Happiest Season – Marketing Recap

How Hulu has sold an updated take on the Christmas movie genre.

In The Happiest Season, out now on Hulu, Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis play girlfriends Harper and Abby respectively, a happy couple who are about to put their relationship through a significant test: the holiday season. Specifically, they plan to visit Abby’s family for Christmas. Taking advantage of the celebration, Harper plans to propose to Abby while there.

Writer/director Clea DuVall’s story, though, adds the complication that unbeknownst to Harper, Abby’s family doesn’t know she’s gay. They believe instead that Abby is bringing her orphaned friend with nowhere else to go. Harper then begins to question much of their relationship, often with the support of her friend John (Dan Levy). The movie also stars Victor Garber, Mary Steenburgen, Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza and others.

Originally planned for a theatrical release by Sony Pictures, in October Hulu announced it had picked up the movie and would release it to streaming in late November. To date, the film has received largely positive reviews, giving it a solid 92% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Posters

Just one poster, which was released barely over a week prior to the film becoming available. The major cast, with Stewart and Davis in the forefront, are assembled in a picture as if they’re all part of the same photograph. How that photo is hanging cockeyed over the fireplace indicates how off-kilter the family – and story – is while festive holiday decorations visible around the frame make the setting of the action clear to the audience. It’s a fine, if innocuous, image but for the fact that all the faces save those of Stewart and Davis are clearly Photoshopped into place.

The Trailers

Released in mid-November, the trailer (6 million views on YouTube) starts by showing how much Abby is looking forward to meeting Harper’s family over Christmas. As they’re on their way, Harper breaks the news that her parents don’t know she’s gay, much less that she’s bringing her girlfriend with her. Instead, she’s told them Abby is an orphan with nowhere to go. Hilarity and awkwardness ensues, especially when Abby’s friend John gets involved.

Online and Social

Advertising and Promotions

The buzz-heavy cast was announced in January as the movie was heading into production. That filming was finished in late February, just before Covid-19-related shutdowns went into effect.

Earlier this month a drive-in premiere for the film was held. The artists contributing to the movie’s soundtrack were also announced.

In the days leading up to release online ads like the one below were placed around the web, using the key art to encourage people to click over to the movie’s page on Hulu.

Short videos like this were produced and used both as organic promotions as well as paid ads.

Media and Press

First look stills accompanied by comments from Stewart, Levy and others were included in EW’s Fall Movie Preview.

Following the release of the trailer there were features on how Duvall worked to offer a twist on the holiday rom-com genre tropes as well as on Steenburgen feels about being a Christmas movie go-to player.

Meanwhile, Levy appeared on “The Tonight Show” to talk about the movie and lots more. Brie did likewise on “Kimmel” as did Stewart. Levy and Stewart showed up together on “The Today Show.”

Themed gift packages of promotional items were sent to select members of the press.

Teegan & Sara appeared on “The Kelly Clarkson” to perform their new song on the film’s soundtrack, with DuVall and much of the cast also appearing on that show.

Appropriately, there was significant coverage of the film in the LGBTQ press, including a cover story with multiple features in The Advocate as well as stories like this in Pride, all of which covered how DuVall and the cast worked to bring something new to the genre.

That same theme was carried over into much of the press, including additional interviews with DuVall as well as Stewart and the rest of the cast. There were also breakout profiles of Stewart, Davis and Brie along with more general holiday hijinks with the cast.

Overall

It’s hard not to be completely charmed by the campaign Hulu has put together in the space of less than a month. Some of the material was likely brought over from whatever Sony had already produced, but generating such significant buzz in so short a period is a testament to not only the strength of what’s presented here but also to the obvious passion of the audience that has been drawn to it in that time.

It benefits greatly from having such talented and outspoken talent like Stewart, DuVall, Davis and others involved, all of whom have reiterated the movie’s core value proposition – that it’s part of the “awkward family Christmas” genre while offering an updated variation on what’s come before – throughout their press activities. That it’s coming to streaming and not theaters allows it to reach more of the audience immediately, which will likely help its prospects for success.

Picking Up The Spare

Another interview with Stewart had her talking about what made her sign on to this project. 

Costar Mary Holland also got a profile all her own. There have also been a number of interviews like this with DuVall about reaction to the ending, the potential for a sequel and more. That ending was also covered by Plaza when she appeared on “The Late Show.” 

Nice little behind-the-scenes featurette from Hulu.

Details here on a new partnership between the movie and GLAAD and Outfest for a holiday season PSA. 

A couple new featurettes have come out along with a lyric video for Tegan And Sara’s “Make You Mine This Season.” There was also a short blooper reel that’s just great.

Underwater – Marketing Recap

You can read my full recap of the marketing recap for Underwater at The Hollywood Reporter.

Online and Social

Not much of an official website, just the bare minimum of marketing materials laid out in the standard Fox site template.

Media and Press

A first still from the film was released just before the first trailer came out in August, 2019.

What’s been surprising is the almost complete lack of pre-release press activity on the film’s behalf. Stewart has been especially absent, though she did the circuit just recently for Seberg, which was positioned as a labor of love for her and so dominated her attention and time. Oh, and there was also the Charlie’s Angels campaign.

The studio livestreamed a Q&A with the cast earlier this week. It also shared a goofy – and tonally off-brand – video of Stewart guessing items in a fish tank mystery box.

At the movie’s premiere Stewart and the rest of the cast and crew talked about the pressure of working in such a high-stress and sometimes dangerous environment.

Overall

Picking Up the Spare

More online ads like the one below popped up as the movie was hitting theaters.

Underwater online ad

Seberg – Marketing Recap

How Amazon Studios is selling a movie of stardom, paranoia and surveillance.

seberg posterJean Seberg helped usher in the French New Wave of cinema when she starred in 1960’s Breathless, written by Francois Truffaut and directed by Jean-Luc Godard. In this week’s new release Seberg, the actress is portrayed by Kristen Stewart. With the stardom that comes from her breakout performance in Godard’s innovative masterpiece, Seberg wants to challenge herself as a performer and do something important with the profile she’s gained.

To that end she gets involved in the American civil rights movement of the 1960s, eventually becoming romantically involved with Hakim Jamal (Anthony Mackie), a leader in the movement. Her actions, though, put her on the radar of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, who believes such groups are anti-American and dangerous. She becomes paranoid she’s always being listened to and followed, which sometimes she is.

In marketing the film, Amazon Studios has focused on how the story highlights the dangers of putting yourself out there for a cause and the impact it can have on your career and personal life.

The Posters

Stewart as Seberg is shown on the poster looking very much the early-60s manic pixie dream girl with her tom-boy haircut and short, colorful dress. It’s a simple image but one that highlights the movie’s key selling point, which is Stewart’s take on the subject. Her persona is communicated in the three adjectives shown under the title: “Actress. Activist. Adversary.” .

The Trailers

November brought the release of the first trailer (629,000 views on YouTube). It sells a story steeped in themes of identity and paranoia as we see Jean go from merely uncomfortable with the public image that’s been crafted for her to one who wants to define her own persona more completely. We’re shown how she starts off as chafing under the spotlight and refusing to be something she doesn’t want to be to someone who wants to enact real change in the world. Doing so threatens not only her marriage thanks to the affair she begins but also her safety as her work with civil rights groups gets the attention of law enforcement who wants to shut those movements down. It’s a powerful combination of messages, one that certainly resonates in the modern day.

Online and Social

There is an official website for the movie but it only has the most basic of information. It’s only received limited support on Amazon’s social channels.

Advertising and Promotions

seberg online adThe 2019 Venice Film Festival was slated to be the venue for the movie’s premiere. Shortly after that it screened at the Toronto Film Festival and was later slated to appear out of competition at the London Film Festival.

Stewart received the Golden Eye Award when the movie was scheduled for the Zurich Film Festival. It also played at the San Sebastian Film Festival.

Online ads used the title treatment and other images from the poster art to drive visitors to the official site to learn more.

Media and Press

A first-look photo was released at the same time as the news it would be screening at Venice. There was a profile of Stewart back in August where she talked about this movie and her career to date.

An interview during Venice had Stewart talking about how she worked to honor the subject she was playing and more. During Toronto she spoke about similar topics while at the same time making it clear artists have the right and responsibility to speak out on social issues that are important to them, both within and outside of their work. She and Mackie talked about how fame has changed in the age of social media.

Stewart continued to talking about celebrity privacy and related matters during the festival and then about the relationship between actor and director while in San Sebastian. She spoke more about the process of filming the movie here.

A profile of Mackie focused on how this was one of a few recent roles to take him back into more dramatic territory as compared to his super hero film work.

Overall

While the campaign itself is decent enough, it just hasn’t received the same amount of attention from Amazon Studios that other recent releases have. So everything here has been fairly muted and restrained, without a lot of additional context or background given to reinforce the story’s message that just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean someone isn’t actually out to get you.

What’s doubly disappointing is that Stewart is the perfect star for a movie like this, given how her privacy has been invaded by the public and media for so long and so pervasively. While she spoke about those issues in interviews, there’s nothing in the marketing itself to hammer that point home, which is a missed opportunity.

Charlie’s Angels – Marketing Recap

You can read my full recap of the marketing campaign for Charlie’s Angels at The Hollywood Reporter.

Online and Social

In addition to the standard marketing materials, the movie’s official website has (of course) a link to buy or stream the soundtrack. It’s a bit better than most recent movie sites, including a link to find out how to get a sponsored Snapchat lens

Entertainment Weekly offered exclusive movie-themed lenses for Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram as well.

Media and Press

Well in advance of the movie coming out – indeed before production had really started – Stewart was out there talking about how Banks was approaching the material and how no one was interested in just ripping off earlier versions. Lucy Lui, who starred in the movies from the early 2000s, gave her blessing to the project. And Stewart commented on the attitude of the movie while promoting other projects last year.

While promoting J.T. Leroy earlier in the year Stewart spoke briefly about the movie, explaining how Banks and the other filmmakers told a relevant story using a slightly anachronistic concept, promising plenty of humor as well. Banks also mentioned the movie while she was promoting Brightburn and other projects.

There was a profile of Stewart back in August where she talked about this movie and her career to date.

Del Rey was interviewed about how her musical collaboration with others got started.

In September the whole cast and Banks appeared on “Kimmel” to talk about working together and offer some footage to the TV and studio audiences. Banks spoke about her directing career to date and why she wanted to take on this movie in particular in a feature interview. Another interview had her talking about her love of the original series and more.

Stewart hosted an episode of “Saturday Night Live” in late October as part of a promotional push that included a stop at “The Tonight Show” as well. The topic of showing off hardworking women came up when Banks appeared on “The Late Show” while Scott’s time on “The Tonight Show” was more fun.

That was also the focus of a behind the scenes profile that included comments from Banks and the rest of the cast. She talked about how the film was meant to celebrate working women when she did a Q&A at a recent Fast Company-hosted event. A later interview had her putting the pressure on studios to hire more women filmmakers.

Overall

Picking Up the Spare

Balinska was interviewed about the production, including her training regiment to get in shape for the physical stonework.

Banks brought the thunder when asked why a reboot of the franchise was necessary at this point in time.

These Actresses Have Made the Leap to Director

The last month has seen three movies released, each the first directorial effort by a well-established actor. Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born, Jonah Hill’s Mid90s and Paul Dano’s Wildlife each gained additional exposure and awareness by virtue of the fact that they were directed by well-known actors stepping behind the camera for the first time.

This year, as well as next, will also see a good number of actresses directing their first feature films. Just a couple weeks ago news broke a couple weeks ago that Maggie Gyllenhaal would be making her directorial debut with the upcoming The Last Daughter. The decision seems, at least in part, to be one made in an effort to seize some measure of creative control over their careers and tell stories important to them.

Judy Greer – A Happening of Monumental Proportions (2018)

Greer has established a long and successful career playing the best friend of the lead character, working with just about everyone in Hollywood. She called on a lot of the talent she’s connected with for this movie, featuring an ensemble cast in a story of one very bad day on a number of fronts in a public school.

Olivia Wilde – Booksmart (2019)

This upcoming story of best friends who, as they are about to graduate high school, decide they spent too much time studying and not enough time partying. Seeking to rectify that they try and sow all their wild oats in a single night to ridiculous results. The movie stars Billie Lourd and Kaitlyn Dever.

Kristen Stewart – The Chronology of Water (2019)

Just announced earlier this year, the movie’s story is still largely unknown, though while she’s been promoting other projects Stewart has talked about the kind of tone the story will take, including that it’s unabashed in its focus on female sexuality.

Lea Thompson – The Year of Spectacular Men (2018)

When Thompson, who’s been acting in Hollywood for decades, decided to make her first movie she turned to family for support, enlisting daughters Madelyn and Zoey Deutch to play sisters. Izzy (Madelyn) is having a bit of a crisis involving relationships and so sets out to spend time with her family for support.

Heather Graham – Half Magic (2018)

Another actress that has spent decades earning accolades in supporting roles, Graham finally opted to tell a story herself, writing and starring in this release from earlier this year. The story was certainly timely, focusing on a group of women who have had enough with being mistreated by men and so bond together to reclaim their power and their personality.

Lizzie – Marketing Recap

The marketing campaign for LIZZIE, about the Lizzie Borden murder case, sells a tragic romance at the end of the 19th century.

lizzie posterThe story of Lizzie Borden is one that’s captivated the American psyche for well over 100 years now, commonly being referred to as the first “celebrity” killers in the country’s history. This week’s new movie Lizzie tells her story, or at least a version of it.

Chloë Sevigny plays Lizzie, a woman well past the common marrying age for the time who still lives with her father and stepmother. One day a new housekeeper named Bridget (Kristen Stewart) comes to work at the house and eventually becomes both emotionally and physically involved with Lizzie. The older Bordon’s oppressive and abusive behavior becomes too much for the two women and, in some way, he and his wife end up dead, leading to rumor and speculation in the small Massachusetts town where they live.

The Posters

The two women stand close together on the first poster against a white background, with the light from behind them creating an ax-shaped shadow on the ground. That’s a bit on-the-nose, but it’s actually nicely countered by the positive critics’ quotes that fill the rest of the white space.

The Trailers

Lizzie’s father is not a good man, we see in the first trailer, assaulting the new housemaid almost as soon as she arrives. Bridget’s fear of him and the growing connection – which we see becomes a physical and romantic attraction – between her and Lizzie is soon found out by him and so, with all that happening, Lizzie takes violent matters into her own hands.

It’s a relatively short, or at least moderately-paced, trailer that shows off the period tone and dark story of the movie. The chemistry between Sevigny and Stewart is not only seen but praised through the appearance of quotes from early screenings that are displayed over the footage. Sparse, melancholic music plays to heighten the tension and sense of dread.

Online and Social

There’s not much happening on the official website, which just features the trailer, a synopsis and links to the Instagram, Facebook and Twitter profiles.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A doomed and tragic romance that ends in murder is the story sold in the first TV spot, debuting in late August. Much of the story framing from the trailer is removed in favor of pulse-pounding quick cuts and shots of desperate conversations being had. A “digital spot” a short while later kept the focus on the tension while hinting at the friendship (and more) between Lizzie and Bridget.

Media and Publicity

A first look still from the film was shared at the same time it was announced it would premiere at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, with the movie being cited as one many critics were anxious to see there. While there the cast talked quite a bit about the film, with Sevigny commenting on the nudity at the core of one its centerpiece scenes and how this version of the story ties into the #metoo movement by being female-driven about about women reclaiming their power from men.

The buzz around the film led to a bidding war that eventually ended when Saban Films picked it up. Shortly after that Stewart addressed the timely themes of the movie as well as the realities that needed to be represented regarding how long it took for women in that period to take their clothes off and what constituted a good reason to do so.

A clip featuring a pivotal moment from the story was released just a couple days before the movie hit theaters.

Overall

The focus of the campaign is less on the murders themselves as it is on the relationship between Lizzie and Bridget. That’s what is driving the drama forward here, with the murders that someone commits being a result of that, not something separate from it. You see that in the trailer as well as in the publicity efforts.

It’s the star power of the actors involved that has the most potential to get people’s attention. My guess is the Lizzie Borden case isn’t as well known now as it was several years ago, so it’s on Stewart and Sevigny to bring out the public that has come see them in other things.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

Sevigny received a substantial profile here that talked about how the movie plays into her long-term career aspirations and affinity for challenging roles.

 

Chloe Sevigny talks here about how she’s wanted to make the movie for years, largely as a way to create the kind of role she’s been looking for. She also says the legends of the real people being portrayed were prominent on set.

 

Both Sevigny and Stewart talk about the production of he movie and the kind of story they were trying to tell.
A couple additional TV spots came out just as the movie was released, one that focused on the “40 whacks” Borden allegedly gave her father and one on the relationship between Lizzie and the family’s new housekeeper.