How NEON sold a unique film from a unique filmmaker
[editor’s note: Yeah, this came out last week. I know…]
Crimes of the Future is the latest film from writer/director David Cronenberg. The movie, in theaters now, stars Viggo Mortensen as Saul Tenser, a man who in the near future has developed the ability to grow vestigial organs inside his body. He and his partner Caprice (Léa Seydoux) remove those organs as part of their performance art while also working with the anti-evolution government. That brings them in contact with an investigator named Timlin (Kristen Stewart).
The story crafted by Cronenberg is one of government surveillance, environmental catastrophe and more. Tanaya Beatty, Scott Speedman and others also star, so let’s take a look at how NEON sold the film.
announcement and casting
Cronenberg has been working on the project for roughly a decade, though nothing ever came of it.
It wasn’t until early 2021 that things seemed to be picking up, with Mortensen saying he was reuniting with the director he’d worked with on three previous films. With it officially underway, Stewart and Seydoux were cast.
Stewart spoke briefly about the movie and its futuristic setting while doing press for Spencer toward the end of 2021.
the marketing campaign
The campaign kicked off with the release of the first trailer (586,000 YouTube views) in mid-April. It’s full of disturbing images of a young boy eating a plastic garbage can, various things being inserted or removed from people’s bodies and so on, all of coming off as extremely off-putting but intriguing.
The poster released at the same time offers little additional context, just showing Tenser in his special bed and just making it clear that this movie comes “From the mind of David Cronenberg”, a statement that should immediately either attract or repel audiences.
It was then that the Cannes Film Festival revealed the movie would make its premiere in competition at the event.
Cronenberg made his first-ever appearance at CinemaCon in 2022 to tout the film and show distributors and others the first trailer.
A week or so later NEON announced an early June release date.
That announcement was accompanied by a new red-band trailer (1.6m YouTube views) that’s even more weird and disturbing than the first. We get a bit more background about how the changes happening in Tenser’s body are a danger to the government, all while seeing the kind of surgeries that take place to unlock these new organs he and others are developing. Then there’s the line that got everyone’s attention, Timlin whispering “Surgery is the new sex.”
The poster that dropped at the same time upped the creepiness factor with an image of a human torso with multiple incisions or other entry points cut into it.
A profile of Seydoux allowed the actor to talk about her experiences at previous Cannes festivals, her career to date and how all of that led her to work with Cronenberg on this film.
How the project took so long to develop, the changes that came about because of shooting during the pandemic and more were covered in an interview with Cronenberg just ahead of Cannes.
A third poster has all three leads shown in three giant slashes that trail down to the bed Tenser uses to manage his pain.
TIFF announced its Bell Lightbox event at the end of May would host the movie’s North American premiere.
A series of clips showing a moment between Tenser and Timlin, a tense conversation between Tensor and Caprice and the much-noted “surgery is the new sex” scene came out in the middle of May. Another shows the bed-aided surgery performance Tenser undergoes.
Those were followed by character posters of Tenser, Caprice and Timlin.
Short promo clips/TV spots/streaming ads came out at that time that offer cutdown versions of the trailers, but without some of the more disconcerting elements.
At this point the cast and crew all assembled in Cannes for the red carpet event, with the subsequent screening generating rapturous applause and a standing ovation from the audience. There were also much-reported walkouts from those apparently disgusted by what they were seeing.
More commercials kept coming out that chopped up the same handful of clips in various ways.
The TIFF screening included a Q&A with the cast and crew about making the movie and exploring disfigurement and other body-related topics.
Three additional screenings in Los Angeles were scheduled for the week leading up to the movie’s opening to get people buzzing about the film.
There were occasional graphics like this that featured additional imagery accompanied by a positive comment from a critic or fellow high-profile filmmaker.
As stated before, much of the campaign will almost immediately either make people immediately put it on their list of movies they must watch or make sure they avoid anything and everything related to it. The repeated use of “Earman” in much of the campaign in the last few weeks likely only reinforced that.
But it’s the talent that forms the crux of the marketing’s appeal. Seydoux, Stewart and Mortensen are all major assets here, bringing their own reputations with them. And the marketing shows off their performances to increase whatever attraction the audience might already have.