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

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.

Dark Waters – Marketing Recap

A fight against entrenched powers comes to the forefront in Focus Features’ campaign.

dark waters posterThe idea that there are good people of virtue and character out there willing to put themselves and their reputations on the line to do what’s right may seem quaint these days, but those are just the kind of people society relies on. We see what happens when they are removed or diminished and it’s not pretty.

Just that sort of virtue is at the core of Dark Waters, the new movie from director Todd Haynes. Based on a true story, Mark Ruffalo stars as Robert Bilott, an attorney who works for major chemical companies. Through a series of circumstances he’s pulled out to visit the farm of a family friend, one where the owner believes pollution from nearby factories is killing his land and his livestock.

Soon Bilott finds himself taking up the cause of farmers and fighting against the very corporations he once defended. Doing so puts him in the crosshairs of very powerful people who would like not to have their bad actions – environmental and otherwise – exposed for all the world to see, thank you very much.

How Bilott and his family face those threats is central to the campaign run by Focus Features.

The Posters

Bilott is shown on the movie’s single one-sheet (by marketing agency Eclipse), released in September, looking out his car window. In the reflection we see a pair of figures approaching the car, the implication being these are dangerous people he’s looking out for. Copy at the top reading “The truth has a man inside” hints at how he will use his knowledge of how the industry works to hit them where they’re vulnerable. It’s a dark and slightly ominous image in keeping with the look and feel of the rest of the campaign.

The Trailers

September saw the release of the first trailer (4 million views on YouTube), which starts out by showing how Robert is convinced to switch sides, defending farmers suffering from the effects of chemical pollution instead of the chemical companies doing the polluting. He begins investigating the water that not only the cows in a small town but the people have been drinking, finding that DuPont has knowingly allowed it to happen for years. The company brings all of its resources to bear in the fight as Robert finds himself and his family targeted by powerful interests who would like him to be silenced.

Online and Social

Though it uses the same template Focus always does, the movie’s site is barely stocked by even today’s meager standards. The trailer, which pops up when you load the page, is also available when you scroll down along with a synopsis and a single photo. That’s it.

Advertising and Promotions

Focus Features announced a November release in August.

Ruffalo, who has gained a reputation as an activist fighting for many worthwhile causes, joined the real Bilott along with others on Capitol Hill recently to advocate for restrictions on various chemicals that are leached into the environment. While in Washington the pair also appeared at a Washington Post Q&A about the movies and the issues it raises.

Participant Media, which produced the film, held other screenings in Austin, New York and elsewhere in recent weeks.

At the premiere the whole cast and crew were in attendance, sharing more of their thoughts on the movie and the issues at the heart of the story.

Advertising efforts included spots like this that condense the story shown in the trailer down to the simple message of farms being destroyed by the willful actions of companies who believe themselves immune from accountability.

Media and Press

How Ruffalo connected with the material and how his commitment to the story and cause were covered in an interview with the actor. He and Haynes spoke about the urgency of the story and what it means to them following a Hollywood screening in late October.

Ruffalo made various talk show appearances on “Good Morning America,” CNN, “The Late Show” and elsewhere.

Haynes received a profile of his own that focused on his process and the kind of environment he creates on the set for the actors.

Overall

A few days ago there was a story quoting a Wall Street analyst who believed, after seeing the movie, it might damage the reputation and business prospects of DuPont, the major antagonist in the story, the one Bilott is fighting hardest against. But, he noted, any negative impact felt by individual investors walking away from the stock (it’s apparently not even feasible institutions would exit their investments) would be mitigated if or when a big M&A transaction is announced.

If there’s a better example of late stage capitalism around I’m not aware of it.

You see something like that in the footage from the movie of Bilott explaining to his wife that the system is rigged, that the people in power aren’t going to protect us and it’s up to us to protect ourselves.

In its quest to play up as many dramatic moments as possible – file boxes being dropped to the ground, doors being shut angrily, people confronted in ballrooms – some of the advocacy seems to get lost in the campaign, but the overall message still comes through. This is a serious film made by serious people about a serious topic that should be important to serious members of the audience. It’s the kind of mid-level drama with a great cast that used to be seen 28 times every Awards Season.

The real reason to see it, though, is to be shown the level of malfeasance on display in America’s corporate boardrooms and what impact it has on the kinds of hardworking Americans the politicians who defend those companies claim to care about. Should the movie serve as any kind of call to action, it will have done its job.

Picking Up the Spare

Ruffalo, Haynes and others were interviewed about the research they did to fully understand the real people at the heart of the story and get their motivations right.

Focus released a behind the scenes featurette with comments from the cast and crew. Another had Ruffalo sharing his first gig while one more discussed the real people portrayed in the story.

A later interview with Ruffalo focused on how he used the film as an outlet for his political nature and he spoke about playing a real individual when he appeared on “The Daily Show.”

Additional profiles of Ruffalo, Haynes and cinematographer Ed Lachman and writer Mario Correa. There was also a feature on how many of the real life people involved in the story were brought on as extras.

Harriet – Marketing Recap

Focus Features brings the story of an activist icon to the big screen with an action-packed campaign.

harriet poster 2Cynthia Erivo stars as the iconic Harriet Tubman, the former slave who escaped her captors and went on to take matters into her own hands in the new movie Harriet. The movie follows Tubman from the time of her escape to her quest to free others still suffering from the shackles of slavery through the Underground Railroad.

Unlike other biopics the movie doesn’t seem to follow Tubman from childhood, attempting to capture her entire life. Instead if focuses on this one important period of her life when she grew from someone unsure of what future she would have to one where she was defining her own destiny.

To sell the movie – which tells an important story in American history – Focus Features has run a campaign that ups the drama of the events depicted, presenting Tubman as a social activist hero. Tracking estimates an opening weekend upwards of $5 million, but the weak 63 percent Rotten Tomatoes rating may indicate it could be hurt by poor reviews and word of mouth.

The Posters

July brought the release of the first one-sheet (from marketing agency BOND). Tubman is presented as some kind of secret agent on the poster, barely emerging from the shadows with gun in hand and her face still obscured by the hat she wears. It’s an attempt to present the historical figure as an action-oriented leader, someone not afraid to get in the thick of things in service to her cause. Copy at the top reads like a personal credo, reminding the audience to “Live free or die” while at the bottom the audience is told this is based on “the “unbelievable true story of an American legend.”

The second poster shows the floating heads of Tubman, William Still (Leslie Odom Jr.) and Marie Buchanan (Janelle Monáe), two important figures in Tubman’s quest. Below those heads is the figure of a gun-toting Tubman standing against the breaking dawn. It’s a design that doesn’t send the message the movie is a historical drama but that it’s an action-packed story.

A third poster (by marketing agency Gravillis Inc) almost seems like it’s for a different movie. The overly-stylized “H” that’s placed in front of Tubman and the way she’s shown wearing what might as well be a costume or uniform of some sort further the feeling the marketers are selling this less as a serious film and more like Van Helsing.

The Trailers

Harriet is on the run from her slaver as the first trailer (7.4 million views on YouTube), released in late July, begins. She’s willing to risk her own life to be free, finally achieving her goal and given the chance to create her own identity. Once she’s safe she becomes determined to go back and free the rest of her family, once more putting her own safety at risk. Her repeated success results in being introduced to the Underground Railroad, but the people who are looking for her want her dead and the odds of her escaping seem to drop each time.

Online and Social

The movie’s official website opens with the trailer and, after you close it, offers little beyond the usual array of content Focus always puts on its site. That material is laid out nicely enough, but it’s simply not very much. Missing, unfortunately, is any background on the real life Tubman or links to resources where people can learn more about her.

Advertising and Publicity

The Austin Film Festival announced in August that the movie would screen there in October. It was also scheduled for the Urbanworld Film Festival and the Toronto Film Festival, the latter of which generated mostly positive reviews, especially for Ervo’s performance.

An extended TV spot came out in early October that shared some of the trailer’s more dramatic moments while focusing on the inclusion of the original song “Stand Up” by Cynthia Erivo. A bit later on an official lyric video that also included footage from the film was released.

A very strange video titled “Her Story” was released a bit later that plays like a dramatic version of the trailer, just about half as long. What’s odd about it is the text at the bottom of the screen that offers Wikipedia-like factoids about Tubman, perhaps to help explain the background of the woman in a way the trailer can’t. There’s a better way to do this, though.

The first clip released shows Harriet getting some pushback to her plan to go rescue more of those still enslaved and reacting badly to being told she can’t do something. A second also has her discussing going and freeing her husband, family and others.

Media and Press

While at Toronto there were numerous interviews with Enrivo allowing her to talk about finding the real Tubman underneath the history and how they wanted to show a well-rounded portrait of the woman, not a caricature or sketch.

There was an interview with composer Terence Blanchard where he talked about creating the movie’s period-appropriate score. Director Kasi Lemmons spoke about directing this film in particular as well as her frustration with the industry that’s restricted her opportunities along with her determination to keep at it. Another interview with Lemmons had her commenting on how she connected with the material.

A Variety cover story included Lemmons and Enrivo talking about the long road the film took to production, something they say indicates a new willingness in Hollywood to make movies about women of color.

Enrivo in particular made the media rounds, including appearances on “NBC Nightly News” with Odom Jr., “The Today Show,” “CBS Sunday Morning” and more.

Overall

It’s undoubtedly great to see someone like Tubman finally get her turn on the big screen, especially in a story that appears to put her front and center as someone who makes her own rules and follows what she believes God has set as her purpose without compromise. She is going to fight the injustice being done to her and her people regardless of anyone’s opinion or beliefs.

The trailers are great on that front, but the posters are still a little odd in their presentation of Tubman as a costumed hero. She may have had a go-to outfit for her travels, but the insistance on showing her like Wynonna Earp is a bit perplexing and maybe even a little off-putting.

Still, that shouldn’t take away from the fact that a movie like this getting made is an accomplishment that should be recognized and it’s certainly a story worth understanding a bit more deeply.

Picking Up the Spare

Lots more interviews leading up to and immediately following the movie’s release, with Lemmons talking about the long road taken to get Tubman’s story told, deciding to focus on Tubman’s early years and why she avoided some of the most cruel aspects of slavery.

More from many of those involved while attending the movie’s red carpet premiere here, while they also talked about honoring Tubman and her accomplishments.

Odom Jr. and Erivo spoke about their hope more movies like this will be made while an interview with writer Gregory Allen Howard covered how much had to change in Hollywood for this one to be made in the first place. Similar ground was covered in this profile, including a troubling anecdote from an earlier attempt.

How Erivo created the original song “Stand Up” was covered in this interview, part of a THR cover story. She and Lemmons appeared on “PBS Newshour” to discuss making the movie and were interviewed about their decision to focus on freedom over slavery.

Focus released a new featurette focusing on the scene of Tubman choosing her new name and another with the starts sharing stories from the set. The latest installment of the studio’s “Reel Destinations” series also visited locations from the movie. There was also another entry in its “My First Gig” series with the cast.

Regal Cinemas was given an exclusive featurette with Lemmons and Erivo talking about the story and its history. A short MovieClips featurette had Monae talking about the inspiration Tubman has provided her.

Additional clips from the movie were provided to AMC and EW.

Erivo appeared on “The Late Show” and “Late Night” to talk about the movie.

The full video for Erivo’s “Stand Up” was finally released.

There was a feature on the work of the movie’s director of photography and composer and how they did their jobs. Lemmons again spoke about how she sought to tell the story of the journey Tubman went on.

The movie features significant levels of diversity at all levels of production.

Focus Features brought the movie back to theaters with select free screenings around the country courtesy of Gofobo.

Downton Abbey – Marketing Recap

The ITV/PBS fan favorite drama about the landed class in turn of the 20th century Great Britain returns with a bigger story.

downton abbey poster 14Three years after its six season run on TV ended Downton Abbey is back, but this time the drama is taking place on the big screen. Nearly all the cast has returned, including Maggie Smith as Violet Crowley, Dowager Countess of Grantham, in yet another story focusing on both the wealthy family that lives in the majestic estate and the staff that attends to their needs.

The story of the movie is bigger than the interpersonal drama often seen on the show. This time the Crowley family must prepare for the arrival of King George V and Queen Mary, a grand affair that necessitates the return of Carson (James Carter), their longtime butler who has since retired. With troubled marriages, pregnancies, squabbles over inheritances and more adding to the already high tensions around a Royal visit, the drama is sure to be high.

Focus Features has run the marketing equivalent of a warm blanket on a chilly fall day, focusing on exactly the story elements audiences are sure to be looking for as their favorite characters return to their lives. Tracking estimates predict an opening weekend of about $12 million, which would be a decent showing. And the 81% “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes indicates they will get most of what they’re expecting when they head to the theater.

(Note: it’s a bit hard to differentiate between the U.S. and U.K. campaigns for the film, so I’ve aired on the side of including material unless it’s specifically designated for overseas markets)

The Posters

“We’ve been expecting you” the first poster (by marketing agency BOND) declares. A smartly dressed butler is shown, his gloved hands inspecting the silverware being placed on a table so finely polished it shows a reflection of the Abbey itself. A second poster similarly shows him polishing a crystal glass. Two more shift the focus from the servants to the nobility, showing Lady Mary Talbot (Michelle Dockery) and Lady Hexham (Laura Carmichael) in their finest gowns.

 

 

More of the characters are assembled in the house’s expansive hall on the next poster to show off how many are back for the movie.

Those characters are broken out into pairs in a series of posters that put each group into a portion of the house they’re associated with. So Carter and Elise (Phyllis Logan) are shown in the pantry while others are placed in other rooms befitting their status and vocation.

 

 

On the next poster the nobility are presented at the top while the servants are at the bottom, befitting their perceived status in the house and society.

Another poster came out that eschewed the cast for a golden image of the Abbey itself, presented as a “cordial” invitation to come see “the motion picture event” in theaters.

 

 

Two more posters came out in September on International Dog Day that focuses on Teo, the family dog. On one, Teo is shown sitting on a formal chair in the same manner as the other character posters. On the other, she’s seen jogging alongside Carson, welcoming him as he returns to the house following his retirement.

The Trailers

The teaser trailer from mid-December didn’t offer much, just a sweeping crane shot of the estate grounds and the promise that the whole cast was going to be back for everyone to enjoy.

That same opulence and grandeur are on display in the first official trailer, showing that the story is back on familiar territory even if things have changed a bit since the series ended. After establishing the return of most of the characters it’s revealed the King and Queen are coming to Downton, an event that has everyone preparing and which necessitates the return of Carson to the staff. After that it’s a series of shots showing the relationships between different characters and how they’ve grown or changed over time.

Online and Social

Focus Features’ official website has some good information but never really rises above the standard template used by the studio to offer unique material or take visitors deeper into the story.

Advertising and Publicity

The first full trailer was shown to exhibitors and others in attendance at CinemaCon in April, sparking lots of positive buzz and conversations as it revealed more of the story’s details. Footage was later shown at CineEurope a couple months later.

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

A short featurette was released in August that had the cast and crew talking about how excited they were to be returning to characters and settings the audience loves.

Just before release, NBC – a corporate sibling of Focus Features – was scheduled to air “Return to Downton Abbey: A Grand Event,” a special that amounted to an hour-long featurette designed to suck fans back into the world of the movie.

Focus launched a web series on YouTube called “Reel Destinations,” with the first episode – sponsored by Visit Britain – visiting the locations of this movie and offering some of the history found at those spots.

A brief clip was released in early September that showed Lady Crawley still had all her wits about her.

Online ads featured photos of the assembled cast to sell audiences on the return of their favorite characters.

downton abbey ad

Promotional partners for the movie included,

  • Airbnb, which listed the castle used as the fictional Abbey for one night only, the caveat being that those staying must prove themselves to be passionate fans of the series.
  • The Art of Shaving, which introduced a movie-themed collection of products featuring the same formal invitation style seen on one of the poster.
  • Books-a-Million, which ran a sweepstakes awarding movie tickets and books about the film.
  • Cost Plus World Market, which offered a curated collection of high-end goods all featuring the movie’s branding.
  • Fairmont, which offered Afternoon Tea at locations around the country. Select locations also offered additional movie-themed catering, drink selections and more. The Boston location hosted a display of costumes from the film.
  • Visit Britain, which created a whole to the film’s locations and settings for people to explore.
  • Magnolia Bakery, which created a new Earl Grey Cupcake to celebrate the movie’s release.

Screen Shot 2019-09-17 at 8.45.36 PM

  • The Republic of Tea, which offered a series of special edition teas inspired by the movie’s characters and featuring them on the labels.
  • Saks Fifth Avenue, although that partnership was also unclear.
  • Viking, which offered a sweepstakes awarding a tip to visit the castle where the movie was filmed.
  • Chase, which ran a sweepstakes awarding tickets to the movie’s New York City premiere.
  • Walker’s, which ran a sweepstakes awarding a trip to London that included a tour of the film’s shooting locations.

The Biltmore in Asheville, N.C. hosted Downton Abbey: The Exhibition, featuring props and costumes from the film as well.

The studio put out a helpful recap of the major events of the series.

AMC Theaters shared an exclusive interview with some of the actors from the film. It also hosted a fan event early screening last week for people to see the film ahead of release and start spreading the word.

Media and Press

In late November members of the cast appeared on “The Today Show” to offer a behind the scenes look at production. A month later EW’s 2019 preview issue had more first look stills and comments from the cast and crew, including why Lily James’ character isn’t included.

A feature profile included comments from much of the cast as to why they felt it was important to come back as well as why the filmmakers were reluctant at first to jump in and potentially disrupt any storylines from the show. The producers were also interviewed about the likelihood of a sequel should this one prove successful.

A cover story in Town & Country focused the massive undertaking that was reassembling the cast and how the filmmakers worked to make everything special. There was also significant focus on the style of the movie, including features like this and this.

The cast and crew made various other stops around the media world in the last few weeks to talk about the movie.

Overall

Without the Downton Abbey branding attached, this campaign would have faced significant pressures in the market. This kind of quiet, reserved adult drama has been going nowhere at the box office in the last few years, drowned out by the bigger, noiser campaigns for sci-fi sequels, adaptations and other high-profile releases.

With that branding, though, the chances for success increase significantly. The show still enjoys a deeply-invested fanbase, many of whom will likely turn out for the film in the coming weeks. Never mind that the campaign barely mentions anything involving a story or stakes or character arcs, it’s simply the return of loved characters that will entice many to venture out.

Picking Up the Spare

Michelle Dockery appeared on “The Tonight Show” to talk about the movie.

Allen Leech was interviewed about his career and how he was happy the movie would allow for a fix to the unsatisfactory ending he thought he got on the show.

Additional stories covered the important role the score plays in the franchise and how creator Julian Fellowes was inspired to create the original series and the movie.

Additional clips like this came out once the movie was in theaters and more featurettes like this had the cast talking about production.

“Saturday Night Live” put out a fake trailer for the movie that poked fun at how low the stakes and drama in the story are that turns into something else entirely.

The movie’s gowns and costumes were once more brought to the forefront in a profile of the designer who created them.

Captive State – Marketing Recap

captive state poster2(Note: Once again my calendars lied to me as I thought this was scheduled for later this month.)

An alien invasion forms the crux of the story in the new movie Captive State. It’s not an invasion that’s happening now, though, but one that was successful a decade in the past. The presence of those aliens is welcome by some but resisted by others.

In the latter category is Gabriel Drummond (Ashton Sanders), a young man living in Chicago who joins the secretive resistance movement. Aiding him is police officer William Mulligan (John Goodman), the partner of Drummond’s late father. Mulligan must walk the fine line of aiding his fellow humans, including Drummond, and continuing to appear to be an aid to the conquering species.

The Posters

captive state posterA lone figure stands in the middle of the poster, red smoke rising all around him from a flare or beacon he’s holding. Copy at the top explains that “Ten years ago, they took our planet.” That’s continued at the bottom, which explains “Today, we take it back.”

The second poster shows the view outside a car window, a dashboard hula dancer in the foreground. The image is strangely pixelated, though, as if the window is a screen that’s glitching. Visible in the sky, though, is one of the mysterious ships.

The Trailers

Things start off relatively alright in the first trailer, as a voice tells us the state of the union is strong, with low employment and other benefits to the general populace. But a few scenes show us those blessings come because of a police state that’s been invoked, with the population surveilled and detained at the whims of a power that may be alien in nature. That latter point is emphasized when, at the end, a floating ship is introduced to a football stadium filled with people as “the legislature.

The threat is a little less vague – something alien is hovering over cities – in the second trailer, but the focus here is on presenting all those claims of low unemployment and so on as false information, lies spread by those who want to keep the populace in place. Instead, it’s shown there’s a resistance that’s forming and just waiting for the signal to rise up.

In mid-December the “official” trailer was released showing more clearly what has happened. The arrival of the alien “legislators” has brought about an era of peace and harmony, but at the cost of individual freedom. Some are happy to go along with that while others form an underground resistance. This one gives us a good look at those aliens and just how swift their reaction to any infraction is and the state of fear that has most people living in.

Online and Social

Focus Features offers the usual content mix on the official website, but in addition to that there’s a site for The Legislature, the governing body of aliens and collaborators. That site has news stories about the world of the movie that have been hacked by the resistance, so you see words crossed out, with euphemisms replaced by more realistic descriptions of what has happened and what is going on.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The first trailer was used as a Promoted Tweet in mid-September. Further paid social posts used cut down versions of the trailer that were similar to TV commercials.

A TV spot took the tone of recruiting members for the resistance while also encouraging the audience to Tweet about the movie and enter a sweepstakes at the same time.

Media and Publicity

This movie was one of quite a few featuring Sanders that’s come out in the last several months.

A Fandango-exclusive clip hit just a week or so out from release showing a tense standoff from the story. Tracks from the soundtrack were also shared.

The studio tried to get some buzz going by hosting, with Nerdist, a movie-themed party at the recent SXSW film festival.

Writer/director Rupert Wyatt was interviewed about his goals for the story and more as well as what inspired him to make the movie.

Overall

As is the case with many films like this, what is really needed is more world-building. The website for The Legislature goes in this direction but the trailers could have done more to set up the situations of the story so audiences would better know what to expect.

Despite that there’s still some good stuff here. Even without a single clear brand identity in the campaign it still offers a decent picture of what the story will be, or at least what the tone of that story will be. Certainly a message of political resistance against a totalitarian government is going to hit some nerves in this day and age.