slumberland – marketing recap

How Netflix has sold its latest fantasy adventure

Slumberland movie poster from Netflix
Slumberland movie poster from Netflix

Marlow Barkley stars as Nemo in Slumberland, new this week on Netflix. Nemo is a young girl mourning the loss of her father Peter (Kyle Chandler) by escaping in her dreams to the fantasy world of Slumberland, where she hopes she’ll find him. Helping her navigate Slumberland is the outlaw Flip (Jason Momoa) and the two opposites bond as they continue on their journey, each with their own agenda.

Directed by Francis Lawrence and based on the “Little Nemo in Slumberland” comic strip, the movie also stars Chris O’Dowd, Weruche Opia and others. Let’s look at how it’s been sold to the public.

announcement and casting

Netflix announced the film in mid-2020, with members of the cast added to the roster over the next few months. A first look still was revealed in April of 2021, with Netflix saying the film would be out the next year.

Footage from the film was included in Netflix’s 2022 feature film preview.

the marketing campaign

Netflix kicked off the marketing of the movie in August with the release of a teaser trailer (3.5m YouTube views). It starts off with Peter telling Nemo a story about Slumberland. Most of the spot shows Nemo having adventures in that fantasy world with Flip to show off the visuals while not going into the actual story very deeply.

“Every adventure begins with a dream” we’re told on the poster that came out at the same time. It shows Nemo sitting on her bed, with the dream world represented as an upside down reflection of the real world. It’s very beautiful, with an artistic approach taken that is increasingly uncommon on Netflix’s one-sheets lately.

A month later during its TUDUM virtual event an extended clip came out of Flip explaining the rules of surviving in Slumberland to Nemo and therefore the audience.

The official trailer (8.4m YouTube views) was released in early October. As it begins we see Nemo is adjusting to her new life, including going to an actual school, following the passing of her father. Nemo finds herself in Slumberland alongside Flip, who it turns out used to work with Peter. But while Slumberland is a magical place with incredible places and creatures it’s also dangerous, something Nemo finds out as she searches for her father.

Flip and Nemo, along with the stuffed pig that accompanies them, are seen on what looks like a thrill ride on the next poster. The lighthouse where Nemo grew up with her dad is seen in the background

Each of the main characters gets their turn in the spotlight on a series of posters released in early November that look very much like comic book variant covers.

Momoa promoted the movie when he appeared on “Kimmel” last week, though of course he also discussed some of his other projects.

Mattress company Casper partnered with Netflix for a special “in-bed screening” at Casper’s Dreamery in New York City this coming weekend. Everyone could register to join the event virtually, with a sweepstakes also run for those who wanted to share their home setups on Instagram.

overall

It’s a fine campaign and there’s nothing here to argue with or call out specifically, but that’s true in both directions, meaning there’s also nothing particularly special or hugely engaging about what’s being presented. We’ve seen movies about visiting dream worlds and movies about searching the afterlife for lost loved ones before and the marketing from Netflix doesn’t offer much that’s unique about either idea to latch onto.

That’s not to say it’s a bad campaign, just that it presents a movie that seems entirely adequate and probably enjoyable but isn’t going to knock anyone’s socks off, even with Momoa’s larger than life presence.

enola holmes 2 – marketing recap

How Netflix has sold its young adult mystery sequel

Enola Holmes 2 movie poster from Netflix
Enola Holmes 2 movie poster from Netflix

Millie Bobby Brown returns in the title role in Enola Holmes 2, out this week on Netflix. In the sequel to the surprise 2020 hit and still based on Nancy Springer’s series of books, Enola has decided to hang out her own shingle as a detective for hire. She’s enlisted by a young girl who works in a matchstick factory to find her missing sister. Soon Enola discovers she’s working on a different part of the same case being investigated by her older brother Sherlock (Henry Cavill).

Louis Partridge returns as Viscount Tewkesbury, a young man Enola frequently encounters and sometimes needs help from in her adventures around London. Helena Bonham Carter is also back as Eudora Holmes, who disappeared years ago but who trained Enola for the day she’d be on her own. Others from the first movie are back as well, as is director Harry Bradbeer.

Let’s recap the campaign Netflix has run.

announcement and casting

Netflix announced the sequel to much acclaim, especially because both Brown and Cavill were slated to return, in May 2021. In September during that year;s TUDUM virtual event it revealed Louis Partridge would be back as Tewkesbury.

The end of filming was marked in January, 2022 when Netflix shared a short video.

Footage from the film was included in Netflix’s 2022 feature film preview back in February.

the marketing campaign

Things kicked off in August when a batch of stills was released.

Brown took part in this year’s TUDUM event to hype the film and introduce the first trailer (5.4m YouTube views). It starts with Enola being chased by the police before stopping to explain what’s happening. We see how she’s started her own agency and gets involved in the case of the missing girl and from there things get crazy as she once more defies everyone’s expectations for how she should act in order to make her own life as well as solve the mystery.

We see Enola standing and looking quite pleased with herself behind the door of her agency on the poster that came out at the same time.

The second trailer (2.1m YouTube views) came out in early October. It uses different footage but sells the same basic idea, that Enola is once again in over her head but refuses to give in or give up despite everyone telling her to do just that. We see a bit more of her working with Sherlock and enlisting the help of Tewkesbury as it again sells a high-energy, fast-moving and funny good time.

The poster that accompanied that trailer uses the same collage style as the one-sheet for the first movie, placing cutouts of the main characters against a pasted-together backdrop of the London skyline with a few codes and maps thrown in to add to the sense of mystery.

A clip showing Enola reluctantly convincing Tewksbury to teach her to dance came out a couple weeks later.

Shortly after that came a series of posters showing all the main characters, all of which also feature some form of pun or other play on words as part of describing that character.

Brown and Cavill both appeared in a handful of fun little videos where they recapped the first movie, unraveled word game mysteries and unscrambled anagrams.

Brown appeared on “Kimmel” to promote the film and engage in some hijinks with her “Stranger Things” costar Noah Schnapp.

Netflix brought the cast and crew out for the premiere at the end of October. At that premiere the stars commented on the story of the movie, how they worked out having Enola break the fourth wall, the unique place these stories hold in the overall Holmes landscape and more.

overall

Like the campaign for the first movie, this marketing push is just a lot of fun. There’s a light entertaining attitude and vibe throughout the campaign that makes it look like it will be just as enjoyable as the first one was. And it maintains much of the branding established in the first campaign, creating a nice sense of continuity for the audience.

Much of that attitude comes from the stars. Brown is *so* much more fun and charming when she’s not weighed down by the pressures of “Stranger Things” where she can’t discuss plot details or get too casual lest something be spoiled. And as much as Cavill was sidetracked by discussion of his returning as Superman in Black Adam recently, he’s infinitely more engaging here (and elsewhere) when not constrained by the demands of the DC Universe.

all quiet on the western front – marketing recap

How Netflix has sold another adaptation of a stirring war story

All Quiet on the Western Front, out this week from Netflix, is at least the third adaptation of the original 1929 novel. As the campaign will note, though, despite the novel coming from a German author as the story focusing on a young German soldier during World War I, this is the first adaptation to actually be filmed in German.

This version stars Felix Kammerer as Paul, the aforementioned young soldier who, like his other new recruits, is filled with the belief war is a romantic, idealistic pursuit. It isn’t long before that belief is shattered as the realities of battle become clear and Paul and the others find it’s nearly impossible simply to stay alive. Daniel Brühl also stars as German finance minister Matthias Erzberger, a leading figure in the country’s war trajectory.

Let’s recap the marketing campaign Netflix has run for what it’s hoping could be an awards contender when that season comes around.

announcements and casting

The movie was announced with director Edward Berger and most of the primary cast already on board. Netflix was reported to be on the verge of acquiring the film in December, 2020, ultimately successful in that purchase.

the marketing campaign

Netflix offered a first look at the movie in July along with comments from director Berger about offering a German perspective to the story and more.

The horrors of warfare – particularly the trench warfare of WWI – are fully on display in the teaser trailer (5.2m YouTube views) released in September. We watch as Paul goes from a green soldier full of enthusiasm to go be a hero for his country to a terrified veteran frequently caked in mud, dirt, blood and other materials as he tries to stay alive amidst the constant cannon fire, doomed infantry advances and other obstacles.

Paul is turning to look toward the camera on the poster that came out at the same time. He’s in the middle of a throng of other soldiers, all marching toward some kind of inferno as ash falls down on them to make sure the audience understands just how hellish their situation really is.

Director Edward Berger was interviewed as the film was screening at the Toronto Film Festival about why a new adaptation was needed and how important it was to finally have a filmed version in German.

Germany announced in mid-October this movie would be its official selection for Best International Picture at the upcoming Academy Awards.

Another trailer (7m YouTube views) was released just a week or so ago. The same basic message is conveyed, but this time the scenes more regularly cut between Paul’s traumatic experiences on the front lines of battle and Erzberger’s efforts to broker a ceasefire between the warring nations.

overall

And…that appears to be the entirety of the marketing, which is a little surprising given the source material’s prestige and the fact this is clearly a major release for Netflix, especially when it comes time for awards consideration.

The latter point may actually explain why this seems a bit lackluster. While the marketing itself is very effective, the paucity of publicity and other efforts may be strategic as Netflix keeps that in its pocket until the months and weeks before Oscar etc nominations are announced. In short, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more press activity after the beginning of the new year.

the good nurse – marketing recap

How Netflix has sold a true life serial killer drama

True crime stories are all the rage at the moment. Not that they haven’t been for a long while now, but the current resurgence seems driven by the popularity of podcasts like “Serial” and the endless subsequent knockoffs that dive deep into certain stories. Of late Netflix, Hulu and others have worked hard to keep up a steady stream of documentaries, feature films, series and other content based on famous cases.

Joining that sub-genre is this week’s new Netflix release The Good Nurse. Based on author Charles Graeber’s 2013 book, the story revolves around Amy Loughren (Jessica Chastain), an ICU nurse with a life-threatening heart condition, and Charles Cullen (Eddie Redmayne), another nurse who also happens to be a serial killer. When the hospital the two work at experiences a string of unexplained patient deaths, Amy begins to suspect her coworker may have something to do with them.

Tobias Lindholm directs the film, with a screenplay by Krysty Wilson-Cairns. Let’s dive into the marketing campaign Netflix has mounted.

announcements and casting

Lionsgate was originally developing the movie, including in mid-2018 when Chastain and Redmayne were cast.

Then in early 2020 Netflix acquired the project and officially moved it into production. Noah Emmerich, Nnamdi Asomugha and others were added to the supporting cast in early 2021 in advance of filming.

Footage from the film was included in Netflix’s 2022 feature film preview.

Redmayne, Lindholm and Chastain were interviewed in July about how they approached the project and how they all worked together. First look stills accompanied that interview.

A set of first look stills came out around the same time.

the marketing campaign

As the trailer (2.4m YouTube views), released in September, opens, Amy and Charles are catching up after he’s been away from work for a while, an absence he’s not keen to discuss. We then flashback to see the two of them working together as well as establishing Amy is a single mom. When police begin questioning a handful of patient deaths that seem to form a pattern she starts to investigate his background herself. Only then do we go back to the opening scene, which is now presented as Amy trying to get Charles to confess on tape.

The only poster for the film came out at the same time. It simply shows the faces of Amy and Charles blending into one another, which doesn’t necessarily offer anything creepy or explain much about the story. The only hints are in the copy reading “Based on the unthinkable true story,” but what makes the story unthinkable is unclear here.

Later in September the movie screened at the Zurich Film Festival where Redmayne talked about how he was intrigued by the script and excited at working with both Chastain and Lindholm. It also went on to screen at the BFI London Film Festival.

Chastain promoted the film when she appeared on “Kimmel.” Redmayne did likewise a couple weeks later when he appeared on “The Late Show.”

An extended spot released in the middle of October takes a slightly different approach from the trailer. It features a lot of footage already seen, but arranges it in a way to heighten the tension of Amy’s staged diner conversation with Charles.

Both stars took part in a featurette conversation about working together, the process they go through while acting and more.

At the film’s New York City premiere Chastain talked about the nerve-wracking experience of performing as the real life Amy Loughren looked on from behind the cameras. An interview with Redmayne had him pointing out Lindholm cast him against type for this role and what an exciting challenge that turned out to be.

The two stars also were on the red carpet at the recent Academy Museum Gala in Los Angeles.

Netflix put out a clip just as the movie was available showing more of a look at the confrontation between Amy and Charles.

overall

As stated above, this campaign isn’t all that creepy save for a few key moments of Redmayne looking menacing.

Instead the focus is more on the performances of the two leads and the fact that this is based on a true story. On that front it hits pretty well but also doesn’t contain much that sets it apart.

That’s particularly so when you consider Netflix has had a lot of publicity recently for their series about Jeffrey Dahmer. So the company has a true-crime dramatization that’s made headlines and maybe didn’t have the bandwidth for another big promotional push on a similar topic.

the school for good and evil – marketing recap

How Netflix has sold a magical YA story of friendship and destiny

The School For Good and Evil movie poster from Netflix
The School For Good and Evil movie poster from Netflix

The School for Good and Evil comes out this week on Netflix. Based on the 2013 novel of the same name, the movie is directed by Paul Feig, who cowrote the screenplay with David Magee.

Sofia Wylie and Anne Caruso play, respectively, Agatha and Sophie, two friends who one day are suddenly whisked away to The School for Good and Evil, a mysterious place where one half teaches students how to be heroic and good while the other half teaches its students to be villainous and evil. While there, Sophie and Agatha find their friendship tested as they are thrust into a world of fairy tales and powers prompting them to question who they were meant to be.

An impressive roster of actors has been assembled to play the instructors and others at the school, including Michelle Yeoh, Charlize Theron, Kerry Washington, Laurence Fishburne, Rob Delaney and others.

announcements and casting

The movie was announced with Feig attached as director in late May 2020. Several months later Feig revealed much of the main cast, with Washington and Theron joining in February of the next year.

Chiani met some of the cast for the first time and interviewed them about their impressions of the book and story in a first look featurette released in early June as part of Netflix’s “Geeked Week” campaign.

A brief video was shared at the end of July to announce the end of production.

Bloom, Kingsley and a host of others were added to the cast in November, 2021.

Footage from the film was included in Netflix’s 2022 feature film preview.

Fieg then revealed Blanchett had been cast as the story’s narrator in June.

the marketing campaign

“There are two sides to every story” the first poster, released in June, declares. Two figures are seen in the distance on the bridge connecting the two schools, showing that the conflict between those schools will be embodied by a couple specific characters.

https://mobile.twitter.com/NetflixGeeked/status/1533886443042512896

The first teaser (1.9m YouTube views) came out at that time as well. It’s a very good teaser, primarily focusing on vague imagery of the school as Theron’s Lady Lesso introduces the concept of the school to students as well as the audience. Toward the end we see Sophie and Agatha as they’re plucked from the woods by a giant bird and transported toward their destiny.

Those both appeared during Netflix’s “Geeked Week” campaign, which included a featurette interview with Wylie and Caruso as well as Soman Chainani, the author of the original book. Those two stars also appeared in a trailer reaction video.

July brought a second poster. This time the schools are used as background to the four main characters, now front and center.

The first trailer (3.1m views on YouTube) came out in mid-September. As it begins Agatha and Sophie have been selected to join the school and learn it plays a role in teaching those who go on to live the lives others only read about. The two friends have very different experiences at the school, though, as Sophie sees it as a path to power and respect while Agatha isn’t convinced this is what she wants. So a confrontation is set between them.

A clip showing new students being tested for their magic potential before Sophie interrupts and begins to embrace her new status and powers was released later in September as part of Netflix’s Tudum promotional event. A couple character posters came out at about the same time.

The original song “Who Do You Think You Are” from Kiana Lede came out earlier this month.

The dynamics of the school and how Agatha and Sophie adjust to being on opposite sides of the spectrum are on display in an extended spot/trailer released a week before the movie came out. Sophie is convinced she was sent to the wrong school before embracing the darkness despite Agatha’s attempts to “save” her, making it clear what conflict will be driving the story.

overall

It doesn’t break any new ground or give the impression of being wholly unique, but there’s a fun vibe to the campaign that makes it seem like it will be a fun time to watch. And we certainly need a new “kids learning to harness their powers at a mysterious magical school” franchise these days.

What stands out to me as the biggest question here is whether the campaign has been strong enough or achieved a wide enough reach to challenge the two big releases hitting theaters this week: Black Adam and Ticket to Paradise.

quick takes: movie marketing news for 10/17/22

A few brief thoughts on stories that have caught my eye while considering when the G.I. Joe team will be assembled to stop Elon Musk from completing whatever world-dominating project he’s working at the moment.

The theater industry keeps having very bad months, up to and including this past September, despite a number of films performing better than expected or beating their projected opening weekends. There seem to be a lot of people out there who are blaming streaming (as if it isn’t four of the same five companies supplying both distribution points) but it’s not as if there weren’t options at the box office. It’s simply that there’s a lack of audience desire to go see anything that isn’t a known quantity, at least not en masse.

To illustrate how it’s an audience interest issue, Blonde didn’t last very long at the top of Netflix’s “most popular” list before being supplanted by Gerard Butler’s latest generic action flick.

Also, the price of a movie ticket keeps going up, though the National Association of Theater Owners hasn’t updated its figures since 2019. NATO claims the more current figures wouldn’t be comparable to pre-2020 years because fewer kids and seniors are going to the theater and the discounts they enjoy have always heavily influenced the average it tracked. That may be but if fewer kids and seniors are going to the movies then that in and of itself is significant news, as is the fact that a major trade organization doesn’t want to publicize prices if it can’t put its thumb on the scale.

Movie Theater Popcorn GIF by filmeditor - Find & Share on GIPHY

Oh, and all this isn’t going to get better anytime soon given housing, food and energy costs keep going up so people have less disposable income for entertainment. And while streaming services are also raising prices, the per-unit cost is still drastically lower than it is for theaters and so is a better bargain.

I had a similar thought as Alissa Wilkinson at Vox, that so many recent movies feature a half-dozen or more stars that just a few years ago would have been carrying their own film. My theory on this has two parts:

  • That fewer non-IP movies are being made and so if they want to keep working they’ll jump into an ensemble project even if the role they’re offered isn’t at the level they would prefer
  • That movies have entered the same era the live music industry did in the mid-90s, where if you were either The Eagles commanding hundreds of dollars a ticket from well-off Boomers or a younger band still making their bones at smaller ballrooms. Anyone inbetween signed up for a “festival” tour with three to six other mid-range bands all hoping the combined appeal would keep them going for another couple years.

Adam B. Vary is a good writer but I have to take issue with the part of his recap of the “She-Hulk: Attorney At Law” finale where he says “part of the MCU’s gargantuanly successful appeal is that it’s never been a self-serious endeavor.” If anything the MCU has always been remarkably self-serious, treating every moment like it matters *so much* and everyone involved is not having any fun at all. Even the supposed comedic entries are tremendously self-important.

Super Hero Disney GIF by Marvel Studios - Find & Share on GIPHY

Oh are we supposed to be surprised that the same terrible people who harassed Amber Heard a few months ago are now going after Angelina Jolie as the latter goes public with the abusive behavior of her ex? I’m not, largely because this is all an extension of Gamergate-era behavior that platforms haven’t adequately dealt with.

The release of Halloween Ends has provided an opportunity for two of my least favorite modern media story types, specifically:

  • Is [insert name of movie” streaming?” This isn’t really a question given the campaign for every movie will make it clear the film is “Only in theaters” or prominently display the name of the streaming service it’s debuting on.
  • Is this movie really the end of the franchise it’s part of?” Come on, we know that even if a release is the end of one particular cycle it’s not the last time we’ll see that franchise in theaters. Sure, when Tom Holland moves on from playing Spider-Man his particular story arc will conclude, but it won’t be more than a couple years (if that long) before another Spider-Man movie comes out.

blonde – marketing recap

How Netflix has sold a controversial take on a Hollywood icon

Blonde movie poster from Netflix
Blonde movie poster from Netflix

Based on Joyce Carol Oates’ novel of the same name, Blonde arrives on Netflix this week after a brief limited theatrical run to qualify for various awards. Written and directed by Andrew Dominik, the movie stars Ana de Armas as legendary actress Marilyn Monroe in a biopic story that follows her from her early days as Norma Jeane Mortenson through her tragic death in 1962 at the age of just 36.

Given the celebrities Monroe encountered in some manner over her short career it’s no wonder the film is stocked with just as much talent. Adrien Brody, Julianne Nicholson, Bobby Cannavale and others star as the people in Monroe’s life, from those she married to those she befriended to those who helped her at various times over the years.

Monroe continues to fascinate even 60 years after her passing, and this movie arrives with as much controversy as she herself could sometimes generate.

announcement and casting

The project has been kicking around Hollywood for a decade or so, with Naomi Watts and Jessica Chastain previously attached to star. It wasn’t until early 2019 that de Armas was cast in the lead role, with most of the supporting players joining in August of that year just before filming was scheduled to start.

De Armas was interviewed about the prep work she did, especially when it came to getting Monroe’s voice right, in early 2021.

In June of that year news came that Netflix declined an invitation for the movie to play the Cannes Film Festival, albeit out of competition. As usual, the two parties couldn’t agree on the festival’s requirement that movies appearing there be released theatrically in France.

In July the movie was postponed to 2022.

Dominik talked about how he was hoping for a Cannes debut in 2022, having missed the previous year’s festival.

While that was still up in the air, in March Netflix confirmed the film’s NC-17 rating, making it the most explicit original feature produced by the company and the first film of that rating to be released in several years.

After that news broke Dominik shared how the freedom Netflix gave him to explore that rating allowed him to tell the story he wanted to and do so in a way that will likely offend everyone.

the marketing campaign

The campaign seemed to kick into gear in early June with the announcement the film’s premiere was scheduled for the Venice Film Festival in early September.

Both de Armas and Dominik were interviewed in Netflix’s in-house publication about the process of making the film and the amount of research they each put into the project to get things right while still taking a fair amount of artistic license with the story.

That was followed by a teaser trailer (6.3m YouTube views) that doesn’t show much – it’s mostly Marilyn having her makeup done while praying that “she” arrives. Amidst that we see a few additional shots but not much as it’s mostly designed to whet the audience’s appetite while giving us a first look at de Armas in character.

There was some backlash after that trailer, particularly focused on de Armas’ accent. But her using her natural voice was defended by both the estate of Monroe and producer Brad Pitt. Oates also gave the film her stamp of approval.

Vanity Fair debuted a new set of stills in late July, including several behind-the-scenes shots of de Armas practicing her movies and more.

The full official trailer (9.3m YouTube views) came out at the same time. It uses a conversation between Monroe and DiMaggio (Cannavale) as its framing device, with scenes showing her on- and off-screen life and all the problems each one contains. That includes recreations of some of Monroe’s most iconic moments. Over all of that, she is explaining to DiMaggio how Marilyn Monroe is just a character that appears on film, that she’s Norma Jean in real life and that she’s tired of playing the part of her more famous persona.

Also arriving at that point was the first poster, which shows an extreme close up of de Armas as Monroe, the former seemingly disappearing entirely within the latter. It also uses the same “Watched by all, seen by none” tagline used in the trailer.

De Armas expressed her confusion over the movie’s NC-17 rating, pointing out in an interview there are plenty of other films that are even more explicit in their depiction of sexuality and related topics. In another interview she talked about how playing Monroe never seemed like much of a possibility given they don’t share much in common aside from, de Armas points out, being a woman. Dominik as well as past director Rian Johnson praised the actress’s skills and commitment to her work in that profile.

The cast and crew all talked about the story, the film’s rating, its runtime and lots more at the Venice press conference accompanying the premiere there.

De Armas was set to receive the Hollywood Rising Star Award at September’s Deauville American Film Festival where the movie was scheduled to screen following its premiere at the Venice Film Festival.

How de Armas was transformed into Monroe each day for filming was covered in a profile of the movie’s makeup team that ran at the same time a red carpet premiere was held in Los Angeles.

After that de Armas appeared on “The Late Show” and “Late Night” to talk about the movie. She was also interviewed about the movie’s nude scenes and how she felt they were necessary to the story and handled by Dominik and others with the utmost sensitivity but that she was a little bummed they were likely to appear out of context on the web eventually.

Things wound down with the release of a clip showing Monroe breaking down while filming Some Like It Hot.

overall

There has been a lot of controversy around this movie, not least of which the critical response in the last few weeks that has called out how the story seems to victimize Monroe for no real reason, presenting her as perpetually traumatized.

That may or may not be accurate, but it seems like Dominik and de Armas in particular knew the movie they wanted to make and were at least mostly successful in doing so, the fight to realize that vision being part of the reason for the multiple delays.

Netflix’s campaign has leaned into much of that controversy, at least tacitly, to get and keep people talking about the film and hopefully increase its streaming viewership and then its awards chances. Along those lines, the focus on de Armas makes this effort as much about her as it is about Monroe. While she’s been well-received in previous roles, this is positioned as her star-making turn and there’s nothing in the campaign to dissuade me from that belief.

the gray man – marketing recap

How Netflix has sold an action-thriller with an A-list cast

The Gray Man movie poster from Netflix
The Gray Man movie poster from Netflix

The Gray Man arrives on Netflix this week with the hopes the movie will kick off a franchise based on the novels of the same name by Mark Greaney. The talent behind the film certainly helps make that case.

Ryan Gosling plays a CIA mercenary known only as Sierra Six. When Six discovers a handful of secrets the agency wanted to remain hidden he goes on the run, hunted by fellow CIA operative Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans) along with others. But Six has the help of a handful of people, including sympathetic agent Dani Miranda (Ana de Armas) and others. Jessica Henwick, Regé-Jean Page, Alfre Woodard and others also star.

Adding to that, the movie is directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, the brothers behind the last two Avengers movies as well as the previous Netflix original Extraction.

announcements and casting

Other studios have been working on a version of the film for over a decade, but the Russos became involved in 2015 as screenwriters.

It wasn’t until July, 2020, though that Netflix announced the movie was going into production with the Russos now directing and Evans and Gosling attached to star. de Armas joined in December of that year, with others cast in early 2021.

Henwick talked briefly about the project while promoting other things in 2021.

Netflix shared a handful of stills in late April to give people their first real look at the film.

Footage from the film was included in Netflix’s 2022 feature film preview.

the marketing campaign

In early May Empire featured Gosling and Evans on the cover of its Summer Preview issue. Both, as well as the Russos, were interviewed in the issue about what attracted them to the project, what their character’s motivations within the story are, the process of filming and more. That issue also revealed Netflix already had two related projects – a sequel and a Lloyd Hanson-focused prequel – being written in anticipation of the first movie proving a success.

A series of characters posters came out in mid-May featuring the main cast, each with some foreign skyline behind them. The orange and blue color scheme creates a sense of dark mystery, as if they’re hiding from the light.

The first trailer (14.8m YouTube views) came out later in May. it starts by helpfully establishing that Sierra Six is “The Gray Man,” an unofficial operative for off-the-books missions. Why he goes rogue is unclear, but Hansen is soon on his trail, an assignment he considers to be a lot of fun given Six’s reputation in the clandestine world. There’s lots of gunfights, a few car chases, and Six referring to Hansen’s “trash stache”, so it’s filled with both action and humor.

Netflix quickly released a video of the Russos talking about that trailer and breaking down how it was assembled and how it is designed to get the audience’s interest.

The company also began offering “Lloyd’s Trash Stache,” a fake mustache inspired by Evans’ look, in its online store.

Six fights his way through a hallway of bad guys before being confronted by Lloyd in the first clip.

The Russos then participated in an interview about the movie for Netflix’s Geeked Week in mid-June.

Another set of character posters showed off the rest of the impressive cast.

The theatrical poster features, surprisingly, only Sierra Six, who is seen kind of blowing away as the outline of his form becomes less defined from left to right. It’s not bad, but not showing either of the other two lead characters is an interesting choice, even if Six is the title character.

The movie’s premiere event was held in mid-July, just ahead of release, with most of the filmmakers and cast in attendance. While there Gosling and the Russos made it clear the “trash stache” line is an accurate representation of their thoughts while the directors shared their love of working with Evans and more.

An interview with the Russos had them talking about the long process of getting this movie made, what it was like to work with Netflix again and some of their thoughts on Marvel’s future along with some other projects they’ve been involved in.

A behind-the-scenes featurette came out a week before the movie’s release that had everyone talking about their characters, the story and the epic nature of the action that audiences will experience. That was followed by a video of the Russos showing off their production offices, but that was less about this film than it was a walk down memory lane of their various Avengers and Captain America movies.

Tag Heuer partnered with Netflix on a campaign for the company’s Carrera watch, which Gosling apparently wears in the film. That campaign included banner ads featuring Gosling.

Tag Heuer / The Gray Man banner ad
Tag Heuer / The Gray Man banner ad

Those in San Diego this week for Comic-Con can take part in The Gray Man Training Program, an experiential set-up recreating the tram sequence from the film, asking participants to try and get through the obstacle course in one piece. The Netflix booth on Friday will also be promoting the film.

overall

There are two points of primary focus in the campaign Netflix put together:

  • The “trash stache.” It is admittedly a great line and, after causing waves when it was part of the first trailer, was fully embraced by everyone. It came up in numerous interviews, featurettes and more. When a product is created for something as random as this you know it’s achieved a certain level of popularity.
  • The Russos themselves. This is another example of how directors in many instances are used as brand proxies when the movies themselves aren’t part of a franchise or based on wildly popular existing IP. Half the elements of the campaign above are just the directing brothers, whether it’s their experience working with Marvel Studios, their love of Chris Evans or something else the audience is expected to relate to.

While there’s lots of fun action and humor featured in the marketing, there’s also no consistent brand identity that’s been established, which may be even more noticeable if/when additional films are being sold to the public.

There’s also the unfortunate coincidence (?) of Gosling’s press tour for this movie being overshadowed by the recently released pictures of him as Ken in the upcoming Barbie movie. Those pics are so over-the-top and meme-worthy they became a frequent topic of interviews with Gosling at the expense of The Gray Man.

spiderhead – marketing recap

How Netflix has sold a drama of consent, punishment and ethics

Spiderhead movie poster from Netflix
Spiderhead movie poster from Netflix

Chris Hemsworth, Jurnee Smollett and Miles Teller star in this week’s Spiderhead, debuting on Netflix and in select theaters. Based on a short story by author George Saunders, the movie derives its title from a facility where convicts are sent to reduce their prison sentences by agreeing to participate in medical experiments. Hemsworth plays Steve Abnesti, who runs the facility and administers the experiments, which test new drugs. Smollett and Teller then play Lizzy and Jeff, two inmates who form a bond and, after discovering Spiderhead’s secrets, work together to outwit the experiments and experimenters to escape.

The movie is directed by Joseph Kosinski, who already has a hit movie in theaters in the form of Top Gun: Maverick. But that movie was shot in 2019, so this film – produced in late 2020, technically serves as Kosinski’s follow-up to the Tom Cruise-starring sequel.

announcements and casting

The cast and story outline were announced by Netflix in September, 2020, just as production was beginning in Australia.

The first footage came in January 2021, part of Netflix’s announcement of its ambitious feature film slate for the coming year but the release date was eventually pushed back to mid-2022.

the marketing campaign

It wasn’t until April 2022 that the campaign kicked off with the release of a first-look still from the film.

The trailer (5.7m YouTube views) was then released in mid-May. We get the context, that Spiderhead is a prison of sorts where Abnesti uses the inmates as subjects for drug testing and that Jeff is one of those being held there. Abnesti has a very lackadaisical attitude toward what’s going on, convinced it’s helping more people than it’s harming, but the kinds of reactions shown are often extreme in various ways. There’s not a whole lot more to the story that’s conveyed here, it’s more about setting the attitude and vibe of the film.

The movie’s one poster also came out at this time. The cast and location are both shown, along with copy asking “How far would you go to fix human nature”, which hints at the ethical lines the story will ask the audience to consider. Notably, the poster also calls out the movie as coming “From the director of Top Gun: Maverick and Tron: Legacy” so an attempt is being made to draft off the goodwill and popularity of those films.

Smollett talked briefly about this film in a profile that included her career to date and an overview of the many projects she has currently in the works.

An extended clip was released last week during Netflix’s Geeked Week showing Jeff and Heather, another inmate, being introduced to one another during one of the experiments. As the drug being tested takes effect their attraction grows to the point where they begin making out right there in the booth.

Abnesti narrates what seems like a promotional video for the Spiderhead facility, his calming voice talking about how residents are free to move around and enjoy various pastimes, but some of the footage is far less serene

overall

Netflix has come under some criticism for not promoting what should otherwise be a big deal of a movie, especially given how Kosinski not only has a good directorial track record but also one of the biggest films of the year in theaters now.

But the campaign the streamer has put together is about right for what it usually does to market its original films. And while there may not be a lot of muscle behind the effort, consider that

  • Both Kosinski and Teller have just been on the press circuit promoting Top Gun: Maverick, which given its massive profile surely took precedence when agents were negotiating which movies the talent was going to be available for.
  • Similarly, Hemsworth is about to embark on a publicity cycle for Thor: Love and Thunder.

There are some other small quibbles with the marketing effort here – Smollett isn’t featured very much, the stakes of the story are pushed aside for more about the unusual experiments at the facility – but the size of the campaign and the number of attention-grabbing moments likely have more to do with the fact that talent is being diverted than neglect on Netflix’s part.

hustle – marketing recap

How Netflix has sold another dramatic Adam Sandler turn.

Hustle movie poster from Netflix
Hustle movie poster from Netflix

Adam Sandler plays Stanley Sugerman, a talent scout for the Philadelphia 76ers, in Hustle, new on Netflix now. While on a recruiting trip in Spain, Sugerman comes across an unknown talent named Bo Cruz (Juancho Hernangómez). When the 76ers aren’t interested in Cruz, Sugerman leaves the team to get the player ready for the draft. Helping him out are his wife Teresa (Queen Latifah) and others.

Robert Duvall, Ben Foster, María Botto and others also star while a handful of real life NBA players make appearances as themselves to add authenticity to the story.

This is just the latest film Sandler has produced and starred in for Netflix, a batch that includes dramas such as Uncut Gems along with lots of the comedies Sandler is well known for. So let’s take a look at how it’s been presented to audiences.

announcement and casting

The project got off the ground in mid-2020 when Sandler signed on. Netflix had acquired the project with Jeremiah Zagar directing a script from Taylor Materne and Will Fetters.

Latifah, Foster, Duval, Bottol and others joined the cast over the last half of 2020.

Netflix released some stills of the cast in October of last year, revealing some of the story points at that time.

In an interview from August of last year, Sandler revealed that Netflix – famous among filmmakers for staying out of production and not sending overly-prescriptive notes – requested part of the script be changed from China to somewhere in Europe because the company doesn’t operate in the former country.

the marketing campaign

Things got started in February with the release of the teaser trailer (2.4m YouTube views). The framing of the trailer is a pep talk Sugerman is giving Cruz about needing to love the game and be obsessed with being the best in order to succeed. While that’s happening we see lots of footage of Cruz on the court and training, sending the message that there will be lots of inspirational montages and other footage as we’re shown how hard he’s willing to work.

We get more of that in the full trailer (4.4m YouTube views), released in May. As it opens, Sugerman is a bit frustrated at being stuck as a scout when his dream is to coach a professional team. His enthusiasm upon finding Cruz is squashed when the team owner says Cruz doesn’t have a shot. So he takes it on himself to train him and after some rough patches things seem to be falling into place, meaning both men may be able to achieve their goals.

The movie’s one poster, which just shows Sugerman sitting on the bench as the blurry bodies of players run past him, also came out at the same time.

Sandler, Latifah and others all spoke at the movie’s recent Hollywood premiere about how they got involved in the project, what it was like to film all those basketball sequences and more.

An interview with Zagler had him talking about preparing for production, including how to best shoot all that basketball action, and what kind of movies he used as sources of inspiration.

That same speech used in the teaser trailer of Sugerman explaining how much he loves the game and how hard Cruz is going to have to work was released on its own as a clip.

Latifah stopped by “Kimmel” to promote the film while Sandler made the rounds of “Kimmel”, “The Tonight Show” and “Late Night” to do likewise while also engaging in some of his usual pranks and such.

There are plenty of pull quotes praising the film – and especially Sandler’s performance – in an extended spot released just the other day. It plays like the second trailer, just arranged a bit differently for a different kind of dramatic impact.

overall

Despite the fact that he’s now established a decent track record of dramatic roles, anytime Sandler steps out of his comedic comfort zone it becomes the centerpiece of that movie’s campaign and this is no exception. That’s powered to a large degree by the reviews that can’t help comparing his performance here to those from his lackadaisical efforts with Kevin James, David Spade and others.

But the marketing itself is pretty solid here, establishing a tone for the movie that’s consistent throughout the campaign. So it works, especially if the goal is to attract the same crowd that gravitated toward Uncut Gems and other similar titles.