Dark Waters – Marketing Recap

A fight against entrenched powers comes to the forefront in Focus Features’ campaign.

dark waters posterThe idea that there are good people of virtue and character out there willing to put themselves and their reputations on the line to do what’s right may seem quaint these days, but those are just the kind of people society relies on. We see what happens when they are removed or diminished and it’s not pretty.

Just that sort of virtue is at the core of Dark Waters, the new movie from director Todd Haynes. Based on a true story, Mark Ruffalo stars as Robert Bilott, an attorney who works for major chemical companies. Through a series of circumstances he’s pulled out to visit the farm of a family friend, one where the owner believes pollution from nearby factories is killing his land and his livestock.

Soon Bilott finds himself taking up the cause of farmers and fighting against the very corporations he once defended. Doing so puts him in the crosshairs of very powerful people who would like not to have their bad actions – environmental and otherwise – exposed for all the world to see, thank you very much.

How Bilott and his family face those threats is central to the campaign run by Focus Features.

The Posters

Bilott is shown on the movie’s single one-sheet (by marketing agency Eclipse), released in September, looking out his car window. In the reflection we see a pair of figures approaching the car, the implication being these are dangerous people he’s looking out for. Copy at the top reading “The truth has a man inside” hints at how he will use his knowledge of how the industry works to hit them where they’re vulnerable. It’s a dark and slightly ominous image in keeping with the look and feel of the rest of the campaign.

The Trailers

September saw the release of the first trailer (4 million views on YouTube), which starts out by showing how Robert is convinced to switch sides, defending farmers suffering from the effects of chemical pollution instead of the chemical companies doing the polluting. He begins investigating the water that not only the cows in a small town but the people have been drinking, finding that DuPont has knowingly allowed it to happen for years. The company brings all of its resources to bear in the fight as Robert finds himself and his family targeted by powerful interests who would like him to be silenced.

Online and Social

Though it uses the same template Focus always does, the movie’s site is barely stocked by even today’s meager standards. The trailer, which pops up when you load the page, is also available when you scroll down along with a synopsis and a single photo. That’s it.

Advertising and Promotions

Focus Features announced a November release in August.

Ruffalo, who has gained a reputation as an activist fighting for many worthwhile causes, joined the real Bilott along with others on Capitol Hill recently to advocate for restrictions on various chemicals that are leached into the environment. While in Washington the pair also appeared at a Washington Post Q&A about the movies and the issues it raises.

Participant Media, which produced the film, held other screenings in Austin, New York and elsewhere in recent weeks.

At the premiere the whole cast and crew were in attendance, sharing more of their thoughts on the movie and the issues at the heart of the story.

Advertising efforts included spots like this that condense the story shown in the trailer down to the simple message of farms being destroyed by the willful actions of companies who believe themselves immune from accountability.

Media and Press

How Ruffalo connected with the material and how his commitment to the story and cause were covered in an interview with the actor. He and Haynes spoke about the urgency of the story and what it means to them following a Hollywood screening in late October.

Ruffalo made various talk show appearances on “Good Morning America,” CNN, “The Late Show” and elsewhere.

Haynes received a profile of his own that focused on his process and the kind of environment he creates on the set for the actors.

Overall

A few days ago there was a story quoting a Wall Street analyst who believed, after seeing the movie, it might damage the reputation and business prospects of DuPont, the major antagonist in the story, the one Bilott is fighting hardest against. But, he noted, any negative impact felt by individual investors walking away from the stock (it’s apparently not even feasible institutions would exit their investments) would be mitigated if or when a big M&A transaction is announced.

If there’s a better example of late stage capitalism around I’m not aware of it.

You see something like that in the footage from the movie of Bilott explaining to his wife that the system is rigged, that the people in power aren’t going to protect us and it’s up to us to protect ourselves.

In its quest to play up as many dramatic moments as possible – file boxes being dropped to the ground, doors being shut angrily, people confronted in ballrooms – some of the advocacy seems to get lost in the campaign, but the overall message still comes through. This is a serious film made by serious people about a serious topic that should be important to serious members of the audience. It’s the kind of mid-level drama with a great cast that used to be seen 28 times every Awards Season.

The real reason to see it, though, is to be shown the level of malfeasance on display in America’s corporate boardrooms and what impact it has on the kinds of hardworking Americans the politicians who defend those companies claim to care about. Should the movie serve as any kind of call to action, it will have done its job.

Picking Up the Spare

Ruffalo, Haynes and others were interviewed about the research they did to fully understand the real people at the heart of the story and get their motivations right.

Focus released a behind the scenes featurette with comments from the cast and crew. Another had Ruffalo sharing his first gig while one more discussed the real people portrayed in the story.

A later interview with Ruffalo focused on how he used the film as an outlet for his political nature and he spoke about playing a real individual when he appeared on “The Daily Show.”

Additional profiles of Ruffalo, Haynes and cinematographer Ed Lachman and writer Mario Correa. There was also a feature on how many of the real life people involved in the story were brought on as extras.

Thor: Ragnarok – Marketing Recap

2011’s Thor was fun. Less an origin story than a “how he fulfilled his destiny” story, the mix of comic book content and Shakespearean gravitas was pretty enjoyable.

Thor: The Dark World was drastically less fun in 2013, removing the cocky self-confidence that was essential to the character in favor or endless brooding over an incomprehensible story.

And now we have Thor: Ragnarok, the third solo outing for the God of Thunder in addition to his two team appearances in the Avengers films. This time around Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is confronting nothing less than Ragnarok, the death of the gods, at the end of Hela (Cate Blanchett). Finding himself out of commission and largely powerless on a mysterious alien world overseen by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum).

While fighting for his survival he encounters his old friend Hulk/Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and the Asgardian warrior Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson). Together they need to not only get themselves off the planet they’re trapped on but also back to where they can take the fight to Hela and stop her plans. This time around director Taika Waititi is pulling the strings, so let’s see what happens when you let a slightly mad New Zealander control of a superhero film.

The Posters

The first poster is a colorful effort that shows a short-cropped Thor with helmet in hand as he stands in the middle of an arena of onlookers. The swirling debris and bright light at the top are meant to show this is taking place somewhere other than Earth, which is important. A slightly animated motion version of that poster was released later on.

A whole series of character posters put each member of the ensemble on their own, set against a bright and colorful background that’s coming at them like a wave. Everyone from Thor to Odin to Grandmaster to Valkyrie to Hela get their own posters, selling this as a real team movie.

A more comic-book like artistic style was applied to the poster created specifically to promote IMAX screenings. All the characters are here in various action poses, but it’s all run through what appears to be a “comic” effects setting in Photoshop as I’m skeptical this is actual artwork. Another IMAX poster is more traditional, arranging photos of all the major cast around the one-sheet in order of importance. The bright, colorful visuals are all in the background while the major element is the call to action to “Experience it in IMAX.” One more poster singles out the title character, who has lightning shooting from his eyes just like in a scene from the trailer. This one was created specifically for those buying tickets through Fandango.

The Trailers

The first teaser trailer starts off with a “you’re wondering how I got myself in this situation moment” shot of Thor in chains, followed by a quick shot of Hela smashing Thor’s hammer in her hands. That shows the power he’s facing off against and the stakes of the story. She has plans to destroy Asgard and as a result Thor is catapulted through space to a strange alien planet where he’s collected by Valkyrie, who’s working for the Grandmaster. Thor is forced into an arena where he has to fight an opponent that turns out to be the Hulk, who’s decked out in full gladiatorial gear. That leads to the lightest moment of the trailer, where Thor gets all excited that it’s a “friend from work” (a line that was later revealed to be a contribution from a Make-A-Wish recipient on set that day) but it’s clear he’s not going to get off easy.

This is pretty great. It shows the broad strokes of the story, from Thor’s confrontation with Hela to her plans for Ragnarok to the scenes on the alien planet we meet Goldblum’s Grandmaster. As many people pointed out, the shots of Grandmaster and his court contain some of the most blatant Jack Kirby-inspired imagery ever put on film. And that last gag is just great, showing off some of the humor everyone’s been waiting for since it was announced Waititi was going to be in the director’s chair. There’s a great touch to the whole thing, though, that marks it as being more in line with the first Thor movie than the second one.

The second trailer, which debuted at San Diego Comic-Con, doubles down on the idea that this is a buddy comedy featuring Thor and The Hulk. It seems like half the footage in the trailer involves Thor talking to or interacting with either Hulk or Banner. Most of that is to explain they need to stop Hela, the Goddess of Death that is threatening to unleash Ragnorak. So they assemble a team that includes Loki and Valkyrie to take the fight to her. There’s lots of gunplay, sword slinging and more as they seek to save the universe.

It’s fun and funny and got everyone excited, which is exactly what it needed to do. There’s more story shown here, which is nice, but it’s Waititi’s comedic touch that’s really on display. It’s almost as if they’re working extra-hard to move the franchise in a direction 180 degrees the somber, dark dark tone of The Dark World.

Online and Social

It’s not totally surprising that the movie’s official website is somewhat lackluster. Big franchise films like this don’t need to put much effort in on this front. The colorful key art featuring the array of characters graces the front page, which notably includes links to the social profiles for Marvel Studios and not this movie specifically. Despite that, there were Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles that have been in use since the first film was released.

The actual site content menu has prompts to get you to “Watch Trailer,” check out a “Photo Gallery” of stills, read a brief “Synopsis” and find out more information on the movie’s promotional “Partners.” That’s about it.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The first TV spot, titled “Contender,” aired during the first NFL broadcast of the season. Most of the footage here has already been seen. New, though, is Thor making the pitch to join his team to Valkyrie. When she asks if the team has a name he stammers a bit before saying it’s “The Revengers,” a name Banner doesn’t seem to be totally on board with. So it’s making it clear to the football audience that not only is there a massive Thor/Hulk battle and lots of spaceships and other action but also some offbeat humor.

Further commercials like this one continued using the humor that’s so prevalent in the rest of the campaign, particularly the competition between Hulk and Thor. Some also included Doctor Strange to make it clear the story still connected to the rest of the MCU. Eventually spots like this one took a more traditionally-Marvel approach to sell the action.

The following efforts were undertaken by the movie’s handful of corporate promotional partners:

  • Red Robin offered a free movie ticket when you bought a limited edition movie-branded gift card.
  • Comicave produced high-end collectibles based on the movie and the look of the characters.
  • Synchrony Bank created a movie-themed landing page with “Thor-spiration” videos to help people “save like a hero” and more.
  • Screenvision Media, which made the movie part of its regular pre-show entertainment package.

Media and Publicity

There had obviously been lots of speculation and on-set reports about the movie leading up to this, but San Diego Comic-Con 2016 was the first big splash of official material. That included props on display that hinted at potential ties to the Planet Hulk storyline and was part of Marvel Studios’ Hall H presentation. Those activities also included a fun look at what the cast and characters have been up to in their time off. Marvel later released the short online and on the home video of Captain America: Civil War and it was as great as advertised.

Blanchett spoke briefly from time to time about the role she played as the movie’s villain. After lots of speculation and rumors, Marvel finally confirmed some key plot points, including that Thor would face off against Hulk off-world. Waititi later talked about what attracted him to the project, what he hoped to achieve, the process of working on the movie and more.

The first big official publicity push came with an EW cover story that featured comments from the cast, first-look photos and a glimpse at some of the news characters for the first time. It also notably showed off Thor’s new hairstyle, which got lots of people talking.

This movie was one of those that were highlighted to journalists who attended a behind-the-scenes look and tour at Marvel’s upcoming slate. While promoting other things, Goldblum also talked about his experience shooting Thor, particularly praising Waititi and his approach to getting the most and best out of his actors.

Marvel’s Kevin Feige talked about the movie regularly, including making sure fans knew this one was an essential part of the path toward the coming Infinity War.

There were a few stories about the movie in Entertainment Weekly’s fall movie preview, including first-look stills, comments from Waititi about how he wanted to capture the vibe of old sci-fi movies he loved like Flash Gordon and more.

Just as they’d done with Doctor Strange, Marvel launched a STEM challenge encouraging young girls to create community-improvement projects and submit them, with the five best winning a trip out to the movie’s premiere.

The new characters this movie introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe was the focus of this story, which included comments by Thompson about how lazily female heroes are often written and what set this one apart.

Throughout the summer Waititi talked often about the movie and how he approached shooting such a massive story, including commenting on how his experience on Green Lantern years ago influenced him and how often he put on a motion-capture suit himself to fill in for someone who was unavailable at the moment.

This was just one of a few movies with Elba in a starring role, a trend that lead to him gracing the cover of a recent issue of Entertainment Weekly, with a story that had him talking about this and his other recent releases. Hemsworth and the rest of the cast appeared on various late night talk shows and other media to promote the movie and engage in host-driven antics. The star even talked about how he was kind of bored by the character before Waititi shook things up a bit. Ruffalo hinted in an interview that this could be the first chapter in a bigger Hulk story, though he’s also said Marvel has no current plans for more standalone Hulk movies.

Waititi’s unique personality was the focus of this New York Times profile, which positioned the director as someone who can’t believe his luck and being given so much latitude, including looks at his background, how he got the job and how he managed a casual and creative production.

In the final weeks of the campaign Thompson became more of a central figure as she revealed that, while it’s not directly addressed in the story, Valkyrie is indeed bi-sexual. More than that, the presentation of the character was identified as a great one for inclusion on a number of fronts. That increased spotlight included features like this that reviewed her career to date and talked about how she made the leap from smaller films to a big superhero franchise. There was also one more profile of Goldblum just because.

Hemsworth, Ruffalo, Goldblum and Thompson, as well as Waititi, all did the TV and other media rounds in the couple weeks leading up to release.

Overall

It’s hard to overstate just how fun this whole enterprise is. I really feel like Marvel Studios made the conscious decision to let Waititi have more say in the marketing of the movie than it usually hands over to directors, who are often simply workhorses in service of the corporate machine. Instead it let the filmmaker have a bit of fun with the shorts released before the marketing really ramped up and continue to be the public face of the campaign, bringing his fanbase along for the ride as he conveyed his unique sense of humor and assured them it would be intact here.

That bit of originality and levity was desperately needed for the character, who’s been on the cusp of being not just overly-brooding but also one used only to further the overarching story along. Both The Dark World and his role in Age of Ultron were subject to the needs of setting up what’s next, which did no one any favors. That rescue seems to have come in part by realizing Thor needs a supporting cast that operates on his level, something that was present in The Avengers films but lacking from his solo movies. The campaign has made sure everyone knows this is just as much of a team story.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

Director Taika Waititi continues to be an absolute wonder with this introduction to the film that’s part of the push for its home video release.
It’s not *exactly* the version of the character played by Tessa Thompson in the movie, but the take on Valkyrie was popular enough that a new version of the Asgardian warrior who looks a lot like her film incarnation is joining a new “Exiles” series from Marvel.