The Hunt For Red October – Flashback Marketing

How a touchstone Cold War thriller was sold when it was translated to the big screen 30 years ago.

Last night The Elk Grove Theater in exurban Chicagoland hosted a screening of The Hunt For Red October to celebrate the film’s 30th anniversary.

Based on the first novel from Tom Clancy – one praised by no less of a literary authority than President Ronald Reagan when it was published in 1984 – the movie follows CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin) as he works to track down a new Soviet missile submarine whose commander Marko Ramius (Sean Connery) he believes wants to defect. Along the way he has to navigate not only the tricky world of international politics but also convince wary naval officers of his conclusions to complete the mission.

While the book came out at the height of U.S./Soviet tensions, the movie was released just as the Cold War was moments away from effectively ending when the Soviet Union collapsed a year and a half later. In that way the story stood on the line between being timely and serving as a historical piece.

Baldwin was a quirky actor often cast in offbeat roles in 1990, which is one reason why he’s completely missing from the theatrical poster. Instead it’s only Connery’s face that’s shown, indicating he was the bigger star at the time and the more likely to serve as a box office draw. His face looms above a submarine’s conning tower rising from a bright red field. In fact it’s the color red that serves as the primary visual element on the poster, reinforcing the branding of the movie’s name.

There’s a good amount of blank space, either black or red, on the poster, which creates a stark visual impression. (Disclosure: I had this poster on my bedroom wall for years as it’s a marvel of design work.) That blank space is used by the designers to make sure the audience is aware of the basic plot outline as well as the connection between the movie and the source book. Wedged between “The hunt is on.” and “Join the hunt.” is copy positioning the movie as “electrifying.” Even more importantly, it shares that it comes from the director of Die Hard, which John McTiernan had helmed just two years prior.

So you have a poster that ditches the hammer and sickle iconography of the original book cover but uses color to make sure everyone understands the story is still focused on the Russians. And it offers several strong hooks to bring in an audience that probably read the book and which still loves to see Connery on screen.

Ramius is introduced in the trailer as “The most brilliant commander in the Soviet fleet” with the submarine of the title being shown off after that. Other characters, including Ryan, offer more information on both so that the audience understands the potential threat being presented. That threat is shown to be an uncertain one as the trailer progresses, with some indicating Ramius intends to fire his payload at the United States and others positing he’s gone rogue in an attempt to defect. The score adds to the tension as the movie is presented as a mystery/thriller instead of a straightforward action film.

Paramount made it clear here that there would be lots of heated conversations and people trying to convince other people of the rightness of their position as opposed to an action movie. Still, McTiernan’s name is prominently used here, and the Soviet hammer and sickle reappears in the title treatment despite it being missing from the poster.

How it’s positioned by both the trailer and poster is on-brand for the book, indicating it’s a political drama whose tense situations are heightened as a result of the confined quarters of meeting rooms and submarine interiors. It uses Connery as the major attraction, an understandable choice given Baldwin’s position as a charming character actor at the time.

Most of all it shows that movies like this were, at this point in time, positioned as adult dramas, not special effects extravaganzas aimed at tweens. Even in the marketing it’s clear the movie’s pacing and story are slow and methodical, emphasizing big and bold statements over flash and clutter.

When the movie proved to be a success at the box office by grossing over $200 million, it was natural that Paramount saw it as the launch point for a franchise adapting Clancy’s other best-selling novels. Baldwin declined to reprise his role, though, and so the next two movies – 1992’s Patriot Games and 1994’s Clear and Present Danger – saw Harrison Ford stepping into Ryan’s shoes. Those two entries were much more action-oriented, a logical choice given Ford’s reputation as an action hero. And in a Bond-like move, all three movies featured James Earl Jones as Adm. James Greer, Ryan’s mentor and boss.

From there things got much more infrequent as the studio made various attempts to reboot the franchise. The Sum Of All Fears in 2005 starred Ben Affleck as Ryan and adapted the book of the same name while making some interesting story changes. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit starred Chris Pine in 2014 and featured an original story. Both sought to bring a younger, less-experienced Ryan to the screen, offering a fresh start that could spawn a new series of sequels. Neither succeeded on that front, at least in part because they discarded the geekier, more technical elements of what made the Clancy-penned novels so popular.

The studio will try one more time later this year with the release of Without Remorse. Once more based on one of Clancy’s books, this one puts Jack Ryan to the side and instead focuses on CIA operator John Clark, played by Michael B. Jordan. Marketing for that movie has yet to fully spin up, but perhaps by cutting ties with Ryan Paramount will find the key to getting parts of the universe created in the novels that launched the “techno-thriller” in a groove and find the franchise the studio has been searching for.

Sonic The Hedgehog – Marketing Recap

You can read my full recap of the marketing campaign for Sonic The Hedgehog at The Hollywood Reporter.

Online and Social

I kind of can’t believe there isn’t anything more fun on the movie’s official website, which just features basic information.

Media and Press

Sumpter talked about the movie on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” while Schwartz hit “Late Night.” Meanwhile, closer to release, Marsden appeared on “Late Night

There’s more information on the movie’s Snapchat sponsorship here and here.

Paramount shared a short featurette offering instructions on how to draw Sonic.

 

Another featurette showed how the movie’s Puma shoes were designed. And the process Carrey went through to become the movie’s villain is covered in another. Carrey also put in his time on the talk show circuit.

Overall

Picking Up The Spare

A profile of Schwartz had him talking about voicing the title character as well as lots more of his career.

Promos for the movie’s tie-ins with the Sonic Dash and Sonic Forces games were released after it was in theaters.

The Rhythm Section – Marketing Recap

How Eon and Paramount Pictures are selling a revenge drama rooted in personal tragedy.

rhythm section posterThere have been a few recent movies tackling the idea of a woman exacting revenge after her family is killed. While such stories are common with men in the lead role, those with women are still fairly rare and having been overly-successful when they do happen. One recent example is Peppermint, the 2018 film starring Jennifer Garner in the kind of role Bruce Willis has played a dozen times, which grossed only $35 million at the box office.

This week another entry comes on the field. The Rhythm Section stars Blake Lively as Stephanie Patrick, whose family is killed in a plane crash. As she learns the crash wasn’t an accident but a planned attack on specific passengers. That knowledge leads her to dive into the world of international organized crime, but only after developing the skills necessary to survive. She keeps turning over rocks not meant to be distrubed, making powerful enemies along the way.

The movie’s campaign has focused on Stephanie’s unrelenting quest to punish those responsible, regardless of what might befall her and heedless of the warnings of others. With an opening weekend estimate in the $10-15 million range, audience interest seems to still be soft for movies like this, even as early reviews have been largely positive.

The Posters

Stephanie is shown on the first poster (by marketing agency Empire Design) released in September standing in her hotel room with a gun held behind her back. There’s no copy or tagline here, but it’s clear she’s planning something that will involve that weapon given the dark shadows and the determined look on her face.

The Trailers

The first trailer (3.7 million views on YouTube) finally came out in September. Stephanie is shown enlisting the aid of Proctor in the hunt for those responsible for the plane crash that killed her family years ago. He warns her it won’t be worth it and could be dangerous for her but she’s determined, to the point she takes matters into her own hands, finding and killing them herself. Her actions have consequences, of course, as they upset some powerful and dangerous people, but she remains undeterred.

A second shorter trailer (1.6 million views on YouTube) came out just last week. It starts by showing Stephanie preparing for the mission she’s chosen to embark on and the training that entails. It goes on to show the lengths she’ll go to in her quest to exact more than a pound of flesh and the ways in which she keeps going despite the odds against her. It also makes it much more explicit that the producers of the Bond franchise are involved, hoping to lend some of that series’ appeal to this movie.

Online and Social

There’s essentially nothing on the movie’s official website, at least nothing you can’t find elsewhere. It exists largely to just sell tickets.

Advertising and Publicity

The movie was part of the studio’s presentation to exhibition executives at CineEurope in mid-July 2018.

The first clip released earlier this month offers an extended look at Stephanie engaged in a high-speed car chase with those she’s angered on her mission for vengeance. That same chase sequence was the subject of a short behind-the-scenes featurette released at about the same time. Additional clips offered more insights into Stephanie’s character and the allies she gathers along the way.

Short videos like this were used as social and online ads to drive traffic to the ticket-selling website. Other online ads used elements of the key art and other visuals to achieve the same objective.

Earlier this week the cast and crew attended the New York City red carpet premiere.

Media and Press

There were a few interviews with Lively and others in the cast, including Sterling K. Brown, but nothing of much note, at least not at this point in the cycle.

One interview with director Reed Moreno addressed the Bond connection that exists both through the story’s subject matter and Eon’s involvement in production. She was asked if she’d be interested in seeing a female Bond, something those producers recently nixed the idea of. While Moreno made a similar comment she did say seeing a Bond film with a female directorial perspective might offer a unique take on the character.

Overall

While the marketing is quite good and sells a compelling drama with a star apparently willing to push herself to physically sell the role, an increased emphasis on the inciting incident might have increased the emotional heft of the story being sold. As it stands there’s not much in the way of setup regarding the tragedy that has pushed Stephanie over the edge and into a life of violence, just an acknowledgement that something terrible has happened.

That being said, there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on here, not the least of which is simply that it’s a woman who has taken justice into her own hands after realizing the bad people are going to remain unpunished by others. There might be enough audience interest to capture people’s attention during another slow new release weekend, but if current movies keep chugging along it could also get lost in a wave of apathy during the winter doldrums.

Picking Up The Spare

Lively stopped by “The Tonight Show” to share stories from the set and engage in hijinks with the host.

A postmortem of the movie’s disappointing fate included comments on how this is just the latest action film with a complex female lead to not connect with audiences.

Like A Boss – Marketing Recap

How Paramount is selling a comedy about corporate greed and the problem of going into business with your friends.

like a boss poster 2Like A Boss stars Tiffany Haddish and Rose Byrne as Mia and Mel, respectively. The two women are long-time friends who have gone into business together, running a beauty company. The two partners compliment each other nicely, one more impulsive and creative the other more business-like and serious.

When their company falls on hard times an angel seems to appear in the form of high-profile CEO Claire Luna (Salma Hayek). She offers to throw the two the financial lifeline they desperately need. It quickly becomes clear that lifeline is more like a noose and Mia and Mel have to figure out how to get control back and save their livelihood.

Even if it’s not enough to win the weekend, the $15-20 million the movie is estimated to bring in over its opening weekend could make it the top grossing of this week’s new releases. That’s a testament to the campaign Paramount has run highlighting the comedic skills of the leads.

The Posters

like a boss poster“The world of beauty is about to get ugly” we’re told on the first poster (by marketing agency BLT Communications), released in September. That copy, combined with the big perfume bottle that acts as the focal point of the design, establishes what world the story takes place in and what kind of hijinks are in store. It’s a tagline that could work equally well for either a comedy or drama, though, so it remains a bit vague on the movie’s tone.

The second poster, released in December, features the same tagline but this time has all three of the main characters on it, with Mel and Mia flanking Claire, who is clearly the mature one in charge of the situation.

The Trailers

As the first trailer from September starts we’re immediately shown how close Mel and Mia are, discussing all sorts of topics and deep in each other’s lives. The independent beauty retail shop they own together, we learn, is deeply in debt. To the rescue (it appears) comes Claire, but her business-saving investment comes with strings attached and some heavy involvement from her, none of which goes over well with the longtime friends. They set out to get control of their business back, with hilarious results.

A second “NSFW” trailer debuted in early December that presents the same basic story and character attributes, just with more swearing, sexual humor and drug use.

Online and Social

There’s not a lot of material on the film’s official website, which is focused on selling tickets, including for a “Girls Night Out” early screening event being held at select theaters tonight, a few days before the official opening.

Advertising and Promotions

The stars appeared in a short “Friendsgiving” themed TV spot that debuted toward the end of November.

Fandango debuted an exclusive clip showing the scene where Mel and Mia have to fire their assistant to comedic effect.

Online ads like the one here used elements of the key art showing the three leads to drive traffic to the ticket-selling website.

Like a boss online ad

TV spots like this began running in the last couple weeks, with some short versions being used as pre-roll on YouTube and in other social ad units. They highlight the key comedic sequences from the movie, using footage from the trailers.

The stars showed up for a “pink carpet” premiere screening in New York City earlier this week.

Media and Press

There wasn’t a whole lot of pre-release press activity. Haddish and Byrne did make a handful of talk show appearances, though, with Haddish hitting “Good Morning America,” Byrne stopping by “The Late Show,” Hayek on “The Tonight Show” and more.

Overall

On its own merits, as presented here, the movie looks like a funny enough diversion at the theater. Haddish’s comedic brand of being loud and proud is fully on display throughout the campaign, as are the chops of Byrne (always underrated for her comedy roles) and Hayek.

The tracking estimates may indicate that, despite all the recent evidence to the contrary, there may still be some life left in theatrical comedies. At least that’s if they feature the right cast, and this one might fit that bill.

Picking Up the Spare

Haddish appeared on “Kimmel” and “Late Night” just as the movie was hitting theaters.

How Haddish and Byrne bonded on the set was covered here.

Gemini Man – Marketing Recap

You can read my full recap of the marketing campaign for Gemini Man at The Hollywood Reporter.

Online and Social

Just a ticket-centric website for the movie, with no additional materials or information.

Media and Press

Lee, along with members of the visual effects team, spoke about the care they put into digitally altering Smith’s face and how they wanted that to be organic in the story. Later on an interview with Smith revealed his younger iteration isn’t the result of deaging technology but is a completely CGI, motion capture performance. The technology continued to be the focus of interviews as Lee commented again on the process of experimentation with higher frame rates and more.

Clive Owen’s appearance on “The Tonight Show” had him talking about the movie and lots more. When Smith showed up on “The Late Show” he talked about working with Lee and the technical aspects of the film.

The way Smith has carefully cultivated his career and made other professional choices was covered in a profile of the actor that also discussed how he’s been careful to minimize the impact of any failures.

AMC released a featurette that, much like everything else, focused on the technical aspects of making the film. An interview with costar Mary Elizabeth Winstead had her offering her thoughts on deaging and other similar topics. Another profile of Lee and Smith focused on how the director coached the actor, using some of Smith’s earlier choices as examples of what to or not to do.

Overall

Picking Up the Spare

Smith stopped by “The Daily Show” to talk about the film and more.

Rocketman – Marketing Recap

rocketman posterThe fate of “classic rock” as a viable radio format may be up in the air, but on the big (or streaming) screen it’s alive and well. That is most recently evidenced by the fact that this week’s Rocketman, a biopic of flamboyant piano player and the man behind some of rock’s biggest hits Elton John, is tracking for a debut weekend of $25 million. That opening, should it come to pass, would only be about half of what last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody brought in, but well above some of the other non-franchise releases so far this year.

(Side note: For the purposes of maintaining focus, we’re not going to address how the movie is titled “Rocketman” but the John song it’s named after is “Rocket Man.”)

Taron Egerton takes on the role of John in a story that follows him from his beginnings as a struggling bar and club musician through the super-stardom he experienced in the 1970s and 80s. That journey includes not only his growth in the music world but also his personal life, a big part of which is his sexuality, something he kept secret from the world for years, as well as his rampant drug and alcohol abuse.

The Posters

Egerton *is* John on the first poster, showing him in one of his trademark flamboyant performance outfits and clearly having a blast singing and playing in front of a massive stadium crowd. It’s tinted purple with light shimmering all over the image, communicating clearly the bright fantastical tone of the film.

John is shown in close up, his eyes obscured by big dramatic glasses on the Dolby Cinemas poster released in early May.

rocketman poster dolby

The Trailers

The teaser trailer labels the film as being “Based on a true fantasy” and indeed is meant to create a kind of surrealistic framing for the story. That’s helped along by the good looks we get at some of John’s most iconic styles, from the glittery Yankees jersey to the feather boa to the massive cowboy hat and lots more. There are scenes of him as a young child to help make clear that we’ll be following him from his youngest days – or at least flashing back to them – and some indications the film won’t shy away from the sexuality John kept secret for decades.

The official trailer from late February offers a more complete look at the story, moving between John’s beginnings as a working pub musician named Reggie to the heights of super stardom. It presents his story as one of trying to change his reality through the creation of one fantasy after another, including the costumes and other theatrical excesses. There’s also more than a few hints at the sexuality he kept under wraps in the early years and how that contributed to his feeling there was always a block on him being who he truly was. It’s filled with John’s music, which makes for a great selling point in and of itself.

Online and Social

There’s not a lot on the movie’s official website, but what is there is at least somewhat original.

“Never Ordinary” is a photo-upload feature that allows visitors to add some sparkle to a headshot or other photo via a selection of colorful frames, John-like glasses, text with declarations of strength or uniqueness and more. The end result can then downloaded or shared on social networks.

Also shareable is the “What’s Your Song” section, which has a personality quiz asking you a series of questions to determine what Elton John song is the perfect one for you.

More standard are the “Videos” section with the trailers and more, and the “Soundtrack” section with links to stream, download or buy the album.

Only Facebook is linked to from the site but there were also Twitter and Instagram profiles as well as an official Giphy channel. You can also find an official movie playlist on Spotify along with the soundtrack.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The first TV spot debuted around the same time as the second trailer, cutting down the story of John living out a fantasy life into a shorter pitch for the audience but including many of the same key moments.

Fandango announced in early May it would give its VIP members access to screenings two weeks prior to release in an effort to jumpstart audience buzz for the movie, a partnership promoted with a new commercial spot.

A couple weeks before the movie came out, John’s music was used in a special themed episode of “American Idol” that had contestants singing some of his biggest hits. The costumes were, of course, the focus of a special movie-themed episode of “Project Runway.”

Most of the online ads – and there have been quite a few – have used key art of John in his sparkly Dodgers uniform that wasn’t from a U.S. but a U.K. poster. Pre-roll ads on YouTube included spot for both the movie in general and for the soundtrack specifically.

rocketman pic

There weren’t many promotional partnerships – at least not any that received much attention – but one involved Lucky Brand, which created a collection of t-shirts inspired by the film and featuring classic photos of John. Another exclusive collection was offered by fashion retailer Mr. Porter, but those pieces were more formal and subdued, understandable given it was a subset of its ongoing Kingsman label.

Gucci was also involved, but seemingly only in that it has long been John’s preferred outfit provider and so has occupied a significant role in the publicity of this movie just as it has on the singer’s recent and previous tours. Their status as the movie’s official crystal provider was touted by Swarovski.

Media and Publicity

The movie was part of the studio’s presentation to exhibition executives at CineEurope in mid-July 2018. Quite a bit later, in late September, Paramount released a first still of Egerton as John, showing off how he donned the singer’s unique 70s style.

Egerton spoke about the movie while promoting Robin Hood last year. He and Maddon were interviewed jointly about working together on the film.

A short featurette from mid-February had Egerton and others talking about the process of recording John’s songs for the movie and receiving the artists approval for his interpretations. John’s approval of Egerton’s performance and abilities extended to the actor singing “Tiny Dancer” with John at piano for the musician’s charity event earlier this year.

Given the club’s status as an important part of John’s rise to fame, it was a nice move to have the cast and crew show up at L.A.’s The Troubadour for a Q&A.

In mid-March Paramount held a preview event giving select attendees a first look at expanded footage from the movie, resulting in a wave of very positive buzz and word of mouth as those who saw it came away impressed by Egerton and the production as a whole. About that same time Egerton was interviewed about how his primary goal was to do John proud and remain true to the real story.

Shortly after that there was some controversy when it was reported Paramount was balking at scenes depicting a gay sexual relationship, reports Fletcher dismissed as speculation, saying his and the studio’s intent was still to release an R-rated film that dug into John’s life and behavior. Similar comments were made by Egerton when the film screened at London’s Abbey Road Studios and then again by the actor when Paramount brought him and footage from the movie to CinemaCon in early April. That footage wowed attendees, generating a lot of positive buzz in advance of release.

Reports circulated the movie would have its official premiere out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival, rumors that were later confirmed as it would screen out of competition there. It was later added as the opening night feature at the Toronto LBGT Festival.

In mid-April a short featurette had the cast and crew talking about telling a fantasy-driven story of John’s life.

A feature story profiled the production team and their efforts to recreate Los Angeles from the era the story takes place in. Another focused on the costume design team and how they dressed Egerton in facsimiles of John’s most outlandish outfits.

Continuing the emphasis on Egerton’s real-life vocal abilities, it was announced in early May that he and John would duet on a new song for the movie’s soundtrack.

rocketman pic 2

Some of the movie’s cast revealed the songs from John’s catalog that had the biggest impact on their lives.

A feature profile of Egerton had the actor talking even more about taking on the Elton John persona as well as how some of the roles he’s taken to date have lead him to this point, ready to vault into the realm of super stardom. That was also the theme of another later interview with him and became a constant element of other stories prior to release. Along those same lines, Maddon was profiled in a piece that focused on how he was ready to stop playing a “nice guy” and get a little darker, a move this movie is part of.

Scenes from the movie are mixed with footage of Egerton in the studio singing in an official video for his version of John’s classic song “Rocket Man” that lends its title to the movie. The costuming – featuring recreations of John’s outlandish wardrobe over the years – was the subject of another featurette in early May.

A profile of Fletcher covered his previous work and allowed him to talk about not only this movie but also his contributions to last year’s big musical biopic Bohemian Rhapsody. John’s real-life husband, who’s also a producer on this movie, spoke about how eerily close to reality Egerton appeared while Fletcher once more sought to assuage concerns the story would go light on the singer’s sexuality.

“The Tonight Show” hosted an appearance by Maddon. Closer to release Egerton was interviewed about his friendship with John on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” A number of interviews featured John and Egerton together, including this appearance on “Good Morning, America.” The duo of Egerton and Maddon sang along to John’s music on an episode of “Carpool Karaoke.”

The movie’s appearance at Cannes was a major event, with the entire cast as well as John, co writer Bernie Taupin and John’s husband. Everyone engaged in multiple interviews, talking about the story and how true it is or isn’t to the events that inspired it. What it also accomplished was to set aside some of the concerns that had plagued Rhapsody, assuring people it contained a frank portrayal of John’s sexuality, something that was a first for a major studio release. Fletcher even compared it to Rhapsody directly, saying this is the “R-rated version” of the story that in that movie was toned down for a PG. That comparison was one Egerton wasn’t so eager to address, wanting to let both movies be judged on their own.

Paramount hosted a special performance of both John and Egerton at the festival, something that garnered massive press attention. The singer was also interviewed about his substance abuse from decades ago and how it plays into his – and the movie’s – story.

There were also interviews with the technical crew of the movie, including the costume and set designers responsible for creating the movie’s fantasy-inspired look and feel.

Fandango hosted an exclusive clip of “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting.” EW then got a clip of “Crocodile Rock.” Future clips included scenes of John meeting Taupin and more.

That fateful meeting was also covered in a piece written by Taupin about how the two were brought together and their decades-long collaboration.

Being true to the story continued to be a big topic of the press, with Maddon reiterating similar comments from Fletcher about how cutting the gay sex scenes from the movie would have been a disservice to John and everyone else. An interview with John included him saying some studios the project was shopped to over the years wanted that aspect of the story toned down, a compromise he was unwilling to make.

Fashion was the focus of an interview with Bryce Dallas Howard, who plays John’s mother in the film, one that touched on not only the styles sported in the film but also her own personal preference for styling herself and buying second hand clothing. She also appeared on a few TV talk shows and engaged in a few other interviews.

Overall

How the movie was being seen as a pivotal proving point for both Paramount – which needs a non-franchise hit – and Egerton was the subject of this story, which makes it clear the studio is taking a big bet here that could have significant upsides as well as downsides depending on how fickle the audience is. Appearing at Cannes offered a moment where the general conversation turned cautious optimism to one that included it among potential Oscar contenders. I wouldn’t be surprised, based on that late buzz, if opening weekend proves a bit stronger than the $25 million forecast.

In marketing the movie, Paramount has seized the larger-than-life nature of the story and man to position it as just as big a blockbuster event as Aladdin or other franchise entry. This is a big, oversized and dramatic story with flashy costumes, massive spectacle that should be seen on the big screen according to the studio. The message has been one of reassuring the audience that they know the music and the basics of who these people are and what happens, so come see a glitzy version that will entertain you for two hours or so.

That the project has so deeply involved the real people being portrayed has been an advantage for the marketing, especially on the press circuit, where John, Taupin and others have been available for interviews and appearances. Putting the cast and crew out there to this extent would have resulted in a bit of overload, but spreading it around the group means there are more cumulative beats generated.

Previously I had lumped this movie in with Bohemian Rhapsody and The Dirt, two other recent music biopics that had the seal of approval and heavy involvement from the subjects themselves. Those others were criticized for being too glowing in their portrayal of sometimes problematic or at least more complex artists, something that can be expected when the parties giving approval have an active interest in managing their own reputation.

The message sent by John in particular in the campaign for Rocketman is the opposite, though: Instead of shying away from aspects of the story that might be unsavory he seemingly sought to embrace them, unwilling to partner with a studio or filmmaker who didn’t want to be truthful about what happened even if it might be unusual for a major studio film. That has made a big difference in how it’s been sold.

Picking Up the Spare

John took to iHeartRadio to host a special show featuring some of his biggest hits and tell stories related to the movie. Music was also the subject of an interview with Giles Martin, the producer of the soundtrack. 

The cast and crew spoke more about production and John’s legacy at the film’s premiere. 

More attention has been paid to the production team, with features on how the film’s fantasy sequences were developed and how they recreated the famous Dodgers Stadium concert. Costar Richard Madden got another profile as well. 

Egerton showed up at a John concert in England, once more teaming up on a duet of “Your Song.” 

A couple stories in early November about how Egerton has come to have a side hustle as a John collaborator and more on how nervous he was about taking on the project.

Pet Sematary – Marketing Recap

pet semetary poster 3If this seems like the 38th feature adaptation of a Stephen King story in the last five years, you’re probably not alone. The campaigns for some have put the author more in the spotlight than others, with this week’s Pet Semetary falling in the “more” category.

The movie, the second adaptation of King’s book of the same name. This time around Jason Clarke and Amy Seimetz play Louis and Rachel, a married couple that relocates their family to rural Maine. Not long after the move their daughter Ellie (Jeté Laurence) is killed in an accident. Having learned from their neighbor Jud (John Lithgow) of a mysterious graveyard in the woods that can bring the dead back to life – something they’ve already seen when their dead cat returns to the house after being buried there – Louis puts Ellie there. When she returns, though, the family finds something isn’t right and Louis may have unlocked something truly terrible.

The Posters

A lone figure walks toward the camera across a field of scattered bones and refuse on the first teaser poster, with large copy intoning “Sometimes dead is better,” which is ominous to say the least. It’s a good, monochromatic way to start off this aspect of the campaign, followed shortly by another teaser that shows a broken wooden cross with “Pet Semetary” scrawled on it.

The theatrical poster, released in February, offers a more complete look at the cast and story. A wider assortment of the characters are placed around the design, with a bedraggled looking cat looming over everyone in the background and kids wearing creepy animal face masks toward the bottom.

Regal Cinemas offered exclusive key art when users of their mobile app used that app to scan a poster in theaters. The Dolby-specific poster put the whole scene in red, with the recently-returned cat looming over everything. Human characters aren’t prominent here as it’s more about setting a spooky tone.

The Trailers

“Sometimes dead is better” the audience is told at the outset of the first trailer, which starts as the family is relocating to a new home right along the edge of the woods. They soon learn those woods have a spooky history among the locals, who tell them “the ground is bad.” It’s not long before we see lots of people crawling away from threats, going kind of crazy and more as we continue to hear about the strange nature of whatever power lurks out in the trees.

The second full trailer starts out all nice and innocent, but quickly gets to the scares as we hear about something unnatural being out there in the woods where people have been burying their pets for generations. When Louis’ daughter is killed he sees a chance to bring her back over Jud’s objections, a decision that brings back more than anyone bargained for.

Warner Bros. released a “fan reaction” video in late February showing YouTubers being shocked by what they see in that second trailer.

The final trailer, released just a week or so before the movie hit theaters, focuses on the price Jud pays to bring his daughter back to the living and just what lead him to make that choice.

Online and Social

The official website is less than exciting, just offering the ability to buy tickets alongside the trailer, synopsis and links to social profiles.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A short promo titled “Dead is Better” offered a brief explanation of the premise while showing lots of creepy shots of creatures and people returned from the grave. A first TV spot was released around the time of SXSW showing all the creepy stuff that’s about to happen.

Online ads placed on IMDb.com used a link to the site’s “Scary Good” list of horror and thriller movies, with the promotion being “Brought to you by Pet Sematary.”

I haven’t been able to find details on it and it wasn’t promoted almost at all, but WB had a green screen photo booth at C2E2 a couple weeks ago that inserted people into the teaser poster above the “Sometimes dead is better” copy.

Media and Publicity

Entertainment Weekly offered the first look at the movie in advance of the trailer’s debut. Later on the movie’s directors explained some of the changes they had made when adapting King’s story.

In early February the movie was announced as the closing night feature of this year’s SXSW Film Festival, during which an exclusive clip was released to Twitter Movies. A short featurette had the directors and actors talking about how to get to the heart of what’s scary, you have to start with King and his stories. Paramount later published a video showing fans reacting to that SXSW screening along with the other promotional activities that were taking place in Austin.

A clip released about the time of SXSW showed the family’s daughter returning to them unexpectedly.

EW published a feature package on the film that, among other things, included King commenting on the changes that had occured from the pages of his book to this new film adaptation.

The directors of the new movie along with others from the crew and members of the cast appeared in a short promotional video for a high-quality home video release of the original film. The story of making that first movie was also covered in a couple interviews with its directory, Mary Lambert.

A Fandango-exclusive featurette focused on the supernatural burial ground that is central to the story.

Lithgow talked about the movie when he showed up on “The Late Show.”

Overall

It’s a fine campaign, but what’s missing here is any sense of what makes the movie essential or important for the audience. Being a remake of an adaptation you’d expect to find something here that spoke to something vital for people to latch on to, something that made the relatively well-known story relevant for this moment. Some of the interviews speak to that a bit, but never really digs into the “why,” just covering the “what” about this version that’s new or different from what’s come before.

That being said, the campaign is less than exciting on other fronts. The posters are all very spooky in their monochromatic nature and the trailers certainly provide a few jump scares. But it also seems completely disposable and forgettable, with nothing unique jumping out and making an impression.

Picking Up the Spare

Another interview with the directors about how they went about adapting the movie for a new audience.

Clarke appeared on “The Tonight Show” to promote the movie and tell funny stories.

Great profile here of Amy Seimetz and the unconventional choices she’s making in her career.  

Another interview with the co-directors about updating a classic on two fronts. 

Bumblebee – Marketing Recap

You can read my full recap of the marketing of Bumblebee at The Hollywood Reporter.

To sell the movie Paramount has focused not only on the story of the bond between Charlie and Bumblebee but also on how, unlike the previous movies, this one features the classic 80s looks of the Robots in Disguise. Here’s how the campaign was rolled out.

Online and Social

Aside from the usual collection of trailers, synopses and other information, the movie’s official website sports details on the promotional partner companies that signed up with Paramount. There’s also a section for “AR Coloring,” offering pages that are offered with the Quiver app, allowing people to virtually color some pictures featuring movie characters as well as a side-scrolling game to play. In the upper right there are links to the movie’s Instagram, Facebook and Twitter profiles.

Media and Publicity

EW offered the first still from the film, which provided both a look at Steinfeld and the titular Transformer in a vehicle form that will seem much more familiar to those of us of a certain age.

The release of the first trailer, which offered more insights into how the movie would take us back to the 80s, prompted speculation that the jump backward could signal Paramount’s attempt to use this as a way to reboot this franchise and launch their Hasbro-based shared universe that would bring in other toy brands from the Reagan Era. Despite what it looked like in the trailer, the Decepticon jet shown briefly is *not* Starscream but Blitzwing, according to comments by the director at San Diego Comic-Con. I am disappoint.

Producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura was interviewed about this movie and the future of the franchise in general, addressing how the last Transformers film necessitated shaking things up a bit, how the return to the 80s could offer a wealth of new creative potential to tap into and more.

Ahead of its SDCC appearance, a first look at two new Decepticons – Shatter and Dropkick – was offered in Entertainment Weekly’s convention-centric issue.

Screenwriter Christina Hodson was interviewed about why he wanted to tell this story and in this way, focusing on how a woman writing a major studio tentpole release like this is fairly unusual.

Cena appeared on “The Ellen Degeneres Show” to talk up the movie and then later on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and then “Late Night.” Steinfeld performed her new song for the movie on “The Tonight Show.”

Knight was interviewed about how he didn’t believe the call he received to direct the movie was serious but how he took on the job with gusto once it was his.

Overall

I will simply state that this sequence from the second trailer alone is reason enough to see the movie.

bumblebee soundwave

Picking Up the Spare

Seinfeld got a nice profile about her moving out of other genres and into action films. Screenwriter Christina Hodson was also interviewed about her role in taking on the story.

Instant Family – Marketing Recap

instant family poster 2Pete (Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie (Rose Byrne) are a happily married couple who decide they want to have kids but don’t really want to deal with all the messiness of the first few years. So they decide to become foster parents, eventually choosing three siblings, including a teenage girl and her younger brother and sister.

Things don’t go smoothly, of course. Lizzy (Isabela Moner), the oldest girl, is stubborn and writes off the couple’s intentions as just being a case of some white liberal guilt being assuaged. That goes hand in hand with Ellie and Pete’s inexperience with parenting and, put together, you have the recipe for some awkward but charmingly humorous moments.

The Posters

instant family posterThe adults are on one side and the kids on the other on the first poster, each looking somewhat skeptical at the other party. A second poster shows the whole crew all together, the adults looking either naively happy or very worried while the kids look like they’re having zero fun.

The Trailers

Ellie and Pete are not joiners in the first trailer, the kind of couple who haven’t had kids yet but who decide to investigate fostering because it skips some of the early problems. They’re super awkward about the process but eventually wind up with not just one but three kids, a sibling set. It takes a while and there are some hard, uphill moments, but eventually everyone figures each other out.

Online and Social

In keeping with the theme of some of the featurettes and other material released, the movie’s official website – which has a .org address – has less about the film itself and more about adoption and foster care. The Facebook page for the movie links to a Group where people are discussing issues related to adoption and family support. There was also a Twitter profile.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Some online advertising was done, particularly on YouTube and other social networks and there seem to have been some TV spots created, but nothing under Paramount’s official banner so I’m unclear as to what is or isn’t real. There are certainly some videos shared online that look and feel like commercials, they’re just not labeled as such. The movie also promoted Tweets from Wahlberg.

Unlike most movies, the promotional partners here are all cause-based, from the Dave Thomas Foundation to AdoptUSKids and Jockey USA. The goal of these partnerships seems to be to get people involved and educated, which is great.

Media and Publicity

The movie was part of the studio’s presentation to exhibition executives at CineEurope in mid-July 2018.

At the same time the first trailer came out in early September, just after a first still hit, a featurette was released that had writer/director Sean Anders and his wife Beth talking about their own real life experiences that inspired the movie.

An interview with Spencer had her talking about the movie and how it’s among the more lighthearted projects she still chooses.

Byrne and Wahlberg did the media rounds on TV while Byrne and other members of the cast volunteered at local California charities to help during the current wildfire crisis in and around L.A.

Overall

There really are two aspects to the campaign that in some ways appear to be working toward opposite goals.

First, there’s the forgettable family comedy that’s being sold via the posters and trailer. We’ve seen variations on this movie before, including previous films starring Byrne (who really deserves better) and Wahlberg (who, not to put too fine a point on it, doesn’t). We get it, the would-be parents are flustered and out of their element and the wife looks so understanding and loving.

Second, there’s the advocacy campaign that the movie seems to be one factor of. This goes much further into selling the issue that lies at the heart of the film’s story than most campaigns for cause-based movies do. That’s really strong, making this seem like an extended PSA for adoption and foster-parenting.

For as much as the website and featurettes hit that point, I kind of wish it can gone even farther. It’s great that Paramount allowed even this much latitude, though, and good on the filmmakers for telling a very personal story that they’re trying to get in front of a mass audience.

Picking Up The Spare

I missed this featurette where adopted children answered interesting questions, unaware their parents were listening in.

Wahlberg appeared on “The Tonight Show” to give everyone in the audience a special screening while Byrne was interviewed about getting the comedy/drama ratio just right.

The filmmakers were interviewed again about how and why they decided to tell this story.

Overlord – Marketing Recap

Recapping the marketing campaign for Overlord.

overlord poster 2The well-known story of D-Day, the Allied invasion of France in World War II, has been the subject of many movies over the decades. The new film Overlord offers a new twist on the familiar, though.

The story follows a team of American paratroopers dropped behind enemy lines before the invasion to pave the way for the coming troops. They head to a small village with a Nazi research facility and quickly find more than they were briefed on. Specifically, they discover human experimentation that has resulted in terrifying creatures they must fight their way through in order to survive.

The Posters

The first poster shows an obscured face that appears to have flakes blowing off it, with the title treatment in the front. Abrams’ name appears at the top while everything about the design screams that this is a horror flick of some kind.

Parachutes fall like drops of blood from the plane overhead on the theatrical one-sheet, which received an interesting rollout on social media. The studio used Instagram to slowly reveal the poster, with a link to OverlordMovie.com/1000yeararmy in one of the grid tiles. People who clicked that were instructed to DM “Aidez moi” to the account to receive a response that continued the unveiling of secrets and clues as to the story of the film.

Blood is also the central component of the IMAX poster, though in this case it’s mostly confined to a vial that’s sitting on the ground. A couple additional posters were created by different artists for specific distribution, one for Gallery 1988 and one for Dread Central.

The Trailers

The first trailer dropped just before Comic-Con 2018. In it we see a fleet of planes taking part in the invasion of Normandy, all of which come under enemy fire that results in some being blown out of the sky and soldiers being scattered everywhere. One group that’s separated from their unit decides to investigate a compound they come across. They soon find it’s where German scientists are engaging in various experiments to enhance or change people to make them more effective killing machines, leading to all sorts of violent encounters with those who have been transformed.

A second short trailer from early October cuts out some exposition, dropping the viewer immediately in the squad’s investigation of what’s happening inside a mysterious church behind enemy lines. When one of their number is killed, they inject him with a vial of unknown liquid that brings him back to life, but also changes him. Lots of action and shooting follow as it sells a body horror movie set during WWII.

Online and Social

The official website doesn’t offer much beyond the ability to buy tickets. There’s the usual trailer and such, but not much else.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

An exclusive first-look for those seeing opening weekend showings of The Nun on IMAX screens was announced days before in an attempt to generate additional interest in both movies.

Online ads used a mix of full-motion video and elements of the key art, especially the parachutes falling from the sky like drops of blood. The trailer was used in promoted post ads on social media.

Media and Publicity

Publicity for the movie started when it was revealed this would be the fourth installment in the loosely-connected Cloverfield franchise, news that came before the third movie even came out. It was subsequently moved all over the release calendar. When The Cloverfield Paradox was dropped by Paramount and quickly picked up by Netflix, the studio confirmed Overlord was still thiers and would be coming to theaters later in the year.

Later on during Paramount’s CinemaCon presentation Abrams appeared to reinforce that the movie would be coming soon and clear up rumors, stating clearly that it was *not* connected to the Cloverfield universe. The movie was also part of the later CineEurope presentation from the studio. It was later announced as being among the lineup of films appearing at Fantastic Fest, an appearance that generated some very positive buzz and word of mouth.

A featurette was released in late October that had Abrams and others talking about the story and how the movie presents something new to both the war and horror cinematic genres.

Adepo appeared on “Kimmel” a couple weeks out from release to talk about the movie and what he did to prepare for the role. He and other members of the cast did other talk show stops and participated in online Q&As and so on.

Overall

This may not be a Cloverfield Universe film, but it’s clear Bad Robot, the studio producing the movie, is still up to its old marketing tricks. That has worked to raise the profile of the movie, particularly among horror fans. It’s all added up to create a fun and hair-raising campaign that’s filled with “Wait, what’s going on?” questions with precious few answers being offered. In a time where campaigns try to lay out entire story arcs, that’s a welcome change.

Picking Up The Spare

IMAX released a brief promotional spot featuring the cast and crew. There was also a featurette focusing on Mathilde Ollivier.

Adepo was interviewed about his character and how he plays into the movie’s story.