morbius – marketing recap

How Sony is selling its latest Spider-Man villain spinoff.

Morbius movie poster
Morbius movie poster

Morbius should have come out two years ago. But, of course, a lot has happened in that time.

Jared Leto stars as Dr. Michael Morbius, a scientist suffering from a rare blood-based disease. When he takes what he believes to be a cure for his condition he finds the side effects include a form of vampirism that gives him a taste for human blood. It’s then up to him to decide to put the powers that come with it to use for good or evil.

The movie is (maybe?) part of Sony Pictures’ Spider-Man Universe, which interestingly contains no Spider-Man movies but does have the two Venom movies to date. Matt Smith also stars as Michael’s brother Milo, who has the same condition and who also develops powers as a result of the experimental cure. Adria Arjona plays Michael’s coworker and fiancée Martine Bancroft while Tyrese Gibson plays FBI agent Simon Stroud, who’s hot on the trail of Morbius.

With all the delays and a general lack of focus, it’s sometimes been difficult to get a firm handle on the campaign, but let’s dive in and see what has transpired.

announcement and casting

Leto’s casting in the title role was announced in mid-2018, as was the involvement of director Daniel Espinosa. Arjona joined the cast in late 2018, as did Smith and others.

Leto shared a first teaser look at himself as the title character in early March of 2019 and another a month or so later.

the marketing campaign: 2020

The teaser trailer (21.3m YouTube views)released in early January 2020 presents a slightly ridiculous take on the comic hero genre. Morbious, we see, suffers from a chronic blood disease without a cure and his time is running short. So he tests an experimental cure on himself. It works, but with substantial side effects that have turned him into something not quite human, faster and stronger and with the abilities of a bat to fly and see things through echolocation. Oh, and he is driven to consume blood.

Two notable components make it clear that unlike Venom, this movie clearly takes place in the Holland-verse of Spider-Man movies, making it also part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 1) Morbious walks past a Spider-Man poster with “Murderer” spraypainted on it, and 2) Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes from Homecoming appears at the end, seeming to team up with Morbious on some new villainous endeavor.

At the end of March 2020, Sony announced it was shifting the movie’s release date by several months as theaters remained closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Another delay was announced in January 2021, with the movie shifting from March to October and then, just days later, to January 2022 to stay out of James Bond’s way.

the marketing campaign: 2021

With little conversation or acknowledgement, there was then a pause in the campaign of over a year, spanning a solid year, restarting only slightly in January 2021.

In an interview, Leto talked about how it was difficult to play a character who’s a little closer to how he is in real life.

Claims went back and forth between Sony and Disney executives and stars about whether or not this was part of the Holland universe of films until Sony issued a statement in late June 2021 saying definitively that the movie does *not* connect with the MCU in any way.

Leto appeared in a Fandango-exclusive featurette released at the beginning of November, one meant to set the stage for a new trailer the next day.

That new trailer (17m YouTube views) touted the January release while hitting many of the same beats as the spots that had come out earlier.

In early December a new poster came out showing the two halves of Morbius’ personality while proclaiming “A new Marvel legend arrives”, which seems a bit hyperbolic as well as duplicative since it’s very similar to the tagline used for Shang-Chi last year.

An extended clip was released in early December of last year showing Morbius’ transformation into the vampiric beast aboard a ship and going on to decimate most of the crew.

A short while later Leto appeared at the red carpet premiere of Spider-Man: No Way Home, furthering speculation that the two movies were in some way connected though it’s more likely this was just a publicity moment for the studio.

the marketing campaign: 2022

Another delay – this time to April 2022 – was announced in early January, reportedly to give Spider-Man: No Way Home some additional breathing room in theaters. That announcement came nearly two years to the day after the first trailer was released.

A short featurette was released in late February that had Leto introducing the character and explaining the super natural origins from the comics and how that’s being translated on-screen.

The final final final trailer (4.1m YouTube views) came out at the end of February. It starts with the same “hunt aboard the ship” scene that’s been featured several times previously. After that we see Michael fretting over the moral choice he now has to make in order to live followed by some advice from Adrian Toomes and a bit of posturing from Michael’s brother Milo. Overall it doesn’t offer much that we haven’t seen repeatedly in previous trailers and clips.

In a first (at least as far as I’ve noticed), a Discord community was created for the movie involving a series of message boards and chat rooms where updates and other information was shared.

TV spots like this began airing in early March, each one offering a slightly different cutdown of the trailer footage focusing on Michael’s search for a cure and the resulting mayhem when he takes that cure.

Arjona and Leto appeared together at a fan screening of the movie in Mexico.

An interview with Leto had him talking about why he decided to take on this role, including how being the first to portray Morbius was attractive to him since he didn’t have to worry about comparisons to other actor’s performances.

Morbius’ head forms the outline for a spooky cave and dissolves into a swarm of bats on the IMAX poster. The character’s demonic side gets a very artistic representation on the Regal Cinemas poster, with a similar approach taken on the D Box poster.

Another featurette has Leto talking more about the history of the character, specifically calling out how this is part of the Marvel Multiverse, something that opens up lots of opportunities for new stories. In one more he expanded on being the first to play Morbius and why the character was interesting to him.

He talked about the movie and playing another comic character on “The Tonight Show.”

An AR app for various platforms let users transform themselves into the sinister Morbius.

Sony shared videos from the cast’s publicity tour stops in Mexico City, Berlin, Paris and Madrid.

G Fuel created a movie-branded package containing a themed energy drink as well as a collector’s cup.

NFL player Von Miller appeared in a TV commercial where his trainers, concerned he’s showing superhuman abilities, consult Dr. Morbius, who tells them not to worry about it.

Arjona finally got a profile of her own, talking about joining a big Marvel movie as a Latina actress, STEM representation and lots more.

overall

Phew. A few thoughts in summary:

First, I don’t know that I’ve encountered a campaign that is so stop-and-start. Other campaigns over the last few years have had big gaps, but this one comes and goes with little acknowledgement of time having passed, essentially running the same handful of beats from the top each time a new phase starts.

Angry Jared Leto GIF by MorbiusMovie - Find & Share on GIPHY

Second, the gymnastics Sony has to jump through to try and explain whether or not this movie is connected to Venom much less the MCU-partnering Spider-Man films is worthy of solid Olympics judges consideration.

Jared Leto Marvel GIF by MorbiusMovie - Find & Share on GIPHY

Third, this is being sold entirely as an anti-hero character study. The villain played by Matt Smith appears briefly in the first trailer and briefly in the final trailer and is otherwise completely absent. That’s an odd choice that may have been driven largely by how big a personality Leto is as well as the desire to introduce the character on his own.

Matt Smith Walking GIF by MorbiusMovie - Find & Share on GIPHY

Fourth, I forget what this one was.

Scared Jared Leto GIF by MorbiusMovie - Find & Share on GIPHY

Finally, Leto’s repeated insistence that this character was more like him personally so he didn’t have to go full method as he has on other films is just funny on, by my rough count, at least nine levels.

last night in soho – marketing recap

How Focus Features has sold a movie steeped in, and wary of, nostalgia.

Last Night In Soho poster

For the second week in a row there’s a new film from one of Hollywood’s most unique and purposeful filmmakers. This time it’s Last Night In Soho from director Edgar Wright, who cowrote the movie with Krysty Wilson-Cairns.

Thomasin McKenzie stars as Eloise “Ellie” Turner, a young woman in London who finds she’s able to transport herself back to 1960’s Soho, becoming an aspiring singer named Sandie (played by Anna Taylor-Joy) when she does so. While Sandie’s life at first seems glamorous and free Ellie soon finds it’s not as wonderful as it first appeared.

The movie, which also stars Matt Smith, Terence Stamp and, in her last filmed performance, the late Diana Rigg, comes after a marketing campaign that’s been light on story but heavy on the kind of glossy, tightly-composed visuals Wright is known for.

announcement and casting

Wright announced he was working on a movie set in 1960s London in early 2019, though it’s gone through a couple different working titles since then. Taylor-Joy was one of the first actors cast later that year, with others added between then and when production got underway.

The director got things started in September of 2019 with a post announcing the end of principle photography and offering the first look at the film.

When Taylor-Joy was promoting Emma last year she spoke briefly about working with Wright and how they bonded on set.

The movie was pulled from the 2020 release schedule amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, eventually pushed to an early 2021 date.

Wright spoke more about the movie and shared some exclusive first look stills with Empire in January.

Shortly after that another date change, this time to its current October 2021 slot, was announced.

the marketing campaign

The teaser trailer (5.7m YouTube views)was released in late May. We get some of the point of the story and how Eloise is somehow able to bounce back and forth from the present day to the 1960s she draws inspiration from, but mostly what’s being sold here is a mind-twisting, time-bending visual treat from Wright.

At the same time the first poster was released, showing the bifurcated face of Ellie/Sandie seen through a rain-streaked window with each one’s respective time period represented in the background. It certainly communicates the neon-drenched visuals of the film, something that would become more common as the campaign went on.

In June news came that the film would screen at the Toronto Film Festival.

Wright was interviewed about casting the film, especially adding Rigg in what wound up being her final role before passing away shortly after she finished filming. He also talked about making the movie right after pandemic lockdowns were lifted and the importance of original stories.

Universal gave CinemaCon attendees in August a look at footage from this and other upcoming movies.

The movie’s screening at the Venice Film Festival in September included lots of comments and interviews with Wright and members of the cast. The director specifically requested that those in attendance not spoil anything about the story so audiences could experience it fresh when it was released, again about working with Rigg and about how dangerous it can be to get too caught up in nostalgia fetishes.

Smith was interviewed about making the movie in and about London while Wilson-Cairns talked about some of the real life inspiration she pulled from for her character.

Those came around the time the movie was not only at TIFF but also screening at the BFI London Film Festival, where Wright talked more about how making the past too idyllic in retrospect can be all-consuming to the point of self-destruction.

The second trailer (2.6m YouTube views)debuted in early September, in the midst of all that festival press and buzz. It opens in a more straightforward fashion than the first spot, with Ellie arriving in London as she studies fashion at university and gets her apartment there. What she thinks is dreaming about heading back to the 1960s is much more than that and Ellie/Sandie becomes intent on becoming a singer. But Sandie’s fate is much darker than that, leading Ellie to try and bring her some justice, even if there are risks to doing so.

Another Total Film cover story went behind the scenes on the making of the movie.

The second poster, released in mid-September, still has both Ellie and Sandie but this time the design is a little more traditional, showing all the leads arranged around the neon title treatment. This time the blue and red that demarcate the two eras of the story blend together, with characters from each one similarly moving between both.

TV spots like this began running in early October, selling the film as more of a time-twisted murder mystery than anything else, a message that’s delivered within Wright’s visuals.

Unsurprisingly given the focus his films have on music, Wright created a Spotify playlist of era-appropriate songs to help set the tone.

Costumes from the movie were on display at Universal Citywalk in Los Angeles.

AMC Artisan Films released a featurette with Wright talking about the story and characters as well as what inspired him to go down a slightly darker road than he has in the past.

Focus released a video of Taylor-Joy singing “Downtown.”

The movie was featured as part of Focus’ “60 Second Film School” series, with Wright talking about making the movie. That was followed by a featurette that had Wright talking about his own nostalgia for London in the 60s and how that was channeled into this film.

A Snapchat AR lens allowed users to transform their surroundings into 1960s London.

McKenzie and Taylor-Joy participated in a joint interview where they talked about their careers to date, working with Wright (including what movies he suggested they watch to help understand what he was going for) and more.

Two clips, one showing Sandie angling for her break as a singer and one showing Eloise entering her new apartment for the first time, came out last week.

A red-carpet screening of the film was held just days before release at the new Academy Museum’s, the first premiere to be held there since it opened. At about the same time it screened at Beyond Fest.

At the Los Angeles premiere there were interviews with Taylor-Joy about singing on-screen and more

Dolby released an exclusive poster designed very much to mimic the kinds of 1960s psychological thrillers Wright and others have cited as inspiration. The company also put out a featurette with Wright talking about his love of seeing movies on the big screen as well as the making of this film.

An interview with costume designer Odile Dicks-Mireaux had her talking about creating the fashion of the 60s.

overall

In the introduction above I noted that the campaign has been somewhat light on story details. That’s true, but it’s likely because it’s such a plot-heavy story that revealing too many details would spoil the film for those looking forward to heading to the theater.

A heavy percentage of that group is going to be made up of people who are on board with most anything Wright does, appreciating the director’s knack for beat-driven staging and unique visuals. In addition to plenty of time given to McKenzie and especially Taylor-Joy in the marketing, Wright is really the star of the campaign, having one of those reputations like Wes Anderson or Christopher Nolan where he becomes the franchise, even if the movie being made isn’t already part of one.

Adding to that as well as the festival buzz that’s accumulated, the movie arrives with whole-hearted endorsements from many of today’s top filmmakers including Rian Johnson, J.J. Abrams and others. Even Stephen King has given it his thumbs up. That gives it some impressive momentum, even if tracking projections estimate an opening weekend box-office of just around $5 million.

Official Secrets – Marketing Recap

IFC Films hopes a political drama will catch on with late summer moviegoers.

official secrets posterKiera Knightly stars in Official Secrets, out this week from IFC Films and based on a true story. Knightly stars in the story as Katharine Gun, a British government employee who, in 2003, finds proof intelligence is being manipulated by both the U.K. and U.S. as they seek to justify their plans for invading Iraq.

Understandably upset by what she’s found, she leaks the memo containing the evidence of the manipulation to the press because no one else seems to care. When she’s revealed as the leaker she’s charged under the Official Secrets Act. Determined she’s morally right and that the law is unjust, she’s aided in her fight by publisher Martin Bright (Matt Smith) and barrister Ben Emmerson (Ralph Fiennes).

The Posters

Gun is at the front of her assembled team on the one-sheet, Bright and Emmerson flanking her in the background. All three look very serious as bold-faced copy placed over their faces tells us “Nothing is more dangerous than the truth.” Down below the title is the appeal that the movie is “Based on the untold true story.”

The Trailers

The first trailer (18,000 views on YouTube) was finally released in late June. It opens with Katherine in custody, about to be interrogated by very serious men about her activities monitoring communications for the British government. She comes across messages showing the U.K. and U.S. intelligence services have been engaging in espionage to ensure a United Nations vote endorsing the 2003 invasion of Iraq, information she leaks to the press. The repercussions of her actions are dire for herself and her husband, but she insists her loyalty is to the people, not the government, and so is willing to fight for what she feels is right and face the consequences.

Online and Social

You’ll just find the basic mix of a trailer, synopsis and the poster on the studio’s single page for the movie. This is one of those situations where some background on the events that inspired the story, or at least the book it’s based on, would have been welcome to help educate the audience a bit more.

Advertising and Publicity

Response to the movie’s screening at this year’s Sundance Film Festival was mixed, but that didn’t stop IFC from quickly nabbing distribution rights. A couple months later it was announced it would also appear at April’s San Francisco Film Festival.

The studio has engaged in a strategy of aggressively releasing clips in order to show audiences more of what they can expect from the movie. “Loyalty” was given to The Playlist as an exclusive for that readership, showing Gun meeting Emmerson for the first time. “Breach” showed the day Gun’s supervisors discovered secrets had been leaked. Continuing that them, “Risk” has Gun meeting Bright for the first time as her trial starts.

Media and Publicity

A first look still from the movie was released at the same time as the Sundance announcement.

Just before release, an interview with Knightly had her talking about the story and the responsibility she felt when taking on the role and what she remembered from when the events depicted were taking place. Similar topics were covered in a video interview that came from IFC as a sort of EPK.

Gun herself was interviewed about the events of her life that are shown in the movie, at least those that she’s legally allowed to talk about.

Overall

This is a Very Serious Movie being sold by IFC, one that is meant to appear timely and important in our age when truth is relative and anyone who disagrees with certain political leaders is accused of being a disloyal socialist. It’s unlikely there will be an audience for it, not because of the story or theme but because it isn’t the kind of pure, nihilistic escapism audiences seem to be craving at this particular cultural moment.

The campaign is best summed up by a line given to Emmerson: “You chose loyalty to your country over loyalty to your government.” That’s the key to what’s being sold here, a reminder that government and country aren’t the same thing, despite the fact that those in power often attempt to conflate the two in the minds of the public. So the movie looks intriguing, one that doesn’t try to sensationalize the story but present it as soberly as possible and remind the audience that standing up for what’s right often isn’t safe.