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.
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 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.
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.
Picking Up The Spare
There were additional profiles of costars Tom Pelphrey and Lily Collins. Costume designer Trish Summerville received a number of interviews and profiles while the production team also received the spotlight.
A final trailer came out just after the movie hit Netflix that once again took a lot of its visual style from 1930s previews, offering another great look at the film.
More from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross on composing the movie’s score here. Cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt also spoke about creating the film’s visual style. Similar ground was covered in an interview with DP Erik Messerschmidt, in a profile of the film’s costume designers and then in an interview with the the production design team.