Run – Marketing Recap

How Hulu is selling a psychological mother-daughter drama.

There are too many real life stories of parents abusing their children in some manner. The new movie Run, debuting on Hulu this week from writer/director Aneesh Chaganty, is about just that kind of situation.

Sarah Paulson plays Diane Sherman, a mother who has cared for her chronically ill daughter Chloe (Kiera Allen) throughout the girl’s life. The two have a good relationship, but now that Chloe is a teen she’s worried her mother is doing too much. Diane’s assurances that she’s fine, Chloe begins to find evidence that her mom may not be as loving as she seems and may in fact be actively keeping Chloe sick and dependent on her care.

The movie was originally set for theatrical release in March from Lionsgate, but that studio pulled it from the schedule because of the coronavirus. Hulu then acquired it in August. Since then it’s run a campaign that has sold it as a psychological thriller, albeit one focused on the mother-daughter dynamic. It also has an excellent 96% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Posters

The first poster (by marketing agency P+A) came out in February when Lionsgate still had control of the film. Its design strongly evokes the work of Saul Bass for the films of Alfred Hitchcock, with the figure of Diane looking up the staircase at the figure of Chloe. The vibe here is kind of great, with the tension of the story communicated not only by the distance between the two but also the copy “You can’t escape a mother’s love.”

That same tagline is used on the second poster, also released in February. This time, though, the image is a photo of Diane looking slightly worried with a smaller photo of Chloe placed inside of Diane’s head to show the strange connection between the two.

The Trailers

The first thing we see in February’s first trailer (13.6 million views on YouTube) is Diane looking at the tiny body of Chloe hooked up to tubes and instruments as she lies in a NICU incubator. Cut to present day and Chloe is a grown teen in a wheelchair and living with her mother, who does everything for her. But Chloe, worried she’s not doing enough, begins to become suspicious her mother is hiding something from her. Turns out that might be a great many things, including what her real name is. Not only that, it’s implied Diane might be keeping her daughter sick and needing her aid, leading to some tense and dangerous situations.

A new trailer (170,000 views on YouTube) came out in late October that establishes the drama of the story quite nicely. It starts by showing what seems to be a loving relationship between Diane and Chloe, but which soon evolves into something much more dangerous. As Chloe becomes more aware of what her mother has been doing, Diane’s actions become more desperate and all the more terrifying because they are being done out of what she considers to be “love.”

Online and Social

No stand-alone website that was easily found, but there were some social profiles to share promotions and other updates on the movie.

Advertising and Promotions

A “date announcement” spot came out in late September when Hulu finally put it on the calendar.

Further short video promotions came out on social media over the next couple months.

Some of those were used as pre-roll ads in the weeks leading up to release.

Hulu announced a watch party accompanied by a Twitter Q&A for the day after the movie was scheduled for release.

A drive-in premiere was held in L.A. earlier this week.

Media and Press

A first-look photo came out just before the trailer was released, including comments from Paulson and Allen on how they got involved in the project and what drew them to the material.

Not a whole lot of other press activity in the immediate lead-up to the movie. Most of the interviews with Paulson in particular have been about her roles on the latest iteration of “American Horror Story” or on Netflix’s “Ratched.”

Overall

The subject matter of the story is certainly disturbing, that’s beyond dispute. But the marketing offers the promise of an interesting and revelation-filled journey to find out just how disturbing things get and what exactly is happening. There are some moments in the campaign that make it seem as if Diane is not doing what it seems, showing that it’s worth the audience’s time to check it out and see what the truth of the matter is.

Antebellum – Marketing Recap

How Lionsgate is selling a story of the past and present and what hasn’t changed.

Written and directed by the team of Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz, Antebellum stars Janelle Monáe as Veronica Henley, an author that focuses on racial topics and issues. Through a series of events she finds herself abducted and transported back to the 1800s, herself now a slave on a plantation. As she attempts to figure out how all this happened, she also finds she needs to help other slaves escape their captors and bring them with her to the (relative) safety of the 21st century.

The movie, originally scheduled to hit theaters in mid-March but rescheduled by Lionsgate for this week on VOD, brings a story of a shameful portion of America’s history to audiences at a time when racial justice has been in the news for months now. Not only are there the stories of police continuing to discount black citizens, but the Covid-19 pandemic has hit communities of color more severely both in terms of health and job losses. So our failure to make substantive improvements continues to wreak havoc throughout society.

With that in mind, the movie has received poor reviews resulting in a 33 percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The campaign has played up the mystery of the story as well as its focus on racial histories and injustices.

The Posters

Three posters (by marketing agency P+A) came out in late November of last year. All feature the same image – a butterfly stuck to a background and bleeding down the wall – but each has a different color to that background, creating the impression of a changeable reality of some kind. Copy warns “If it chooses you, nothing can save you.”

A solid red silhouette of that same butterfly is shown on the theatrical poster from early March. This time it’s placed over Henley’s mouth, her face clearly conveying a sense of alarm. It’s a creepy and alarming image that, without the copy from the previous posters, doesn’t offer a lot of explanation but does present the audience with a mystery that will hopefully be unlocked.

The Trailers

Released in November, the first trailer (6.8 million views on YouTube) doesn’t offer any kind of explanation as to what the story is or what’s going on. Instead it’s focused on creating an air of mystery and suspense as we’re shown quick cuts of strange goings-on with little in the way of connective material. That sense of unease is added to by the inclusion of mentions that the movie comes from the producers of Get Out and Us.

The second, very short trailer (180,000 views on YouTube) was released in March and lays out the basic premise: That Henley is an influential author and speaker who finds herself stuck in a reality that splits the present and the past. She’s forced to endure the slavery of her ancestors in order to save the future, but the details aren’t shared. Instead it’s about creating unease in the audience as we experience the same sort of disorientation Henley is.

A new trailer (5.7 million views on YouTube) came out in late May after a new release date was announced and debuted on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” It’s a shorter trailer but once more shows how Henley is pulled – more accurately “chosen” – from her comfortable modern life and thrust into the life of a plantation slave, a situation she’s determined to free herself from. Like the previous trailers, it never reveals too much of the story, just enough to make it clear there are strange things happening.

In early August, at the same time release plans were changed, another trailer (142,000 views on YouTube) came out that starts by showing more of Henley’s home and family life before she’s pulled into the past, albeit one that seems less than stable. Her desperation to get home and her confusion over what’s happening are clear, as is the terror that is slavery. There are a few moments that hint at what powers might be behind her predicament, but that’s never fully explained, which only adds to the tension created in the trailer.

Online and Social

The movie’s official website has most of the major marketing materials, including trailers and clips, a story synopsis and a small photo gallery. Primarily it’s there to communicate what VOD options are available for those interested in watching the movie. There are also social network profiles that provided updates and engagement in the build up to release.

Advertising and Promotions

The first clip came out in mid-August showing Henley discussing racism on a talk show before having to explain the concept to her young daughter. A second clip shows Henley having a very strange encounter with a creepy young girl on a hotel elevator. More clips offered additional looks at important aspects of the story.

At about the same time the first snippet of music from the film’s score was released.

An exclusive look at the movie introduced by Monae was shared during the recent MTV Video Music Awards.

Monáe’s new song “Turntables” comes from a new documentary on race and democracy but is also relevant to this film. The video mixes shots of the singer with footage of racial protests both past and present to underscore the message that the fight for justice is still ongoing and not something simply from history books.

Lionsgate held a drive-in premiere event earlier this week with Monáe and others in attendance.

Short videos like this were used as online promos as well as, most likely, TV commercials.

Media and Press

The third trailer, released in late May, debuted on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” along with an appearance by Monáe.

The filmmakers were profiled in response to their takeover of the movie’s social media profiles during the recent Black Lives Matter protests.

Costar Jena Malone received a number of profiles where she talked about the story of the movie, her role as a villain here and lots more. An interview with costar Gabourey Sidibe had her talking about her character along with sharing an exclusive clip.

Of course Monáe was the focus of the press push, with interviews focusing on how she brought her powerful performance style from music to the screen, how integral she feels activism is to being an artist, the kind of change she hopes to inspire, how the story explores the lasting impact of slavery and the type of future she envisions. She was also the subject of an EW cover story where she talked about these and other matters.

Monáe made appearances on “Good Morning, America,” “The Late Show” and elsewhere in the last week or so to talk about the movie and its story. She and others also shared their thoughts on the film at the movie’s rooftop premiere event.

How black filmmakers were working to tell stories involving racial themes and from their own point of view within the horror/thriller genres was the subject of a substantial profile.

Overall

While the reviews have so far been mixed, the campaign makes a strong impression and presents a timely and interesting product for audiences. There’s a lot of mystery on display here, something for the audience to unlock and explore along with the filmmakers, one that will resonate with horror fans along with others more interested in the racial history that’s used as the crux of the story.

The studio has smartly put Monáe at the center of the campaign, which makes sense not only because she’s in the lead role but because she brings with her a strong fanbase and public persona. That, combined with the clear imagery and iconography on display, creates a recognizable brand identity that flows throughout the marketing.

Picking Up The Spare

Focus Features advertised the movie on Spotify by sponsoring the “All The Feels” playlist. 

More from Malone on how she researched her role. 

Lots more coverage of how the film uses the horror genre to tell a story of racism, slavery and injustice

MovieClips debuted an exclusive clip from the film. 

A new TV spot that was also used for online ads played up the mystery while encouraging people who have seen the movie already to not spoil the twists for those who haven’t. 

A number of new promotional videos and interviews with the cast have come out. 

Bombshell – Marketing Recap

How Lionsgate is selling its take on one of the biggest sexual harassment scandals in the media world.

bombshell posterWhether or not Roger Ailes’ ouster from Fox News marks a key moment of accountability in the recent movement to remove serial perpetrators of sexual abuse from power remains to be seen in many ways. But it certainly was a big deal given the cable channel and the political party it’s an official outlet for don’t usually take the rights of women to be as, much less more, valuable than the men exercising their God-given privilege.

That’s part of why those events have been dramatized in the new movie Bombshell. Charlize Theron plays Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly while Nicole Kidman plays Gretchen Carlson, both of them women integral to the demise of Ailes amidst allegations he repeatedly assaulted and harassed them as well as other female staffers. Margot Robbie plays Kayla Pospisil, a fictional new member of the news staff who encounters those same behaviors and acts as the audience’s surrogate to the story.

Lionsgate’s campaign has relied heavily on the physical transformations of Theron and Kidman into the women they play as well as the schadenfreude not a few people felt at the removal of a man responsible for making many of society’s current ills worse. Unfortunately a solid campaign has run into lackluster early buzz as the movie entered limited release, with wider distribution coming soon.

The Posters

All three women central to the story are shown on the first poster (by marketing agency BOND), released in October. The similarities in their looks is apparent as they’re side by side like this, while copy toward the bottom makes it clear the movie is “Based on a real scandal.”

The Trailers

There’s almost no dialogue in the teaser trailer (8.6 million views on YouTube), released in August. Instead the situation is conveyed to the audience in a number of Meaningful Glances as first Pospisil, then Kelly, then Carlson get on an elevator heading down. When it stops, Carlson and then Pospisil get off and both head into the Fox News offices for unstated reasons.

The first official trailer (13.7 million views on YouTube) was released in early October as part of an event hosted by Lionsgate in Los Angeles and starts with Kayla being given an introduction to how she needs to approach news gathering at Fox News, basically by finding any story that “would scare your grandmother.” That cuts to Gretchen explaining to a room full of attorneys how bad the sexism and harassment at the company was, both on-screen and off, and Megyn’s high-profile run-in with a certain presidential contender. When Kayla wants a promotion, Ailes makes her an unseemly offer to prove her loyalty. Gretchen’s accusations against Ailes make the environment even more hostile and lead to a boiling point for everyone involved.

Online and Social

Nothing of real note on the movie’s official website, which just as the basic information. Social profiles have offered more frequent updates, but that’s about it.

Advertising and Promotions

Roach and the cast attended a press screening of the movie in early October where they all talked about how they approached telling the story, their own experiences with the kind of behavior shown in the story and more. That screening kicked off substantial awards season speculation for the cast in particular. Another screening event was held in New York a couple weeks later.

The organizers of the Hollywood Film Awards announced in October they would be giving Theron a career achievement award. Similarly, she was slated for International Star Award at the Palm Springs Film Festival.

Lionsgate announced in late October it was moving the limited release of the film up one week in an attempt to gain word of mouth before the wide release the week of 12/20, when it competes against Star Wars.

That same month it took the stars and filmmakers on a brief “Conversation Tour” to discuss the film and the topics it touches on.

Theron was honored by American Cinematheque in November.

Roach was joined by writer Charles Randolph at an Arclight Hollywood Q&A where they screened and then discussed the movie.

Two clips came out in the last few weeks, one focusing on Kayla worrying she’s about to be fired, apparently after being ranted at by Ailes and another with Carlson making it clear the official channels for reporting sexual harassment within Fox are utterly meaningless.

Commercials like this cut down the story to manageable chunks, positioning the events depicted in it as the starting point for a national conversation, though on what is left unsaid.

The cast and crew all came out to the movie’s Los Angeles premiere last week and the New York premiere earlier this week.

While it may not make a huge difference in box office results, the cast has been nominated for multiple Golden Globes, SAG and other awards recently.

Media and Press

Initial press about the movie – from before it even went into production – included that it was among the films being dropped by Annapurna Pictures, reportedly due to budget issues that couldn’t be handled by the studio as it struggled to get its financial house in order.

Following the press screening, interviews popped up regularly, including one with Roach where he explained the decision to create the character of Kayla and how he got people to violate NDAs to share details of life inside Fox with him. One person who didn’t participate in that research was Carlson, who was frustrated by the constraints on her voice. The subject of how within and without Fox was or wasn’t willing to break their NDAs to talk with the filmmakers was also covered here.

Additional interviews focused on the challenges of playing real people, including Theron discussing her physical transformation into Kelly and Lithgow’s look for playing Ailes. Theron also admitted to the nervousness she felt taking on the role.

Lithgow talked about the movie when he appeared on “The Late Show” in October. He was also the subject of another profile focusing on his transformation into Ailes and spoke about it more on “The Daily Show” recently.

How the production team recreated the Fox News offices and sets were covered in an interview with Roach. The costume design team talked themselves about getting the look of the Fox News staff right. Roach later shared how he felt the movie followed in the tradition of cinematic social commentary while the whole cast was included in a feature on how they went about making a movie about such a recent and still delicate topic.

There were later profiles of Theron allowing her to talk about her own transformation into Kelly and more, something she continued talking about when she appeared on “Good Morning, America.”

Additional interviews with Roach on why he watches Fox News for research and insights, costar Richard Kind on playing Rudy Gulliani, Robbie on the social media research she conducted, Theron on why she didn’t want to meet Kelly in advance, costar Alanna Ubach on playing Fox personality Jeanine Pirro and more have all popped recently. There were also a few profiles like this on the movie’s wardrobe design.

Overall

There’s nothing wrong with the marketing as it stands. The campaign sells a dramatic retelling of recent history in a much more compelling way than some other movies (cough, Richard Jewell, cough) and seems much more vital and important. How powerful men create cultures friendly to the abuse they visit on those around them is a topic we need to see more of in order to break those systems down.

What’s surprising – and a little disappointing – is that the social justice message seems secondary here to how the performances, especially by Theron, have been put in the spotlight. Her transformation into Kelly is absolutely notable and worth discussing, but what would have been more heartening is to see how that work went to furthering a crucial societal story. Instead of just focusing on what happened at Fox News, the reality that what happened there is happening all over corporate America could have been underlined a bit more strongly.

Other than that, selling movie with incredibly performances by some of the best actors working today isn’t a hard message to put forward.

Picking Up the Spare

Lithgow continued appearing on late night to talk about how he was transformed through makeup and costumes into Ailes. Theron made another stop on “The Late Show.”

Roach spoke about why he cast McKinnon as a new, fictional character here. He also admitted that sensitive men who get defensive easily are not likely to be the target audience for the film.

A clip of a scene glimpsed in the trailers, an explanation of what makes a story perfect for Fox audiences, was released after the movie was in theaters.

McKinnon made a few late night appearances to hype the film, as did Robbie.

The cast and crew spoke about the facts and fictions of the movie at its premiere.  Robbie was interviewed later about her role.

Additional interviews with the movie’s makeup artist, score composer and writer.

Knives Out – Marketing Recap

A good old-fashioned whodunit with an all-star cast comes to theaters hoping for success.

knives out poster13The $25 million tracking estimates for the opening weekend of Knives Out may not seem massive. Such a box office total would signal failure for most movies. While that number indicates audiences might be recovering from seeing Frozen 2 last weekend and saving their movie-going dollars for Star Wars next month, it might still be enough to not only win the weekend but show there’s life in the concept of a non-franchise movie featuring a sprawling ensemble of popular actors.

Written and directed by Rian Johnson, the movie stars Christopher Plummer, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, Laketh Stanfeild, Daniel Craig and quite a few others. Craig and Stanfeild play investigators summoned to the mansion of Harlan Thrombey (Plummer) after his mysterious death, which just so happened to occur at his birthday party for which the entire family had gathered. All under suspicion and each with their own motives as well as alibis, the sometimes ungrateful children must remain in the home while the killer among them is rooted out.

As Johnson has made clear in numerous interviews, it’s a throwback to the kind of murder mystery films from the 50s and 60s that became staples of broacast television reruns in the 70s and 80s. And while the predictions may indicate some weakness in terms of audience appetite, the 95 percent “Fresh” rating it sports on Rotten Tomatoes shows critics have roundly embraced its entertaining eccentricity.

The Posters

knives out posterA magnifying glass with a knife for a handle sits atop the title treatment on the first poster (by marketing agency LA, as are the rest of the posters), released in July. The cast list is presented below along with the copy “Everyone has a motive. No one has a clue.” All those elements, along with the “whodunnit” at the top along with the typeface used combine to sell a classic mystery movie, one where everyone will be suspected at some point and is working against the others as the police try to solve the crime.

“Nothing brings a family together like murder” we’re told on the series of character posters released in September. Each one presents the character in question in a different part of the house where the action takes place and presents them with a description of their role in the family or the investigation, very much in the vein of an Agatha Christie story.

The entire cast is assembled on the theatrical poster from October, with the Harlan’s children and others arranged behind him. This time the tagline betrays a much more playful attitude, reading “Hell, any of them could have done it.” It’s a great way to upend audience expectations and communicate the fact that this is a fun time at the theater, not a scary horror film of any sort.

The Trailers

The first trailer (12.4 million views on YouTube) was released in early July and establishes the premise right away, that Thrombey family patriarch Harlan was killed following a party celebrating his 85th birthday. The detectives sent to the estate to investigate understandably suspect an attendee is responsible and so ask everyone to stay put until they find who did it. From there it’s all about the mystery as we see the Thrombey’s aren’t exactly a tight, loving family and each could have their own reasons for not only killing the old man but wanting those around them to go down for the murder.

Everyone’s “waiting for the big reveal” in the second trailer (6.5 million views on YouTube), released in September. This one is even more loose and fun than the first, focusing on the infighting of the family members as Blanc and the other investigators seek to uncover who killed Harlan and why. The whole cast gets a turn to shine as the movie is presented as a breezy and entertaining whodunit with a house full of suspects and motives.

The final trailer (388,000 views on YouTube), released in October, is short but to the point. Specifically, it sells the movie not on the story but on the positive reviews that have come out so far, positioning it as a rip-roaring good time and the most entertaining film of the year with a top-notch cast.

Online and Social

In contrast to many recent efforts, the movie’s official website features good information that heightens anticipation of the film. In addition to the usual marketing content, the front page of the site lets you click on the faces of the main characters, allowing you to see the poster they’re featured on along with a bit more background and some photos to download. It’s not much, but it’s something and a nice element to include given the cast. In acknowledgement of the film coming out around Thanksgiving there are also place cards with each character and their defining trait that can be printed out for your holiday table, including one with Johnson labeled “The murder mystery master.” Last month there were pumpkin design stencils available as well.

Advertising and Publicity

While there had been plenty of press coverage around casting and other production updates, the first real promotion came when Lionsgate brought Johnson and members of the cast to CinemaCon in March to get the ball rolling. An extended scene was shown two months later at CineEurope.

In July it was named among the films screening at the Toronto Film Festival as part of the “Special Presentations” lineup, a screening that brought almost universal praise for the story, direction and performances. Later it was named the London Film Festival’s Gala movie and had a Fantastic Fest screening announced in August. In October it screened at the Chicago International Film Festival, with appearances by Johnson and Shannon.

The Get Your Cut contest was announced in September, encouraging fans to hunt for clues and hidden messages scattered throughout the posters and trailers in an effort to win $250,000, positioned here as part of Harlan’s fortune he put aside for fans. A later message from Harlan’s personal attorney (played by Frank Oz) and a recording from Harlan himself continued promoting the contest.

TV advertising started in mid-October with a deluge of spots – a dozen at first with more coming after that – highlighting different aspects of the family, their motivations, the search for Harlan’s killer and more. While they take slightly different approaches, the commercials reinforce the impression from the trailers that this is a fun star-studded whodunit.

AMC Theaters offered an exclusive interview with Johnson where he talked about the story and working with the impressive cast.

In early November Lionsgate released a series of videos inviting you to “Meet the Thrombeys.” Each one was created to be a promotional video of sorts for that family member’s business. So Joni is selling Flam – which also has a website -, her lifestyle brand, Walt is selling Blood Like Wine Publishing – which also got its own website – and announcing his promotion to CEO and Linda is selling her real estate business, which also has a site. Each one is filled with “slashing” puns to reinforce the nature of the movie.

The first clip, released in early November, shows Ransom arriving at the family mansion and blowing off the investigators already on the scene. A second clip shows the assembled family being asked to stick around while the investigators find the guilty party while a third has Linda confronting Blanc.

knives out online adOnline ads used some combination of the key theatrical art and images from the character posters along with video clips in various units.

The positive reviews the movie had received were used in a final TV commercial that pegged it as a fun experience for audiences.

Johnson extended a “personal invitation…to murder” to the audience in a video designed to play like an old-fashioned movie trailer, the kind that has directors like Alfred Hitchcock. In fact you can see just the kind of thing being referenced in the trailer for Hitchcock’s Psycho. It’s another way Johnson is paying homage to the films that inspired him.

Outdoor billboards (by marketing agency Art Machine) used the same art of the assembled family seen in the theatrical one-sheet and outdoor ads. Notably, an alternate version of the billboard design showed the family from the back, each clutching a knife in their hands as if they’re ready to use it on each other at a moment’s notice.

knives out billboardknives out billboard2

Media and Press

An interview with Johnson during the Toronto screening allowed him to talk about his love of the murder mystery genre, what it was like working with such a big-name cast and transitioning from the massive spectacle of Star Wars to the smaller scale of this film. The cast offered their comments on how the movie provided some good alternative to family dinners during its Thanksgiving release window.

In a couple interviews from Toronto, Johnson even started speculating there could be more movies if this one does well. He also spoke with Curtis about how the movie’s story is intentional commentary on issues of wealth and privilege.

The cast shared one of their favorite moments from the few scenes they were all in together. A brief interview with just Evans had him talking about his inspiration, wardrobe and more.

Talk show appearances included Evans and Shannon on “The Tonight Show,” Johnson on “Kimmel,” Craig on “The Late Show,” Curtin on “Today” and more.

de Armes was part of THR’s “Next Gen Talent” feature in November, with the actress talking about her reluctance to join the film as well as how the script is what won her over.

An interview with Johnson had him talking about how this film was just as important to him as his franchise work and how it fits into his overall filmography.

At the movie’s premiere Johnson and the cast talked about their love of murder mysteries and how such stories can be reflections of the current political climate. An interview with the director had him talking about how hard he worked to get the movie made in the time available, how some fortunate coincidences allowed him to assemble the cast he wanted and more. Another had him sharing his mystery genre influences.

EW hosted an early Thanksgiving dinner with Rian and the cast talking about the movie and having a generally good time.

Curtis and costar Katherine Langford appeared on stage to present an award at the recent American Music Awards ceremony.

There were two feature profiles of Ana de Armas, spotlighting her as a breakout star in this movie who is poised for even more fame in the coming months with other projects coming out.

Overall

I’m hooked. As if I wasn’t a big enough Rian Johnson fan after his previous films – including what’s objectively the best Star Wars movie in the series – the way he conveys the fun he had in crafting this movie from beginning to end is infectious. That’s helped, in my own case, by recognizing exactly the type of movies he was inspired by and wanted to recreate here. They’re just the kind that were shown on “Family Classics” on WGN-TV in Chicago in the 80s on Sunday afternoons, the kind your parents would turn on after church while everyone is relaxing.

Everything about the campaign is just fun, showing you don’t need to make every mystery story into some deep, dark examination of the twisted nature of the human soul. Instead, as early reviews have indicated, it’s a lighthearted examination of the twisted nature of the human soul, including elements of class privilege both real and imagined.

Without a recognizable brand for the film’s marketing to latch on to, Johnson has become that brand hook, putting himself front and center throughout the campaign to act as the public face of the movie. That’s summed up nicely in the throwback trailer released last week but it’s seen in all the interviews he’s done and in the way the cast has praised his directorial style and work ethic on set.

Rambo: Last Blood – Marketing Recap

The embodiment of Reagan-era military machismo returns, but what’s the message 37 years after his debut?

rambo last blood poster 2Rambo: Last Blood is an obvious play on First Blood, the title of the 1982 of grizzled and dangerous Vietnam Vet John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone). It implies that this is the end cap of a story that to date has included four movies, the last one coming out in 2008.

This time around John Rambo (Stallone) is a decade into the kind of peaceful retirement that seemed to elude him. Rambo is living on his family’s farm and trying to avoid violence. When his niece Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal) is kidnapped and attacked by members of a drug cartel while visiting Mexico, he goes after her but finds she’s already dead. The gang follows Rambo back to the states, but find fighting him on his own turf gives him a decided advantage.

Lionsgate is likely hoping the $24 million opening weekend predicted by early tracking is conservative. The studio’s campaign, though, is designed more to evoke nostalgia for an era that is long past and largely ignores a story that seems slightly cringe-worthy.

The Posters

rambo last blood poster 1A blurry Rambo is shown on the first poster (by marketing agency LA) from late May, obscured by the smoke rising from a line of flames in the foreground but clearly taking aim at something with his signature bow and arrow. It’s a solid opening statement for the movie.

The second poster, released in early August, makes things more explicit with a grainy black and white photo of Rambo looking grim and determined while clutching his trusty bow and arrow.

The Trailers

Rambo is seemingly retired and living a solitary life on his farm as the first teaser trailer (19.7 million views on YouTube) opens. He wants to remain on his own but is also ready for the day his past comes to haunt him again. That day finally comes and he sets about raining death and destruction down on those who are out to get him. There’s no story details offered here about who it is that’s after him or why they’ve targeted him, it’s just Rambo doing what he does best.

A second short trailer (5.9 million views on YouTube) was released in August that starts out by showing why he’s returned to the violence he thought he’d left behind: An attack on his niece by some local thugs. From there on out it’s all about Rambo setting the traps that will be used against the men coming to attack him, much of which is interspersed with footage from the first movies to show the parallels between the stories.

Online and Social

Nothing of real note on the ticket-centric official website for the movie.

Advertising and Publicity

In early May Stallone announced he would bring a preview of this movie to the Cannes Film Festival while also planning to screen a newly restored version of the original that kicked off the series.

A very strange video was released by Lionsgate in late August that was so tonally different from the rest of the campaign it seems the people who created it weren’t even aware something new was coming out. “Rambo’s Greatest Hits” is presented like a TV commercial for a band’s greatest hits, promising to collect all the best violence from the previous films in one place and giving each sequence a funny, song-like title. It ends with the promise of more to come in the new movie.

Alamo Drafthouse announced in September it would screen all the Rambo movies to date in theaters around the country, culminating in the new film being shown.

TV spots began running in early September that sold the movie as Rambo’s last violent outing, the latest in a lifetime of action. These commercials liberally sprinkled in footage from the earlier films to remind audiences of the characters legacy, promising to live up to those standards.

The studio held press events in Mexico and the U.S., and early screenings were held for select audiences – including the Texas A&M Football team – to try and start building some buzz.

Lionsgate, along with the City of Los Angeles, declared September 18th – this past Wednesday – to be “Rambo Day,” a day for fans to share their love of the Rambo franchise as a whole. People who posted pictures and other updates about their Rambo collections or appreciation used #RamboDay on Twitter and elsewhere, with some posts shared by the movie’s official profile.

A short behind the scenes featurette was released just days ago that had Stallone and others talking (vaguely) about the story and where the character of John Rambo is when the movie opens.

Media and Press

Some of the first real news outside of casting came when it was reported Stallone liked some early key art concepts so much he immediately bought it to put on t-shirts and other merchandise.

Closer to release, Stallone was interviewed about why he chose to revive a character that has lain dormant for over a decade and was unseen for 20 years prior to that. He used a line that is seen throughout the campaign, that “the warrior can never find peace.” It’s an interesting concept, one that is more than a little nihilistic in its worldview, as if once you go to war you’re haunted by real, physical violence for the rest of your life.

Overall

A lot of my feelings about this campaign are summed up by Mike Ryan, who said:

That’s been my thought throughout the campaign: What’s the point here? What is it that is new and interesting that can be communicated through the persona of John Rambo and what commentary can be offered on the world of 2019 as a result?

The answer seems to be “nothing.” Instead of anything that’s relevant to today’s world, the marketing promises only more violence in service of a story focused on a man seeking revenge when a woman in his life is harmed. That’s a wholly unoriginal take, one that is so common it warrants its own snigglet. In an era where black filmmakers are telling stories of urban gentrification, women directors are focusing on the exploitation of sex workers and so on, toxic, hate-filled, violent masculinity seems massively dated and out of touch.

Then again, it could be seen as a response to Hollywood’s supposed hatred of men.

Aside from all that, I’m not sure I’ve seen a campaign recently filled with so little self-awareness. Not only does half the marketing ignore the new movie in favor of showing footage or images from one of the previous four, but it plays as a parody of itself and the genre the original Rambo helped define. While it started off incredibly seriously, the “Greatest Hits” and “Rambo Day” videos seem to be selling a Hot Shots!-like spoof.

As a whole the campaign is so over the top it’s hard to imagine the movie achieving a box office victory this weekend. Stallone may be driven to revisit the classic characters of his past, but the years of pining for Oscar glory appear to be behind him as daylight fades. He’s mentioned interest in a sequel should this film succeed, so it likely ends on a cliffhanger. Lionsgate should hope it has an escape plan for when it tanks, in no small part because of a campaign that’s expendable in every way.

Picking Up the Spare

Stallone finally hit the talk show circuit closer to release.

Despite Stallone’s earlier comments about the potential for another movie later on, director Gruberg was interviewed about helming the final chapter in the story.

A report shows how a desperate publicist emailed suggested pull quotes to critics in the hopes of generating some positive word of mouth started.

Angel Has Fallen – Marketing Recap

You can read my full recap of the marketing campaigns for Angel Has Fallen at The Hollywood Reporter.

Online and Social

Lionsgate’s website for the movie isn’t bad. It has a nice design and UX, even if the content is merely standard and mostly focused around marketing materials. There’s a nice collection of stills and posters and the key art is used as background throughout the site.

The movie’s Twitter profile, listed on the site along with Facebook and Instagram, takes an interesting approach by including a good number of polls asking followers what they would do in scenarios similar to those Banning has to face while on the run in the story.

Media and Press

Butler, Jada Pinkett Smith and Piper Perabo have all made media appearances on late night and other talk shows to hype up the film.

There hasn’t been much else in the way of press activity, at least not as of this writing. No real push for extended interviews or other profiles of the leads. The cast and crew did talk about the movie at the premiere, but not much else.

Overall

Scary Stories to Tell In The Dark – Marketing Recap

scary stories posterIf it’s the end of summer that means it’s time for studios to start rolling out their slate of horror movies. This week brings one of the first of the season, Scary Stories to Tell In The Dark. Directed by André Øvredal and produced/written by Guillermo del Toro, the movie is based on a series of short story collections, with those stories being woven together into a single narrative for the film.

That narrative is focused around a group of teenagers in the rural small town of Mill Valley. They discover a book written long ago by Sarah Bellows, a troubled young girl part of a family that has dominated the town’s history and legacy. As they work their way through the book they realize the terrifying stories Sarah wrote down are coming true as a series of monsters begins terrorizing them and those around them.

The Posters

In early February, around the same time the first teasers were released, the first teaser poster came out. It doesn’t show a whole lot, just a creepy scarecrow in the foreground and a dilapidated house in the back, all under ominous, cloudy skies. The second poster shows Stella looking in a mirror to figure out what is happening to her, especially regarding some sort of massive wound on her face. A third shows a lone figure standing at the end of a hallway bathed in red light, adding a stark sense of dread to the image while the fourth shows a terrifying creature walking down a dark staircase.

 

 

 

 

The Trailers

The first full trailer, released two months after the first teasers appeared, presents Sarah Bellows’ book of scary stories as the central element to everything that happens to Stella. There isn’t much of the plot that’s explained here beyond Stella intoning “You don’t read the book, the book reads you” and lots of things that go bump in the night. Still, it effectively sets the tone and promises audiences a lot of scares in theaters.

The second trailer is just as creepy. It’s also a bit more clear about the plot, showing how the book discovered by Stella contains stories that feature the names of other kids who were with her, all of whom die in various nasty ways. So she has to convince people of the danger and try and stop the stories from coming true before anyone else falls victim to the evil lurking in the book’s pages.

Released in July at the same time del Toro was appearing at Comic-Con, the Jangly Man trailer focused on that particular story in the movie and included lots of characters talking about how they don’t believe the myth of the book that causes so much trouble and death.

One final trailer released just days ago featured visuals that emphasized how the book has been brought to the screen, with illustrations of scenes transitioning into the actual filmed sequences. It shows off some of the supernatural threats the kids have unleashed by opening Sarah’s book, presenting a series of chilling encounters. This one gained a lot of attention for featuring a cover of “Seasons of the Witch” by Lana Del Ray.

Online and Social

The second trailer – the official version – opens the movie’s website. Most all of the sections introduce the content in the context of “Sarah’s stories.” So the Photos section encourages visitors to see how Sarah’s stories have been brought to life and so on. It’s an effective way to keep people in the setting of the story and reinforce the framing device used in the movie. There’s also a section where people can have their name inserted into a story that can then be shared on social media and elsewhere.

Advertising and Publicity

While the movie had been anticipated for a while, the first big coming out for the film came when CBS Films bought a series of short commercials during the 2019 Super Bowl, with each spot – compiled by the studio here – focusing on a different aspect of the story.

Both Øvredal and Del Toro were scheduled to appear at San Diego Comic-Con earlier this year on a panel to talk about this film and their love of scary movies in general.

Media and Press

Del Toro offered his insights on the stories told in the movie and talked about his love of scary stories along with similar comments from Øvredal.

Just as SDCC was about to kick off EW hosted an exclusive featurette highlighting some of the classic horror stories found in the movie.

Del Toro and others clarified why the setting and character types were chosen for their ability to tie all the disparate stories together into a cohesive narrative.

Just days before the movie hit theaters, del Toro was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. During the ceremony he spoke about this movie film as well as his career in general. Those comments contain the single best response to date from a filmmaker asked about the difference between working with a traditional movie studio and a streaming distributor like Netflix.

“I execute my craft exactly in the same way through both [Netflix and Fox Searchlight],” he says. “And the thing I have with both is a very clear relationship: they know what I do. At this point I’ve been directing and producing for more than a quarter of a century, so you become like a certain type of tree. If you come to an orange tree, you’re not going to get an apple. I’m very clear with what I want.”

Overall

It’s not surprising that del Toro’s presence has been all over this campaign, from his name being included in the trailers and posters to the big role he’s played in the publicity and press efforts. He’s a filmmaker with a lot of name recognition in the audience – particularly among discerning movie lovers – and a sterling reputation for creativity and originality, particularly in the horror genre.

It’s that creativity and originality that are pervasive throughout the marketing as CBS Films and Lionsgate seek to sell the movie as a chilling time at the theater for audiences that have had enough laughs and adventures thanks to franchise installments.

The campaign has made a point to include elements from the various stories plucked from the source books, but framing device of the kids working through Sarah Bellows’ book is sometimes less than clear. That could create some confusion in audiences not familiar with those books who are subsequently not sure what to expect, confusion that could wind up hurting the movie’s box office prospects in a weekend likely to still be dominated by the high octane action of Hobbs and Shaw.

Picking Up the Spare

A MovieClips-exclusive featurette focused on the practical makeup used to bring some of the story’s creatures to life.

John Wick Chapter 3 – Parabellum – Marketing Recap

You can read my full recap of the marketing for John Wick 3: Parabellum at The Hollywood Reporter.

Online and Social

The movie’s official website features more information than can be found even on the sites of movies with dozens of characters and mythology-steeped histories.

When you open the hamburger menu in the upper left the main page shows navigation to the standard content like “Story,” “Trailers,” “Posters” and a photo “Gallery,” all of which present exactly what you’d expect.

Media and Publicity

The first official still from the movie was released in EW’s 2019 preview issue. A bit later on Stahleski was interviewed about how Berry lobbied for a role in the movie even before a script was finished.

Reeves was the subject of an extensive profile in GQ that covered not only this movie but his whole career and other topics, allowing him to talk about any number of things and providing pop culture site writers lots of items to pick apart for dozens of individual stories. Dillon was interviewed about working with Reeves and becoming part of the John Wick universe.

Reeves did the media rounds talking about the movie, including what it was like to film an action sequence on a horse. Berry also talked more about her prep for the movie and the fun she had. Jason Mantzoukas showed up on TV as well.

Stahleski made it clear in an interview that this may not be the end for Wick as there’s still lots more he wants to do and potential for the character.

Overall

john wick 3 gif

Picking Up the Spare

David Griner at Adweek interviewed the artist who designed one of the movie’s better posters. 

One more featurette continued emphasizing how hard the cast trained for the physical demands of the movie. IMAX also released a Q&A with Stahelski and then a featurette with Reeves. 

Reeves and the rest of the cast offered their comments on the franchise and its unexpected success at the movie’s premiere. The star also explained exactly what the subtitle of the movie meant. 

That promotional deal with Fortnite, rumored about before, is finally official. 

How Berry worked to get to know the dogs she shared scenes with was covered in this interview. The actress also made headlines by going out of her way to engage with black journalists on the movie’s red carpet. 

The future of the character and franchise is covered and hinted at again by Stahelski. 

Lionsgate released footage from “The Continental Experience” setup in New York City. 

A key fight sequence that’s been mentioned as a highlight of the film got some press attention, as did the bit part played by Jason Mantzoukas, who was absent from the marketing save for a single character poster. 

Long Shot – Marketing Recap

You can find my full recap of the marketing for Long Shot at The Hollywood Reporter.

Online and Social

Not much at all on the movie’s official website, just a synopsis and collections of trailers and posters along with links to the film’s official social network profiles.

Media and Publicity

A first still was released in conjunction with the announcement of the title change earlier this year. Theron answered questions while in Austin while Paul Scheer commented on prepping to play the role of an obnoxious and clueless conservative TV talking head. The whole cast participated in a Q&A around that screening as well.

Rogen appeared on “Kimmel” a couple months ago to talk about the movie and more, including filming the sex scenes with Theron. Closer to release he showed up on “The Late Show” to hype the movie, talk about drugs and all that. Theron also made a few stops on the talk show and media circuit.

Theron and Rogen were both interviewed about how the movie is about politics but it’s not political in that they’re not trying to comment on modern day happenings, just trying to find the humor in the system. There were also interviews with director Jonathan Levine and costar O’Shea Jackson as well as June Diane Raphael, who talked about the rom-com genre as a whole and how this movie fits into it.

Overall

One point I want to be sure and emphasize here is that this is exactly the kind of movie that, 20 years ago, would have opened to a respectable $45 million and been considered a success.

While Lionsgate avoided opening the movie directly against Avengers: Endgame, coming out the week after isn’t much better as event movies like that benefit greatly from repeat viewings, eating up all the oxygen in the room for a number of weeks.

long shot gif

Picking Up the Spare

Co-writer Liz Hannah and director Jonathan Levine were interviewed about how they managed to create a rom-com that wasn’t quite as regressive socially as many tend to be. 

How well Theron and Rogen gelled and how the whole team collaborated to create a singular vision for the story was detailed here. Levine and Rogen also spoke about how Theron joining the film encouraged them to take it even more seriously than they had been. They all spoke about how the movie was not only funny but important at the premiere. 

Theron finally hit the talk shows in earnest, with a stop on “Late Night.” She was also interviewed about her political thoughts as they relate to the movie and the industry and appeared on “The Daily Show” as well. 

GQ featured Rogen on its June cover in a story that talked about this movie as well as his career to date. 

Robin Hood – Marketing Recap

robin hood poster 12A few initial thoughts about Robin Hood, coming to theaters this week:

  • This movie looks like another “let’s turn a classic literary character into a super hero” adaptation like Sherlock Holmes and King Arthur, but more like the latter, unfortunately
  • There’s nothing here that looks like it deviates from the standard Robin Hood story, about a returning Crusader (Taron Egerton) who’s upset that his home has turned into a den of corruption at the hands of the Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn) and so gets training on vigilantism from an ally (Jamie Foxx).
  • The story about a social justice warrior engaging in criminal but morally righteous behavior to redistribute wealth to the disadvantaged is 100% going to be received poorly by the MAGA crowd and the “Fox & Friends” hosts who love them
  • If there isn’t a Bryan Adams song over the end credits, what are we even doing here?

With that being said, let’s dive into the campaign.

The Posters

Two character posters – one featuring Robin and the other Little John – were released at the same time as the first teaser trailer. A more general poster came out as well showing Robin standing in the middle-distance in a forest made up not of trees but of arrows shot into the ground. It’s not bad and certainly works to set the tone and visual feel of the film. Another shows a collection of arrows arranged in an “R” symbol that looks like what’s sported by the Batman sidekick known as Robin, not one that’s associated with the social justice warrior or Nottingham.

A whole batch of character posters introduced us to the main players in the story, putting their headshots in front of an arrangement of arrows and other ornate decorations.

A couple theatrical posters featured the whole cast. While each has them in different opinions, they both seem like variations on the kind of generic action-oriented super hero movie one-sheets we’ve seen over the last several years, with the hero looking stoically at the camera while supporting characters stand or run around in the background.

The Trailers

If the first trailer is any indication, this is another in a long line of recent movies that seek to turn the characters of classic literature into super heroes. The basic outlines of the Robin Hood mythos are there, including his desire to exact justice upon a corrupt ruler and redistribute wealth to the common folk, all with the aid of Little John and with the suspicious eye of Marion on him. But it’s all dressed up by incredible, superhuman capabilities, technically-advanced arrows and all that. There’s humor and romance amidst all the action as well, but no really coherent story is being sold here.

Honestly, this looks like a promo sizzle reel for “Arrow” season two. You can’t convince me it’s not, especially with the repeated usage of “The Hood” to refer to the vigilante.

The second trailer is a little better, but only a little. We see more of Little John training Robin to use the bow and arrow as a tool for stealing from the rich in order to give to the poor, as well as the Sheriff’s frustration at having his power questioned by some vandal. But between the slick jacket the Sheriff is wearing, the modern attitudes sported by all the characters and the Occupy Wall Street bandanas worn by Will Scarlett and the other members of Robin’s gang, this still looks like it could be set in the not-too-distant future, not the far-off past.

The whole “rob from the rich, give to the poor” angle is hit a bit harder in the third trailer, which positions Robin as a social justice vigilante who sets out to steal from the sheriff’s treasury and thereby remove his base of power.

Online and Social

A variation on the key art greets visitors to the movie’s official website. When you open up the menu in the upper left the first section there is the “Synopsis” and you can navigate through the other sections by clicking the arrow at the bottom of the page. It’s a nice touch from a user experience perspective.

The movie also became the latest to get a “VR Experience” with a game that puts players in Robin’s shoes to shoot arrows and exact justice. The game was created by Qualcomm for the Oculus Go and Samsung Gear VR platforms.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A series of TV spots started hitting in late October, with different commercials covering different aspects of the story, from the plan Robin and John hatch to the justice they try to achieve with their actions.

Online ads used the key art while sponsored social media posts used the trailers and other video assets.

Two promotional partners were listed on the official website: Qualcomm, which created the VR game mentioned above, and Laser Quest, which offered a sweepstakes awarding a hometown screening for winners.

Media and Publicity

Comments on the movie from Egerton, Mendelsohn and others accompanied a first look photo that kicked off the publicity and marketing of the movie. Things went dark for a while until it was part of Lionsgate’s pitch to industry and press at CinemaCon, with footage being shown to prove the movie was actually happening.

While the movie didn’t have a huge promotional presence at San Diego Comic-Con, it did run a contest awarding prizes if you unlocked the secret phrase and told it to staffers at a location outside the convention center.

A behind the scenes “sizzle” featurette had the cast and crew talking about the story, how different this version is from what you’ve seen before and how big the action is.

How Little John begins training Robin was the subject of the first clip released in mid-October. Another showed how the Sheriff “redirects” funds from the church.

Egerton and Foxx showed up together on “The Tonight Show,” part of the studios’ strategy to sell this as a buddy movie in addition to everything else. Foxx later appeared on his own as well while Egerton sat on “Kimmel”s” couch.

Another interview with Egerton had him talking about the character’s unlikely status as action hero and more.

Overall

This looks ridiculous, the latest ham-handed attempt by a studio to use well-known cultural icons and characters to ram a franchise down the throats of the audience whether they want it or not. That’s seen in every part of the marketing but especially in the generic, bland and badly-designed posters whose characters could easily be swapped out and replaced with those from any other movie.

Considering projections have the movie opening with an anemic $14-17 million, it doesn’t seem the campaign is doing much of anything.