the harder they fall – marketing recap

How Netflix has sold a high-octane and star-studded Western.

The Harder They Fall poster

Regina King, Jonathan Majors, Idris Elba, Lakeith Stanfield, Zazie Beetz and Delroy Lindo are just a few of the big names in this week’s new Netflix feature The Harder They Fall.

In the film, labeled as based on a true story, Majors plays Nat Love, a former enslaved person who, once free, moved from Tennessee to Kansas to find work as a cowboy. One day he finds out his nemesis Rufus Buck (Elba) has escaped imprisonment he gathers those loyal to him to set out and find Buck and bring him back to justice, or exact revenge himself. But Buck has his own gang and the two groups are fated to face off against each other.

With a solid cast and the promise of a new-fangled Western, Netflix’s campaign has been slick and action-packed, even if it hasn’t been particularly sizable.

announcement and casting

The movie was announced in mid-2019 with Majors and first-time director Jeymes Samuel attached at that time. Elba joined later that year with others added over the course of 2019 and into 2020.

Production started in mid-2020 but, like many other films, had to be suspended because of a Covid case in October.

The first footage came in January, part of Netflix’s announcement of its ambitious 2021 feature film slate.

the marketing campaign

The first trailer (3.1m YouTube views) came out in late June, starting off with the outlaws robbing a train to free one of their number. But there are those who preferred Buck remain in jail, leading to a good old-fashioned showdown in a small town. It looks like a great, stylized Western with lots of action and humor and a fantastic cast.

Two posters that show the two different sides of the law that are presented in the story also came out in June.

Netflix announced in August that the movie would open the London Film Festival.

It was August when the official trailer (1.1m YouTube views) was released. There’s more footage than was included in the first one but the same message is being sent here: That the film is violent and funny, with a story about warring outlaw gangs each determined to get what they feel is theirs. Most of all it looks like a lot of fun, with some great actors playing Old West for a while.

Short promos like this also began appearing at this time that play up the splashy visuals and high-energy tone of the film.

Another poster came out in September that combines elements from the previous two, bringing the main four characters into a single one-sheet.

At the London Film Festival there were a number of interviews with the cast and crew where they talked about discarding stereotypes of the Western genre, how this film broadens the scope of the kinds of stories that can be told of that era and more.

Similar themes were covered in an interview with Samuel.

Majors stopped by “Kimmel” recently to talk about this movie as well as other upcoming projects.

At the movie’s L.A. premiere event Majors again pointed out that this isn’t an alternative history of the Old West so much as it was an additional chapter of that era that hasn’t been widely told.

Overall

The 83% Fresh rating the film currently has on Rotten Tomatoes represents it’s been received more positively than some of the other recent Netflix titles, and even more positively than many other recent releases regardless of platform.

Aside from that, the marketing has been solidly consistent through what is admittedly its short life span. It sells the movie as being a Western, yes, but one with a more modern sensibility and tone despite the frequent assertions by Samuel and others that this isn’t an alternate history or revisionist take on the genre.

It also puts its all-star cast right at the front with an especially strong focus on Majors, who could use this and a couple other high-profile roles to break out into the big-time.

the suicide squad – marketing recap

Sequel? Reboot? Both?

“OK, let’s try this again.”

That seems to be the prevailing attitude in the leadup to Warner Bros.’ release of The Suicide Squad, coming to theaters and HBO Max this week.

Like 2016’s Suicide Squad, this movie is about a group of super-villains who have been captured by the government and coerced by security operative Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) into taking on dangerous missions in exchange for reductions to their sentences. This time that mission involves hunting down The Thinker (Peter Capaldi), who has unleashed a giant alien starfish named Starro who can control people’s minds.

In addition to Davis, Margot Robbie returns as Harley Quinn – widely seen as the best part of the first film – as does Joel Kinnaman as Col. Rick Flag and Jai Courtney as Captain Boomerang. They’re joined by Idris Elba as Bloodsport (taking the place of Will Smith’s Deadshot), John Cena as Peacemaker and a handful of others as the Squad is greatly expanded this time around.

Technically a sequel in that it continues the story from that first movie and features some of the same characters, WB seems eager to take the few things people liked about the first entry and eject the rest, hoping to put the poor commercial and critical reception it received five years ago in the rearview mirror.

This despite how, in the wake of Zack Snyder being given the opportunity to revisit his abandoned Justice League project for HBO Max, some fans have taken it upon themselves to call for director David Ayer to be given the same opportunity with Suicide Squad. In this case it wasn’t Joss Whedon stepping in to finish the film but a trailer editing firm that took control of the final cut.

from rumor to reality

In late 2018 a possible sequel was still just that: possible. It was one of a handful of rumored projects that would bring Robbie back as Harley, some of which have fallen by the wayside with the exception of last year’s Birds of Prey.

Plans firmed up in early 2019 when WB confirmed earlier reports it had hired director James Gunn, who had recently been fired from his Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 gig by Marvel Studios following a controversy drummed up by right-wing trolls, though he’d eventually get that job back. In fact one of Gunn’s first interviews after WB’s announcement, part of the promotional cycle for Brightburn, had him commenting on how working on TSS helped him deal with the disappointment he felt over the whole Marvel incident.

After plenty of speculation, rumors and reports about what characters would appear, Gunn finally unveiled the official cast list in September, 2019. A few months later in December Gunn along with Braga sent a video message to attendees of CCXP promising they would love the film being made.

Well before the rest of the campaign launched, Gunn celebrated his birthday by sharing the movie’s title treatment in August, 2020. Members of the cast also sent him a birthday message.

dc fandome fun and more

At that time the director along with members of the cast were revealed as part of the talent lineup for DC’s “Fandome” virtual event. A “remix” of a Zoom panel with Gunn and the movie’s cast continued to set the stage for Fandome.

Two videos came out during Fandome. The first was a behind-the-scenes sneak peak that has Gunn and the cast talking about how funny, action-packed and overall unbelievable the movie was going to be. The second was a “Roll Call” of just some of the characters included in the film and the actors playing them.

Gunn showed off not one but two versions of some promotional artwork during the Fandome period.

The first official poster (by marketing agency Works Adv) also came out during the event. Not only does it show off how many characters are part of the story but the way it has each one’s name obscuring part of their face is a nice artistic touch that speaks to the different tone and feel of the movie compared to the first one. Each one of those characters was also broken off into its own poster.

In advance of Fandome a new Suicide Squad video game was teased by Rocksteady Games. While it’s not directly tied to the movie, the trailer released during the event for Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League shows the game pulls a lot of visual and character inspiration from the films.

Courtney spoke briefly about the film while promoting other projects.

Empire ran a cover story on the film back in October of last year. That included comments from Gunn about how he had broad latitude to kill whatever characters the story necessitated.

More promotions for the movie were run during 2020’s CCXP, the second year in a row for the movie at that event.

hbo max and Peacemaker spinoff

With a successful Fandome event having revived some of the positive buzz for the Suicide Squad brand and anticipation running high, WB in September 2020 announced a spinoff series focused on Peacemaker, the character played by Cena, for HBO Max.

Then the big news came. Namely, that this movie like the rest of WB’s 2021 release slate would debut simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max, an adjustment made to not only boost the fledgling streaming service but also accommodate what at the time were still a lot of unknowns around the Covid-19 pandemic.

Gunn was among the high-profile directors who weren’t thrilled with that decision, stating his opinion in a few interviews. Since then, though, he’s remained mum on the subject.

One of the first, albeit very brief, looks at the movie came via an HBO Max promo touting the same day theatrical/streaming availability of WB’s 2021 lineup. Another promo showed off a bit more footage.

Cena showed off his Peacemaker costume when he appeared on “The Tonight Show” in February and then did likewise on “The Late Show” in early April. A short while later Kinnaman appeared on the same show to talk about the film and more.

the marketing begins…and King Shark is a shark…

In advance of the first trailer in March two posters came out. The first (by marketing agency Concept Arts) has a retro feel, showing the main characters looking like cereal box action figures on a poster that has artificial creases in it from where the downtown grindhouse theater folded it for storage.

The second features the same characters and a similar design but without the retro conceit. This time it’s all slick and modern but still fun and outrageous, the leads framed by a giant star in the background.

The first trailer (1.9 million views on YouTube) is awesome. It shows the basic story but is primarily focused on setting a much different tone for this movie compared to the first one. Among the better moments shown here are:

  • Harley completely undoing the team’s efforts to rescue her
  • King Shark eating a guy head-first
  • Harley saying “If you cough without covering your mouth, you die.”
  • A beach full of dicks
  • Starro, ladies and gentlemen

It’s insane and looks like a lot of fun. And it led to a revival of Steely Dan’s “Dirty Work”, which the trailer’s sound designer commented on.

More character posters (by Concept Arts) were released at the end of March, showing some sort of object or symbol exploding behind that character. It’s a continuation of a visual theme established in the trailer with a shot of Harley tearing through a hallway firefight as colorful animated flowers burst from the background. By taking this approach it also continues establishing a much different visual identity for the movie from the “Hot Topic on ecstasy” tone of the first movie. These were also used in house ads appearing in DC books in the months leading up to release.

The first TV spot came out a bit after the trailer’s release, offering a cutdown version of that longer video that still had plenty of action and humor.

A green-band version that added a few more scenes and moments but otherwise hit most of the same beats came out a short while later.

In an interview with Total Film, Gunn talked more about how he wound up signing on to the movie and the amount of creative freedom – specifically to kill whichever characters he needed to to tell his story – the studio gave him. Robbie was also interviewed about the evolution of Harley Quinn in the film.

“Suicide Squad: Get Joker!”, a new three-issue mini-series from Brian Azzerello and Alex Maleev, was announced by DC in April and scheduled for release just days ahead of the movie hitting theaters and screens. There was also a King Shark one-shot with a preview of the Azzerello/Maleev series planned for Free Comic Book Day, which this year is happening the week after the movie’s release. DC also announced in May that many of its biggest titles would feature movie-inspired covers in August.

An interview with Kinnaman in June had him praising the film, saying it was “insane” and a lot of fun.

Also in June it was announced the movie would screen in August at the Fantasia International Film Festival.

The team runs through a deluge of both rain and tiny mind-controlling Starro spores on the next poster, released toward the end of June.

The second trailer (11.4m views on YouTube) also came out at that time, featuring similar levels of insanity and chaos as the first one.

Peacemaker clears up some confusion about what exactly “Project Starfish ” is and Polka Dot Man becomes a super hero in an extended TV spot from the end of June.

featurettes, more tv spots and plenty of goofy press

Fandango MovieClips got an exclusive featurette in July that had the cast talking about the unique vision Gunn brought to the project, filming the elaborate – and often practical – stunts and more.

A wide-ranging interview with Gunn had him reliving the moment he came onto the project following being fired by Marvel Studios, the attitude he tried to bring to the movie and more.

There were also a number of additional profiles and interviews with Robbie

Positive initial reactions followed a screening for press in July. That screening included a Q&A with Gunn and others where they talked more about the ridiculousness of Starro as a villain and other topics.

IMAX had an exclusive featurette, released in early July, that had Gunn and the cast talking about how the scale of the movie had to be seen on the big screen to be fully believed and enjoyed.

Another longer one goes behind the scenes, introducing some of the characters, including a few that hadn’t previously been given much of a role in the campaign.

Smashbox, one of the only promotional partners apparent, introduced a line of movie-inspired makeup products.

In what’s probably the best of the posters, the team is seen walking across a landscape which, upon further inspection, is actually Amanda Waller’s face.

WB celebrated Shark Week with a King Shark-centric spot that has Waller explaining a bit more about who he is and the rest of the team reminding him that eating people is only alright if they’re not his friends.

Red, the camera-production company, released a featurette with Gunn explaining how valuable those cameras were to making the movie he envisioned.

Gunn, Robbie and Cena – the latter once again in full costume – appeared on “Kimmel” in late July. Around that same time Courtney was interviewed about the movie, calling out the emotional heart that lies within the story.

The team is once again charging at the camera on the IMAX-exclusive poster.

That was later complemented by a TV spot hyping IMAX as the biggest and best way to see all the action.

AMC Theaters announced in July that those attending opening night screenings would receive an exclusive comic book.

Around this time outdoor and online ads using elements of the key art, especially from the second main poster.

the suicide squad online ad

grandson & Jessie Reyez released a video for “Rain,” a new song from the movie’s soundtrack, at the end of July. That video features appearances from some of the cast, their characters enjoying a night out before military bursts in and takes them away.

The cast, including Stallone, Melchior and others, continued doing various press appearances either in-person or virtually to hype of the film.

The Detachable Kid’s powers are featured in a clip that shows even Harley can’t believe what’s happening.

Just how low-rent the team is seen to be is communicated on another poster showing them arriving at the scene in an ancient broken down bus.

Bloodsport was added as a playable character in Fortnight.

One more bit of promotional art was released showing the team lying on the ground in the middle of a giant starfish drawing. The idea here – reinforced by the “Don’t get too attached” copy at the top – is to spur questions about which of the team is dead and who’s just sleeping.

Cena, Gunn and others appeared on a movie-themed episode of “Wipeout” earlier this month.

David Dastmalchian was interviewed about playing an insane, random character like Polka Dot Man.

Gunn and the cast, along with plenty of others, all showed up at the U.S. premiere of the movie in Los Angeles earlier this week. There they talked about how Gunn brought his unique level of insanity to the script

At earlier premieres and publicity tour stops, various incarnations of Starro – either as art installation or giant inflatable starfish – were used to create a unique visual spectacle.

In another substantial interview, Gunn touched on a number of topics related to the movie including why it was so much fun to write for Robbie’s Harley Quinn, what DC plans might be in his future, the “Peacemaker” HBO Max series and lots more. In another interview he shared how insistent he was on an R rating for the movie and what other conditions he had when signing on and how he wound up casting fellow director Taika Waititi in a small role.

The stars participated in an exclusive video interview for Regal Cinemas

conclusion, or “it’s king shark’s world, we just live in it

First, let’s address the Ayer in the room.

As mentioned above, ever since The Snyder Cut of Justice League became a thing a similar subgroup of fans has been demanding David Ayer be allowed to release his cut of Suicide Squad. The cast was even compelled to comment on the possibility of it happening at the premiere earlier this week.

To his credit, Ayer himself has been relatively mum, only recently releasing a statement that yes, an edit of the movie exists that’s vastly different than the theatrical version. But he also doesn’t seem bitter about it, essentially chalking it up as one more difficulty in his life he’s overcome and a story he isn’t eager to share since it would betray confidences and sour relationships. He ultimately clearly and publicly supports the new movie and Gunn’s vision for the characters.

That’s awfully big and mature of Ayer since the dominant theme of the marketing for The Suicide Squad has been “this one is different.” Brighter colors, less of a cubic zirconia vibe to the visuals and more of an emphasis on the humor inherent in the concept, especially given there’s a massive walking and talking shark involved.

King Shark Hand GIF by The Suicide Squad - Find & Share on GIPHY

The projected $30-40m opening weekend needs to be viewed on a sliding, pandemic-adjusted scale as it’s not indicative of either how well the marketing seems to have been received by the general public or the positive buzz and early reviews that have earned it a 94% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes (which is nearly four times higher than that of the first movie). By focusing on Gunn’s involvement, a clear difference has been drawn by Warner Bros. that could make this movie a hit both on streaming and in theaters.

Concrete Cowboy – Marketing Recap

How Netflix has sold Idris Elba on a horse.

Based on the novel “Ghetto Cowboy,” the new movie Concrete Cowboy stars Idris Elba as Harp, one of a number of individuals in Philadelphia who patrol the streets of the neighborhood on horseback. They do so in an attempt to maintain a connection to a simpler time and culture, knowing full well they are out of step with other parts of society. Harp’s estranged teenage son Cole (Caleb McLaughlin) comes to live with him, opening up tensions both old and new as the father tries to teach his son a few things while the son holds on to old problems and baggage.

Directed by Ricky Staub, the movie arrives on Netflix this week after a small-scale campaign from the streamer. It currently has a decent 78% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, so let’s see how it’s been sold to the public.

The Posters

Just one poster, released in early March, but it’s a pretty good one. Harp looms in the background of the collage-esque design, with other elements conveying Cole’s role in the story as well as the urban setting and more. It’s not the flashiest design, but it communicates a solid sense of what audiences can expect.

The Trailers

The first trailer (638k views on YouTube) finally came out in mid-March, opening with Cole clearly not on the same page as Harp. We see Cole exposed to the world Harp lives in and the rules and legends that go with it, a process that isn’t always easy or comfortable. The two eventually come to an understanding, but only just as the way of life Harp and others have long embraced becomes threatened with extinction.

Online and Social

Nothing here, but the movie did get some support from Netflix on its brand social channels.

Advertising and Promotions

A short clip was released around the time the movie was debuting at the Toronto International Film Festival. It was also slated for screening at the Telluride Film Festival. Netflix acquired the film in October.

In early March Netflix finally gave it an April release date.

Media and Press

Staub and Elba were both interviewed during TIFF about the road the project has taken to date and what they hope for in the future. Another conversation with the cast and crew included comments on the story, working together and more.

Overall

The movie came out of Toronto early last year with some very strong word of mouth, especially for Elba’s performance. But that was a year ago, and a lot has happened since then.

So it’s a little surprising to see that while the trailer and poster are both pretty strong, they add up to the majority of the film’s campaign. Very little seems to have been done to build on that festival buzz, and Elba’s press activity has been minimal. It would have been nice to see some more promo spots or other elements that allow Elba to be his charming self as well as allow McLaughlin to come to the spotlight.

Cats – Marketing Recap

How Universal Studios is selling a big screen adaptation of an Andrew Lloyd Weber musical with no discernible story.

cats poster 3Here’s the official synopsis for Cats, directed by Tom Hooper:

A tribe of cats called the Jellicles must decide yearly which one will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and come back to a new Jellicle life.

What the hell does that even mean? It’s some sort of twisted cat-themed snuff film where a group of felines play God and choose who deserves to live based on what, dancing ability? Overall popularity? Fur texture? What kind of messed up dystopian power dynamic is in place here?

Regardless, Universal is hoping to capture the same audience that made The Greatest Showman a massive hit two years ago. To that end it has enlisted an all-star cast that includes Taylor Swift, James Corden, Rebel Wilson, Idris Elba, Judi Dench and others to dress in cat costumes and in tomcat tomfoolery in what’s being sold as a bright, glitzy spectacle. They’re all lead by newcomer Francesca Hayward in a movie tracking somewhere around $15 million for opening weekend and with a lowly 17 percent “Rotten” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Posters

The “You will believe” copy used on the first poster from July (by marketing agency Concept Arts) seems relatively generic for a movie with such a specific brand identity. A cat is shown walking toward a set of ornate doors, light glowing from the inside. Hooper’s name is prominently displayed not once but twice along with the names of the director’s previous popular films and the impressive cast list.

The second poster didn’t come out until November, showing Victoria (Hayward) with her back arched in dance as feathers fall all around her and honestly I don’t know what’s happening here. Whatever it is, the movie is labeled “The most joyful event of the holiday season.” Another poster (by marketing agency BOND) from early December has just Victoria’s head lit from behind.

The Trailers

The first trailer (13.3 million views on YouTube), released in mid-July, certainly fulfills the promise of showing off the look of the movie and the fact that it features a variety of human-shaped cats. Only the barest of information about the story is offered here as the focus is on the all-star cast while Hudson’s performance of “Memories” plays in the background the whole time.

In November the second trailer (8.6 million views on YouTube) caused a lot of buzz by showing more of the story of how it’s the night where the cat who deserves a new life is chosen as well as that the cats are actually cat-sized, with human-scaled objects around them. Other than that, the same flashy film is on display here, but it’s conspicuously devoid of any of the musical numbers.

Online and Social

The movie’s official website has all the usual marketing materials, but when you first load the site the front page is an interactive version of the neighborhood where the story takes place. Clicking the characters that appear in the scenery lets you play Cats-themed games and explore more about the characters and the world they inhabit.

Notably, the “Story” section doesn’t actually discuss the story of the movie at all. Instead it’s about establishing the movie’s credentials, including mentioning the musical it’s based on, the star power involved in making it and so on. Even the studio can’t explain what’s going on, or doesn’t think the audience will care.

There are Twitter, Facebook and Instagram profiles, of course, But in a clear sign Universal understands what the target audience is looking for and actually does online there’s also a Giphy profile promoted here, something most movies fail to do.

Advertising and Publicity

There had been lots of conversations and updates about the movie before April, 2019, but when Universal showed off a batch of behind-the-scenes footage at CinemaCon things really kicked off as buzz and anticipation grew. More footage was shown two months later at CineEurope.

In mid-July a first look featurette was released that included comments from many members of the cast, including Swift and others, about what drew them to the project and what their history with Cats was. It showed some behind-the-scenes footage as well as a few brief glimpses at the film itself. The timing of that featurette was meant to set the stage for the first trailer, released just a few days later.

Another short behind the scenes featurette came out in September that had the cast talking about moving and dancing like cats. In October another video was released that focused on Swift writing an original song for the film with Weber. A lyric video for that song, “Beautiful Ghosts,” came out the week before Thanksgiving.

Red carpet premiere events were held in New York and Hollywood earlier this week, with those events streamed live online for those who couldn’t attend in person. Those came at the tail (I’m so sorry) end of an international press tour that had the cast and crew talking about the elaborate production.

There were pre-roll ads and TV spots, all of which eliminated whatever pretenses were made to explain the movie’s threadbare story and just focused on the fact that you could see Swift and other dancing around in cat costumes. Outdoor ads used imagery pulled from the key art and more while online ads did likewise, often with video elements added in.

Promotional partners included:

  • Harry and David, which offered a line of movie-themed gift baskets you could send to someone you…have…feelings? about/for.
  • Kate Spade, which created a line of accessories inspired by the movie.
  • Piper-Heidsieck, which offered a limited edition champagne in a movie-branded bottle and box.
  • Pure Barre, which offered those who bought tickets to the movie a free fitness class.
  • Wolford, which ran a sweepstakes awarding the winner a free custom body suit like those seen in the movie as well as a private screening and promoted similar products they sell.

Media and Press

A short after CinemaCon, the movie’s choreographer was interviewed about the production and what it was like working with some of the bigger, more unexpected talent on the set.

Elba and other members of the cast talked about the movie earlier in the cycle while promoting other projects.

An interview with Hooper following the first trailer’s release allowed him to comment on people’s reactions while clarifying that some of the graphics weren’t quite finished yet, so everyone should calm down a bit.

Both Cordon (taking a break from his own show) and Hayward appeared on “Kimmel” in early December to promote the film and talk about working with Swift.

The influence Swift’s father had on her portrayal and new song was covered in this interview.

Hudson appeared on “The Today Show” to talk about the movie and her performance of “Memories,” a song she sang on a recent episode of “The Voice.” Corden also dropped by “Today.”

At the premiere the cast and crew spoke more about making the movie as well as the controversy that has swirled around the movie, based mostly in how it used computer effects for some of the costumes and other effects, something that’s apparently a big deal.

Overall

Cats is horny.

Picking Up the Spare

Hudson appeared on “The Late Show” to talk about her role in the film, while another interview with her allowed her to talk about performing such an iconic song as “Memory.”

A good recap here of the problems that bedeviled the filming lead to Universal making the unusual move of sending a new version of the movie to theaters with updated effects.

Molly’s Game – Marketing Recap

mollys game posterAaron Sorkin is a polarizing figure in entertainment. His writing style, full of fast-paced, hyper-literate dialogue that barely fits on the page, has turned some people off. While he’s not everyone’s favorite and has some definite ticks and quirks throughout his work, he has created some of Hollywood’s most memorable TV and movie scripts. With the new release Molly’s Game he not only has written the screenplay but for the first time steps into the role of director.

Jessica Chastain stars as the real-life Molly Bloom in the movie based on Bloom’s memoir of the same name. The story follows her as she moves from a cocktail waitress tasked with hosting a high-stakes poker game at The Viper Club in L.A. attended by actors and other celebrities. Finding she has a knack for this kind of work, she opens her own business to manage the operation herself. Eventually legal troubles come around as she’s charged with money laundering, racketeering and other crimes related to the people attending the games she operates. Idris Elba plays Charlie Jaffey, the lawyer enlisted by Bloom to defend her.

Continue reading “Molly’s Game – Marketing Recap”

The Mountain Between Us – Marketing Recap

This week’s new release The Mountain Between Us combines elements of two popular movie genres: The pairing of unlikely and slightly mismatched individuals and the placing of characters in an extreme situation that is so far outside their comfort zone as to be almost impossible to survive.

In this case Kate Winslet plays Alex Martin, a journalist who’s getting married the next day. Idris Elba plays Ben Bass, a surgeon on his way to perform an emergency procedure. The two charter a plane to get out of the airport that’s shut down due to weather. When their small plane crashes, they have to survive the cold and brutality of the mountain they’re stranded on, making their way across it to try and find safety.

The Posters

Elba and Winslet are both seen on the first poster, though they’re facing in opposite directions as if they’re at odds with each other for some reason. That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense given the rest of the campaign, though. And the copy “What if your life depended on a stranger?” is way more creepy and cryptic than anything else we’ve seen. Odd tone here.

The Trailers

The first trailer starts out by introducing us to Ben and Alex, two strangers at an airport. She offers to take him on the private plane she’s chartered to bypass the usual issues. He’s on his way home and she’s on her way to be married. But the plane has a problem and crashes on top of a snow-covered mountain in the middle of nowhere, leaving them stranded far from civilization. She’s hurt and they have limited supplies but decide to set out to try and find help instead of waiting for it to come to them. Things go wrong, of course, as they fight for survival.

It’s alright but the trailer doesn’t do it any favors. It hits all the usual cliches of movies like this, including wild animals hunting them and someone falling through the ice into the cold water below. While there’s every possibility that there’s more to the story than this, the trailer looks pretty generic and like it doesn’t utilize the full capabilities of either Winslet of Elba.

Online and Social

The usual cropped version of the key art graces the top of Fox’s official website for the movie, below which are links to watch the trailer or find the movie’s Facebook and Twitter profiles.

The first section on the site is “Videos,” where you can watch the trailer as well as some clips and a few featurettes/interviews. “About” has a story synopsis alongside the cast and crew list and more links to the movie’s social pages, including an Instagram profile. “Poster” just has the single one-sheet.

In “Featured Content” you’ll find some interesting stuff. First is a photo feature that allows you to upload a picture of yourself to a still from the film to make it seem as if it’s you Elba is comforting instead of Winslet. Also there is a link to iTunes encouraging you to buy the new song from Zayn and Sia that was written for the film.

The site finishes off with a “Gallery” of a half-dozen stills and a curated section of “Social Updates.”

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The debut of the trailer was supported with ad buys on social media, including YouTube which ran it as pre-roll before other videos.

The first TV spots like this one get quickly to the action and the peril the stranded travelers face as well as the emotional turmoil they’re put through as they try to survive out in the snowy wilderness. They’re just like the trailers only without as much setup and backstory.

Media and Publicity

It was announced the movie would have its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. The buzz that came out of that premiere wasn’t wholly positive, unfortunately. Not negative, but nothing to write home about for the most part.

Winslet talked in EW about the challenges of shooting in such a remote and unforgiving environment as well as how her style meshed with that of her costar. A short featurette focused on the extreme conditions that the movie was shot in and the challenges the cast and crew endured during production. The extreme conditions of the shoot continued to be the focal point of the press activity, with the crew and actors talking here about the search for reality and the technical challenges of the locations they found themselves on.

The physically challenging shoot was one of the subjects of this interview with Winslet, where she talked about drawing on the strength she’s built up over the years to handle it as well as what kinds of characters she likes to take on these days.

The two leads conducted in various other interviews and appearances, most of which continued to revolve around the logistics of the production more than anything else.

Overall

First, this is accurate:

The marketing is fine. Nothing special, but it’s fine. The continued focus in the publicity on the extreme conditions of the production and the adjustments everyone had to make have me thinking there’s an awareness the story itself is weak (or, worse, problematic) and so that was decided on as the safest hook for everyone to keep talking about. But whatever.

More problematic for me is something I didn’t notice until looking at the website, specifically that “In This With Idris” photo feature. What caught my eye is the fact that there’s only one option available, to erase Kate Winslet and put yourself in the position of the person relying on the big, strong man to protect them. That’s a little sexist, reinforcing gender roles. And it’s a lot disturbing that the feature asks you to literally remove a female character from the picture. The simple addition of both options would make it slightly better, at least allowing for equal opportunity removal and substitution.

After I saw that I went back and rewatched the trailer and noticed something else. Elba’s character is trying to travel because he’s Important. He has a Very Important Job To Do because he’s a highly-skilled individual who’s needed to save a life. His motivation is based in his talent and abilities. Winslet’s character, on the other hand, is emotional and feminine. She wants to get married. Her motivation isn’t about her own skills – her profession as a journalist is only passingly mentioned – but about her personal life.

The second issue is one the marketing campaign can’t do much with, though I have to wonder if that issue is one of the ones being masked by the “it was such a tough shoot” press focus. The first one, though, is an unforced error that seems out of whack with the current societal climate. It’s disconcerting that only the woman is deemed replaceable, easily swapped out with anyone at all. Someone in the marketing department needs to rethink that kind of approach and make sure female characters aren’t being written out of their own narratives.

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

The Dark Tower – Marketing Recap

Stephen King comes back to theaters with the release of this week’s The Dark Tower. The movie is based on the popular series of eight books from the author that tell the story of The Gunfighter (Idris Elba), a kind of knight whose order is charged with the protection of their world. That includes protecting the Dark Tower, a mystical structure that is integral to the balance between light and dark that’s enjoyed by all the worlds of the multiverse.

Challenging that balance is the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), the embodiment of humanity’s dark nature and a servant of the underworld. As these two magical, elemental forces collide the story and their conflict unfolds through the eyes of Lucas (Nicholas Hamilton), a young boy from Earth who has begun having visions of a strange, mysterious tower. He eventually crosses over into the world where The Gunslinger and the Man in Black are waging their war, in part causing that war to come to Earth.

The Posters

The first poster promised a mind-bending adventure. Two figures stand at the bottom of the image while a cityscape hovers above them, the buildings upside down from the perspective of those characters. “There are other worlds than these” according to the text that appears alongside the title treatment.

Around the time the first trailer debuted there were two new posters released, one showing The Gunslinger and other showing The Man in Black, with copy on each saying “One man sworn to protect it” and other “And one man to destroy it” just in case anyone needed further clarification on character motivations.

Two more posters took the same approach, with each of the main characters on a different poster, the Gunslinger in the city and The Man in Black on a barren landscape with the titular tower in the background.

Another poster shows the Man in Black and The Gunslinger with their backs to each other, the tower that they’re fighting over in the background. The Man in Black stands in the other world where their battle takes place while The Gunslinger is standing in our real world, showing the split settings of the story.

The Trailers

As the first trailer opens we get the backstory on the Gunslingers and their role as protectors. We meet a boy who’s having visions of the conflict between the two powerful forces and see him find a portal to the world where the battle is being fought. He meets and falls under the protection of the Gunslinger and finds out about the importance of The Tower. Eventually the Gunslinger comes back to Earth with the boy but That Man is Black follows him there and the fight continues. There’s some talk about how he doesn’t shoot with his hand but with his mind and lots of cool action sequences right up to the end.

It’s a pretty good trailer, explaining enough of the story to make it more or less attractive to those of us who haven’t read the source book. While hardcore fans weren’t thrilled with some of the liberties that were taken, the trailer presents an intriguing premise of a shadow war being fought that impacts all our fates and, more than anything, shows off Elba and his sweat-soaked performance.

Online and Social

The official website opens with the trailer playing in a pop-up window. That goes along with “Videos” being the first option in the content menu at the top of the page. After that is “About,” which has a brief synopsis of the movie’s story.

A “Gallery” of about five stills featuring the two lead characters is next, followed by a “Cast & Crew” section that has lists of those involved in making the movie.

Other than the links to the movie’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter profiles, the final section on the site is the “Journey to the Dark Tower.” That’s not a great site but takes you to the world of the tower where you can move the camera around and click on some bright lights that play short clips from the film. It’s not much of a journey as you don’t seem to move toward the tower at all.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A series of TV spots began running in early June that featured narration from The Man in Black or the Gunslinger. Each one sets up the conflict from various ways, explaining who these characters are and what motivates them along with one that brings it all together to sell the movie as basically a superhero story about the fight between right and wrong.

Outdoor and online ads used the key art featuring the two leads or just an image of the tower while social ads utilized the trailer.

Media and Publicity

There was tons of conversation, speculation and reports about casting, filming and more, but the official publicity campaign kicked off with a first look at official stills featuring McConaughey, Elba and others in Entertainment Weekly. Along with the pictures the cast talked about the movie, their characters and more, including how King himself got involved in some ways to help the movie along.

Shortly before release director Nik Arcel cleared up some confusion around the story by stating it wasn’t really an adaptation but a sequel to previous Dark Tower stories, meaning it’s part of the universe not a straight retelling of the book’s story. That’s an…interesting perspective that actually has a high probability of turning off the general audience since it means some prior knowledge is required to get the full mythology of the world. Arcel also commented on the movie’s short – just 95 minutes – runtime, explaining it resulted from a tight script for what was meant to just be the first of many chapters in the overall story.

Not sure what it means about the appeal of this movie specifically but there was a late push to highlight its connections to other Stephen King properties, hoping to draw people in with easter eggs to other movies and stories. That seems like the studios admitting it has a weak hand.

While the cast made the press and talk show rounds to promote the movie and talk about how it compares with the source novels, the big last minute story was one that detailed the troubled road the movie had taken to the big screen. That began with ambitious plans to make a seven movie series with a TV series tie-in that was ultimately pared down, though TV plans are still in the works. Closer to release it also included problematic test screenings, reports of creative clashes between the director, producers and studio execs.

Overall

There’s so much going on with this campaign that it’s hard to get my head around it. “So much” not in the sense of a movie like some of the other big releases from this and other years, where there are an overwhelming amount of trailers, promotional tie-ins and other elements designed to inundate the audience with sheer volume of messaging. No, instead the movie’s message to potential moviegoers is weighed down with so much baggage, the result of its troubled path to production.

That baggage involves more than just the one or two big stories that have detailed specific issues or behind-the-scenes conflict. It also is manifests in the relatively small campaign that’s been mounted. Just one trailer was released, and the posters were all variations on the same theme, none featuring interesting designs or unique appeals. This was not a full-throated effort.

Other major studio release campaigns might suffer from a bit of bloat. Conversely, this one suffers from severe anorexia, especially for a movie that 1) Is a major fantasy release, 2) Is based on a book by a well-known author and 3) Has a built-in fanbase because of those books. Simply the fact that only one trailer was produced and that it only came three months before the movie’s opening weekend creates an odor of issues around it. That might turn the public off, allowing them to feel fine as they choose to finally check out Dunkirk or Baby Driver or see Wonder Woman again.