don’t look up – marketing recap

How Netflix has sold a satire of looming disaster

Netflix Don't Look Up movie poster
Don’t Look Up movie poster

Writer/director Adam McKay is back with another in his series of satirical takes on very serious issues. This time around it’s not the inherent corruption of the financial industry but the inaction around climate change in Don’t Look Up.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence star as Dr. Randall Mindy and Kate Dibiasky, two minor astronomers who discover a planet-killing comet is hurtling toward Earth. When they try to warn President Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep), she and her son/Chief of Staff Jason (Jonah Hill) dismiss them, insisting on making no changes and not warning people. So Mindy and Dibiasky go straight to the media, but find they’re still not taken seriously.

The story is being widely received as an allegory for the indifference among leaders, media and many citizens toward the effects of climate change. In addition to those named above, the film – released in select theaters a couple weeks ago before coming to Netflix this week – features Cate Blanchett, Tyler Perry, Mark Rylance, Rob Morgan and a slew of others likely attracted by McKay’s helming.

announcement and casting

Paramount Pictures originally announced development of the project in late 2019 with McKay attached. Netflix acquired the film in early 2020.

Lawrence’s addition to the cast was announced shortly after that, about two months before filming was expected to begin. In October 2020, after filming was delayed due to the coronavirus, DiCaprio, Streep, Blanchett and Hill were announced as also appearing. Chris Evans joined in December.

Streep talked about the movie during an appearance on “The Late Show” late last year.

The first footage came in January, part of Netflix’s announcement of its ambitious 2021 feature film slate.

In an interview from April McKay talked about the work DiCaprio put into the script before he agreed to star in the film.

the marketing campaign

In September the campaign began in earnest with the release of a batch of first look stills in a Twitter thread that also offered a recap of the movie’s story and showed off many of the big names in the cast, even if just in supporting roles.

The first teaser trailer (13.5m YouTube views) came out shortly after that. It doesn’t go into great detail about the plot but does show the basic premise as well as the various reactions to the news of the comet’s imminent arrival. Those reactions range from bored indifference from the White House to amusement from the media, with the public either not paying attention or going crazy, all while the scientists themselves become increasingly panicked. The spot also sets the humorous tone of the film.

The impressive cast is shown off on the poster, with their faces shown through the cut-out letters making up the title. How the story is but isn’t real is communicated through the copy “Based on truly possible events.”

NASA shared a video of McKay talking about how his fictional story is a parallel to the agency’s real mission to test how it might deflect potentially threatening asteroids in deep space.

An exclusive clip came out later that month showing Dibiasky and Mindy attempting to brief Pres. Orlean on the danger of what’s coming but being dismissed as alarmist as she chooses inaction over other potential responses. The clip was released as part of Netflix’s TUDUM virtual promotional event, joining other interviews, clips and trailers from upcoming high-profile releases.

McKay talked about how the comet is a stand-in for climate change in an interview from November. He also commented on the state of political satire, the impressive cast he assembled for the film and lots more. Both McKay and Streep talked about how they crafted her character and what role she fills in the story in a joint interview.

The full trailer (10.3m YouTube views) also came out in mid-November. This one offers a lot more details of the story, from the “wait and see” response from the president to how Dibiasky and Mindy decide to take matters into their own hands and go to the media, who treat it as diversionary entertainment. Eventually there’s a mission to intercept the comet, but it’s mainly in the service of mining its mineral resources.

In an interview with Vanity Fair, Lawrence explained the characters, situations and other details shown in the trailer to help audiences grasp what it is they’re watching.

The cast and crew kept talking about the making of the movie and the message of the story at a BAFTA screening, with Lawrence sharing her non-chill reaction to the on-set presence of Arianna Grande, who has a small role in the movie and recorded a new song with Kid Cudi, who also appears. The Q&A also had Streep talking about Hill’s knack for improvising insults that would have her breaking during filming.

“Just Look Up,” that new song from Grande and Kid Cudi, was released in early December.

A New York City premiere event was held a few days later with the cast and crew walking the red carpet. At that event McKay talked more about the climate change nature of the story, as did Dr. Amy Mainzer, the film’s scientific advisor who weighed in on the script and other details. DiCaprio, long known for his climate advocacy, also commented on that and the movie in general.

How McKay hounded Streep into accepting her role and more was covered in another interview with the filmmaker. An even more comprehensive profile of the director covered a lot of ground both about this movie and his career in general, with most secondary coverage focusing on his story of having a professional falling out with frequent collaborator Will Ferrell. Another later interview had him covering similar ground while also commenting on how the absurd comedy of his early years has morphed into something more serious.

Composer Nicholas Brittell was also interviewed about working with McKay for the fourth time and creating the movie’s score as well as some of the film’s smaller incidental background music.

Lawrence was her normal charming and goofy self when she appeared on “The Late Show” to talk about working with Streep and other aspects of the movie. How he reacted to some of his costars was also the subject of discussion when both Perry and Hill each appeared on “The Tonight Show.”

Each of the stars of the film gets their time in the spotlight in a series of a dozen character posters.

A second clip came out as the movie was hitting select theaters showing the performance sequence Grande and Kid Cudi are in with their song. The two planned to perform the song on this week’s episode of “The Voice.”

Bon Iver also released a snippet of their new song on the film’s soundtrack.

The movie got a profile bump when it was named one of AFI’s Movies of the Year for 2021. It was later nominated for a number of Critics Choice Awards.

Short videos like this might have been TV spots but were also used as online promos, distilling some of the movie’s humor for the more condensed running time.

overall

You really see two distinct campaigns happening here:

First is the “satire about serious issue” campaign that is spearheaded by McKay and, to a lesser extent, DiCaprio. This part focuses on the real threat posed by climate change and how, to make a point about the underwhelming public response to date, the story uses a comet as a more tangible stand-in. Multiple interviews and profiles of McKay are all part of this as he talks about the science behind the story and the kinds of characters that serve as ways to communicate the points he’s trying to make.

Second is the “star-studded and kind of goofy” campaign, spearheaded by Lawrence, Hill and Streep. This part is more about sharing crazy stories from the set, including the melding of different kinds of actors and how that went. It’s meant to appeal to the celebrity magazine crowd more than the cinephiles or issues-awareness groups within the audience.

Both are fine and often complement each other, but the latter also serves to make the former a bit less impactful.

Still, the push by Netflix has a solid darkly comic tone throughout and sells the movie, which has a lackluster 55% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, as an entertaining albeit disturbing choice.

random thoughts on: tick…tick…boom!

A few things I thought about after watching the musical biopic on Netflix…

There are a lot of feelings I have about Tick…Tick…BOOM!, on Netflix now. In no particular order:

We need more entries in the “inspirational biopic” genre that aren’t about sports stars or company founders. Those are played out and serve largely to reinforce pursuits that are fine but are already emphasized by parents, teachers, guidance counselors. Let’s see more movies about musical theater lyricists, oddball artists, struggling actors and others with more artistic sensibilities.

Basically, we’re worn out STEM and sports as sources for these stories, so let’s give the arts and humanities – the kind who are bullied and tormented by kids in those other categories – crowd a turn.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched “Sunday” from the movie on YouTube. The piece is incredible in and of itself, a great Sondheim homage, but director Lin-Manuel Miranda’s decision to fill the movie version with some of the great performers of Broadway gives it exactly the emotional heft it deserves. And it’s ridiculous how smoothly Andrew Garfiled glides through the number.

Miranda’s directorial debut is remarkable self-assured, confident of where the camera is placed, where it’s pointing and what it’s capturing. It likely helps that this is in a genre he’s already familiar with, but film and theater are still very different. I’m going to assume his work on In The Heights and other recent movies helped him pick up some pointers and tricks to aid this transition.

Speaking of which, Miranda is really carving out a niche for himself of stories about writers who feel they’re running out of time.

The central tension of the story isn’t anything romantic or professional, it’s that Jonathan Larson knew how his story began and ended but needed to figure out an actual plot reason to get from Point A to Point B and this is the most relatable thing I’ve seen on film in like decades.

There’s a featurette where the cast talk about filming the “Boho Days” sequence where one says Garfield really explored the space and yeah, that’s clear. He moves around like someone who’s been choreography all his life.

On that note, I would have put my money on Tom Holland being the first on-screen Spider-Man to show up in a movie musical, but I’m not mad it was Garfield.

Paramountnetwork GIF by Lip Sync Battle - Find & Share on GIPHY

No wait, I’ve watched this video of Alexandra Shipp and Vanessa Hudgens performing “Come To Your Senses” more than “Sunday.”

the unforgivable – marketing recap

How Netflix has sold a drama about rehabilitation and rebuilding

The Unforgivable movie poster
The Unforgivable movie poster

Sandra Bullock stars in The Unforgivable, out this week on Netflix following a brief theatrical release period. Based on a British TV series, the movie focuses on Ruth Slater (Bullock), a woman just released from prison, having served her time after being convicted of a violent crime. Despite having theoretically paid her debt to society she finds that few are willing to give her the chance to prove she genuinely wants to turn her life around.

The movie, directed by Nora Fingscheidt, also stars Viola Davis, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jon Bernthal and others as those in Slater’s orbit. Let’s take a look at how it’s been sold.

announcement and casting

While development of the film dates all the way back to 2010, shortly after the original British series aird, things didn’t really begin moving forward until 2019. That’s when Bullock was announced as the lead (as well as producer) with Fingscheidt directing and Netflix distributing.

The rest of the cast was added between late 2019 and early 2020.

the marketing campaign

Netflix kicked off the marketing push in September of this year with the distribution of a still showing Bullock in character that also served as the announcement of a release date.

An extreme close-up of half of Slater’s face is used on the poster, released in late October. That doesn’t do much to communicate the story but the copy “No one walks free of their past” picks up the slack by hinting that there’s something that will continue to haunt her throughout the story.

The trailer (6.2m YouTube views) came out at the same time. As it starts Ruth is just getting out of prison and we quickly see she’s still being harassed after release. We learn some of the details of why she was sent away and then that she’s now looking to reconnect with her little sister Katie (Aisling Franciosi). That effort, though, is met with resistance from just about everyone, despite some taking her side. Ruth refuses to give up.

A clip came out in mid-November showing Ruth getting a dressing down from her parole officer (Rob Morgan).

Shorter promos like this came out later in November and were used as social and video pre-roll ads and likely for TV spots as well. They distill the trailer down to its core elements to make a quick, punchy appeal to the audience.

A premiere red carpet event was held at the beginning of December with Fingscheidt, Bullock and the rest of the cast in attendance. While at that premiere the cast talked about telling stories of people at society’s margins, working on the film during Covid restrictions and lots more.

overall

I think what appears to me to be the biggest missing element is something overt that calls out organizations that deal with helping former prisoners reenter society, or those working to reform the system that spits people out with little support or other ways to deal with life outside prison.

Other than that, it’s a nice little campaign Netflix put together, but the 35% the movie has on Rotten Tomatoes speaks to some issues critics have had with the film. A stronger appeal from the cast and crew, especially from the topline stars, might have made the message delivered to the audience a bit stronger.

the power of the dog – marketing recap

How Netflix is selling a story of masculinity in the early 20th century

The Power of the Dog movie poster
The Power of the Dog movie poster

Benedict Cumberbatch stars in The Power of the Dog, out now on Netflix after a limited theatrical release in the last couple weeks.

Directed by Jane Campion – her first film since 2009’s Bright Star – and set in 1920s Montana, the movie stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Phil Burbank and Jesse Plemons as his brother George. When the two encounter the widow Rose Gordon (Kirsten Dunst) and her son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Phil’s first reaction is to lash out with cruelty while George’s is to be more sympathetic. Eventually George and Rose marry, setting off a chain of events that will lead some characters down dark paths and others to more positive personal revelations.

With a solid 95% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and positive word of mouth from critics the movie scored well in that short theatrical run, so now that it’s available for everyone let’s take a look at how it was sold.

announcement and casting

The movie, announced in May 2019 as Campion’s return to feature film directing, came with Cumberbatch already attached. Dunst was cast the next month after Elizabeth Moss, originally slated to play Rose, had to drop out.

Also replacing a previously announced cast member was Plemons, who took the place of Paul Dano in late 2019. Most of the rest of the cast was added in early 2020.

the power of the marketing campaign

In June 2021 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.

Netflix released the first still in late July.

The first trailer (2.5m YouTube views) was released in August, opening by showing the general vibe of the cattle ranch worked by the Burbank family. There isn’t a whole lot of dialogue but you definitely get the sense of Phil’s insensitive cruelty as well as Rose’s compassion and protectiveness of her son.

The first poster, released at the same time, focuses on Phil and calls out the all-star cast as well as Campion on a very rough, weathered image that conveys the tone of the film.

While Cannes was out of the picture, the movie did screen at the Venice Film Festival and BFI London Film Festival in September as well as at festivals in both Toronto and Telluride among others.

In advance of the Venice screening the producers talked about bringing Campion back to the big screen after a decade away and more. Campion went on to win Best Director at Venice.

During the various festival press cycles both Cumberbatch and Campion were interviewed about the movie’s portrayal of toxic, harmful masculinity and how that’s often the result of repression and other factors, especially regarding sexuality.

Dunst was also the subject of a substantial profile where she talked about how this and other recent films she’s done are part of a transformation in her career to portraying more characters going through trauma and despair.

Campion and the cast all appeared at the New York Film Festival in October along with a screening of the film as the festival’s “centerpiece” selection. The movie was also added to the lineup of November’s AFI Film Festival and then also screened at BFI London in October.

Other interviews with Campion had her talking about this movie as well as how the film industry has changed for women directors and how she’s encouraged by those changes.

Campion was slated to receive the Director’s Tribute at the 2021 Gotham Awards.

Cinematographer Ari Wegner was interviewed about how he created the movie’s sparse, harsh look and feel.

The next poster, released in early November, shows Phil and Peter riding across the former’s ranch, the vast Montana sky taking up most of the background.

A new trailer (742k YouTube views) also came out at that time. It shows much more of the story in detail, from George meeting and marrying Rose to the ridicule inflicted on Peter for his gentle ways to the emotional distress Phil is going through as he clearly hides something from himself and everyone around him. It’s powerful and distressing, which probably sells the film well.

How working with Campion caused him some initial anxiety and how the production differed in scope and style from his super hero work were covered in another interview. He covered similar ground when he appeared on “Kimmel” but a New York Times profile was much more serious as he discussed the multiple layers of the sometimes terrible person he plays. When he showed up on “Late Night” he had fun with the fact that production involved him not showering for a while.

With the cast and crew on the AFI Fest red carpet, they all talked about the story, working with Campion and lots more.

The director got a profile of her own that covered how she worked on this film and what it means for her career as a whole. That was followed shortly by another interview with Dunst where she also focused on working with her real-life partner Plemons, something she also talked about on “Kimmel.”

There had been some promotion of the soundtrack prior but it intensified in the last few weeks as seen in a joint interview with Campion and composer Jonny Greenwood and another interview just with Greenwood where he talked about what kinds of themes and ideas he tried to channel.

A clip released just this week shows Phil angrily playing the banjo when he enters a room to find Rose playing piano, showing the strained dynamic between those two.

overall

Throughout the marketing campaign there have been a few areas of emphasis:

First, the return of Campion to the director’s chair after more than a decade away. That absolutely needs to be noted and hopefully we won’t have to wait that long again.

Second, that Cumberbatch is a powerful actor who fully transformed to embody a character that is demonstrably terrible to everyone around him.

Third, that Dunst has evolved significantly as an actor to take on complex roles that speak to her personally.

All of that adds up to a strong campaign that, as many people have noted, could once again spur conversations around whether or not Netflix’s original productions are worthy of Oscar consideration. As has been the case with releases from other major filmmakers, it will be hard to ignore Campion’s return and the cascade of festival awards she’s accumulated so far. More importantly, though, the marketing makes a strong, consistent case for viewers to watch the movie as soon as possible.

tick, tick…BOOM! – marketing recap

How Netflix has sold an anticipated musical biopic.

tick tick boom movie poster
tick tick boom poster

Tick, Tick… Boom! marks the feature film directorial debut of the already-accomplished and lauded Lin-Manuel Miranda. The movie tells the story of playwright Jonathan Larson, creator of the stage sensation Rent, and is based on Larson’s autobiographical stage play of the same name.

In the film Andrew Garfield plays Larson in the years leading up to his breakthrough as he’s still a struggling artist who feels time is running out for him to accomplish all the goals he’s set for himself. The story then follows him and those around him, both family and friends, as he attempts to make the most of the time he has, especially after finding out he’s HIV-positive, which in the early ‘90s was a very different diagnosis than it is today.

The movie costars Alexandra Shipp, Robin de Jesús, Bradley Whitford, Judith Light, Vanessa Hudgins and others – including many who have connections to either Miranda or Larson – as the people around the late playwright.

announcement and casting

In 2018 news came that the project was being developed with Miranda attached as director and Steven Levenson writing the script.

Netflix announced it acquired the movie in June 2019 after winning a bidding war among other studios. Garfield, Light and other members of the cast were announced at that time, with others joining in late January 2020.

the marketing campaign

The first footage came in January, part of Netflix’s announcement of its ambitious 2021 feature film slate.

The trailer (1.6m YouTube views), released in early June, is magnificent. It’s all about Larsen’s rush to create something unique and special before the ticking clock he hears in his head reaches its end. The story is made clear here and the trailer definitely conveys a sense of impending doom that has to be outrun for as long as possible.

The poster that came out at the same time shows Larson standing by himself on a stage looking at a piano sitting there as well. Copy hints at how the story is dictated by a ticking internal clock of Larsons while credits at the top make the pedigree of the movie clear.

Garfield talked about the movie when he appeared on “The Late Show” in June.

Netflix finally announced a release date in August.

At that festival Whitford was interviewed about working with Miranda, who he loosely knew from a college acting class as well as about the pressure of portraying the real life Sondheim.

In late September TV spots (also preroll video ads online) like this began running, offering a condensed version of the story.

Garfield made an appearance as a presenter at the Tony Awards around that time.

As October began the second poster was released, this one showing Larson at his piano, his hand-written lyrics and music displayed as a background behind him.

The second trailer (3.7m YouTube views) came out at the same time, introducing us to Larson and the artistically unfulfilled life he’s leading at the time. The second half is all about him being encouraged to take his shot, writing about what’s happening around him and using that to channel his frustration that he needs to accomplish something quickly, before it all comes to an end.

Miranda commented on how Garfield was cast and what was involved in making him comfortable enough to take on his role in a profile of the actor. Another substantial interview with Garfield had him talking about the pressure he felt and how he went about preparing to portray Larson.

Production Designer Alex DiGerlando was interviewed about creating the sets and other locations for the movie, including how he used Larson’s own photos and videos to recreate rooms and even specific items.

The cast and crew appeared at AFI Fest, where the movie screened.

How Garfield, who wasn’t a singer prior to being cast, learned more about Larson’s life and more was covered in a profile of the actor here. Garfield’s commitment to the role and doing right by both Larson and Miranda was praised by all involved in another feature.

Shipp, who plays Larson’s girlfriend Susan, was interviewed about how it was to work with Miranda and Garfield as well as how excited she was to finally be able to sing on film.

Three more posters came out just last week, one of which mimics the key art for the original stage production.

Netflix released a clip of the song “30/90” that really gives a sense of what Garfield’s vocal performance is.

A featurette with Miranda, Larson and others talking about the legacy and life of Jonathan Larson also came out recently that makes it clear the movie is less about his death and more about celebrating his life.

overall

Reviews for the movie have been mostly positive – it’s 89% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes – especially calling out Garfield’s fearless performance and Miranda’s assured direction.

Both of those aspects are clearly communicated in the campaign. But while the focus is mostly on Garfield and how he came to be cast and then learn to sing for the role, everything is almost always in service of putting the spotlight back on Larson and what he was going through at the time the story is set. Miranda, Garfield and everyone else take pains to always make sure it’s Larson at the center of the story, something that seems very personal for many of those involved.

red notice – marketing recap

How Netflix has sold a star-studded action comedy.

red notice poster Netflix
Red Notice poster

Red Notice, out this week on Netflix after a brief theatrical run, features the kind of cast that is any producer’s dream. Dwayne Johnson stars as FBI profiler John Hartley, who is on the trail of two high-profile thieves: Sarah Black (Gal Gadot) and Nolan Booth (Ryan Reynolds). When Hartley is wrongfully accused of being a criminal himself he has to team up with Booth to bring in Black and prove his innocence.

Written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber, the movie has been sold as a big extravaganza with major star power. Let’s take a look.

announcement and casting

Universal Pictures won a bidding war for the project in early 2018, beating out several other studios for a movie that was seen as a sure thing with Johnson attached. Gadot was added later that year.

The first bit of news about the movie was kind of unusual in that it was a revelation that Johnson had asked for $1 million to promote the film to his social media followers in the lead up to release. That’s…not that big a deal? You could argue this kind of promotion would be in the talent’s own self-interest anyway, but if someone’s willing to pay you to do it as well, go for it.

In July 2019 it was revealed Universal had let the project go, with Netflix picking it up while at the same time dismissing Universal’s previously-announced release date and adding Reynolds to the cast. Right after that it was reported the movie’s budget was somewhere around $200 million, a substantial figure for an original property.

The movie was one of many to have its production put on hiatus because of the Covid-19 outbreak. Even so, Reynolds mentioned it briefly when virtually appearing on “The Tonight Show” earlier this year.

the marketing campaign

The first footage came in January, part of Netflix’s announcement of its ambitious 2021 feature film slate.

A release date was finally announced by Netflix – via the social media profiles of the cast – in July.

The first trailer (4.1m YouTube views) was released in September. It sells the basic story of Hartley having to team up with Booth to take down Black but like the rest of the campaign it’s primary goal is to convey the chemistry between the three leads and the action-packed humor of the story.

Later that month the movie was part of Netflix’s TUDUM virtual fan event, where an extended clip of the fight between the three main characters in a museum display room was released.

A substantial profile of Johnson touched on all the usual topics, from his early days in wrestling to his political ambitions to his daily training routine and so on.

Posters started coming out in mid- to late-October. Those included a theatrical one-sheet showing all three leads who are labeled “Pros and Cons” as well as character posters for Hartley, Black and Booth. Those character posters came out to count down the last three weeks before the movie’s release.

The second trailer came out at that time also, opening with the scene of Hartley recruiting Booth to try and find Black. That plan is complicated when Black frames Hartley for a crime he didn’t commit, meaning he and Booth now need to work together to both bring her in and clear his name. That’s all in service of what’s really being sold here, which is Reynolds and Johnson quipping at each other while Gadot looks lovely and dangerous and outsmarts both of them time and again.

Netflix put out one of their “watch this before…” videos that explains the story and characters while also offering some other recommendations on what to watch with the three stars.

The movie’s red carpet premiere, held earlier this month, was livestreamed, with the stars and others in attendance. At that event they boasted of the size of the premiere while also talking about how much fun they had making the movie, how they hope the audience enjoys it and more.

Of course because they both star in their own DC super hero franchises, a joint interview with Gadot and Johnson included asking them how those characters would have acted in the events of this film. Those two also appeared together on “Kimmel”.

An interview with Thurber had him talking about both the process of working with the cast and the technical aspects of production, including how he and others kept many of the effects practical instead of adding them later.

Just before the movie came to Netflix Johnson announced a new promotion where he would choose Tweets people shared about someone who’s done you wrong and put them on the Times Square digital billboard promoting the film. Netflix boosted that message with a paid promoted trend on Twitter.

overall

If you’re a fan of the three leads, you’ll likely be on board with this campaign.

If you’re a fan of big, silly action comedies, you’ll likely be on board with this campaign.

If you’re a fan of movies that are going to be completely enjoyable even if you only three-quarters watch them while doing other things, you’ll likely be on board with this campaign.

Basically there’s a lot of good stuff here but none of it should be mistaken for fine art. This is a popcorn flick meant to be enjoyed for what it is, not what it could be or what other movies have been.

passing – marketing recap

How Netflix has sold a movie about racial identity.

Passing poster

Based on the 1929 novel of the same name by Nella Larsen, Passing tells the as Irene “Reenie” Redfield (Tessa Thompson) and her childhood friend Clare Bellew (Ruth Negga). Now grown women, Reenie goes about her life fully embracing her black identity while Clare, more light skinned and married to a white man, “passes” as white. As the two reunite for the first time in years their different approaches lead to conflict between them as the question of what is or isn’t authentic comes between them.

The movie marks the first directorial effort from actress Rebecca Hall and arrives on Netflix this week after a campaign that’s leaned into the push and pull of the two characters as well as Hall’s journey to making the film.

announcement and casting

The movie got on a lot of people’s radars quickly when it was announced in 2018 this would be Hall’s directorial debut and would feature an impressive cast.

It wasn’t until about two years later that a release date was announced.

The movie was among those scheduled to screen at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, where it got positive reviews, especially for Hall’s direction and Negga’s performance.

Shortly after that festival debut Netflix acquired the film following a brief period of speculation.

the marketing campaign

In a substantial feature story from around the time of Sundance, Hall talked about the process of making her directorial debut, including how she used her personal experience with similar subject matter to convince the studio to give her the job. Negga and Thompson also talked about how they got involved and what it was like to work with Hall.

Hall and the cast participated in a video panel conversation during the virtual Sundance festival. Also during the festival Thompson and Hall talked about how both of them immediately cleared their schedules in order to be part of the film.

A featurette from Dolby had Hall and Almada talking about the story and how they crafted the film using that company’s technology and more.

In August Hall was interviewed about another project but spoke about how this movie was driven by questions she had about her own family and more.

The trailer (790k YouTube views) was finally released in mid-September, opening with Reenie and Clare meeting when both are at a swanky restaurant. The two are friends but not really, having very different ways of looking at the world and making their way in it. In particular, Clare insists on passing as white while Reenie has no interest in doing so. There’s jealousy in both directions as each sees things to both envy and dislike in the other.

“Nothing is black and white” promises the poster, released at the same time. Clare and Reenie are shown back to back, the color of the background they’re placed against signaling the racial identity they’re chosen/accepted for themselves.

Thompson, Negga, Hall and others all appeared at the New York Film Festival screening of the film where all were interviewed about the process of making the film and working with first-time director Hall. The movie also screened at the Chicago Film Festival in October.

Unsurprisingly the book the movie is based on was selected as the inaugural title in Netflix’s newly-launched book club.

Just recently it won the U.S. Narrative Feature Jury Award at the LGBTQ Film Festival NewFest.

Another interview with Hall included her talking about how for seven years her efforts to get the film made were rebuffed by studios and producers who didn’t believe there was any audience for it.

overall

As a longtime fan of Hall’s work, it’s great to see her positioned here as the public face of the movie’s campaign, even more so than the two leads. In fact it’s actually a bit surprising to see that Thompson and Negga weren’t given more to do, but the message Netflix is sending is that it’s Hall’s story, and a personal one at that.

the harder they fall – marketing recap

How Netflix has sold a high-octane and star-studded Western.

The Harder They Fall poster

Regina King, Jonathan Majors, Idris Elba, Lakeith Stanfield, Zazie Beetz and Delroy Lindo are just a few of the big names in this week’s new Netflix feature The Harder They Fall.

In the film, labeled as based on a true story, Majors plays Nat Love, a former enslaved person who, once free, moved from Tennessee to Kansas to find work as a cowboy. One day he finds out his nemesis Rufus Buck (Elba) has escaped imprisonment he gathers those loyal to him to set out and find Buck and bring him back to justice, or exact revenge himself. But Buck has his own gang and the two groups are fated to face off against each other.

With a solid cast and the promise of a new-fangled Western, Netflix’s campaign has been slick and action-packed, even if it hasn’t been particularly sizable.

announcement and casting

The movie was announced in mid-2019 with Majors and first-time director Jeymes Samuel attached at that time. Elba joined later that year with others added over the course of 2019 and into 2020.

Production started in mid-2020 but, like many other films, had to be suspended because of a Covid case in October.

The first footage came in January, part of Netflix’s announcement of its ambitious 2021 feature film slate.

the marketing campaign

The first trailer (3.1m YouTube views) came out in late June, starting off with the outlaws robbing a train to free one of their number. But there are those who preferred Buck remain in jail, leading to a good old-fashioned showdown in a small town. It looks like a great, stylized Western with lots of action and humor and a fantastic cast.

Two posters that show the two different sides of the law that are presented in the story also came out in June.

Netflix announced in August that the movie would open the London Film Festival.

It was August when the official trailer (1.1m YouTube views) was released. There’s more footage than was included in the first one but the same message is being sent here: That the film is violent and funny, with a story about warring outlaw gangs each determined to get what they feel is theirs. Most of all it looks like a lot of fun, with some great actors playing Old West for a while.

Short promos like this also began appearing at this time that play up the splashy visuals and high-energy tone of the film.

Another poster came out in September that combines elements from the previous two, bringing the main four characters into a single one-sheet.

At the London Film Festival there were a number of interviews with the cast and crew where they talked about discarding stereotypes of the Western genre, how this film broadens the scope of the kinds of stories that can be told of that era and more.

Similar themes were covered in an interview with Samuel.

Majors stopped by “Kimmel” recently to talk about this movie as well as other upcoming projects.

At the movie’s L.A. premiere event Majors again pointed out that this isn’t an alternative history of the Old West so much as it was an additional chapter of that era that hasn’t been widely told.

Overall

The 83% Fresh rating the film currently has on Rotten Tomatoes represents it’s been received more positively than some of the other recent Netflix titles, and even more positively than many other recent releases regardless of platform.

Aside from that, the marketing has been solidly consistent through what is admittedly its short life span. It sells the movie as being a Western, yes, but one with a more modern sensibility and tone despite the frequent assertions by Samuel and others that this isn’t an alternate history or revisionist take on the genre.

It also puts its all-star cast right at the front with an especially strong focus on Majors, who could use this and a couple other high-profile roles to break out into the big-time.

the starling – marketing recap

How Netflix is selling a story of grief, love and Metaphor Birds.

The Starling poster

The Starling, streaming now on Netflix, stars Melissa McCarthy and Chris O’Dowd as Lilly and Jack, a married couple who are in the midst of a rough patch in their relationship. Jack is in an institution working to come to terms with the grief he feels following the death of their child (it’s unclear if it was a miscarriage or came later) while Lilly has to continue on through life without him. Helping her on the outside is Dr. Larry Fine (Kevin Kline), a former counselor now working as a veterinarian.

announcement and casting

McCarthy and O’Dowd were cast as the leads in mid-2019, reuniting them with their St. Vincent director. Others were added to the lineup later that year.

While the movie was still in post-production Netflix reportedly acquired distribution rights.

the marketing

In June news came that the film would screen at the Toronto Film Festival ahead of a limited theatrical release followed by wide availability on Netflix.

The trailer (1.8m views on YouTube) was finally released in late August. As it starts we see Lilly is working to adjust to life with Jack in a facility to deal with his issues. Lilly has her own problems, though, and is referred to Dr. Fine despite him no longer being a counselor. The couple are working through their problems and, with Fine’s help, trying to find new ways to be a couple after experiencing a common loss.

Shortly after that the planned TIFF premiere took place, but the reviews and word of mouth that came out were decidedly mixed if not outright negative.

The poster came out in mid-September, just a week or so before the movie was available. The focus here is on Lilly as she lays in her garden, the starling of the title perched on her shoulder. Everything about the design is meant to convey heartfelt emotions, right down to the serif-heavy font and the soft colors of the sky in the background.

McCarthy appeared on “The Late Show” to talk about the movie, including the technical difficulties involved in acting against an invisible bird and more. A later interview with her had her sharing her own experiences as a mom and with wild animals along with more.

An interview with Melfi had him talking about shooting parts of the movie with the actors in different locations due to the conflicting schedules as well as how he worked to change the perspective of the original script to focus more on McCarthy’s character.

Just prior to release Netflix put out a clip expanding on a scene between Lilly and Dr. Fine talking about the grieving process.

overall

The campaign’s major obstacle to overcome are the aforementioned negative reviews, which have just continued since Toronto and currently give the film a paltry 22% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Whether it achieves that goal is questionable. McCarthy and O’Dowd are two incredibly likeable, charismatic actors and having Kline batting clean up is never a bad thing. Everything in the marketing makes it clear that the characters are all dealing with big emotions and having difficult conversations, so your reaction to the trailer et al will likely depend on how attractive that all seems.

kate – marketing recap

How Netflix has sold another movie about an assassin with nothing left to lose.

Kate poster

There have been a number of movies in the last several years that have, essentially, taken different approaches to the John Wick model, that being a story about an assassin or hired killer who goes off the reservation for one reason or another. This week’s new Netflix release Kate, directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, follows in that sub-genre.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Kate, a highly proficient hitwoman working for the yakuza. When an assignment goes wrong, her employers decide to end their arrangement, poisoning Kate with an agent that will slowly kill her over 24 hours. With that much time to live, she decides to make the most of it by seeking out and killing those who have doomed her.

announcements and casting

After acquiring the project in script form in 2017, Winstead was cast in 2019, as was Harrelson.

Netflix announced in May that the movie would be coming to the streaming service later in the year. A September date was then set in mid-June.

the marketing campaign proper

Kate already suspects she’s been setup as the trailer (1.2m views onYouTube), released in early August, opens. She tells Varrick (Harrelson) as much, including that she believes she was poisoned before the botched hit, which was on the head of the yakuza. With her new friend Ani (Miku Martineau) in tow, and as her body slowly fails, she sets out to find the person responsible for setting her up, working through Tokyo’s underbelly one henchman and mid-level lackey at a time.

The brightly-colored poster came out at the same time. It shows Kate (looking very much the worse for wear as she holds her gun at the ready), Ani and Varrick in a neon frame that, along with the signs seen in the background, establishes the Tokyo setting. Above the title is the copy “There’s no time for mercy” that hints at the ticking clock nature of the story.

A more distilled version of the story was included in short promo spots like this that were published and run at the end of August and into early September.

An interview with Winstead had her talking about the refreshing lack of overtly gendered costumes and other elements along with how her stunt training for this film was able to build on what she was already doing for Birds of Prey.

There were a couple other interviews with the star, but most of them only briefly touched on this movie, instead focusing on her thoughts around returning as Huntress in another BoP entry.

overall

Reviews haven’t been overly positive, as the movie only has a 34% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. And yes, there have been at least two or three other movies about a female assassin out for revenge on the employers who have turned on her recently. But the same can be said for movies about men seeking revenge on those who killed their family, so I’m not sure that’s a valid criticism in and of itself.

The campaign Netflix ran has a lot of nice elements, but what comes across most to me is that it shows how versatile and yet tragically underused Mary Elizabeth Winstead is. That alone should generate some level of interest, with others vaguely aware of the movie until it turns up as a recommendation on Netflix and it’s deemed “good enough” on a Thursday afternoon.