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.

quick thoughts on recent movie news 4/20/22

Rounding up a few stories from the last few days that have gotten my attention.

Compiled while thinking about how we’re in like the 17th news cycle of the “Elon Musk might buy Twitter with money he doesn’t have for purposes that are unclear and with a mindset that seems pulled straight from 2003” story.

The Streaming Wars Enter The “We Do Not Have Troops in Cambodia” Phase

The first interesting bit of data to hit on this front was a Nielsen survey reporting how nearly half of all streaming customers are overwhelmed by the amount of content on the services they subscribe to. While it also states those customers aren’t planning to scale back on those services, many also want some sort of bundling that would make it easier for them to choose what they have access to, something Disney already does with Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+.

Those are interesting numbers, but the fact that Netflix reported losing 200,000 subscribers in the most recent quarter indicates there’s a ceiling that’s being bumped into, especially when you remember Disney+ added almost 12 million subscribers in the quarter ending January 1st of this year.

It’s another reminder that the theory of infinite growth that powers investor expectations just isn’t realistic, especially in what’s now a mature market where people are making choices based on content and UX as opposed to significant product innovation. And Netflix keeps canceling popular/well-reviewed series and reducing the rest of its catalog even while raising prices, actively honking off the audience.

Make It Stop Schitts Creek GIF by CBC - Find & Share on GIPHY

As an example of the latter point, things like “adding an ad-supported tier” and “cracking down on password sharing” are now considered market innovation.

Plus, Netflix now finds itself in the position of the one streamer not aligned with a legacy media company/production studio. It used to benefit from that independence, but now it’s regularly shedding popular catalog titles as studios launch their own platforms.

Post-Lockdown Theatrical Audiences Are Extremely Picky

It’s not necessarily that Netflix (and streaming in general) killed action movies, romantic comedies or any other genre’s chances for theatrical box office success.

It’s more that audiences these days, with all the choices available to them, can only focus on one movie in theaters at a time.

Many weekends this year have seen the #1 movie at the domestic box-office gross twice or more what the #2 movie brought in.

Meg Ryan GIF by MGM Studios - Find & Share on GIPHY

So you can guess which movie will win the weekend based on the volume of press coverage more than anything.

Also, while it’s seemingly positive that the average movie ticket price hasn’t increased since 2019, inflation means people are having to weigh whether that $9.17 isn’t better spent on increasingly expensive gasoline, food and other necessities as opposed to luxuries like a movie at the theater.

People have lost jobs and seen their incomes fall in real dollars, not just the value of those dollars, over the last two years, so that’s of course going to impact how they decide to spend their money.

And even with price hikes, that $9.17 goes further and offers more options – many of which are totally “good enough” – when applied to a Netflix or other streaming subscription, though it’s still more than what customers think is a reasonable price for such subscriptions.

You Want to Prioritize Superman, You Say?

This is at least the third “Warner Bros. wants to reorganize DC Entertainment and find a Feige-like film head” story I’ve read in the last 10 years but I’m sure this time something will actually happen that won’t be undone in six months by a new studio head and/or how one movie underperforms compared to expectations.

Henry Cavill Superman GIF by Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice - Find & Share on GIPHY

the bubble – marketing recap

How Netflix is selling a meta comedy about Hollywood in times of pandemic.

The Bubble movie poster
The Bubble movie poster

There have been a handful of movies over the last year or so that have, in one way or another, been about or at least set in the world of a pandemic. But The Bubble, new this week on Netflix, offers a new take on the idea, one that mixes quarantine reality with Hollywood’s love affair with making movies about itself.

Directed by Judd Apatow, who cowrote the script with Pam Brady, the movie follows the cast of the fictional Cliff Beasts 6 as they shoot the franchise sequel during the Covid-19 pandemic. Karen Gillan, David Duchovny, Leslie Mann, Keegan-Michael Key and others star as Cliff Beasts series veteran actors. They’re joined by newcomers played by Iris Apatow and Pedro Pascal, with Fred Armisen as the film’s director and Kate McKinnon as the studio head overseeing a logistically difficult production.

With that premise, let’s take a look at the very meta campaign Netflix has rolled out over the last month or so.

announcements and casting

Netflix announced the film in November, 2020, as the real-life pandemic was still sweeping through the country and world. Apatow was set to direct as well as write with Brady.

Most of the primary cast, including Gillan, Key, Mann, Pascal and others was announced in February, 2021.

the marketing campaign for CLIFF BEA6TS

Things kicked off in early March with an appropriately meta touch, one that left more than a few people scratching their heads as we tried to figure out what was going on. Causing the confusion was the teaser trailer for Cliff Beasts 6: The Battle For Everest. What’s most impressive about this teaser is that it 100% looks like something that would actually be made for a long-in-the-tooth action franchise, with pulse-pounding music, a few flashy graphics and, most impressively, the fact that the title is actually represented as “CLIFF BEA6TS”, with that “6” making no sense whatsoever.

That was followed by a completely serious featurette explaining the story to date in the Cliff Beasts franchise, including interviews with the cast, posters for the earlier movies and the usual kind of self-congratulatory comments about how everyone worked together mixed with promises of even more action and adventure to come.

Along those same lines came a retrospective that included comments from the cast about returning to the series, who their characters are and other very familiar material.

All of that took place in just a couple days, all leading up to the launch of the campaign for the *actual* movie, not the movie-within-a-movie.

Later on there was a behind-the-scenes video released that shows the director of Cliff Beasts trying to coax performances from the actors with sometimes confusing, sometimes contradictory and always insane suggestions. Another similar video shows just what you get when you hire a Sundance-winning director to helm a big-budget special effects blockbuster.

the marketing campaign for THE BUBBLE

The first trailer (500,000 YouTube views) for The Bubble starts out with footage from Cliff Beasts, only to then transition to show the ridiculous green screen nature of shooting movies like that, including extras in foam outfits as placeholders for the digital monsters added later. We see that the cast and crew have been sequestered for the duration of the production, with PPE and Covid tests and everything we’ve come to expect over the last two years. Even with that aside the set is filled with insanity, whether it’s people coming down with the flu, doing too much cocaine, hooking up with each other or rolling their eyes at some of their costars.

The disconnect between reality and fantasy is also highlighted on the poster, which has the cast arrayed in the usual heroic V formation, but with the green screen not filled in, so we see the wires and backdrops and all the other stuff we’re not supposed to.

A clip shows an extended look at one sequence from the production, with a dramatic moment in Cliff Beasts giving way to the green screen reality of filming.

Netflix offered everyone an explanation of what was going on in a video that also had recommendations on what else members of the movie’s cast have been in that people could watch.

overall

What’s most amazing about this campaign is that, with the exception of one or two videos, it encompasses a total of under 72 hours. Most all of those initial videos for the Cliff Beasts movie came out over a single two-day period, while the trailer and poster for the actual movie came out in a single day.

That aside, there’s a lot of fun in what’s presented here, especially when you consider it’s inspired by the real life situation encountered by the Jurassic World: Dominion filmmakers. But it’s also more of a broad comedy than what we’re used to seeing from Apatow, who usually deals in headier, or at least more subtle, fare.

who are the pentaverate?

There’s something missing here…

Yesterday Netflix released the first teaser trailer for “The Pentaverate” an upcoming series created by Mike Myers in which he also plays eight of the characters.

The official description of the series reads thusly:

What if a secret society of five men has been working to influence world events for the greater good since the Black Plague of 1347? As this new series begins, one unlikely Canadian journalist finds himself embroiled in a mission to uncover the truth and just possibly save the world himself. Remember, the Pentaverate must never be exposed!

That description, and most of the press surrounding the trailer’s release, made sure to note how many characters Myers was playing (something he’s done frequently) but few called out that this is an expansion of the So I Married An Axe Murderer Cinematic Universe. Specifically this scene where the idea of The Pentaverate, a secret Illuminati-esque organization that runs everything in the world…*including* the newspapers.

(Personal note: This is a scene I quote frequently and which few people around me understand or recognize.)

It’s unclear whether or not the series will indeed tie into the movie in any real way or if Charlie MacKenzie, the character Myers played in the film, will make an appearance.

If not, it’s a missed opportunity to remind people that SIMAAM is quite funny, even if Myers has a reputation for being difficult to work with.

Even better, we should catch up with Charlie’s brother William, otherwise known as “Heed.”

the adam project – marketing recap

How Netflix has sold a time-traveling character drama

The Adam Project movie poster
The Adam Project movie poster

After getting such critical and commercial acclaim for their collaboration on Free Guy a few months ago, director Shawn Levy and star Ryan Reynolds team up once again for The Adam Project, arriving on Netflix this week.

Reynolds plays Adam Reed, a fighter pilot who travels decades back in time and crash lands in 2022 while on a mission to save the world of the future. Stuck in his past, Adam has to work with his much-younger self (Walker Scobell), who is living with his mom Ellie (Jennifer Garner) after his dad Louis (Mark Ruffalo) passed away.

So the movie is a family drama within the trappings of a sci-fi adventure. As such there’s been lots of referencing of classic Spielberg/Amblin movies from the 1980s. So let’s take a look at how it’s been sold.

announcements and casting

It’s been a solid 10 years since the movie first went into development, at one point having Tom Cruise attached to play the lead. But it wasn’t until Netflix acquired the project in 2020 that production actually began.

Various big names, including Ruffalo, Garner, Keener and others, were added to the cast in the months following the June, 2020 announcement by Netflix. Reynolds shared some photos from the film in late November.

When she was promoting Yes Day last year, Garner commented on the film briefly, specifically calling out it being a reunion of her and 13 Going On 30 co-star Ruffalo.

the marketing campaign

Things really kicked off this past January when Netflix shared a handful of stills from the movie. A release date was announced that same day.

The teaser trailer (6.3m YouTube views), released in early February, sets up the premise well and, in particular, shows off Reynolds’ comic stylings. We see that Adam is having trouble after his dad passed away, soon meeting his future self after that self crash lands in the woods near Adam’s house. This teaser is all about setting things up, with few details shared, but it does its job effectively.

“Past meets future” we’re told on the first poster, which came out at the same time. It shows the present and future Adam meeting in the woods, the older one’s ship looming and glowing in the background above the trees. Like the teaser trailer, it works well in setting up the premise without offering much in the way of detail.

Some of the footage from that teaser formed the centerpiece of a Super Bowl commercial from Netflix that touted the company’s 2022 feature film lineup, promising new movies every week of the year.

Reynolds and Scobell, who makes his big-screen debut in the movie, talked about working together and the importance of original stories at a special London West Hollywood screening. They were also both interviewed about the throwback nature of the story and more.

The first clip came out about a week later, offering an extended look at the scene of Old Adam working to patch himself up in his childhood home as Young Adam follows him around trying to figure out what’s going on and who this stranger is.

The cast and Levy all appeared at the red carpet premiere of the movie at the end of February. While there they talked not only about the movie but the war that was at the time just beginning to heat up in Ukraine.

In early March the full trailer (4m YouTube views) was released. As it opens the two Adams and Laura (Zoe Saldaña) are escaping from whoever it is that’s after them. From there on out we get more of the story, that in order to save the future they have to stop time travel from being invented. That leads them to go back and recruit their late father, who contributed to that invention. With lots of hugging and talk about growing up, it’s clear this is an emotional movie as much as it is an action-packed one. Adding to that are all the pull quotes from early reviews that compare it to E.T. and other classic Spielberg films.

Before that trailer came out, Netflix shared a short video that starts with Scobell and Reynolds teasing it before *another* Reynolds appears and warns them not to release it because it’s so good it sets off a series of unintended consequences. It’s funny and contains the requisite ribbing of Reynolds while also singing the praises of Ruffalo and Garner.

A *very* Struzan-inspired poster was released along with the trailer. It has all the earmarks of that artist, most notably an awareness of design and composition basics that is all but lacking in most modern one-sheets, especially those for blockbusters and franchise entries.

A short promo/commercial boiled the trailer down to its essential action/humor elements.

Ruffalo and Garner appeared together in an installment of Netflix’s “Screen Test” series, talking about their favorite movies and generally being charming together, showing they have tons of chemistry.

In a very self-aware move, Reynolds’ ad production shop created a Kraft Mac & Cheese commercial tying into the movie that has Scobell as the spokesperson who can’t stick to the script because he’s been tainted by the experience of playing a younger version of Reynolds.

Reynolds and Garner shared some of the personal connections they have to the story in an interview that also included comments from Levy.

overall

I don’t put much stock in all the reviews and other coverage that compare this to 80s Spielberg and similar movies. Those comparisons are made about many films that mix in family drama with sci-fi or other genre elements to the point that I’m beginning to worry people’s reference points are the ripoffs laying claim to that heritage instead of the actual originals.

That being said, there’s a lot to like about the campaign, but your reception to it will likely vary based on your tolerance for Reynolds and his fast-talking antics. That’s why it’s nice that Netflix included generous helpings of Ruffalo and Garner and their reunion, especially at the end, to show there is more to the movie than a constant string of quips and Star Wars references.

picking up the spare

Netflix ran banner ads like the one below on Spotify in the week or so on either side of the movie’s release. 

The Adam Project Spotify banner ad
The Adam Project Spotify banner ad

Reynolds and Levy were interviewed about the movie’s premise and what they wanted to accomplish with the story. Those two and others also talked about the movie at the premiere, including joking about a reteaming of Reynolds and Hugh Jackman. 

There’s been lots of attention paid to the process of casting Scobell as a young Reynolds, including this featurette from Netflix and lots more videos that include Scobell reciting R-rated dialogue from Deadpool and other movies. 

Netflix also released a number of additional behind-the-scenes and making-of videos like this along with a blooper reel. 

the weekend away – marketing recap

How Netflix has sold a drama about vacation gone wrong.

The Weekend Away movie poster
The Weekend Away movie poster

The Weekend Away, new this week on Netflix, is based on the Sarah Alderson novel of the same name. In the movie, Leighton Meester plays Beth, a woman who goes with her friend Kate (Christina Wolfe) on a vacation to Croatia. When Kate mysteriously disappears after a night on the town, Beth has to reconstruct what happened and who might have killed Kate.

The original film arrives at the same time a certain Caped Crusader hits theaters following a massive campaign, making this the closest thing to “counter-programming” we are likely to see these days.

So let’s take a look at how it’s been sold.

the marketing campaign

Netflix announced Meester had joined as star of the film in June 2021.

As the trailer (2.7m YouTube views), released in February, begins, we see that Kate is the one who worked to convince Beth to get away from her life and family and go on vacation together. After a night of drinks and dancing Kate goes missing and is soon found dead and Beth is the primary suspect. So she has to go on the run and find out what happened while piecing together the events of the last night they spent together.

There’s not much communicated on the one poster that was released. It just shows Beth staring in disbelief a Zain (Ziad Bakr), the cab driver that helps her elude authorities an uncover the truth. It’s pretty bland, but seems primarily designed to show off Meester in the starring role so succeeds on that front.

Meester shared some of her movie favorites and more in a short video released by Netflix earlier this week.

Kate is being grilled by the police in a clip released just days ago, made to feel uncomfortable because her memory of the night in question is so fuzzy.

overall

Compared to The Batman, this is an almost non-existent marketing push. It’s not bad as it positions the movie pretty well for what it’s meant to be, but with just a couple elements and almost no press activity it’s substantially smaller in scale.

That leads me to believe that, since as I mentioned earlier this is essentially counter-programming to the big blockbuster hitting theaters, Netflix is counting less on this campaign to raise awareness and more on the in-app promotions and recommendations. The goal then is to drive immediate action instead of long-term interest. It wants people who are staying home this weekend to turn on Netflix to find *something* to watch and decide this looks like a good enough way to spend a couple hours. And all without the hassle or expense of a trip out.

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.