Without Remorse – Marketing Recap

How Amazon Studios is selling Without Remorse.

Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse is a movie that was originally intended to come out about 25 years ago, shortly after the release of the book it’s based on. Like most of the first several books from the prolific Clancy, the story is rooted in the generational experiences of those who came of age in the 1960s, living through the Vietnam War, America’s Cold War with the Soviet Union and other conflicts both militaristic and political.

The original book, published in 1993, follows Navy Seal John Kelly through a series of personal vendettas in the U.S. and CIA assignments in Vietnam, ending with him assuming the moniker John Clark and becoming one of the CIA’s leading clandestine operators. It was the first time Clark had been moved into the spotlight after becoming a favorite supporting character in some of Clancy’s earlier books. Clark went on to be featured in Clancy’s Rainbow Six, which served as the foundation for the popular video game series.

On the big screen, Clark was previously played by Willem Dafoe in 1995’s Clear and Present Danger and previous attempts to adapt Without Remorse have had Keanu Reeves, Tom Hardy and others attached. But this week it’s Michael B. Jordan finally bringing the character to life once again in a modernization of the story that’s similar to what Paramount Pictures did in 2014 with Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, though this doesn’t seem to be connected to that Chris Pine-starring movie.

With a new, younger lead, the story has also been updated and largely changed. Clark here is already a CIA operative whose family is killed by Russian agents after he disrupts their mission in Syria. After recovering from his own wounds, Clark embarks on a vendetta against those who enabled the attackers with the help of his friend and colleague Lt. Commander Karen Greer (Jodie Turner-Smith).

The Posters

Released in February, the first poster (by marketing agency Concept Arts) shows Clark armed and ready for anything while in the middle of a very dangerous situation based on the amount of bullet holes in the wall he’s hiding behind. There’s no copy about the story itself here but you can tell what kind of audience Amazon is going after by the inclusion of “From the author of Rainbow Six” toward the top.

That same appeal is made on the second poster, released earlier in April. This time it’s a close-up of a very sweaty Clark that forms the primary image, the background showing the smoke from an explosion on one side and the Kremlin on the other.

The Trailers

In November of 2019, when the movie was still on Paramount’s release schedule, Skydance released a brief teaser showing flashing video of trauma and violence projected on Clark’s face, showing the kind of past he’s dealing with and problems he has to overcome

The full trailer (7.2 million views on YouTube), teased ahead of time, finally came out in March of this year. It begins with Kelly recovering from injuries sustained when a group broke into his home and killed his family and almost him. After a few shots from his past military career as well as his happy home life we see the reign of terror he goes on to avenge his family and find out who’s responsible for his loss.

The final trailer (21.6 million views on YouTube), released in early April, offers the same basic pitch, but with the additional detail that someone on the inside is working against Clark and Greer, telling the bad guys exactly where the team will be and how to stop them.

Online and Social

No website, but Amazon did create stand-alone social media profiles for the movie and provide support on its own brand channels.

Advertising, Press and Publicity

Jordan was named CinemaCon’s “Male Star of the Year” in March of last year, when the movie was still slated for later in 2020. He was also named “Sexiest Man Alive” for 2020 by People back in November.

In April 2020, Paramount moved the movie’s release back by two weeks as it shuffled much of its schedule due to the Covid-19 outbreak. A bigger shift was announced in June, as the movie was pushed all the way to February of 2021.

A few months later in July reports emerged that Paramount was in final negotiations to sell the movie to Amazon Video, one of many titles the studio was taking off its books as the pandemic dragged on.

This one seemed different, though, because it showed a studio abandoning what was intended to be a potential franchise-starter. It was unclear if future films that may have been planned were included in the deal as well. Before that deal was finalized, Paramount took the movie off its release calendar with no context given for the change. Amazon finally acquired the title in January, adding it to its “Jack Ryan” series as another Tom Clancy property it managed.

Amazon’s Super Bowl commercial in February for Alexa didn’t explicitly sell the movie as well but, between the fact that Jordan stars as the personification of Alexa and that a bus with the film’s branding appears in the background of one scene, it certainly was meant to help.

What kind of workout the star engaged in to achieve his Navy SEAL physique was covered in this interview.

Shorter cutdowns of the trailer were used as TV spots and online promos, with these videos mostly focusing on the action and big emotions of the movie.

A featurette from early April has Jordan, Smith and others talking about updating the story from the original book, honoring the characters, the legacy of the popular video game series and more.

An interview with Solima had the director talking about bringing the story into the modern period and his overall approach to telling big action stories and more. Turner-Smith was interviewed about what drew her to the role, what it was like to film such action-heavy scenes and more.

IMDb shared a short exclusive featurette on filming some of the action sequences.

Additional interviews with Jordan included him talking about his acting process and how he felt about being a black man playing a character written as white and previously played by a white actor. There were also a couple interviews with Lauren London, who plays Clark’s ill-fated wife whose death kicks the story into gear.

Promotional partners for the movie included:

  • Omaha Steaks, which offered a custom surf-and-turf package that people were encouraged to order in time to enjoy while watching the movie.
  • Scotch Porter, which offered an exclusive movie-themed bundle of grooming products.
  • 511 Tactical, which ran a sweepstakes for a collection of its pseudo-military gear.

Overall

Initial reviews of the movie have not been great, calling it a grim and depressing throwback to Cold War military politics, but that doesn’t necessarily come through in the campaign. It’s certainly presented as a standard action flick, but that is elevated by Jordan’s charm, especially in the press and promotional component of the marketing.

While I’m a sucker for anything Clancy-related, that this movie seems completely disconnected from any of the other recent character reboots – including Amazon’s “Jack Ryan” series – is somewhat disappointing. And though the story seems to discard a lot of aspects of Clancy’s original book that are now likely seen as problematic (prostitutes and other women are killed with abandon), fridging Clark’s wife to spur him to action isn’t exactly an improvement.

Still, this campaign will likely appeal to die-hard action fans and get some moderate interest from players of the “Rainbow Six” video game series and Jordan’s fanbase.

Queen & Slim – Marketing Recap

What consequences come from criminalizing black bodies is examined in a road trip story filled with meaning.

queen and slim posterIn the new movie Queen & Slim – written by Lena Waithe and directed by Melina Matsoukas – the story focuses on a first date that has a terrible ending. Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) and Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) have had a decent time getting to know each other. When the night is drawing to a close and they’re leaving the date, the pair are pulled over for a minor problem, but the attitude of the police officer escalates the situation to the point Slim, in self-defense, seizes the officer’s gun and shoots him.

Fearful of the repercussions of that act, the two go on the run. While the media labels them cop killers and unrepentant criminals, a video of the incident shows the truth of what happens and they take on the aura of folk heroes, even while they’re still being chased by the authorities.

The movie’s campaign has drawn comparisons to another famous “outlaws on the run” story, but that does a disservice to the injustice at the heart of the inciting incident.

The Posters

In July the first poster (by marketing agency Gravillis Inc.) was released showing Queen and Slim posing for the camera in a garage, seemingly to create the impression this is the kind of photo taken while they’re on the run.

The Trailers

What seems to be an app-based first date starts out awkwardly in the first trailer (6.3 million views on YouTube) and gets more intense from there, as a questionable traffic stop results in Slim shooting the police officer that pulled them over and quickly became aggressive. He and Queen stay together and go on the run, their reputation often preceding them wherever they wind up. The stakes of their journey only get higher as they get deeper and deeper into the criminal life they’ve inadvertently chosen.

After getting the same first date setup as before, the second trailer (5 million views on YouTube) from early August spends more time showing how Queen and Slim’s actions have created a movement, offering violent inspiration to people who were feeling beaten down and hopeless against the powers that be. Life on the run isn’t easy, though, but they keep coming back to one another as they seek to evade the police at every turn.

Another trailer (8.5 million views on YouTube) in September starts off in the same manner as the others, showing how a normal first date winds up leading to an incredible journey of criminal glorification and adulation.

Online and Social

In addition to the usual marketing content, the official website for the movie has a “Reactions” section that curates some of the social media posts praising or talking about someone’s anticipation for the film.

Advertising and Promotions

One of the first big promotional boosts for the movie came back in March when Universal generated some positive buzz by including it as part of its CinemaCon presentation, with Waithe appearing on stage to get people talking.

It was announced in August the film would screen at this year’s AFI Fest in November. The two stars appeared at the Vanity Fair Summit in October to talk about and promote the film and its story.

A featurette released in late October featured Matsoukas and Waithe talking about the story and how they came to work together along with what they sought to accomplish with this movie.

Fandango MovieClips debuted a clip from the film showing Queen and Slim seeking help in the form of shelter and transportation while on the run. Another clip catches up with the two on the run, with Queen enjoying a moment of freedom.

A featurette came out just before release that showed the first table read by the cast and more behind the scenes action.

Online and outdoor ads used reconfictured key art to make the same bold statement as the poster.

queen and slim banner

Media and Press

Matsoukas spoke about the movie’s story here, part of a Q&A accompanying a screening of the film.

An interview with Matsoukas and screenwriter Lena Waithe had them dismissing comparisons to Bonnie & Clyde while emphasizing the uniquely black experience and attitudes they sought to portray and convey to the audience.

Kaluuya appeared on “The Late Show” and then “The Daily Show” to talk about the movie and more.

How Matsoukas got involved with the film and what kind of story she wanted to tell was covered by the director at the movie’s premiere, with others from the cast and crew covering similar ground. Another interview with her around that time had her talking more directly about how tackling the repercussions of police brutality was important for her.

The two stars were interviewed together about how they bonded prior to and during filming in an effort to best portray their on-screen relationship and dynamic.

Another interview with Matsoukas had her talking about the story and how important it was to her to show people like herself and others on screen.

Waithe made an appearance on “The Late Show” to share her experience writing and working on the film.

There were a number of other interviews with the cast and crew, many of which focused on the notion of “black love” being an act of resistance and defiance against a system that would otherwise keep them down. Many of those can be found on the movie’s Twitter feed.

Overall

The biggest surprise of the campaign is that I haven’t encountered much pushback to the themes of the story from the media’s more conservative wing. Where, I wonder, is the intense hatred lobbed at a story about a black man killing a white police officer? Perhaps everyone’s attention is too focused on the current impeachment process to notice this and get their viewers stirred into an outrage.

That’s not me saying there *should* be such pushback. Far from it, I think more stories like this that reflect the modern reality of different members of society are essential. I’m just shocked that Fox News etc haven’t gone wall-to-wall in lambasting the filmmakers and declaring them to be traitors who hate all laws.

Putting that aside, the campaign is powerful in its starkness. From the black and white photo on the poster to the vast silences of the trailers, the intensity of the story comes through in the pauses, the moments where things slow down or speed up. That’s what makes the marketing so intense, accompanied by the passion of Waithe and Matsoukas in particular in how they’ve advocated for the movie during the press cycle.

Picking Up the Spare

Waithe appeared on “The Daily Show” and was the subject of a profile in The New York Times. She was also put in the spotlight at Adweek for her marketing prowess. She and Matsoukas talked about their mission to honor those who have been victimized by police and were jointly profiled in a story about making a uniquely black story.

Matsoukas’ career was highlighted as well while Kaluuya was interviewed about his approach to picking projects.

Waithe was interviewed again about how she found the truth in her lead characters.