Ammonite – Marketing Recap

How NEON is selling a period story of forbidden but undeniable romance.

Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan star in writer/director Francis Lee’s latest film Ammonite. The movie takes its name from the fossil remains of extinct cephalopods, often found in marine rocks. Set in 1840s England, Mary Anning (Winslet) is a fossil hunter who makes her living selling what she finds along the coast to tourists. One day Roderick Murchison (James McArdle) approaches Anning about taking care of his wife Charlotte (Ronan) while he works. Initially reluctant, Mary and Charlotte eventually bond, with that bond becoming something more intense as time goes on.

NEON’s campaign for the movie, which has a decent 71% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, has focused on that romance as well as the movie’s period setting in general.

The Posters

Released in August, the image on the poster (by marketing agency Legion Creative Group) establishes the coastal setting of the story by showing waves of water coming in at the bottom. The romance, then, is communicated in how the translucent photos of Mary and Charlotte’s faces overlap to become solid where they meet, indicating that only when they’re together do the two individuals become a whole person.

The Trailers

Mary is describing the work she did on a particular fossil as the trailer (667,000 views on YouTube), released in August, opens. One day Charlotte enters her shop, accompanied by her husband, who wants Mary to take his wife with her on her walks along the beach looking for specimens. After some reluctance a friendship begins and then something else, something that seems to help both women come alive in a way they weren’t. Of course there is tension as they ponder what such a relationship would mean, making this a story of love and longing.

Online and Social

The page for the movie on NEON’s website has the basic information about the film, including the trailer, poster and a synopsis. There are also Twitter and Instagram profiles which have equally promoted the U.S. and U.K. releases.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

NEON acquired distribution rights to the movie in January.

In August it was announced the film would close October’s BFI London Film Festival. It was also scheduled for the Telluride and Toronto film festivals, with Winslet receiving a Silver Medallion Award at the latter.

Those screenings resulted in somewhat mixed reviews and word of mouth, but praise for the performances of both Winslet and Ronan, whom were pegged as potential awards contenders. It was later added to the New York LGBTQ Film Festival as the opening night feature and then to the Hamptons Film Festival lineup.

Media and Publicity

Some of the first publicity about the movie wasn’t wholly positive, as the director had to defend the story against comments from Anning’s relatives that the lesbian relationship depicted was never confirmed to be real.

A feature profile of Winslet had her talking about returning to acting and the experience of shooting the film, including filming the same-sex romance with Ronan.

During TIFF directory Francis Lee was interviewed about how he assembled the cast and worked with them to make the script come to life. There was also an interview with Ronan about her career to date and how this movie fits into that. In another she talked about how she wanted to get the love story right.

Lee continued talking about how and why he made the love story work in the film. Another interview with Winslet had her talking about shooting the film with Ronan and once more commenting on how it seems to mark a turning point in her career.

Closer to release, Lee was interviewed about finding the nuance and feeling in the story. Winslet and Ronan talked more about filming the love scenes and more.

Overall

On the one hand, there’s a lot about the campaign that seems like it pulls the same 12 elements from most other period romances, including the gentle surroundings, repressed emotions and such. In that way it becomes part of a particular genre, though that also means it kind of blends into the background.

On the other hand, the performances from Winslet and Ronan are shown to be the highlight here, with the story they’re part of a secondary value proposition. That’s why not only are they paired in the marketing elements like the poster and trailer, but have also frequently done joint interviews. Everything, then, works to reinforce the message of the two being a pair, which helps consistently sell the movie in the same way.

Picking Up The Spare

Winslet talked more about her role in the film when she appeared on “The Late Show.” She was also interviewed again about how she managed the love scenes with Ronan. Lee was also interviewed about the research he put into the story and more. 

Winslet participated in a Q&A with Todd Haynes about the story and her character. She spoke more about the film in a later interview.

The Mountain Between Us – Marketing Recap

This week’s new release The Mountain Between Us combines elements of two popular movie genres: The pairing of unlikely and slightly mismatched individuals and the placing of characters in an extreme situation that is so far outside their comfort zone as to be almost impossible to survive.

In this case Kate Winslet plays Alex Martin, a journalist who’s getting married the next day. Idris Elba plays Ben Bass, a surgeon on his way to perform an emergency procedure. The two charter a plane to get out of the airport that’s shut down due to weather. When their small plane crashes, they have to survive the cold and brutality of the mountain they’re stranded on, making their way across it to try and find safety.

The Posters

Elba and Winslet are both seen on the first poster, though they’re facing in opposite directions as if they’re at odds with each other for some reason. That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense given the rest of the campaign, though. And the copy “What if your life depended on a stranger?” is way more creepy and cryptic than anything else we’ve seen. Odd tone here.

The Trailers

The first trailer starts out by introducing us to Ben and Alex, two strangers at an airport. She offers to take him on the private plane she’s chartered to bypass the usual issues. He’s on his way home and she’s on her way to be married. But the plane has a problem and crashes on top of a snow-covered mountain in the middle of nowhere, leaving them stranded far from civilization. She’s hurt and they have limited supplies but decide to set out to try and find help instead of waiting for it to come to them. Things go wrong, of course, as they fight for survival.

It’s alright but the trailer doesn’t do it any favors. It hits all the usual cliches of movies like this, including wild animals hunting them and someone falling through the ice into the cold water below. While there’s every possibility that there’s more to the story than this, the trailer looks pretty generic and like it doesn’t utilize the full capabilities of either Winslet of Elba.

Online and Social

The usual cropped version of the key art graces the top of Fox’s official website for the movie, below which are links to watch the trailer or find the movie’s Facebook and Twitter profiles.

The first section on the site is “Videos,” where you can watch the trailer as well as some clips and a few featurettes/interviews. “About” has a story synopsis alongside the cast and crew list and more links to the movie’s social pages, including an Instagram profile. “Poster” just has the single one-sheet.

In “Featured Content” you’ll find some interesting stuff. First is a photo feature that allows you to upload a picture of yourself to a still from the film to make it seem as if it’s you Elba is comforting instead of Winslet. Also there is a link to iTunes encouraging you to buy the new song from Zayn and Sia that was written for the film.

The site finishes off with a “Gallery” of a half-dozen stills and a curated section of “Social Updates.”

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The debut of the trailer was supported with ad buys on social media, including YouTube which ran it as pre-roll before other videos.

The first TV spots like this one get quickly to the action and the peril the stranded travelers face as well as the emotional turmoil they’re put through as they try to survive out in the snowy wilderness. They’re just like the trailers only without as much setup and backstory.

Media and Publicity

It was announced the movie would have its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. The buzz that came out of that premiere wasn’t wholly positive, unfortunately. Not negative, but nothing to write home about for the most part.

Winslet talked in EW about the challenges of shooting in such a remote and unforgiving environment as well as how her style meshed with that of her costar. A short featurette focused on the extreme conditions that the movie was shot in and the challenges the cast and crew endured during production. The extreme conditions of the shoot continued to be the focal point of the press activity, with the crew and actors talking here about the search for reality and the technical challenges of the locations they found themselves on.

The physically challenging shoot was one of the subjects of this interview with Winslet, where she talked about drawing on the strength she’s built up over the years to handle it as well as what kinds of characters she likes to take on these days.

The two leads conducted in various other interviews and appearances, most of which continued to revolve around the logistics of the production more than anything else.

Overall

First, this is accurate:

The marketing is fine. Nothing special, but it’s fine. The continued focus in the publicity on the extreme conditions of the production and the adjustments everyone had to make have me thinking there’s an awareness the story itself is weak (or, worse, problematic) and so that was decided on as the safest hook for everyone to keep talking about. But whatever.

More problematic for me is something I didn’t notice until looking at the website, specifically that “In This With Idris” photo feature. What caught my eye is the fact that there’s only one option available, to erase Kate Winslet and put yourself in the position of the person relying on the big, strong man to protect them. That’s a little sexist, reinforcing gender roles. And it’s a lot disturbing that the feature asks you to literally remove a female character from the picture. The simple addition of both options would make it slightly better, at least allowing for equal opportunity removal and substitution.

After I saw that I went back and rewatched the trailer and noticed something else. Elba’s character is trying to travel because he’s Important. He has a Very Important Job To Do because he’s a highly-skilled individual who’s needed to save a life. His motivation is based in his talent and abilities. Winslet’s character, on the other hand, is emotional and feminine. She wants to get married. Her motivation isn’t about her own skills – her profession as a journalist is only passingly mentioned – but about her personal life.

The second issue is one the marketing campaign can’t do much with, though I have to wonder if that issue is one of the ones being masked by the “it was such a tough shoot” press focus. The first one, though, is an unforced error that seems out of whack with the current societal climate. It’s disconcerting that only the woman is deemed replaceable, easily swapped out with anyone at all. Someone in the marketing department needs to rethink that kind of approach and make sure female characters aren’t being written out of their own narratives.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.