the last duel – marketing recap

How 20th Century Studios has sold a movie of honor and sexual politics

The Last Duel poster

The Last Duel, out this week from 20th Century Studios, is based on the true story of exactly what you would think based on the title.

Set in 14th century France, Matt Damon plays Jean de Carrouges. When his wife Marguerite (Jodie Comer) accuses de Carrouges’ friend and squire Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) of raping her, de Carrouges challenges him to a duel which would become the last one in France to be legally sanctioned.

Directed by Ridley Scott, the movie was co-written by Damon and Ben Affleck – who also costars – along with Nicole Holofcener, brought in by the pair specifically to strengthen the female perspective of the story.

announcement and casting

The announcement that the movie was coming and that it would feature an on-screen reunion of Affleck and Damon hit in late July of 2019, though the film had been in development for a few years prior to that. Comer and Driver joined the cast later that year.

the marketing campaign

The first trailer (6m YouTube views) came out in late July, opening with what seems to be Marguerite being questioned after the fact about events we see depicted, indicating there’s been some kind of fall out from what takes place. Those events involve charges that have been leveled against Jacques Le Gris – namely that he raped and assaulted Marguerite – and the challenge to a duel that’s proposed by Jean de Carrouges. But while that duel extends into what appears to be all out war, it’s Marguerite that is about to pay the price if she’s found guilty of making a false accusation.

At the same time the first poster was released, nicely conveying the story by showing two swords pointed in opposite directions, Marguerite’s face shown in the blade of one to indicate she’s somehow the reason this duel is happening.

Comer talked about the movie, including her experience on a Ridley Scott production, in an interview from mid-August. She covered similar grounds in another interview a short while later.

Affleck and Damon talked about reuniting as a writing team and bringing in Holofcener to help them tell a uniquely female-centric story in the best way possible.

The first TV spot came out in early September, cutting down the story to its basic beats and managing to be a lot more clear than the trailer, losing some of the vague mystery and getting straight to the drama.

Damon, Affleck and Comer were joined by Holofcener and Scott at the Venice Film Festival, where the movie had its world premiere.

While at Venice – which also served as the first big public appearance of Affleck and Jennifer Lopez as a couple again – Affleck was interviewed about how the story reminds audiences that women haven’t been treated as full human beings for centuries.

Positive reviews, especially for Comer’s performance, came out of that premiere and kept buzz for the movie building.

Another feature story covered Holofcener’s recruitment into the writing team and what it means for how the story is told.

Additional TV spots/online promos came out after that, most of which focused on the drama over the accusations that’s been made by Marguerite and what results from that. Others focused more on how the movie is based on a true story, showing the gritty nature of the events.

A featurette released in late September goes behind the scenes to show Scott directing and talking about his process.

Comer appeared at the UK premiere of the movie.

Marguerite stands at the front of the next poster, released at the end of September. The rest of the characters are arrayed behind her but it’s clear she’s at the center of the story. Again the two sword motif is used here, with copy explaining that not only is this a true story but that the woman in the middle of it will drastically upset the status quo.

More TV spots were released over time that played up how powerful the film and its performances are. The audio for some of the shorter commercials was repurposed for ads on Spotify and elsewhere.

The first clip shows Marguerite confronting her husband about whether it’s her honor or his reputation he’s fighting for as he goes forward with his duel.

Fandango was given the first few minutes of the movie showing preparations for the duel, the king of France looking on.

The cast and crew turned out for the movie’s premiere in New York City last week, with the studio releasing a video of highlights from that event. From that premiere came several interviews with Comer, Affleck, Holofcener, Damon, Scott and others.

Another featurette focuses on how Damon and Driver in particular were suited up for the duel and how those outfits restricted their movements.


Things are summed up nicely in one of the last TV commercials released in the campaign. That spot includes pull quotes from some of the positive reviews the movie has accumulated, all of which have given it an 87% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Ridley Scott GIF by Regal - Find & Share on GIPHY

It’s that word of mouth that has really powered the campaign in the last two weeks. Positive buzz for Scott’s direction, Comer’s performance in particular and the better-than-expected script have all built on a strong start that sold the movie as a powerful experience that must be seen in theaters. That’s slightly different than some other recent releases, which focus on the *size* of the action, not the intensity of the story.

Despite that, tracking projections estimate a paltry $10 million opening weekend. That is *absolutely* an indicator of how established brands and franchises are better-suited for the new normal of theatrical distribution than other stories, especially since the reviews are better or at least similar in aggregate.

stillwater – marketing recap

How Focus Features sold a politically-charged drama.

(ed note: This should have been published last week, but life got in the way. Let’s move on…)

Director Tom McCarthy is back with Stillwater, in theaters now. Matt Damon stars as Bill Baker, an oil worker whose daughter Allison (Abigail Breslin) has been imprisoned in Marseille, France for the last four years. She was accused of killing her roommate but maintains her innocence. When she slips Bill a note with more information about the killing it sets into motion a series of events that has Bill doing his own investigation, lying when he needs to and doing whatever he can to free his daughter.

The movie has arrived with a campaign that’s been equally heavy on the drama of a father/daughter relationship and the political environment surrounding its release. Generally positive reviews has resulted in a 76% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so let’s see how the rest of the campaign was arranged.

The Posters

“Secrets run deep” we’re told on the first poster (by marketing agency BOND), released in May. Baker is largest element in the design, looking at the camera while around him are scenes showing the French setting of the story as well as a body floating in the water, clearly unwell.

The Trailers

The trailer (6.6 million views on YouTube), released in mid-May, clearly shows what the story entails and what audiences can expect. We see Bill travel to France to try and get Allison out of jail after she’s been arrested for murder, and that his efforts are going to be more difficult than anticipated. He’s an arrogant American, after all, presented as almost a caricature, and refuses to accept that a different approach may be necessary. There are some hints of more going on, that there may be some conspiracy at work, but for the most part it’s sold as the story of an American who’s angry he can’t bully his way through the system.

Online and Social

Not much on the ticket-focused official website, but the movie’s social profiles offer some good additional information.

Advertising, Publicity and Promotions

A first look at Damon as Baker came out in May accompanied by comments about the film and its story from McCarthy.

The actor appeared on “Today” shortly after that to talk about the movie.

News broke in June that the Cannes Film Festival would act as the movie’s world premiere.

Cottin was interviewed about what she thought after first reading the script and more.

Promo spots like this began airing at the beginning of July, cutting the story down and focusing on the drama of Bill’s love for his daughter and his attempts to prove her innocence.

A first clip showing a scene between Bill and Allison was released during Cannes. Another clip came out a short while later.

That Cannes screening was well-received, generating positive buzz for the film and Damon in particular. The actor was interviewed about his character and what he learned while preparing for the role. There was also much made of Damon’s emotional reaction to being back in a theater with other people.

More TV spots and other promos continued the buzz out of Cannes, all of them hitting roughly the same few beats as what had come before.

Damon appeared on “CBS Sunday Morning” to talk about the movie specifically as well as the more general return of theatrical moviegoing. Cottin later talked about the movie and more on “60 Minutes.”

An exclusive AMC Artisan Films featurette had comments from the cast and McCarthy about the story and more. The movie’s producer also spoke about filming in Oklahoma in an interview with the Oklahoma Film + Music Office. Regal Cinemas later offered an exclusive video interview with the cast, as did Cinemark.

Damon made another appearance on “GMA” just before release, with Breslin doing likewise a few days later.

The movie’s premiere was held in New York City last week, the cast and crew in attendance. This was Focus Features’ first in-person premiere since the beginning of the Covid pandemic last year.

An interview with Damon about what he learned – both about the people and their jobs – while shadowing oil roughnecks in preparation for the role was the first of many similar profiles to hit similar topics. Similar ground was covered in additional interviews with Damon and McCarthy where they talked about the political divide in the U.S., how respectful the movie is to the people it portrays

One more clip came out, this one exclusive to Fandango MovieClips.

News came just a week or so ago about a tie-in true crime podcast hosted by Marcia Clarke and produced by Focus Features in partnership with the L.A. Times.

An interview with McCarthy about how the story was developed resulted in Amanda Knox, famously imprisoned overseas for similar charges, to criticize an attempt to make money off her circumstances and experience. All that seemed to do was raise the profile of the movie a bit in the days before release.

A final profile of Damon focused on the actor’s ability to disappear into roles and how that serves him in this movie.


Two things:

  • If I were a cynically-minded person, the shift in the last week or two of the campaign to focus on the research Damon did in real roughneck communities and more might seem opportunistic. So many movies in the last five years have been slammed by right-leaning media anytime they portray blue collar workers or others who generally identify as conservative. This seems like an attempt to head such criticism off, with Damon and McCarthy taking pains to explain how respectful and accurate these portrayals are.
  • Labeling Damon as a kind of chameleon actor who disappears into his performances is…a stretch. He’s such a bankable face and persona that the posters for his movies – including this one here – almost universally use a giant photo of his head as the primary element. But points for trying.

Aside from those observations, it’s not a bad campaign, especially if you consider that the primary audience seems to be people in mostly red states who are alright with a gay daughter in the story if it means the righteous American character gets to be mean to a bunch of French jerks.

Ford v Ferrari – Marketing Recap

With a predicted $23-30 million opening weekend, the true story of a race car rivalry is expected to win the weekend.

ford v ferrari poster 2Car rivalries are probably old hat in the modern world when there are so many other things going on, but back in the day Ford aficionados did not associate with Chevy owners. You lived and died with such things and preferences were passed on through generations like eye color.

The new movie from director James Mangold uses just that kind of high-stakes rivalry as its premise. Ford v Ferrari is set in 1966 and is about just what the title implies. The Ford Motor Company – particularly owner Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) and president Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) – want to bolster their reputation by building a car that can win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. That race has traditionally been dominated by cars built by international rival Ferrari.

To help coordinate the effort, Ford enlists designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), who insists their best chance lies in recruiting famed driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale). The two set out to build and race a car that is light years beyond what Ford currently has in production in a matter of months. Their efforts are not without incident or pushback from others who feel what they’re doing doesn’t make much, if any, sense.

Fox’s campaign has emphasized the true story of the events depicted in the film, selling it as a movie made by and for adults, a message Disney hopes will resonate with both audiences and awards voters.

The Posters

ford v ferrari posterThere’s lots of white space on the first poster (by marketing agency LA)from late May, with Ken and Carol shown at the bottom alongside the car they collaborated on. The pair, copy on the poster explains, “took the American Dream for a ride.”

Ken and Carol are walking through the pits of a race track on the second poster (by marketing agency Legion Creative Group) released in September. It’s a similarly minimalist design here, the focus remaining on the two men and the car they’re alongside.

An IMAX poster shows the two main characters in action in a different way, the pair talking around a car that’s sitting in the middle of the desert where they are presumably testing it. It’s a much different visual tone than the other two one-sheets, but it works to get the audience’s attention. Copy at the top encourages people to “Experience the ride” as an obvious play on the story. For the Dolby Cinemas poster there’s more of the cast shown in a painting that also includes two cars going against each other.

The Trailers

After first briefly meeting Ken in the opening of the first trailer (6.6 million views on YouTube) we transition to Shelby being recruited by Lee Ioacocca to come design and build a car for Ford that can be raced at Le Mans. Shelby says they need Ken, but he’s going to be hard to recruit and is skeptical the American company can beat Ferrari, especially in such a short period of time. There’s lots of racing and lots of bluster and bravado in the rest of the trailer as we see the efforts of Ken and Carol’s work be put to the test time and again.

The contentious history Shelby and Ken have for each other is featured at the beginning of the second trailer (9.2 million views on YouTube) released in September. After that we see Ioacocca is driven to beat Ferrari at Le Mans because the Italian carmaker insulted him, so it’s a matter of pride and ego for him. From there it’s shown to be Ken and Shelby against everyone, including those at Ford who feel they’re the wrong people for the job, but the pair are determined to develop the fastest car around and do it on their own terms and in their own way.

Online and Social

Fox’s website for the movie is nice enough, using its standard content format, but there’s nothing particularly notable about what’s there. Sadly lacking, as usual, is any context or additional information about the actual events depicted in the film.

Advertising and Publicity

Aside from general comments about the movie and updates made during production, the first real publicity effort came in April when it was included by Disney in its CinemaCon presentation, including a bit of footage. That inclusion marked one of the first times Disney was selling a title it had acquired from Fox’s list of active projects.

In July the movie was listed among those screening at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival and was later included in the lineup of both the Telluride Film Festival and the Hamptons International Film Festival. Those festival screenings, Toronto in particular, generated a good amount of positive buzz for what many called the kind of solid, professional, well-made studio film that is getting sidelined these days in favor of franchise spectacle.

TV advertising began in early October with a “Special Look” that included most of the basic story points shared in the trailers. Additional spots singled elements of the story like the clarity that comes in racing or the determination of Ken and Shelby to overcome long odds.

An AMC Theaters exclusive featurette had Damon and Mangold talking about the real life events that inspired the film. The two also appeared in a National CineMedia-exclusive promotional video. Another featurette adds Bale to the conversation as they talk about the nature of race car driving.

News broke in mid-October that, defying some tradition, both Bale and Damon would be put forward for consideration as Best Actor in this year’s Academy Awards voting.

The first clip came out in late October showing Ken confronting Shelby about some problems with the car and the work being done. Ken flirts with his wife in a later clip while another has Ken talking to his son about “the perfect lap,” a scene glimpsed in the trailers.

Last week a new round of TV advertising kicked off with a spot that started the 10 day countdown to the film hitting theaters. Online ads used the same design elements found on the posters to drive traffic to the ticket-buying website.

ford v ferrarri online ad.png

IMAX released an exclusive spot that emphasized the speed of the race cars in the story.

Last week Fox held the movie’s red carpet premiere in Los Angeles, with two cars on hand for the talent to sit in for photo ops.

Media and Press

Comments from Mangold about how mid-level dramas like this were an “endangered species” accompanied a first look photo released in late May. Months later, between Toronto and Telluride, the director was interviewed about making high-level dramas and much more.

While in Toronto, Bale and Damon were interviewed about what they took away from the production Bale also talked separately about losing weight for the role, working with Damon and the state of the market for original films. The latter was also the topic of a joint interview with the stars while Damon spoke about his interactions with Bale.

Damon talked cars with Jay Leno on an episode of the host’s web series. He also showed up on “Conan.” Costar Josh Lucas promoted the movie when he appeared on “Kimmel” in early November. Bale and Damon were interviewed on “CBS Sunday Morning” while Damon appeared on “Ellen” on his own.

The cast and crew spoke about production, including Bale’s weight loss following a much heftier (physically) role at the premiere. An interview with Mangold allowed him to praise the technical teams on the film and explain how they contributed to the story.

How the production team recreated classic cars no longer widely available was the subject of a feature in mid-November. The movie’s director of photography spoke about the look of the movie and framing the racing while the effort involved in recreating a historically accurate Le Mans race was covered here.


At the risk of indulging in a bit of lazy writing, Fox’s campaign for Ford v Ferrari hums along like a well-tuned engine. It never stalls or stops and it keeps you engaged and active for every turn. There’s nothing here that’s going to blow anyone’s doors off, but it is completely and utterly dependable.

Throughout the campaign, across any and all media that it could have been encountered on, there’s a clear and consistent brand identity that’s used. You see that same red, white and blue design scheme – one intended to reinforce the American v Italy nature of the story – on the posters, online ads and even in the trailers. That means audiences are reliably getting the message that this is a simple but powerful story featuring two popular actors. It conveys the setting and more time and again, just as any effective marketing effort should.

Picking Up the Spare

IMAX released an exclusive interview with the cast and crew while Fandango offered an exclusive featurette about the making of the film.

Additional interviews have run with Letts, Damon and Bale and the team that recreated the famous Le Mans race course.

Downsizing – Marketing Recap

downsizing poster 1Matt Damon stars as Paul Safranek in Downsizing, the latest movie from writer/director Alexander Payne. Set sometime in the future, Paul and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) agree to undergo a procedure called “Downsizing” where they are shrunk down to just a few inches tall. It’s an increasingly popular choice, driven by concerns that full-sized people are using the planet’s resources too fast and that shrinking – and thereby requiring less food and water – is the key to responsible environmentalism.

The decision they make winds up taking a turn when, at the last minute, Audrey backs out. That leaves Paul irreversibly shrunk and on his own to adjust to his new reality. In the tiny town he moves to he meets a number of interesting new people, including Dusan Mirkovic (Christoph Waltz) and Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau). Both of them influence how he adapts to the strange new world he finds himself in.

Continue reading “Downsizing – Marketing Recap”

Suburbicon – Marketing Recap

George Clooney returns to the director’s chair with this week’s Suburbicon. He’s brought along his partner in crime Matt Damon, who stars as Gardner Lodge, a man trying to live a peaceful 1960s suburban life with his family. But the small town they inhabit has dark secrets that are about to turn this tranquil landscape upside down.

Through a series of events, Lodge’s wheelchair-bound wife Rose (Julianne Moore) is killed in a home invasion. That leads to her twin sister Margaret (also Moore, natch) moving in and taking on many of the household duties in order to maintain the “normal” position in the neighborhood. While everything else is happening, Lodge is determined to protect his family, including taking on the local mob, headed by Roger (Oscar Isaac). Notably, the script was originally written by Clooney’s frequent collaborators Joel and Ethan Coen.

The Posters

“A little slice of Heaven” is what we’re introduced to on the first poster, though that seems to be referring more to the idyllic row of houses at the bottom and not the blood-stained shirt that’s seen. The starkness of the image, the white of the shirt against the dark red background in particular, works to get the audience’s attention. Below the title it’s sure to mention that the Coen Brothers were involved in writing the story as that’s going to be a big draw for a lot of moviegoers.

The second poster takes the approach of showing how all the different characters and situations are part of Gardner. So all sorts of different headshots and action photos are put in the frame of his body. “Welcome to the neighborhood” is the ominous copy at the top, particularly considering some of the gruesome scenes on display below.

The Trailers

The first trailer is [fire emoji] as it starts out by introducing us to a quiet, peaceful suburban street in the 1950s. But that peace is in contrast to the fact that a young boy is informed men who broke into the family house has killed his mother. Gardner will do whatever it takes to protect himself and his son, including beating gangsters to death and inviting the boy’s aunt to come stay with them. He’s not intimidated when Roger starts threatening him but continues doing what he needs to do.

You can see the Coen’s fingerprints all over the story, from the brutal violence to the dry, darkly funny moments. Clooney’s directorial style, which has always veered closer to Steven Soderbergh’s influence, also seems to work well with this material, which is far funnier than what he usually tackles. It’s an insane story and the trailer doesn’t shy away from that.

Another trailer takes a slightly different tack. The same basic premise and points are shown here, but in a more stylized way, with a tick-tock soundtrack and a different pace and approach. It’s no less effective than the first and it makes the movie look even more twisted and dark.

Online and Social

There’s not much happening on the movie’s official website. The trailer plays when you load the site, and once it’s over there main call-to-action is to again “Watch the Trailer.” There are links in the upper right to the Twitter, Instagram and Facebook profiles that have been established, but that’s about it, not even a synopsis.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The first TV spot out of the gate does nothing to hide the dark and disturbing nature of the story. While there’s not much emphasis put on the characters themselves or their motivations, it does show the brutal and twisted violence that those characters engage in, all while working to maintain the veneer of pleasant politeness we associate with the time period.

There’s been some online advertising done as well, mostly using clips and key art. On social media the trailer was used to drive interest and awareness around the time it was released.

Media and Publicity

The first shot out of the publicity gate was a brief interview with Clooney that also included some first-look photos. He talked about how the story evolved over the 20 years the Coens have been working on it as well as a few vague details about the movie. The movie was announced as one of those that would screen at the Toronto International Film Festival. It also was slated for the Venice Film Festival.

A brief interview with Clooney in Entertainment Weekly’s fall movie preview had him talking about how he’s been involved with the movie in some way for decades and how he was happy to not act for a change. He also reassured people that yes, it’s a comedy, albeit a dark one and revealed that Coen Bros. regular Josh Brolin shot scenes for the movie that were later cut, but not without a good reason.

How Clooney approached Damon with the story, Damon’s take on the character and how the story is still relevant in today’s world were all covered by the actor here. The long history of the project as well as the ties to and relevance in today’s political world, along with the changes that were made in the wake of the most recent presidential election, continued to be themes in interviews with Clooney.

Clooney showed up on “Kimmel,” which of course included a surprise appearance by Kimmel nemesis Damon. The two also made other press rounds on TV.


I’ve stated often how I’m predisposed to like new Coen Bros. material. I’ve been less of a fan of their work when it’s interpreted by other directors (I’m looking at you, Bad Santa), but overall I dig their worldview and approach.

That’s the vibe being sold here. As stated above, there are elements of their involvement that are clearly evident in some of the marketing material, even when it’s not explicitly stated. That forms a pretty important hook for the campaign, which wants to reach people like me that are fans of the brothers as well as the critics who often champion their films.

Aside from that, this looks dark as heck. There’s a comic touch to some of the material on display but it’s all tinged with a cynical perspective that may turn off some audiences. What’s being sold here looks rough and not exactly uplifting. Plus, I’m sure there are at least a couple subplots that are completely unseen in the campaign, which may lead to some upturned expectations when people finally start seeing the movie.

All that together means the movie could have a tough time connecting with audiences this weekend.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.