life-changing, and it’s unlikely to result in the dissembling of major societal systems, but it looks here like a decent way to spend a couple hours.

Picking Up The Spare

Byrne was interviewed about how she created the character she plays and what inspiration she drew from. 

Stewart stopped by “The Daily Show” to talk about the movie as well as society in general. 

Focus offered clips of Stewart behind the camera as part of its “60 Second Film School” series. Another came as part of the “Stories From The Set” series.

The High Note – Marketing Recap

How Focus Features is selling its story of showbiz dreams.

high note poster 2

The story of The High Note seems to come at music stardom from two ends of the timeline. On the one end Grace (Tracee Ellis Ross) is a massive star who continues to make a living performing the hits from her successful career and whose management wants her to keep on down that road. She, meanwhile, wants to keep growing and putting out new material.

On the other end is Maggie (Dakota Johnson), Grace’s personal assistant who has aspirations of becoming a songwriter and producer in her own right. Stressed by Grace’s constant needs and the frustrations of her own stifled ambitions, Maggie just tries to get through each day. Eventually she and Grace begin to become more entwined in each other’s lives, finding that each isn’t quite what the other expected.

Focus Features’ campaign has emphasized the story’s music industry setting, especially the talents of Ellis Ross in the lead.

The Posters

high note poster

Maggie and Grace stand side-by-side on the first poster (by marketing agency Arsonel), released in February. L.A.’s famous Capital Records building is seen in the circular frame, as are a couple palm trees and the members of the supporting cast. It seems the designers here were going for a look like an old Bill Graham-esque concert poster but couldn’t quite commit to the conceit.

The same basic design is used on May’s second poster, but this time the circle is surrounded by some bright stage lights at the bottom instead of a peaceful Los Angeles scene.

The Trailers

Maggie, we see in March’s first trailer (6 million views on YouTube), is an overworked and underappreciated for music superstar Grace. She keeps Grace’s schedule and everything else but is kept just out of the limelight. When Grace wants to record a new album instead of resting on her laurels as her managers want her to, Maggie sees an opportunity to write and produce as she’s always wanted to. Despite some resistance, the two women eventually team up to revitalize Grace’s career and realize Maggie’s ambition, which brings the two of them together.

What was essentially the same trailer (7.6 million views on YouTube) was rereleased in early May, coinciding with the news of the movie’s revised distribution details.

Online and Social

There are pics, videos and more on the movie’s official website, which at the top makes sure to link to all the VOD platforms audiences will be able to purchase the film on later this week. There are also bios of the cast as well as director Nisha Ganatra

Advertising and Promotions.

Before the movie’s promotional campaign really kicked off, news broke that Focus was taking off the theatrical release schedule and would be making it available through premium VOD platforms in late May, about three weeks after it was originally planned.

An audio track for the song “Love Myself” came out a couple weeks ago while one for “Stop For A Minute” hit YouTube just last week.

At the same time a number of clips were released. One shows Grace wanting to discuss her show, another shows Maggie getting a pep talk from her friend while she talks about her crush. Grace and Maggie discuss the singer’s stalled creative ambitions in a third while the two go over Grace’s hectic schedule in another.

the high note online ad

Online ads used variations on the film’s key art to drive traffic to the website specifically for the on-demand audience.

More clips showed Grace urgently needing Maggie’s help for a non-urgent matter and Maggie sharing her musical aspirations with her friend.

A special at-home watch part was set for this Friday to get people to tune in for a communal event.

Media and Press

Ellis Ross was the central figure in the movie’s press campaign, including lots of interviews that focused on her playing a musical superstar given she’s the real life daughter of Diana Ross, something she was understandably reluctant to do.

Overall

While the animated features that have gone straight to VOD over the last couple months have gotten lots of attention, this is the kind of movie that is much more likely to follow that path not just during a theater-closing pandemic but going forward as well. It’s the kind of mid-grade star vehicle that has, over the last few years, not performed well theatrically but has been sought by streaming companies who want to build out their libraries.

Premium VOD offers a middle ground, one where the studio retains control but doesn’t have the pressure of theatrical box-office looming over its head. Not saying these conversations won’t be difficult, but this seems like a perfect example of the middle-ground type of movie that has been lost in the shuffle of late.

That being said, the campaign supports just that kind of release. It doesn’t seem like it would generate a huge amount of interest in driving people to theaters, but it might convince people to buy it to watch this weekend as they remain indoors. It looks funny and uplifting and enjoyable, which is exactly the kind of film that is more likely to do well at home.

Picking Up the Spare

There were more interviews with Ellis Ross about living out her pop dreams, the concerns she had taking on the role and more

Johnson appeared on “Kimmel” to discuss the film as well. 

The movie’s costume designer talked about creating the look of the characters. 

Another clip showed Grace performing while a featurette covered the themes of the story. Some of the movie’s locations were included in an installment of Focus’ “Reel Destinations” series. Ross also appeared in an installment of the studio’s “My First Gig” series. 

Never Rarely Sometimes Always – Marketing Recap

How Focus Features is selling a story of the hard choices young women have to make.

never rarely sometimes always poster

Never Rarely Sometimes Always covers a topic that isn’t seen in many mainstream films, even in the enlightened era in which we now live: Abortion. The story focuses on Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) and her best friend Skylar (Talia Ryder) as they travel from their Pennsylvania home town to New York City after Autumn finds out she’s pregnant. That trip is necessary in order for Autumn to get the abortion that lawmakers have outlawed in her own state.

The movie was written and directed by Eliza Hittman and arrives in theaters this week via a campaign that has shown just how unusual it is among recent offerings.

The Posters

“Her journey. Her choice.” That’s the copy featured on the movie’s poster, released in February, but it’s also a good motto for most politicians and activists to adopt. Autumn is shown on the poster, but that photo is only shown at the bottom of the design, leaving most of the top a blank off-white field.

The Trailers

Autumn, we learn as the first trailer (2.4 million views on YouTube) from December opens, is pregnant, which is not great news as she’s still in high school. Her cousin Skylar wants to help and so helps her travel to New York City since getting an abortion in Pennsylvania is out of the question. Nothing goes as planned, creating an even more emotional experience for both of them than they had anticipated.

The second trailer(558,000 views on YouTube), released just last week, sells the same kind of story but is even more emotionally devastating, showing Autumn move through the whole process and struggle with each step.

Online and Social

Focus Features’ website for the movie features a variety of content – bios, a synopsis, news links etc – all shared within the framework of the site’s standard site template. It’s good stuff for the most part, but nothing revolutionary.

More interesting and relevant material can be found on Her Journey Her Choice, a standalone site that has information on abortion resources, adoption planning and more for expectant mothers facing a difficult situation.

Advertising and Promotions

Focus Features acquired the film in advance of its screening at Sundance earlier this year. As that event was winding down the news came it would later screen at the Berlin Film Festival. At Sundance it wound up winning the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award: Neo-Realism.

Autumn is explaining away her trip to the doctor as nothing serious or important in the first clip released in February. Another clip, debuting on Women in Hollywood, shows the moment Autumn finds out she’s pregnant.

Closer to release the movie screened at the Athena Film Festival in New York and won the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize at the Berlin International Film Festival.

Focus hosted a screening of the film in New York City earlier this week.

Media and Press

In an interview from Sundance, Hittman talked about having her stars audition in an unusual place to break down some of the formality of the process.

Another interview with the director allowed her to talk about the subject matter of the movie and how rare it is for something like this to make it to the screen.

Overall

There’s no denying the emotional heft of the campaign, which doesn’t attempt to downplay the themes of the story at all or sugarcoat it in any way. The gut wrenching nature of what happens to Autumn – including how her choices are made harder by the politics around her – are on full display.

But what really makes the marketing special is that it provides resources for those in a similar situation. That kind of effort has been seen on other recent movies about suicide or sexual identiy, but this is an understandably more serious topic. Good on Focus Features for not only distributing the kind of movie that’s rarely seen in theaters but also for taking it to the next level in that way.

Picking Up The Spare

The director and principle cast talked about how uncommon it is to see abortion handled so directly on screen in a joint interview.

The studio filled a significant gap by releasing this  PSA  focusing on a partnership with Planned Parenthood. 

Emma – Marketing Recap

How Focus Features is selling a new version of a classic novel.

emma poster 2Adaptations of Jane Austen’s most famous novels are relatively common on the big screen. Some take a more faithful approach to the source material (see 1995’s Sense and Sensibility) while others update the characters and situations to a more modern setting.

The new version of Emma – directed by Autumn de Wilde and starring Anya Taylor-Joy in the title role – seems to split the difference, keeping the time period of the original while updating some of the sensibilities of the characters. Remaining intact is the premise of the story, that Emma Woodhouse is the undisputed social queen of her town, becoming a matchmaker for those around her. While trying to get everyone married and attached she has trouble setting down herself until she finds a solution has been in front of her the whole time.

Focus has been selling the film, getting a limited release this week with an 88 percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with a wicked sense of humor behind a story of gender roles and class in 19th century England.

The Posters

Emma is “Handsome, clever and rich” we’re told on the first poster (by marketing agency P+A). She’s shown standing and looking ready to match wits with all comers, perched on a flat rock on the edge of a massive estate garden. The plants in the foreground look deliberately fake while the background looks like a matte painting, giving the poster the look of a stage production of sorts. It’s a great look.

“Love knows best” is the copy used on the second poster, released in mid-January), which adds Mr. Knightly and Mr. Churchill, both of whom play significant roles in the story, to either side of Emma in the same setting.

Just last week a series of character posters came out that shows more of those in Emma’s social sphere, also in the same background. Using the same setting for the entire poster campaign creates a great sense of brand consistency, all while presenting the movie like a stage play.

The Trailers

As the first trailer (4.3 million views on YouTube), released in November, makes clear, this is not a traditional take on Jane Austin’s material. All the story elements might be there – though the trailer doesn’t take pains to communicate them in any sort of linear fashion – but the attitude is much more arch and comedic. It’s a fast-paced trailer that shows the material is every bit as malleable as other classics, even if you keep the time period setting.

Online and Social

The movie’s official website uses the standard Focus Features site template but offers a lot more content than has been seen on other recent efforts. For the most part that takes the form of curated social updates that offer behind the scenes and other looks at the production and stars. There are also profiles on the major social platforms.

Advertising and Promotions

A 60-second commercial was released last week that cuts the story down slightly while retaining everything about the sense of humor the movie contains. Emma is presented as a willful and slightly subversive young woman, seeking to maneuver those in her orbit into marriages, all while oblivious to the romance in front of her.

Promotional partners for the movie included:

PaperSource, which offered a line of stationary and more featuring designs inspired by Emma or by Jane Austen.

BellaCures, which gave movies tickets to those coming to one of their salon locations for a manicure or pedicure.

Vogue Magazine hosted a screening of the film earlier this month.

Media and Press

EW hosted a sweepstakes awarding tickets to the movie’s premiere.

Interviews with the cast included Taylor-Joy and costar Johnny Flynn talking about their experiences with the costumes and others including costars Bill Nighly commenting on the importance of continuing to adapt Austen’s works.

In a nice nod to one of the most popular of those adaptations, Taylor-Joy talked with Clueless director Amy Heckerling about their various approaches to the story and more. Taylor-Joy was the subject of a feature profile about her experiences filming the movie and more.

A group of young women are playing a game of which Emma does *not* approve in an exclusive clip given to Town and Country, the outlet appropriate given the important role real estate and locations play in this and other Austen stories.

Overall

To use a term that would fit in with the time the story is set in, the entire campaign features such a wicked sense of humor it’s enough to make one blush.

That sense of humor is apparent in the posters in how everything is staged like the promotional photos from an amateur stage production of the story, with the actors posed on a rock with plants placed around them and a painting of a scenic backdrop behind them.

In the trailers it’s more subtle but still very much there. It takes the form of arched eyebrows and sly, suppressed smiles. And volumes could be written about that moment Emma looks at the woman next to her while delicately putting a strawberry in her mouth.

emma movie gif

It’s a great example of how to sell a movie that retains its period setting while clearly offering something relevant to the audience, showing modern awareness that is still respectful of the original. More than that, it just looks like a lot of fun.

Picking Up The Spare

Costume designer Alexandra Byrne was interviewed about collaborating with de Wilde on the look of the characters and more.

Costumes were also the focus of an interview with Flynn about his character and another about how he wrote an original song for the film and what he felt the core of his character was.

Taylor-Joy was interviewed again about how this movie allowed her to expand her range a bit as well as her experience working with de Wilde. Another had her talking about adding a sense of whimsy to a very dramatic story.

MovieClips got an exclusive clip of a key scene between Emma and her potential suitor.

How de Wilde got her first directorial gig and her approach to the movie was covered in this interview. She also talked about why Emma made sense as her first attempt.

The locations featured in the movie were the subject of the latest installment of Focus Features’ “Reel Destinations” web series. The film’s food was also given the spotlight in another featurette. There were further featurettes where the cast gave etiquette lessons and shared stories from the set.

A later interview with de Wilde had her talking about the movie’s early home video release.