all the old knives – marketing recap

How Amazon has sold a thriller of friendship and betrayal.

All The Old Knives poster
All The Old Knives poster

Based on the Olen Steinhauer novel of the same name, All The Old Knives is an espionage thriller centered around the relationship between CIA agents Henry Pelham (Chris Pine) and Celia Harrison (Thandiwe Newton). The former couple reunite when Pelham is assigned to investigate Harrison and her suspected connection to an airline hijacking that’s still an open case.

Laurence Fishburne and Jonathan Pryce co-star in the movie, directed by Janus Metz and with a screenplay by Steinhauer, opens in a limited theatrical run this weekend at the same time it debuts on Amazon Prime Video.

Let’s take a look at how it’s been sold.

announcements and casting

When the movie was first announced in mid-2017, Pine was already attached to star alongside Michelle Williams.

Amazon signed on to produce the film in September of 2020. At that time Newton was cast to replace Williams, who had bowed out because of scheduling conflicts. Metz was also brought on to replace James Marsh as director.

Fishburne and Pryce joined the cast around the same time.

the marketing campaign

The campaign for the movie really began just a little over a month ago, when the first poster was released at the beginning of March. That poster doesn’t offer much in the way of story detail but does attempt to set a mood by showing all four of the main characters arranged in shadows and darkness. At the bottom a mysterious figure runs through a darkened hallway, helping to establish we’re dealing with a story of danger and intrigue.

At the same time the first trailer (4.6m YouTube views) came out. It opens with the reunion of Henry and Celia, but we quickly find that Henry has been tasked with finding out whether a team of hijackers had help from a mole inside the CIA. Specifically, with finding out if Celia was that mole. Their past relationship is both a help and a hindrance in the investigation as it becomes less and less clear who is playing who in the search for the truth.

A bit later in March the studio held a red carpet premiere for the movie in London, with Pine, Newton and others in attendance. At that premiere Pine talked about working with an intimacy coordinator for the love scenes with Newton while the whole cast also discussed what – or in some cases who – attracted them to the project and what they thought of the script and working with each other.

A second poster was released just a few days ago that shifts the focus to the relationship between the two main characters, showing them close together in an intimate moment.


It’s a surprisingly light campaign and the reason why isn’t clear in my mind. But the movie has a positive 86% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, a mark of the generally good reviews it’s been getting.

As for the marketing itself, it seems to be selling an old-fashioned kind of cerebral espionage thriller. There’s not a single explosion or car chase to be seen here. Instead it’s filled with hidden meanings, secrets between former lovers, institutional agendas and more that are less Bond and more le Carré. But it sells all that with two very good looking, popular and relatively young stars at the forefront, making it seem less boring and more steamy, which is the central message being conveyed here.

The Two Popes – Marketing Recap

Generations clash in Netflix’s real life drama about the fate of the Catholic Church.

the two popes posterThe abdication of the papacy by Pope Benedict XVI in 2013 was unprecedented. The ascendancy of the more modern, liberal Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was a stark contrast to the very conservative Benedict XVI, with the whole incident marking a turning point in the Catholic Church’s evolution in the 21st Century.

That story has been dramatized in this week’s new Netflix original The Two Popes. Anthony Hopkins plays Benedict XVI and Jonathan Pryce Bergoglio at a moment where the two men meet, the younger summoned by the older to discuss what has come before and what may lie in the future. How the two contrast in personality, theology and temperment creates tension in how the mantle is passed from one man to the next.

It’s not Netflix’s biggest current release, but the movie has still received a decent campaign that understands what its main selling points are and how to appeal to moviegoers and subscribers.

The Posters

It’s not an action-packed image that graces the poster (by marketing agency P+A) released in late August. Benedict and Francis are shown deep in conversation on a serene lawn, a meal or snack placed on the table set between them. Francis is emphatically making a point which Benedict seems nonplussed by, but that’s about as dramatic as it gets here.

The Trailers

The first trailer (229,000 views on YouTube), released in September just as festival season started, immediately shows the dynamic between Benedict and Francis, the latter seeing the former as a young upstart without respect for the past. Benedict is a proud and confident man, convinced he’s done right by the church and God. He sees Francis as an insult and condemnation of his work. The differences between the two are made clear by showing how they spend their time as well as the attitudes they bring to their positions. Mostly the sales pitch here is that watching the two actors play off each other will be worth the audience’s time, which is hard to refute.

November’s second trailer (492,000 views on YouTube) goes into more detail about why the two men find themselves at such an interesting meeting point. Benedict feels his time in the papacy has come to an end in part because of the troubles that have plagued the church, while Francis refuses to believe he could ever be considered for such a position. While the story is fleshed out a bit more, the core message remains the same, that the movie’s key attraction is the promise of two premiere actors playing against each other.

Online and Social

Netflix created a website for the movie that had the basic marketing information on it along with links to buy tickets to the limited theatrical showings booked for the film. There were also Facebook and Instagram profiles that helped promote it on social media, with Netflix’s brand account doing the job on Twitter.

Advertising and Promotions

Festival screenings included the Telluride Film Festival, where it generated very good reviews for its performances and direction, and then the London Film Festival and Hamptons Film Festival. After a screening at the Miami Film Festival it was given the Audience Award.

A song from the film’s score by Bryce Dessner was released a week or so before the film’s debut.

Media and Press

An interview with Pryce allowed him to talk about his own feelings on the Pope he plays and how the role fits into his career as a whole. He later spoke at the movie’s premiere about the themes of the story and how he hopes it creates more understanding in the world. The need for unity was also covered by producer Dan Lin.

Dessner spoke about creating the film’s score and seeking to underscore some of the more emotional moments.


That the AARP has nominated the movie in a couple categories of its “Movies For Grownups” awards is unsurprising given that’s exactly how the movie has been sold. It’s not a high prestige release, nor is it a teen comedy, it’s a drama featuring a couple veteran actors in a story that’s free from anything resembling an action sequence.

While it’s made good impression with critics on the festival circuit it’s not clear that acclaim will translate into audience success or buzz. Netflix’s campaign isn’t to blame for that, it’s sold the movie well, highlighting its strengths in a way that is compelling for those who are into movies like this.

Picking Up the Spare

Hopkins and Pryce were each put in the spotlight in new featurettes released by Netflix following the movie hitting theaters. The two appeared together on “CBS Sunday Morning” and were jointly profiled here as well.

More from Pryce on how he prepared for the role and to work opposite Hopkins. He also appeared on “The Late Show” to talk about his role.

Additional “corner booth” conversation videos with Pryce, costar  Juan Minujin and the film’s writer and director were released by Netflix.

Another interview with Hopkins about the movie and his career.

Writer Anthony McCarten talked about the influences he pulled from when creating the script and more here.

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote – Marketing Recap

the man who killed don quixote poster 3It’s been 20 years since director Terry Gilliam began working on The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, an updated take on the Miguel de Cervantes classic. In that time Gilliam has had financing materialize and disappear as well as cast and crew members come and go. To call the production “troubled” would be an understatement, but the visionary director has never abandoned the concept, even if the story has been tweaked over time.

As it stands, with the gestation process finally finished, the movie stars Adam Driver as Toby, a commercial director on location with a new production. He reconnects with Raul (Jonathan Pryce), an amateur actor he worked with years prior on a student film and who over the years has grown convinced he is actually Don Quixote. The two embark on a series of adventures that blur the lines between reality and fantasy, much like Quixote himself.

After a long string of legal wrangling and other obstacles, the movie finally came to theaters last night in a one-time-only screening from Fathom Events before receiving a limited release next week.

The Posters

There are a few different posters that have been floating around over the last several months as release dates have come and gone and distribution plans made and abandoned.

One has all the characters arranged above cloud alongside a windmill, other minor characters dancing on an open palm at the bottom of the image, the whole thing certainly communicating a sense of whimsy and fantasy.

Another takes a more abstract approach, showing a stick figure of Quixote lying on the ground with a massive spear piercing his torso. This may be the best of the bunch because of its minimalist approach, not trying too hard to be clever or communicate too much. It’s a simple message, but it works well.


What seems to be the theatrical poster has Quixote’s head in the background, with Toby riding his motorcycle out of it toward the camera while other scenes, characters and objects are arrayed around the rest of the design. It’s meant to suggest, at least, that this is all happening within Quixote’s head but is certainly a colorful image that sells the movie well.

The Trailers

The story laid out in the first trailer, finally released at the end of February, only makes sense if you’re really paying attention. Toby, we see, is having trouble bringing the vision of his commercial to life and passes the time seducing his boss’s wife. One day the actor playing Quixote starts acting as if he really is the adventurer and that Toby is Sancho. That takes the two of them on a series of hijinks, with the lines of what is and isn’t real getting blurrier by the moment.

It’s wonderful and feels exactly like a Gilliam film, which is just what we’re looking for.

Online and Social

The movie’s official website offers the trailer and a synopsis along with a two-part “Production Story” recap of the long, twisted road the movie has taken. In addition to the social profiles on Twitter and Facebook there was a separate page for the Fathom Events release.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

It’s likely Fathom has done some advertising for the movie’s one-night screening, but I haven’t seen what that might be. No other paid promotion appears to have been done.

Media and Publicity

Shortly after production had begun, a whole slew of behind the scenes pictures were released, perhaps to prove to everyone that this was actually happening. A few additional stills like this came out at random times as well. Problems still swirled around the movie, though, including a dispute over financing and rights that threatened an anticipated debut at Cannes. Strangely, that was followed by an international trailer that not only proved the movie *actually* existed but also lead to speculation it would make the Cannes debut as planned, though later comments from the festival’s director made it clear the legal wrangling was at least in part why it wasn’t scheduled.

Things simmered down for a bit with the news it was indeed going to screen out of competition as the festival’s closing film, though even that was later contested due to *new* legal and rights issues. Eventually it was officially scheduled as the festival’s closing night feature, but not before Gilliam suffered an illness – at the time reported as a minor stroke – and Amazon Studios, which had been on board for U.S. distribution, backed out due to the movie falling well outside the promised delivery window.

Kind of hilariously, a documentary about Giliam’s efforts to make the film was announced as coming from the same team responsible for Lost in La Mancha, a documentary about the *previous* attempt back in the late 90s/early 00s to get the film done. That’s a whole new level of “closing the loop.” After the screening was over Gilliam talked briefly about how glad he was just to have the movie out in the open finally and how he hoped it would find an audience. That revelry didn’t last long, though, as a judge ruled against Gilliam just before Cannes, finding he did not have the rights to the movie.

the man who killed don quixote pic 2

In late-July, Gilliam started sharing a handful of potential posters for public feedback and comments specifically meant for the international markets the movie was already cleared for release in.

A Fantastic Fest screening was announced, making it the North American premiere of the movie. It wasn’t until the middle of December of last year, though, that Screen Media finally picked it up for domestic distribution, tentatively scheduling a release date.

Gilliam was interviewed about the decades-long journey he took to get the film finally made and released.

The first clip released showed Driver’s director trying to tame his production and star. Another one later on shows Toby explaining to someone how his actor has gone crazy.

Of course much of the focus as Gilliam hit the interview circuit wasn’t the movie itself but its long road from inception to completion. That included recountings of the many different iterations of cast and crew that have come and gone over the years, his long history with not just Quixote but Quixote-like characters, how the legal troubles scared away Amazon and other distributors, how he’s not sure what he’ll do without this film hanging out there for him and more.


It’s almost impossible to judge the campaign’s effectiveness by any singular measure. Things have dragged on for so long and there have been so many different rumors, so many conversations, so much speculation that culling the wheat from the chaff almost can’t be done. It’s not that there hasn’t been an effective marketing push mounted here in the final months, as an official release was eventually finalized, it’s just that considering how things have evolved, shifted and changed over the years a formal campaign is almost secondary in selling the film to the public.

What that campaign symbolizes more than anything is Gilliam’s ability to will the movie into existence. It, as much as the movie itself, is the capstone on this project he’s been working on for over 20 years, proof that all that effort wasn’t completely in vain.

Still, Gilliam’s comment that he’s not sure what his like will be like without this looming on the back burner can’t help but come to mind. How will we judge the movie given it’s hovered over every other project he’s worked on in that time? How will we judge him? He’s come to be defined by this movie in the same way Brian Wilson was long defined by “Smile” in the years it remained an unfinished and unreleased Beach Boys record.

We’ll be sorting out the answers to those questions for years to come. In the meantime the movie is here, at least in some manner, and we can put all those issues aside. Whatever you or I think of the campaign that was mounted, it attempted to sell not the film that was started but the one that was finished, which is always the case. Most movies, though, don’t come weighted down with the baggage of so many outsized expectations, the majority of which the director himself is responsible for.


Gilliam appeared on “The Tonight Show” to talk about the movie and recount the bumpy road he’s been on for the last 30 years. Driver did “Late Night” a couple days later.

The Wife – Marketing Recap

the wife posterIn the new movie The Wife coming to limited release this week, Glenn Close plays Joan Castleman, the wife of Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce), a well-regarded author who one day learns he’s been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. A wonderful honor, of course, the two are feted at parties and galas where his genius is celebrated.

Through all that she is standing by his side, as she has been for decades. Finally it’s too much and the dreams she herself fostered of becoming a renowned writer come boiling to the surface, causing tension and turmoil that he doesn’t understand but which have been festering in her for a long, long time.

The Posters

There’s no copy on the poster, just the close-up faces of Close and Pryce, both in elegant evening wear, conveying the status of the characters and that we’re in thin air with the story.

The Trailers

Joe immediately does not come off as a warm, sensitive individual in the trailer, shown right off the bat as someone obsessed more with how his family’s behavior reflects on his image than anything else. When he’s notified he’s been awarded a Nobel Prize it sets off a series of events that creates more and more tension in his marriage to Joan, who it turns out is a frustrated writer herself. Her own writing was stifled by Joe so she wouldn’t compete with him for the spotlight, part of his overall dismissal of her as a person. She’s at the breaking point and is done with the facade of her life and her position alongside Joe.

Yes Glenn Close. Yes. Jonathan Pryce. Both look great here, but it’s Close that really comes through as the star, conveying all the years of dutiful obedient and subservient behavior and the resentment and anger that has been building, only to be unleashed by one dismissive comment too many. Also, it’s good to see Christian Slater again.

Online and Social

In addition to the usual material such as trailers, a gallery and more, the movie’s official website does offer some information on Meg Wolitzer, the author of the source novel.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Nothing I’ve seen.

Media and Publicity

After receiving strong reviews and word of mouth at the Toronto Film Festival, the movie was picked up by Sony Classics.

At the movie’s premiere in late July, Close offered her comments on why it took so long for the movie, which has been circulating around for a while, to finally come to the screen. Pryce and Slater also spoke about what motivates their characters. Later on Close was profiled as someone who’s never taken the easy path in her career but has never been uninteresting.

A couple weeks ago a clip showing a young Joan still driven by ambition was released.

Close made the media rounds, showing up on “Today,” “The Tonight Show” and “Late Night” to talk about the movie and its journey to the screen, also the subject of another story here. Also frequently mentioned was that her own daughter plays the younger version of her character in the film. Christian Slater also made a few appearances.


By focusing not just on Close but on the story of how Hollywood has effectively kept this out of production for a number of years the campaign makes the movie seem even more timely than it already was. It becomes an example of how women are kept to the side of society on a number of fronts and is all the more powerful for it.

Aside from that you can’t argue with anything featuring Close going all-out like this. She’s the focal point of the campaign, which is always welcome as it brings one of the best actresses around back to the forefront of the conversation.


Another profile of star Glenn Close and her impressive career here.

Good interview here with the movie’s screenwriter.