Midnight Sky – Marketing Recap

How Netflix has sold a story of isolation and desperation.

The new movie The Midnight Sky probably wasn’t intended to be as timely as it has wound up becoming. Based on the book “Good Morning, Midnight” by Lily Brooks-Dalton, the film stars George Clooney, who also directed, as Augustine, a scientist in the Arctic who has survived a global pandemic that wiped out much of the world’s population. He’s engaged in a desperate attempt to communicate with the crew of Æther, a ship returning from a mission to a potentially habitable moon of Jupiter who are unaware of the danger that awaits them back on Earth. Sending that message is difficult, though, forming much of the movie’s drama.

Also starring in the film are Caoilinn Springall as Iris, a young girl who encounters Augustine in his Arctic isolation, and Felicity Jones, Kyle Chandler, David Oyelowo, Tiffany Boone and Demián Bichir as the members of Æther.

Initial reviews were middling, calling it a bit muddled, a reception reflected in its 55% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Still, there was at least some feeling it could result in a bit of awards speculation, especially for Clooney. And Netflix has given it a campaign that not only seems Oscar-ready but is also far too relevant to today’s world.

The Posters

Augustine stares into the sky, which is also shown inside the frame of his head, on the first poster (by marketing agency P+A), released at the end of October. It’s a simple but suitably atmospheric image, especially with the copy reading “There’s a universe between all of us.”

On the final poster (by marketing agency Concept Arts), which came out earlier in December, that copy is removed and replaced with the more vague “Hope finds a way,” which isn’t quite as effective. This time, though, the main image shows both Augustine and Iris in the arctic environment they attempt to traverse. A massive planet hangs in the sky above them, hinting at the story’s connection to space travel.

The Trailers

The first trailer (2.2 million views on YouTube) – teased ahead of release and promoted during a late-October edition of “Monday Night Football” – opens by showing that communication is not happening in either direction. Augustine can’t reach the crew of the Ether and they haven’t heard from Mission Control in weeks. He’s trying to warn of a cataclysmic event that’s happened on Earth while they were in deep space. From there we see he and the young girl with him try to reach a more powerful antenna while those aboard the Ether recount what’s happened on their long journey. Time is running short for both parties, though, making the stakes higher with each passing moment.

The final trailer (1.2 million views on YouTube) came out in early December, starting off by showing Augustine explaining to Iris what all is in his lab and what he’s trying to do. Their journey on Earth is shown alongside the crew of the Æther and their attempts to reach someone – anyone – on Earth as they get closer and closer to returning. It’s all very dramatic, with snowstorms and meteor showers and more, making the film look like an enjoyable piece of drama.

Online and Social

No website about the actual movie, but Netflix, in addition to supporting the film on brand social channels, created the-midnightsky.com. On that site you can record and send a message to someone, which is then played as an AR hologram placed in the room they’re standing in.

Advertising and Promotions

Netflix celebrated the end of principle photography in February, announcing the movie was coming later in the year. In September news came that Clooney would speak about this film and more during October’s 64th BFI London Film Festival.

A recent installment of Netflix’s “Bucket of Movies” had Clooney sharing his thoughts on various classic film titles. He also reminisced about his career path and the roles that contributed to that career.

Media and Press

Clooney was interviewed about the movie and how he approached directing it in an article that also included some first look stills. Another brief interview with Clooney had a few more story details and more.

A feature profile of Jones had her talking about filming the movie, including how Clooney made adjustments to the production to accommodate her pregnancy mid-filming.

Another interview with Clooney had him talking about the story of the film and finishing the project during quarantine. He and Springall both spoke on the experience of filming in Iceland, dealing with the subsequent isolation and lots more. In additional interviews Clooney also covered the challenges of directing, especially the space sequences, working with Springall and more. With composer Alexandre Desplat he talked about creating the score, especially during the recent shutdowns, and how it adds to the emotional messages of the film.

Late night talk show appearances included Clooney and Chandler on “Kimmel,” Clooney on “The Late Show” and elsewhere.

How Clooney and the rest of his team handled both the extreme conditions during production and the challenges of the post-production situation was covered in a lengthy feature just recently.

Overall

While, as stated, the reviews haven’t been wholly positive there’s a good story being sold here, albeit one that seems to mash up a handful of movies we’ve seen before. Even more than that, what the audience is being presented here is a strong solo outing from Clooney, who have a solid track record both in front of and behind the camera.

With the focus, particularly in the press interviews, on how post-production was handled in isolation a nice hook that’s relevant to the film was offered, one that everyone seized. That helps make the story, despite those reviews, something that may benefit from the fact we’ve all felt like we’re stuck on our own in a desolate arctic outpost for months, even if we don’t live in Green Bay.

Suburbicon – Marketing Recap

George Clooney returns to the director’s chair with this week’s Suburbicon. He’s brought along his partner in crime Matt Damon, who stars as Gardner Lodge, a man trying to live a peaceful 1960s suburban life with his family. But the small town they inhabit has dark secrets that are about to turn this tranquil landscape upside down.

Through a series of events, Lodge’s wheelchair-bound wife Rose (Julianne Moore) is killed in a home invasion. That leads to her twin sister Margaret (also Moore, natch) moving in and taking on many of the household duties in order to maintain the “normal” position in the neighborhood. While everything else is happening, Lodge is determined to protect his family, including taking on the local mob, headed by Roger (Oscar Isaac). Notably, the script was originally written by Clooney’s frequent collaborators Joel and Ethan Coen.

The Posters

“A little slice of Heaven” is what we’re introduced to on the first poster, though that seems to be referring more to the idyllic row of houses at the bottom and not the blood-stained shirt that’s seen. The starkness of the image, the white of the shirt against the dark red background in particular, works to get the audience’s attention. Below the title it’s sure to mention that the Coen Brothers were involved in writing the story as that’s going to be a big draw for a lot of moviegoers.

The second poster takes the approach of showing how all the different characters and situations are part of Gardner. So all sorts of different headshots and action photos are put in the frame of his body. “Welcome to the neighborhood” is the ominous copy at the top, particularly considering some of the gruesome scenes on display below.

The Trailers

The first trailer is [fire emoji] as it starts out by introducing us to a quiet, peaceful suburban street in the 1950s. But that peace is in contrast to the fact that a young boy is informed men who broke into the family house has killed his mother. Gardner will do whatever it takes to protect himself and his son, including beating gangsters to death and inviting the boy’s aunt to come stay with them. He’s not intimidated when Roger starts threatening him but continues doing what he needs to do.

You can see the Coen’s fingerprints all over the story, from the brutal violence to the dry, darkly funny moments. Clooney’s directorial style, which has always veered closer to Steven Soderbergh’s influence, also seems to work well with this material, which is far funnier than what he usually tackles. It’s an insane story and the trailer doesn’t shy away from that.

Another trailer takes a slightly different tack. The same basic premise and points are shown here, but in a more stylized way, with a tick-tock soundtrack and a different pace and approach. It’s no less effective than the first and it makes the movie look even more twisted and dark.

Online and Social

There’s not much happening on the movie’s official website. The trailer plays when you load the site, and once it’s over there main call-to-action is to again “Watch the Trailer.” There are links in the upper right to the Twitter, Instagram and Facebook profiles that have been established, but that’s about it, not even a synopsis.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The first TV spot out of the gate does nothing to hide the dark and disturbing nature of the story. While there’s not much emphasis put on the characters themselves or their motivations, it does show the brutal and twisted violence that those characters engage in, all while working to maintain the veneer of pleasant politeness we associate with the time period.

There’s been some online advertising done as well, mostly using clips and key art. On social media the trailer was used to drive interest and awareness around the time it was released.

Media and Publicity

The first shot out of the publicity gate was a brief interview with Clooney that also included some first-look photos. He talked about how the story evolved over the 20 years the Coens have been working on it as well as a few vague details about the movie. The movie was announced as one of those that would screen at the Toronto International Film Festival. It also was slated for the Venice Film Festival.

A brief interview with Clooney in Entertainment Weekly’s fall movie preview had him talking about how he’s been involved with the movie in some way for decades and how he was happy to not act for a change. He also reassured people that yes, it’s a comedy, albeit a dark one and revealed that Coen Bros. regular Josh Brolin shot scenes for the movie that were later cut, but not without a good reason.

How Clooney approached Damon with the story, Damon’s take on the character and how the story is still relevant in today’s world were all covered by the actor here. The long history of the project as well as the ties to and relevance in today’s political world, along with the changes that were made in the wake of the most recent presidential election, continued to be themes in interviews with Clooney.

Clooney showed up on “Kimmel,” which of course included a surprise appearance by Kimmel nemesis Damon. The two also made other press rounds on TV.

Overall

I’ve stated often how I’m predisposed to like new Coen Bros. material. I’ve been less of a fan of their work when it’s interpreted by other directors (I’m looking at you, Bad Santa), but overall I dig their worldview and approach.

That’s the vibe being sold here. As stated above, there are elements of their involvement that are clearly evident in some of the marketing material, even when it’s not explicitly stated. That forms a pretty important hook for the campaign, which wants to reach people like me that are fans of the brothers as well as the critics who often champion their films.

Aside from that, this looks dark as heck. There’s a comic touch to some of the material on display but it’s all tinged with a cynical perspective that may turn off some audiences. What’s being sold here looks rough and not exactly uplifting. Plus, I’m sure there are at least a couple subplots that are completely unseen in the campaign, which may lead to some upturned expectations when people finally start seeing the movie.

All that together means the movie could have a tough time connecting with audiences this weekend.

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