Pieces of a Woman – Marketing Recap

How Netflix has sold a story of parental grief.

In Pieces of a Woman, written by Kata Wéber and directed by Kornél Mundruczó, Vanessa Kirby and Shia LaBeouf play Martha and Sean, a young married couple who experience a terrible tragedy during the birth of their first child. The story follows the two – especially Martha – over the course of the ensuing year as she works through the grief of the event as well as the other related emotions that come with it. The movie also stars Ellen Burstyn as Martha’s mother, whose overbearing nature complicates the situation.

Netflix has been selling the film as a prestige piece, especially focusing on Kirby’s performance in part because LaBeouf has once again become a toxic persona. Generally positive reviews have given the film a 78% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so let’s take a look at the campaign as a whole.

The Posters

Kirby’s Martha fronts the movie’s one poster (by marketing agency P+A), released in mid-November. The photo is of her looking longingly at something off-camera, but it’s enough to convey the general idea that the movie will be an emotional one with Martha as the main character. tw

The Trailers

The first and only trailer (1.7 million views on YouTube) came out in mid-November and starts with Martha and Sean preparing for the arrival of their much-anticipated child, which we quickly see dies during birth. That understandably rocks Martha, who is exploring who she can legally blame for her loss, ultimately going to court to testify against the midwife she holds responsible. Alongside all of that, she clashes with her mother, husband and others as she seeks to direct her grief in some useful direction.

Online and Social

Not only wasn’t there a standalone site for the film, which isn’t unusual for Netflix releases, but it seems there also weren’t social profiles set up either. It did get some support on Netflix’s brand channels, though.

Advertising and Promotions

The movie’s debut at the Venice Film Festival garnered positive reviews, especially for the performances by Kirby and LaBeouf. Kirby’s was so good she won the festival’s Best Actress Volpi Cup.

A short clip debuted while Venice was underway. Those positive reviews were likely instrumental in Netflix deciding to acquire the film, which it did shortly after the Venice premiere.

It was also screened at the Toronto Film Festival as well as for the American Film Institute and at EnergaCamerimage Film Festival.

Media and Press

A profile of Kirby from early September included this as one of a couple highly-anticipated projects she was involved in.

Weber and Mundruczo were interviewed during Venice about how they expanded on earlier material for this film and how they secured the cast they did. In another interview during teh festival they talked about tackling taboo subjects and more.

Kirby and Burstyn were interviewed together about making the movie and what drew them to the project. Elsewhere Mundruczo talked about the story and what made it so powerful while also praising his cast.

Closer to release there was another feature profile of Kirby that had her talking about taking on her first major role specifically because it seemed scary and imposing. She also promoted the film in an appearance on “The Tonight Show.”

Mundruczó and Wéber were interviewed about developing such a raw and personal story, and then doing so again for a feature version. There was also an interview with Burstyn, whose performance has created a good percentage of the film’s buzz and been called out in many reviews.

If you’re wondering where LaBeouf was during the press campaign, he either declined to participate or was told not to following recent allegations of abusive, harassing behavior by various women as well as new reports of erratic and problematic behavior on-set.

Overall

Making Kirby the focal point of the campaign was absolutely the right call here, not only because she bears the brunt of the story’s emotional baggage but because her performance anchors the film and is where the audience is intended to throw their attention.

It’s a slow and deliberate campaign, especially exemplified by the trailer, and that gives it an appropriate sense of drama and stakes. Not only that, it’s one of the best from Netflix, particularly in how the company has finally fully embraced giving its movie stars the chance to fully engage the press.

2020’s Nine Most Intriguing Movie Campaigns

Even a dumpster fire can yield some interesting results.

If compiled, the articles, think-pieces and hot takes written between March and December of 2020 on the present and future of movies and theater-going would fill volumes rivaling the collected works of Marcel Proust, though they would be far easier to summarize.

A year unlike any other certainly proved even more disruptive to aspects of the film industry – production, distribution and exhibition alike – than anything like MoviePass or other threats once held to be dire could have dreamed. No one could have engineered a scenario where over 90 percent of the nation’s movie theaters would close for months at a time, studios would shut down filming on major motion pictures and so on ad infinitum because of a virus outbreak around the globe.

All of that, as well as the pivot by studios and media owners to streaming, upended, delayed or otherwise altered a great many movie marketing efforts. That doesn’t mean 2020 didn’t have plenty of interesting campaigns, though. It just means in some cases what made them “interesting” or otherwise notable was a little different than what would have qualified in prior years.

More than anything else, 2020 was a year of unexpected firsts. WarnerMedia finally launched HBO Max and offered a number of original films before announcing it would be home to its entire 2021 theatrical release slate. Disney rushed Onward over to Disney+ before later using it for titles like Hamilton and Soul that otherwise would have gone to theaters and for Mulan as a test for a new pricing model. Paramount sold off many of its titles to Netflix or Amazon. Apple released a handful of original features while trying to provide Apple TV+ with some momentum. Universal essentially reinvented and reinvigorated PVOD.

So, with all that said, these are some of the most intriguing movie marketing campaigns of a year for which “intriguing” is such an understatement as to almost be irresponsible.

Mank

Why It Made The Cut: Many campaigns for period films include some element or another meant to evoke the era the story takes place in. No movie takes that as far as Netflix’s Mank, where the whole campaign was designed to seem as if the film were being released in the late 1930s/early 1940s, just like Citizen Kane. Trailers were cut and narrated in the style of that period, posters were designed to look similar to the kinds of one-sheets seen then and more. It shows something unique can be created if the marketing team goes all-in on a concept.

Mulan

Why It Made The Cut: The campaigns for many movies that had their release plans changed dramatically saw subsequent alterations made to their marketing campaigns. Few were as innovative as Disney’s shift of Mulan. Not only was the film sent directly to Disney+ (as well as limited theaters), but the introduction of a “Premier Access” PVOD tier to that streaming platform set this one apart from the others. By all accounts this experiment was a success, one that may be replicated with other titles in the future. It also essentially set the stage for what Warner Bros. would wind up doing with HBO Max beginning with Wonder Woman 1984, though Disney remains committed to sending its Marvel Studios titles exclusively to theaters.

Yifei Liu GIF by Walt Disney Studios - Find & Share on GIPHY

The Assistant

Why It Made The Cut: Few films felt as timely as The Assistant, which came out at the same time Hollywood was dealing with not only the continued fallout of Harvey Weinstein’s fall from grace due to sexual harassment and assault but also the burgeoning protests by assistants in the industry over lack of adequate pays and other mistreatment. While other campaigns made big, flashy statements to audiences, this one played it so quiet and understated it sometimes fell off the radar, but kept coming back to show how powerful the story and performances were.

Birds of Prey

Why It Made The Cut: Before May of last year, Warner Bros. and DC Films seemed to be actively apologizing for the dark, dystopian tone (not to mention storytelling shortcomings) of earlier films from Zack Snyder and David Ayer. The campaign for Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) was part of that, presenting a new take on the best character to come out of Suicide Squad that freed Harley Quinn from the male gaze and other traps. In contrast to some of those earlier movies, this campaign was funny, bright and full of women taking their power back. It was also one of the last major fully-theatrical campaigns of the year before things got weird.

Harley Quinn Smile GIF by Birds Of Prey - Find & Share on GIPHY

The Invisible Man

Why It Made The Cut: Universal’s unsuccessful effort to launch its Dark Universe film franchise on the back of 2017’s The Mummy is legendary as a case study in corporate hubris. That made the campaign for The Invisible Man so notable as it not only looked like a powerful and compelling story in its own right but also was the first example of the studio’s new approach of making smaller movies driven by creative filmmakers, not the dictates of a shared cinematic universe.

Universal GIF by The Invisible Man - Find & Share on GIPHY

Trolls World Tour/Scoob!

Why It Made The Cut: These two kid-targeted movies were some of the earliest efforts by their respective studios into the burgeoning world of premium video-on-demand, an avenue theater owners had kept off-limits for a decade. Most notably, each represented early adoption of the studio-hosted watch party, encouraging fans to engage in a communal but remote viewing experience anchored by Twitter chats. While Trolls World Tour was a first-mover, Scoob! in particular went all-out for its watch party with downloadable party packs, recipes and other items for those at home to use as part of the event.

Zac Efron Animation GIF by SCOOB! - Find & Share on GIPHY

The New Mutants

Why It Made The Cut: The New Mutants is included here simply because it actually came out after years of delays, rumors of extensive reshoots and other issues. Not only was it finally released – after a campaign that shifted over time from a horror-centric push to one that was more of a conventional super hero message – but it came out theatrically instead of, as many expected, via streaming.

Angry X-Men GIF by 20th Century Studios - Find & Share on GIPHY

Tenet

Why It Made The Cut: With so many movies coming out on PVOD or streaming, Tenet’s theatrical release is a bright shining example of a powerful stakeholder intentionally not reading the room. The film’s massively disappointing box-office performance shows there was no audience in September willing to brave theater-going in sufficient numbers, a lesson so well-learned by Warner Bros. it’s cited as being a major reason for the studio’s decision to send #WW84 and eventually all its 2021 releases to HBO Max. It would rather anger directors, agents, production partners and others than go through that again, and with good reason.

Coming Robert Pattinson GIF by Regal - Find & Share on GIPHY

The Happiest Season

Why It Made The Cut: Few films of late have tried so hard – and to a great extent so successfully – to redefine an entire genre as The Happiest Season. Its holiday-centric campaign was perfectly in keeping with the movie’s story, and the emphasis on providing a new take on the Christmas movie category was felt throughout the marketing by Hulu.

Christmas GIF by HULU - Find & Share on GIPHY

HONORABLE MENTION – Emma

Just for this GIF.

Midnight Sky – Marketing Recap

How Netflix has sold a story of isolation and desperation.

The new movie The Midnight Sky probably wasn’t intended to be as timely as it has wound up becoming. Based on the book “Good Morning, Midnight” by Lily Brooks-Dalton, the film stars George Clooney, who also directed, as Augustine, a scientist in the Arctic who has survived a global pandemic that wiped out much of the world’s population. He’s engaged in a desperate attempt to communicate with the crew of Æther, a ship returning from a mission to a potentially habitable moon of Jupiter who are unaware of the danger that awaits them back on Earth. Sending that message is difficult, though, forming much of the movie’s drama.

Also starring in the film are Caoilinn Springall as Iris, a young girl who encounters Augustine in his Arctic isolation, and Felicity Jones, Kyle Chandler, David Oyelowo, Tiffany Boone and Demián Bichir as the members of Æther.

Initial reviews were middling, calling it a bit muddled, a reception reflected in its 55% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Still, there was at least some feeling it could result in a bit of awards speculation, especially for Clooney. And Netflix has given it a campaign that not only seems Oscar-ready but is also far too relevant to today’s world.

The Posters

Augustine stares into the sky, which is also shown inside the frame of his head, on the first poster (by marketing agency P+A), released at the end of October. It’s a simple but suitably atmospheric image, especially with the copy reading “There’s a universe between all of us.”

On the final poster (by marketing agency Concept Arts), which came out earlier in December, that copy is removed and replaced with the more vague “Hope finds a way,” which isn’t quite as effective. This time, though, the main image shows both Augustine and Iris in the arctic environment they attempt to traverse. A massive planet hangs in the sky above them, hinting at the story’s connection to space travel.

The Trailers

The first trailer (2.2 million views on YouTube) – teased ahead of release and promoted during a late-October edition of “Monday Night Football” – opens by showing that communication is not happening in either direction. Augustine can’t reach the crew of the Ether and they haven’t heard from Mission Control in weeks. He’s trying to warn of a cataclysmic event that’s happened on Earth while they were in deep space. From there we see he and the young girl with him try to reach a more powerful antenna while those aboard the Ether recount what’s happened on their long journey. Time is running short for both parties, though, making the stakes higher with each passing moment.

The final trailer (1.2 million views on YouTube) came out in early December, starting off by showing Augustine explaining to Iris what all is in his lab and what he’s trying to do. Their journey on Earth is shown alongside the crew of the Æther and their attempts to reach someone – anyone – on Earth as they get closer and closer to returning. It’s all very dramatic, with snowstorms and meteor showers and more, making the film look like an enjoyable piece of drama.

Online and Social

No website about the actual movie, but Netflix, in addition to supporting the film on brand social channels, created the-midnightsky.com. On that site you can record and send a message to someone, which is then played as an AR hologram placed in the room they’re standing in.

Advertising and Promotions

Netflix celebrated the end of principle photography in February, announcing the movie was coming later in the year. In September news came that Clooney would speak about this film and more during October’s 64th BFI London Film Festival.

A recent installment of Netflix’s “Bucket of Movies” had Clooney sharing his thoughts on various classic film titles. He also reminisced about his career path and the roles that contributed to that career.

Media and Press

Clooney was interviewed about the movie and how he approached directing it in an article that also included some first look stills. Another brief interview with Clooney had a few more story details and more.

A feature profile of Jones had her talking about filming the movie, including how Clooney made adjustments to the production to accommodate her pregnancy mid-filming.

Another interview with Clooney had him talking about the story of the film and finishing the project during quarantine. He and Springall both spoke on the experience of filming in Iceland, dealing with the subsequent isolation and lots more. In additional interviews Clooney also covered the challenges of directing, especially the space sequences, working with Springall and more. With composer Alexandre Desplat he talked about creating the score, especially during the recent shutdowns, and how it adds to the emotional messages of the film.

Late night talk show appearances included Clooney and Chandler on “Kimmel,” Clooney on “The Late Show” and elsewhere.

How Clooney and the rest of his team handled both the extreme conditions during production and the challenges of the post-production situation was covered in a lengthy feature just recently.

Overall

While, as stated, the reviews haven’t been wholly positive there’s a good story being sold here, albeit one that seems to mash up a handful of movies we’ve seen before. Even more than that, what the audience is being presented here is a strong solo outing from Clooney, who have a solid track record both in front of and behind the camera.

With the focus, particularly in the press interviews, on how post-production was handled in isolation a nice hook that’s relevant to the film was offered, one that everyone seized. That helps make the story, despite those reviews, something that may benefit from the fact we’ve all felt like we’re stuck on our own in a desolate arctic outpost for months, even if we don’t live in Green Bay.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – Marketing Recap

How Netflix has sold a powerful – and emotional – drama.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, out this week from Netflix, was likely always going to be a major release. Directed by George C. Wolfe, based on a play from August Wilson and starring both Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman (among others), it has all the credentials of a high-profile late year awards contender.

Of course it took on additional significance when Boseman passed away suddenly in late August, with this as his final on-screen performance.

The story unfolds over the course of a single summer afternoon in and around a 1920’s Chicago recording studio. Ma Rainey (Davis) is there to record with her band, including newcomer Levee (Boseman), a hot young horn player. As those sessions are interrupted while Ma fights with the white managers and owners for control over her music and career, Levee’s brashness leads the other, more veteran players to begin telling stories of the past, both true and exaggerated.

When reviews began coming out in mid-November, a couple weeks before its limited theatrical release, it became clear the movie was headed for potential awards consideration, especially for David and Boseman. Netflix’s campaign has sold the film as exactly the kind of performance showcase you would expect from such a release.

The Posters

A series of starkly-photographed character posters (by marketing agency GRAVILLIS) came out in mid-October. All brand the movie as “August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” which is a good way to highlight the source material and give credit to the creator. They also all sport the tagline “It would be an empty world without the blues,” a great way to communicate the attitude of the characters and story.

The final poster, released just a short time later, shows just Ma Rainey and Levee in performance-like poses, this time with the copy reading “Everything comes out of the blues,” which is an accurate statement on many levels.

The Trailers

In mid-October the first trailer (738,000 views on YouTube) was finally released. After opening by introducing us to Ma Rainey herself and showing the status she has in the Blues community we meet Levee, the hot young horn player who comes in and immediately acts like he owns the room. While the two considerable talents clash, they are also crossing swords with the white management that owns the recording studios, night clubs and other means of getting their music out. It’s a great trailer that shows the vibe of the movie, highlighting the two lead performances in particular.

Online and Social

There isn’t a whole lot of information beyond the trailer and a tool for looking up local theater showtimes on the official website for the film, but the fact that Netflix created one in the first place is unusual and indicates the level of effort it’s giving the release.

Advertising and Promotions

Plans for a virtual premiere event intended to include some of the cast and filmmakers discussing the story and more were cancelled when Boseman passed away in late August, just days before that event was going to happen.

About a month later Netflix released the first batch of stills from the film.

The virtual event was eventually held in late October and naturally the talk among the cast and crew included comments on the movie as a whole but also Boseman in particular.

MoMA announced the film would serve as the Centerpiece selection at this year’s virtual contenders showcase.

TV spots for the film were aired at least during recent NFL game broadcasts and likely during other high-profile shows and events.

Clips started coming out shortly after that, showing Ma Rainey’s energetic stage show and Leevee bragging on himself and his talent.

A featurette with music supervisor Branford Marsalis talking about the history of the story, the music of the film and more came out in early December.

The Gotham Awards announced it would be honoring both Boseman and Davis.

Another short featurette had Washington and much of the cast talking about Davis’ performance and more. The impact of Boseman’s presence on set and his preparation for the role was covered in another while a short video had Wolfe talking about his experience working with the cast.

Wolfe along with the movie as a whole were honored by the Museum of the Moving Image during that institution’s first virtual awards ceremony.

TV spot-like promotions were used on social media and video sites, distilling the story down to its basic dramatic elements and showcasing the performances found in the film.

Netflix scheduled a virtual watch party for this evening with input from the cast and crew.

Media and Press

Costume designer Ann Roth was interviewed about how she created the look of the characters. Similarly, DP Tobias Schliessler talked about the experience of working with Davis and Boseman.

An interview with Davis allowed her to talk about the lessons she learned from the character as well as her thoughts on making the movie.

Wolfe was interviewed about taking on one of Wilson’s plays as well as the performances he captured and more. He and Davis covered similar ground in another conversation.

Davis and much of the rest of the cast and crew talked more about bringing Wilson’s characters to life and working with Boseman on what would be his final role.

Talk show appearances included Davis on “Today,” “60 Minutes” and “CBS Sunday Morning,” with Washington also being interviewed on the latter.

Costar Colman Domingo shared his passion for Wilson’s work and how that led him to enthusiastically take the role when it was offered. He and fellow costars Michael Potts and Glynn Turman appeared in a joint video interview talking about the relevancy of the story and more.

Overall

It’s understandable that, to a large extent, the campaign has become a sort of public eulogy for Boseman. After all, his tremendous was taken from us far too soon and far too suddenly. But it’s at least a testament to his talent that this kind of big performance became his final artistic statement to the world.

Aside from that, and the way the marketing makes sure to equally focus on Davis and her performance, what you have here is a great campaign for a period piece that’s poised to make a strong end-of-year awards run. Put together you have a message that will likely appeal to both audiences and critics.

The Prom – Marketing Recap

How Netflix is selling a flashy, glitzy feel-good story.

The Prom, directed by TV impresario Ryan Murphy, is a star-studded romp about defying small-minded attitudes with the help of a handful of massive celebrities. Adapted from a hit stage musical, the movie stars Jo Ellen Pellman as Emma Nolan, a high schooler who has been informed that the PTA, headed by Mrs. Greene (Kerry Washington), will not allow her to attend the prom with her girlfriend Alyssa (Ariana DeBose), who just also happens to be Mrs. Greene’s daughter.

When Emma’s situation makes the news it catches the attention of a handful of Broadway stars who are looking to get themselves out of a professional rut. So Dee Dee Allen (Meryl Streep), Barry Glickman (James Corden), Angie Dickenson (Nicole Kidman) and Trent Oliver (Andrew Rannells) all head to small-town Indiana hoping to find career salvation but wind up experiencing quite a bit more.

The movie itself has received middling reviews, but Netflix gave it a flashy campaign in keeping with the subject matter.

The Posters

The first poster (by marketing agency L.A.) came out in September and immediately makes the showbiz-nature of the story clear by presenting both the title and the names of the cast in big neon letters, like a sign placed on top of a building. You don’t get a lot of story information here but you get a lot of background on the rest of the movie, so it works pretty well.

A series of character posters, each with the face of that actor and another thing to celebrate named, came out in November.

“Everyone deserves a chance to celebrate” the audience is told on the next poster, released later in November. This one shows Emma and Alyssa holding hands while walking toward the school building, clearly on their way to a dance. A second poster uses the same aesthetic, but turns the couple around so they’re standing triumphantly facing the camera.

The final poster has the adults in the cast walking down the downtown of the town where the action takes place, all looking like they’re having a great time with all the neon and glitz they’re wearing.

The Trailers

The trailer (1.3 million views on YouTube), released toward the end of October, is the very definition of glitzy. You get the basics of the story – that a bunch of Broadway superstars has come to a small Indiana town to support a young woman who is being denied the right to go to the prom with her girlfriend – but that’s just there in the service of showing off the big musical productions. There’s so much glitter, so many sequins and so much choreography it’s…well…it’s just impressive.

The final trailer (1.4 million views on YouTube) came out just a few weeks ago, opening with Emma logging into her computer to tell her story. That prompts the cadre of actors to take up Emma’s cause as their own, heading to Indiana to make a splash. There are ups and downs, of course, but ultimately the stars decide to stage a prom themselves, resulting in more than a few heartwarming musical numbers.

Online and Social

No website, of course, but the movie also seems to have received limited support on Netflix’s brand social channels because the company has been busy promoting Mank as well as its lineup of holiday films.

Advertising and Promotions

The movie was announced back in April of 2019. After it was picked up by Netflix a release date was finally announced in mid-September.

A full clip of Kidman performing one of the film’s key musical numbers came out earlier this week.

Media and Press

The cast and crew were all part of a THR cover story where they talked about making the movie, what the story meant to them and more. That included a spotlight on DeBose, mentioning this as one of a couple high-profile projects she’s recently involved in.

Many members of the cast were quoted talking about this movie in a feature story on the latest wave of Hollywood’s attempt to make musicals an ongoing genre again.

Murphy praised his cast and celebrated the timeliness of the story in an interview.

DeBose was interviewed about how her cultural heritage and other factors played into this and other roles. Another interview with Murphy had him talking about assembling the cast and making the movie.

In terms of talk show appearances, Rannells showed up on “The Tonight Show” while Streep appeared on “The Late Show.”

Overall

You certainly can’t accuse the campaign of not knowing what it’s selling. That bright, shimmery pink and purple brand identity is carried across every element of the marketing, creating a consistent experience for the audience no matter where they encounter it.

What is slightly disappointing, though, is that in serving so much glitter the marketing never really settles into the story. You have to dig through several layers of musical fluff to get to what the film is actually about, and much of the drama that’s conveyed in the official synopsis isn’t communicated within the campaign itself. That includes big contradictions, such as how Washington’s character is shown in the trailer to be the antagonist who doesn’t want to let her daughter celebrate but on the posters is smiling and having a grand old time along with everyone else.

In the end it’s a mixed bag, but maybe I too don’t understand the concept of zazz.

Mank – Marketing Recap

How Netflix is selling a story about one of Hollywood’s greatest films.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t familiar with the controversy around who exactly wrote Citizen Kane until the campaign for Netflix’s new release Mank began in earnest. The movie goes into some of that story, following screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) as he develops the script for Kane, basing Kane on William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance), with whom Mankiewicz had recently had a personal falling out and Kane’s second wife Susan Alexander on Hearst’s mistress Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried ). The tension with Welles (Tom Burke) grows as production on the film gets underway and it becomes clear the director is playing fast and loose with Mankiewicz’s work, adding his own material and making a number of other changes.

Directed by David Fincher, the movie – which has a solid 89% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes – is the latest contender for the title of Netflix’s first Best Picture Oscar winner. And it’s received a campaign from Netflix that not only evokes the age in which the story takes place but even seems at times pulled straight from it.

The Posters

On the movie’s single poster, released in October, Mankiewicz is shown mid-revelry, holding a glass in the air as he stands on a dinner table obviously having a good time. The other guests seated around the table are having a far less enjoyable experience, as evident from their facial expressions.

While the design doesn’t mirror one of Kane’s actual posters, the aesthetic here certainly is meant to be reminiscent of one-sheets from the 30s and 40s. The font, the use of “Netflix International Pictures,” the paint-brush look of the title treatment are all elements seen frequently on posters from those decades and so helps to establish the tone and setting while the juxtaposition of Mankiewicz’s mood and that of the others hints at how he finds himself ostracized from those around him.

The Trailers

The first trailer (625,000 views on YouTube) came out in early October, starting out with Welles getting Mankiewicz and showing how the pair team up to take on Hearst, something that comes with its own set of risks even if it is morally righteous.

There was also a slightly longer version of the trailer released exclusively to Reddit (76,000 views on YouTube), one that showed the same basic story but presented the film as looking and feeling very much like one from the 1930s.

An “audio trailer” came out a bit later, exclusively on Karina Longworth’s excellent You Must Remember This podcast.

In mid-October the final official trailer (710,000 views on YouTube) was released. Over the course of its two-and-a-half-minutes it shows how Mank’s relationship with Hearst goes from cordial to confrontational because of his involvement in the project, which also strains his marriage and other friendships. Writing the movie is shown to be a kind of descent into madness for the man, whose existing self-destructive habits and tendencies are only exaggerated by the stress of what he’s set out to do.

Online and Social

As usual, Netflix doesn’t seem to have set up a website of its own for the movie, though it did create social profiles like a Twitter and Instagram account. There was, though, a “secret” website revealed in late October that had a couple hundred stills from the film as well as audio from Trent Reznor’s score.

Advertising and Promotions

Netflix released some first look images in early September. In late October Fincher announced the film would get a theatrical release in early November, about a month prior to it becoming available for streaming.

Media and Press

Collins discussed how she got involved in the project while promoting other things late last year.

That profile of Fincher had lots of comments from him and others about the film, including how the director has been pitching the project for over a decade. Another interview had Oldman and others in the cast talking about working with Fincher and accommodating the director’s precise vision.

There were profiles in the final weeks before release of the movie’s director of photography and costume designer, both touching on how they worked to recreate the look and feel of the story’s era. Additionally, the cast talked more about tackling the making of one of Hollywood’s greatest films and another profile of Fincher had him explaining just how long he’s been obsessed with telling this story while his tendency to expect perfection from all involved was the focus here.

Just before streaming release, Seyfried finally got a profile of her own that focused on her career to date and how she’s spent the last couple years trying to redefine herself in Hollywood, with this movie being a big part of that. She also made an appearance on “Kimmel” just before release.

Overall

There are elements of the campaign that can be questioned or that one could take issue with. In particular, the trailers aren’t enormously helpful in explaining who the characters are or what the story is, though the details are there if you’re patient enough and look for them.

But what the marketing gets right is creating a solid, easily identifiable and consistent brand message – including tone and other intangibles – across each and every element. Your mileage may vary depending on how much you like classic movies and how familiar you are with the marketing tactics from the early 20th century, but you can’t say you don’t get the vibe and feel of the film in each and every touchpoint.

On top of that, this isn’t being sold as a “making of” dramatization, unlike some past and upcoming films. This is a personal story of an artist and the frustrations behind one of Hollywood’s greatest movies, offering a small scale story against a large-scale canvas. That’s intriguing and unique in and of itself.

Hillbilly Elegy – Marketing Recap

How Netflix has sold the adaptation of a best-selling memoir.

For the last several years, those living in major metropolitan areas have been asked to reach out and better understand people in more rural locations. The presumption has been that major media outlets, usually based on the coasts or in other big cities, don’t represent or adequately communicate the feelings of those in the rest of the country. It’s a trend found in the countless “Here’s Why [fill in group] Voted For Trump” articles and in the more recent “Sure, but 70 million people voted for Trump so Democrats need to keep that in mind” narratives.

This dictate was given human form in the 2016 memoir by J.D. Vance that has now been adapted into the feature film of the same name, Hillbilly Elegy.

Directed by Ron Howard, the movie – currently on Netflix after a brief theatrical engagement – stars Glenn Close as family matriarch Mamaw Vance, Amy Adams as her daughter Bev and Gabriel Basso as Bev’s son J.D. The story, as the source book does, focuses on the intergenerational dynamics through the lens of an adult J.D.’s return to the Appalachian setting his family hails from. Within that there are considerations of social responsibility, governmental support and other issues, all from the more conservative viewpoint you’d expect.

Reviews for the movie have mostly been negative, resulting in a paltry 25% Rotten on Rotten Tomatoes, with many critics praising the performances of both Close and Adams but saying the direction and story as a whole leave much to be desired.

The Posters

Adams and Close aren’t as prominent on the teaser poster (by marketing agency The Refinery), released in mid-October, as are the list of Howard’s previous filmmaking credits. The goal is obviously to create appeal for the film based on his credentials and reputation over anything also about the movie or its source material, mentioned here as “the inspiring true story.” All that is presented against the backdrop of a car winding through a rural road that cuts through thick trees.

The opposite approach is taking on the second poster (by marketing agency Concept Arts) that came out later that month. Many of the same appeals are used but here we see Mamaw and Bev leaning against an old truck like they’re just outside talking on a Tuesday afternoon. This poster’s release roughly coincided with the first reviews of the film being shared, many of which called out the performances of Close and Adams among the few bright spots.

The Trailers

It wasn’t until just in October that the first trailer (1.5 millions views on YouTube) came out. It shows the story bounces between a few different periods of the lives of the characters, with the focus remaining on Bev and her relationship with her mother and oldest son. That story is just a means to an end, though, with the real message here being the dramatic performances from Close and Adams.

Online and Social

No website or anything of its own, which is standard, and the movie received surprisingly sparse support on Netflix’s brand social channels, which seemed more focused on promoting its recent holiday film lineup or the recent Shawn Mendes “documentary.”

Advertising and Promotions

Netflix acquired the project in January, 2019, about two years after Imagine Entertainment began developing it.

A featurette released at the same time as the first trailer had Howard talking about why he decided to direct the film. Another had him sharing more on the actual process of making the movie.

Online ads like the one here used the second poster’s key art to drive clicks to Netflix’s page for the movie.

Mamaw berates J.D. for his lack of ambition in a clip released earlier this week.

Media and Press

Both Close and Adams joined in an interview to talk about filming the project, including discussing their costumes and wigs and such. Howard spoke in late October about how, given the continued closure of so many theaters nationwide, he wasn’t sure what Netflix’s theatrical release plans were exactly.

There were additional interviews with the movie’s makeup team and writer, each discussing their particular aspect of making the film.

Adams appeared on both “Late Night” and “Kimmel” to promote the film while Close appeared on “The Late Show.”

Overall

The disconnect between the time the book was written in and when the movie is being released along with many of the other issues surrounding the film were covered in this feature by Rebecca Keegan at THR. That includes how the socio-political nature of the memoir was discarded by Howard in favor of a family drama, but doing so leaves the narrative incomplete. It also recounts the unusual process by which Howard’s Imagine Entertainment acquired the rights to the book.

Vance’s absence from the movie’s promotional campaign can likely be explained by that disconnect. Authors with as much media recognition as him who have adaptations coming out are often brought into the publicity cycle to talk about seeing their work adapted by others and so on. But between a string of recent controversial statements as well as a national mood that has much less patience for “maybe we should try and understand Trump voters” narratives than it did four years ago may have made his involvement a non-starter. Of course he may not have been interested in participating to begin with.

Aside from that, Netflix’s marketing campaign does the best it can to sell the film as a prestige picture, but the soundly negative reviews have likely scuttled the awards chances of those involved. Not only that but it’s…kind of boring. The posters feature little to no visual flair or creativity and the trailer is almost instantly forgettable. So the campaign suffers from a lack of any memorable spark, which doesn’t bode well for the film itself.

Comparing Box-Office, Streaming and Other Movie Reporting

How much longer do we have to wait?

In the first few weeks of Hollywood’s grand experiment of circumstance, where studios take movies previously bound for theaters and release them on other platforms, there was the realization that the reporting of box-office results was going to be put on pause. Studios have, for many and various reasons, never really shared VOD numbers. And the streaming services have similarly never been forthright and transparent with their viewership information.

Because releasing that data had never been a regular feature prior to the pandemic, it wasn’t surprising it wasn’t shared in the initial months. But now it’s been several months, long enough for things to have shifted from “highly unusual” to “still not ideal but hardly the exception to the rule” and those results are still not consistently forthcoming.

Which is not to say that some numbers haven’t trickled out here and there.

As reported by Pamela McClintock at The Hollywood Reporter, Universal made a big deal of reporting numbers from its initial experiment with releasing Trolls World Tour via PVOD. Recently Netflix released another of its occasional snapshots of what’s become popular there, including recent features like Enola Holmes, Project Power and more. But because those numbers aren’t subject to any sort of third-party verification and can’t be compared to anything else, it’s nearly impossible to determine what exactly they mean.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that the viewership data from Netflix – and Amazon Studios, which recently claimed massive numbers for Borat Subsequent Moviefilm – are the rough equivalent of those that would come from Comscore and other sources for theatrical box office results. The question then becomes this:

If the movies are so popular, why is something like The Old Guard such a small part of the cultural conversation?

After all, if tens of millions of people have actually watched Enola Holmes, then where are the tens of thousands of GIFs being shared on Twitter? Where are the bushel loads of think-pieces? Where, in short, is the buzz that should accompany a success of that magnitude?

The answer, it seems, is in how drastically the marketing for these movies differs from those that traditionally would receive theatrical release.

First let’s look at some numbers.

According to Netflix’s statement, Enola Holmes was watched by 76 million households in its first four weeks. While we don’t know exactly what “watched” means (it could mean 10 minutes, it could mean 90 seconds, it could be the whole film), we can view it in the context of Pew’s research stating the average U.S. household consists of 2.58 people.

From there let’s be conservative and say half of those 76 million households watched the entire movie. That’s 38 million households.

Now, in order to try to create an equivalency between that and the kind of reporting we would get from a theatrical release, we take that 38 million and multiply it by 2.58 to get a little over 98 million. That 98 million, then, is the approximate number of movie tickets that would have to have been sold for the movie to perform that well if it were released in theaters.

To put that in context, Avengers: Endgame sold 94.2 million tickets in 2019, making it the highest grossing film of that year. Enola Holmes, then, would have outperformed every other movie of last year, including Frozen II, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and others.

A very different marketing pitch

Some have dismissed Netflix’s numbers – and with good reason because of the lack of transparency – because of just that kind of apples-to-apples comparison, as well as because there aren’t the same tectonic cultural shifts that accompany those major theatrical releases.

Allowances have to be made, though, for the substantial differences in how these movies are consumed. That list includes:

  • The ease of streaming something versus actually going to a theater
  • The lack of incremental cost for streaming each title
  • The lack of additional cost for each individual watching the movie

Here’s where we get into the differences in the marketing campaigns for a major theatrical release like Avengers: Endgame compared to a major Netflix release like Project Power.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TcMBFSGVi1c&feature=youtu.be Avengers Endgame (screen grab) CR: Marvel Studios

Marvel Studios had to convince you that one weekend – opening weekend – was the optimal time to see the movie, lest you miss out on a major cultural moment and have the experience ruined by loose-lipped strangers online or in person. To do that it sold the film as the biggest of events, one that had to be experienced in theaters, with lots of movie stars and familiar characters. It had to be worth $10-20 per person, not including concessions, dinner, gas and time spent traveling to and from the theater.

Netflix, in contrast, just had to convince you the movie looked interesting enough to turn on when you were able. It didn’t even have to be in one sitting, and you didn’t even have to be solely paying attention to it. You just had to be sufficiently motivated by the trailer or any of the number of in-app promos it placed for the film.

That’s a much lower hurdle to clear, one that makes me inclined to more or less believe the viewing numbers it releases, especially after doing the math outlined above.

While I’ve never been a huge fan of box-office horse races (like anything else, numbers can be made to mean whatever you want them to), it would be great if Netflix, Amazon, Disney+ and other streamers started putting out verified, legitimate numbers. Likewise, studios could benefit from providing 1-to-1 reporting on VOD. But it seems like we’re going in the other direction, with studios becoming less transparent in their results, not more.

In the meantime, we would all do well to keep what numbers are available in the context of the platforms they come from and adjust accordingly.

Rebecca – Marketing Recap

How Netflix has sold the latest adaptation of a gothic romance classic.

Rebecca, out this week on Netflix, is the latest in a series of adaptations of Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 novel of the same name. This version, written by Jane Goldman and directed by Ben Wheatly, stars Armie Hammer as Maxim de Winter and Lily James as Mrs. de Winter. The couple, married after only a brief courtship, soon move back to the huge seaside estate of his to begin their life together.

It’s at that point trouble begins. The new Mrs. de Winter is haunted by Rebecca, the first to carry that name. Sometimes that haunting is literal in how she still seems to be inhabiting the home, with bits of her life and possessions around and about. More figuratively, the young bride is constantly being reminded of she who came before by the housekeeper Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas).

Mixed reviews for the film started emerging last week, giving it a lackluster 55% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, though most at least called out the fantastic production values. Netflix’s marketing has played up the atmospheric aspects of the story and the psychological trauma being visited on the young woman.

The Posters

The newly-married couple are the prime elements on the first poster (by marketing agency Empire Design), released in early September. They’re embracing but he, at least, appears somewhat distracted, which hints at some of the drama to come.

A series of additional posters came out in early October that each take a slightly different atmospheric take on the story. All, though, visually play with the ideas of the new couple being close but somehow separated in some manner, often by Mrs. Danvers herself. They’re some very interesting designs that do more to present the tone of the film than the primary version.

The Trailers

The first trailer (1.25 million views on YouTube) came out in early September, starting with the meeting of Maxim and the young woman followed by the evolution of their romance. They are soon married, but when she joins him at his home at Manderlay things become dark quickly. The new Mrs. de Winter, as she’s becoming acclimated to her surroundings, finds the memory of Maxim’s first wife is still very much alive in the house, with physical evidence all around her. Not only is Maxim acting strangely when it comes to Rebecca but so is Mrs. Danvers, who keeps introducing the specter of the late wife into every situation and emotion. It’s an increasingly tense story being sold here, one filled with atmosphere and huge rooms containing layers of mystery.

Online and Social

Nope, but Netflix did provide some support on its brand social channels. It wasn’t much, though, as the company seemed focused on other recent releases over the last few weeks.

Advertising and Promotions

Netflix released the first official stills in early August, announcing the October debut date at the same time.

After the first trailer came out a short explainer video offering an overview of the story and introducing the cast was released. Hammer and James appeared in a featurette on how the book was adapted in this latest version.

A couple clips showing Mrs. Danvers being passive aggressive and part of the new lovers’ courtship came out earlier in the month.

James starred in a featurette focused on movie trivia and more.

Media and Press

In an interview from early September, Wheatley clarified that he wasn’t attempting to remake Hitchcock’s film but was instead offering his own adaptation of the source material.

Hammer appeared on “Kimmel” earlier this month to talk about the movie and did a few other interviews. James’ participation in the final publicity push seems to have been stifled by rumors regarding her personal life.

Overall

Outside of the book, the most famous version of this story is likely Alfred Hitchcock’s film adaptation. Compared to the marketing of that film, this one very much comes off as a kind of goth-lite, one that’s more concerned with shots of massive hallways and such than in effectively creating a sense of dread or terror akin to what the new Mrs. de Winter is supposed to be feeling.

But there is still a consistent visual brand that’s been established by the campaign. It’s just that this time around it’s a bit brighter and slicker than what’s come before. Hammer and James glide through that and look good doing it, but it remains to be seen if that’s a strong enough hook to get audiences interested.

Picking Up The Spare

Netflix released a number of extended clips in the days following the movie’s debut. 

James was interviewed on “The Tonight Show” about the film and other projects she’s involved in. She and Hammer were interviewed together about how this version is based on the original book and not meant to be a remake of Hitchcock’s classic film. 

Speaking of the source novel, a new featurette had Hammer reading select passages from the book. There was also a new behind-the-scenes video released. 

There were also two profile of the film’s costume designer about creating the look of the characters and how it plays into the style of the movie as a whole. Using a specific scene as an example, the filmmakers drilled into creating that production style. That was followed by a story about 

Wheatly was the subject of a couple additional interviews

The Trial of the Chicago 7 – Marketing Recap

How Netflix is selling a historial, but unfortunately still timely, drama.

The right of citizens to assemble freely while seeking redress from their government is one of those ideas and ideals, like “all Nazis are bad,” that seemed relatively settled and uncontroversial up until about four or five years ago. Those in power, though, often don’t care for it when those who aren’t rise up en masse and point out problems, inequalities or other issues plaguing society. We’ve seen…several…examples of that in recent months.

The Trial of the Chicago 7, out this week on Netflix from writer/director Aaron Sorkin, tells the story of a similar protest from over 50 years ago as well as the aftermath of those actions. Sacha Baron Cohen, Jeremy Strong, John Carroll Lynch, Eddie Redmayne, Alex Sharp, Daniel Flaherty, Noah Robbins and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II play, respectively, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines, Lee Weiner and Bobby Seale.

Those men all assembled in Chicago for the 1968 Democratic Convention, leading and organizing protests against the Vietnam War, racial inequality and other social issues. Those protests were met with violent pushback from the Chicago police, who used tear gas and other methods on those in attendance. Ultimately the eight were charged with conspiracy to cross state lines to incite a riot, though the conventional wisdom is those charges were only an excuse to punish those who had embarrassed then Mayor Richard J. Daley, who had denied many of the requested protest permits.

The movie arrives just as the U.S. has seen months of protests – the vast majority of which have been non-violent – over some of the same types of issues, especially the treatment of Blacks by police. Then, as now, those involved have been labeled as agitators or worse. The lack of headline-making charges and trials may only be because many individuals have been disappeared by shady Department of Homeland Security agents, though everyday police have certainly done their part as well.

Then, as is the case now, the whole world is watching.

Paramount originally developed the movie but sold it off to Netflix in July, seeing no other options given the multiple issues caused by this year’s pandemic. While it hits streaming this week, Netflix did give the film – which has a 94% Fresh Rotten Tomatoes rating – a small drive-in release in the last few weeks.

The Posters

Hoffman is walking up the courthouse steps on the poster (by marketing agency Concept Arts), released in mid-September. He’s flanked not only by Chicago PD but by supporters of him and the other defendants. Not only does it label the movie as “Based on a true story” and call out Sorkin’s dual involvement, but the narrative is framed in the copy reading “In 1968, democracy refused to back down.” That makes it clear those being persecuted are on the side of light in this story, while those doing the persecuting are the adversaries. It’s almost a case of those in power exhibiting facist tendencies in trying to quell speech while others take more of an “against facism” approach.

The Trailers

The teaser trailer (809,000 views on YouTube) came out in mid-September and immediately establishes both the setting of the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention protests and the resulting trial, which is clearly shown to be an attack on free speech and political thought.

All of that is expanded on in the full trailer (767,000 views on YouTube), released shortly thereafter. On one side you have the establishment that is tired of a bunch of punks telling them how to do their jobs. On the other you have Hoffman and his allies, who are clear in their plans to protest the Vietnam War in Chicago. The resulting trial is shown to be, for all intents and purposes, rigged from the outset as the judge and prosecutor have their thumbs on the scales of justice. But those on trial have numbers on their side, as we hear repeatedly the cries of “The whole world is watching.”

Online and Social

Surprisingly, there was actually a website Netflix created for the film, though it had only the basic marketing information along with details on where those in-person screenings were happening.

Advertising and Promotions

A clip released at the end of last month shows Hoffman testifying in court and making his feelings on the proceedings known. Additional clips came out over the next few weeks.

The singer Celeste released a video for her new song “Hear My Voice” that’s featured on the film’s soundtrack.

Last week Netflix hosted a drive-in premiere screening at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena with Sorkin and others in attendance.

Spots like this distilled the story down to the core drama, especially the courtroom sequences, while highlighting the all-star cast featured in the film.

Media and Press

During TIFF Sorkin talked about how he staged the filming of the movie, including how he felt it could have been a musical.

A THR cover story in the film had Sorkin, Cohen and others from the cast all commenting not only on the film itself and its release strategy but also on the relevance of the story as it relates to the protests happening across the country right now.

Sorkin was interviewed on similar topics, including how his history as a playwright factors into how he crafted the story and shot the movie. More details also came out about how Netflix adjusted its release plans to cope with the pandemic once it acquired the title and how Sorkin was anxious for the film to finally come out, regardless of what format that took, as well as how he worked to create something that was true to the period but also timeless for today.

How Strong prepared for the role was covered in an interview with the actor while Redmayne appeared on “The Tonight Show” to talk about working with Sorkin. Despite having a prominent role, Cohen seems to have not done much press for the film, maybe because he’s ramping up the marketing for his surprise Borat sequel that comes out soon.

Overall

As stated at the outset, the story here is unfortunately still pertinent to the times we find ourselves in now. That has been reflected in the publicity push more than anything, while the rest of the actual marketing has been more focused on Sorkin and the cast.

What jumps out the most is that both the teaser and full trailers have surprisingly low viewing numbers. Combined they amount to just over 1.5 million views, which is below even what other mid-level dramas have racked up. Perhaps Netflix didn’t use paid advertising to boost those numbers, but even so, for a movie with a cast like this and from a popular writer/director that doesn’t seem to indicate widespread awareness or interest.

Whether or not that would have been different if everything else had remained normal and it were coming from Paramount to theaters is a question without an answer. But at this point its best hopes may lie in getting people’s attention through in-app promotions and recommendations.

Picking Up The Spare

The movie’s costume designer was interviewed about channeling the styles of the era and making them part of the film’s look. 

A new featurette had Sorkin talking about how he developed the story and what inspired him while working on it. Another focused on the real story the film is based on. 

Sorkin also spoke in an interview about meeting the real Tom Hayden and shooting in Chicago. 

Strong was interviewed about reuniting with Sorkin and going all-out in his performance. Abdul-Mateen II spoke about his experience shooting the film and hanging with the cast

Michael Keaton wasn’t a big part of the initial publicity or marketing push but has done a couple interviews since then. 

Netflix bought a paid Trending Topic on Twitter to drive awareness of the film. 

While he was promoting Borat, Cohen also talked more about filming this movie.