Little Women – Marketing Recap

How Sony is selling the latest adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel.

little women poster 9The story of Little Women is one that’s been told on film a number of times over the decades. Now writer/director Greta Gerwig is bringing her own interpretation of the material to screens with an all-star cast and a modern sensibility that still retains the story’s original setting.

As always, the story revolves around the women of the March family, with matriarch Marmee (Laura Dern) and daughters Beth (Eliza Scanlen), Amy (Florence Pugh), Meg (Emma Watson) and Jo (Saoirse Ronan). With the men all gone fighting the Civil War they have to make it on their own and count on each other. All four have their own dreams and desires but come up against the standards of the time, which don’t let a woman claim her independence or make her own way in the world.

In marketing the film, Columbia Pictures/Sony has relied on audience’s familiarity with the source material while also promoting the presence of some of today’s most buzzed-about young actors.

The Posters

Jo is shown running toward the camera on the first poster (by marketing agency Works Adv) from October. The other main characters are relegated to horizontal photo strips off to the side, there to be shown off to the audience but clearly not the focus of the movie. “Own your story” conveys the take-charge attitude audiences will encounter when they see it.

A series of character posters that offer fuller looks at the cast came out shortly after that.

One final poster shows the four March sisters looking anxiously out the window anxiously, emphasizing one more time the weight of the cast on display here.

The Trailers

It’s very much the classic story we’re all familiar with being shown in the first trailer (7.6 million views on YouTube), released in early August. While the characters and plot may be largely known to us, the selling point then becomes the cast that’s been assembled by Gerwig, one that includes some of the most buzzed-about talent working today. Aside from that, the message sent to the audience is that women can do whatever it is they want and should be allowed to do so my men and society as a whole, which still remains an important one.

Online and Social

There’s actually some good stuff on the movie’s official website, including a “March Sisters Quiz” to help you determine which one you’re the most like.

Advertising and Publicity

The movie gained significant awards season momentum following a press/SAG/DGA screening in October.

Laurie asks Jo to dance in the first clip, released in early November. A second clip released a bit later has the two discussing the economic realities of love and marriage in the era. Additional clips had Auntie Marsh talking about Jo’s need to be married and her frustration at the whole of patriarchal society.

An extended TV commercial came out in late November that offered a recap of the story, focusing on Jo’s special place in the family and her unwillingness to accept the fate that awaits her as a woman in that era.

The movie’s premiere was held last week, with Gerwig and the cast all showing up to chat about the production and more.

Little Free Libraries was the only promotional partner for the film, putting movie-branded boxes of books in select cities across the country. Sony donated 2,000 copies of Little Women to be stocked in those and other locations as well.

Most of the cast participated in a “Tiny Kitchen” vignette, watching as a movie-themed tiny kitchen was assembled.

Media and Press

While also talking about other projects, Ronan spoke on what it was like to reunite with her Lady Bird director. Pugh commented on the movie and its story while she was in Sundance earlier this year promoting other projects. Reports circulated in April that this was the second choice Sony had in mind if Once Upon a Time In Hollywood, the new movie from Quentin Tarantino, wasn’t ready for screening at Cannes.

Vanity Fair offered a first look at the pairing of Ronan and Chalamet in mid-June. Interviews with Pugh while she was promoting Midsomer earlier this year often included comments about transitioning from that production to this one and what a welcome relief the change was.

An interview with Gerwig from about the same time the trailer was released has her sharing her thoughts on assembling the powerful cast and making the most of their talents.

A brief Chalamet profile came out that touched only on very high-level topics and only briefly mentioned this movie. That came at about the same time as an EW cover story featuring both Chalamet and Ronan where they talked about working together again and the natural chemistry they enjoy on screen as well as an interview with Pugh where she shared her approach to her character and attachment to the material.

The October screening included a Q&A with Gerwig and the cast where they talked about the story and how they got into character.

What drew her to offer yet another take on the familiar story and how she assembled the impressive cast were covered by Gerwig in another interview where she talked about the research she did in preparation for production. The ways in which she and the cast updated that material were the topic of a joint profile with her and Pugh.

While the focus was on other things, costar Tracy Letts briefly commented on his enthusiasm for working with Gerwig again after getting to know her while filming Lady Bird.

Chalamet spoke about the movie when he appeared on “Late Night” several weeks ago.

A profile of Ronan had her acknowledging the likely importance of this role in her career while also emphasizing how committed she was to getting that role while Gerwig talked about how she approached Jo and working with the actor.

In a nice touch, the movie was endorsed by Gillian Armstrong, who directed the much-loved 1994 version.

How cast and crew assembled to make the very old novel interesting and relevant to the modern times was the subject of an extended feature profile that encompassed comments from many of those involved.

Gerwig’s influence on the story and her ability to manage the cast were all commented on by those involved at the film’s premiere a few weeks ago.

Members of the cast made a major foray into the late night talk show arena beginning a couple weeks ago. “The Tonight Show” hosted Chalamet, “The Late Show” featured Ronan and Pugh.

The stars of the film expressed their collective dismay at Gerwig’s being overlooked for a Golden Globes director nomination.

The movie’s release allowed for a new conversation about the source book and its rightful place in the American literary canon and the reasons it might not be currently occupying that position.

Gerwig spoke about how long she’s had the ending of the movie in mind and what it took for her to get it made.

Overall

Selling an all-female drama set in during the Civil War should be a hard task, but by selling it as a piece of modern filmmaking with whipsmart dialogue uttered by some of the most critically-praised actors in recent years is a solid way around that problem.

A movie like this should be benefitting from all sorts of awards season buzz, but as many people have noted it’s oddly not. The reasons why are unknown (though plenty of speculation has been bandied about) but whatever they are it means a crucial part of the hype cycle is missing, which could impact its chances for success at the box office as well.

Despite that, what’s sold here is all manner of enticing. Throughout the campaign Gerwig has promised anything but a staid period drama. Instead what audiences are offered is a vital, fresh, energetic take on the material that reflects both the past and the present.

Picking Up the Spare

A new behind the scenes featurette has been released along with another that focused on Gerwig’s direction.

Gerwig started making a few late night appearances along with participating in a number of additional interviews on the inspirations for the story, her work building the world of the film, her long personal journey with the story. She also appeared on “Kimmel” to talk about the movie and her early awards season snubs.

Also getting some attention was the film’s costume and production designers.

Another profile of Pugh here that talked about this movie and her career as a whole. She also appeared on late night to promote the movie and talk about the various Oscar snubs.

The movie has increased interest in and attendance at the Alcott family home in Massachusetts.

Marriage Story – Marketing Recap

How Netflix is selling the latest from writer/director Noah Baumbach.

marriage story poster 3There are countless movies that chronicle the beginnings of a relationship. Plenty capture the middle of a marriage as well, even if the focus isn’t on that couple but instead on others around them.

With this week’s Marriage Story, writer/director Noah Baumbach takes on the ending of a marriage, a phase that doesn’t get a whole lot of cinematic attention. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson play Charlie and Nicole, a couple whose marriage starts out romantic and idyllic. Over time, though, cracks start to form as frustrations and tensions mount. Through it all, including their eventual divorce proceedings, the two must find ways to remain connected in part for the sake of their son Henry.

Netflix has given the movie a marketing campaign that emphasizes the way Charlie and Nicole have been, are and always be together and yet apart. Like many of its recent high-profile releases, Marriage Story received a limited theatrical release in advance of it becoming available for streaming subscribers this week.

(Note: I usually write these in advance of the theatrical release, but this one slipped by me so I’m publishing it as it comes to streaming. These things happen.)

The Posters

The movie’s parallel storylines are made explicit on the pair of posters (by marketing agency BLT Communications) released in August at the same time as the trailer. One shows Nicole and the other Charlie, both of their silhouettes set against lightly colored backgrounds with a photo of the city they live in shown within the cutout.

Charlie and Nicole are shown with Henry in happier times on the theatrical poster from October. The couple is playfully embracing as Henry squirms at the bottom of the picture, a pose familiar to any kid who’s been caught in the middle when the adults decide to get a little mushy. It’s a simple poster that seems like it could be for a similar movie from the mid-70s but it establishes the core dynamic of the story, at least as it exists at the outset.

The Trailers

There were two trailers released around the time the film was premiering at the Venice Film Festival in August, one that had Charlie sharing what he loves about Nicole and one with Nicole offering a similar perspective on Charlie. The dual perspectives show the high points of their marriage before devolving into the end of their marriage, when they don’t have anything to say to each other. It’s a clever way to sell the unique nature of the movie’s story and certainly works to achieve a balance that a standard trailer would have a difficult time with.

The second trailer (1.9 million views on YouTube) came out in mid-October and combined Charlie’s and Nicole’s stories, starting with them sharing what it is they love about each other before showing how they navigate the dissolution of their marriage. Despite that, it becomes clear they are still going to be part of each other’s lives, which is just as tricky as remaining married was.

Online and Social

You won’t find a synopsis on the movie’s official website, which instead focuses on the chasm between Nicole and Charlie. The character-centric key art is placed on either side of the site’s front page and clicking their outline will take you to the appropriate early trailers. The other trailer as well as the bevy of featurettes released recently are also curate on the site.

Advertising and Promotions

Details about the film started to come out in late July, culminating in the announcement it would screen at the 2019 Venice Film Festival. A screening of the movie at the Telluride Film Festival was preceded by a tribute to Driver that was introduced by Martin Scorsese, who directed the actor in 2017’s Silence. It was also scheduled as the “Centerpiece” selection at this year’s New York Film Festival and among those showing at the Hamptons Film Festival.

Screening at the Toronto Film Festival in September generated conversations that the movie might be Netflix’s best bet yet at getting into awards consideration given the performance from Driver and Johansson along with others. It was then scheduled to be the opening night feature at Film Fest 919 in October. In advance of the movie’s screening at the Santa Barbara Film Festival, Driver and Johansson were named “Outstanding Performers of the Year.”

Netflix managed to reopen the recently-shuttered Paris Theater in New York City to screen the film.

In a surprise twist, the movie was added to the AFI Fest lineup at the last minute when Apple pulled The Banker, which had been scheduled to screen there, from the lineup.

Featurettes released by Netflix included one that focused on the ensemble cast that was assembled by Baumbach and how composer Randy Newman created the film’s score. Also getting attention was costume designer Mark Bridges, editor Jennifer Lame and costar Laura Dern.

Just a few days ago the movie got a big boost when it picked up multiple wins at the Gotham Awards. Those come after it received multiple Independent Spirit Awards nominations.

Media and Press

While in Venice, Johansson and Driver talked about making the movie with Baumbach and how the story related to the personal troubles some of them have gone through in the past.

A massive profile of Johansson included mention of the many high-profile films she has in the works and on the release schedule, but it was her comments about Woody Allen that generated the most headlines.

Press coverage at Toronto included awards speculation as well as assessments of where Netflix was as a distributor along with various interviews with the cast and filmmakers.

A profile of Driver from October talked about his career as a whole and the high-profile directors who have cast him in their movies while pointing out the unconventional nature of his appearance and personality.

Dern was interviewed about how quickly she agreed to sign on to the project and what it was that attracted her.

An interview with Baumbach allowed him to talk about how he developed the story and what real life events inspired him to write it. At the movie’s premiere Johansson and the rest of the cast praised the director while explaining what the story meant to them and why they got involved.

While Johansson talked about the movie a couple months ago while promoting JoJo Rabbit, Driver made some talk show appearances closer to release, including on “The Late Show,” “Late Night” and elsewhere. Baumbach himself was interviewed on “The Daily Show” and Dern appeared on “Kimmel” and other shows.

Another interview with the director focused on the work that went into some of the movie’s key scenes. There were also interviews with Alda and Dern about their roles in the movie along with their entire careers. In addition to one more profile of Baumbach, there was also a features on Julie Haggerty that looked at her career and how it’s now included this film

Overall

On some level the campaign is fairly straightforward, selling a movie that hits all the beats you might expect from what is essentially a relationship drama.

But there’s so much here that’s not shown, it’s hard not to think there’s a sucker punch waiting around the corner. That feeling is reinforced by the way the campaign has kept Charlie and Nicole apart in all the individual elements.

Really, then, what’s being sold here is a tearjerker from a reliably original writer/director and featuring a talented cast. The twists and turns of the story will be rending and affirming by turns, but it’s the journey here that is the main attraction.

Picking Up the Spare

A couple additional featurettes from Netflix on the movie’s production design and the way Baumbach approached directing the story. There were also clips of conversations from festivals with Driver and Baumbach, Johansson and costar Ray Liotta. The much-discussed scene of Driver singing Sondheim was released as a clip.

Baumbach was interviewed on “The Tonight Show” while he and editor Jennifer Lame spoke together about honing the story and its pacing.

A profile of Driver included comments from Baumbach and others about the actor’s approach to his roles and more.

Another featurette from Netflix on the writing of the film.

Trial By Fire – Marketing Recap

trial by fire posterTrial By Fire, in limited release this week, is another story of justice set aside. Jack O’Connell stars as Cameron Todd Willingham in the true story of how he was convicted of murder following a house fire that claimed the life of his three young daughters. He maintains the fire was accidental, but authorities believe they have their man, driven by a need to hold someone responsible.

To his aid comes Elizabeth Gilbert (Laura Dern), a woman who believes Willingham hasn’t received the best legal aid and is being railroaded by the system. Over the course of more than a decade, she uncovers new evidence and finds potential wrongdoing among various investigators, all while Willingham languishes on death row, ultimately executed for a crime he insists he didn’t commit.

The Posters

Elizabeth and Cameron both appear on the poster, the latter twice. Once at the top his face is alongside the burning house that has sent him to prison while at the bottom he’s looking up at the sky, perhaps hopeful his innocence will finally come to light. She’s in the middle, looking determined. Copy at the bottom tells the audience to “Stand for what’s right. Fight for what’s true.’ while at the top we’re sold on the fact it comes from the director of such well-regarded dramas as Glory and Legends of the Fall.

The Trailers

Cameron is sitting on death row as the trailer opens, thereafter being found guilty of murder. When Elizabeth comes to visit him, she wants to hear his side of the events that sent him to prison. He continues to protest his innocence, something she comes around to believing as she finds there were serious problems with the prosecution, defense and overall investigation. Smacking down a bit of casual sexism, she keeps on digging and fighting but keeps butting up against a broken system that doesn’t want to admit fault or change because it helps some people feel safe.

Online and Social

Not much on the movie’s official website, just the trailers, a synopsis and a prompt to save a release date reminder to your calendar.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Nothing I’ve come across.

Media and Publicity

Its debut at the Telluride Film Festival generated moderately positive reviews. Much later – February, 2019 – it was picked up by Roadside Attractions.

Zwick was interviewed about the politics of the death penalty and the message he wanted to send with this story. He and others in the cast and crew made a few other media appearances and sat down for the occasional chat, but not much.

Overall

It’s surprising that Ed Zwick, who has a string of successful and popular movies to his credit, has a new movie coming out that isn’t being widely discussed. There may have been some targeted outreach to get interest groups focused on the death penalty to see and talk about the film, but in general circles there’s little conversation about a movie that seems to cover such an important topic.

Dern, of course, looks like a major attraction for the movie in addition to the subject matter. She’s consistently excellent and surely elevates the material behind the Movie Of The Week status is might have been, just as Zwick’s involvement likely does. Just as with the handful of movies about police shootings of black men, stories of how justice is miscarried – either accidentally or willfully – should get more attention as they shed light on serious societal issues.

Picking Up the Spare

Wick was interviewed about how he got involved with the movie, working with the cast and the story he tried to tell. 

The Tale Never Stood a Chance

The team at Slate are concerned that everyone slept on The Tale, last year’s buzzed-about movie starring Laura Dern as the grown version of a young girl victimized by sexual abuse. After it emerged from the 2018 Sundance Film Festival as one of the most buzzed-about titles, particularly because of Dern’s performance, it was quickly snatched up by HBO, which debuted it in May of last year.

It did fade quickly from the cinematic conversation, never quite living up to the hype the buzz that came out of Sundance would have indicated or seemed to predict. A big part of the reason for that, I think, is because it was HBO that picked it up.

The Tale was the one big profile title acquired by the cable network coming out of last year’s Sundance and one of the few movies it’s picked up out of festivals in recent years. About a month out from its debut a campaign was finally launched that included a decent trailer that explained much of the story and a lackluster poster that simply reused one of the first publicity stills included in the Sundance coverage. An official website has offered resources for those affected by sexual abuse and information on free screenings for advocacy and support groups.

Netflix is essentially running the HBO model, mixing in an increasing number of original features and programs alongside the content it gets via licenses from other studios and producers. But right now, with the exception of shows like “Game of Thrones” and a few others, Netflix has the advantage of being buzzed about while HBO does not.

That’s why The Tale dropped off the radar relatively quickly. The platform that distributed it didn’t have the zeitgeist others do and didn’t bring that cache with it.

If Netflix had been the one offering it to audiences it would have come with a lot more buzz attached to it and might have been in the same conversation with The Kindergarten Teacher and other films that have brought new and underrepresented stories to the public.

This is not to blame HBO for mounting a lackluster campaign for the movie, it’s simply a representation of how the conversation has shifted in the last few years. Cable subscriptions aren’t the end-all-be-all they once were and are falling out of favor with the general public, replaced by streaming subscriptions and skinny bundles. It’s not where the kids are or where the media’s attention is currently turned.

What happened might be unfair to the movie, and because stories like this are seen as risky the underwhelming response to one may be held up as “proof” they don’t work. That’s the danger with all movies, shows or books that offer looks into groups and situations that haven’t been as mainstream as they deserve to be.