The Prom – Marketing Recap

How Netflix is selling a flashy, glitzy feel-good story.

The Prom, directed by TV impresario Ryan Murphy, is a star-studded romp about defying small-minded attitudes with the help of a handful of massive celebrities. Adapted from a hit stage musical, the movie stars Jo Ellen Pellman as Emma Nolan, a high schooler who has been informed that the PTA, headed by Mrs. Greene (Kerry Washington), will not allow her to attend the prom with her girlfriend Alyssa (Ariana DeBose), who just also happens to be Mrs. Greene’s daughter.

When Emma’s situation makes the news it catches the attention of a handful of Broadway stars who are looking to get themselves out of a professional rut. So Dee Dee Allen (Meryl Streep), Barry Glickman (James Corden), Angie Dickenson (Nicole Kidman) and Trent Oliver (Andrew Rannells) all head to small-town Indiana hoping to find career salvation but wind up experiencing quite a bit more.

The movie itself has received middling reviews, but Netflix gave it a flashy campaign in keeping with the subject matter.

The Posters

The first poster (by marketing agency L.A.) came out in September and immediately makes the showbiz-nature of the story clear by presenting both the title and the names of the cast in big neon letters, like a sign placed on top of a building. You don’t get a lot of story information here but you get a lot of background on the rest of the movie, so it works pretty well.

A series of character posters, each with the face of that actor and another thing to celebrate named, came out in November.

“Everyone deserves a chance to celebrate” the audience is told on the next poster, released later in November. This one shows Emma and Alyssa holding hands while walking toward the school building, clearly on their way to a dance. A second poster uses the same aesthetic, but turns the couple around so they’re standing triumphantly facing the camera.

The final poster has the adults in the cast walking down the downtown of the town where the action takes place, all looking like they’re having a great time with all the neon and glitz they’re wearing.

The Trailers

The trailer (1.3 million views on YouTube), released toward the end of October, is the very definition of glitzy. You get the basics of the story – that a bunch of Broadway superstars has come to a small Indiana town to support a young woman who is being denied the right to go to the prom with her girlfriend – but that’s just there in the service of showing off the big musical productions. There’s so much glitter, so many sequins and so much choreography it’s…well…it’s just impressive.

The final trailer (1.4 million views on YouTube) came out just a few weeks ago, opening with Emma logging into her computer to tell her story. That prompts the cadre of actors to take up Emma’s cause as their own, heading to Indiana to make a splash. There are ups and downs, of course, but ultimately the stars decide to stage a prom themselves, resulting in more than a few heartwarming musical numbers.

Online and Social

No website, of course, but the movie also seems to have received limited support on Netflix’s brand social channels because the company has been busy promoting Mank as well as its lineup of holiday films.

Advertising and Promotions

The movie was announced back in April of 2019. After it was picked up by Netflix a release date was finally announced in mid-September.

A full clip of Kidman performing one of the film’s key musical numbers came out earlier this week.

Media and Press

The cast and crew were all part of a THR cover story where they talked about making the movie, what the story meant to them and more. That included a spotlight on DeBose, mentioning this as one of a couple high-profile projects she’s recently involved in.

Many members of the cast were quoted talking about this movie in a feature story on the latest wave of Hollywood’s attempt to make musicals an ongoing genre again.

Murphy praised his cast and celebrated the timeliness of the story in an interview.

DeBose was interviewed about how her cultural heritage and other factors played into this and other roles. Another interview with Murphy had him talking about assembling the cast and making the movie.

In terms of talk show appearances, Rannells showed up on “The Tonight Show” while Streep appeared on “The Late Show.”

Overall

You certainly can’t accuse the campaign of not knowing what it’s selling. That bright, shimmery pink and purple brand identity is carried across every element of the marketing, creating a consistent experience for the audience no matter where they encounter it.

What is slightly disappointing, though, is that in serving so much glitter the marketing never really settles into the story. You have to dig through several layers of musical fluff to get to what the film is actually about, and much of the drama that’s conveyed in the official synopsis isn’t communicated within the campaign itself. That includes big contradictions, such as how Washington’s character is shown in the trailer to be the antagonist who doesn’t want to let her daughter celebrate but on the posters is smiling and having a grand old time along with everyone else.

In the end it’s a mixed bag, but maybe I too don’t understand the concept of zazz.

Bombshell – Marketing Recap

How Lionsgate is selling its take on one of the biggest sexual harassment scandals in the media world.

bombshell posterWhether or not Roger Ailes’ ouster from Fox News marks a key moment of accountability in the recent movement to remove serial perpetrators of sexual abuse from power remains to be seen in many ways. But it certainly was a big deal given the cable channel and the political party it’s an official outlet for don’t usually take the rights of women to be as, much less more, valuable than the men exercising their God-given privilege.

That’s part of why those events have been dramatized in the new movie Bombshell. Charlize Theron plays Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly while Nicole Kidman plays Gretchen Carlson, both of them women integral to the demise of Ailes amidst allegations he repeatedly assaulted and harassed them as well as other female staffers. Margot Robbie plays Kayla Pospisil, a fictional new member of the news staff who encounters those same behaviors and acts as the audience’s surrogate to the story.

Lionsgate’s campaign has relied heavily on the physical transformations of Theron and Kidman into the women they play as well as the schadenfreude not a few people felt at the removal of a man responsible for making many of society’s current ills worse. Unfortunately a solid campaign has run into lackluster early buzz as the movie entered limited release, with wider distribution coming soon.

The Posters

All three women central to the story are shown on the first poster (by marketing agency BOND), released in October. The similarities in their looks is apparent as they’re side by side like this, while copy toward the bottom makes it clear the movie is “Based on a real scandal.”

The Trailers

There’s almost no dialogue in the teaser trailer (8.6 million views on YouTube), released in August. Instead the situation is conveyed to the audience in a number of Meaningful Glances as first Pospisil, then Kelly, then Carlson get on an elevator heading down. When it stops, Carlson and then Pospisil get off and both head into the Fox News offices for unstated reasons.

The first official trailer (13.7 million views on YouTube) was released in early October as part of an event hosted by Lionsgate in Los Angeles and starts with Kayla being given an introduction to how she needs to approach news gathering at Fox News, basically by finding any story that “would scare your grandmother.” That cuts to Gretchen explaining to a room full of attorneys how bad the sexism and harassment at the company was, both on-screen and off, and Megyn’s high-profile run-in with a certain presidential contender. When Kayla wants a promotion, Ailes makes her an unseemly offer to prove her loyalty. Gretchen’s accusations against Ailes make the environment even more hostile and lead to a boiling point for everyone involved.

Online and Social

Nothing of real note on the movie’s official website, which just as the basic information. Social profiles have offered more frequent updates, but that’s about it.

Advertising and Promotions

Roach and the cast attended a press screening of the movie in early October where they all talked about how they approached telling the story, their own experiences with the kind of behavior shown in the story and more. That screening kicked off substantial awards season speculation for the cast in particular. Another screening event was held in New York a couple weeks later.

The organizers of the Hollywood Film Awards announced in October they would be giving Theron a career achievement award. Similarly, she was slated for International Star Award at the Palm Springs Film Festival.

Lionsgate announced in late October it was moving the limited release of the film up one week in an attempt to gain word of mouth before the wide release the week of 12/20, when it competes against Star Wars.

That same month it took the stars and filmmakers on a brief “Conversation Tour” to discuss the film and the topics it touches on.

Theron was honored by American Cinematheque in November.

Roach was joined by writer Charles Randolph at an Arclight Hollywood Q&A where they screened and then discussed the movie.

Two clips came out in the last few weeks, one focusing on Kayla worrying she’s about to be fired, apparently after being ranted at by Ailes and another with Carlson making it clear the official channels for reporting sexual harassment within Fox are utterly meaningless.

Commercials like this cut down the story to manageable chunks, positioning the events depicted in it as the starting point for a national conversation, though on what is left unsaid.

The cast and crew all came out to the movie’s Los Angeles premiere last week and the New York premiere earlier this week.

While it may not make a huge difference in box office results, the cast has been nominated for multiple Golden Globes, SAG and other awards recently.

Media and Press

Initial press about the movie – from before it even went into production – included that it was among the films being dropped by Annapurna Pictures, reportedly due to budget issues that couldn’t be handled by the studio as it struggled to get its financial house in order.

Following the press screening, interviews popped up regularly, including one with Roach where he explained the decision to create the character of Kayla and how he got people to violate NDAs to share details of life inside Fox with him. One person who didn’t participate in that research was Carlson, who was frustrated by the constraints on her voice. The subject of how within and without Fox was or wasn’t willing to break their NDAs to talk with the filmmakers was also covered here.

Additional interviews focused on the challenges of playing real people, including Theron discussing her physical transformation into Kelly and Lithgow’s look for playing Ailes. Theron also admitted to the nervousness she felt taking on the role.

Lithgow talked about the movie when he appeared on “The Late Show” in October. He was also the subject of another profile focusing on his transformation into Ailes and spoke about it more on “The Daily Show” recently.

How the production team recreated the Fox News offices and sets were covered in an interview with Roach. The costume design team talked themselves about getting the look of the Fox News staff right. Roach later shared how he felt the movie followed in the tradition of cinematic social commentary while the whole cast was included in a feature on how they went about making a movie about such a recent and still delicate topic.

There were later profiles of Theron allowing her to talk about her own transformation into Kelly and more, something she continued talking about when she appeared on “Good Morning, America.”

Additional interviews with Roach on why he watches Fox News for research and insights, costar Richard Kind on playing Rudy Gulliani, Robbie on the social media research she conducted, Theron on why she didn’t want to meet Kelly in advance, costar Alanna Ubach on playing Fox personality Jeanine Pirro and more have all popped recently. There were also a few profiles like this on the movie’s wardrobe design.

Overall

There’s nothing wrong with the marketing as it stands. The campaign sells a dramatic retelling of recent history in a much more compelling way than some other movies (cough, Richard Jewell, cough) and seems much more vital and important. How powerful men create cultures friendly to the abuse they visit on those around them is a topic we need to see more of in order to break those systems down.

What’s surprising – and a little disappointing – is that the social justice message seems secondary here to how the performances, especially by Theron, have been put in the spotlight. Her transformation into Kelly is absolutely notable and worth discussing, but what would have been more heartening is to see how that work went to furthering a crucial societal story. Instead of just focusing on what happened at Fox News, the reality that what happened there is happening all over corporate America could have been underlined a bit more strongly.

Other than that, selling movie with incredibly performances by some of the best actors working today isn’t a hard message to put forward.

Picking Up the Spare

Lithgow continued appearing on late night to talk about how he was transformed through makeup and costumes into Ailes. Theron made another stop on “The Late Show.”

Roach spoke about why he cast McKinnon as a new, fictional character here. He also admitted that sensitive men who get defensive easily are not likely to be the target audience for the film.

A clip of a scene glimpsed in the trailers, an explanation of what makes a story perfect for Fox audiences, was released after the movie was in theaters.

McKinnon made a few late night appearances to hype the film, as did Robbie.

The cast and crew spoke about the facts and fictions of the movie at its premiere.  Robbie was interviewed later about her role.

Additional interviews with the movie’s makeup artist, score composer and writer.

The Goldfinch – Marketing Recap

goldfinch poster 2The Goldfinch, directed by John Crowley and based on the novel of the same name by Donna Tartt, is a story rooted in tragedy. Theo Decker (Oakes Fegley) is 13 years old when his mother dies in an explosion at the museum the two are visiting. With no other family available, instructions are for him to go live with the Barbour, whose daughter Pippa (Aimee Laurence) was also injured in the same bombing.

The story follows the connection between Theo and the Barbour family into adulthood, when a now grown Theo (Ansel Elgort) sells refurbished antiques while hiding the fact that he stole a valuable painting – “The Goldfinch” – from the museum all those years ago following the blast. Despite continuing to harbor feelings for Pippa (Ashleigh Cummings), Theo is engaged to Kitsy Barbour (Willa Fitzgerald), but more than one aspect of his life is about to be upended as the course of his life reaches a fateful turning point.

The Posters

goldfinch posterIt’s a dark, possibly depressing story being sold on the first poster (from marketing agency eclipse), which shows a picture of a goldfinch half-buried in a pile of ash falling down around it. Audiences are told this is based on the award-winning book as well as that it’s “The story of a stolen life.”

That same tagline is used on the second poster, but now the image is of young Theo shirtless and jumping, the photo deliberately left blurred to accentuate the motion of him falling.

The Trailers

Theodore is reminiscing about his late mother as the first trailer (5.4 million views on YouTube) from May opens. She died when he was a kid, setting him adrift in the world before he was taken in by another family who felt sorry for him. What we see from that point on is a story that shows how Theodore is still haunted by that day, having problems in life that are mirrored by incidents from his childhood trauma. But there’s a secret hinted at at the very end that may upend the story and break some of the assumptions we have about these characters, especially Theodore.

The second trailer (5.3 million views on YouTube), released in late July, opens with a young Theodore being asked about the bombing at the art museum he witnessed. One of the victims he encounters sends him, as well as a young girl who was also there – to Hobart & Blackwell. Scenes of him from the present and past are mixed throughout the rest of the trailer as we get glimpses into the hunt for a painting that went missing from that museum that Theodore may know something about as well as the drama that comes from losing a parent in a violent incident like that. It’s a bit more uplifting than the first trailer, presenting a story of hope and growth instead of one of trauma and misery.

Online and Social

Not much on Warner Bros.’ lackluster website for the movie, unfortunately.

Advertising and Publicity

There was a generally positive reaction to the first footage WB showed off during its CinemaCon 2019 presentation to industry executives and press.

Advertising for the movie started with a Promoted Tweet from mid-May including the first trailer.

the goldfinch online ad.pngOnline ads used elements of the key art to drive traffic to the movie’s website.

In July it was named among the select films screening at this year’s Toronto Film Festival. That screening, which included appearances by the cast and filmmakers, resulted in very mixed reviews from critics.

A brief first look aired on HBO following the finale of the second season of “Big Little Lies” that understandably focused on the relationship between Theodore and his Mrs. Barbour (Nicole Kidman), who plays a major role in his life.

AMC, which included the film in its Artisan Films program, showed off an exclusive clip just days before the film was due for release. It also hosted an exclusive interview with Fegley.

Media and Publicity

Brief comments from Crowley in May accompanied a first photo from the film. During Toronto there was with an interview with Paulson about how she landed her role and comments from the whole cast about their history with the book the movie is based on.

There was an interesting feature that explored the unusual arrangement between Warner Bros. and Amazon Studios for the film, one that allowed the production to enjoy a bigger budget than it otherwise would have, a deal facilitated by the producers to keep things on track.

Overall

The movie itself may be fine, though reviews coming out of the festival suggest otherwise, but the campaign as a whole leaves me bored beyond reasonable comprehension. While I enjoy a good character drama as much as the next bloke, there’s no clear call to action or incentive for the audience to make a decision to see it. Instead the campaign relies almost solely on making an appeal to fans of the source book, with little to entice anyone not in that category.

What’s being sold here isn’t even clear. Is it a mystery? An exploration of grief and how it transforms you as you grow? There’s no single brand identity created for the film, with the marketing instead being as vague and obtuse as possible. The goal may have been for a few key images to create stark impressions on the audience, but all they accomplished was confusion in most of the potential audience pool.

Picking Up the Spare

Wright was interviewed about his process in finding the core of the character he plays.

Boy Erased – Marketing Recap

boy erased poster 2The latest in a series of movies about parents dealing with their child’s sexuality, Boy Erased is directed by Joel Edgerton and stars Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe. They play Nancy and Marshall Eamons, parents of Jared (Lucas Hedges), who is gay.

That may not seem like a bad thing, but it is given that Marshall is a Baptist preacher. Jared is outed by his parents without his consent, after which he’s sent to controversial gay conversion therapy. So the story is about accepting – or not – who your kids are and the attitudes around whether that’s acceptable to parents or not.

The Posters

boy erased posterJared is shown in either deep contemplation or prayer on the first one-sheet, a reassuring parental hand seen on his shoulder. The names of the cast as well as the fact it’s based on a true story. The tagline at the top reads “The truth cannot be converted,” making the theme of the story explicit for the audience.

The second one-sheet places Jared between and in the background of his parents, an illuminated cross on the wall in the back. The same tagline is used and it’s clear that he’s causing strife in his family and division between his parents.

The Trailers

Jared has finally found the courage to come out to his parents in the first trailer, a declaration they just don’t accept. So they send him to a church-approved conversion camp where he’s told homosexuality isn’t natural and that God will never love him as long as he and the others insist on this identity. While there are plenty of scenes from that camp, the main focus of the trailer is on the dynamic between Jared and his parents and the conflict they feel between their love of their son and their love of God.

It’s a serious and sober-minded drama being sold here, one that has a lot of raw emotions on display. I’m hoping the story doesn’t paint all Christians as holding to the belief that homosexuality is an error to be corrected but is a bit more nuanced. Still, excellent performances all around are on display.

A second trailer was released just days before the movie was supposed to hit theaters that shows a lot more of what’s going on, from Jared coming out to his parents to them sending him away to be “fixed.” What’s different here is the extent to which his mother comes to his rescue when things clearly aren’t going right. The trailer ends with statistics about how many people are being held in therapy like what’s shown here and a link to the site to learn more.

Online and Social

Focus Features gave the movie its usual website treatment, opening with the trailer and giving way to full-motion video on the splash page. There don’t appear to be social profiles for the movie itself, just the studio. Scroll down and you’ll see some photos and an “About” synopsis but that’s it.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

I’m not aware of anything paid on behalf of the movie, but it’s possible I’ve missed something.

Media and Publicity

Some of the first real publicity for the movie came when Edgerton and Hedges showed up at CinemaCon to help Focus Features show off a bit of footage and talk about why they found the story so compelling. Edgerton later was interviewed about what attracted him to the true-life story and how he went about conveying the difficult subject matter.

The movie was also part of the later CineEurope presentation from the studio and was later added to the Toronto Film Festival and the Austin Film Festival as well as the Telluride Film Festival. It was also the closing night film at the Hamptons International Film Festival.

An interview with Hedges at the same time as the Telluride appearance had the actor talking about the movie and his career as a whole, as well as how this role relates to his own journey to understand his sexuality more fully. Edgerton spoke more about the kind of story he wanted to make and why he made this movie at this time.

At the movie’s premiere, the real Jared’s mother spoke about how the story is personal to her and how seeing it on the screen felt to her.

Costar Troye Sivan hosted a couple preview clips, one released on National Coming Out Day where he talked about his own experience coming out and one a PSA for StopErasing.com that advocates for the rejection of conversion therapy. Another had the cast celebrating “Spirit Day” to fight against bullying.

A video for the original song “Revelation” by Sivan and Jonsi came out in mid-October to help tap into the former’s fanbase.

Edgerton spoke about his opinion of conversion therapy and what prompted him to make the movie and tell this story.

Overall

As I stated at the opening, this is the third or fourth movie this year alone to tackle the idea of gay conversion therapy and similar topics. That means it has some competition for people’s attention. There’s nothing here that presents something wholly unique about this particular movie other than that it’s based on a true story, but even that has been done before.

That’s fine as it’s not that this isn’t a story that should be told and it’s certainly coming at a time when issues of identity are still at the forefront of our national conversation. It’s just that it may get lost in the shuffle and overshadowed by other events.

Picking Up The Spare

Edgerton spoke more in this interview about the process of making the movie and the responsibility he felt to tell the story. He also expressed some regret over not selling the movie to Netflix, saying that would have allowed more people to see it more readily. Hedges was also interviewed about some personal issues and how this movie fits into his other recent work. He also showed up on “Late Night.”

The Advocate was given a series of exclusive posters, a nice media partnership given the story’s subject matter.

The filmmakers helped create an original podcast series titled “UnErased” that offered insights into the history – and current practices – of the controversial gay conversion therapy that’s at the center of the film’s story.

Kidman noted this is one of two recent roles she’s taken where the character is a mother in a lot of pain over the choices they’ve made.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer – Marketing Recap

After winning widespread acclaim for The Lobster two years ago, writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos is back with The Killing of a Sacred Deer. The movie reteams him with star Colin Farrell, who here plays Dr. Steven Murphy, a successful surgeon who leads a comfortable, respectable and luxurious life with his wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) and their two teenage children.

Steven has, unbeknownst to most everyone, taken a teenage boy named Martin (Barry Keoghan) under his wing. That turns out to be a poor decision as Martin’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic and dangerous. Not only does he threaten to expose a secret of Steven’s from long in the past but he also makes it clear he’s a danger to the whole family.

The Posters

Farrell stands alone in an absurdly tall hospital room on the first poster, facing two empty beds as if pondering the people who are no longer in them. There’s no other copy aside from the title and credits and nothing to provide additional story context, so it’s just about selling a unique look and feel here.

The second poster features an upside down image of Martin, a photo of Steven and Anna appearing inside the outline of Martin’s picture. That’s meant to convey how the two parties have become intertwined, the fact that Martin’s photo is upside down adding to the sense of disorientation in the audience.

The Trailers

There’s no clear story in the first trailer, instead it’s more focused on setting up some sort of medical mystery and family drama. Somehow a young girl winds up not able to move and that has an impact on the rest of her family as well as the surgeon who has handled her case. What else is happening isn’t apparent, other than that there will be both psychological and physical torture going on.

A second short trailer has Martin coming to the house of Anna and the rest of the family. Martin makes cryptic, threatening comments to Steven about his family and how they’re all going to get sick and die. There’s a connection between the two that’s not great and which is going to have an impact on everyone around Steven and Anna.

Online and Social

There isn’t a whole lot going on at A24’s official website for the movie. There’s a prompt to play the trailer and one to get tickets. Toward the bottom are links to the movie’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter profiles.

The primary feature is “Doctor What’s Wrong With Me?” That takes you to a stand-alone website that lets you diagnose what might be wrong with you by pointing and clicking on different parts of an anatomy. All the answers, of course, are more emotional and mental than physical. There’s also a test you can take that seems designed to test your empathy and attitude toward the harsh realities of life.

It’s very similar to the site launched in conjunction with The Lobster, which was designed to see what animal you should be when you fail to find a mate.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Nothing on this front that I’ve been exposed to. There may have been some ads in the real world and online that were targeted at the movie’s initial release markets, but I’m not aware of them.

Media and Publicity

The movie was one of the handful that had its premiere at this year’s Cannes International Film Festival. It was later also added to the Fantastic Fest schedule.

The movie was one of a few Kidman appeared in at the festival, leading to a narrative in the press about the actress’s resurgence and her work ethic. Later on Silverstone talked about how she got involved with the film and what it was like shooting with Farrell.

This marking their second collaboration, there was a joint interview with Farrell and Lanthimos where they talked about how they began working together, what they enjoy about the process and lots more.

Overall

Anyone who wasn’t already a fan of Lanthimos’ previous work, including those who first discovered him through 2015’s The Lobster, isn’t going to find a lot to latch onto with this campaign. There’s no, or little, sense of the story or character offered anywhere in the marketing that A24 has offered for this new movie. Anyone who saw the trailer in front of something more mainstream likely came away confused and uninterested. It’s inaccessible, providing no easy jumping on point for the uninitiated.

For those a bit savvier and already in tune with what the filmmaker is doing, though, it offers a wealth of good stuff. The efforts shows the visual richness of Lanthimos’ style and the complex moral territory his stories frequently tread into. The publicity push hasn’t been all that substantial, but that’s a small criticism for an overall campaign that’s consistent from one element to the next and knows just what will bring in the kind of audience it’s hoping to find.

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