Tolkien – Marketing Recap

tolkien poster 3Two years ago there seemed to be an unusual wave of movies telling stories of famous author’s early days, capturing the moments that inspired their most well-known literary works and offering insights into their personal as well as professional lives. This week another entry in that subgenre hits theaters in the form of Tolkien, turning the spotlight on the author of The Lord of The Rings and other fantasy stories.

Nicholas Hoult stars as the title author in a story that follows him from his days at university through his experiences during World War I, his courtship of Edith (Lily Collins) and the various ways he would wind up telling the epic yet very personal stories he’d become famous for. That includes a focus on the passion he had not only for telling stories but developing fully-formed languages, something that would play heavily in his work.

The Posters

A teaser poster released late last year shows the title treatment with the “O” of his name glimmering like a ring and highlighting a page of elaborately handwritten text in the background. That same background is used on the second poster but this time we see Hoult as Tolkien staring out at the audience, two riders facing off against each other in the foreground in very dramatic fashion.

Edith is added to the theatrical poster along with the men who become Tolkien’s university friends and who form the real life “fellowship” with the writer. All three posters sport the copy “A story of love, courage and friendship” to explain the various aspects of the movie’s story. They also all feature a green and yellow color scheme that’s in keeping with the branding of the books and even the movies based on his work.

The Trailers

The first brief teaser doesn’t show much, but does work hard to draw the thematic connections between Tolkien’s own life and the stories he would become most famous for telling.

The full trailer, introduced by Hoult and Collins, introduces us to Tolkien and his passion for both languages and telling stories. Those stories we see are metaphors for the violence and terror of war as well as the brotherhoods and fellowships formed during such conflicts. It used sweeping, dramatic music to help underscore the story, but in doing so it presents it as a large story when in fact the main focus is decidedly personal. In short it tries too hard to be LOTR, not a biopic of a buttoned-down English professor and author.

Online and Social

Fox Searchlight’s official website for the movie features most all the usual content such sites usually sports, including information on the cast and director along with “Videos” and ticket-buying prompts along with links to profiles on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The teaser was used in a promoted post shortly after it was released to get more people’s attention. The full trailer was similarly promoted after it came out.

A number of TV spots began appearing in late April, beginning with one emphasizing the journeys taken and followed by commercials showing how Tolkien wanted to change the world, the real life fellowship formed between him and his friends, his desire to create a legend of his own and more.

Media and Publicity

EW shared the first look at Hoult in character in late January.

A couple months later the cast and crew appeared in a featurette where they talked about the influence of Tolkien’s work on their own lives and more. The first clip came out a bit later showing Edith encouraging Tolkien to come up with a story and tell it to her, meant to reinforce that he’s a natural storyteller.

Hoult talked about playing someone who so fully realized the worlds he was creating and the responsibility of portraying a real person. Collins was interviewed about how she wants to show the role Edith played in Tolkien’s life and his creative process. The two stars appeared together on “The Late Show” to talk about the movie with LOTR super-fan Stephen Colbert.

A minor speed bump emerged when the Tolkien family released a statement last month saying they did not endorse the movie, making it clear they had not seen it and so couldn’t speak to any particular scene or story element but simply didn’t approve of any biopic. Director Dome Karukoski responded not long after saying working with the estate would have created more problems than it solved since it would have lead to a compromised vision in some manner.

A featurette from late April emphasized the love story at the heart of the movie that compliments Tolkien’s creation of his fantasy worlds. Another explained why the filmmakers chose the parts of the writer’s life they did and how they wanted to change the perception of who he was.

Another clip showed Tolkien flummoxing his professor with his audacity in creating new languages to tell the stories he wanted to.

The Montclair Film Festival held in New Jersey last week hosted an advance screening of the movie with Colbert acting as master of ceremonies, interviewing the cast and talking about his own fandom for the author’s works.

Just before the movie hit theaters another featurette was released showing the cast talking about what a legend Tolkien was while a final clip featured him in conversation with his university friends.

Overall

The campaign doesn’t do much to differentiate itself from those for the movies mentioned in my article linked at the top. It shows all the usual beats, from him seeking comrades who understand him to being traumatized in some manner to finding the love of his life, someone who will support him in his work. The branding of the title treatment and other imagery works hard to build the connection between this and Tolkien’s work, which is understandable even if it comes off as a bit heavy handed at times.

Aside from that, Hoult and Collins seem to be doing good work here, though the latter’s role seems to be more or less thankless as many similar parts do. Still, it’s a nicely dramatic story being sold in a marketing campaign that likely won’t break through the full-scale barrages of Avengers and Aladdin.

Picking Up the Spare

There were more profiles of Hoult as well as a joint interview with him and Collins on the making of the movie. 

Rebel in the Rye – Marketing Recap

This week’s Rebel in the Rye is one of several late-summer/early-fall movies detailing the creative processes of famous authors. in this case Nicholas Hoult plays a young J.D. Salinger during his formative years, before he eventually created the book everyone had to read in Senior English, “A Catcher In The Rye.”

The movie follows Salinger as a young man who’s just returned from serving in World War II, shaking by his experiences there. He feels the impulse, the driving need, to write something that will reflect his worldview and perspective but doesn’t know what that is. Discouraged by his parents, who view writing as a less than noble career but encouraged by a professor (Kevin Spacey) who wants him to dig deeper into his soul, Salinger eventually produces the book that would define his career.

The Posters

The poster puts the floating head of Spacey behind a shot of Hoult, who’s seen looking very much the part of the rebel with his short sleeve shirt and cigarette. “Behind every masterpiece is a story” we’re told, making it clear we’re going to be watching an origin story of sorts. Typewriter-written words hover throughout the poster, establishing that we’re following a writer. The whole thing is tinged brown and orange to look like a faded photo, evoking the time period the movie is set in.

The Trailers

The first official trailer starts off showing a young Salinger when he’s just an aspiring writer looking to make a name for himself. He’s told to just keep writing until he gets it right but gets advice of different levels of quality from different people. We see some of the traumas and issues he deals with on the way to writing “Catcher” but even when he has someone in his corner he can’t quite get it over the finish line.

It’s clear that the struggle to create “Catcher” is the primary driving force of the story. We’re watching its origin story as much as, if not more, we’re watching Salinger’s. While it does present the movie as yet another variation on the “frustrated genius” theme, the dynamic between Hoult and Spacey is what really shines here. This may be most of Spacey’s screen time, but he clearly makes every moment count.

Online and Social

There’s not much on IFC Films’ page for the movie, just the trailer, a synopsis of the story, the poster and a cast list. Bloom Media’s page was similarly sparse, but it included a list of links to news stories about the movie.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Nothing here that I’ve seen. There may have been some local advertising done in the limited markets the movie opened in last week, but I’m not hip to those efforts.

Media and Publicity

The first big press was a feature story in The New York Times focusing on Strong’s career as an actor, writer and now director as well as his perspective in approaching such sensitive material that’s been hard to translate to film to date. Strong also talked about taking on the story at the beginning of the movie’s production.

The premiere at Sundance in 2017 was well-received but a bit of time passed before it was picked up by IFC for release later in the year. Strong explained later how and why he went about significantly editing the movie between that Sundance premiere and its eventual release.

Overall

The campaign seems to be appealing to two groups: 1) Those who want more information about the creation of a beloved – and often controversial – touch point of American literature and 2) All writers everywhere who have struggled with the disconnect between the internal voices that drive them to create and the results of that drive, along with the reception given the end product.

It’s the story that’s the strongest appeal here. Salinger has been such an enigmatic figure that there’s always been a hunger for more background on him and how he created “Catcher.” I don’t know how much that exists in the general public anymore after the passage of so many years, but it’s something that was still around when I was reading the book and likely lives on, even if it’s mostly in creative circles. So it’s hard to know how much clamoring there might be for a new take on that story, which is part of the reason it seems to be sold as a dramatic tale of overcoming setbacks as well.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.