French Exit – Marketing Recap

How Sony Pictures Classics has sold a movie about falling from the 1 percent.

“Schitt’s Creek” became a TV sensation for a number of reasons, including its heartwarming story of a family that finds itself suddenly losing its fortune and having to do without in new surroundings. French Exit, now out nationwide after a limited release in mid-February, covers similar ground but in a slightly different setting.

Michelle Pfieffer stars as Frances Price, a Manhattan socialite who has led a comfortable lifestyle thanks to the sizable inheritance from her late husband Franklin (Tracy Letts). When she finds that the money she’s counted on has been almost completely exhausted, she decides to move from New York to Paris with her son Malcolm (Lucas Hedges). The two try to make a new life there in an apartment borrowed from a friend, with new acquaintances, experiences and more coming along the way.

The studio’s campaign has focused on Pfeiffer (never a bad idea) and sold a family drama about finding a new way after what’s familiar disappears.

The Posters

Frances and Malcolm – as well as their cat that may or may not be the reincarnation of the late Franklin – are shown on the one and only poster, released in December. The two/three are sitting in the back of a town car, but what they’re doing there is unclear as there’s no other context given, including a lack of copy or tagline. Instead most of the poster’s real estate is devoted to pull quotes from positive reviews, largely coming out of festivals and other screenings, to help make the case to the audience.

The Trailers

Frances is being informed, as the first trailer (861k views on YouTube) from early December opens, that the money she inherited and has been living on has run out. When a friend offers her an empty apartment in Paris she takes her grown adult son with her and moves across the ocean. That offers Frances plenty of new opportunities to create uncomfortable situations, be rude (either intentionally or unintentionally) to new acquaintances and otherwise continue on with her odd and unusual life.

Online and Social

The movie’s official website has the basic marketing materials, including trailers and a synopsis, but it’s mostly about selling tickets. Sony Classics’ page for the film has that as well as a gallery of stills.

Advertising and Promotions

Sony Pictures Classics acquired the film in September of 2019. About a year later, in August 2020, it was announced the movie would close the New York Film Festival, which was going to be structured differently because of the Covid-19 pandemic. That NYFF screening was followed by a number of positive reviews, especially for Pfeiffer’s performance.

The first official clip, released in early February, shows the moment Frances finds out she’s broke.

Commercials like this were used online as well as presumably as TV spots.

Media and Press

An interview with Pfieffer and Hess had them talking about getting involved with the film, how they worked with Jacobs and more during NYFF. Pfieffer again talked about being given the opportunity to get weird in her performance.

A later interview with Pfieffer had her talking about how she approached playing her character and working with Hedges. Similar ground was covered in another conversation that also reflected on her place among Hollywood royalty.

Pfieffer talked about shooting the film in France when she appeared on “Kimmel” in January and about her trepidation in taking on the role when she appeared on “Late Night.” Hedges later appeared on “Kimmel” as well.

She and Hedges were interviewed jointly about working together and shooting in Paris and Pfieffer spoke about her career in general and how this film fits into that here.

Overall

Two important points come to me when reviewing the campaign from top to bottom.

First, It’s surprising in some regards that the marketing effectively ended (save for a few additional social media updates from SPC) in mid-February, when the movie’s limited release began. That leaves a long time for people to think about other movies, but given how the press has been dominated by bigger releases, the studio may have been banking on all the oxygen in the room being taken up. And it doesn’t seem it’s making a big awards push, or there would have been more.

Second, this feels like another step in the revitalization of Pfeiffer, a process that began a few years ago with mother!. And I for one am here for it.

Michelle Pfeiffer Mother Movie GIF by mother! - Find & Share on GIPHY

Let Them All Talk – Marketing Recap

How HBO Max has sold a story of making peace with your past.

Meryl Streep teams for the second time with director Steven Soderbergh in this week’s new HBO Max release Let Them All Talk. Streep plays Alice, a well-known author who decides to reconnect with some old friends by taking a cruise as a group. Joining them is Alice’s nephew Tyler (Lucas Hedges), who is responsible for making sure the ladies get where they need to be and so on. Candice Bergen and Dianne Wiest play Roberta and Susan, Alice’s friends and fellow travelers, while Gemma Chan plans Karen, a literary agent who gets involved with Tyler on the trip.

The movie, which has a strong 93% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, has gotten a campaign that sells it as part of the overall Soderbergh brand while also relying heavily on the charisma and talent of the three women in the leading roles.

The Posters

In addition to selling the names of the director and stars, the poster makes sure to label this as a “Max Original,” a different designation given to the titles it has produced as opposed to those it’s acquired after the fact. That’s meant to apply a little cache, but with such a new brand it’s hard to put much weight behind it.

Outside of that the photo of Streep looking pensive and tense pairs nicely with the copy “Write your wrongs,” conveying a good sense of the basic story as well as the emotional tone of the film.

The Trailers

Alice is furiously writing as the trailer (2.3 million views on YouTube), released in mid-November, opens, but she hasn’t actually turned in anything. So Karen has booked her and her friends on a cruise to try and shake things loose. Turns out there’s some bad blood between the friends, stemming partly from Alice’s use of them as characters in her past works. The chemistry is still there, though, and the time together brings some laughs and some tears and quite a bit of soul-searching. What the trailer really sells, though, is a bunch of professionals doing their thing on one of Soderbergh’s loose sets, which is a strong message to send.

Online and Social

Nothing here specifically for the movie, but HBO Max’s corporate social profiles did provide some support leading up to release.

Advertising and Promotions

Soderbergh announced the movie in mid-August of last year, revealing he was already well into production at the time. It wasn’t long until it was reported the feature marked the first major acquisition by HBO Max for what at the time was its unlaunched streaming subscription service.

The first very brief look at the film was offered in a sizzle reel promoting HBO Max’s upcoming slate of original material.

A few short promos like this were distributed on social in the last few weeks, offering slightly different looks at some scenes previously shown in the trailer.

Media and Press

A group interview with much of the primary cast had them talking about the story as well as the unconventional nature of Soderbergh’s filming style, including how low-budget, low-tech and low-stress the shoot was. That piece also hinted at a December release for the movie.

Streep appeared on “The Late Show” to talk about both this movie and The Prom, also released this week. She, Bergen and Weist all took part in a “Today” interview.

There was a big profile of Bergen that touched on her role here as well as her life and career overall.

Overall

You won’t go wrong with a certain segment of the audience (myself included) by selling a movie by promising simply a good time watching a bunch of seasoned professionals breeze their way through a simple premise.

That’s exactly what is being communicated here, with the added bonus that it comes from Soderbergh, who has a history of guiding just those sorts of productions. There’s good stuff here specific to the story, but the real hook is simply a few naturalistic performances and a director with a knack for capturing interesting moments on film.

Picking Up The Spare

More from Chan on her role in the film here. Hedges later appeared on “The Tonight Show” to talk about the movie. 

Among the later press was a profile of Bergen and how she prepared for the film.

Honey Boy – Marketing Recap

After years of less than favorable headlines, Shia LaBeouf seeks to turn his much-maligned persona into artistic fodder.

honey boy posterHoney Boy not only stars LaBeouf but was also written by the actor as a way to reclaim some of the power he’s lost over the last several years of eccentric and sometimes troubling behavior. He plays not himself but as James Lort, a fictionalized version of his own father who pushes his son Otis (Noah Jupe and Lucas Hedges) into show business, an area James himself has struggled to break into over the years.

The movie, directed by Alma Har’el, follows Otis from his childhood through the young adult years when he is swallowed by the Hollywood entertainment machine, leading to a breakdown that lands him on the tabloid front pages and then into rehab. Through this, Otis tries to reconcile with his estranged father.

The Posters

A pie flies into Otis’ face on the first one-sheet, meant to convey the ludicrous activities actors will subject themselves to as they attempt to climb the ranks of the industry.

Two more posters came out in September (by marketing agency Gravillas). One shows Otis, his face covered in a creme pie like he’s been the victim of an old time comedy skit while wires are seen attached to his back. The other shows an extreme close up of James, his eyes looking sad behind his glasses and the remnants of white clown paint still visible on his face.

In early October a reversible poster that uses a variation on Comedy/Tragedy masks (by marketing agency La Boca) was released. The dark background makes the electric colors of the masks pop, with each side getting the title treatment and credits as well. It’s a nice way to emphasize the mixed nature of the story and a reminder that the two aspects of storytelling are intertwined and inseparable.

The fourth poster shows a clown standing on his head, juggling with his feet and with a rooster balanced on his butt. It’s an image designed to show just how hard the entertainer is willing to work to keep the audience’s attention, while the colors that seem to drip off the clown’s costume evoke something sad.

The Trailers

When the trailer was released in early August it came in both red- and green-band editions. It opens with an actor on the set of a 2005 action film being pulled by stunt rigging as if he’s flying backward because of an explosion. That’s a none-too-subtle reference to LaBeouf’s own career at that time. That actor’s arrest is followed by a flashback to his childhood, as he receives an unwelcome pep talk from his father. His relationship with that father is an influential part of the boy’s life, but as he becomes more successful than his old man was the dynamic also becomes more unbalanced for both of them.

Online and Social

Nothing much on the movie’s website, which is just focused on making sure you know where and when you can buy tickets to see it.

Advertising and Publicity

The movie’s screening at Sundance was very well received, earning accolades for LaBeouf as both a writer and performer and leading many to comment on how this was the comeback vehicle he needed in his career. Amazon seized on the buzz around the movie to make it one of its many acquisitions at the festival.

The Toronto Film Festival included it in its “Special Presentations” section this year. In August it was announced it would screen at the 63rd BFI London Film Festival.

LaBeouf and Har’el attended a handful of advance screenings for select audiences in the last few weeks to talk about the movie and encourage people to spread some word of mouth.

Media and Press

While the casting was happening and plans were coming together the narrative began to emerge that this was going to be LaBeouf’s comeback vehicle. That really started with a profile where he talked about writing the movie under a pseudonym and more.

While at Sundance he talked about the writing process and the personal story he tapped into, as well as how the script was the result of court-ordered therapy for him. He hit similar themes in interviews during Toronto, later talking about how his management team encouraged him not to go down this road.

Cinematographer Natasha Braier was interviewed about the constant state of uncertainty LaBeouf added to the time- and budget-constrained production and how that kept her on her toes and ready for anything. There was also a joint profile of the actor and director where they talked about their collaboration.

Overall

There are several thoughts that come to me after reviewing the campaign from top to bottom.

First, much like any franchise film or legacy sequel, the campaign seems to assume the target audience has some familiarity with the subject of the story. In this case, it seems interesting enough but is firmly targeted at those who have been following LaBeouf’s ups and downs over the last decade, as he went from the darling of the industry to the portrait of the troubled artist.

Second, it has to be stated that the movie being made at all reflects that LaBeouf, despite his issues, still enjoys some pull in Hollywood that seems to come with being a white man. We now have as many movies about LaBeouf’s struggle to overcome his problems as we do about Harriet Tubman’s work to free slaves via the Underground Railroad. The latter took nearly 100 years to finally come to the screen, the former less than 15.

Those points having been made, what works best about the campaign are the posters. The trailer is alright but never really comes together, while the posters carve out a much more clear and intriguing brand identity for the film, using the idea of comedy and tragedy being two halves of the same coin to communicate a key theme of the story to the audience. That’s the strongest non-LaBeouf pitch it has and one that I wish had been continued elsewhere in the marketing.

Picking Up the Spare

LaBeouf made an appearance on “Kimmel” to talk about the movie and his unusual approach to a personal story.

How Hedges prepared to play a fictionalized version of LaBeouf was the subject of an interview with the actor. A feature involving all three leads has them reflecting on the real story of the film and more. while Jupe was interviewed on his own a short while later.

A second trailer came out after the movie was in theaters that offers another look at the story.

There have been a number of clips released since the movie came to theaters. An additional interview with director Har’el also came out to talk about her work on the awards season campaign trail.

Ben is Back – Marketing Recap

ben is back posterBen Is Back, the new movie from writer/director Peter Hedges, is the latest of this year’s releases to tackle in some manner the drug and opioid epidemics that have been sweeping through the U.S. in the recent past. Lucas Hedges – Peter’s son – plays Ben, a young man who has left his home and family because he was caught up in trouble because of drugs.

One day just before Christmas he returns home, much to the bewilderment of everyone in the family. His mother Holly (Julia Roberts) on the other hand is thrilled, happy to have her son back and confident she can help him. It soon becomes clear, though, that he’s still in trouble and that his return may have put everyone else in harm’s way.

The Posters

Ben is embracing his mom on the first poster, positioning this as a mother/son drama, though there’s not much information about the story or characters beyond that.

The Trailers

The teaser trailer certainly lives up to the movie’s name. We see Ben approach the vacant house from the back (odd…) before walking out into the driveway as the rest of the family arrives. Holly is thrilled and immediately rushes out to greet him. And that’s all there is. There’s obviously some history and reason behind why everyone is so surprised to see him, but it’s not explained here.

The first full trailer picks up at about the same moment the teaser leaves off, with Holly happy Ben is home and making excuses for his behavior. His presence is putting his family at risk, though, as people from his past resurface, some of whom turn to violent means to get the money he still owes them. She’s unwilling to give up on him even as he falls back into some of his old habits but it ends on an upbeat note, promising the audience a happy ending to all the drama.

Online and Social

You can get tickets on the front page of the movie’s official website. Other than that the site just has the two trailers, a story synopsis and a cast and crew list. There are also links to the official Twitter, Facebook and Instagram profiles.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Media and Publicity

The movie was added to the lineup of the Austin Film Festival.

This was one of a handful of projects involving Hedges tackling intense and difficult issues, something the actor talked about in this interview. Roberts also spoke frequently on what is was about this movie that drew her back in front of the camera.

There were Q&As with the cast and director when the movie screened at the Toronto International Film Festival a couple months ago.

A major feature just recently had both the younger and elder Hedges talking about working together, something Lucas wasn’t keen to do but which he was convinced to do in part because of how his father was moved to tell a very personal story. That was also the focus of another joint interview with the two.

The writer/director was also interviewed about his career to date and what he wanted to accomplish with this movie.

Overall

For as much as Roberts was placed in the spotlight, it’s the two Hedges that really form the core of the campaign, providing a strong reason to see the movie. With Peter, the audience is promised an emotional story that has personal overtones while Lucas is one of the most buzzed-about actors of the last few years, with a number of recent movies that have touched on some of the most gripping issues in society today.

It’s that last point that really hits home, forming the central message of the campaign. Like Beautiful Boy and a couple others, this is a movie that wants to capture a moment when parents and children are being torn apart by drugs, with serious ramifications for everyone.

Picking Up The Spare

Another story on how Hedges had to be convinced to take the role in his father’s movie, this time with Roberts being the one making the case. Roberts was also interviewed again about the changes she’s made to her career along the way.

Both Roberts and Hedges have made some late night TV appearances to talk about the movie. The two were interviewed jointly about the mother/son dynamic of the movie and the story of addiction they’re telling.

Boy Erased – Marketing Recap

boy erased poster 2The latest in a series of movies about parents dealing with their child’s sexuality, Boy Erased is directed by Joel Edgerton and stars Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe. They play Nancy and Marshall Eamons, parents of Jared (Lucas Hedges), who is gay.

That may not seem like a bad thing, but it is given that Marshall is a Baptist preacher. Jared is outed by his parents without his consent, after which he’s sent to controversial gay conversion therapy. So the story is about accepting – or not – who your kids are and the attitudes around whether that’s acceptable to parents or not.

The Posters

boy erased posterJared is shown in either deep contemplation or prayer on the first one-sheet, a reassuring parental hand seen on his shoulder. The names of the cast as well as the fact it’s based on a true story. The tagline at the top reads “The truth cannot be converted,” making the theme of the story explicit for the audience.

The second one-sheet places Jared between and in the background of his parents, an illuminated cross on the wall in the back. The same tagline is used and it’s clear that he’s causing strife in his family and division between his parents.

The Trailers

Jared has finally found the courage to come out to his parents in the first trailer, a declaration they just don’t accept. So they send him to a church-approved conversion camp where he’s told homosexuality isn’t natural and that God will never love him as long as he and the others insist on this identity. While there are plenty of scenes from that camp, the main focus of the trailer is on the dynamic between Jared and his parents and the conflict they feel between their love of their son and their love of God.

It’s a serious and sober-minded drama being sold here, one that has a lot of raw emotions on display. I’m hoping the story doesn’t paint all Christians as holding to the belief that homosexuality is an error to be corrected but is a bit more nuanced. Still, excellent performances all around are on display.

A second trailer was released just days before the movie was supposed to hit theaters that shows a lot more of what’s going on, from Jared coming out to his parents to them sending him away to be “fixed.” What’s different here is the extent to which his mother comes to his rescue when things clearly aren’t going right. The trailer ends with statistics about how many people are being held in therapy like what’s shown here and a link to the site to learn more.

Online and Social

Focus Features gave the movie its usual website treatment, opening with the trailer and giving way to full-motion video on the splash page. There don’t appear to be social profiles for the movie itself, just the studio. Scroll down and you’ll see some photos and an “About” synopsis but that’s it.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

I’m not aware of anything paid on behalf of the movie, but it’s possible I’ve missed something.

Media and Publicity

Some of the first real publicity for the movie came when Edgerton and Hedges showed up at CinemaCon to help Focus Features show off a bit of footage and talk about why they found the story so compelling. Edgerton later was interviewed about what attracted him to the true-life story and how he went about conveying the difficult subject matter.

The movie was also part of the later CineEurope presentation from the studio and was later added to the Toronto Film Festival and the Austin Film Festival as well as the Telluride Film Festival. It was also the closing night film at the Hamptons International Film Festival.

An interview with Hedges at the same time as the Telluride appearance had the actor talking about the movie and his career as a whole, as well as how this role relates to his own journey to understand his sexuality more fully. Edgerton spoke more about the kind of story he wanted to make and why he made this movie at this time.

At the movie’s premiere, the real Jared’s mother spoke about how the story is personal to her and how seeing it on the screen felt to her.

Costar Troye Sivan hosted a couple preview clips, one released on National Coming Out Day where he talked about his own experience coming out and one a PSA for StopErasing.com that advocates for the rejection of conversion therapy. Another had the cast celebrating “Spirit Day” to fight against bullying.

A video for the original song “Revelation” by Sivan and Jonsi came out in mid-October to help tap into the former’s fanbase.

Edgerton spoke about his opinion of conversion therapy and what prompted him to make the movie and tell this story.

Overall

As I stated at the opening, this is the third or fourth movie this year alone to tackle the idea of gay conversion therapy and similar topics. That means it has some competition for people’s attention. There’s nothing here that presents something wholly unique about this particular movie other than that it’s based on a true story, but even that has been done before.

That’s fine as it’s not that this isn’t a story that should be told and it’s certainly coming at a time when issues of identity are still at the forefront of our national conversation. It’s just that it may get lost in the shuffle and overshadowed by other events.

Picking Up The Spare

Edgerton spoke more in this interview about the process of making the movie and the responsibility he felt to tell the story. He also expressed some regret over not selling the movie to Netflix, saying that would have allowed more people to see it more readily. Hedges was also interviewed about some personal issues and how this movie fits into his other recent work. He also showed up on “Late Night.”

The Advocate was given a series of exclusive posters, a nice media partnership given the story’s subject matter.

The filmmakers helped create an original podcast series titled “UnErased” that offered insights into the history – and current practices – of the controversial gay conversion therapy that’s at the center of the film’s story.

Kidman noted this is one of two recent roles she’s taken where the character is a mother in a lot of pain over the choices they’ve made.