Richard Jewell – Marketing Recap

How Warner Bros. is selling the latest story of an aggrieved white man from director Clint Eastwood.

richard jewell posterThere’s no question that there was nearly an injustice perpetrated on Richard Jewell, the security guard who found an explosive at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and helped save countless lives. Now his story is coming to the big screen in the appropriately titled Richard Jewell.

Paul Walter Hauser plays the title character, a well-meaning but slightly schlubby individual who suddenly is vaulted into the national spotlight. By virtue of his finding the device, he also unexpectedly finds himself at the top of the suspect list being put together by law enforcement, including the FBI. So too, the press – embodied by Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde) latches on to him as a likely suspect, someone to hang the narrative of the bombing on.

While the movie, which costars Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Jon Hamm and others, fits into Eastwood’s thematic motif of making sure white men are recognized as the under-appreciated heroes they naturally are, it also has come under fire for how it goes about communicating that message. Despite that, it’s being sold by Warner Bros. as an awards season drama based on a moment from recent history.

Tracking estimates have the movie opening around $10 million this weekend, which would put it far off the pace in terms of winning the frame, but the 87 percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes shows it could be helped by largely positive reviews.

The Posters

“The world will know his name and the truth” is the awkwardly structured tagline that appears below the title on the poster (by marketing agency Legion Creative Group) from October. As the main image, Jewell is shown fighting his way through a crowd of eager reporters and others, trying to keep his face down as his mother (Kathy Bates) appears despondent over the whole thing. At the bottom we’re reminded this is based on a true story.

The Trailers

Released in early October, the first trailer (9.1 million views on YouTube) starts off with Jewell dealing with the aftermath of finding the bomb. The authorities consider him a suspect, mostly because he’s the one who did actually find it. So investigators and journalists focus almost solely on him, but he and his lawyer continue to push back against what they see as a conspiracy to hang the crime on him without actual evidence. The story being presented, then, is of an innocent man being railroaded by a lazy and likely corrupt system.

Online and Social

The official website for the movie opens with the trailer and is replaced by the key art when you close that. The content is pretty standard and boring, though.

Advertising and Publicity

Eastwood had originally set the project up at Fox, but following that studio’s acquisition by Disney it was moved over to his long-time home Warner Bros. The studio finally gave it a release date in September.

A few weeks later it was announced the film would debut at AFI Fest. That screening generated generally positive reviews but also altered critics to the fact that Eastwood and the writers created a fictional scene of Scruggs having sex with an FBI official in order to get information, something that seems offensive and unnecessary, especially in a movie about media manipulation.

Online ads featured a cropped version of the key art and linked to the movie’s official site.

richard jewell online ad.png

The first – and to date only – clip released has Richard’s mother Barbara at a press conference proclaiming her son’s innocence while expressing sympathy for the victims of the bombing.

An exclusive featurette hosted by MovieClips featured Eastwood and others talking about making the movie, beginning with the article the story is based on. Another featurette titled “An American Tragedy” dove into the story a bit more while focusing on the injustice done to Jewell, though that may be overstated by just a bit.

Media and Press

Perhaps it’s because of the condensed timeline that resulted from Warner Bros. only giving it a release date a few months ago. Or perhaps the lack of substantial pre-release press activity is because the media narrative has been dominated by discussions of the filmmakers creating Scruggs’ trading sex for information.

Wilde defended her portrayal of Scruggs, saying the idea of a sexual transaction was merely “inferred” in the film and that there’s no evidence to suggest she did so. Still, even that inference is enough to be harmful when added to other movies that have made similar suggestions or stated it outright, even if there’s no basis for doing so.

Just days ago, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution – where Scruggs worked – issued a statement asking WB to add a disclaimer making it clear that is a fictional element of the story. The editors and others at the paper made the point that not only is it disrespectful toward Scruggs, who passed away at a young age, but it also shows a lack of interest in how journalists of any gender do their jobs.

In response, the studio’s statement says the newspaper is simply trying to distract people from how the movie shows it got the initial story wrong. That doesn’t address the core issue the AJC raised and so reads more like a company more interested in defending its director than setting the record straight.

Rockwell’s appearance on “Kimmel” was one of the few press stops by the cast.

Overall

There have been a number of good writeups of the controversy surrounding the portrayal of Scruggs on screen from both media commentators and film columnists. They should be sought out and read for a fuller understanding than I can provide here on what such an unnecessary addition does to the reputation of not only the real person portrayed on screen but also women journalists as a whole.

What keeps sticking in my mind is why telling this story was deemed to be essential or important. Yes, Jewell was unfairly maligned in the press before all the facts came out, at which point he was cleared of suspicion. That doesn’t undo the damage done, but it does come as the result of organizations like the press and law enforcement diligently doing their jobs. And he went on to lead a relatively normal life after doing no time in jail.

Compare that to the countless people currently imprisoned for minor drug offenses, or there only because they took a plea deal upon realizing they couldn’t afford to mount a defense against charges they had no connection to. It’s just that kind of story told in Ava DuVerney’s recent Netflix miniseries “When They See Us” about the Central Park Five, some of whom were in jail for decades for crimes they were not involved in.

The campaign never really answers the question of why the movie is here or what it’s essential elements are. Instead, in the lack of any other compelling messages, the idea seems to be that any time a white male is falsely accused it’s worthy of being called out in a feature film. Eastwood and the writers seem to simply want to vilify the very organizations that keep us safe and informed simply because they sometimes get it wrong, but by focusing on such a minor example of that injustice it makes their point hard to swallow.

Picking Up the Spare

Hamm appeared on “The Tonight Show” to promote the film but wound up talking about other things for the most part. Hauser appeared on “Kimmel” to talk about the movie just before release.

The Report – Marketing Recap

Amazon Studio’s new film about uncovering government secrets gets released with coincidentally appropriate timing.

the report poster 2Scott Z. Burns wrote and directed The Report, this week’s new release from Amazon Studios. The movie, based on a true story, stars Adam Driver as Daniel Jones, a U.S. Senate staffer given the responsibility to investigate and report on the actions undertaken by the CIA in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Specifically, Jones is tasked with determining if the CIA’s program of torture and various forms of “enhanced interrogation techniques” were of any substantive use to U.S. intelligence gathering. What he finds is that not only were those efforts of little to no value but that agency officials routinely misled lawmakers as to what they were doing and whether it was helping to keep America safe.

The campaign mounted by Amazon has sought to position Jones as a crusading fighter determined to do what’s right despite the powerful forces aligned against him. With an 86 percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, early reviews have been positive but there seems to be a distinct lack of buzz for the drama.

The Posters

the report posterJones is presented on the poster (by marketing agency LA), released in August, as a collection of copy, some of which is appropriately redacted. Even part of the title is scratched out. “Truth matters” reads the copy at the bottom, but the whole design is stark and attention-grabbing, selling the movie as a serious drama for serious people.

The second poster, released in October, uses the same design concept but this time includes the faces of Annette Bening as Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Jones’ boss, and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough (Jon Hamm). The movie’s festival credentials are also highlighted along with a positive review quote playing up the film’s story.

The Trailers

Amazon released the first trailer (5.4 million views on YouTube) in August. As it starts, Jones is explaining how the attacks of 9/11/01 changed his perspective to one focused on national security, leading to a job in government. When he learns the CIA destroyed evidence of torture he sets out to find out what was on the tapes that have gone missing, finding that the agency engaged in wanton cruelty with little to show for it. The intelligence community takes issue with that finding and begins targeting Jones and making the case that what they did was essential to national security, leading him to take action to make sure his report sees the light of day.

A second, shorter trailer (427,000 views on YouTube) was released in October that focused on the ramifications of the report and what it was meant to both accomplish and undo.

Online and Social

Amazon created Twitter and Facebook profiles for the movie but no official website. Those profiles don’t even have a link to any site where people can buy tickets or register their interest in watching it when it becomes available for streaming.

Advertising 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. Amazon picked it up during the festival, one of many high-profile acquisitions it made. In August it screened at the Telluride Film Festival.

In mid-June Amazon finally announced a September release date for the film, planning a two-week theatrical release before it would become available on the company’s streaming service. That release date was shifted to November in late July, but the same two-week window between theatrical and streaming availability was kept intact. In fact it was noted this film, along with The Aeronauts, represented the first salvo in a shift by Amazon away from applying the theatrical model to all its feature releases, something it had previously committed to as a way to stay in the good graces of exhibitors and studios.

Amazon held a number of screenings of the movie in various locations, usually those associated with government or journalism, in the last couple weeks. Some of those included Q&A sessions with the cast and crew and even Jones, who joined the filmmakers on stage to talk about the true story the film is based on.

Online ads used variations on the key art to raise awareness. 

the report online ad

Media and Press

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. Amazon picked it up during the festival, one of many high-profile acquisitions it made. Burns spoke about the story and how he envisioned it as an alternative to officially-approved versions of events.

Benning was interviewed about taking on the role of Diane Feinstein and how she decided not to research the real woman too much lest it overwhelm her performance.

An interview with Burns allowed him to talk about how timely the story told in the movie still is, especially as the U.S. is in the middle of impeachment proceedings that have the concept of accountability for illegal actions as their core premise. Burns, along with the real life Jones, also spoke about how this movie seeks to correct some of the problems with earlier movies like Zero Dark Thirty that seemed to position torture as both effective and necessary.

Overall

While Amazon has made the case that it’s reevaluating the theatrical release window it’s previously had in place as a way to appease theater owners, it seems that choosing this movie – a political drama that has more in common with the kinds of films that were popular 40 years ago – to be one of the first under the new system. That could be because of a lack of faith in the commercial viability of a story like this, regardless of its high-caliber cast.

That being said, the campaign…well…it seems to be targeted specifically at the audiences that still enjoy the kinds of films that were popular 40 years ago. It sells a movie in which someone going on with their public service job despite other people telling them “don’t do that” in loud voices is high drama.

What’s missing from all but a handful of interviews is a clear message to the audience as to *why* this story is still so essential and relevant. That whistleblowers and others who seek out the truth are an essential part of our society and government is as important now than ever before. More emphasis on that might not have improved the movie’s box-office chances significantly but it would have tightened up the campaign a good deal.

Picking Up the Spare

Amazon announced it would be one of the first test cases for its new policy not reporting on theatrical revenue for their movies.

The front pages of major newspapers across the country were wrapped in ads for the movie just days before it hit theaters. There were also a handful of trucks with messages about truth and fear driving around Los Angeles in a promotional stunt.

Another interview with the director has him connecting the dots of accountability between the story told in the movie and what’s happening right now. Maura Tierney was interviewed about the difficult subject matter featured in the movie.

There was more from Bening on how she approached playing the real life Feinstein, including recalling first meeting the Senator 40 years ago.

To my surprise, there was a really nice official website for the movie that offered information on the real events and people not only portrayed in the film but also those that impacted what’s seen on screen.

A few new featurettes from Amazon have come out, including one that focused on the importance of the truth to society, one that introduced the characters of the story and one that broke down some of the numbers featured in the story.

A making of featurette came out a couple weeks after the movie hit theaters.

Lucy in the Sky – Marketing Recap

Fox Searchlight sells a story of how reentry is the hardest part of both space missions and everyday life.

lucy in the sky posterFor the second time in a month Hollywood is telling the story of an astronaut. This time around the movie is Lucy in the Sky, starring Natalie Portman as Lucy Cola, an astronaut who returns to Earth after an extended mission in space to find her connections to the world are more tenuous and less satisfying than the thrill of being out among the stars.

Loosely based on the real life of astronaut Lisa Nowak, the story follows Cola as she fights to reintegrate into her life and family after she’s back on the ground, her perspective on things changed by her time out in the black. When an affair with another astronaut (Jon Hamm) turns south, Cola’s behavior becomes even more erratic and dangerous.

Early reviews haven’t been positive – it sports a poor 28 percent on Rotten Tomatoes – but the campaign from Fox Searchlight sells an original twist on the idea of how dramatic events change your outlook on life and grip on reality.

The Posters

Lucy stands looking at the moon on the first poster (by marketing agency LA), the image meant to emphasize the scale of the universe while also communicating her longing to return to space. The movie’s appearance at the Toronto Film Festival is touted at the top. Note also how her name is slightly elevated in the title treatment, a nice visual representation of how she’s floating above things, not quite grounded in the way the rest of us are.

The Trailers

The first teaser from mid-March opens with Lucy losing her focus while out on a spacewalk. Her return to Earth shows she’s having problems adjusting to life back on the ground having been changed by her experiences seeing so much of the universe. She’s feeling “a little off” and has been hallucinating as well as behaving in ways that may be harmful to herself or others. Those around her want to help and understand, but just can’t see what’s happening to her.

It was August before the second trailer was released. This one shows even more clearly the problems Lucy is having in restarting her life on Earth after having walked in space. She can’t connect with family or friends and starts seeing others as threats to her success and notoriety. She also frantically begins an affair with fellow astronaut Goodwin, who’s just one of those around her that starts to feel Lucy is increasingly untethered from reality and might even be dangerous.

Online and Social

Fox Searchlight’s website for the film is good, if a bit understocked. The “Cast” section offers brief video clips of the character played by each named actor with “About” containing a story synopsis and “Videos” housing both trailers.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Two short clips were released in late September/early October. One had Lucy and Goodwin talking about what she’s accomplished in her life while the second had her commiserating with other astronauts about what they’ve all gone through on their missions.

If there was other advertising done it wasn’t extensive enough to cross my radar. It’s likely some video ads were produced that ran online and maybe even on TV and that other online ads used visuals from the film, but I haven’t encountered them.

Media and Publicity

The first still from the film showed Portman in full NASA uniform, but not much else.

In early 2019 the movie’s title was changed from Pale Blue Dot to its current name.

An interview with Hawley in September allowed him to talk about the story and how he worked to stay as accurate as possible to reality, though there were some changes made and omissions decided upon. Portman and Hamm later discussed the research they did and the chemistry they developed on screen.

At the movie’s premiere, Portman talked about the difficult process of donning a spacesuit for the film while Hamm commented on the unique nature of the story. Another interview with Portman had her sharing details on what was or wasn’t included in the movie’s story and how that plays into gender politics in this day and age.

Both stars made the late night and morning talk show rounds to talk about the movie and their experiences shooting it. So did costar Zazie Beetz, who plays one of Cola’s fellow astronauts, one she sees as a rival both personally and professionally.

Overall

One of the constant themes in the press coverage of the movie was an anecdote about the real life woman whose life is being shared here involving wearing astronaut “diapers” on her cross-country trek to confront the man she’d been having an affair with. That detail is apparently not included in the film and Portman was repeatedly asked why it was omitted.

The obsession (there’s no other real word to use) with this aspect of the story is a great indicator of how many members of the press search for the lowest, most salacious detail to pull out, one that will generate the most clicks because it contains the word “diaper.” It says more about the state of the industry than it does with the filmmaking choices made by director Noah Hawley or any of the writers.

That it has dominated the press cycle is unfortunate, because there’s a good movie being sold in the rest of the campaign and my fear is it’s tainted how the film is being received. The marketing as a whole is selling a movie about how hard it is to reenter the real world after being so far removed from it for so long. That idea has been explored before, but mostly with soldiers returning from war zones as the protagonist. To put a woman who has glimpsed something extraordinary and who then has problems adjusting to everyday minutiae and routines is an intriguing twist on that, one that is worth exploring more deeply.

Picking Up the Spare

Just after the movie was released another extended TV spot came out that emphasized the scale of the story.

Cinematographer Polly Morgan talked about how she used visuals to show the main character’s descent into emotional instability.

Hamm stopped by “The Late Show” to talk about the movie and more.

More from director Hawley on his approach to the story and more here, while a later interview had him talking about supporting women and doing his best to tell their stories.

Bad Times at the El Royale – Marketing Recap

Bad Time at the El Royale, the new movie from writer/director Drew Goddard, appears to very much be my jam. That’s because, as I state in my Hollywood Reporter-hosted recap of the film’s marketing, it looks like a throwback to the kind of ensemble thrillers that were vervasive in the early and mid-90s, when I was cutting my cinematic teeth.

Online and Social

The movie’s website is primarily interested in selling you tickets, but it also has a collection of trailers and other “Videos” as well as a synopsis and gallery of images. At the bottom of the page are links to the movie’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram profiles.

Media and Publicity

The movie was one of those Fox showed off to exhibitors and press at the annual CinemaCon conference. Goddard offered a few comments alongside a first look photo.

There was an extensive profile of Hemsworth in mid-August that featured the actor not only talking about this film but also his career to date, which generated quite a number of headlines. Costar Cynthia Erivo also spoke about how this marked one of a couple film projects she had coming out this fall and how she’s making the shift from the theater stage to more film roles.

Bridges hit the talk show circuit in late September, just as Fantastic Fest reviews were hitting. A bit later Fanning followed suit.

It later was scheduled for the Rome Film Festival. There was also a new focus in the publicity on Erivo, who was also being noticed in a couple other current and upcoming movies.

Goddard, as a fairly well-known name in the industry, was the subject of a couple interviews where he talked about making what feels like a throwback to 25 years ago, working with the ensemble cast and more.

Overall

chris hemsworth bad times el royale dancing

Picking Up The Spare

Goddard talks here about the work he put into assembling the film’s era-appropriate soundtrack and here about getting the affably likable Chris Hemsworth to tap into a dark side.

Another profile of breakout star Cynthia Erivo here.

Tag – Marketing Recap

tag poster 2Movies based on true events often tell outsized or “important” stories, ones that either tell some essential story people need to know or which are somehow meaningful to the human experience. The new movie Tag is not one that would fall into any of those categories.

Jon Hamm, Hannibal Buress, Jeremy Renner, Ed Helms and Jake Johnson play a group of guys who gained prominence years ago when their decade-spanning game of tag came to the public’s attention. The game has kept them connected to each other even as they’ve gotten married and gone about their lives. One thing has eluded them, though: Jerry (Renner) has never been tagged. Isla Fisher, Leslie Bibb, Rashida Jones and Annabelle Wallis costar.

The Posters

tag posterThe teaser poster really hits the core selling point of the movie – that it’s based on a true story – by stating that outright and even emphasizing it by including “We’re not kidding.” That’s the very definition of “trying too hard.”

A second poster is the same thing, only with the faces of the leading cast at the bottom looking at the camera with various bewildered or amused expressions on their faces.

The Trailers

The first – and only – trailer is preceded by Renner as himself filming a video while in the middle of playing a game of tag with his costars. Once the footage actually starts we get the backstory, that this group of friends has been playing the same game every May for 30 years, with it being the thing that’s kept them connected over all that time. Of course that’s really weird for outsiders, but whatever. Everyone is gunning for Jerry, who’s never been tagged in all that time.

It’s funny enough, certainly appearing better than some of the recent films by the people here. Seeing Renner in a comedy is nice as he’s not usually allowed to be funny, but I’m going to throw flags on the criminal underuse of both Hamm and Isla Fisher. And we’re going to stipulate that the story is only a slightly more socially-acceptable version of hyper-competitive toxic masculinity, no matter how cute it’s dressed up.

Online and Social

The movie’s official website opens with the trailer, also accessible via the “Trailer” button on the splash page and along the top content menu. Also there are sections with a “Synopsis” and a “Gallery” but that’s about it. Strangely, they’re not listed or linked to on the main site but there are Twitter, Facebook and Instagram profiles.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The movie was one of the first to be advertised via Snapchat’s recently-unveiled unskippable six-second video ad units.

Media and Publicity

AS the filmmakers were more than willing to point out repeatedly, this is based on a true story whose history was revisited in features like this on several occasions. That theme was reinforced with a short promo video featuring the real life members of the gang that has kept the game going and showed them watching footage from the movie where their lives are being depicted.

Hamm hit the publicity circuit to talk about the movie, including commenting on Renner’s broken arms and how production accommodated that. The story of Renner’s injury provided a significant hook for the publicity cycle as stories circulated about how CGI had to be used to bring them back to life and the actor himself shared the details in his appearances. Even Fisher had to comment on it while she was doing press. Thankfully Buress was able to avoid the topic when he showed up on “Kimmel.”

For little apparent reason other than there’s a wedding in the movie, the cast crashed a real-life wedding, causing all sorts of chaos and hilarity. The advice Hamm gave Johnson and the rest of the cast to make that work came up at the movie’s premiere.

Overall

I’m wondering who the studio thought the audience for this movie would be. All the actors here are very funny in their own right, but a story of a bunch of overgrown manboys who can’t let their childhood game go while letting that game bleed over into every other part of their lives seems….out of touch with the current cultural conversation.

It’s not that the movie doesn’t seem funny; it honestly looks like it has more than a few laughs. But when the only two talking points for the press cycle are “It’s based on a real story” and “Here’s how Jeremy Renner broke his arms,” the underlying weakness of the premise is exposed.

Finally, how do you make a movie with Rashida Jones, Leslie Bibb and Isla Fisher and not have them as the focal point of the entire film, much less the marketing? I want to see the movie that has them as the leads.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

Jeez, even Annabelle Wallis has been forced to talk about Jeremy Renner’s broken arms during her portion of the publicity cycle. Hamm and Helms have also done a bit more publicity.

 

A clip from the movie was played in an episode of Machinima’s “Inside Gaming” to try and reach that crowd.

 

Nice profile of co-star Jake Johnson here at GQ. And there’s more from Hannibal Buress as well as an interview with the comedian.
Star Jeremy Renner’s broken arms are part of this interview with director Jeff Tomsic where he talks about all the challenges he had making the movie.

Beirut – Marketing Recap

beirut posterWe’re traveling back to the world of 1982 international politics in the new thriller Beirut, a world of cultivating sources and on-the-ground investigations into terrorist networks, before Twitter bots and state election board hacking. Jon Hamm plays Mason Skiles, a government diplomat who left the country a decade ago after the death of his wife and family.

Now he’s being called back in by a pair of the State Department because his former partner, someone Skiles left behind when he exited the country, has been taken hostage by a militant group. The Feds want Skiles to negotiate for his release before he breaks under what’s sure to be intense interrogation and torture. Helping Skiles in this is undercover CIA operative Sandy Crowder (Rosamund Pike), though as usual her allegiances are fluid and subject to agendas not everyone knows about.

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Nostalgia – Marketing Recap

nostalgia poster 2Love and loss form the central tenets of the story in the new film Nostalgia. It’s all about memories and connections and how we relate to one another.

That’s about all that’s been publicly shared about the story and, as we’ll see, the marketing doesn’t offer much more. What is shown is that there’s a solid cast involved, including Jon Hamm, Catherine Keener, Bruce Dern, Nick Offerman, Ellen Burstyn and others, some related to each other and some not in a set of stories about growing up and dealing with the past and preparing for the future.

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