ambulance – marketing recap

How Universal sold the latest experiment with Bayhem

[ed. note: yep, this came out last week, the schedule just didn’t pan out as planned]

Ambulance movie poster
Ambulance movie poster

The logline for Ambulance, which hit theaters last week, really doesn’t matter as it essentially boils down to the fact it was directed by the one and only Michael Bay. But for the sake of completeness, let’s fill in the rest of what the movie’s about.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II stars as Will Sharp, a military veteran desperate to raise the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed for his wife’s surgery. Out of legitimate options, Will reaches out to his adoptive brother Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal), who enlists Will in a bank robbery he’s planning that could net them $32 million. But the robbery, of course, goes sideways and the two find themselves on the run in a stolen ambulance with an EMT (played by Eiza González) still on board while pursued by both the FBI and LAPD.

So with the thinnest of premises in place and a director known less for his storytelling skills than his ability to keep the action going at all costs (including to common sense), let’s see how this was sold in advance of last week’s release.

announcement and casting

News of the movie’s production, along with the lead, broke in late 2020 with Bay directing. But that was only after he had passed on the film a few years earlier. Now, though, he eyed it as a good project to get him out after a bit of Covid-relaterd quarantine.

Gyllenhaal and Eiza González were cast in late 2020, Abdul-Mateen II joined a short while later, replacing Dylan O’Brien, who had previously been selected to play the more legitimate of the two brothers.

A couple months later its release was delayed by Universal to February, 2022.

the marketing campaign

The first trailer (22.5m YouTube views) was released in late October of last year, opening with Will explaining to Danny he needs money for his wife’s surgery. Danny takes that as an opening to get Will’s help with a bank robbery offering an even bigger payday. That heist goes south quickly, leading the two of them to go on the run to avoid the police, taking a cop wounded in the shootout hostage in the ambulance they’re escaping in.

A poster showing an ambulance’s rear doors with two massive bullet holes in it came out at the same time, the image making it clear the title is very literal and not a metaphor as well as conveying the kind of action and danger the story will contain.

The next poster came out in February and this time shows the three main characters, their huge heads arranged above the ambulance they spend so much time in, which is being pursued by various elements of law enforcement.

That was followed by the first TV commercial, which focuses on the drama between the two brothers and interestingly *not* the chaos that results from their impromptu chase across the city of Los Angeles.

A handful of new images from the movie were included in an interview with Bay about how he choreographs the massive action sequences he’s best known for. Right after that a profile of Gyllenhaal came out that had him talking about the experience of shooting a Michael Bay movie along with comments from Abdul-Mateen II about how the actor would occasionally seize the camera and start filming things himself as well as how Gyllenhaal made sure everyone on set was doing alright.

A series of character posters was released in early March that makes sure to highlight the L.A. location as a character in and of itself.

An IMAX-exclusive poster offers a variation on some of the earlier design themes.

Bay’s creativity and how that influences the process of shooting those big explosions and other sequences were covered in a featurette that included comments from many of the coordinators, drone pilots and others responsible for actually pulling those shots off.

The director along with the primary cast were in attendance at a red carpet premiere in Paris later in March. That was followed by similar events in Berlin, London and elsewhere, each accompanied by a round of interviews and other press activity.

An interview with Abdul-Mateen II and Gyllenhaal focused on how they bonded on set, a theme that kept coming up at this point of the campaign. That just reinforced how great Gyllenhaal is in junket settings when bantering with his costars, something he’s demonstrated repeatedly in recent years.

MovieClips debuted an exclusive featurette with the cast and crew talking about Bay’s skill as a filmmaker as well as the details of the story and the emotional stakes the characters have in the movie. Similar ground was covered in a Dolby Cinemas featurette.

Another trailer (10.5m YouTube views) came out toward the end of March that skips some of the emotional setup for Will in favor of cutting straight to the action. We see lots of the moments between Will and Danny as they navigate the situation they’ve found themselves in, all while Cam is stuck along for the ride caring for a patient in the back of the ambulance. There are some interesting moments, but the primary message is that there’s lots of gunplay and other violence, all set to the sound of grown men shouting at each other.

Additional TV spots like this were released that cut down the trailer footage in various ways to help sell the different aspects of the movie.

A movie-themed version of “Grand Theft Auto” gameplay was streamed on Twitch.

Just last week the stars and others came out for the red carpet premiere in Los Angeles. Once again the theme of the conversations with the stars was working with Bay and how they adapted to his unique energy on set and similar topics.

Just as she’d done in previous interviews – and a featurette – Gonzalez talked about how she hopes her role and performance as an EMT in some way honors the kind of work first responders do every day.

How he worked to cut through the chaos to focus on character was the subject of an interview with Abdul-Mateen II. A joint interview with him and Gyllenhaal was again about working with Bay and being pushed by the director to break out of what they may have expected.

USA Network aired a short exclusive featurette/commercial that mixed comments from the cast with high-octane footage. There was also a solo featurette with Abdul-Mateen II where he expanded on his character.

Gyllenhaal hosted “Saturday Night Live” just as the movie was opening. That came after her and Abdul-Mateen II appeared together on “Kimmel” to promote the film while Gonzalez showed up there on her own.


Tracking estimates prior to opening had projected $10m for the weekend but it failed to clear even that bar, leading to lots of hand-wringing over the future of original action movies at the box-office and so on. But the lukewarm critical reception, as represented by the movie’s Rotten Tomatoes rating, likely led many people to choosing the family film in theaters over the action-oriented one.

What jumps out most from the campaign is how so much of it is devoted to everyone praising Michael Bay as if he’s some sort of impassioned but relegated artist. He has a reputation as being somewhat difficult, sure, but this feels like a kind of effort to trigger a Baynaissance of sorts, which is odd considering he’s been one of the most reliable box-office performers of the last…30 years? And as much as everyone can talk about his craft, this is still what Bay is best known for, which is why all those flipping cars and such are stil so central to this movie’s marketing.

Jake Gyllenhaal Action GIF by Ambulance - Find & Share on GIPHY

Spider-Man: Far From Home – Marketing Recap

You can read my full recap of the marketing campaign for Spider-Man: Far From Home at The Hollywood Reporter.

Online and Social

Surprisingly, the movie’s official website is actually pretty basic and a little boring. It just has the standard marketing content along with a “Fan Art” section that’s a nice touch. There are also links to the Facebook, Instagram and Twitter profiles.

Media and Publicity

Before any other formal publicity had started, Holland showed up in a skit on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” to retrieve his mask and let people know the movie was coming out in the summer of 2019. In early December, Gyllenhaal joined Instagram with a post teasing his role as the movie’s big bad.

Gyllenhaal talked about how this was the right time for him to make the move into big productions while he was promoting Velvet Buzzsaw earlier this year and how he was obsessed with his costar Holland.

During the Avengers: Endgame press cycle, Marvel’s Kevin Feige revealed that this, not Endgame, was actually the final entry in Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, though he was still vague on when the story actually takes place. How that movie impacted this one was the subject of an interview with the creative team. Holland also teased what’s in store for Peter Parker as he tries to be a super hero outside his native New York City.

After the second trailer came out and created all sorts of post-Endgame questions Watts addressed some of them, including how the time jump from that movie might impact the characters in this one.

Much of the primary cast appeared on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” to talk about shooting the film and what they thought of it in relation to Endgame. They also made a surprise appearance at Disneyland to the delight of visitors to a stunt show featuring Spider-Man.

An extended bit on a later episode of “Jimmy Kimmel Live” was billed as an “exclusive clip” but was really just a fake scene with Kimmel playing a dry cleaning employee interacting awkwardly with Peter Parker.

Holland appeared on “The Late Show” to share stories of filming the movie and more. He later teased there were rough plans for him to make a brief cameo in Into the Spider-Verse that were spiked early on in the process. Zendaya stopped by “The Late Show” to talk about filming and stunts and more.

Watts talked more about how he worked over the last couple years with the Russo Brothers to make sure his movie worked in connection with theirs and what surprises he’s planted for fans. He also later explained that scenes included in the trailer that were cut in the final film would reappear in a new short on the home video release.

The cast made an appearance in costume at a Los Angeles children’s hospital to visit patients there.

The Gyllenhaal/Holland pairing on the publicity circuit isn’t quite at Gyllenhaal/Reynolds, but it’s close, reinforced by the results of the photo shoot for another EW cover story.


One more point I didn’t fully make in my THR column was that, upon further review, there were almost no story stakes presented the campaign for the movie. Sure, Spidey seems to team up with Mysterio at the behest of Fury, but beyond stopping a handful of ill-defined creatures, what does it matter? Neither that showdown nor Peter’s crush on MJ are shown in any way that the outcomes matters in a tangible way.

That’s remarkable and shows that with these massive event movies you don’t need to make the audience care about the characters or story, just show them that they’re there.

Picking Up the Spare

There have been a lot of conversations with the movie’s writers and directors, including one where the writers discussed *that* Nick Fury line from the trailer. The costume designers also talked about the looks sported by Spidey and Mysterio. 

EW offered lots more on the movie, including reports from an earlier set visit and an exclusive custom Snapchat lens.

The movie reportedly received $288 million worth in media promotions from Sony and its partners.

Gyllenhaal’s appearance on “The Late Show” continued the love fest between him and Holland.  

Velvet Buzzsaw – Marketing Recap

velvetbuzzsawposterWriter/director Dan Gilroy reteams with his Nightcrawler stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo for the Netflix-exclusive release Velvet Buzzsaw, available for streaming today. The movie is set in the world of high art and focuses on a collection of characters – a critic, a collector and others – who come together when the works of an unknown artist are discovered and set everyone’s sense for what’s hot tingling.

Things turn sour, though, when those with less than purely artistic motives begin falling victim to supernatural forces. The movie, then, asks what it means to be an art lover and why people do what they do in the industry.

The Posters

The movie’s title is spray painted on a framed canvas mounted to the wall on the one-sheet, with the names of Gyllenhaal and Russo at the top and the promise it comes “From the writer/director of Nightcrawler” toward the bottom, the combination being an attempt to lure in the audience that made that one such a buzz-heavy hit. Not only does the way the paint streaks down the wall hint at something slightly amiss but so does the copy “All art is dangerous.”

The Trailers

We start off in the trailer by getting a full sense of how pretentious and assured Morf Vandewalt (Gyllenhaal) is as we see him critiquing – sometimes brutally so – the works of others at showings. He and Rhodora Haze (Russo) come across the mysterious but fascinating works of an unknown artist that have been found by someone after his death. It soon becomes evident there’s something sinister about the paintings as the people who encounter them begin having strange, inexplicable experiences related to them. These people who claim to love art find their feelings are different when it’s attacking them through mirrors, it seems.

This looks insane. When you have John Malkovich in a movie and he looks like the restrained one you know you’re on solid ground.

Online and Social

Nothing I’ve been able to find.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Nope, but it’s likely Netflix ran some pre-roll ads on YouTube and a few online ads to drive traffic to its site. It’s also received regular promotion in marketing communications from the company.

Media and Publicity

A first look still from the movie was released at the same time it was announced it would be screening at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. It received good buzz and word of mouth there, well-timed to aid its release on Netflix just days later. Another exclusive image accompanied brief comments from Gyllenhaal on the story and his character.

Gyllenhaal appeared on “The Late Show” to talk about this movie and his experiences on smaller productions compared to comic book movie sets. The story of the moral compromises made by art industry insiders was covered in a joint interview with the cast and crew while Gyllenhaal and Gilroy addressed the “fluid” sexuality of the former’s character at the movie’s premiere. Gilroy pointed out that the roots of the movie lie in part in the failure of his Superman Lives project from decades ago.


Netflix is clearly hoping that the same people who loved Nightcrawler will be the ones talking up this movie and turning it into a buzz-driven hit for the streaming distributor. That this is a reunion of that movie’s core creative team is all over the campaign, including the poster and trailer along with much of the press and publicity.

Aside from that, the movie looks like the kind of psychological horror film that takes a single idea and runs with it to see how far it can go. To that end it mixes social commentary and tropes of the thriller genre into a single story that Netflix hopes will spawn memes, conversations and debates. Personally I can’t wait until we see stories about people taking the #VelvetBuzzsawChallenge, wherein they reach into a hole in a large object and someone hiding inside it grabs them.

Picking Up the Spare

Gilroy was interviewed about reteaming with Gyllenhaal and how he wound up working with Netflix, as well as the freedom he felt without having to worry about theatrical grosses. He also spoke about the collision of art and criticism and how he sought to bring the two together in the film as well as what he thinks of the modern art world as a whole.

Wildlife – Marketing Recap

wildlife posterPaul Dano makes his directorial debut with Wildlife, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Carey Mulligan. The two play Jerry and Jeanette Brinson, a couple in 1960s Montana whose marriage is falling apart all around them and right in front of their son Joe (Ed Oxenbould).

That dissolution is coming from the fact that Jerry has lost his job and abandoned the family while Jeanette is left behind with Joe. The story, co-written by Zoe Kazan, is a simple one but contains all the powerful elements of a relationship flaming out in dramatic fashion.

(Ed. note: Yes, once again I got release dates wrong as this opened in limited areas last week. Let’s just move on.)

The Posters

The movie’s poster is simple, showing Jeanette and Jerry looking at each other from opposite chairs, looking vaguely dissatisfied with the other. That photo is crowded by not only the icons of the festivals the movie has appeared at but also a number of positive quotes from early reviews.

The Trailers

Jerry is going through a rough patch, we see in the trailer, as Jeanette tries everything she can to both support him and explain his moody and erratic behavior to their son and others. Their son Joe observes all of this, upset by what’s going on but unable to really do anything about it. We see scenes of the family dynamic in various iterations and get a sense of Jeanette’s loneliness and isolation.

The visuals are enough to really hit you where it hurts, particularly all the emotions on display in Mulligan’s performance. We don’t see a lot of Gyllenhaal, but that seems to be the point. Throughout the trailer the audience is shown quotes from critics praising the movie to reinforce the idea that this one is worth seeking out.

The second trailer, released in early September, features much more dialogue and explanation of the story, showing how Jerry is reeling from a recent setback, dealing with it by having his own version of a midlife crisis. Jeanette tries to reassure Joe that everything is going to be alright while at the same time explaining to him the world isn’t as cut and dried as he’d like it to be.

A 60-second trailer from late September hit roughly the same story points, just in more condensed form.

Online and Social

There’s just the basic information found on IFC’s page for the movie, including the trailer, a synopsis and the poster.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV spots that debuted in early October focused on Jeanette and Jerry, showing scenes from previous trailers to sell the two aspects of the story.

Media and Publicity

With a great cast and Dano in the director’s chair, along with quality source material, it was almost immediately one of those people were most excited to see when it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival. The cast and crew spoke frequently about the film, with Dano and Williams talking about working together after being friends for years and Kazan and Dano talking about the collaboration they undertook as real life romantic and now screenwriting partners. It was a couple weeks after the festival ended when the movie sold to IFC Films.

It was later announced as one that would screen in a sidebar series at the Cannes Film Festival, where Dano spoke more about taking on directorial duties for the first time and what it was like working with Kazan. Around that time Mulligan was interviewed about why she signed on for the movie and also answered questions about #MeToo and other industry issues.

The movie was announced as one of those screening at the Toronto International Film Festival. It also made the list for the New York Film Festival and the Chicago Film Festival. The movie was added to the lineup of the Austin Film Festival.

Kazan and Dano were often asked what it was like to work together, eventually making it clear they weren’t likely to do so again. Dano talked more about why he decided to step behind the camera here.

Two clips were released in mid-October, one featuring Mulligan and one featuring Gyllenhaal in scenes that expanded on what we’d seen in the trailers.

The two leads were interviewed together about working with Dano and each other to create the nostalgic tone of the story.


The focus has been placed on two pairings: Dano/Kazan and Gyllenhaal/Mulligan. Those pairings have given the press – and the studio – some clear hooks on which to hang their stories about the movie. That’s good since, while the movie does look affecting and dramatic, it’s also lacking a strong hook in and of itself. So we’ve heard plenty about Dano taking up directorial duties, both from him and some mix of Kazan, Gyllenhaal and Mulligan, providing the strongest appeal for discerning audiences to turn out to theaters.

Picking Up The Spare

Mulligan appeared on “Jimmy Kimmel” to talk about the movie and tell some amusing anecdotes. Meanwhile Dano showed up on “Late Night.” She was also interviewed about the fearless, emotional performance she offers in the film.

Dano talks more about his career and what went on behind the scenes of making the movie here.

Stronger – Marketing Recap

The story of what happened in and around the 2013 bombing at the Boston Marathon has already come to the big-screen. Last year’s Patriots Day, named after the Boston holiday it took place, on, turned the events into a police procedural. This week’s new movie Stronger takes a different and more personal approach.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Jeff Bauman in this true-life tale. Jeff is a somewhat inattentive boyfriend to Erin (Tatiana Maslany), who’s running in the marathon. He makes the effort to go see her, though. Unfortunately he’s in the wrong place when one of the bombs goes off, losing his legs as a result of injuries suffered. The story follows Bauman’s journey through recovery as well as his reluctant acceptance of the role of inspirational role model for the whole city.

The Posters

The poster shows Gyllenhaal as Bauman in the middle of physical therapy, straining on the bars as he learns to walk again using the artificial legs we can just barely see at the bottom of the photo. “Strength defines us” we’re told at the top while below the title we’re reminded this is based on the “inspiring” true story.

The Trailers

The first trailer starts out as Jeff Bauman encourages everyone at a bar to donate and support Erin’s upcoming run in the Boston Marathon. From there we see that their relationship isn’t always rosy before an explosion goes off in the crowd watching the race. We see Jeff wake up to find he’s missing his legs and everyone is trying to support and help him. He’s struggling, though, for obvious reasons. Eventually he begins to accept the new reality, including how everyone wants to view him as some sort of inspirational figure.

Well, it’s better than the trailers for last year’s Patriots Day, that’s for sure. It’s still all about hitting as many easy emotional chords as possible in an attempt to make the audience feel something, but at least it’s telling a personal, and therefore slightly more compelling, story. All the actors, from Gyllenhaal to Maslany, look fine as they’re asked to emote in various ways.

Online and Social

There doesn’t appear to be an official website for the movie, just a Facebook page and Twitter profile where the studio has been sharing updates on the marketing and publicity.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV spots like this one show what happened to Bauman as well as the way the public expected something out of him that he struggled to deliver, namely the personification of hope and survival. We also see his rehabilitation and the work he does to eventually make peace with life and get better. Others like this were more concerned with focusing on the relationship between Bauman and Erin and how that changed over time.

The trailer was used later on as an ad not only on social media but on YouTube, where it ran as pre-roll. There were banner and other ads run elsewhere online that used the image of Gyllenhaal in the midst of physical therapy to help sell the movie as an emotional and triumphant story.

Media and Publicity

It was announced the movie would have its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it received a good amount of praise for the performances by Gyllenhaal and Maslany.

The real Jeff Bauman was interviewed here about not only the events he lived through but the experience of seeing a version of himself on screen.

Gyllenhaal carried most of the publicity load, though. He was interviewed here about his production company which was created specifically as a place to shepherd smaller films that deserve a bigger audience like this one. While at Toronto he also commented that after years of being asked if he’d play a superhero, this role allowed him to feel as if he’d done so. He made appearances on various morning and late night talk shows as well to talk about the movie and the real-life story that inspired it.


Usually my tolerance for these kinds of campaigns is pretty low. I don’t handle “inspirational” that well and tend to get tripped up in the attempts to blatantly appeal to my basest emotions.

This one hit me in a different way, though. There’s plenty of sentimentality on display, of course. The sweeping music, the nicely-lit shots showing someone overcoming the odds and enduring despite all the setbacks. But it was presented as much more of an individual than a spiritual story, which is a very different thing. Maybe that’s the influence of director David Gordon Green or someone else who more interested in not underlining the universal truths but keeping the focus on a more relatable subject.

Whatever the case, the campaign comes together very nicely as a cohesive whole. There are strong consistent elements throughout the push that create a single feeling in the audience and which could help the movie when it hits theaters this weekend.

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