How Netflix is selling a meta comedy about Hollywood in times of pandemic.
There have been a handful of movies over the last year or so that have, in one way or another, been about or at least set in the world of a pandemic. But The Bubble, new this week on Netflix, offers a new take on the idea, one that mixes quarantine reality with Hollywood’s love affair with making movies about itself.
Directed by Judd Apatow, who cowrote the script with Pam Brady, the movie follows the cast of the fictional Cliff Beasts 6 as they shoot the franchise sequel during the Covid-19 pandemic. Karen Gillan, David Duchovny, Leslie Mann, Keegan-Michael Key and others star as Cliff Beasts series veteran actors. They’re joined by newcomers played by Iris Apatow and Pedro Pascal, with Fred Armisen as the film’s director and Kate McKinnon as the studio head overseeing a logistically difficult production.
With that premise, let’s take a look at the very meta campaign Netflix has rolled out over the last month or so.
announcements and casting
Netflix announced the film in November, 2020, as the real-life pandemic was still sweeping through the country and world. Apatow was set to direct as well as write with Brady.
Most of the primary cast, including Gillan, Key, Mann, Pascal and others was announced in February, 2021.
the marketing campaign for CLIFF BEA6TS
Things kicked off in early March with an appropriately meta touch, one that left more than a few people scratching their heads as we tried to figure out what was going on. Causing the confusion was the teaser trailer for Cliff Beasts 6: The Battle For Everest. What’s most impressive about this teaser is that it 100% looks like something that would actually be made for a long-in-the-tooth action franchise, with pulse-pounding music, a few flashy graphics and, most impressively, the fact that the title is actually represented as “CLIFF BEA6TS”, with that “6” making no sense whatsoever.
That was followed by a completely serious featurette explaining the story to date in the Cliff Beasts franchise, including interviews with the cast, posters for the earlier movies and the usual kind of self-congratulatory comments about how everyone worked together mixed with promises of even more action and adventure to come.
Along those same lines came a retrospective that included comments from the cast about returning to the series, who their characters are and other very familiar material.
All of that took place in just a couple days, all leading up to the launch of the campaign for the *actual* movie, not the movie-within-a-movie.
Later on there was a behind-the-scenes video released that shows the director of Cliff Beasts trying to coax performances from the actors with sometimes confusing, sometimes contradictory and always insane suggestions. Another similar video shows just what you get when you hire a Sundance-winning director to helm a big-budget special effects blockbuster.
the marketing campaign for THE BUBBLE
The first trailer (500,000 YouTube views) for The Bubble starts out with footage from Cliff Beasts, only to then transition to show the ridiculous green screen nature of shooting movies like that, including extras in foam outfits as placeholders for the digital monsters added later. We see that the cast and crew have been sequestered for the duration of the production, with PPE and Covid tests and everything we’ve come to expect over the last two years. Even with that aside the set is filled with insanity, whether it’s people coming down with the flu, doing too much cocaine, hooking up with each other or rolling their eyes at some of their costars.
The disconnect between reality and fantasy is also highlighted on the poster, which has the cast arrayed in the usual heroic V formation, but with the green screen not filled in, so we see the wires and backdrops and all the other stuff we’re not supposed to.
A clip shows an extended look at one sequence from the production, with a dramatic moment in Cliff Beasts giving way to the green screen reality of filming.
Netflix offered everyone an explanation of what was going on in a video that also had recommendations on what else members of the movie’s cast have been in that people could watch.
What’s most amazing about this campaign is that, with the exception of one or two videos, it encompasses a total of under 72 hours. Most all of those initial videos for the Cliff Beasts movie came out over a single two-day period, while the trailer and poster for the actual movie came out in a single day.
That aside, there’s a lot of fun in what’s presented here, especially when you consider it’s inspired by the real life situation encountered by the Jurassic World: Dominion filmmakers. But it’s also more of a broad comedy than what we’re used to seeing from Apatow, who usually deals in headier, or at least more subtle, fare.