Lucy in the Sky – Marketing Recap

Fox Searchlight sells a story of how reentry is the hardest part of both space missions and everyday life.

lucy in the sky posterFor the second time in a month Hollywood is telling the story of an astronaut. This time around the movie is Lucy in the Sky, starring Natalie Portman as Lucy Cola, an astronaut who returns to Earth after an extended mission in space to find her connections to the world are more tenuous and less satisfying than the thrill of being out among the stars.

Loosely based on the real life of astronaut Lisa Nowak, the story follows Cola as she fights to reintegrate into her life and family after she’s back on the ground, her perspective on things changed by her time out in the black. When an affair with another astronaut (Jon Hamm) turns south, Cola’s behavior becomes even more erratic and dangerous.

Early reviews haven’t been positive – it sports a poor 28 percent on Rotten Tomatoes – but the campaign from Fox Searchlight sells an original twist on the idea of how dramatic events change your outlook on life and grip on reality.

The Posters

Lucy stands looking at the moon on the first poster (by marketing agency LA), the image meant to emphasize the scale of the universe while also communicating her longing to return to space. The movie’s appearance at the Toronto Film Festival is touted at the top. Note also how her name is slightly elevated in the title treatment, a nice visual representation of how she’s floating above things, not quite grounded in the way the rest of us are.

The Trailers

The first teaser from mid-March opens with Lucy losing her focus while out on a spacewalk. Her return to Earth shows she’s having problems adjusting to life back on the ground having been changed by her experiences seeing so much of the universe. She’s feeling “a little off” and has been hallucinating as well as behaving in ways that may be harmful to herself or others. Those around her want to help and understand, but just can’t see what’s happening to her.

It was August before the second trailer was released. This one shows even more clearly the problems Lucy is having in restarting her life on Earth after having walked in space. She can’t connect with family or friends and starts seeing others as threats to her success and notoriety. She also frantically begins an affair with fellow astronaut Goodwin, who’s just one of those around her that starts to feel Lucy is increasingly untethered from reality and might even be dangerous.

Online and Social

Fox Searchlight’s website for the film is good, if a bit understocked. The “Cast” section offers brief video clips of the character played by each named actor with “About” containing a story synopsis and “Videos” housing both trailers.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Two short clips were released in late September/early October. One had Lucy and Goodwin talking about what she’s accomplished in her life while the second had her commiserating with other astronauts about what they’ve all gone through on their missions.

If there was other advertising done it wasn’t extensive enough to cross my radar. It’s likely some video ads were produced that ran online and maybe even on TV and that other online ads used visuals from the film, but I haven’t encountered them.

Media and Publicity

The first still from the film showed Portman in full NASA uniform, but not much else.

In early 2019 the movie’s title was changed from Pale Blue Dot to its current name.

An interview with Hawley in September allowed him to talk about the story and how he worked to stay as accurate as possible to reality, though there were some changes made and omissions decided upon. Portman and Hamm later discussed the research they did and the chemistry they developed on screen.

At the movie’s premiere, Portman talked about the difficult process of donning a spacesuit for the film while Hamm commented on the unique nature of the story. Another interview with Portman had her sharing details on what was or wasn’t included in the movie’s story and how that plays into gender politics in this day and age.

Both stars made the late night and morning talk show rounds to talk about the movie and their experiences shooting it. So did costar Zazie Beetz, who plays one of Cola’s fellow astronauts, one she sees as a rival both personally and professionally.

Overall

One of the constant themes in the press coverage of the movie was an anecdote about the real life woman whose life is being shared here involving wearing astronaut “diapers” on her cross-country trek to confront the man she’d been having an affair with. That detail is apparently not included in the film and Portman was repeatedly asked why it was omitted.

The obsession (there’s no other real word to use) with this aspect of the story is a great indicator of how many members of the press search for the lowest, most salacious detail to pull out, one that will generate the most clicks because it contains the word “diaper.” It says more about the state of the industry than it does with the filmmaking choices made by director Noah Hawley or any of the writers.

That it has dominated the press cycle is unfortunate, because there’s a good movie being sold in the rest of the campaign and my fear is it’s tainted how the film is being received. The marketing as a whole is selling a movie about how hard it is to reenter the real world after being so far removed from it for so long. That idea has been explored before, but mostly with soldiers returning from war zones as the protagonist. To put a woman who has glimpsed something extraordinary and who then has problems adjusting to everyday minutiae and routines is an intriguing twist on that, one that is worth exploring more deeply.

Picking Up the Spare

Just after the movie was released another extended TV spot came out that emphasized the scale of the story.

Cinematographer Polly Morgan talked about how she used visuals to show the main character’s descent into emotional instability.

Hamm stopped by “The Late Show” to talk about the movie and more.

More from director Hawley on his approach to the story and more here, while a later interview had him talking about supporting women and doing his best to tell their stories.

Vox Lux – Marketing Recap

vox lux posterVox Lux follows a young woman named Celeste from her teenage years as an overnight pop sensation through her attempted comeback nearly 20 years later, focusing on three stages of her life and career.

Natalie Portman plays Celeste in her later years, as she attempts to revitalize her career with a new album and tour she hopes will put her back on top. To do so she also has to deal with the years of personal and professional issues that have built up and try to overcome the scandal that derailed her stardom in the first place.

The Posters

Portman is on stage in full makeup and with a microphone attached to her on the first poster, essentially reusing a promotional image for the key art here. Aside from a blurb from an early review there’s nothing but the title and the credits as the studio hopes to make the flashy visual of the Bowie-esque performer the key message conveyed to the audience.

The Trailers

The first trailer starts off with Celeste being interviewed about her new music after what we hear are a rough few years. Throughout the trailer we see her dealing – sometimes well and sometimes not so well – with the trappings of fame, offering an inspirational message to her audience while also falling down from apparent excess. There are plenty of hints at danger offered as masked gunmen walk through a building/home and it’s clear there will be drama in the mother/daughter relationship as well.

That looks incredibly off-kilter and lots of fun. You get some of the story but really what’s being sold here is a look and feel more than anything, all centered around Portman’s performance.

The second trailer, released just a couple weeks ago, shows more of Celeste’s beginnings and the path she took to stardom. She’s shown to be a Madonna-like performer who’s facing a lot of obstacles, some of her own making, as she fights for what she feels is hers.

That trailer served not just to sell the movie but also the original song performed by Sia that’s part of the story. It also shows a bit more of the relationship between Celeste and her manager, played by Jude Law.

Online and Social

All the usual material can be found on NEON’s official website for the movie along with a collection of “Social Assets,” clips and GIFs that can be downloaded and shared elsewhere. There are also links to the Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

If there’s been paid promotions done by NEON I haven’t seen them. It’s highly unlikely there’s been nothing done on this front but nothing that’s crossed my radar.

Media and Publicity

The movie was announced as one of those screening at the Venice Film Festival, news that came shortly before a first look at Portman in the movie was released. First look photos came out a bit after that, before the announcement it would screen at the Toronto Film Festival. A short bit of teaser footage featuring Portman was released via Vanity Fair before Venice got underway.

Both festival screenings generated significant positive buzz for the movies, particularly Portman’s performance in it. The actress was interviewed about the logistics of shooting the movie, what she felt was attractive in the role and more around that time.

vox-lux-gif2The reception at Toronto generated some awards speculation while Portman and the rest of the cast talked about the political nature of the story while director Brady Corbet shared what inspired him to make the movie. NEON bought distribution rights during the festival.

The movie was added to the lineup of the Austin Film Festival, where it was programmed as the opening night feature. A screening at AFI Fest was followed by a Q&A where Portman and Corbet talked about the themes of the story and more, including how Corbet compared Celeste to Kanye West.

Portman was the subject of a wide-ranging cover story in Vanity Fair that had her talking about the movie as well as a wealth of other topics, all accompanied by suitably glamorous photos of the actress. She was also interviewed about what drew her to the project and how it fits into her career to date and how the movie allowed her to fulfill a pop star dream while Corbet talked about how casting her really helped bring the story into focus.

Overall

Portman is, of course, the main draw here as she’s the one who has to anchor the story and sell the egotistical singer she plays in some kind of reality. The campaign makes sure to keep her in front of the camera, showing the kind of range she has to draw on to make Celeste a whole person, not just a caricature.

While the story is at times hard to discern from the campaign, that’s actually kind of the point as the confusion that’s created helps to sell it as a strange, otherworldly experience that itself is a metaphor for stardom.

Picking Up The Spare

Borget was profiled and interviewed again about how he wanted the story to reflect the attitudes and personality of a generation. Both he and Portman jointly talked about how the story is about the trappings of modern celebrity.

A week or so after the movie hit theaters a clip of Celeste at a press conference was put out alongside the official music video for Sia’s “Wrapped Up” original song.

Portman has made the media rounds in the weeks following the movie’s released, with appearances on “Late Night” and “The Tonight Show,” often focusing on the song of Sia’s she performed. She and Law also did one of Wired’s fun search-related videos.

There’s been a continued focus on the movie’s soundtrack, with videos for each song released on YouTube and a new short video showing young Celeste performing the song by Sia hitting as well.

Annihilation – Marketing Recap

annihilation posterAfter making quite a splash in the science-fiction world with Ex Machina, writer/director Alex Garland is back with Annihilation. Based on the novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer (the first in a trilogy of books), the story follows Lena (Natalie Portman), a biologist married to Kane (Oscar Isaac). He’s sent on a mission to investigate “The Shimmer,” a massive mysterious zone that’s claiming more and more territory and from which nothing returns.

Or almost nothing. When Kane comes back as the only survivor from his team, Lena is sent in to find out what happened within The Shimmer. Joining her are Josie (Tessa Thompson), Anya (Gina Rodriguez), Cass (Tuva Novotny) and Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Once inside the perimeter, they’re quickly surrounded by a world where the standard laws of nature no longer apply and which is filled with unexpected dangers.

 

The Posters

That there was just one poster created for the movie doesn’t do much to counter the arguments of those who felt Paramount didn’t put its full weight into marketing the release. Natalie Portman’s name appears at the top and she’s the primary figure in the image, more visible through the distortion of The Shimmer than the rest of her team, who are obscured in the background. Copy above the title tells us to “Fear what’s inside” while below the audience is reminded this is coming from the director of Ex Machina.

The Trailers

The first trailer appeared right after an early still was released. We see The Biologist and her team walking across a strange-looking landscape and entering an equally strange forest of some sort. Cut to later on when she’s being debriefed as to what they saw while they were in there. We get some hints that her husband went into the same forest and never came back out, driving her to investigate.

Well that looks awesome. Incredible visuals, great performances. Yeah, it’s a solid first pitch to the audience, with a tone that seems similar to the one used to sell Arrival last year.

As the second trailer opens The Biologist is being questioned by hazmat-suited officials who hope she can describe what she encountered before we flashback to see her saying goodbye to her husband, who’s leaving on some kind of mission. Later on he’s been found but is in bad shape after entering “The Shimmer.” The Biologist decides to lead another team into the phenomenon to find out what’s inside its ever-expanding borders, a mission that’s needed because no drones or other probes are returning any data and The Biologist’s Husband is the only human to return. The encounter all sorts of strange and dangerous creatures and while some see The Shimmer as destruction, others see it as a new form of creation.

There’s a lot more of the story and the character motivations on display here in a trailer that’s just as effective as the first. It retains much of the mystery and doesn’t give too much away, only showing events that cause more questions both for the team in the movie and the audience. Clearly there’s a philosophical lesson being shared here, but it’s wrapped in a mind-bending sci-fi story.

Online and Social

Unfortunately the movie only received the lackluster tickets-centric treatment for an official website. There’s the second “Trailer” and a “Synopsis” where you can get an overview of the story. Neither are linked to from the site but there’s also a Facebook and Twitter account.

On that Twitter account the studio left a series of cryptic clues that, when put together, unlocked a bit of exclusive new footage on ForThoseThatFollow. After viewing that it gave you the option to create your own message that could be shared and decoded by others.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A short TV commercial introduces us to The Shimmer and the danger it poses. This one’s less about exploration and discovery than it is about danger and thrills, which is understandable. A longer spot lets the story breathe a bit more and hits more of the same mysterious beats as the trailers by focusing on the mutations and creations happening within The Shimmer while also clearly showing that danger lurks around most every corner.

The second trailer was used for paid posts on Twitter after it was released. And in the immediate lead up to release pre-roll and sidebar ads were run on YouTube.

Media and Publicity

Isaac spoke briefly about the movie and how weird he assumed it was going to be during a break in his stage performance schedule. A bit later the first still from the movie showing Portman was released. Portman was later announced as a host for “Saturday Night Live” right around the time of the film’s release, an episode that saw her do a bunch of skits based on the films she’s done over the years.

In early December the movie got a bit of a bloody nose with a story on how a clash between two of its producers stemming from a poor test screening lead to the unusual situation where Paramount is releasing the film in the U.S., Canada and China while Netflix gets it for the rest of the world about two weeks later. The disagreement centers around whether the movie is too “intellectual” to score with mainstream audiences looking for a little more action and zest in their sci-fi. The unique distribution deal, which included Netflix covering a percentage of the production budget, is a hedge by the new regime at Paramount against a flop

A much-discussed featurette offered a bit more information on “The Shimmer” that is so integral to the plot, which is what got people talking. If you look again, though, you’ll also notice that it’s focused solely on the female characters and talks only with the ladies of the cast. So there’s an attempt being made to pivot the publicity for the film to meet the cultural conversation about gender and racial diversity, with much of the cast also being pleasantly inclusive on the latter front.

Just a week before release a mini-scandal emerged when someone called out how both Portman and Leigh are white actors while their characters are both of mixed-ethnicities. Responses from both of them made it clear they weren’t aware of that disconnect and even Garland made comments along those lines, explaining that the race of those characters isn’t addressed in the first book on which the movie is based and that he didn’t know mixed-race descriptions are offered in the second book, which no one has apparently read.

Both Portman and Isaac made the media rounds in the last week prior to release to engage in late-night hijinks, share stories of sexual harassment in Hollywood, offer amusing personal anecdotes and more. There was also a feature interview with three of the main leads – Portman, Thompson and Rodriguez – where they talked about sci-fi that’s female-centric and the bond they formed while filming.

As the clock ran down there were also profiles of Isaac and Rodriguez about how they got involved in the movie and prepared for it, including that Isaac was filming this and the latest Star Wars at the same time, sometimes on the same day. There also an interview with VanderMeer where he talked about the long strange trip his book has taken to the screen.

Overall

Yeah, I kind of see the point people were making that there’s a less than full-throated effort being made by Paramount here. There’s nothing specifically that can be identified as necessarily lacking, but it all seems to add up to less than the sum of its parts. You can see the lack of effort in a website that’s not exactly robust and offers little in the way of entry points into the story as well as the surprisingly low number of trailers and just one poster that doesn’t take the same ensemble approach as much of the rest of the campaign.

If there’s one positive thing to call out it is that the studio made no effort to hide the fact that this is a female-driven story and that the character’s gender isn’t a big focus, like it’s something they have to overcome. Instead it just…is. That’s going to rankle some ignorant sci-fi fans who still believe the genre should be a boys-only club, but that’s reality, idiots. I just wish that had been extended even further into other elements of the campaign.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

This is just one of several similar stories in the last week or so that have asked why the movie received a vote of no confidence from Paramount, which did handle domestic release but gave Netflix international distribution rights. It all seems to boil down to the idea that a non-franchise sci-fi film featuring a largely female cast that made people think was just too much for the studio.

Great points here at Indiewire that if Paramount found the movie was going to be too tough a sell, that’s partly because of a system that emphasizes IP-based movies and other blockbusters. And if audiences are upset by the movie heading (in international markets) quickly to Netflix, it’s partly because they’ve failed to turn out for difficult, complex movies and made studios question their commercial viability.

Her comments about working with Roman Polanski have gotten the most press, but Natalie Portman talks about her current film quite a bit in this Buzzfeed interview as well.

Two new interviews with director Alex Garland where he talks about the movie and its story, one at The Verge and one at Entertainment Weekly.