scream – marketing recap

How Paramount is selling the return of a franchise that never meta trope it couldn’t disembowel.

Scream movie poster
Scream movie poster

It’s been 11 years since the Scream franchise last hit the big screen and 25 years since the first movie upended expectations and genre cliches. Now it’s back with Scream, though it’s colloquially been referred to as Scream 5 or Scream 2.0. Whatever the case, the movie is a continuation of the series, not a reboot or remake. Here’s the official synopsis:

Twenty-five years after a streak of brutal murders shocked the quiet town of Woodsboro, a new killer has donned the Ghostface mask and begins targeting a group of teenagers to resurrect secrets from the town’s deadly past.

Original stars Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette are back as their characters return to Woodsboro to help newcomers played by Melissa Barrera, Mason Gooding, Jenna Ortega and others survive the new threat they face. And once again we’re promised lots of self-referential humor as the screenplay – by James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick – skewers what’s come before and more.

announcement and casting

The movie was announced in March 2020, not too long after the filmmaking team had scored a notable win with Ready Or Not. Paramount announced in June, 2020 it would be distributing the film, with casting announcements – mostly involving the return of those involved with the first series – coming out in the following months.

Williamson’s end-of-production announcement also served as confirmation the film’s title was simply Scream.

Late in 2020, Campbell was interviewed about what it took to lure her back to the series, especially given Craven wasn’t involved.

the marketing campaign

Things started in September of last year with a promotional tie-in campaign from Airbnb that let people book the house from the movie, with Arquette appearing in character in the ads to convey that it’s actually his Sheriff Dewey renting the house out.

The first poster, released in early October, just shows a shadowy Ghostface holding a knife to convey the simple message the the series is returning and will look roughly like what audiences have seen before.

Just before the first trailer was released a number of first-look stills came out showing new characters as well as the return of a few from the original movies.

That first trailer (18.2m YouTube views) opens in a very familiar way, with Tara (Ortega) getting a series of mysterious texts followed by a phone call before opening the door only to find Ghostface there. That’s just one in a new series of attacks that leads Dewey to call Sidney and bring her back home. Once again whoever the killer is seems to have a connection to the group of teens they’ve targeted, but this time the kids have the help of experienced adults like Dewey, Sidney and Gale to help guide them and maybe help some of them survive.

Call of Duty promoted the film by adding Ghostface to the game as part of a general “The Haunting” campaign run at the end of October.

TikTok users could make their voice sound like Ghostface’s via a text-to-speech audio filter added to the app.

Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett were interviewed about taking their turn with the franchise with the help of original screenwriters Kevin Williamson and Ehren Kruger, including how their love of the first four movies made them want to do right by the late Wes Craven, who directed all four of those earlier entries. They covered similar ground when the pair appeared on “CBS Sunday Morning” to talk about this movie specifically and scary movies in general.

An exclusive featurette was shared with Buzzfeed that has Cox, Williamson, Barrera and others talking about how the returning characters have evolved over the years, how the new characters come to get involved in the story and how scary and surprising this new installment is.

Lots of profiles started to emerge around this time of costars Ortega, Jasmin Savoy-Brown and others that introduced their characters, focused on how they are fans of the original films and other related topics.

A motion poster was released in late November that has Ghostface in the background while his knife cycles through the faces of the main characters, with copy reminding the audience that “It’s always someone you know,” hinting that one of those seen is the person behind the mask.

Arquette appeared on “Late Night” and made a few other talk show stops to talk about returning to the series.

Moving into December, there were three character posters that showed Dewey, Sidney and Gale all suspiciously and ominously holding the Ghostface mask. Another series, this time featuring the new characters, was released via Collider around the same time as well as an exclusive featurette that leaned into the “it could be anyone” theme of the campaign to date.

Another featurette has the cast and crew discussing why Ghostface remains such a haunting and effective bad guy.

The first TV spot also came out in early December, offering a cutdown version of the first trailer that focuses on Sidney’s return amid a new wave of killings targeting the town’s younger residents.

Picking up on a trend from the first half of 2020, Paramount released a handful of Zoom background images featuring the outside of the original house and some of the rooms in that house.

In mid-December the studio kicked off the #12ScreamsForTheHolidays campaign, promising a new treat for fans each day leading up to Christmas Day. That began with the release of the final poster (via IGN) showing the entire cast arrayed above the town of Woodsboro as Ghostface looms in the background. “The killer is on this poster” the poster promises.

That campaign and theme was continued in a series of short character-centric videos, with each one mysteriously donning the killer’s mask.

A Dolby-exclusive poster featuring Ghostface’s mouth as a highway’s entrance to a cave or mountain pass was also part of the campaign, as was a Fandango-exclusive featurette timed to when tickets went on sale, an NFT collection, a 4DX-exclusive one-sheet and more.

Among all that was a featurette with Williamson, the directors and the original cast praising the genius of Craven and how integral he was to the first movies as well as how he inspired them to make this new one as good as they could.

The filmmakers participated in a Facebook Group live audio chat toward the end of December where they discussed making the movie and teased fans with what they could expect. Also on the Facebook front was an AR lens for FB, Instagram and Snapchat that added Ghostface to the user’s environment.

Around this time there were also a number of retrospective pieces with actors like Matthew Lilard, Jamie Kennedy and others as they reminisced about their participation in the original movie and discussed why it remains such a milestone piece. A profile of Arquette also had him discussing his up and down career and how he’s matured over the years, working past some of the struggles he’s endured.

The holiday campaign culminated with a new TV spot with a musical stabbing beat.

More TV ads encouraged fans to prepare for what lay ahead, called out the legacy of the franchise and characters and more.

Urban Outfitters ran a sweepstakes for the retailer’s loyalty club members that awarded a hometown screening for the winner and a group of friends.

Another feature piece had Arquette, Cox and Campbell all discussing their continued relationship with the movies and what it was like to return for this new installment.

Paramount had created a movie-branded Spotify playlist of holiday music in late 2021 and continued advertising on that streaming platform, including sponsoring a personalized list of the “songs you played to death.

Campbell and Arquette made a handful of other media appearances on late night and early morning talk shows and elsewhere. That included on “The Drew Barrymore Show”, with Barrymore reenacting her famous opening scene in the promotion of that show. More of the cast, especially the younger new additions, also stopped by that show later on.

While planned press screenings did happen in early January – including cast photo shoots and interviews – a planned red carpet event in Los Angeles was canceled in the midst of the ongoing Covid surge sweeping across the country.

Why the three original cast members were intrigued enough to return was covered in a new featurette.

A VR SurviveScreamHouse.com site was setup that let you drag your cursor around the house and have a text conversation with Sidney (with preloaded responses to send her) to see how long you can survive before Ghostface gets you. Costar Dylan Minnette hosted an episode of “MTV Cribs” that explored the same house.

The final trailer (2.6m YouTube views) came out just days before the movie’s release. It opens with Dewey explaining the rules for survival to the kids and continues to show Sidney determined to finish all the killing once and for all.

Regal Cinemas had an exclusive video interview with the main cast.

A partnership with Reddit had the studio asking people there to make their predictions as to who would live, who would die and who the real killer might be.

Some of the cast participated in a livestream of themselves and others playing the video game Among Us, which also added movie-themed character “cosmetics.”

overall

Projections have the movie scoring around $30m at this weekend’s box office, which might be enough to turn around the narrative that Spider-Man and similar super hero franchises are the only thing that audiences will come out to see. The positive reviews, which have earned the movie a 75% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, should help with that.

As for the campaign itself, it hits a few themes consistently enough that they become ingrained in the public perception of the movie leading into opening weekend:

  • The house is pivotal: There’s so much focus on the house, from the Airbnb promotional campaign to the “MTV Cribs” tie-in and more, it’s clear the studio wants to use that house as a way to tie current audiences to what’s come before.
  • The killer is in plain sight: Messages to that effect are prevalent throughout the marketing, from posters to trailers and more. It’s a nice way to clue the audience in from the outset and make the journey about which one it is, not just the more general “who could it be?” That also plays nicely with the overall self-aware nature of these movies.
  • David Arquette is ready for his comeback: That message is repeated frequently, and I’m all for it.
  • The technology has changed but the threat hasn’t: Seriously, just don’t buy any smart home appliance or other tool.

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In The Heights – Marketing Recap

How Warner Bros. has sold a big movie musical event.

Anyone not already familiar with the name Lin Manuel Miranda has certainly come to know it in the years since Hamilton – the filmed version of which hit Disney+ last year – became a Broadway sensation. Others, though, were aware of Miranda’s skills well before that based in part on his first musical.

That musical, In The Heights, has now been adapted into a feature film debuting in theaters and on HBO Max this week. Directed by Jon M. Chu, the movie stars Anthony Ramos as Usnavi de la Vega, a Washington Heights bodega owner, Leslie Grace as Nina Rosario, a young woman returning to the neighborhood after dropping out of college, Corey Hawkins as Benny, Usnavi’s best friend and Melissa Barrera as Vanessa, who works at a local salon and dreams of getting out. The story follows these and other characters over three days and involves a winning lottery ticket sold at Usnavi’s bodega, that changes being experienced in the largely Dominican neighborhood and more.

Initial reviews have praised the movie, which currently has a 96% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes as bold and exuberant. And in a sign of the world reopening post-pandemic, some 96% of respondents to a recent Fandango survey say it’s the first film they plan to see in theaters since they closed down over a year ago. Helping that is not only the public health situation in the U.S. but also that school years are ending, all of which adds up to a projected opening weekend of $20 million.

With all that as context, let’s see how Warner Bros. has marketed what has shaped up to be the kickoff event of the summer.

The Posters

While the image of a New York City bridge is wonderfully colorful and striking, the main selling point on the first poster from December (by marketing agency Statement Advertising) is that the movie comes from the creator of “Hamilton” and the director of Crazy Rich Asians. That’s what’s going to convince people to take a chance on a movie whose source material they may not be familiar with.

A half-dozen posters came out in mid-March of this year, all of them taking a slightly different approach to selling the story. Some pull the camera out to show the neighborhood from a wider perspective, others focus more narrowly on the main characters. All keep the same brand of bright, joyous celebrations, though, and so work together to sell a good time with lots of singing and dancing.

Two waves of character posters were released in early May that position either one or two of those characters in different parts of the neighborhood where they live or work.

“The time has come” declares the Dolby Cinemas poster, which shows the main characters in the midst of a raucous neighborhood rally.

The final poster was released later in May, showing the two lead couples in the story dancing in the streets, the other neighborhood residents also celebrating around them.

The Trailers

The first trailer (11.6 million views on YouTube) was released in mid-December and starts out by reminding people it comes from the creator of “Hamilton,” a reasonable message to send. Benny is telling a story of the Washington Heights that was to a group of kids. Back in the day Benny was a dreamer but the neighborhood around him, his friends and his family was changing to shut out anyone who aspired to rise above their station. It’s filled with big, glorious musical numbers and big, glorious emotions, just like a musical should be.

A second trailer (2.6 million views on YouTube) came out in early March, debuting during the Grammy Award broadcast. It’s still focused on Benny and Nina, but is really about loving your neighborhood and embracing all that it has to offer. Not only that, but it’s unapologetically an appreciation of Lantino culture and all that means. Another slightly different version of that trailer came out at the same time, offering a few additional scenes but telling the same story.

Online and Social

In addition to the standard synopsis, videos and photos the official website for the movie has Meme Generator function allowing visitors to choose from a selection of GIFs, add their own message to it and then export it for sharing on the social network of their choice.

There were also standalone social profiles on most major platforms, including Giphy.

Advertising, Press and Promotions

Warner Bros. kicked off the film’s marketing by bringing a video containing the first footage as well as comments from Chu to CCXP in December 2019.

Miranda was interviewed about the movie while he was in Sundance earlier this year promoting other projects.

The movie’s production designer spoke about how he sought to accurately represent the cultures of the movie’s characters.

Both Ramos and Miranda were presenters during the 2020 Academy Awards ceremony.

Ramos, Barrera and others were interviewed about the movie and how they felt a great deal of cultural responsibility to get things right and present the neighborhood and its people respectfully and accurately.

In March of last year Warner Bros. pulled the movie from its original June release, one of several such changes in the midst of the Covid-19 outbreak. It was later rescheduled for June when the studio made its big HBO Max announcement in late 2020.

A few of the actors took part in an interview during the virtual edition of the National Association of Latino Independent Producers 21st Annual Media Summit in June, talking about the tone of the film and how production went.

Miranda talked about writing the original stage show late last year, making it clear he was moved to do so at least in part because of the lack of representation elsewhere in the entertainment world. Later on he was interviewed about what drew him to Chu as a director for the movie

Early April brought a short TV spot/promo that didn’t have much details but certainly conveyed the spectacle of the film.

Disney worked to get some early buzz going for the movie in April by both allowing critics and others to share their early reviews and announcing the film’s world premiere would be held at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in June. It was also scheduled as the premiere film for the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival.

An extended TV spot titled “Change The World” came out at the end of April that plays up the aspirational nature of the story, showing how the characters are out to not only preserve and celebrate their neighborhood and life but change the world while doing so. Another similar spot – this one titled “96,000” – is centered on how someone in the neighborhood has one the lottery and shows the characters talking about what they would do if they came into that kind of money.

Unsavi sings about his love for his neighborhood in the first clip, which debuted during the broadcast of the “MTV Movie & TV Awards” in mid-May.

Gold House, the Asian Pacific-Islander advocacy group that has coordinated support for movies with AAPI creators and leads, announced a spinoff #LatinxGoldOpen campaign in conjunction with the National Association of Latino Independent Producers.

An exclusive MovieClips featurette covered how the themes of the story are universally applicable to everyone.

Ramos was the subject of a THR cover story where he talked about his history with the stage musical, his career to date and more while his work ethic and performance were praised by Miranda, Chu and others. He also received an NYT profile where he shared the pressures of so much attention right now as well as how he’s defined his career to date.

IMAX released a TV spot encouraging audiences to come see it on the big big screen.

In June Smits was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, with the actor talking about his long love of the stage production and lots more.

Grace was interviewed about this being her big screen debut as well as the cultural history she and the rest of the cast strove to portray and represent. That history and heritage was the focus of a feature with the whole cast sharing their thoughts on those topics and more, something they along with others also did at the movie’s recent Los Angeles premiere. They also commented on the relief and thankfulness they felt at the movie finally coming out a year after it was originally scheduled. An interview with costar Daphne Rubin-Vega had her talking about how her character was changed to be queer in the film when she was straight in the original show.

Both Ramos and Miranda appeared on “The Tonight Show” recently.

Additional interviews included conversations with Chu as well as the movie’s costume designer, screenwriter, cinematographer and production design team.

Regal Cinemas had an exclusive collection of interviews with the cast. Dolby shared an interview with Chu about the process of filming the movie in Washington Heights. Another Dolby video with Chu had him presenting the movie as a welcome way to celebrate the reopening of the world as the worst of the pandemic fades, at least here in the U.S.

Along with a few more clips, Warner Bros. released the first eight minutes of the movie on YouTube and made the same footage available within HBO Max.

An extended spot proclaiming the movie the “event of the summer” includes not only the critical praise it’s received to date but also endorsements from celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Hugh Jackman and others.

One final featurette has Miranda, Chu and others who are actually from the neighborhood portrayed on screen about how special Washington Heights is and how it’s always been an immigrant community of some form or another.

Chu was scheduled to appear on TCM to introduce three classic movie musicals that inspired this film.

Promotional partners for the movie included:

  • Travelocity, which ran a sweepstakes giving the winner a dream vacation to either the Domincan Republic or another destination of their choosing.
  • Roblox, which is hosting a virtual block party in-world through June 20th featuring recreations of Washington Heights as well as some of the characters.
  • Foot Locker and Fila, which collaborated on a movie-inspired sneaker coming soon.
  • Open Table, which suggested people celebrate the movie’s release by ordering in from a local restaurant.

Overall

As is appropriate for screen musicals, there are no small emotions in this campaign. Everything is big, everything is colorful, everything is heightened. That comes through in almost every aspect of the marketing, from trailers to posters to Gifs.

In addition to the constant reinforcing of Miranda’s personal brand, what comes through most strongly is how different this movie is from others that tell stories of immigrant or similar communities. This isn’t a dark, serious look at the struggles of people in those neighborhoods, though the problems they face are still evident. Instead it’s a celebration of the people in a neighborhood and how they take joy in life, want to preserve their heritage and make the best of each day, dreaming of not just making it big but then coming back and helping those they grew up alongside. That’s pretty unique and makes this campaign pretty special.

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