How Universal Pictures has sold a retelling of a reckoning
No industry is perhaps more associated with the “#MeToo” movement of a few years ago than Hollywood. After all, it was the women who finally stood up against now-disgraced mogul Harvey Weinstein that was central to it as one woman after another came forward to share their experiences with Weinstein and other men in the workplace.
Adapted from the book of the same name, She Said arrives in theaters from Universal Pictures to revisit the era where two reporters worked to pierce the movie industry’s veil of silence. Carey Mulligan plays Megan Twohey and Zoe Kazan plays Jodi Kantor, both of whom worked at The New York Times and followed the whispers, evidence and statements of a number of women whose lives and careers had been impacted by Weinstein. The results of that investigation were first published in a ground-shaking NYT story and later in book form.
With Patricia Clarkson, Andre Braugher and others in supporting roles, Maria Schrader directs from a screenplay by Rebecca Lenkiewicz so let’s look at how the movie has been sold.
announcement and casting
Mulligan and Kazan were named the leads when news broke in June, 2021 that Universal was developing the film. A release date was announced a month later. Over the next few months others were added to the cast including Clarkson, Braugher and Morton.
Footage was shown during Universal’s CinemaCon 2022 presentation, with Mulligan and Kazan appearing in person to talk about and hype up the film.
the marketing campaign
For the public the marketing began in mid-July with the release of a poster that nicely illustrates the nature of the story by showing a woman’s silhouette against a white background with “Will you go on the record?” running across the image. That shows how the story relies on the accounts of multiple women who are both in the background – whether by choice or not – and whose identities are being either protected or withheld.
The trailer (11.8m YouTube views) released at the same time starts out Kantor taking on the story of sexual harassment in Hollywood and enlisting the help of Twohey to do so. What she finds is overwhelming as numerous women share their experiences as Weinstein’s victims. Still, some are unwilling to speak with them and there are plenty of people still trying to protect him in various ways and the reporters find themselves under surveillance. As a few women agree to go on the record the story unfolds, leading to its ultimate conclusion.
In August and September the movie began being slated for screening at festivals including New York, BFI London and AFI among others.
How Zazan and Mulligan worked to get the story right and effectively portray the journalism that was done was the subject of a feature story that included not just the actors but the writers they portray in the film.
Lenkiewicz was interviewed about the process of writing the movie, including speaking with some of the women abused by Weinstein herself and getting work-in-progress chapters of the source book from the journalists as they were putting it together.
The cast and crew along with Twohey and Kantor and others were in attendance at the NYFF world premiere in mid-October. At a Q&A there they all spoke about the impact the story had and how the movie reflects that along with how it’s not as if all problems have now been solved and there’s still work to be done. To coincide with that premiere the two journalists wrote an account of how things have gone since the story was initially published, how the movie came about, what changes have been made to compress it all into a two-hour film and what it’s like seeing their work dramatized on the screen.
A similar event was held at the BFI London Film Festival just a couple days later.
Women in Film announced at the end of September that Mulligan, Kantor, Twohey and producer Dede Gardner would be given their “Forging Forward” award at this year’s ceremony. At that event in late October Mulligan recounted her experiences after getting the script and tapping Twohey and others for background and context about the events depicted.
TV spots and other online promos began running in late October as well. They feature different cutdowns of the trailer footage for the most part while banner ads mixed the key art of the two leads conversing in the newsroom with the same footage.
IMDb was given an exclusive featurette with the cast, crew and real journalists discussing the making of the movie and the story behind it.
Right after that the AFI Fest screening took place with another Q&A with the major players. There were also other select screenings held by different groups, often with a subset of that group in attendance.
Another feature story included both the pairs of Mulligan and Kazan along with Kantor and Twohey. All four then appeared together on “The View” to promote the film and discuss the story. Mulligan and Kazan broke off for a joint appearance on “Today”.
It should also be noted that the movie’s official website has, in addition to the usual selection of marketing material, sections devoted to resources for those who need to report sexual harassment/abuse or deal with its aftermath as well as profiles of Kantor and Twohey.
As I’ve said about a number of recent movies, the supportive relationship between Kazan and Mulligan is constantly referenced in this campaign and is a nice touch, especially given the subject matter. That lends a humanity to the marketing that grounds the story even more than already happens by virtue of the subject matter.
Having the real life journalists so heavily involved is both a blessing and a burden in that they provide some valuable context for the story and how it was investigated and told before becoming a movie but also pull focus from the movie at times. They are there to lend their expertise and experience, of course, but the message sometimes becomes muddled as to whether audiences should be more interested in this dramatized version of events or the more factual retelling in the original book.
It’s an otherwise solid campaign that unfortunately also seems a bit underwhelming, maybe because it’s being crowded out by so many other late-year releases, though few seem as culturally relevant and important as this one.