The Rhythm Section – Marketing Recap

How Eon and Paramount Pictures are selling a revenge drama rooted in personal tragedy.

rhythm section posterThere have been a few recent movies tackling the idea of a woman exacting revenge after her family is killed. While such stories are common with men in the lead role, those with women are still fairly rare and having been overly-successful when they do happen. One recent example is Peppermint, the 2018 film starring Jennifer Garner in the kind of role Bruce Willis has played a dozen times, which grossed only $35 million at the box office.

This week another entry comes on the field. The Rhythm Section stars Blake Lively as Stephanie Patrick, whose family is killed in a plane crash. As she learns the crash wasn’t an accident but a planned attack on specific passengers. That knowledge leads her to dive into the world of international organized crime, but only after developing the skills necessary to survive. She keeps turning over rocks not meant to be distrubed, making powerful enemies along the way.

The movie’s campaign has focused on Stephanie’s unrelenting quest to punish those responsible, regardless of what might befall her and heedless of the warnings of others. With an opening weekend estimate in the $10-15 million range, audience interest seems to still be soft for movies like this, even as early reviews have been largely positive.

The Posters

Stephanie is shown on the first poster (by marketing agency Empire Design) released in September standing in her hotel room with a gun held behind her back. There’s no copy or tagline here, but it’s clear she’s planning something that will involve that weapon given the dark shadows and the determined look on her face.

The Trailers

The first trailer (3.7 million views on YouTube) finally came out in September. Stephanie is shown enlisting the aid of Proctor in the hunt for those responsible for the plane crash that killed her family years ago. He warns her it won’t be worth it and could be dangerous for her but she’s determined, to the point she takes matters into her own hands, finding and killing them herself. Her actions have consequences, of course, as they upset some powerful and dangerous people, but she remains undeterred.

A second shorter trailer (1.6 million views on YouTube) came out just last week. It starts by showing Stephanie preparing for the mission she’s chosen to embark on and the training that entails. It goes on to show the lengths she’ll go to in her quest to exact more than a pound of flesh and the ways in which she keeps going despite the odds against her. It also makes it much more explicit that the producers of the Bond franchise are involved, hoping to lend some of that series’ appeal to this movie.

Online and Social

There’s essentially nothing on the movie’s official website, at least nothing you can’t find elsewhere. It exists largely to just sell tickets.

Advertising and Publicity

The movie was part of the studio’s presentation to exhibition executives at CineEurope in mid-July 2018.

The first clip released earlier this month offers an extended look at Stephanie engaged in a high-speed car chase with those she’s angered on her mission for vengeance. That same chase sequence was the subject of a short behind-the-scenes featurette released at about the same time. Additional clips offered more insights into Stephanie’s character and the allies she gathers along the way.

Short videos like this were used as social and online ads to drive traffic to the ticket-selling website. Other online ads used elements of the key art and other visuals to achieve the same objective.

Earlier this week the cast and crew attended the New York City red carpet premiere.

Media and Press

There were a few interviews with Lively and others in the cast, including Sterling K. Brown, but nothing of much note, at least not at this point in the cycle.

One interview with director Reed Moreno addressed the Bond connection that exists both through the story’s subject matter and Eon’s involvement in production. She was asked if she’d be interested in seeing a female Bond, something those producers recently nixed the idea of. While Moreno made a similar comment she did say seeing a Bond film with a female directorial perspective might offer a unique take on the character.

Overall

While the marketing is quite good and sells a compelling drama with a star apparently willing to push herself to physically sell the role, an increased emphasis on the inciting incident might have increased the emotional heft of the story being sold. As it stands there’s not much in the way of setup regarding the tragedy that has pushed Stephanie over the edge and into a life of violence, just an acknowledgement that something terrible has happened.

That being said, there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on here, not the least of which is simply that it’s a woman who has taken justice into her own hands after realizing the bad people are going to remain unpunished by others. There might be enough audience interest to capture people’s attention during another slow new release weekend, but if current movies keep chugging along it could also get lost in a wave of apathy during the winter doldrums.

Picking Up The Spare

Lively stopped by “The Tonight Show” to share stories from the set and engage in hijinks with the host.

A postmortem of the movie’s disappointing fate included comments on how this is just the latest action film with a complex female lead to not connect with audiences.

Vox Lux – Marketing Recap

vox lux posterVox Lux follows a young woman named Celeste from her teenage years as an overnight pop sensation through her attempted comeback nearly 20 years later, focusing on three stages of her life and career.

Natalie Portman plays Celeste in her later years, as she attempts to revitalize her career with a new album and tour she hopes will put her back on top. To do so she also has to deal with the years of personal and professional issues that have built up and try to overcome the scandal that derailed her stardom in the first place.

The Posters

Portman is on stage in full makeup and with a microphone attached to her on the first poster, essentially reusing a promotional image for the key art here. Aside from a blurb from an early review there’s nothing but the title and the credits as the studio hopes to make the flashy visual of the Bowie-esque performer the key message conveyed to the audience.

The Trailers

The first trailer starts off with Celeste being interviewed about her new music after what we hear are a rough few years. Throughout the trailer we see her dealing – sometimes well and sometimes not so well – with the trappings of fame, offering an inspirational message to her audience while also falling down from apparent excess. There are plenty of hints at danger offered as masked gunmen walk through a building/home and it’s clear there will be drama in the mother/daughter relationship as well.

That looks incredibly off-kilter and lots of fun. You get some of the story but really what’s being sold here is a look and feel more than anything, all centered around Portman’s performance.

The second trailer, released just a couple weeks ago, shows more of Celeste’s beginnings and the path she took to stardom. She’s shown to be a Madonna-like performer who’s facing a lot of obstacles, some of her own making, as she fights for what she feels is hers.

That trailer served not just to sell the movie but also the original song performed by Sia that’s part of the story. It also shows a bit more of the relationship between Celeste and her manager, played by Jude Law.

Online and Social

All the usual material can be found on NEON’s official website for the movie along with a collection of “Social Assets,” clips and GIFs that can be downloaded and shared elsewhere. There are also links to the Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

If there’s been paid promotions done by NEON I haven’t seen them. It’s highly unlikely there’s been nothing done on this front but nothing that’s crossed my radar.

Media and Publicity

The movie was announced as one of those screening at the Venice Film Festival, news that came shortly before a first look at Portman in the movie was released. First look photos came out a bit after that, before the announcement it would screen at the Toronto Film Festival. A short bit of teaser footage featuring Portman was released via Vanity Fair before Venice got underway.

Both festival screenings generated significant positive buzz for the movies, particularly Portman’s performance in it. The actress was interviewed about the logistics of shooting the movie, what she felt was attractive in the role and more around that time.

vox-lux-gif2The reception at Toronto generated some awards speculation while Portman and the rest of the cast talked about the political nature of the story while director Brady Corbet shared what inspired him to make the movie. NEON bought distribution rights during the festival.

The movie was added to the lineup of the Austin Film Festival, where it was programmed as the opening night feature. A screening at AFI Fest was followed by a Q&A where Portman and Corbet talked about the themes of the story and more, including how Corbet compared Celeste to Kanye West.

Portman was the subject of a wide-ranging cover story in Vanity Fair that had her talking about the movie as well as a wealth of other topics, all accompanied by suitably glamorous photos of the actress. She was also interviewed about what drew her to the project and how it fits into her career to date and how the movie allowed her to fulfill a pop star dream while Corbet talked about how casting her really helped bring the story into focus.

Overall

Portman is, of course, the main draw here as she’s the one who has to anchor the story and sell the egotistical singer she plays in some kind of reality. The campaign makes sure to keep her in front of the camera, showing the kind of range she has to draw on to make Celeste a whole person, not just a caricature.

While the story is at times hard to discern from the campaign, that’s actually kind of the point as the confusion that’s created helps to sell it as a strange, otherworldly experience that itself is a metaphor for stardom.

Picking Up The Spare

Borget was profiled and interviewed again about how he wanted the story to reflect the attitudes and personality of a generation. Both he and Portman jointly talked about how the story is about the trappings of modern celebrity.

A week or so after the movie hit theaters a clip of Celeste at a press conference was put out alongside the official music video for Sia’s “Wrapped Up” original song.

Portman has made the media rounds in the weeks following the movie’s released, with appearances on “Late Night” and “The Tonight Show,” often focusing on the song of Sia’s she performed. She and Law also did one of Wired’s fun search-related videos.

There’s been a continued focus on the movie’s soundtrack, with videos for each song released on YouTube and a new short video showing young Celeste performing the song by Sia hitting as well.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald – Marketing Recap

The marketing of Fantastic Beasts: Crimes of Grindelwald is the subject of my latest recap at The Hollywood Reporter.

The wizarding world established in print by J.K. Rowling and then on film by Warner Bros. keeps expanding with this week’s Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. The movie, the second in the Fantastic Beasts series that is set decades before Harry Potter enrolled at Hogwarts, picks up with Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) being enlisted by Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) to find the recently escaped magical criminal Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp).

Online and Social

The official website is stocked with the standard content and little else. The exceptions are two elements that are meant to engage fans, part of the larger campaign that played into that specific portion of the audience.

Media and Publicity

Later on director David Yates made some remarkably tone-deaf comments that seemed to insinuate the accusations against Depp weren’t real because the actor is such a nice guy on set, a perspective that is exactly what got us to this place. Shockingly, Rowling herself made similar comments.

Without going into too much detail, it’s hard to see how this interview Depp did with Rolling Stone months later helped anyone’s case. If anything, it made the actor seem even more problematic, to the extent of wondering why – especially given his diminishing box office returns – anyone would want to work with him again.

That was followed shortly by an extensive feature in Entertainment Weekly where various elements of the story and characters were shared. There was talk of Young Dumbledore and what he’s like, details on Grindelwald as played by Depp, comments on what the audience could expect in the sequel, confirmation of the story being largely set in Paris and more.

After that largely blew over another set of stills was released along with the news that each film in the Fantastic Beasts franchise would take place in a different city, which was interesting for some reason. Yates in an interview confirmed people’s suspicions/fears, that the film would not address Dumbledore’s sexuality directly, instead just leaving things in the mind of the audience. He tried to thread the needle even more later on, saying this was just one aspect of a massive story that wasn’t being addressed directly, but that there were “sensual” scenes with the character.

More first look photos offered glimpses of a young Newt and other characters, including Dumbledore in an interview with Law where he awkwardly confirmed the future headmaster was gay but that it would not be explicitly addressed in the movie. Redmayne was also interviewed and talked about the darker tone the sequel has compared to the original.

Trying to keep things light, the studio released a first look at baby Nifflers in EW’s Fall Movie Preview issue. Later on Kravitz offered a few odds and ends about her character and the various relationships to others in the Potter universe.

The debut of the final trailer revealed Claudia Kim played Nagini, who at this point is still able to transform from human to snake. The actress spoke about that, but the overall audience reaction wasn’t positive as people felt making an Asian woman less than human was slightly derogatory.

An EW cover story just a couple weeks ago featured all kinds of new interviews and details about the movie, including Depp’s first on-the-record interview about how he got involved with the movie, what the future of the character might be and, to a very small extent, the controversy surrounding his casting.

A bit later the production crew was interviewed about how they created the historic settings for the movie.

Miller became a major face of the movie’s campaign, including a THR profile where he talked about his experience in Hollywood and lots more and a GQ profile where he was hailed as the gender-fluid, whimsical personality that perfectly fit the current cultural moment.

Law talked about the movie on “The Late Show” while Redmayne appeared on “The Tonight Show” to talk about how he prepared to wield a wand once more. Meanwhile Kravitz was interviewed about how she wanted to be more than a token minority in the movie.

Overall

If I were a cynical person I’d say all that “Hey fans, this is just for you!” messaging – both overt and implicit – was a bit cynical in nature, an admission the film is too dense for general audiences and might be kind of a mess.

Research from Fandom released in the last couple days shows that all those negative stories about Depp aren’t likely to make a difference among the core Potterverse fans. They are still going to turn out for the movie, even if they have to hold their noses while doing so. That explains to a large extent why Warner Bros. made the decisions they did with the campaign, putting the rest of the cast out there for fans to interact with, reinforcing that emotional connection and giving them a reason to buy tickets.

Picking Up The Spare

What was likely a sponsored bit on “The Tonight Show” had someone intentionally mispronouncing the movie’s name to unsuspecting people on the street.