the starling – marketing recap

How Netflix is selling a story of grief, love and Metaphor Birds.

The Starling poster

The Starling, streaming now on Netflix, stars Melissa McCarthy and Chris O’Dowd as Lilly and Jack, a married couple who are in the midst of a rough patch in their relationship. Jack is in an institution working to come to terms with the grief he feels following the death of their child (it’s unclear if it was a miscarriage or came later) while Lilly has to continue on through life without him. Helping her on the outside is Dr. Larry Fine (Kevin Kline), a former counselor now working as a veterinarian.

announcement and casting

McCarthy and O’Dowd were cast as the leads in mid-2019, reuniting them with their St. Vincent director. Others were added to the lineup later that year.

While the movie was still in post-production Netflix reportedly acquired distribution rights.

the marketing

In June news came that the film would screen at the Toronto Film Festival ahead of a limited theatrical release followed by wide availability on Netflix.

The trailer (1.8m views on YouTube) was finally released in late August. As it starts we see Lilly is working to adjust to life with Jack in a facility to deal with his issues. Lilly has her own problems, though, and is referred to Dr. Fine despite him no longer being a counselor. The couple are working through their problems and, with Fine’s help, trying to find new ways to be a couple after experiencing a common loss.

Shortly after that the planned TIFF premiere took place, but the reviews and word of mouth that came out were decidedly mixed if not outright negative.

The poster came out in mid-September, just a week or so before the movie was available. The focus here is on Lilly as she lays in her garden, the starling of the title perched on her shoulder. Everything about the design is meant to convey heartfelt emotions, right down to the serif-heavy font and the soft colors of the sky in the background.

McCarthy appeared on “The Late Show” to talk about the movie, including the technical difficulties involved in acting against an invisible bird and more. A later interview with her had her sharing her own experiences as a mom and with wild animals along with more.

An interview with Melfi had him talking about shooting parts of the movie with the actors in different locations due to the conflicting schedules as well as how he worked to change the perspective of the original script to focus more on McCarthy’s character.

Just prior to release Netflix put out a clip expanding on a scene between Lilly and Dr. Fine talking about the grieving process.


The campaign’s major obstacle to overcome are the aforementioned negative reviews, which have just continued since Toronto and currently give the film a paltry 22% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Whether it achieves that goal is questionable. McCarthy and O’Dowd are two incredibly likeable, charismatic actors and having Kline batting clean up is never a bad thing. Everything in the marketing makes it clear that the characters are all dealing with big emotions and having difficult conversations, so your reaction to the trailer et al will likely depend on how attractive that all seems.

Thunder Force – Marketing Recap

How Netflix has sold a new super-powered comedy.

The world of Thunder Force, out this week on Netflix, is one that is already filled with super-powered bad guys the police force is unqualified to fight. That’s why Emily Stanton (Octavia Spencer) uses the resources of the biotech company she owns to develop a serum that gives people powers to take on the villains. When her estranged best friend Lydia (Melissa McCarthy) accidentally takes that serum, the pair decide to team up to fight crime, becoming Thunder Force.

Netflix has been selling the movie in exactly the way you’d expect, highlighting the comedic pairing of Spencer and McCarthy and the outrageous super-powered situations they find themselves in.

The Posters

Lydia and Emily strike heroic poses on the poster (by marketing agency The Refinery), which came out in early March. But the two are seen to have slightly different attitudes, exemplified by how Lydia’s wearing a few sponsor buttons on her uniform. The “New super. Nearly heroes.” copy makes it clear that while they might have powers they still have some work to do on using them.

The Trailers

Lydia and Emily are, we see in the first trailer (2.6 million views on YouTube) from early March, friends that have drifted apart, with Emily becoming super-successful and Lydia less so. When Lydia takes the super power-granting formula Emily’s been working on she gets powers, only to find Emily has already done so. The two decide to go become a pair of crime fighters, but the bad guys up their game as well, with hilarity ensuing.

Online and Social

No website and only a little bit of support, it seems, from Netflix on its brand social media channels.

Advertising and Promotions

The first footage came in January, part of Netflix’s announcement of its ambitious 2021 feature film slate. A pair of first look stills came out in early March, just ahead of the first trailer.

Thunder Force GIF by NETFLIX - Find & Share on GIPHY

Two clips came out late last month, one showing Lydia foiling a robbery and the other showing her throwing a bus, both extended looks at scenes glimpsed in the trailer.

Media and Press

Most of the press included interviews with both Spencer and McCarthy together, including an appearance on “Kimmel” where they talked about being super heroes and how the genesis of the movie is wanting to mess with costar Jason Bateman.

Writer/director Ben Falcone also made the rounds a bit, talking about using the tropes of super hero movies to comedic effect and working with McCarthy and Spencer on the film.


This is the same campaign that’s been run for a number of McCarthy’s other movies, but that’s alright since it seems to work just about every time. That is to say, each works on an equal level and makes roughly the same pitch to the audience and has about the same result. McCarthy is a known quantity and this campaign, like those before it, reinforces that message.

The major difference here is the addition of Spencer, who’s a great partner for the comedy. Whether or not all of that makes this a funny sendup of the ubiquitous super hero movie remains to be seen, but if you enjoy McCarthy and her frequent collaborations with husband Falcone, this should be in your interest area.

Thunder Force GIF by NETFLIX - Find & Share on GIPHY

SuperIntelligence – Marketing Recap

How HBO Max has sold a high-concept comedy not too far removed from reality.

Melissa McCarthy stars in this week’s new HBO Max release Superintelligence, directed once again by her husband Ben Falcone. In the film McCarthy plays Carol Peters, an all-around unremarkable woman who one day finds herself targeted by a powerful artificial intelligence (voiced by James Corden) that is deciding if it should enslave, destroy or leave humanity alone. It plans to study Carol for a few days before making its ultimate decision.

Along the way, the AI gifts her with a fortune to see what she does when freed from other concerns. The situation also prompts Carol to attempt to reconnect with her ex, George (Bobby Cannavale), wanting to spend what might be her last few days with no regrets about the past. Meanwhile, the FBI wants to know why Carol got the AI’s attention and what can be done about it.

As with many others, the movie was originally scheduled for theatrical late last year before being pulled by Warner Bros. and ultimately replatformed for streaming.

The Posters

Carol and George are having a nice romantic moment on the poster (by marketing agency Works Adv), released in November. The two look like they’re enjoying each other’s company along with some champagne and it all seems pleasant until you realize the heart shape in the wall behind them seems to hint at some sort of violence or devastation that has created such an opening. That juxtaposition, intended to create some intrigue or interest, comes off as a bit odd, hinting at a movie that may not know which tone to take.

The Trailers

As the trailer (6.7 million views on YouTube), released in early November, opens, we see that an ultra-sophisticated computer system has set its eyes on Carol for…reasons. It knows everything about her and has led her to believe the world is going to end in three days, something it’s threatening to do if it can’t understand humanity more fully through her. With the FBI wondering why it’s targeted Carol, she takes the idea of there not being many more tomorrows to reconnect with an ex-boyfriend.

Online and Social

No stand-alone site for the movie, but HBO Max did give it regular support on its brand social channels.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A brief controversy emerged in mid-November when it was noticed that one of the groups taking part in the “20 Days of Kindness” campaign was staunchly anti-abortion, which seemed to be off-brand for McCarthy and others. She and the studio issued a statement days later saying that group had been removed from the effort.

After the trailer came out a number of featurettes were released that covered the love story of the movie, the makeover Carol gives herself to win George back and how much of an average, non-exceptional human being Carol is.

Other promos like this really leaned into McCarthy’s popularity.

Media and Publicity

McCarthy and Forte appeared on stage to do a bit during WB’s CinemaCon 2019 presentation, an effort to get exhibitors and others excited about the upcoming film. In October of last year it was announced the movie would forego a theatrical release and instead be saved for the debut of HBO Max.

The cast participated in a group interview about technology and related issues here.

Both Falcone and McCarthy appeared on late night and other talk shows to talk about the movie and once more working together.


The message of the campaign is simple, and largely the same one as most other comedies starring McCarthy. Namely, if you enjoy her antics and persona, you’ll likely enjoy this movie. If not, you may want to find something else because it’s probably going to be relatively similar to what you’ve seen before.

That’s not a bad thing, as McCarthy is a comedic powerhouse, one with a relatively solid and box-office record. Such a record makes her streaming feature debut more of a statement about the health of comedies at the box-office than it probably should be, even when adjusting for this being a pandemic year. She is who she is, especially when being directed by Falcone, and this campaign makes that abundantly clear.

Picking Up The Spare

A joint profile of McCarthy and Falcone had them talking about their long history of not only being a couple but also working together. McCarthy later appeared on “The Tonight Show” to talk about the movie. 

New featurettes offered in-depth looks at both Corden and the two federal agents in the story.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? – Marketing Recap

can you ever forgive me posterMelissa McCarthy plays writer Lee Israel in the new movie Can You Ever Forgive Me?, based on Israel’s memoir of the same name. Set in the early 90s, the story finds Israel as she’s fallen on hard times and is no longer able to sale the kind of celebrity profiles that made her famous for the last 20 or 30 years.

One day she stumbles on a slick money making idea when she discovers a personal letter from a famous author stuck in a book. She sells that and realizes if she wrote more letters herself she could make even more. Along the way she’s helped by her friend Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant), Everything’s going great until the FBI gets wind of her scheme and the world comes crashing down.

The Posters

The first poster took a familiar approach to selling the movie, placing McCarthy’s character as a small figure standing on a typewriter. There’s not much else happening here, with no supporting or explanatory copy or tagline. It’s just her standing on a vintage typewriter looking slightly befuddled. The design doesn’t even make it clear whether it’s a comedy or drama, which seems problematic.

The Trailers

Lee has fallen on hard times as the first trailer opens, selling some of her collection for cash because no one is buying her current books. Her agent tells her the future doesn’t look good but rent is due and she needs to make a living. When she comes across a letter from a famous author she tries to sell that but doesn’t get much because the content isn’t very compelling. That gives her the idea to begin forging other letters from other authors, which turns into quite the little scheme. Eventually it all catches up with her and the tap dries up, though her friend decides to pick up where she left off. Even when she’s caught she admits she had a good time.

What’s being sold is clearly a drama of hard times falling on talent people, but there are moments where it seems Searchlight couldn’t resist to use a comedic beat in the trailer. Maybe the movie is more darkly funny but I imagine it’s also an attempt to ease the audience in to accepting McCarthy as a dramatic lead.

Another short video came out in early October that cut the message of the movie down to its bare essentials.

Online and Social

You can get the basic information you’re looking for about the movie on its official website, which has backgrounds on the cast, director and the story along with the trailer. There are also Facebook and Twitter profiles.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Online ads and promoted posts used videos and key art. There don’t appear to have been any actual TV spots run, but some of the videos shared on social media were about the same size and substance.

Media and Publicity

The first photo of a nearly-unrecognizable McCarthy kicked off the publicity campaign, showing her in character as Israel. Heller talked about the making of the movie, including the desire for it not to be lumped in as a “biopic” when the first trailer was revealed. Heller also talked here about the challenges she’s faced in her career but how she’s now poised to break into the big leagues with a string of upcoming high-profile projects. The movie was also part of the later CineEurope presentation from the studio.

The movie was announced as one of those screening at the Toronto International Film Festival as well as that of the Austin Film Festival and the Telluride Film Festival. Those festival screenings created some pretty positive buzz for the movie as a whole and McCarthy in particular.

While there McCarthy had plenty of chances to talk about the pleasure of playing women who have no time to worry about being liked, the opportunity playing a straight dramatic part gave her to explore some darkness and more. She kept on that topic, pointing out characters don’t have to be likable to be interesting. Director Marielle Heller touched on the actress’s transformation as well.

A featurette including an interview with Heller, who offered the “elevator pitch” behind the movie that encapsulated the story and the people in it.

Two clips came out in the weeks leading up to release, one that had Israel and Hock meeting up at a bar and one that had Israel learning the FBI might be on to her operation and being shaken down for that information.

McCarthy hit similar topics at the movie’s premiere and then went on to make a few talk show appearances to tell amusing stories and play up the film.

The NYT published a serious profile of McCarthy that hit all the same beats and talked about her career so far. That came along at the same time as stories like this that called out how oh, yeah, McCarthy is one of the most talented actors currently working. There were also a couple joint interviews with McCarthy and Grant talking about working together to create the dynamic of the era and some with Grant about the aggressively unlikable characters they play.


The campaign started off a little weak, but gained significant strength in the last month or so. Maybe that’s just because it’s been several months since the trailer initially came out, but once McCarthy was able to get out there and hype things up and some clips started rolling in, it became clear this wasn’t something that could be easily dismissed. That was helped by the good festival buzz generated among film critics.

Picking Up The Spare

Another featurette with McCarthy on how she set out to inhabit the character of the real life Lee Israel.

Interesting details here on how the production team recreated the world of 1990s New York City. That was also the subject of a featurette released a bit later.

More TV spots like this and this have begun running recently, hoping to build on the positive word of mouth the movie has built up.

McCarthy showed up on “Kimmel” to talk about the movie and more.

Grant spoke more here about working with McCarthy.

The Happytime Murders – Marketing Recap

happytime murders posterThe marketing for The Happytime Murders, which tells the story of puppets and humans living together and working together to solve crimes, is recapped at The Hollywood Reporter. Suffice it to say this does not look great.

Online and Social

There’s not much going on over at the movie’s official website, which just offers the basics including a “Trailer,” the “Story” and the ability to get tickets. There were also links to the movie’s Instagram, Facebook and Twitter profiles.

Media and Publicity

After the first trailer and poster were released STX was sued by Sesame Workshop, the owners of the “Sesame Street” brand, over the tagline “No sesame. All street,” which they claimed infringed on their trademark. The studio responded by pointing out that Brian Henson – Jim Henson’s son – is involved with the movie and a division of The Jim Henson Company is among the movie’s producers, which may not be a solid legal argument but is mainly aimed at attaching some corporate goodwill to the film. A judge quickly ruled in favor of STX.

Last week, writer Todd Berger finally addressed the elephant in the room, talking about how he was indeed inspired by Meet the Feebles, Peter Jackson’s cult hit from years and years ago that mined similar territory.


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

Life of the Party – Marketing Recap

Once again, my standard marketing recap for the Melissa McCarthy comedy vehicle Life of the Party has been published over at The Hollywood Reporter.

In Life of the Party she plays Deanna, newly-divorced and regretful she never finished her college degree. So, seeing an opportunity, she enrolls at the same university her daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) is at, leading to some mother/daughter bonding, the fulfillment of a dream and some belated sowing of wild oats.

There isn’t much to add to what’s shared there. The movie’s official website has the bare minimum of information on it. The first publicity for the movie came when a still was released along with brief comments from McCarthy. She later showed up crashing an “Carpool Karaoke” segment ostensibly featuring her costar Christina Aguilera and made some other late night appearances closer to release. Director/husband Ben Falcone talked here as well about directing his wife in a love scene or two.


Nice joint profile of long-time friends and colleagues Melissa McCarthy and Maya Rudolph in the LA Times where they talked about working together and lots, lots more.


Writer/director Ben Falcone talks here about creating the story of the movie with wife Melissa McCarthy.
Adria Arjona, who plays Melissa McCarthy’s daughter in the film, talks more here about working with the veteran actor and what she learned just by being in the room with her.