How 20th Century Studios is selling a star-studded period piece
Writer/director David O. Russell is back with Amsterdam, out this week in theaters. The movie revolves around actual events from 1933 where a group of businessmen and other powerful individuals sought to overthrow the U.S. government and install a fascist regime.
Christian Bale, Margot Robbie and John David Washington star as Burt Berendsen, Valerie Voze and Harold Woodsman, respectively, a trio that uncovers the plot and seeks to disrupt it but who become the prime suspects in that scheme and have to prove their innocence.
The movie also stars a diverse cast including Chris Rock, Ed Begley Jr., Mike Meyers, Zoe Saldaña, Robert De Niro, Timothy Olyphant, Taylor Swift and others as the people the main characters interact with over the course of the story.
Let’s dive in and see how 20th Century Studios has sold such a unique film to audiences.
announcements and casting
The project was announced in early 2020 as Russell’s next project, though the name of the movie remained unknown at that time. Robbie was the first to join a month or so later along with Michael B. Jordan, who soon dropped out. Bale, Washington and others signed on toward the end of that year.
A title was finally announced in late April of 2022 as part of 20th Century Studios’ presentation at CinemaCon. A first look still of Swift and Bale came out at that time as well.
the marketing campaign
Things started off in June with the release of the first trailer (6.8m YouTube views). After first seeing there’s been a murder we flashback to how Burt, Valerie and Harold first met and became inseparable friends during and after World War I. That friendship is tested as they have to find out who actually killed a U.S. senator, a goal that involves making lots of deals, needing to trust each other like they never have before and plenty of running away from the cops.
The poster that came out at the same time doesn’t offer much of anything in the way of story hints or anything else, just the names of the impressive cast Russell assembled.
“Let the love, murder and conspiracy begin” we’re told on the next poster released at the end of August. This one still has everyone’s name at the top but also features the core trio arranged in the middle around the sunburst symbol we’ve already seen with the New York City skyline at the bottom of the image.
An interview with costar Alessandro Nivola had him talking about Russell’s unique filming style, reuniting with Bale and other aspects of making the movie.
An extended TV spot came out in early September that offers a better look at the coup conspiracy the main characters find themselves in the middle of. Because of that it works a little better than the earlier trailer while still showing off both the dramatic and more humorous elements of the story.
Russell and Bale took part in a Q&A following a very private screening in Los Angeles that was just for select friends and others.
The dynamics of the trio’s friendship are on display in the first TV spot that was also used as an online pre-roll and promo.
A series of character posters pulls out many of the biggest names from the cast and puts them against the same sunburst design background we’ve previously seen. Another one-sheet with just the main cast came out a little bit after that.
Those were followed in mid-September by more TV spots, these featuring a better look at Taylor Swift in the film in an attempt to get her fanbase activated.
A green-carpet premiere was held in New York City at that point with a screening followed by a cast and crew Q&A moderated by Ben Stiller and introduced by Drake, who’s a producer on the film. While there everyone praised Russell and shared how they bonded on set and developed their chemistry. Robbie also appeared on “The Tonight Show” while she was in New York.
Everyone is rearranged slightly within the same general motif on the IMAX-exclusive poster. An IMAX Live Experience featuring the cast and a screening of the movie was scheduled for later in September, about a week out from wide release.
Burt is looking for his eye in a clip given exclusively to Fandango while everyone is trying to figure out what’s going on.
Another premiere event was held, this time in London, with the cast and crew once again coming out to get fans excited.
The new song “Time” by Giveon was featured in another TV commercial at the same time the full song was released digitally and elsewhere.
More clips came out that offered better looks at the characters played by Chris Rock, Mike Meyers and Zoe Saldaña while also offering small additional details about the story.
Along those lines, an interview with Bale had him sharing how hard it was to work with Rock because Rock was so funny during all their scenes. In another interview Bale talked about his first foray into producing and the opportunity to sing with Swift.
A short featurette was released that had the cast and Russell talking about the story and characters along with how much fun they all had on set. Another featurette focused on the production design, costumes and other trades behind making the movie.
Reviews haven’t been especially positive so far and tracking estimates a relatively paltry $10-12 million opening weekend.
But the marketing campaign here conveys a solid sense of fun about the story, one that’s helped by the actors involved constantly talking about the great experiences they had during filming. It looks like an old-fashioned caper movie involving mistaken identities, corrupt politicians and other tropes that on paper add up to a good time with a movie, especially with a cast as charismatic as this one.
It also looks like one released as counter-programming to some of the movies coming out on streaming services recently as well as an offering to anyone who’s not excited for whatever the next super hero or wizards movie might be. In fact it may be aimed directly at those who aren’t invested in a high-profile cable series about dragons etc.
That seems to be the prevailing attitude in the leadup to Warner Bros.’ release of The Suicide Squad, coming to theaters and HBO Max this week.
Like 2016’s Suicide Squad, this movie is about a group of super-villains who have been captured by the government and coerced by security operative Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) into taking on dangerous missions in exchange for reductions to their sentences. This time that mission involves hunting down The Thinker (Peter Capaldi), who has unleashed a giant alien starfish named Starro who can control people’s minds.
In addition to Davis, Margot Robbie returns as Harley Quinn – widely seen as the best part of the first film – as does Joel Kinnaman as Col. Rick Flag and Jai Courtney as Captain Boomerang. They’re joined by Idris Elba as Bloodsport (taking the place of Will Smith’s Deadshot), John Cena as Peacemaker and a handful of others as the Squad is greatly expanded this time around.
Technically a sequel in that it continues the story from that first movie and features some of the same characters, WB seems eager to take the few things people liked about the first entry and eject the rest, hoping to put the poor commercial and critical reception it received five years ago in the rearview mirror.
This despite how, in the wake of Zack Snyder being given the opportunity to revisit his abandoned Justice League project for HBO Max, some fans have taken it upon themselves to call for director David Ayer to be given the same opportunity with Suicide Squad. In this case it wasn’t Joss Whedon stepping in to finish the film but a trailer editing firm that took control of the final cut.
from rumor to reality
In late 2018 a possible sequel was still just that: possible. It was one of a handful of rumored projects that would bring Robbie back as Harley, some of which have fallen by the wayside with the exception of last year’s Birds of Prey.
Plans firmed up in early 2019 when WB confirmed earlier reports it had hired director James Gunn, who had recently been fired from his Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 gig by Marvel Studios following a controversy drummed up by right-wing trolls, though he’d eventually get that job back. In fact one of Gunn’s first interviews after WB’s announcement, part of the promotional cycle for Brightburn, had him commenting on how working on TSS helped him deal with the disappointment he felt over the whole Marvel incident.
After plenty of speculation, rumors and reports about what characters would appear, Gunn finally unveiled the official cast list in September, 2019. A few months later in December Gunn along with Braga sent a video message to attendees of CCXP promising they would love the film being made.
Well before the rest of the campaign launched, Gunn celebrated his birthday by sharing the movie’s title treatment in August, 2020. Members of the cast also sent him a birthday message.
dc fandome fun and more
At that time the director along with members of the cast were revealed as part of the talent lineup for DC’s “Fandome” virtual event. A “remix” of a Zoom panel with Gunn and the movie’s cast continued to set the stage for Fandome.
Two videos came out during Fandome. The first was a behind-the-scenes sneak peak that has Gunn and the cast talking about how funny, action-packed and overall unbelievable the movie was going to be. The second was a “Roll Call” of just some of the characters included in the film and the actors playing them.
Gunn showed off not one but two versions of some promotional artwork during the Fandome period.
The first official poster (by marketing agency Works Adv) also came out during the event. Not only does it show off how many characters are part of the story but the way it has each one’s name obscuring part of their face is a nice artistic touch that speaks to the different tone and feel of the movie compared to the first one. Each one of those characters was also broken off into its own poster.
In advance of Fandome a new Suicide Squad video game was teased by Rocksteady Games. While it’s not directly tied to the movie, the trailer released during the event for Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League shows the game pulls a lot of visual and character inspiration from the films.
Courtney spoke briefly about the film while promoting other projects.
Empire ran a cover story on the film back in October of last year. That included comments from Gunn about how he had broad latitude to kill whatever characters the story necessitated.
More promotions for the movie were run during 2020’s CCXP, the second year in a row for the movie at that event.
hbo max and Peacemaker spinoff
With a successful Fandome event having revived some of the positive buzz for the Suicide Squad brand and anticipation running high, WB in September 2020 announced a spinoff series focused on Peacemaker, the character played by Cena, for HBO Max.
Then the big news came. Namely, that this movie like the rest of WB’s 2021 release slate would debut simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max, an adjustment made to not only boost the fledgling streaming service but also accommodate what at the time were still a lot of unknowns around the Covid-19 pandemic.
Gunn was among the high-profile directors who weren’t thrilled with that decision, stating his opinion in a few interviews. Since then, though, he’s remained mum on the subject.
One of the first, albeit very brief, looks at the movie came via an HBO Max promo touting the same day theatrical/streaming availability of WB’s 2021 lineup. Another promo showed off a bit more footage.
Cena showed off his Peacemaker costume when he appeared on “The Tonight Show” in February and then did likewise on “The Late Show” in early April. A short while later Kinnaman appeared on the same show to talk about the film and more.
the marketing begins…and King Shark is a shark…
In advance of the first trailer in March two posters came out. The first (by marketing agency Concept Arts) has a retro feel, showing the main characters looking like cereal box action figures on a poster that has artificial creases in it from where the downtown grindhouse theater folded it for storage.
The second features the same characters and a similar design but without the retro conceit. This time it’s all slick and modern but still fun and outrageous, the leads framed by a giant star in the background.
The first trailer (1.9 million views on YouTube) is awesome. It shows the basic story but is primarily focused on setting a much different tone for this movie compared to the first one. Among the better moments shown here are:
Harley completely undoing the team’s efforts to rescue her
King Shark eating a guy head-first
Harley saying “If you cough without covering your mouth, you die.”
A beach full of dicks
Starro, ladies and gentlemen
It’s insane and looks like a lot of fun. And it led to a revival of Steely Dan’s “Dirty Work”, which the trailer’s sound designer commented on.
More character posters (by Concept Arts) were released at the end of March, showing some sort of object or symbol exploding behind that character. It’s a continuation of a visual theme established in the trailer with a shot of Harley tearing through a hallway firefight as colorful animated flowers burst from the background. By taking this approach it also continues establishing a much different visual identity for the movie from the “Hot Topic on ecstasy” tone of the first movie. These were also used in house ads appearing in DC books in the months leading up to release.
A green-band version that added a few more scenes and moments but otherwise hit most of the same beats came out a short while later.
In an interview with Total Film, Gunn talked more about how he wound up signing on to the movie and the amount of creative freedom – specifically to kill whichever characters he needed to to tell his story – the studio gave him. Robbie was also interviewed about the evolution of Harley Quinn in the film.
“Suicide Squad: Get Joker!”, a new three-issue mini-series from Brian Azzerello and Alex Maleev, was announced by DC in April and scheduled for release just days ahead of the movie hitting theaters and screens. There was also a King Shark one-shot with a preview of the Azzerello/Maleev series planned for Free Comic Book Day, which this year is happening the week after the movie’s release. DC also announced in May that many of its biggest titles would feature movie-inspired covers in August.
The second trailer (11.4m views on YouTube) also came out at that time, featuring similar levels of insanity and chaos as the first one.
Peacemaker clears up some confusion about what exactly “Project Starfish ” is and Polka Dot Man becomes a super hero in an extended TV spot from the end of June.
featurettes, more tv spots and plenty of goofy press
Fandango MovieClips got an exclusive featurette in July that had the cast talking about the unique vision Gunn brought to the project, filming the elaborate – and often practical – stunts and more.
A wide-ranging interview with Gunn had him reliving the moment he came onto the project following being fired by Marvel Studios, the attitude he tried to bring to the movie and more.
There were also a number of additional profiles and interviews with Robbie
Positive initial reactions followed a screening for press in July. That screening included a Q&A with Gunn and others where they talked more about the ridiculousness of Starro as a villain and other topics.
IMAX had an exclusive featurette, released in early July, that had Gunn and the cast talking about how the scale of the movie had to be seen on the big screen to be fully believed and enjoyed.
Another longer one goes behind the scenes, introducing some of the characters, including a few that hadn’t previously been given much of a role in the campaign.
Smashbox, one of the only promotional partners apparent, introduced a line of movie-inspired makeup products.
In what’s probably the best of the posters, the team is seen walking across a landscape which, upon further inspection, is actually Amanda Waller’s face.
WB celebrated Shark Week with a King Shark-centric spot that has Waller explaining a bit more about who he is and the rest of the team reminding him that eating people is only alright if they’re not his friends.
Red, the camera-production company, released a featurette with Gunn explaining how valuable those cameras were to making the movie he envisioned.
Gunn, Robbie and Cena – the latter once again in full costume – appeared on “Kimmel” in late July. Around that same time Courtney was interviewed about the movie, calling out the emotional heart that lies within the story.
That was later complemented by a TV spot hyping IMAX as the biggest and best way to see all the action.
AMC Theaters announced in July that those attending opening night screenings would receive an exclusive comic book.
Around this time outdoor and online ads using elements of the key art, especially from the second main poster.
grandson & Jessie Reyez released a video for “Rain,” a new song from the movie’s soundtrack, at the end of July. That video features appearances from some of the cast, their characters enjoying a night out before military bursts in and takes them away.
The cast, including Stallone, Melchior and others, continued doing various press appearances either in-person or virtually to hype of the film.
The Detachable Kid’s powers are featured in a clip that shows even Harley can’t believe what’s happening.
Just how low-rent the team is seen to be is communicated on another poster showing them arriving at the scene in an ancient broken down bus.
Bloodsport was added as a playable character in Fortnight.
One more bit of promotional art was released showing the team lying on the ground in the middle of a giant starfish drawing. The idea here – reinforced by the “Don’t get too attached” copy at the top – is to spur questions about which of the team is dead and who’s just sleeping.
Cena, Gunn and others appeared on a movie-themed episode of “Wipeout” earlier this month.
David Dastmalchian was interviewed about playing an insane, random character like Polka Dot Man.
Gunn and the cast, along with plenty of others, all showed up at the U.S. premiere of the movie in Los Angeles earlier this week. There they talked about how Gunn brought his unique level of insanity to the script
At earlier premieres and publicity tour stops, various incarnations of Starro – either as art installation or giant inflatable starfish – were used to create a unique visual spectacle.
Ok #TheSuicideSquad premiere was a lifetime high point. Watching it on a big screen surrounded by friends & family was amazing. Thanks to all my collaborators at all levels who made this happen. 🙏❤️ pic.twitter.com/Z2HTKODlVq
In another substantial interview, Gunn touched on a number of topics related to the movie including why it was so much fun to write for Robbie’s Harley Quinn, what DC plans might be in his future, the “Peacemaker” HBO Max series and lots more. In another interview he shared how insistent he was on an R rating for the movie and what other conditions he had when signing on and how he wound up casting fellow director Taika Waititi in a small role.
conclusion, or “it’s king shark’s world, we just live in it
First, let’s address the Ayer in the room.
As mentioned above, ever since The Snyder Cut of Justice League became a thing a similar subgroup of fans has been demanding David Ayer be allowed to release his cut of Suicide Squad. The cast was even compelled to comment on the possibility of it happening at the premiere earlier this week.
To his credit, Ayer himself has been relatively mum, only recently releasing a statement that yes, an edit of the movie exists that’s vastly different than the theatrical version. But he also doesn’t seem bitter about it, essentially chalking it up as one more difficulty in his life he’s overcome and a story he isn’t eager to share since it would betray confidences and sour relationships. He ultimately clearly and publicly supports the new movie and Gunn’s vision for the characters.
That’s awfully big and mature of Ayer since the dominant theme of the marketing for The Suicide Squad has been “this one is different.” Brighter colors, less of a cubic zirconia vibe to the visuals and more of an emphasis on the humor inherent in the concept, especially given there’s a massive walking and talking shark involved.
The projected $30-40m opening weekend needs to be viewed on a sliding, pandemic-adjusted scale as it’s not indicative of either how well the marketing seems to have been received by the general public or the positive buzz and early reviews that have earned it a 94% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes (which is nearly four times higher than that of the first movie). By focusing on Gunn’s involvement, a clear difference has been drawn by Warner Bros. that could make this movie a hit both on streaming and in theaters.
You can read my full recap of the marketing campaign for Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)at The Hollywood Reporter.
Online and Social
The key art from the theatrical poster is used on the splash page of the movie’s official website, which otherwise features mostly just the standard marketing content.
Media and Press
While there had been plenty of chatter from Robbie in particular ahead of this, the first major beat for the movie came when the cast of characters was revealed. That news was largely well-received, particularly in that it included Montoya, an openly-gay character. It was followed a bit later by the news Black Mask would be the villain of the story.
Winstead spoke about the training she was about to undergo to get in shape for the role shortly after news of her casting was announced, which landed as she was promoting All About Nina last year. A bit later Robbie revealed the movie’s full title, which was quite cumbersome but also pretty great, on Instagram. While promoting Mary Queen of Scots, Robbie spoke to how that title was meant to lighten up what otherwise might be more serious material.
Screenwriter Christina Hodson offered occasional updates as she was being interviewed while Bumblebee was in theaters.
Late January saw Robbie release first looks of Harley’s new look for the movie both as a photo and a video.
During the promotion for a new Netflix show, Winstead offered more thoughts on the tone of the film and its story. A profile of Robbie had her saying this movie’s version of Harley Quinn would be a bit toned down, with the male gaze removed from the director’s chair.
Her approach to playing Huntress and more was covered by Winstead while she was promoting Gemini Man.
In December Yan commented on the unexpected array of films she pulled inspiration from for this movie.
During the press cycle for Bombshell, Robbie was also interviewed about how she fell in love with the role of Harley Quinn while shooting the first Suicide Squad and how she wanted this movie to show a different side of the character.
That topic was central to a Variety cover story featuring the actor where she spoke about how she wanted Harley to evolve from that movie, especially with the addition of an all-female crew around her. She also spoke in her role as a producer on the film and how she teamed up with Yan and more.
An interview with Yan and Hodson had them talking about how they wanted to subvert many of the usual comic book tropes and take advantage of having a group of all-female anti-hero protagonists, all of whom had issues and messier personalities than might be commonly found in such movies. Yan also discussed how she got involved in the project to begin with and how she turned to director Patty Jenkins for advice on how to steer such a massive ship.
At the #Harleywood premiere late last month, the stars talked about how excited they were for people to see the movie, why the over-the-top violence was appropriate for the story and how the two main bad guys probably have some romantic feelings for each other. Recording artist Saweetioe was there too and talked about getting involved in the movie’s soundtrack.
The cast, often as a group, appeared on shows like “Good Morning America,” “The View” and others in the days before the movie hit theaters. McGregor also appeared on “The Tonight Show” and “Late Night.” Robbie also stopped by “The Tonight Show,” as did Winstead.
They also were featured on a Glamour cover story, while Smollett-Bell was interviewed on her own about what it was like to bring Black Canary to the big screen. Other interviews included Yah, Hodson and the cast talking about Harley’s journey and how they wanted to make the character work on her own. Winstead commented on the fun of having a mostly-female cast and crew as well and more.
Players of Fortnight could unlock an exclusive Harley Quinn skin.
More details on the new Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey comic from Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti here.
The movie’s costume designer was interviewed on pulling from various sources of inspiration from cartoons to movies in creating Harley’s costumes. How the story depicts violence against women and what the bad guy’s motivations are were part of this discussion with the cast.
What future there might be for a Harley/Poison Ivy partnership movie – one of the projects in development at one point – was speculated on by Yan. Winstead also commented on how she never questioned the idea that a comic action movie would have wide audience appeal.
How Lionsgate is selling its take on one of the biggest sexual harassment scandals in the media world.
Whether 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.
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.”
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.
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.
Aside from one element (mentioned in my THR recap), the website for the movie is the standard now used these days where the focus is more on selling tickets while offering just basic marketing content like trailers and stills.
Media and Press
Robbie shared a first look at herself as Tate in early August, a few weeks after the first promotional still featuring Pitt and DiCaprio was released, a still that unsurprisingly was later shown to be slightly edited.
Tarantino originally cast Burt Reynolds in an undisclosed role, but when the star passed away last year Bruce Dern was brought in to take up the mantle. The movie was also the last feature role for Luke Perry, something costar Olyphant spoke about.
A batch of first-look photos was released in late January with another set coming a couple months later.
How the production team recreated old Los Angeles was the subject of a feature profile. Around the same time, Tarantino revealed more information on some of the characters in the movie and what their motivations and backgrounds were and are. The movie’s producers offered similar information on the characters, noting this wasn’t really a movie about Charles Manson. They and others spoke about how important the role was for the late Luke Perry. Later on another feature was run that talked again about the production’s work to recreate the Hollywood of the past.
The interviews with the cast and crew while at Cannes included a profile of Tarantino, Pitt and DiCaprio as well as a panel conversation with the director and cast where they addressed questions about the film’s depiction of women (and Tarantino’s attitudes toward female characters as a whole), the amount of screen time allotted to Robbie and more. On that latter point, Tarantino seemed to turn a bit testy, rejecting the idea out of hand. He also hinted there could be a longer cut of the movie he might edit before it hits theaters.
That conversation may have been at least partly behind Robbie being the subject of a Vogue cover story in June that touched on this movie and more aspects of her career.
A bit later Tarantino was interviewed on the Pure Cinema podcast and talked about the inspiration for this movie and what it is he wanted to do with the story. He also admitted to not contacting director Roman Polanski about Tate, to whom he was married at the time the movie’s story is set, justifying his decision by saying he did the research and didn’t need anyone’s permission. He also said Robbie was his first and only choice to pay Tate while “everyone” wanted to play Cliff, the role that eventually went to Pitt, and reminisced on working with Perry in his final filmed role.
The cast and director stopped by “Jimmy Kimmel Live” on their way to the premiere Monday night to engage in some hijinks and promote the film to that audience.
Toward the end of the press cycle a narrative emerged that DiCaprio appearing in this movie is apt given he’s a throwback to a different kind of movie star. While I question the premise, it was helpful for Sony to have this come around as it made his involvement more special and notable, helping to raise its cache among entertainment journalists and those who follow them.
Details emerged just before release about the role filmed by James Marsden but cut from the final film.
Qualley talked about the movie when she appeared on “The Tonight Show” earlier this week.
Quentin Tarantino keeps sending notes across the class to Hollywood with "I like you, do you like me? If 'yes' check this box." pic.twitter.com/iB9RS6FwFs
An L.A. billboard for the movie was defiled by someone looking to make a point about some high profile sex offenders. That strong position is understandable given they say they were abused themselves.
Kurt Russell was interviewed about how he not only appeared on-screen but also helped Tarantino keep the period feel of the story real. And Tarantino admitted to being a little nervous directing Pacino. Qualley spoke about the experience of shooting with Tarantino and the rest of the cast.
There were quite a few additional stories like this that covered the production design work in recreating the Hollywood of decades past. And that’s not even mentioning the dozens of features that have explored the reality of the actual actors portrayed in the movie. And there’s been plenty of coverage of Sony’s efforts to woo Tarantino who was without his usual patron.
No surprise, but New Beverly Cinema in L.A. – owned by Tarantino – featured a whole experience related to the movie that includes props, costumes and more.
Qualley has become a big part of the post-release press campaign with feature interview like this.
IMAX released another promotional video encouraging audiences to see it in that format.
Butters, one of the cast’s younger members, was profiled about her experiences working on a set with so many major stars.
Mary Queen of Scots is the second movie, following Outlaw King on Netflix, to bring audiences a story of Scottish history and nobility. And once more the focus of the story is on the conflict that’s part of that history, particularly the tension between Scotland and England and the former’s desire to be free and independent from its larger cousin.
In this case that’s very literally the case. Saoirse Ronan plays Mary Stuart, who became queen of Scotland when she was just six days old. Forced to abdicate the throne, Mary eventually winds up seeking the protection of her cousin, Queen Victoria I (Margot Robbie), in England. The two are divided on many fronts, though, including Mary’s claim that she is the rightful English monarch, leading to backstabbing, confrontations and rivalry between the two.
Two character posters, one with each of the lead characters, lead things off at the same time the first trailer was released. As many people pointed out, though, the placement of “Born to power” on Elizabeth’s poster and “Born to fight” on Mary’s was kind of backwards when you consider their actual circumstances. This seems like the studio ignoring history in order to position the characters more squarely as rivals, with Elizabeth the one grasping to the throne and Mary the one willing to take up arms to claim what she feels is hers.
The next two posters show the two women in various poses in relation to each other, each highlighting both the friendship and the conflict between the two.
As the trailer opens Mary has returned home to England from Scotland. She wants to make sure she and her cousin Elizabeth rule side-by-side as equals, not competitors or with one subservient to the other. Things quickly become competitive though as Elizabeth’s advisors position them against each other, something Mary keeps trying to avoid but which eventually leads to a clash of armies.
A second short trailer was released just earlier this week that positioned the story as “the epic clash of queens,” showing the two women maneuvering against each other while including blurbs and quotes from some of the positive reviews the movie has already accumulated.
Online and Social
The second trailer opens Focus Features’ official website for the movie, which seems to just offer visitors the two trailers and a brief “About” synopsis. There were also Twitter, Facebook and Instagram profiles for people to connect with.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
I’m not aware of any TV spots, but online ads have used some of the key art to show off the glamour of the costumes as well as the actors involved.
Media and Publicity
First look photos of Robbie and Ronan in character appeared in EW along with brief details on the story. Ronan was part of Focus’ CinemaCon presentation, where she talked about working with Robbie and what story they were trying to tell while the studio showed off a bit of footage. The movie was also part of the later CineEurope presentation from the studio.
A new interview with Ronan and another new still were part of EW’s Fall Movie Preview issue. It was later announced as the closing night feature at the AFI Film Fest. Later on Ronan, Robbie and director Josie Rourke were interviewed together about the production, the nature of the characters and more. Another later feature focused on the same material, including how the two costars worked to stay apart on set to better get in the mood of being rivals.
Robbie appeared on “The Tonight Show” to joke around and show off the look of the movie, with Ronan showing up just a couple days later to talk about the movie, her costra and more. Robbie also stopped in to “Good Morning America” and other shows.
Ronan was also interviewed about the characters and story and again about working with Robbie and more. The two were also jointly interviewed about the production and the political relevance of a story that pits two powerful women against each other, something Robbie also touched on here.
Chateau Marmont in Hollywood hosted a display of costumes from the movie presented by both Vanity Fair and Focus. Those costumes, and the work put into creating them, were the focus of a few stories and interviews with the designers while the sets also got some attention.
Costar Gemma Chan got a bit of attention later on in the campaign, including a short interview and a few TV appearances where she talked about being part of the cast and more.
What strikes me most strongly about the campaign is that on most every front, particularly in the publicity, it acknowledges that a lot of the rivalry and fighting between the two women is the fault of them needing to prove themselves in what is otherwise a man’s world. They’ve been controlled by advisors and regents and so are paranoid when they see any threat to their position, even if it comes from someone who should otherwise be a friend and ally.
That aside, the marketing has focused strongly on the two costars, which isn’t surprising. The story is there, of course, but it’s all about seeing these two actors go up against each other on screen in a period drama. That’s been the topic of the interviews they’ve done while the rest of the media push has played up the design of the set and costumes, offering audiences a spectacle along with the story.
Picking Up The Spare
Robbie spoke more here about the nerves she had in taking on the role of Queen Elizabeth.
The process of developing the story was covered in a profile of screenwriter Beau Willimon and historian Jon Guy.
Ronan made another appearance on “Late Night” to talk about the costumes and story of the movie.
Another featurette on the royal story of the movie as well as a clip showing some of the planning going on.
It’s almost impossible, based on the marketing materials that have been released, to figure out what exactly is happening in the new movie Terminal, starring Margot Robbie. So, because deciphering all the convoluted points offered in the trailers and minimal help offered by the rest of the campaign is super-difficult, here’s the synopsis offered by IMDb:
In the dark heart of a sprawling, anonymous city, TERMINAL follows the twisting tales of two assassins carrying out a sinister mission, a teacher battling a fatal illness, an enigmatic janitor and a curious waitress leading a dangerous double life. Murderous consequences unravel in the dead of night as their lives all intertwine at the hands of a mysterious criminal mastermind hell-bent on revenge.
Got it? Alright, let’s dive in.
“Revenge never looked so good” we’re told on the first poster, which shows Robbie looking fabulous while standing in front of a wall of TV screens. Presumably she’s the one exacting revenge on those shown behind her given she’s the one holding the gun.
All we see in the teaser trailer is Robbie walking down a dark hallway of some kind while narrating how she’s just the kind of crazy it takes to survive in this world. Other characters are shown only in profile as they walk down other alleyways and corridors. So we’re not given any kind of clues about the story other than how she seems to be at the center of some conspiracy that has collected other individuals for one last payoff. Instead it’s about selling the look and feel of the movie, which is shown as a slick crime drama.
The theatrical trailer offers only slightly more details about the story and characters but very clearly sells the movie as a violent black comedy. A collection of bad men has been brought together by Annie, who has manipulated and seduced each one into just the position she wants them in so, it seems, she can enact some form of revenge. There’s little to no explanation as to why she’s doing this and there’s someone named Mr. Franklin who also seems to be pulling some strings, but everyone eventually finds themselves on the wrong side of Annie’s knife.
It’s less concerned with story than style and it has plenty of that, with neon lights and bright makeup and rain-drenched alleyways. It’s neon noir and looks like it might be a lot of fun if the movie itself retains this kind of attitude and approach.
Online and Social
There really doesn’t seem to have been any web presence at all created specifically for the movie. No website, Twitter or Facebook have been found through search.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Similarly, no advertising appears to have been done.
Media and Publicity
A picture of a very glamorous-looking Robbie in character served as the first look from the movie while it was at the Toronto Film Festival looking for a buyer, which it found just as the festival was wrapping up.
Closer to release Robbie talked about her character’s ability to adopt one of any number of disguises to take care of what needs to be taken care of. There was also a breakdown of the various characters that get caught up in the story.
The lackluster effort shown here to sell what might be a slick, fun and stylish noir betrays a lack of faith that the movie could even find an interested audience, much less motivate them to action. It’s disappointing because these are just the kind of creative risks more filmmakers should be making. While the marketing materials in particular have resulted in a bit of conversation about the movie it’s largely flying under most everyone’s radar.
It’s worth noting that when news broke of skater Tonya Harding having had rival skater Nancy Kerrigan attacked after a practice in 1994, America was two years into the nascent reality television phenomenon. It’s by no means a recent development, but the audience was primed for stories of real life drama involving villains we could root against, sweethearts to root for and sympathize with and so on. Coverage of the story extended well beyond the world of sports and became a reality narrative the whole country followed for a while.
Now that story is coming to the big screen over 20 years later in I, Tonya. Margot Robbie stars as Harding in a story that follows her from her earliest days in the world of competitive figure skating, a career that’s driven by her hard-nosed mother (Allison Janney). Sebastian Stan plays Jeff Gillooly, Harding’s ex-husband and co-conspirator, the one who actually makes overtures to shady types who might be able to elongate Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver) from the equation.
The first and only poster features Robbie as Harding standing against the cinderblock wall common to arenas as she holds her skates in her hands and sports a defiant scowl. It certainly seems familiar, largely because those of us who lived through these events will kinda sorta recognize the outfit she’s sporting. And it definitely conveys to the audience that we’re not getting a sugar-coated version of events but one that comes loaded with plenty of attitude
A short teaser trailer sets up Tonya as embracing the role of someone willing to be the bad guy as we see a few shots from the movie, including her skating, Harding being clubbed and more. There’s not much there, it’s just a taste to get something out there and get people talking.
The first full trailer is kind of insane. We see Tonya’s story, including how she was pushed by her mother to succeed in every way, mostly through criticisms and violence. All that made her defiant and tough and unwilling to play by the nice rules that are in place. We see her husband begin looking into having someone take out the competition and keep working, all while dealing with the emotional fallout of being raised like she was.
It’s coarse and vulgar and funny and yeah, it looks pretty darn entertaining. Robbie completely owns the role and Janney looks fantastic as the caustic mother who prods her daughter in the only way she knows how. There are a couple moments that seem to indicate the movie breaks the fourth wall regularly, offering commentary on what’s happening and the reality of the situation, pointing out moments of artistic license being taken. That only makes it look more insane.
Online and Social
The main page of the official website opens with full-screen video pulled from the trailer with the title and a “Get Tickets” prompt at the bottom of the page. That tickets call-to-action is also the first element in the menu at the top of the page.
After that is the “Trailer” section, which has both the teaser and the full trailer, the latter in both red-band and all-ages versions. The “Synopsis” after that offers both a story overview and the cast and crew list. There are several stills in the “Gallery.” Other than the “Share” buttons to post the site to social media the last section is the “Press Kit” that offers a PDF to download where you can get all sorts of relevant information.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
If there’s been a ton of advertising for the movie I haven’t seen it. Nothing has been found in terms of TV spots and I haven’t seen any online or social media paid promotion.
Media and Publicity
The movie had its big coming out at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it was pretty well received. A big feature interview with Robbie appeared around that time where she talked about the technical and physical challenges in making the movie and admitted she didn’t realize this wasn’t a fictional story until they were filming. NEON quickly picked up distribution rights after that Toronto screening and it was later scheduled as one of the closing night features at AFI Fest. Robbie continued talking about the research she did into the woman she’s playing.
Robbie did a few press interviews in the last couple weeks but most of the coverage wound up revolving around questions about her future as Harley Quinn in various DC Cinematic Universe films. Either that or the stories focused on her fashion and glamour, not really talking about the movie itself. Just look at the headlines to the right, a screenshot pulled from Google News.
She also showed up on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” just last night, interviewed by guest host Chris Pratt.
I think my favorite part of this campaign is that there’s no attempt to make a feel-good Lifetime story out of it. There’s attitude and swagger to spare throughout the marketing, which matches the public persona many of us associate with the real-life Harding. It’s clear the filmmakers aren’t glossing over anything. While they may present a slightly more relatable picture of Harding than was evident 20+ years ago, she’s still not a warm, fuzzy personality. And Robbie sells all that with conviction, a testament to her acting chops.
The marketing probably won’t make that much of a dent in audience desire to see the film, though. This is very much the kind of film that will skate under most people’s radar until it’s available on Amazon Prime or Netflix in eight months, at which point they’ll kind of remember seeing a trailer for it and decide it’s worth checking out. That’s not the fault of the campaign itself, which sizzles and pops and makes a strong impression, just the reality of the current theatrical marketplace.
PICKING UP THE SPARE
The movie has come under an increasing amount of criticism since it was released, both for its depiction of domestic abuse and for how it plays fast and loose with the truth, the latter centered around an account from a sports writer who covered the events of the film in real-time.
A bit more advertising has been done in response to the movie’s early awards season wins, including 15-second pre-roll spots on YouTube that call out how insane this true story is. While it’s not directly tied to this movie, the interest and attention it received presumably lead NEON to acquire the old documentary “Sharp Edges” about Tonya Harding prior to her gaining national notoriety. Still, it’s somewhat surprising given the backlash to the movie centered around the questionable decision to make the villain in the story sympathetic while almost completely ignoring the victim.
One of several biopics recounting the lives of famous authors, this week sees the release of Goodbye Christopher Robin. As you might guess from the title, the story focuses on A.A. Milne and his creation of Winnie The Pooh and the rest of the inhabitants of the 100-Acre Wood and the adventures they take part in.
Domhnall Gleeson plays Milne, who’s recently returned from serving his country in the military during World War I. No longer content to be entertaining in his work, he strives to inspire peace and love. Escaping London with his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) and son Christopher Robin (Will Tilston), Milne is inspired by Christopher’s affection for a stuffed bear and the imagination he displays. Eventually the success of Winnie the Pooh turns the whole family into celebrities, willingly or not.
The first poster is made to look like a storybook as it shows A.A. and his son Christopher walking hand-in-hand through the woods, Christopher’s other hand clutching his beloved teddy bear. The woods are illustrated just as they are in the stories Milne would write. No additional copy here, surprisingly.
Christopher is saying his prayers alongside Olive as the first trailer opens. The focus then shifts to A.A., who’s being introduced as a bright upcoming writer before the stage lights give him flashbacks to the horrors he experienced in WWI. He’s in need of a change to figure out what he wants to do that could really impact the world. So he moves his family to a small village and, thanks to Christopher’s innocent inspiration, begins to get the ideas that would eventually become his best-known work. Through all of this A.A. tries to balance his work and family duties.
It’s a nicely touching trailer that shows us we’re going to get the story behind the story we all know. It uses the juxtaposition of walks in the woods with his son and his experiences in the war to decent dramatic effect. In the end it might come off a bit schmaltzy, but it seems its heart is in the right place.
Online and Social
The domestic U.S. trailer plays when you load Fox Searchlight’s official website for the movie. Close that and you get a version of the key art showing all three members of the Milne family alongside some four-star reviews from various publications. At the bottom is a prompt to watch the trailer and to the social profiles for Fox Searchlight, while the Twitter and Facebook feeds set up for this specific movie don’t appear to be listed anywhere on the site.
“Cast” gets things started at the top of the page, allowing you to select each person’s name and taking you to a page with a picture of them and a quote about how they reacted to the script and story. “Filmmakers” does the same thing for director Simon Curtis.
There’s a short synopsis in the “Story” section. “Photos” has about 10 production stills and “Videos” just has the one trailer.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
The first TV spot gets into the motivations that drove Milne, particularly his desire to write something uplifting for both the world and his son, but strips away the elements seen in the trailer that shows the family dealing with sudden and unexpected fame.
Media and Publicity
Gleeson was interviewed for Entertainment Weekly’s fall movie preview issue about how he got the part, how he prepared for it and other related topics. Gleeson was, according to this interview, apprehensive about the part due to the sensitive nature of the story and the real-life character he plays. This interview with Gleeson also nodded to how he’s basically in half the movies hitting theaters this fall.
The star also appeared on TV to talk about the movie and share jokes with the hosts, but the conversation also included plenty of diversions into talk of Star Wars. Robbie joined him in some appearances as well. Kelly Macdonald, who plays the nanny who cares for Christopher while his parents are busy, also did the rounds with various interviews.
There was also a feature interview that focused on both actors who play Christopher Robin – Tilston and Alex Lawther, who plays him as a teenager – and allowed them to talk about their different approaches to the character.
As I mentioned in the opening, this is one more entry in this fall’s “Behind the Story: True Author Stories” movie trend. By focusing on the inspiration Christopher Robin provided, the campaign hopes to move beyond selling it as a straight biopic, something that has decidedly mixed results. Instead, the goal is to present it as a kind of childhood fantasy, albeit one that also involves the trauma of a former soldier and frustrated writer.
In all, the campaign presents a consistent brand identity, with repeated use of the soft pastels and muted browns that are shown on the poster, the website and elsewhere. It’s all meant to be very serene and peaceful, attitudes that are in keeping with the book Milne wound up writing. It’s also slightly evocative of the editions of Winnie The Pooh that have graced bookstore shelves for years.
It’s not clear how much of the movie’s running time will be devoted to flashbacks to Milne’s experiences in the war, but their inclusion makes me wonder who the target audience here is. Adults are more likely to find interest in the story of how PTSD inspires someone to create something pure and good, but those scenes may be a bit intense for kids who are more interested in the fantasy world on display. At least the campaign doesn’t emphasize one or the other, setting at least one potential audience pool up for disappointment.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.