Stowaway – Marketing Recap

How Netflix is selling a movie about a space mission gone unexpectedly wrong.

Stowaway, out this week on Netflix, tells a different type of story about a potential way a mission to Mars can go sideways quickly. Shamier Anderson plays Michael Adams, an engineer that’s part of the team preparing to launch three astronauts (played by Anna Kendrick, Daniel Dae Kim and Toni Collette) on a trip to Mars. After an accident, Adams goes missing from his crew, eventually turning up on the spacecraft after it’s already irrevocably hurtling toward its destination. That creates a major problem in that the ship is only stocked for a three-person crew, meaning they have to decide whether to adjust for the stowaway or make a dark and terrible decision to survive.

Directed by Joe Penna, who also cowrote it with Ryan Morrison, Netflix has given the movie a short campaign that emphasizes the drama of the situation the astronauts find themselves in.

The Posters

It’s important that the poster, released in March, shows Levenson (Kendrick) talking with Adams is important, in that she’s the only member of the crew who feels they shouldn’t kill their unexpected passenger in the name of saving the mission as a whole. The two are seen having a conversation in front of a window showing how far away they are from the world while the tagline explains the story, saying “Millions of miles from home, survival comes with sacrifice.”

A set of posters, each featuring one of the four main characters, came out just days before the film was released.

The Trailers

The first trailer (1.8 million views on YouTube), released toward the end of March, opens by showing how the crew of the ship initially reacts to the discovery Adams is on board and work to assess the situation. They do their best to make him part of the mission to help ease his (understandable) anxiety and fear, but an unexpected problem puts everyone in danger, leading them to take big risks just to survive.

Online and Social

Advertising and Promotions

Netflix announced it had acquired the film in early December.

An exclusive clip was shared with Yahoo showing the moment Adams’ presence on the ship is discovered.

Scott Manley, a physicist and astronomer who consulted on the film, released a video explaining the design of the ship in the movie and more.

Media and Press

A batch of stills that came with comments from most of the primary cast as well as Penna were released last month.

Kendrick and Kim were interviewed about the logistics of filming while wearing bulky spacesuits in confined quarters.

Overall

Movies that ask interesting moral questions of its characters – and by extension its audience – are inherently more interesting to me than ones that just present a dramatic story of some sort. So this campaign has my attention on that front.

But as with many recent Netflix marketing pushes, there’s just not a lot going on here. It would have been great to see another featurette or two in advance of release or more of a presence by the actors on the publicity circuit. But those are missing, so here we are.

Thunder Force – Marketing Recap

How Netflix has sold a new super-powered comedy.

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

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

The Posters

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

The Trailers

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

Online and Social

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

Advertising and Promotions

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

Thunder Force GIF by NETFLIX - Find & Share on GIPHY

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

Media and Press

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

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

Overall

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

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

Thunder Force GIF by NETFLIX - Find & Share on GIPHY

Concrete Cowboy – Marketing Recap

How Netflix has sold Idris Elba on a horse.

Based on the novel “Ghetto Cowboy,” the new movie Concrete Cowboy stars Idris Elba as Harp, one of a number of individuals in Philadelphia who patrol the streets of the neighborhood on horseback. They do so in an attempt to maintain a connection to a simpler time and culture, knowing full well they are out of step with other parts of society. Harp’s estranged teenage son Cole (Caleb McLaughlin) comes to live with him, opening up tensions both old and new as the father tries to teach his son a few things while the son holds on to old problems and baggage.

Directed by Ricky Staub, the movie arrives on Netflix this week after a small-scale campaign from the streamer. It currently has a decent 78% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, so let’s see how it’s been sold to the public.

The Posters

Just one poster, released in early March, but it’s a pretty good one. Harp looms in the background of the collage-esque design, with other elements conveying Cole’s role in the story as well as the urban setting and more. It’s not the flashiest design, but it communicates a solid sense of what audiences can expect.

The Trailers

The first trailer (638k views on YouTube) finally came out in mid-March, opening with Cole clearly not on the same page as Harp. We see Cole exposed to the world Harp lives in and the rules and legends that go with it, a process that isn’t always easy or comfortable. The two eventually come to an understanding, but only just as the way of life Harp and others have long embraced becomes threatened with extinction.

Online and Social

Nothing here, but the movie did get some support from Netflix on its brand social channels.

Advertising and Promotions

A short clip was released around the time the movie was debuting at the Toronto International Film Festival. It was also slated for screening at the Telluride Film Festival. Netflix acquired the film in October.

In early March Netflix finally gave it an April release date.

Media and Press

Staub and Elba were both interviewed during TIFF about the road the project has taken to date and what they hope for in the future. Another conversation with the cast and crew included comments on the story, working together and more.

Overall

The movie came out of Toronto early last year with some very strong word of mouth, especially for Elba’s performance. But that was a year ago, and a lot has happened since then.

So it’s a little surprising to see that while the trailer and poster are both pretty strong, they add up to the majority of the film’s campaign. Very little seems to have been done to build on that festival buzz, and Elba’s press activity has been minimal. It would have been nice to see some more promo spots or other elements that allow Elba to be his charming self as well as allow McLaughlin to come to the spotlight.

Moxie – Marketing Recap

How Netflix has sold a story of multi-generational efforts to upend the patriarchy.

For her second feature directing gig, Amy Poehler this week brings us Moxie. Not only does she helm the film but stars as Lisa Carter, mother to Vivian (Hadley Robinson). Vivian is tired of the overtly sexist attitude among many of the boys in her high school and frustrated with the girls who go along with it. Determined to make her mark and change the status quo, Vivian is inspired by her mother’s past activism and creates a print zine calling out the school’s toxicity. Her crusade makes her new friends, a few enemies and some unexpected notoriety.

Netflix’s campaign hasn’t been huge, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been interesting. Let’s take a look.

The Posters

“Find your voice” the poster, released in February, tells the audience. The title treatment is plastered over a black and white photo of Vivian and her friends, all shouting at the camera. If the goal was to recreate the look and feel of a late-90s alt-rock record cover, they succeeded, but it’s too bad there isn’t more information about the movie’s story and cast.

The Trailers

As the trailer (840k views on YouTube), released in early February, begins, Vivian is asking for guidance, through which we get a hint of her mom’s former activist self. Then we see what might be fueling Vivian’s search for some sort of mission, the fact that the girls in her high school are ranked by the boys based on attributes having nothing to do with academics or intellect. When she starts a zine that questions the status quo it starts an uproar in the school that leads to lots of changes, both in the school and among the students.

Online and Social

Some support on Netflix’s brand social channels, but that’s about it. Nothing unique to the movie itself.

Advertising and Promotions

The main characters got a yearbook-esque promo clip a little while ago that doesn’t name them but does offer overall personality type.

When Poehler and her BFF/frequent collaborator Tina Fey cohosted the Golden Globes last weekend they not only gave the movie a shout-out but also had stars and hearts on their hands, a plot detail seen in the trailer.

Media and Press

Nothing here that I could find.

Overall

I just wish there were more here and I have to wonder what prompted Netflix to treat this as a lower-tier release instead of something that should be given a greater level of support. Sure, it’s not The Irishman, but I’d argue that this is the kind of movie that will have a longer shelf-life on the service than a prestige title.

At the very least I would have expected press interviews and stories about any of the following topics:

  • Poehler’s second time behind the camera for a feature film
  • The role of everyday students (and others) in changing the toxic environments they find themselves in
  • How the younger members of the cast connected with the riot grrl movement of the 90s and what kind of music from that era Poehler played to get them in the mood
  • Why print is superior to online media for this kind of movement

Sadly I haven’t found any of the above.

I Care A Lot – Marketing Recap

How Netflix has sold a story that asks audiences to sympathize with a con artist.

The new movie I Care A Lot, out today on Netflix, seems to have as its premise “What if we made a film about John Mahoney’s character from Say Anything…, but with Rosamund Pike instead of Mahoney?” Pike plays Marla Grayson, a woman who has created a nice racket for herself as a court-appointed guardian for elderly individuals. Once she has control of their assets, she funnels them into various shady investments, pocketing the profits and leaving the estates with almost nothing. When Grayson sets her sights on her latest mark, Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest), she inadvertently runs afoul of a local gangster (Peter Dinklage) and is forced to think even faster than usual to get out of a dangerous situation.

Written and directed by J Blakeson, the movie has a solid 81% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and has gotten a quick, breezy campaign from Netflix that plays up Pike’s turn as a fast-talking con artist.

The Posters

The first poster, released in January, has Grayson wearing sunglasses as she looks toward the camera, her hair perfect through the title treatment, shown here in big, bold letters. A pull quote calling the film “deliciously nasty” is shown near the Toronto International Film Festival branding.

A series of pop-art-esque character posters came out earlier this week, continuing the trend of visuals using just a few bold colors to really make the photos jump in the eyes of the audience.

The Trailers

Mid-January brought the release of the first trailer (1.6m views on YouTube), which introduces Marla as a professional carer, albeit one who might be a bit of a scammer as well. While much of what she does is barely legal, she’s warned not to further harass one woman in particular, someone who has dangerous and powerful friends. Marla is unperturbed, though and continues on with business as usual, confident she’ll come out on top.

Online and Social

Nothing here, at least nothing unique. Netflix gave the movie a bit of support on brand social channels, though.

Advertising and Promotions

Netflix acquired the film in September, shortly after its well-received debut at the Toronto Film Festival.

A short clip released just as the movie became available shows Grayson getting some new and potentially valuable information from an attorney (played by Chris Messina) for Peterson’s powerful friends.

Media and Press

Blakeson, Pike and others were interviewed about the story and why they got involved in the project during TIFF.

Both Gonzalez and Pike appeared on “Kimmel” within a day or so of each other to talk about the film.

Overall

It’s surprising there hasn’t been more on the promotional and publicity fronts, especially given the positive reviews Pike’s performance has received. But you can’t say the campaign doesn’t make a point to highlight that performance, one that pops off the screen in the trailer just like the image does on the bold-hued posters.

Penguin Bloom – Marketing Recap

How Netflix has sold a story about grief and coming to terms with a new situation.

In Penguin Bloom, based on the book of the same name from writer Cameron Bloom, the story focuses on how a family adjusts to a new and very different dynamic and situation. Sam Bloom (Naomi Watts) is paralyzed after an accident, throwing the vibe of the family household completely out of whack. Her husband Cameron (Andrew Lincoln) is put in the position of having to help their three young kids adapt to their new reality, finding inspiration to do so in the form of a young magpie whom they name Penguin unexpectedly enters the house. Jackie Weaver also stars as Sam’s mother.

Netflix’s campaign for the film has been relatively brief, but highlights the emotional nature of the story, inspired by true events. It sports a middling 60% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, but let’s take a look at how it’s been sold.

The Posters

Sam and Penguin are, of course, the primary elements on the first and only poster (by marketing agency The Refinery), released in early January. The latter is perched on the former’s shoulder as they both look longingly out the window, in which the rest of Sam’s family is reflected. So it conveys the “inside looking out” nature of the story, how Sam is isolated from those around her in a relatively simple but effective manner.

The Trailers

The trailer (147,000 views on YouTube) starts by showing the Bloom family on vacation in happier times. When she has an accident on that vacation things get understandably tense, though the kids try to make the best of it. Still, Cameron and Sam are struggling, but the appearance of Penguin provides something for everyone – even Sam – to rally around and be inspired by, showing there’s a better way forward.

Online and Social

Nothing here. Netflix didn’t even give it that much support on social channels, with other movies taking precedence apparently.

Advertising and Promotions

The movie’s premiere was held at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival, with positive reviews calling out Watts’ performance in particular.

Netflix acquired the film in November of last year and set a quick January release date.

Media and Press

Watts was interviewed in early October of 2019 about the movie and its story as well as what drew her to the project and how she feels it reflects a modern audience.

During TIFF 2020, Watts and others in the cast were interviewed about the unique nature of working with live animals, how they bonded during production and more.

Oddly, given there are major stars in the film, there doesn’t appear to have been much press activity in the weeks leading up to release.

Overall

I’m a little surprised at how understated the campaign seems to be. The lack of press activity in particular comes off as a missed opportunity to get some more buzz about the film going after a long break since festival season. And it’s disappointing how little attention the film got from Netflix in terms of social promotion.

On the more positive side, the trailer is great, selling a movie that might be a bit emotional – especially since it’s based on a true story – but also looks funny and charming. More than anything, the campaign knows what it’s presenting; a story about the isolation that can come from an accident and how that creates tension in a family, but also how through hard work those impacted can find a way to survive together.

Picking Up The Spare

Watts appeared on “Kimmel” to talk about the movie and more. 
The filmmakers talked here about using a handful of trained birds in order to get the perfect performance.

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.

Picking Up The Spare

Kirby and Burstyn were interviewed about working together and how the film is important in telling a woman-centric story, while the filmmakers later commented on working with LaBeouf and what they thought of the harassment and abuse allegations leveled against the actor. 

Kirby also spoke about how the film depicts grief and mourning in the face of unbelievable tragedy and then on one particularly traumatic scene. Mundroczo spoke about telling that kind of heartbreaking story here.

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.

Picking Up The Spare

Why Clooney had a specific vision for the film’s ending was covered in another interview with the actor/director. There was also an additional profile of Clooney that touched on this movie and lots more. 

Jones later looked back on filming the movie while pregnant and how she felt the final scene resonated. 

The movie’s cinematographer spoke about working with Clooney and shooting in some remote and harsh location, with the production designer talking about similar topics.

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.

Picking Up The Spare

Davis appeared on “Kimmel” to talk about the movie. 

More from various members of the cast on working with Boseman on what would wind up as his final screen performance. There was also a profile of veteran actor Turman. 

Netflix continued releasing clips like this after the movie was available. There was also an explainer video on “The Great Migration” that factors into the period setting of the story. Another featurette covered how Davis transformed into the title role. 

Online ads like this started appearing after the movie was available on Netflix.

The movie’s costume team talked about using period-appropriate materials to make the movie’s clothes. The film’s hair stylist was also interviewed later on. How the screenwriter translated the stage production for the screen was covered in an interview with him.

Wolfe appeared on “PBS Newshour” to talk about making the film and working with the stars. He was also part of a new featurette on adapting the film for the screen and was interviewed about the story and the making of the movie here.