the power of the dog – marketing recap

How Netflix is selling a story of masculinity in the early 20th century

The Power of the Dog movie poster
The Power of the Dog movie poster

Benedict Cumberbatch stars in The Power of the Dog, out now on Netflix after a limited theatrical release in the last couple weeks.

Directed by Jane Campion – her first film since 2009’s Bright Star – and set in 1920s Montana, the movie stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Phil Burbank and Jesse Plemons as his brother George. When the two encounter the widow Rose Gordon (Kirsten Dunst) and her son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Phil’s first reaction is to lash out with cruelty while George’s is to be more sympathetic. Eventually George and Rose marry, setting off a chain of events that will lead some characters down dark paths and others to more positive personal revelations.

With a solid 95% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and positive word of mouth from critics the movie scored well in that short theatrical run, so now that it’s available for everyone let’s take a look at how it was sold.

announcement and casting

The movie, announced in May 2019 as Campion’s return to feature film directing, came with Cumberbatch already attached. Dunst was cast the next month after Elizabeth Moss, originally slated to play Rose, had to drop out.

Also replacing a previously announced cast member was Plemons, who took the place of Paul Dano in late 2019. Most of the rest of the cast was added in early 2020.

the power of the marketing campaign

In June 2021 news came that Netflix declined an invitation for the movie to play the Cannes Film Festival, albeit out of competition. As usual, the two parties couldn’t agree on the festival’s requirement that movies appearing there be released theatrically in France.

Netflix released the first still in late July.

The first trailer (2.5m YouTube views) was released in August, opening by showing the general vibe of the cattle ranch worked by the Burbank family. There isn’t a whole lot of dialogue but you definitely get the sense of Phil’s insensitive cruelty as well as Rose’s compassion and protectiveness of her son.

The first poster, released at the same time, focuses on Phil and calls out the all-star cast as well as Campion on a very rough, weathered image that conveys the tone of the film.

While Cannes was out of the picture, the movie did screen at the Venice Film Festival and BFI London Film Festival in September as well as at festivals in both Toronto and Telluride among others.

In advance of the Venice screening the producers talked about bringing Campion back to the big screen after a decade away and more. Campion went on to win Best Director at Venice.

During the various festival press cycles both Cumberbatch and Campion were interviewed about the movie’s portrayal of toxic, harmful masculinity and how that’s often the result of repression and other factors, especially regarding sexuality.

Dunst was also the subject of a substantial profile where she talked about how this and other recent films she’s done are part of a transformation in her career to portraying more characters going through trauma and despair.

Campion and the cast all appeared at the New York Film Festival in October along with a screening of the film as the festival’s “centerpiece” selection. The movie was also added to the lineup of November’s AFI Film Festival and then also screened at BFI London in October.

Other interviews with Campion had her talking about this movie as well as how the film industry has changed for women directors and how she’s encouraged by those changes.

Campion was slated to receive the Director’s Tribute at the 2021 Gotham Awards.

Cinematographer Ari Wegner was interviewed about how he created the movie’s sparse, harsh look and feel.

The next poster, released in early November, shows Phil and Peter riding across the former’s ranch, the vast Montana sky taking up most of the background.

A new trailer (742k YouTube views) also came out at that time. It shows much more of the story in detail, from George meeting and marrying Rose to the ridicule inflicted on Peter for his gentle ways to the emotional distress Phil is going through as he clearly hides something from himself and everyone around him. It’s powerful and distressing, which probably sells the film well.

How working with Campion caused him some initial anxiety and how the production differed in scope and style from his super hero work were covered in another interview. He covered similar ground when he appeared on “Kimmel” but a New York Times profile was much more serious as he discussed the multiple layers of the sometimes terrible person he plays. When he showed up on “Late Night” he had fun with the fact that production involved him not showering for a while.

With the cast and crew on the AFI Fest red carpet, they all talked about the story, working with Campion and lots more.

The director got a profile of her own that covered how she worked on this film and what it means for her career as a whole. That was followed shortly by another interview with Dunst where she also focused on working with her real-life partner Plemons, something she also talked about on “Kimmel.”

There had been some promotion of the soundtrack prior but it intensified in the last few weeks as seen in a joint interview with Campion and composer Jonny Greenwood and another interview just with Greenwood where he talked about what kinds of themes and ideas he tried to channel.

A clip released just this week shows Phil angrily playing the banjo when he enters a room to find Rose playing piano, showing the strained dynamic between those two.

overall

Throughout the marketing campaign there have been a few areas of emphasis:

First, the return of Campion to the director’s chair after more than a decade away. That absolutely needs to be noted and hopefully we won’t have to wait that long again.

Second, that Cumberbatch is a powerful actor who fully transformed to embody a character that is demonstrably terrible to everyone around him.

Third, that Dunst has evolved significantly as an actor to take on complex roles that speak to her personally.

All of that adds up to a strong campaign that, as many people have noted, could once again spur conversations around whether or not Netflix’s original productions are worthy of Oscar consideration. As has been the case with releases from other major filmmakers, it will be hard to ignore Campion’s return and the cascade of festival awards she’s accumulated so far. More importantly, though, the marketing makes a strong, consistent case for viewers to watch the movie as soon as possible.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things – Marketing Recap

How Netflix is selling the latest surreal dramady from an important filmmaker.

Based on the book of the same name by author Ian Reid, I’m Thinking of Ending Things has the basic premise of any other relationship comedy or drama. When a young woman (Jessie Buckley) accompanies her boyfriend Jake (Jesse Plemons) to visit his parents, she begins to question not only their relationship but also whether she ever really knew him at all, partly because of the unusual connection he has with his parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis).

But because the movie comes from writer/director Charlie Kaufman, the execution on that premise is anything but ordinary. When the couple arrive in the remote area Jake’s parents live in, The Young Woman begins experiencing a number of strange events. Time moves out of order, strangers seem to hint at something strange about to happen and more. Making matters more difficult, a snowstorm has trapped them in town, meaning she has nowhere to go.

With a filmmaker like Kaufman who has a strong reputation based on his previous films, it’s no surprise Netflix has leaned into the quirkiness of the movie to sell it to the audience. A number of good reviews has earned it a solid 86 percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Posters

The single poster for the film helps establish the visual tone of the film as well as the minimalist approach to character and story. The Young Woman is shown on her own in a heavy sweater, drinking a glass of wine at the dinner table in front of what can best be described as old-fashioned wallpaper and drapes. The cast’s names as well as Kaufman’s appear at the top, along with the title treatment which suspiciously italicized the “of”.

The Trailers

The first trailer (1.7 million views on YouTube) came out in early August, not long after Netflix picked the film up. Girlfriend is meeting Jake’s parents for the first time, but the trip there is filled with unusual happenings, including the odd behavior of those parents. On top of everything else, time seems to be moving in odd ways, giving Girlfriend glimpses of the future and alternate pasts as she keeps wondering what’s happening and why.

Online and Social

No website, but the movie did get some support on Netflix’s brand social media profiles.

Advertising and Promotions

Netflix acquired the film earlier this year, announcing in July that it would get a September release.

Media and Press

While it was mainly about other projects he had at the moment, an interview in late 2019 with Plemmons had him commenting on how Kaufman had adapted the novel and what it was like to work with the director. A first look still came out in July of 2020.

An interview with Kaufmann allowed the director to explain he’s not trying to just mess with people for the fun of it but instead provoke an emotional response and get them to think about what they’re watching.

Overall

One has to judge the marketing of a Charlie Kaufman movie on its own scale of sorts. His movies are unlike those coming from most any other filmmaker, and the campaigns have by and large matched that uniqueness. There’s simply no other way to sell them, and to not embrace the unusual nature of his style and structure would be to set the audience up for disappointment, either by making something look too mainstream for hardcare fans to be interested in or enticing casual moviegoers by misrepresenting what they’re about to sign up for.

So while there may not be a whole lot of clear details about who the characters are, what’s happening to them and other aspects of the film, that’s to be expected here and adds to the movie’s allure. Kaufman is known for pushing the boundaries of film and story, and this looks like no exception to that rule.