How Roadside Attractions and Vertical Entertainment are selling a story of class, privilege and justice.
The Forgiven, out this week in theaters, is based on Lawrence Osborne’s novel of the same name. Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain star as David and Jo Henninger, a married couple traveling through Morocco to attend the party being thrown by their friend Richard (Matt Smith). On their way they accidentally hit and kill a young local with their car, but continue on to the party. With the help of Richard and the local police the incident is swept under the rug, but the father of the young man eventually arrives seeking the justice authorities aren’t interested in.
Written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, the movie arrives with a middling 74% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so let’s take a look at how it’s been sold to the public.
announcement and casting
Fiennes was attached to star when the movie was announced in mid-2018, but Chastain replaced the previously-cast Rebecca Hall in late 2019 at the same time Caleb Landry Jones joined. Smith and others were added in late 2020, around the same time a handful of first look stills were released.
The movie’s world premiere was held at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2021. Roadside Attractions and Vertical Entertainment partnered on a distribution deal a few months after the festival.
the marketing campaign
It wasn’t until mid-May that the first trailer (14k YouTube views) came out. Jo and David are on their way to a party when it opens, but before they get there they hit a man walking across the road. Taking him with them to avoid any police inquiries, things get dark quickly as the incident leads to a confrontation with the boy’s father, a blowing up of the relationship between David and Jo and more drama as those with power think it will protect them from the consequences of their actions.
“Everything must be faced” declares the poster released at the same time. David and Jo look out pensively from the top of the image while, below a few positive quotes from critics, the bottom shows their car pulling toward the location of the lavish party they’re attending. It doesn’t do much beyond selling the two stars in an interesting setting.
Chastain and others were in attendance at the film’s premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in mid-June.
And….that’s it? No additional interviews with the cast, no cut down trailers, not even a few original photos from the premiere at Tribeca.
I never ever want to hear anyone ever again complain that Netflix is burying one of its releases with a lackluster marketing campaign, something that passed as conventional wisdom just two or three weeks ago.
It’s not that I don’t think Roadside/Vertical have faith in the movie, it’s just that they seem realistic about the film’s future and so didn’t invest a lot of additional effort.
How Universal has marketed star-packed action drama.
The 355, out this week in theaters, is a magnificent case study in the power of wish fulfillment.
Before going into that, the movie stars Jessica Chastain as Mason “Mace” Browne, a CIA agent who, when a top-secret weapon goes missing, assembles an international team of fellow agents to go after those who stole it before it can be used.
It’s a simple enough premise and the appeal is only enhanced when you consider the other agents Browne recruits are played by Lupita Nyong’o, Penélope Cruz, Diane Kruger and Fan Bingbing.
With that, as well as the fact the movie is directed by Simon Kinberg who cowrote the screenplay with Theresa Rebeck, established, let’s look at how the project came to be and had been sold to the public.
announcement and casting
While Chastain had pitched the idea to Kinberg while the two were shooting X-Men: Dark Phoenix, the first real announcement about it came when Chastain brought the *concept* of the movie to Cannes 2018. While there she essentially assembled the cast in an attempt to get someone interested in producing or financing it.
The actresses did their part too, basically presenting it as a done deal should someone be brave enough to step up and get the ball rolling. It was a nervy, risky move that generated a lot of attention and interest in the audience, at least, and one of many female-led projects at Cannes or coming out around that time. Rights were eventually bought by Universal.
The lead up to the movie included features like this that profiled Chastain as both an actress and advocate, particularly within the #MeToo movement.
Reports emerged in April that Fan Bingbing, who had been out of sight for months, was still going to be in the movie. A few months later Chastain announced production had officially begun. In August of 2019 Universal finally gave the movie a release date.
Most of the primary cast was in place from the outset, but Kruger replaced Marion Cotillard in mid-2019 as production was getting underway. Sebastian Stan and others were added over the course of that year.
the marketing campaign: phase one
With an initial release date set for January 2021, marketing got underway in October 2020 with the release of a poster that has the members of the assembled spy team standing side by side, each in front of the flag of their respective countries. And, as someone has pointed out on Twitter, it’s the rare one-sheet that actually has the actor standing under their own name.
Can we just appreciate the poster for The 355 for actually having the right names above the right actress pic.twitter.com/iRRGZJs6RU
A couplebatches of character posters that break out each one of the leads came out at the same time.
The first trailer (7.4m YouTube views) – debuted by Chastain when she appeared virtually on “Late Night” – also came out then. Mace, we see, is being given an off-the-books project by the security service she works for and sets out assembling a crack team of experts to get the job done. Together they have to stop some very bad people from doing some very bad things, but their mission puts not only themselves but those they love back home in danger. Still, they manage to kick an impressive amount of butt.
A TV spot debuted right after the first trailer came out, showing not only the mission the agents in this movie are engaged in but also offering a bit of backstory behind the “355” designation.
Most of the cast appeared on Entertainment Weekly’s “Women Who Kick Ass” panel at New York Comic-Con, which happened just days after the trailer’s release. They talked about how unique an all-female action movie is, the fun they had doing the stunts and lots more as they promised audiences a good time at the movies.
In November 2020 it was announced Universal was delaying the film by a full year, pushing it from January 2021 to the same date a year later.
the marketing campaign: phase two
As a result of that delay things went dark on the campaign until almost exactly a year after the marketing had first kicked off with the release of the second trailer (14.7m YouTube views). It covers much of the same ground as the first, but with a few tweaks and more of a focus on the objective of the team as well as the team itself.
An interview with Chastain had her talking about how the movie addresses the idea of female secret agents within the framework of the action movie and how the idea evolved over time. That story also included a new still and other looks at the film.
Short character introduction videos like this started coming out in early December.
Also in early December, Universal held a promotional event/party (seemingly sponsored by Stella Artois) in Miami with lots of music and movie-branded swag available to attendees.
Additional clips also came out over the last couple weeks showing various action sequences involving different characters.
The campaign’s continued emphasis on the action of the movie isn’t different from any other ensemble picture in this genre, so that’s chalked up to a tried and true tactic being executed here.
On the one hand, that’s all well and good because it means it’s not being sold substantively differently from similar movies featuring all-male casts.
On the other hand, by fitting the movie into such a well-used format it doesn’t allow the biggest unique selling point to really shine through.
I’d almost rather have seen something unusual be done here because it would have provided a stronger hook, though it’s not assured that audiences would turn out no matter what the messaging was. That’s reflected in the $5 million the movie is projected to bring in this weekend as Spider-Man once again dominates theaters and Covid continues to sweep through the country, disrupting much of everyday goings-on.
How Vertical Entertainment is selling another hyper-efficient assassin drama.
There are a great many movies that should have gotten sequels but didn’t, for any of a variety of reasons. One of those is Salt, the Angelina Jolie spy action drama that was about as tight and well-constructed as they come.
This week’s Ava comes close to filling the gap left by the lack of a Salt sequel. Jessica Chastain stars as the title character, a highly-skilled assassin who has worked for years for a black-ops government agency. When an assignment goes wrong she finds herself on the run and struggling just to survive. That flight includes visits to the family she ran away from almost a decade earlier. At the same time she has to find out who it is that sold her out and now wants her dead.
The movie costars Geena Davis, Colin Farrell, John Malkovich, Common, Jess Wexler and others. Reception so far has not been great, with a paltry 25 percent “Rotten” on Rotten Tomatoes. Vertical’s campaign has been heavy on action and light on story, as we’ll see below.
In June the first and only domestic poster (by marketing agency Ignition) came out. It shows Ava looking glamorous but deadly, wearing a lovely evening dress and fully made up while also holding a gun and with a bloody gash on her cheek. The title treatment uses a bullseye to communicate the idea she’s an assassin, with the copy below it hinting at the danger by saying “Kill. Or be killed.
The first trailer (371,000 views on YouTube) came out in late June, quickly introducing us to Ava and her lethal skillset. Her abilities are being questioned by some, though, and she becomes a target herself. While her mentor wants to protect her, others want her dead and she has to call on all her abilities and training to get through each day. What we see here promises lots of close-up action and violence with a great cast, making it look more than a little attractive and interesting.
Online and Social
There doesn’t appear to have been a website created for the movie and it received limited support on Vertical’s social brand profiles.
Advertising and Promotions
Chastain posted a fun little video on social media showing her fight training with Farrell, joking about how they never seem to get along on film.
A clip came out recently showing just how deadly Ava is
Media and Press
There had been a bit of controversy around director Matthew Newton regarding past accusations of assault the ultimately led to him being removed from the project. It wasn’t until a while later that a first look photo was released.
Salt, of course, isn’t the only movie this one can be compared to. There’s more than a little John Wick in here as well, and there have been others that have tried to play in the same space.
This film’s biggest differentiator is Chastain in the lead role, but based on what is laid out above it looks like no one’s heart was really in it. The whole campaign is rather lackluster, not trying very hard to raise a standard action flick to any substantial level. It’s a shame since it’s not a bad premise, and the addition of a life Ava left behind is intriguing. As it is the marketing sells a slick but unexceptional movie.
Warner Bros. actually put together a pretty good website for the movie, offering more than just the usual marketing materials. “Videos” has both of the trailers while “Synopsis” is exactly what it sounds like and “Photos” has a small collection of stills. There’s also more information on “Derry Canal Days” – the experiential event hosted in Los Angeles – and the promotional “Partners” that signed on to support the campaign.
Media and Press
Around the time of CinemaCon in 2018, Skarsgård talked about returning to play Pennywise while promoting his role in the “Castle Rock” Stephen King-based series on Hulu. That “Scare Diego” event included an early look at footage and messages from the cast and crew. Chastain revealed some facts about the movie while promoting X-Men: Dark Phoenix earlier this year and Hader talked about it while promoting the second season of “Barry.”
More first looks, particularly of the adult versions of the characters seen in the first movie, came out over time.
The cast and crew talked about where the characters are in the story just before SDCC kicked off.
With so much conversation about deaging actors because of other upcoming movies, director Andy Muschietti pointed out this movie features the same technology being used because the child actors have aged significantly in the couple years since the first movie was shot.
McAvoy spoke about the process of getting ready for the movie and how he prepared to play the adult version of a character previously seen only as a child. Around that same time Muschietti started hinting there was an extended version that combined both movies into a single feature that may see the light of day at some point. He also commented on how he went about filming the hate crime scene from the book, one that was not featured in the earlier TV adaptation. Conversations around the runtime included some details on how the director made the tough decision on what elements to cut.
While at the movie’s Los Angeles premiere Chastain and others spoke about the pressure they did or didn’t feel to live up to the expectations of the first film.
A profile of Hader arrived as the actor is having a moment, with not just this movie but a number of other high-profile projects putting him in the public eye on multiple fronts. The actor also appeared on “The Tonight Show” to joke around with his old “SNL” pal.
Finn Wolfhard – who plays the younger version of Richie – also received a writeup that touched on his role on “Stranger Things” as well.
The movie’s costume designers were apparently freaked out by how Bill Skarsgård embodied the clown they themselves created. Writer Gary Dauberman received some attention as well.
In addition to what I said at THR, it’s notable that with the exception of 2018’s CinemaCon, the campaign has happened entirely within the last four months. That’s an incredibly consolidated timeline for what had to be one of WB’s biggest releases in the second half of the year and one that was reported to be among the most anticipated by the audience of the fall.
Picking Up the Spare
Skarsgard appeared, sans makeup, on “The Late Show.” Hader showed up on “The Daily Show” while McAvoy appeared on “The Late Show.”
IMAX released a featurette conversation with the filmmakers. Muschietti also spoke here about the pressure of living up to the scares of the original.
Minimal effort has been put into the movie’s official website, which just sports the standard marketing content and little else.
Media and Publicity
While there had been conversations about the movie for a while, ever scene production of Days of Future Past, the first actual publicity beat hit in December of last year in an Entertainment Weekly cover story that explained what the story would be, a bit about the source material and more. It included first look photos, concept art, comments from Lawrence about her role.
Chastain also spoke about her secret role in the movie and how she got involved, a process that included finding the script to include something other than the usual female characters and roles. Some of those involved in the movie also admitted to the shortcomings of X-Men: Apocalypse, which was not reviewed well, and how this movie is meant to celebrate the team’s female characters. It was also revealed in that story that Genosha, an island created by Magneto as a mutant-only nation, will appear.
Empire had another set of stills offering glimpses of more characters.
Immediately after the second trailer – which Chastain debuted when she appeared on “The Tonight Show” – was released in late February, Kinberg was interviewed about why a notable character’s death was shown – or at least hinted at – in the trailer, saying it was in part to show the audience the movie would feature significant stakes.
Shipp was interviewed about the movie, commenting on how it finally gives the female characters in the X franchise something interesting to do.
The end of “Game of Thrones” also provided a hook for interviews like this with Turner where she reflected on what’s next for her – including this movie – now that she’s free of the pressures of being on a show.
Kinberg also spoke one more time about being responsible for bringing the series to a close and how he managed not having all the cast locked in during pre-production. Another interview with the director talked about how he approached handling what he knew was going to be a finale for the series.
“Jimmy Kimmel Live” hosted a joint appearance by many of the cast’s biggest players, including Turner, Chastain, Fassbender, McAvoy and others.
The question has emerged whether it was Fox or Disney that has been responsible for the movie’s campaign, particularly in the months since that deal was finalized. Who crafted the direction of the marketing is unclear from the layman’s point of view, but it mostly smells like a Fox production, with the tone and focus similar to how previous entries in the X-Men franchise have been sold. It’s also unlikely that a Disney campaign would include so much emphasis on the history of these movies, particularly since the future of the characters is still being determined.
Picking Up the Spare
Lots of details about production have emerged since the movie hit theaters, including reports the filmmakers initially planned two movies covering the whole story and how extensively poor test screenings contributed to reshoots and changes to some character’s fates. That included the studio and others involved seemingly having learned all the wrong lessons from the troubled production of Apocalypse as well as attempts to move the movie out of the way of Alita: Battle Angel and other releases.
There’s also been lots of discussion about the character played by Chastain, one that was kept secret in the pre-release publicity for no real reason, it seems.
Jessica Chastain, unsurprisingly, plays a revolutionary figure from history who has largely gone unheralded in the new movie Woman Walks Ahead. Specifically, she plays Catherine Weldon, an 1890s painter who travels from her home in New York City to the frontier of Dakota to capture the portrait of the great Lakota chief Sitting Bull (Michael Greyeyes).
Sitting Bull is, of course, a person of interest to the United States government who they have had a hard time finding. His leadership is causing the government problems as it seeks to keep expanding the country westward, displacing or murdering native people as it does so. Weldon’s journey gets the attention of a military agent (Sam Rockwell) who adds a complication to the painter’s artistic and altruistic mission.
“Defy your times,” the copy used on the poster, makes it clear from the outset that the story is about breaking out of society’s expectations for who you are and what you should be doing. The image shows Catherine meeting Sitting Bull, both of them sitting on horseback against an evening prairie sky.
Catherine is traveling west as the trailer opens, something Groves is surprised at given women on their own at this time was somewhat unusual. She’s intent on painting a portrait of Sitting Bull, something that doesn’t sit well with some locals. When she finds him and begins her work the two bond over visions and desires for lives of significance. He, of course, also just doesn’t want to be killed like other chiefs. Groves has tracked her on behalf of the army, who is out to find Sitting Bull and put an end to him and his people. Eventually everything converges in a bloody and violent ending.
It’s no surprise that Chastain looks wonderful as a woman looking to elevate her own status in the world but who also doesn’t want to get involved in the politics of what’s happening around her. That doesn’t mean she’s indifferent to Sitting Bull’s cause. In fact it’s clear she sympathizes with his desire to live in peace and freedom. But she also won’t be used as a pawn by Groves or anyone else.
Online and Social
The official website A24 established only has the trailer and a story synopsis. There’s actually a bit more information, including the poster and cast/crew lists, on the studio’s page for the movie. The movie has received limited support on the studio’s brand social media channels because it’s been prioritizing promotions for other, buzzier titles.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Nothing I’ve seen, though the fact it’s available via VOD means there may be some targeted online advertising being done.
Media and Publicity
A first-look still was released in advance of the movie’s debut screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, a screening that earned decent praise, particularly for Chastain’s performance. The movie was eventually picked up by A24 and DirecTV. It later screened at the Tribeca Film Festival, it’s U.S. debut.
The lead up to the movie included features like this that profiled Chastain as both an actress and advocate, particularly within the #MeToo movement. There was also a profile of Michael Greyeyes that allowed the actor to talk about the kinds of roles he takes on and how he hopes those roles help expand understanding of indigenous people.
Chastain also did some media appearances to talk about the movie and tell the usual funny stories.
As has been the case with all too many movies recently, the story here is still unfortunately timely. While it isn’t as overtly brutal as what was done to Native Americans, we still see governments engaging in gentrification efforts all the time, seeking to push out the current population of a neighborhood so Walmart can build a super center or as a way to convince Amazon to build their next headquarters there. Not just that, but amidst the resurgence of white nationalist rhetoric in the U.S., it’s worth remembering who was really here first.
All that aside, it’s a solid drama that’s being sold here. Chastain is positioned as the big draw, but Greyeyes has been a focal point of the press, which is good to see. It’s likely not going to break any records, but could reward those who seek it out.
PICKING UP THE SPARE
The movie is one of several recent projects that have brought more women into the Western genre. Another feature with star Michael Greyeyes where he once again talks about the kinds of Native American character roles he’s offered and how he sees this movie as being a great example of specific representation of a Native culture, not just something vague.
Aaron 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.