Dumbo – Marketing Recap

You can read my full recap of the marketing campaign for Dumbo at The Hollywood Reporter.

Online and Social

The official Disney site for the movie is unusually boring, offering nothing in the way of engaging content, just static information on the characters along with posters, trailers and photos. This feels like a massive missed opportunity.

Media and Publicity

A closer look at Farrell’s character was released around the same time as the first trailer.

At the same time there was a profile of young star Nico Parker, who talked about her experiences on set and more. Another one followed closer to release while she also showed up on “The Late Show”

DeVito appeared on late night TV to talk about his experiences on-set and was later the subject of his own profile.

First reactions started appearing in mid-March, with many calling it Burton’s most engaging and emotional film in years, as well as his most visually strong and creative. At about that time Green was interviewed about her frequent collaborations with Burton and how she almost passed on getting involved with the project. Working with Burton was also the subject of a feature profile that had most of the primary cast talking about his vision and style.

How the movie differed from the original was the subject of a number of interviews and features like this. Burton spoke about his current role as Disney’s go to director for off-kilter reimaginings while composer Danny Elfman was interviewed about his score and working with Burton again while Farell made an appearance on “Kimmel.”

There were a few clips and featurettes released right at the end of the campaign.

Overall

dumbo gif

Picking Up the Spare

DeVito was interviewed again about how he thinks the story of Dumbo continues to be relevant even decades later.

More clips that expanded on scenes from the trailers were released after the movie was in theaters.

Batman Returns (Flashback Marketing)

Tomorrow is Batman Day, the day DC Entertainment established in 2014 as part of the company’s celebration of Batman’s 75th anniversary.

[extreme tim curry in clue voice] I know because I was there.

The day has persisted over the years because…well…he’s Batman. Similar days have been marked for Superman and last year Wonder Woman entered the mix thanks to the combination of both her big screen solo adventure and the character’s own 75th anniversary.

To celebrate both tomorrow’s pop culture holiday and the recently-passed 25th anniversary of its release, today we’re going to turn our attention to one of my favorite movies starring The Dark Knight, 1992’s Batman Returns.

The sequel to the 1989 blockbuster brought back the powerhouse combination of director Tim Burton and star Michael Keaton. In the story, Batman is now well-established in Gotham City. That’s good because the city faces a new threat in the form of Oswald Cobblepot (Danny DeVito), who was abandoned by his wealthy parents as a toddler because his birth defects were too much for them and their haughty lifestyle. Now grown, Cobblebot positions himself as the returning prodigal, anxious help the city and run for mayor. That bid is just a cover, though, for his more devious plans to exact revenge. At the same time, Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer), has evolved into a feline-inspired symbol of feminine power after she was killed by her boss Max Shreck (Christoper Walken) and revived by a group of stray cats. While Batman takes on The Penguin, Bruce Wayne begins a flirtatious affair with Kyle until it all comes crashing together at the end.

When I walked out of the movie I turned to my friend Todd and said “Wow…Tim Burton really loves directing snow,” a reference not only to its use in this film but also Edward Scissorhands. In fact, the movie plays much more like what at the time was considered a Tim Burton Film than a Batman movie. With themes touching on the place of outcasts in society, a blue/gray color palette and explorations as to the duality of the human mind, it fits much more neatly with the director’s overall work than the first Batman, which by contrast seems like well-made if slightly generic studio film.

The teaser poster is an amazing piece of promotional artwork. Like the iconic poster for the first film, the primary element is the Bat symbol that bleeds out over the sides of the frame. Instead of the bright yellow and dark black of the first one, this one is covered in windswept snow, showing audiences what the tone of the movie was going to be. The expanded character list isn’t named but only referenced with copy at the top reading “The Bat. The Cat. The Penguin.” It’s simple and it’s stunning, showing the restrained colors that would dominate the movie and telling audiences what they could expect to see.

The theatrical one-sheet arranges the faces in the same order as they were previously listed, with Batman followed by Catwoman followed by Penguin. That allowed a good look at just the kind of characters we were going to be following and clearly signaled to anyone well-versed in Burton’s style that his design aesthetic would be well-represented in the character designs. Catwoman looks fierce in her obviously homemade costume while Penguin looks grotesque, like a twisted version of a fairy tale character. Some of the story, but not much, is conveyed at the bottom with a scene showing dozens of penguins huddled around, all with brightly-colored rockets strapped to their backs. Again, the contrast of the dark scene and the pops of red show that Burton’s unique visuals would dominate the movie.

The trailer opens with Penguin plotting his return to Gotham as we see him walking through the sewers he’s made his home since his exile. Then we see Selina become Catwoman in the wake of her death, becoming an empowered anti-hero. Batman is then the only hope for the city, but he’s consumed with feelings for Catwoman. We see Penguin executing his plans and Batman taking on the circus gang that’s part of that. There are shots of the Batmobile, the Bat-boat and just of Batman punching his way through the guys.

What comes through here is the focus on the villains the movie would take. Penguin and Catwoman are positioned in the trailer as the ones driving the story and whose journeys we’ll be following. Batman is the hero, yes, but he’s seen here as almost a side character who’s only interesting as he relates to the other two.

That’s…well, it’s not exactly accurate because Bruce Wayne plays a big part in the stories of both characters, one that’s bigger than what he does as Batman, but we don’t see that here. Instead we’re focusing on the twisted personalities that drive Batman’s adversaries. That, on the other hand, is pretty accurate to the movie that’s being sold. Burton, in his second outing, was not able to more fully integrate his design sense but also give outlet to his love of the outsiders, the characters shunned by society because of their differences. It’s that message that’s sold loudly and strongly in the trailer, that we’ll be watching a Tim Burton film with comic book characters as the medium for his worldview.

As has been well-documented by others, the superhero cinematic genre learned exactly the wrong lesson from Batman Returns. The takeaway was a simplistic “more villains” approach to sequels, something that’s sunk more than one movie. In reality, what Burton did was use characters he identified with to explore the topics that were near to his heart. That goes for Batman as much as it does for Catwoman and Penguin. Everyone here, as Selina says at point, is struggling with their own “difficulty with duality.”

While the campaign may not get that deep, it does present the movie as both an action-filled blockbuster and a study of characters who all walk the line between the light and the dark.

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

American Assassin – Marketing Recap

In the new movie American Assassin Dylan O’Brien plays Mitch Rapp, a young man who’s had a hard life. His parents died in a car accident when he was a teenager and his fiancé was killed by terrorists while they were on vacation. With nothing left to lose he sets out on the path to revenge, seeking to take out the kinds of bad guys who took everything from him.

That puts him on the radar of the CIA, which quickly recruits him for a black ops assassin until. Deputy Director Kennedy (Sanna Lathan) sends him to veteran operator Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton) to shave off the rough edges and make him a useful asset. As the two investigate a series of recent attacks they find the one thing tying them together may be an old trainee of Hurley’s long-thought dead or otherwise out of the picture.

The Posters

The first poster is presented as a redacted document, with all but the title, the names of the cast and the promise that it’s “Coming soon” blacked out and obscured. It’s easy to read most of that text, though so you can see comments about “assets,” “targets” and so on, enough to get the idea that we’re dealing with spy stuff here.

The second poster offers an actual look at the characters and the world they’re operating in. We see O’Brien, Keaton, Lathan, Negar and Kitsch, all arrayed along the left side of the poster and affecting various stances in relation to their character. You can see military helicopters in the background along with both the Kremlin and Eiffel Tower to give you a sense of the locations the story will take the characters to.

The third effort was pretty standard to the action genre, just showing O’Brien and Keaton with guns drawn. No copy or anything, this one is just selling the star power.

The Trailers

As the trailer begins we meet Mitch and hear about the problems he’s had since his parents, and later in life his girlfriend, were killed. Since the latter event he’s been after the kinds of people involved and now someone wants to channel that in a specific direction. So he’s enlisted in an elite program and assigned a mentor in Stan Hurley, a lone operator who’s asked to train Mitch. Hurley’s skeptical but ultimately takes him on. After that it’s about showing the kind of action Mitch gets himself into in his quest for vengeance and/or justice.

It’s a tight trailer with appropriately somber mood music in the background. O’Brien is clearly the focus here since it’s his story we’re following, though Keaton is well-represented as well. It presents a story that’s about seeking to address the wrongs that have been done to you. That in itself isn’t super-compelling but the overall package of what’s being sold here looks more than a little interesting.

A red-band trailer opens with the shooting of Mitch’s girlfriend on the beach and we hear someone talking about his desire for revenge and plans to take those responsible out. He’s told there are people who can help him reach those goals and he signs on to be trained by Hurley, where he excels in learning how to kill people. He soon get an assignment to help take out a terrorist who’s just surfaced and has a nuclear device. It turns out this baddie has a personal connection to Hurley, seemingly his former prodigy. Lots of shots of action both personal and bigger – including something involving a couple warships at sea – that finishes things off.

This one offers much more of the story on how Mitch gets involved with the program and the mission he and Hurley are sent on, which helps a lot. It’s a tighter, more interesting journey that’s being sold here, even if it all comes off a little Bourne-ish. The action is over the top and ridiculous, of course, but that’s par for the course so you just have to go with it.

Online and Social

The official website for the movie opens with a version of the key art on the front page. there are prompts to buy tickets, watch the trailer or follow the Tumblr-based site. Clicking “Enter the site” or scrolling down both have the same effect, taking you into the site’s content.

From there you can keep scrolling to use the menu to explore the three main sections of material. “Video” just has one trailer. “About” has a brief synopsis along with information on the book the movie is based on and bios of the cast and crew. Finally, the “Gallery” has a collection of production stills to browse.

There don’t appear to be links on the main site but there were also Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles for the movie where the studio shared updates. Interestingly, the URLs for the Twitter and Instagram profiles are @vinceflynnfilm, name-checking the author of the source book. Makes me wonder what sort of contractual obligations were being fulfilled here since that branding had to have a reason, especially considering the potential search impact it and name recognition.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Various TV spots sold the movie in different ways. Some like this one are all about the action, presenting a high-tension story about killing the bad guys before they do something terrible. Others like this one get to that eventually but first spend some time establishing the relationship between Rapp and Hurley. None go into Rapp’s motivations, though, obviously feeling that’s the weakest of the appeals of the story.

Some social advertising was done with the trailers, particularly in the last few days before release. It’s likely at least a bit of other online and outdoor advertising was done as well.

Media and Publicity

O’Brien and Kitsch took on most of the press duties, it seems. They appeared on early morning and late night talk shows to talk about filming. One big topic was an injury O’Brien apparently suffered while filming a recent installment of The Maze Runner series. He talked about recovering from that serious injury and whose learned determination from the recovery, lessons that helped him while filming this movie. Keaton also jumped in a bit to talk about the nuance he liked in the story, which is what convinced him to join.

The long road the story took to the big screen also was covered, as the movie has been in the works for a number of years, necessitating a few changes to the story to bring it more up to date with the world. There was also discussion of how advantageous placement of the movie’s trailer, in this case in front of the surprisingly successful The Hitman’s Bodyguard, may help what looks like a mid-grade piece of fluff resonate with the audience.

Overall

I’ll say I have to agree somewhat with Scott Mendolson’s take about this probably doing way better than it has any right to. There’s apparently a desire for middle-of-the-road popcorn action movies these days and this falls squarely into that category. There’s nothing all that notable about the trailers or the press push or anything, but the competition at the box-office isn’t all that substantial this weekend so the audience may turn out for a revenge-driven action story.

What the campaign seems to be doing more than anything is set this up as a potential franchise launch, though not as overtly as something like the marketing for The Mummy did. Instead, we’re watching the origin story of a Jack Ryan-type operative who combines personal motivation and a dedication to the craft with love of country. If this succeeds it’s easy to see at least a few more of the Mitch Rapp stories making their way to the big-screen.

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

Celebrate Michael Keaton’s Birthday With These Five Underappreciated Roles

Michael Keaton is one of the finest comedic and dramatic actors of his generation. While he’s often dismissed as a character actor or forgotten as we’re discussing the titans of the screen, I’m willing to die on this hill. Like most people I first became aware of him through his comedic roles in movies like Mr. Mom and Johnny Dangerously and raised my eyebrows when he was announced as the star of Tim Burton’s Batman. Over the years, though, that skepticism is not only something I’m chagrined to admit to but which has been proven over and over again to be unfounded.

Keaton built his initial reputation on movies like those named above but the late 90s threw a bit of monkeywrench in the career he had. A few box-office underperformers upset the momentum, though I’ll go to bat for Multiplicity, The Paper and other roles from this era. While he was a consistent presence, he wasn’t given great roles in the 2000s, with moments like his two turns as Ray Nicolette in both Out of Sight and Jackie Brown being rare exceptions. It wasn’t until the one-two-punch of Birdman and Spotlight that the general public remembered how great Keaton was, had been and could be.

With so many well-known roles to his name, I’m going to take the occasion of the actor’s 66th birthday to highlight five of his movies I’ve enjoyed but which may not have the high profile of some of his other films.

The Squeeze

Here Keaton plays Harry Berg, a largely-unsuccessful inventor who reluctantly agrees to do his ex-wife a favor and pick up a package from her apartment. Almost as soon as he does so he’s under fire from various parties who want the package. As he tries to figure out why everyone’s after him he’s just trying to stay alive, eventually with the help of a P.I. played by Rae Dawn Chong. The trailer explains some of this, selling the movie as a straight-up comedy, though I remember it being slightly darker than what’s shown here. But it’s trying to position the movie another opportunity for his broad talents.

Clean and Sober

This was the moment I stopped being worried about Keaton taking on the role of Batman. Keaton’s first real dramatic role has him playing Daryl Poynter, a real estate broker and junkie on the run from both a murder charge and financial embezzlement. He decides the best place to hide is in a drug rehab clinic. His scams and angles don’t fly with the guy who runs the place (Morgan Freeman) and despite his reasons for doing so, Daryl winds up getting something out of the program. We get a sense of the stakes of the story in the trailer and see the romance and problems he has in the clinic but also the changes he eventually makes in his life.

The Dream Team

Keaton was back in broad comedic territory here, playing Billy Caufield, a man with serious anger issues who’s been committed and is part of a group therapy program with other patients. When they all are taken to a ball game their therapist disappears and Caufield, along with the rest of the group, uses their unexpected freedom to visit the people they’ve left behind. All that is on display in the trailer, which sells the movie as a very broad comedy featuring an all-star cast including Christopher Lloyd and Peter Boyle, though it’s clear Keaton’s Caufield is the central focus.

Pacific Heights

Keaton’s follow-up to Batman has him going about as far against type as he’s done in his career. He plays Carter Hayes, a seemingly nice guy who rents an apartment from Patty (Melanie Griffith) and her boyfriend Drake (Matthew Modine). Once Carter moves in, though, things start happening that hint at darker motives. He doesn’t pay rent, does construction at all hours of the night and drives the other tenants of the building out. Everything starts out idyllic in the trailer as Patty and Drake work on their investment property and eventually meet Carter. We soon see, though, that he’s not who he says he is and is up to no good, showing the audience that Keaton is taking a very dark turn that’s unlike Mr. Mom or Beetlejuice.

The Merry Gentleman

Keaton’s first and so far only directorial effort has him playing Frank Logan, a longtime hitman who’s at the end of his rope and contemplating suicide. He meets Kate (Kelly Macdonald), a woman who’s just left an abusive relationship and the two form an unlikely friendship. Some of that is on display in the trailer, which sells not only a complex story but a performance by Keaton that’s full of stoic darkness, one that plays the cards as close to the vest as possible.

What did I miss? Leave your favorite Keaton role in the comments below.

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

The Founder (After the Campaign Movie Review)

When I reviewed the marketing of The Founder earlier this year I wasn’t all that impressed with the scope of the campaign. It sold a fairly standard biopic about someone many people may not know a lot about but certainly had been impacted by. The main draw, and the focal point of the campaign, was star Michael Keaton, still in the midst of a post-Birdman career resurgence.

In the movie Keaton plays Ray Kroc, who we first meet when he’s a struggling salesman hawking milkshake machines to drive-ins in the years following World War II. It’s the latest, we find, in a series of products and schemes he’s engaged in to make a buck and be something more in his life. He happens across a growing burger stand in California called McDonald’s, owned and operated by brothers Dick (Nick Offerman) and Mac (John Carroll Lynch). Kroc falls in love with the efficiency of their operation. While Dick and Mac are reluctant, Kroc convinces them to partner with him to franchise their concept across the country. Thus is born the McDonald’s empire we know today, though many of Kroc’s tactics are less than exemplary, particularly when it comes to his relationship with the founding brothers.

The campaign didn’t promise anything too innovative in terms of story or filmmaking. What it did promise was the story behind the institution that’s now part of the daily lives of most all Americans as well as people worldwide. Even if you don’t eat at McDonald’s with any regularity, it’s part of the landscape of the country, seen in every town and city regardless of size and promising a hot, reliably consistent meal as you’re traveling down most interstate highways.

That’s what it more or less delivers. The movie isn’t going to blow you away with the visuals and the biopic format doesn’t allow for much in the way of flexibility, instead keeping the story moving along certain lines that promise to hit particular milestones and amp up the drama to keep the audience engaged.

So it’s good that the marketing’s core message was not just about airing Kroc’s dirty laundry but about selling Keaton’s performance. He’s just as dynamic and entrancing an actor as he was in Gung Ho, Beetlejuice and other movies that let him use his entire body to comedic effect. Now he’s more subdued but no less electric. Even in a montage showing him recruiting franchisees at VFW halls and PTA meetings, he crackles with energy that fills the screen. Just as I thought after seeing him in Spider-Man: Homecoming, Keaton makes the most of every scene not by chewing scenery as some actors do, but by confining the energy of those bigger performances within his own body, like a balloon you’re watching being stretched to its limits.

If you’re curious as to how McDonald’s grew to be McDonald’s, The Founder presents a good insight into the beginnings of a massive corporation that, as the ending states, now feeds 1% of the world’s population daily. That story may not be completely engaging all the time, but Keaton brings his A-game to his performance as Kroc, providing the biggest reason to see the movie.