How Paramount has sold yet another entry in the horror satire series
It was just over a year ago that directors Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin successfully restarted the Scream franchise with a sequel that resonated with both critics and audiences. Now they and the series are back with this week’s Scream VI hitting theaters.
Melissa Barrera and Jenna Ortega return from the previous film as half-sisters Sam and Tara Carpenter. After surviving Ghostface’s last attack the two have moved from Woodsboro, where all the previous movies were set, to New York City. But the new location has the same old threats as they’re soon plagued by another Ghostface killer.
Once again written by Guy Busick and James Vanderbilt, the movie also stars Samara Weaving, Mason Gooding, Jasmin Savoy Brown and others. Courtney Cox also returns as journalist Gale Weathers and Hayden Panettiere reprises her role of Kirby Reed from Scream 4. Legacy cast members David Arquette and Neve Campbell are not here, though, for reasons expanded on below. So with all that said, let’s take a look at the marketing campaign.
announcement and casting
The movie was announced in February 2022, about a month after the successful opening weekend of the first (fifth?) installment. The surviving cast from that movie were revealed to be returning, with Panettiere reported to be coming back as the same character she played in Scream 4 a short while later.
Mulroney joined in June 2022, but just a little while later Neve Campbell announced she was not returning, citing what was apparently a lowball offer from the studio she didn’t feel was representative of her talent or value. Weaving and Revolori were added in July.
Barrera assured fans that despite the change in venue there’d be plenty of blood and gore in the new installment.
the marketing campaign
The first poster that came out in mid-December got the campaign underway and, by showing Ghostface peering through a subway car window, sets up the change of venue nicely even if it weren’t emphasized by the copy reading “New York. New Rules.”
The teaser trailer (4.7m YouTube plays) released at the same time does similar work, showing a bunch of the characters riding the subway on what in the rest of the country would clearly be Halloween but which in New York might a random Tuesday before they see one of the several Ghostfaces in the car with them staring a bit too intently before approaching and attacking them.
The New York City subway setting was used in a clever graphic released in early January showing Ghostface’s mask formed by a map of the different train lines.
Comments from some of the cast about the story and its’ new setting accompanied a handful of new stills in EW.
Later in January another poster came out that this time shows most all of the cast arrayed around two separate photos of Ghostface as well as a massive knife coming out from the bottom, all with New York City in the background. Fans and others of course spent a good amount of time analyzing the poster for clues about who might be the killer, who are the victims and more based on how they’re standing, whether they’re looking at the camera or not and other details.
The official trailer (14m YouTube plays) came out then as well. It starts out dramatically with Ghostface hunting Sam and Tara through a corner bodega. They wind up connecting with Gale and Kirby over their shared trauma before going on the hunt for the killer, whoever they are this time. There’s an extended look at Ghostface’s attack on Gale in her apartment but otherwise it’s mostly about the characters being hunted or doing the hunting.
More new footage was seen in a commercial that aired during February’s Super Bowl broadcast. It offers a bit more with Kirby as well as the various forms of peril everyone will find themselves in as they’re chased around New York City.
Dolby, RealD 3D, Fandango and 4DX released exclusive posters, all of which focused exclusively on Ghostface and eschewed the rest of the cast, indicating where the real appeal of the franchise is seen to lie.
Cinemark also served fans by bringing back some of the chain’s popular Ghostface-themed popcorn and soda cups.
Also in early February an advance “Fan Event” screening of the movie was announced for March 9th at select theaters across the country, with ticketholders receiving an exclusive poster.
“Try to cut it in the Big Apple” says another poster that came out showing a massive knife stuck into a bleeding apple.
Bloody Disgusting revealed a set of 13 character posters showing off all the various characters in the movie. Shortly after that Demi Lovato shared the title of her new song appearing on the soundtrack.
Ortega was scheduled to host “Saturday Night Live” on March 11th, just as the movie was hitting theaters.
Online ads like the one to the right began running around this time to drive traffic to the official website where people could find showtimes and buy tickets.
As has become common, an in-person “immersive walk-through” event titled “Scream VI: The Experience” happened in Santa Monica, CA the last weekend of February and first weekend of March promising visitors a look at props from the entire the series as well as a few surprises.
Cox was in the spotlight when she was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame last week.
Paramount launched a web app where you could request a call from Ghostface themself in case you felt that was something missing from your life and you could add a Snapchat AR lens where to add Ghostface’s mask to your own face. There was even a ChatGPT-powered “Survive Scream VI” bot users could add to their Discord server to get AI-generated scenarios to see if they could survive them.
The studio sent people dressed like Ghostface to towns across the country with no context or warning in what seems to be an official stunt designed to get people thinking about the character and by extension aware of the movie coming out.
The studio used some corporate synergy to get some of the “Reno 911” cast to create a short video where Lt. Dangle gives a briefing about a new serial killer that just happens to be Ghostface, which seems troubling until they realize it’s about New York.
Last-minute talk show appearances included Ortega on “First We Feast,” Gooding on “The Daily Show,” Barrera on “CBS Mornings” and “Late Night”, Cox on “Kimmel”, and more, all leading up to the movie’s red carpet premiere in New York City where the cast and crew talked about Campbell’s decision not to return, the location shift and what might lie ahead for future installments.
One final short trailer was released just days ago that sells the movie as a pulse-pounding ride full of jump-scares while sharing pull quotes from some of the positive reviews it’s accumulated to date.
The $35 million the movie is projected to earn at this weekend’s box office is reported to be a best for the now six-film strong Scream franchise. That reflects well on the film’s marketing campaign, indicating that it’s done a good job of raising awareness and showing that the very tight window since the last movie hit theaters might be helping, not hurting.
That help might be in part because these movies are so closely tied to particular moments in time and culture that getting them out quickly to capitalize on a hot cast or other element makes a big difference in how the campaign resonates with audiences.
So on that front: Nice work.
On the other hand, what seems to be largely missing from this campaign (and it was an issue in the marketing of the previous installment as well) is any of the meta, self-aware fun that the first few movies had. From the marketing materials, this looks a lot like just another horror/slasher flick, not anything that deconstructs the elements of the genre or comments on the current state of these movies.
The stunt of sending people dressed like Ghostface to random towns and cities is exemplary of that in how it’s similar to how the recent straightforward horror hit Smile and other movies like it were sold.
Still, these movies are almost always enjoyable, even if they seem to occasionally forget to not take themselves or the genre so seriously, and the campaign effectively sells a fun continuation of the franchise’s story.