Mank – Marketing Recap

How Netflix is selling a story about one of Hollywood’s greatest films.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t familiar with the controversy around who exactly wrote Citizen Kane until the campaign for Netflix’s new release Mank began in earnest. The movie goes into some of that story, following screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) as he develops the script for Kane, basing Kane on William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance), with whom Mankiewicz had recently had a personal falling out and Kane’s second wife Susan Alexander on Hearst’s mistress Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried ). The tension with Welles (Tom Burke) grows as production on the film gets underway and it becomes clear the director is playing fast and loose with Mankiewicz’s work, adding his own material and making a number of other changes.

Directed by David Fincher, the movie – which has a solid 89% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes – is the latest contender for the title of Netflix’s first Best Picture Oscar winner. And it’s received a campaign from Netflix that not only evokes the age in which the story takes place but even seems at times pulled straight from it.

The Posters

On the movie’s single poster, released in October, Mankiewicz is shown mid-revelry, holding a glass in the air as he stands on a dinner table obviously having a good time. The other guests seated around the table are having a far less enjoyable experience, as evident from their facial expressions.

While the design doesn’t mirror one of Kane’s actual posters, the aesthetic here certainly is meant to be reminiscent of one-sheets from the 30s and 40s. The font, the use of “Netflix International Pictures,” the paint-brush look of the title treatment are all elements seen frequently on posters from those decades and so helps to establish the tone and setting while the juxtaposition of Mankiewicz’s mood and that of the others hints at how he finds himself ostracized from those around him.

The Trailers

The first trailer (625,000 views on YouTube) came out in early October, starting out with Welles getting Mankiewicz and showing how the pair team up to take on Hearst, something that comes with its own set of risks even if it is morally righteous.

There was also a slightly longer version of the trailer released exclusively to Reddit (76,000 views on YouTube), one that showed the same basic story but presented the film as looking and feeling very much like one from the 1930s.

An “audio trailer” came out a bit later, exclusively on Karina Longworth’s excellent You Must Remember This podcast.

In mid-October the final official trailer (710,000 views on YouTube) was released. Over the course of its two-and-a-half-minutes it shows how Mank’s relationship with Hearst goes from cordial to confrontational because of his involvement in the project, which also strains his marriage and other friendships. Writing the movie is shown to be a kind of descent into madness for the man, whose existing self-destructive habits and tendencies are only exaggerated by the stress of what he’s set out to do.

Online and Social

As usual, Netflix doesn’t seem to have set up a website of its own for the movie, though it did create social profiles like a Twitter and Instagram account. There was, though, a “secret” website revealed in late October that had a couple hundred stills from the film as well as audio from Trent Reznor’s score.

Advertising and Promotions

Netflix released some first look images in early September. In late October Fincher announced the film would get a theatrical release in early November, about a month prior to it becoming available for streaming.

Media and Press

Collins discussed how she got involved in the project while promoting other things late last year.

That profile of Fincher had lots of comments from him and others about the film, including how the director has been pitching the project for over a decade. Another interview had Oldman and others in the cast talking about working with Fincher and accommodating the director’s precise vision.

There were profiles in the final weeks before release of the movie’s director of photography and costume designer, both touching on how they worked to recreate the look and feel of the story’s era. Additionally, the cast talked more about tackling the making of one of Hollywood’s greatest films and another profile of Fincher had him explaining just how long he’s been obsessed with telling this story while his tendency to expect perfection from all involved was the focus here.

Just before streaming release, Seyfried finally got a profile of her own that focused on her career to date and how she’s spent the last couple years trying to redefine herself in Hollywood, with this movie being a big part of that. She also made an appearance on “Kimmel” just before release.

Overall

There are elements of the campaign that can be questioned or that one could take issue with. In particular, the trailers aren’t enormously helpful in explaining who the characters are or what the story is, though the details are there if you’re patient enough and look for them.

But what the marketing gets right is creating a solid, easily identifiable and consistent brand message – including tone and other intangibles – across each and every element. Your mileage may vary depending on how much you like classic movies and how familiar you are with the marketing tactics from the early 20th century, but you can’t say you don’t get the vibe and feel of the film in each and every touchpoint.

On top of that, this isn’t being sold as a “making of” dramatization, unlike some past and upcoming films. This is a personal story of an artist and the frustrations behind one of Hollywood’s greatest movies, offering a small scale story against a large-scale canvas. That’s intriguing and unique in and of itself.

The Laundromat – Marketing Recap

Early reviews called it a bit of a misfire, though a well-intentioned and well-made one with a top-notch cast.

laundromat posterBased on Jake Bernstein’s book “Secrecy World,” this week’s Netflix-original The Laundromat seeks to turn a rather boring financial story – the revelation of what came to be labeled “The Panama Papers” – into high drama. The movie comes from director Steven Soderbergh and stars Gary Oldman, Antonio Banderas, Meryll Streep and a host of others.

Oldman and Banderas play, respectively, Jürgen Mossack and Ramón Fonseca, two highly-connected lawyers at the heart of the shady international dealings uncovered in the documents. Streep plays Ellen Martin, a woman who finds her life upended by the actions of the rich and powerful who take advantage of those “legal” services. Martin’s investigation uncovers just how corrupt the entire system is and how weighted against people like her it is.

Netflix has given the movie a brisk campaign that’s been heavy on festival screenings, trying to sell a whimsical comedic take on a very serious issue. While the 45% “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes may not completely tank the film, it also bodes poorly for what should otherwise be a major fall streaming release, one that’s getting a brief theatrical release before it hits streaming next month.

The Posters

A piggy bank wearing sunglasses stands on a pile of currency from various countries on the poster (by marketing agency BLT Communications), released in late August. That irreverent image is meant to convey the movie’s off-kilter humorous tone, setting the audience up for satire more than a straightforward drama.

The Trailers

Jurgen and Ramon are our guides through the first trailer (11.2 million views on YouTube), released in August during the Venice Film Festival. They establish the premise of the story, aimed at exposing parts of society that are rigged to favor the rich and powerful at the expense of everyone else. Ellen is on their trailer, piecing together clues that show how money and corruption are all tied together, and when secrets are exposed, a lot of people become very angry for their own reasons. It’s all presented as a caper flick, with a loose vibe that frames it as a lighthearted, if terrifying, glimpse behind the curtain.

Online and Social

No website, but Netflix did create a Twitter profile for the film in order to share photos, key press beats and more.

Advertising and Publicity

There had been lots of chatter about the movie but one of the first big moments in the publicity cycle came in late July when it was included in the “Special Presentations” section of this year’s Toronto Film Festival and in-competition at the Venice Film Festival. The TIFF appearance included a conversation with Banderas where he talked about this movie and his career in general. Reviews weren’t wholly positive, though, with some calling it a slight misfire by Soderbergh.

Media and Press

As festival season got underway, Soderbergh was interviewed about how he approached translating the real life story into a film that struck a slightly comedic tone.

An interview with Streep at the Venice premiere had the actress reinforcing that Soderbergh was using a darkly comic tone to highlight a very serious matter. Further interviews during Toronto allowed her to talk about working with Netflix and the darkly comic nature of the story.

Two short clips from the movie were shared via The Playlist in August.

Streep, Banderas and Oldman all talked about the comic tone of the film in a joint interview. Soderbergh talked about the process of luring Streep to the project as well.

Overall

It’s not exactly breaking new rhetorical ground to compare this movie to The Big Short, Adam McKay’s satirical analysis of the banking crisis that led to the 2008 recession. Purely from a marketing perspective, the biggest difference here is there’s clearly a framing device being communicated to the audience, namely the Greek Chorus that is the lawyers played by Banderas and Oldman.

That there’s so much time spent on that framing device, which is largely intended as a big old wink to the audience, that the actual story gets somewhat muddled. The marketing is so busy making sure everyone knows it’s a bit funny that it’s never clear what it is that’s meant to be humorous. You get that there’s some sort of investigation going on, but into what is never communicated.

A new, socially-relevant film from Soderbergh deserves a bit better than that. Fans of the director will likely be anxious to check it out, but there’s little here to generate the kind of discussion or soul-searching that may be needed to fully understand what happened.

Picking Up the Spare

Netflix put out a short trailer just before the movie became available to streaming subscribers.

That release appeared briefly questionable in the face of a lawsuit from a firm involved in the Panama Papers, but that claim was ignored by Netflix and soon thrown out by a judge.

A couple conversations from the movie’s festival appearance have been released with the cast and crew talking about the story and characters.

Streep was interviewed about the story and her surprise dual roles in the film.

Darkest Hour – Marketing Recap

darkest hour poster 3Winston Churchill is having his moment in the spotlight. His presence was felt, though not seen, in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk earlier this year and has appeared in a couple different TV shows recently, including Netflix’s “The Crown.” Now an integral part of Churchill’s life is coming to the big screen as he’s played by Gary Oldman in director Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour.

The movie follows Churchill in the time immediately before and after he becomes Prime Minister of Great Britain. That’s the same time Nazi Germany is rolling across Europe, a fate some in British government wish to avoid by signing a peace treaty. Having seen how Hitler has honored other treaties, Churchill insists on rejecting that approach and instead using the military to stand against encroaching fascism. To do so he’ll have to rally not only the government but the nation.

The Posters

“Never never never surrender” is the copy on the U.S. one-sheet, with that copy laid over a red-tinted photo of Oldman as Churchill. That’s a powerful message, especially in today’s political climate. The message at the top makes it clear that this comes from the director of Atonement, which should help draw in the fans of that movie.

Another handful of posters came later. One proclaimed Churchill as “A man with the heart of a nation” as it showed Oldman in character, his face largely obscured by a huge trail of smoke emanating from his cigar. Another showed only the bottom of his face and used the copy “Never give up. Never give in.” A third showed more of the man himself, with similar copy used. All make sure you know this comes from the director of Atonement.

The Trailers

As the trailer starts we hear how those in power don’t really care for Churchill or his policies or politics. Still, he’s been selected and he immediately inherits a calamitous situation in the war. While those around him are talking peace and negotiations, he pushes for continued resolve to avoid a fate worse than defeat.

It’s all very tense, a feeling that’s aided by the mounting music. These are moments anyone who’s paid attention in high school social studies class should recognize and Oldman brings them to life wonderfully. Wright’s usual cinematic flair is also on display here and that’s a substantial draw.

Another short trailer shows the obstacles, especially those internally, Churchill faced as he assumed power. It’s meant to be very tense, with the tick-tock beat and the constant cutting away from his political machinations and footage from the war he was trying to win.

Online and Social

The primary trailer opens the official website. Close that and you’re taken to a landing page featuring full-screen video clips in the background, promos to buy tickets or subscribe to the Focus Features newsletter as fellas links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feed.

Scroll down the page and you see the standard Focus site template. Content starts with an “About” synopsis and cast list but then photos, social updates, videos, review quotes and other material is mixed together in the usual style. Many of the behind-the-scenes production photos are presented in black-and-white, giving them the appearance of being historical, or at least showing them in a way that evokes the history being told.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

There are a few online ads I’ve seen that have used variations on the key art as well as a handful of social ads that repurposed the trailers. No TV spots appear to have been run, or if they did they’re not being made available online.

Media and Publicity

The first look at the movie presented an almost-unrecognizable Oldman in character as Churchill. The movie was announced as one of those that would screen at the Toronto International Film Festival as well as at Telluride.

The movie’s appearance at Telluride resulted in generally positive reviews and praise for Oldman’s performance as Churchill, which was pegged as a potential awards contender. While at TIFF, Thomas spoke extensively about the research she did into who Clementine was and the relationship she and her husband had, as well as how the production reignited her desire to work in films again. Both Oldman and Thomas also talked about the intimidation they felt taking on two such powerful historical figures.

In conjunction with some efforts by Focus Features to actively involve them, descendants of the Churchills, as well as experts in the history of the period, endorsed the film as largely accurate, giving it their seal of approval.

Writer/author Anthony McCarten addressed the reality that there’s a wave of Churchill projects in popular culture right now, something he attributed to nostalgia for the days when leaders took decisive and defiant stances, not walking back statements when they turn out to be less popular than intended.

Oldman did some media appearances, as did Thomas, showing up on late night talk shows to promote the movie and engage in hijinks with the hosts. He also continued talking about how difficult the role was physically, both from a makeup point of view and just the effort to embody Churchill and his mannerisms.

There was also a profile of Lily James, who plays Churchill’s loyal secretary in the movie, where she talked about researching the real person, working with Oldman and more. Thomas talked about doing the same sort of research into Clementine Churchill as well as her insistence that the character in the story be just as fully fleshed-out and integral as the woman was in real life. Wright also spoke about the challenges of production, including sometimes showing Churchill to be less than perfect.

Overall

You can argue that the last thing the world needs is an overwrought period drama. Some people in our current surreal political world may even argue that there were fine people on both sides and that glorifying Churchill means discounting the viewpoints of those on the other side of…World War II. I’m struck, though, by the comments made by McCarten when he mentions that the world is lacking decisive leaders willing to take a stand for what they know to be right for everyone, not just themselves.

That message is there in the campaign, even if it’s not at the forefront. Watch the trailer and you hear Churchill’s critics deride him as being interested only in self-aggrandizement. He’s not afraid to take on the burden of making the hard calls and ruffling the feathers of anyone who would try to lead him down a more cautious path. If the audience isn’t too busy seeking fluffy entertainment that distracts them from the problems of the world this weekend, it might just find inspiration in this story.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.