Tesla – Marketing Recap

How IFC Films is selling a movie about the birth of electricity. No, not that one. Not that one either.

I think there’s widespread consensus that David Bowie’s turn as Nikola Tesla in The Prestige is the premiere on-screen depiction of the famous inventor. He was slightly mysterious, a bit conceited and completely awesome. Then last year Nicholas Hoult played Tesla in the much-delayed The Current War. In neither, though, was he the primary focus of the story.

Now he finally comes into the spotlight in Tesla. Ethan Hawke plays the title character in the film from writer/director Michael Almereyda, who takes what has been described as an unconventional take on his life. The story focuses on Tesla’s struggle in convincing those around him that his approach to electricity is the best one, including his conflicts with rival Thomas Edison (Kyle MacLachlan) and his work with mentor George Westinghouse (Jim Gaffigan). In addition to that, Tesla has caught the attention of Anne Morgan (Eve Hewson), daughter of tycoon J.P.

The campaign from IFC Films makes it clear that this is a prestige picture, albeit one that has more than a few elements of experimental theater in it, offering something that’s not what audiences might otherwise expect. It currently has a middling 58 percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Posters

A current of electricity slashes through the title on the one poster, released in July. Tesla himself stands behind that glowing title, looking over his shoulder toward the camera. A quote from an early review praising the film is shown along with the Sundance credentials, but no other copy or hints at the exact plot appear here.

The Trailers

As is clear from the first moments of the trailer (489,000 views on YouTube), released in July, this is not the standard biopic we’ve seen before. It seems to hit the high points of the rivalry between Tesla and Edison we’re familiar with, but does so in a way where period characters are talking about Google results, scenes play out against painted canvas backdrops and the whole vibe is unusual. That uniqueness makes it captivating, much more so than some other takes on this story.

Online and Social

Just the basic marketing materials on IFC’s page for the film, including the trailer and poster along with a decent synopsis of the story. There’s slightly more, including information on how to watch the film on-demand, on the standalone website.

Advertising and Promotions

The cast and crew came to Park City for the movie’s premiere at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. It wound up winning the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize. IFC Films acquired the film in April.

The Cinema Society hosted a screening of the movie at Donna Karen’s home in mid-August.

Media and Press

Hawke and the rest of the cast talked about the movie and more while at Sundance.

An interview with MacLachlan had him talking about playing Edison and working within the unusual structure of the film. He also appeared on “Today” to talk about the movie and more.

How Hawke prepared for production and the research he did into Tesla was covered in this interview. Almereyda discussed why he chose such an unconventional approach to what is ordinarily such a paint-by-numbers format like the biopic.


There’s a lot to like about this quirky, unexpected campaign, but it has to overcome the reality that not only is it flying largely under the radar but that it might be so quirky and eyebrow-raising that some people might pass it by because it looks a bit odd.

For others, though, it’s just that slightly-twisted approach that will form the foundation of their interest in the film. Biopics are, as I and others have mentioned in the past, somewhat stale in nature, hitting the top dozen points of interest in someone’s life but offering little in the way of flavor or style. This does not appear to be that kind of film and is that much stronger for it.

Troop Zero – Marketing Recap

How Amazon Studios is selling a period piece about gender equality and seizing the opportunity to make an intergalactic impression.

troop zero poster 2Christmas Flint (McKenna Grace) is a young woman with dreams of doing something big in the new movie from Amazon Studios, Troop Zero. Christmas is a girl who doesn’t fit in and doesn’t have a lot of friends, so joining the Birdie Scouts (roughly the Girl Scouts) seems like an unusual step for her. Despite that, she aspires to do so because she’s learned one group will be chosen to record a message on the Golden Record being shot into space with the next probe.

When she finds the group is less than welcoming to her, she decides to form her own troop and enlists misfits like her to make a play at the competition. In doing so she finally makes some important and lasting friendships while also showing everyone who’s doubted that she – and girls in general – can do anything they want.

The movie has been sold with a simple but charming campaign that highlights the 70s-setting of the story and the quirky nature of the main characters.

The Posters

troop zero posterThe first poster (by marketing agency cold open) came out out in January of last year, just as the movie was screening at Sundance. It doesn’t show much but manages to convey a lot, offering a picture of a bunch of girls in scouting uniforms leaning out the windows of an old bus, clearly on their way to some sort of camping or other getaway. “Show the universe who you truly are” reads the copy at the top.

The second poster (by marketing agency LA) shows most of the main characters strolling down a wooded nature path toward the camera. It uses the same tagline and offers a better look at the overall film, but the placement of the people on the path is so obviously artificial, with the scale clearly off between them and the trees they’re walking past.

The Trailers

Christmas is an unusual girl, we see in December’s first trailer (3.8 million views on YouTube), one who dreams of outer space and worries the adults around her. When she finds out members of a local scout troop might have their voices recorded on a record being launched by NASA on an upcoming mission, she decides to join up but finds the other girls aren’t exactly welcoming. So she recruits other local misfits to create their own troop, getting into plenty of hijinks while upending social norms of the late 70s.

Online and Social

Advertising and Promotions

After a successful debut at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, Amazon acquired the film’s distribution rights. It wasn’t until November that it was given a January release date on Amazon Prime, part of the company’s shift away from substantial theatrical releases.

A featurette came out December that had the filmmakers – including directing team Bert & Bertie – and members of the cast talking about the story and what its message is.

Amazon brought a movie-themed float to the Rose Parade earlier this month, with the cast and crew speaking to the volunteers that helped build the float and more.

The studio partnered with a New York City craft studio to sponsor a night where kids could come in and make their own movie-inspired projects.

Advance screenings with key target audiences were held at the MIT Museum, the Smithsonian and other locations.

Everyone turned out for the premiere red carpet earlier this week.

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.

Davis spoke about how this was an unusual kind of role for her while the movie was appearing at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. Grace was interviewed and commented on how it was important for kids to know they can be weird, which is good. The movie’s directors spoke about the gender-balanced crew they put together as well as other aspects of production. Gaffigan was also interviewed about how this was one of a few films he was in that were screening at Sundance.

Davis, Gaffigan, Allison Janney, Grace and others made the media rounds in the last couple weeks, stopping by various morning and late night talk shows.


There’s almost nothing controversial or questionable in the campaign, which is nice to see. Instead, what’s being presented here is a movie that is pleasantly nostalgic and inspiring in a comfortable, familiar way. It’s the blanket you find at the back of your closet that is just perfect for cold, rainy days of watching your favorite movie.

Whether or not that translates to genuine audience interest remains to be seen. Amazon knows that, which is why the movie is one of their first releases to go straight to Prime Video instead of getting a theatrical release window. It’s not that the studio doesn’t have faith in the feature per se, it’s just that it apparently realizes it can’t realistically compete with this week’s other major releases.

Picking Up the Spare

A number of featurettes have been released by Amazon in the immediate wake of the movie hitting streaming. Those included a focus on the making of the film, how it encourages empowerment, the dynamic between the two leads and more on the gold record that forms the crux of the story.

There were also clips of the scouts selling cookies and the characters offering good old fashioned southern advice.

Viola Davis was interviewed about how personal the story of the movie was to her.