Richard Jewell – Marketing Recap

How Warner Bros. is selling the latest story of an aggrieved white man from director Clint Eastwood.

richard jewell posterThere’s no question that there was nearly an injustice perpetrated on Richard Jewell, the security guard who found an explosive at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and helped save countless lives. Now his story is coming to the big screen in the appropriately titled Richard Jewell.

Paul Walter Hauser plays the title character, a well-meaning but slightly schlubby individual who suddenly is vaulted into the national spotlight. By virtue of his finding the device, he also unexpectedly finds himself at the top of the suspect list being put together by law enforcement, including the FBI. So too, the press – embodied by Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde) latches on to him as a likely suspect, someone to hang the narrative of the bombing on.

While the movie, which costars Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Jon Hamm and others, fits into Eastwood’s thematic motif of making sure white men are recognized as the under-appreciated heroes they naturally are, it also has come under fire for how it goes about communicating that message. Despite that, it’s being sold by Warner Bros. as an awards season drama based on a moment from recent history.

Tracking estimates have the movie opening around $10 million this weekend, which would put it far off the pace in terms of winning the frame, but the 87 percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes shows it could be helped by largely positive reviews.

The Posters

“The world will know his name and the truth” is the awkwardly structured tagline that appears below the title on the poster (by marketing agency Legion Creative Group) from October. As the main image, Jewell is shown fighting his way through a crowd of eager reporters and others, trying to keep his face down as his mother (Kathy Bates) appears despondent over the whole thing. At the bottom we’re reminded this is based on a true story.

The Trailers

Released in early October, the first trailer (9.1 million views on YouTube) starts off with Jewell dealing with the aftermath of finding the bomb. The authorities consider him a suspect, mostly because he’s the one who did actually find it. So investigators and journalists focus almost solely on him, but he and his lawyer continue to push back against what they see as a conspiracy to hang the crime on him without actual evidence. The story being presented, then, is of an innocent man being railroaded by a lazy and likely corrupt system.

Online and Social

The official website for the movie opens with the trailer and is replaced by the key art when you close that. The content is pretty standard and boring, though.

Advertising and Publicity

Eastwood had originally set the project up at Fox, but following that studio’s acquisition by Disney it was moved over to his long-time home Warner Bros. The studio finally gave it a release date in September.

A few weeks later it was announced the film would debut at AFI Fest. That screening generated generally positive reviews but also altered critics to the fact that Eastwood and the writers created a fictional scene of Scruggs having sex with an FBI official in order to get information, something that seems offensive and unnecessary, especially in a movie about media manipulation.

Online ads featured a cropped version of the key art and linked to the movie’s official site.

richard jewell online ad.png

The first – and to date only – clip released has Richard’s mother Barbara at a press conference proclaiming her son’s innocence while expressing sympathy for the victims of the bombing.

An exclusive featurette hosted by MovieClips featured Eastwood and others talking about making the movie, beginning with the article the story is based on. Another featurette titled “An American Tragedy” dove into the story a bit more while focusing on the injustice done to Jewell, though that may be overstated by just a bit.

Media and Press

Perhaps it’s because of the condensed timeline that resulted from Warner Bros. only giving it a release date a few months ago. Or perhaps the lack of substantial pre-release press activity is because the media narrative has been dominated by discussions of the filmmakers creating Scruggs’ trading sex for information.

Wilde defended her portrayal of Scruggs, saying the idea of a sexual transaction was merely “inferred” in the film and that there’s no evidence to suggest she did so. Still, even that inference is enough to be harmful when added to other movies that have made similar suggestions or stated it outright, even if there’s no basis for doing so.

Just days ago, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution – where Scruggs worked – issued a statement asking WB to add a disclaimer making it clear that is a fictional element of the story. The editors and others at the paper made the point that not only is it disrespectful toward Scruggs, who passed away at a young age, but it also shows a lack of interest in how journalists of any gender do their jobs.

In response, the studio’s statement says the newspaper is simply trying to distract people from how the movie shows it got the initial story wrong. That doesn’t address the core issue the AJC raised and so reads more like a company more interested in defending its director than setting the record straight.

Rockwell’s appearance on “Kimmel” was one of the few press stops by the cast.

Overall

There have been a number of good writeups of the controversy surrounding the portrayal of Scruggs on screen from both media commentators and film columnists. They should be sought out and read for a fuller understanding than I can provide here on what such an unnecessary addition does to the reputation of not only the real person portrayed on screen but also women journalists as a whole.

What keeps sticking in my mind is why telling this story was deemed to be essential or important. Yes, Jewell was unfairly maligned in the press before all the facts came out, at which point he was cleared of suspicion. That doesn’t undo the damage done, but it does come as the result of organizations like the press and law enforcement diligently doing their jobs. And he went on to lead a relatively normal life after doing no time in jail.

Compare that to the countless people currently imprisoned for minor drug offenses, or there only because they took a plea deal upon realizing they couldn’t afford to mount a defense against charges they had no connection to. It’s just that kind of story told in Ava DuVerney’s recent Netflix miniseries “When They See Us” about the Central Park Five, some of whom were in jail for decades for crimes they were not involved in.

The campaign never really answers the question of why the movie is here or what it’s essential elements are. Instead, in the lack of any other compelling messages, the idea seems to be that any time a white male is falsely accused it’s worthy of being called out in a feature film. Eastwood and the writers seem to simply want to vilify the very organizations that keep us safe and informed simply because they sometimes get it wrong, but by focusing on such a minor example of that injustice it makes their point hard to swallow.

Picking Up the Spare

Hamm appeared on “The Tonight Show” to promote the film but wound up talking about other things for the most part. Hauser appeared on “Kimmel” to talk about the movie just before release.

Booksmart – Marketing Recap

booksmart posterAmy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) are best friends in the new movie Booksmart, from first time director Olivia Wilde. The two have been inseparable since early childhood, following all the rules and pushing each other to be their best, especially when it comes to following all the rules and succeeding at school, where they’re at the top of their class and ready to head to college.

Feeling like time is running out to blow off some steam and slightly discouraged by the fact that even the burnouts got into good schools, Molly convinces Amy to attend an end-of-year party and let loose for a change. Amy’s not wholly on board, but when they head out they not only have some fun but get into some of the trouble they’ve been avoiding all this time.

The Posters

Amy and Molly are just looking at the camera with faces full of attitude and disdain on the poster, conveying how they view the world and deal with everyone around them. Copy above the title treatment explains that outlook further, labeling them as Getting straight As. Giving zero Fs.”

Just days before release a couple “homage” posters came out that put Amy and Molly in designs reminiscent of classic teen comedies Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Clueless.

The Trailers

The first trailer, released at the same time the movie was debuting at SXSW, shows the audience how Amy and Molly are driven winners who follow the rules and destroy the competition, not risking anything that might keep them from success. That’s annoying to some people and eventually Molly decides they need to cut loose now that high school is over and show everyone how fun they are. Attending a party leads to all kinds of mayhem, of course, as the two get into all sorts of trouble.

About a month later a green-band trailer came out featuring many of the same scenes but with a bit of new footage thrown in hitting similar beats.

One final trailer – in both all-ages and restricted flavors – hit some of the same beats but the latter in particular adds even more of the outrageous antics Amy and Molly get into. There’s also a great line about how they “are not one-dimensional,” a nod to how characters like these in other movies often have a single definable trait.

Online and Social

Annapurna put up a site for the movie that continues the branding seen on the poster and elsewhere and has some of the marketing materials, but not a lot else.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

United Artists partnered with Instagram to offer the studio’s followers on that platform the chance to get tickets to an advance screening of the movie. The partnership marked the first time Instagram has actively promoted a movie campaign like this and followed Wilde and the studio providing early looks to executives and others at tech companies in Silicon Valley.

Media and Publicity

The movie immediately become one that got people talking when it was revealed Wilde would be making her directorial debut with it. She spoke about it early on occasionally, including while at SXSW in 2018 with another film and while promoting Life Itself in late 2018.

A first look still accompanied an interview with Wilde where she talked about the story as well as the filming process and working with the cast. She talked more about the movie when she was named one of Variety’s 10 up and coming directors to watch this year.

Wilde was named one of the featured speakers at the 2019 SXSW, an honor that coincided with the movie’s publicity cycle. That SXSW 2019 premiere was recapped in a sizzle reel video showing Wilde not only promoting the film but also engaging in some of Austin’s finest food and shopping and other activities to help sell the movie to attendees. A short featurette came out in late April that had the cast praising Wilde’s efforts on the set and talking about the story.

Other interviews and profiles had Wilde sharing the influences she pulled from in crafting the story and how to easily increase inclusion in casting decisions while other stories called out the fact that smart girls at the center of a story like this is relatively unusual in the movie industry.

The first clip showed some of the ridiculous high school stuff Amy and Molly have to deal with. A second expanded on the pivotal scene where Molly convinces Amy to break the rules and go to a party for a change.

Featurettes from early May covered the fashion Amy and Molly as well as other characters sport and how Dever and Feldstein bonded on-set and how that bond informed the friendship between their characters.

There was another major profile of Wilde that addressed how she was tired of not being in control of her career. Feldstein received her own interview, with another focusing on her being Jonah Hill’s sister. A joint interview with her and Dever had the pair talking about their characters and the original nature of the story

Billie Lourd, who plays a classmate and social rival of the main characters, did some press in advance of release and was the subject of one of the handful of “Meet the Cast” videos the studio put out, with Dever also getting her turn.

Just before the movie came out Annapurna released the first six minutes of the film to give audiences a bit more of a taste of what to expect and show off the performances by the leads. That worked well in generating a a fair amount of positive buzz, at least among those who were already excited for the film. A major push that involved promotions from Ellen DeGeneres helped do likewise for general audiences.

One theme that emerged was how this movie was part of a trend of stories about lesbian teens, a character type Hollywood has been unsure how to handle or portray for a long while.

Overall

Annapurna has run a great campaign that positions the movie as a true original, one that won’t be like anything else currently in theaters. It leans a bit heavily on the notion of this being the “female Superbad,” something that makes the mistake of continuing to consider women only in their relation to men, but it’s also a useful shorthand for the audience to draw some inferences from.

Putting the three women – Wilde, Dever and Feldstein – front and center was the best decision the studio could have made, allowing them to define the movie’s brand and image in the minds of the public. The studio’s last minute push was designed for maximum impact, hoping to sway anyone who hadn’t already committed to seeing Aladdin this weekend and who might be eager for something original.

Picking Up the Spare

Wilde and the two stars shared some drinks and talked about the movie and how the project came together. The director also revealed how Feldstein was the only one she wanted playing Molly and her child’s involvement in production. 

Screenwriter Katie Silberman was interviewed about the long journey the script took to production, including how she worked as producer to help keep things up to date. She spoke about the movie’s ending specifically here. 

There were a couple more TV appearances made by Feldstein as well as another by Dever. Wilde also made a few more stops. 

More featurettes were released by Annapurna, including one that positioned it among classic high school comedies, another with Wilde talking about how she’s one of a precious few female directors working at the studio level and how she wanted to be authentic to the teen experience and one that touted the efforts of casting director Allison Jones in assembling talented actors.  

Additional interviews and features brought the cast and crew together to share stories from the set, introduce the supporting cast and an interview with costar Diana Silvers about her pivotal role. Dever and Feldstein were jointly featured again as well while Silvers got another profile later on.  

The movie’s eventual box-office fate, which was underwhelming, a situation many said was due to Annapurna not fully committing to its marketing, a position I dispute, or engaging in a misguided release strategy. Sam Adams at Slate has a more nuanced take, pointing out that the landscape has changed significantly since Superbad came out in 2007 and that there really wasn’t a winning scenario for the studio when audiences seem intent on gravitating toward familiar spectacle instead of offbeat originality. Whatever the case, the movie got the attention and support of a number of celebrities who tried to rally their social media followers to seek it out. 

Another poster was released well after the movie hit theaters featuring artwork and design that’s very much an homage to the kinds of school-based comedies that came before it, including Animal House and others. 

These Actresses Have Made the Leap to Director

The last month has seen three movies released, each the first directorial effort by a well-established actor. Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born, Jonah Hill’s Mid90s and Paul Dano’s Wildlife each gained additional exposure and awareness by virtue of the fact that they were directed by well-known actors stepping behind the camera for the first time.

This year, as well as next, will also see a good number of actresses directing their first feature films. Just a couple weeks ago news broke a couple weeks ago that Maggie Gyllenhaal would be making her directorial debut with the upcoming The Last Daughter. The decision seems, at least in part, to be one made in an effort to seize some measure of creative control over their careers and tell stories important to them.

Judy Greer – A Happening of Monumental Proportions (2018)

Greer has established a long and successful career playing the best friend of the lead character, working with just about everyone in Hollywood. She called on a lot of the talent she’s connected with for this movie, featuring an ensemble cast in a story of one very bad day on a number of fronts in a public school.

Olivia Wilde – Booksmart (2019)

This upcoming story of best friends who, as they are about to graduate high school, decide they spent too much time studying and not enough time partying. Seeking to rectify that they try and sow all their wild oats in a single night to ridiculous results. The movie stars Billie Lourd and Kaitlyn Dever.

Kristen Stewart – The Chronology of Water (2019)

Just announced earlier this year, the movie’s story is still largely unknown, though while she’s been promoting other projects Stewart has talked about the kind of tone the story will take, including that it’s unabashed in its focus on female sexuality.

Lea Thompson – The Year of Spectacular Men (2018)

When Thompson, who’s been acting in Hollywood for decades, decided to make her first movie she turned to family for support, enlisting daughters Madelyn and Zoey Deutch to play sisters. Izzy (Madelyn) is having a bit of a crisis involving relationships and so sets out to spend time with her family for support.

Heather Graham – Half Magic (2018)

Another actress that has spent decades earning accolades in supporting roles, Graham finally opted to tell a story herself, writing and starring in this release from earlier this year. The story was certainly timely, focusing on a group of women who have had enough with being mistreated by men and so bond together to reclaim their power and their personality.

Life Itself – Marketing Recap

life itself poster 2Dan Fogelman, creator of popular TV shows like “Parenthood,” “This Is Us” and more, comes to the big screen this week with the ensemble drama Life Itself. The movie focuses on Abby (Olivia Wilde) and Wil (Oscar Isaacs), a couple that meets in college and goes on to get married and have a family.

But that’s not where the story end. Instead it expands out across generations and continents to see how the ordinary lives lived by Abby and Wil have impacted all sorts of people, both those they’re directly connected to and others.

The Posters

life itself posterA teaser poster didn’t do much other than show the name of the movie, tell people it was coming out in the fall and make sure they knew it was coming from the creator of “This Is Us,” all of which are primary selling points. Oddly there’s no cast list, which would have been a great addition, just a stock photo of a garden of some sort in the background.

The second poster once again mentions Fogelman’s TV show but this time does include the cast list as well as the “This September, life will surprise you” copypoint. That’s all laid over a triptych showing some of the bigger name actors involved.

In late August there were a series of posters that showed different characters from the film going on about their lives in various ways. All keep using that “Life will surprise you” tagline but don’t really go into the story very deeply.

The Trailers

The first teaser doesn’t offer much in the way of story points but does present the movie as one that spans an array of characters, all of whom are dealing with life’s ups and downs in their own way. The ensemble is emphasized, as is the fact that the movie comes from the creator of the super-popular “This Is Us”, so it wants to draw the connection between how emotional that show is and how emotional this is going to be.

There’s more story fleshed out in the second trailer. It’s more clear here that the central focus will be on Will and Abby and their love story over the course of several years. Something undefined happens, though, to make Will very sad toward the end of the trailer as we also see some of the other characters their lives come in contact with and impact.

Another trailer released around the time of the Toronto Film Festival highlighted some of the social media reactions to earlier trailers and other promotions.

Online and Social

The theatrical key art is displayed on the front page of the official website along with a button to buy tickets and links to the movie’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter profiles.

A “Synopsis” is the first bit of content available after accessing the menu in the top left, a section that mentions Fogelman but not the rest of the cast. Those are saved for the “Characters” section, which offers GIFs and stills for each of the main characters.

The “Share Your Story” section encourages you to share a personal story of your own by using the movie’s Facebook camera filter and then, of course, posting it there. There’s all sorts of media to view and download in both the “Posters” and “Photos/Videos” sections. “Partners” finishes off the site.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The first teaser mentioned above was actually run as a TV spot during the season finale of Fogelman’s show “This Is Us,” a platform that exposed the movie to a huge audience. Oddly, I haven’t been able to find any further TV spots, though some videos were used as social and online ads along with elements from the key art.

Promotional partners lined up to ride the movie’s coattails included:

  • Chuao Chocolatier, which offered a special movie-branded gift box including entry into a sweepstakes.
  • Dempsey and Carroll, which offered movie-themed correspondence stationery that’s perfect for keeping in contact with a special someone.
  • Dry Bar, which offered customers at select locations a free blowout sponsored by the movie.
  • Tasting Room, which launched a sweepstakes giving people a chance to win a trip to Napa Valley.
  • Tessemae’s, which offered a movie-themed pack of beverages

Media and Publicity

The movie was announced as one of those screening at the Toronto International Film Festival. A clip released around the time of that screening shows the fateful moment of Will asking Abby out, something that has repercussions throughout the rest of the stories. The same couple was also the focus of the second clip, released a bit later.

Reception at Toronto was not great, with a significant amount of bad buzz quickly circling around it. Still, Fogelman and the cast spoke about the emotional nature of the story and what it was like to shoot the film. The writer/director emphasized the difference between this movie and his hit show at the premiere, though that distinction is one the rest of the campaign has been loathe to make. He also said he doesn’t just want people to cry with the story, but enjoy a compelling story.

The cast made various appearances on the late night and early morning talk shows to promote the movie, talk about the scope of the story and how emotional it is.

Overall

The way Amazon has been selling the movie is basically as bridge content to get the audience from one season of “This Is Us” to the next, hoping Fogelman’s name and the promise of another emotional family drama will bring in the massive audience that’s made the show a hit. Almost every bit of material references the show to make sure the connection is made in everyone’s mind.

More than anything else coming out this week, this seems like it will live or die at the box-office based on word of mouth. The campaign might generate curiosity, but if they don’t come away from the theater with a good feeling about it and wind up telling their friends to stay away, the prospects don’t look great.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

While he eventually walked it back, writer/director Dan Fogelman made waves when he went out and blamed poor reviews on while male critics who disliked anything involving emotions.
A featurette explored the interconnected stories and the characters that are part of it and an interview with Fogelman covered similar ground.

Drinking Buddies – Flashback Marketing

If you’ve got a taste for a domestic cold one today, don’t be surprised. Today is National American Beer Day. For all the grief given to Hallmark and other companies for their made-up holidays designed to sell chocolates and cards, there doesn’t appear to be any official provenance for this celebration. It’s noted and covered by various press, but it seems to have appeared from nowhere, like Orin on “Parks and Recreation.”

Good enough for me.

To join in the celebration, we’re going to jump not very far back to a movie I would have covered if it hadn’t landed in the years when I put movie marketing coverage to the side.

2013’s Drinking Buddies marked a turning point for writer/director Joe Swanberg. After years of working with almost no budgets and a cast made up largely of unknowns and friends, this time he had some pretty substantial names along for the ride. The story is focused on Luke (Jake Johnson) and Kate (Olivia Wilde), coworkers at a Chicago craft brewery. The two are best friends who hang out all the time and have the sort of easy, flowing relationship that seems like it should be romantic but isn’t. Luke is dating Jill (Anna Kendrick) and Kate is seeing Chris (Ron Livingston). Eventually, the friendship between Kate and Luke causes tensions in the other relationships, leading to lots of conversations and lots of additional drinking.

The movie’s theatrical poster uses that cast as its primary selling point. All four are seated on the floor, their backs up against what’s clearly the wall of a bar or drinking establishment of some sort, all with a glass of something in hand. Above them, their names and the title and credits are shown in a style like it’s all been written in chalk. The alcoholic nature of the story is conveyed not only by the beverages shown but by the copy declaring the movie is “A comedy about knowing when to say when.” Of course that’s not just about the drinking but about the nature of the relationship the story follows.

Oddly missing is Swanberg’s name, aside from its small inclusion in the overall credits. While the cinematic genre he is – or at least was – synonymous with is sometimes derided, his name still carries a fair amount of weight with fans of independent film. Using it would have been an appeal to that group.

Obviously Magnolia Pictures, which picked the movie up after some early screenings, felt it was better to not turn off any mainstream audiences who might not know him or only associate him with weird indie stuff without professional lighting. So he’s excised here, with the appeal to the general audience being made that it’s a pleasant story featuring a bunch of very likable actors obviously having a good time.

We immediately see what Luke and Kate do as the trailer opens. He’s part of the brewery crew and she’s more in the event planning and management part of the business, helping to coordinate receptions hosted there. They eventually introduce their significant others to their coworkers, which is a bit awkward but leads to the foursome heading off to a cabin for a weekend. That’s obviously presented as a turning point because Luke and Jill wind up having more serious conversations about their relationships and Chris breaks up with Kate.

It’s a pretty cut and dried romantic comedy being sold to the audience here. There’s some cool stuff around the edges, but that’s the gist. It’s about friendships and love and heartbreak and the general kind of “finding yourself” moments that everyone at this stage in life goes through. All the actors are charming and funny and breezy.

All that’s pretty accurate to the movie being sold. If anything, Wilde’s significant comedic sensibilities are underplayed in the campaign. Johnson and Kendrick are more of the focus since they were probably the hottest names at the moment, her coming off Pitch Perfect and him on TV’s zeitgeist-heavy “New Girl.”

More than that, it’s a fair representation of the relationships between the characters and the story as a whole. Most of the key beats are shown here as well as the evolving nature of how everyone interacts with each other. While the campaign didn’t result in a massive mainstream success for Swanberg, there were apparently some creative connections made as he would work with Johnson and Kendrick again on future films.

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