How Universal Pictures has sold a nostalgic look back
Steven Spielberg directs – after cowriting with Tony Kushner – this week’s The Fabelmans, in wide theatrical release now after a few weeks playing in New York and Los Angeles. A semi-autobiographical look at the director’s own childhood, the movie stars Gabriel LaBelle as teenage Sammy Fabelman, the Spielberg proxy who uses his love of making movies as a way to process and deal with the tension in the marriage of his parents, played by Michelle Williams and Paul Dano. As the two influence Sammy in different ways he also comes into his own as he realizes what he can do with a movie camera.
Also playing roles in Sammy’s life are members of his extended family, especially uncle Bennie (Seth Rogen) and great-uncle Boris (Judd Hirsch).
With so much talent up and down the roster, including longtime Spielberg collaborator John Williams once again providing the music, it’s time to look at how it’s been sold to the general public.
announcements and casting
The movie was announced in early 2021, though Spielberg and Kushner had been working on the project throughout the previous two years.
Williams and then Rogen were included in the cast at that time. Dano joined a couple months after that followed by LaBelle. Others in the supporting cast, including Hirsch, were added over the next few months leading up to the beginning of filming in mid-2021.
Dano talked about the imposing nature of playing a real-life person and working with Spielberg in an interview earlier this year as part of The Batman’s publicity cycle. Similarly while she was promoting Showing Up Williams admitted to having her mind blown when the director said he wanted to work with her.
the marketing campaign
In a move that makes some sense given the talent and subject matter the first marketing beats of the film’s campaign involved announcements the world premiere would take place at September’s Toronto Film Festival and then that it would be the closing feature of November’s AFI Fest.
Things really got going in September, just before TIFF, with the release of the first poster. It immediately establishes the premise of the film by showing a young boy walking down a row of soundstages as filmstrip images of the boy’s family and life are projected on the building in front of him. It hits a warm, nostalgic tone that lets the audience know what they’re in for.
The first trailer (3m YouTube views) came out as well. As soon as young Sammy is given a film camera by his mother he begins making his own movies. From there on out it’s a mix of being told to follow his artistic heart and being told to stop fooling around and get serious about his life, all filtered through Sammy’s experience with his parents, including his mother’s frustrated dreams.
At TIFF the stars joined Spielberg and Kushner to share their thoughts on making the movie and more. They all turned out for the premiere as well. Spielberg also talked more about how the pandemic and his parents getting older made him realize if he was ever going to make this film, which he’d been considering for 20 years, it was going to have to be soon. The movie went on to win the People’s Choice Award at TIFF as well as accumulate plenty of positive reviews from those in attendance.
Also on the festival front, the movie was slated as the opening feature of MOMA’s The Contenders series.
There were, of course, a number of featureprofiles of Spielberg that examined how it’s the culmination of the family-centric themes he’s explored throughout his career but the first to do so in such a personal and explicit way.
Hirsch was interviewed about how Spielberg prepared him to play a character based on the director’s uncle, which included precious little actual direction but lots of encouragement to make choices and do what he felt was right for the character.
At the AFI Fest screening Rogen, Williams and others talked about how emotional filming was for everyone involved as well as the occasionally surreal experience of working with Spielberg on such a personal project.
In a clip released to Fandango in early November Sammy’s mom is giving him a camera to film his trains with so he can watch them crash over and over.
The cast and crew assembled again for a conversation about the movie at The Academy.
A short video shows Spielberg engaging in his traditional toast before filming the last shot of the movie and praising the cast and crew for their hard work while behind-the-scenes footage rolls of everyone making the movie.
LaBelle was profiled in a piece where he talked about the pressures of playing a young Spielberg in front of the old Spielberg and more. Another feature on Dano again emphasized how he’s beginning to loosen up in his career and have some fun with the roles he chooses.
A featurette that came out last week opens with Spielberg talking about how he’s always drawn from real life experiences for his movies and that this one is just an extension of that while the cast praises the director and his approach.
A few non-sequential thoughts on what’s been recapped above:
Spielberg is always at his best when he’s making movies he wants to make as opposed to making movies he should be making and this seems to fall firmly in the former category.
How Warner Bros. has sold the latest Bat-tastic caper.
After all the sturm und drang over the last few years over the Snyder-verse and how the various DC Comics-based movies are or aren’t connected, this week brings the kind of film we haven’t seen in about a decade: A solo adventure for Batman.
The Batman, the title of which represents the latest example of a trend where reboots, reimaginings and retakes simply at “The” before the name of the character or team to set it apart from a previous movie without it, stars Robert Pattinson in his debut as Bruce Wayne/Batman. Directed by Matt Reeves, the story is, surprisingly, not an origin of The Dark Knight but instead picks up when the vigilante is a couple years into his career as a crime-fighter. As such, he’s already developed a working relationship with Lieutenant James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright), one he will need as he investigates a crime wave perpetrated by someone referring to himself as The Riddler (Paul Dano).
Over the course of events, Batman will also come into contact with Gotham City crime boss Carmine Falcone (John Turturro) and Falcone’s lieutenant Oswald “Penguin” Cobblebott (Colin Farrell). He’ll also be helped – and occasionally hindered – by Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz), also known as Catwoman.
Pattinson is the third actor to play Batman in a live-action film in the last 15 years, not counting various animated incarnations, and as such represents DC Films’ recent “whatever” approach to connected universes that allows multiple versions of a character across media without being beholden to the same sort of restrictions found in the MCU and other franchises.
Arriving in theaters this weekend, let’s take a look at how this version of the 80+ year old character has been sold to the public.
announcement and casting
While it had been rumored for a while, Affleck was officially confirmed as the movie’s director at San Diego Comic-Con 2016.A tweet a few months later from Affleck showing what was reported to be test footage of the villain eventually lead to confirmation that Deathstroke was the bad guy Batman would be facing off against in the movie. Affleck later confirmed the movie’s title and talked briefly about why Deathstroke was chosen as the villain.
After months of rumors and reports, it was eventually officially announced that Affleck would *not* direct the movie but would continue on as producer and star.
Matt Reeves, who was later announced as the director, was asked repeatedly about this movie while he was promoting War For The Planet Of The Apes, remarking how he was trying to bring a noir-like feel to Batman. He talked more about it, hitting similar topics, while promoting “The Passage.”
In early 2019 WB finally gave the movie a release date while at the same time it was confirmed Affleck was not going to be the one playing the title character as it was reported the story would focus on a younger version of Bruce Wayne. Affleck commented on stepping down from the role while promoting Triple Frontier in early 2019.
A couple months later, in mid-May, reports circulated that Pattinson was the top contender for the role, news that sparked either joy or outrage among fans online depending on their overall perception of the actor. The process of casting Pattinson was unusually smooth and brought about because Reeves’ story was set early in Batman’s career, requiring a younger actor.
While the movie wasn’t part of WB/DC’s 2019 San Diego Comic-Con promotional push – the studio largely sat out the convention – a panel generally related to music in super hero films included fan exhortations directed at Reeves about not screwing up the project and character. It was somewhat surprising WB/DC didn’t make an exception to their SDCC absence given the event hosted multiple celebrations of the 80th anniversary of Batman’s debut in comics, celebrations that included costumes from Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, a screening of Tim Burton’s 1989 film and Batman’s induction into the Comic-Con Hall of Fame.
Pattinson spoke briefly about the movie while he was making the festival rounds in 2019, with former Batman Christian Bale offering some costuming advice based on his own experiences.
the marketing begins
The first official promotional activity for the film came in December 2019 when Reeves sent a video message to attendees of CCXP promising he and the cast would be there in person in 2020 to show off footage and talk more about the movie they were making.
In January of 2020 Reeves announced the beginning of production while WB revealed the full cast list.
A short while later in February Reeves offered fans their first real look at Pattinson in costume, releasing a “camera test” showing Batman slowing approaching the camera and coming more into focus the closer he gets. Then in early March he shared a first official look at the new, more conventional Batmobile.
Later on, Pattinson promised to bring his same eccentric style to this role that he’s brought to others, revealing later he received the official word of his casting just as he was starting work on Christopher Nolan’s Tenet. Serkis was also interviewed during the movie’s production shutdown about how he was approaching the role of Alfred, as was Wright about playing Gordon.
While she was promoting her new Hulu show in early 2020 Kravitz dropped some hints as to what people could expect from her take on Catwoman. She kept talking about it throughout that publicity cycle.
The movie was one of many to have its production put on hiatus because of the Covid-19 outbreak. Later on WB rescheduled its release from May to October as a result. Production restarted in August of 2020, but with the change that most of the shooting would happen on a closed set instead of outdoors. That new phase didn’t last long, as only a short while later Pattinson himself was reported to have been diagnosed with Covid-19, putting a halt on any aspect of production including him.
In July 2020, Reeves announced a spinoff series for HBO Max set in the same world as the movie but focusing on the Gotham PD, with Warner Bros. promising the show would expand on the stories and ideas established in the film.
dc fandome 2020 – the marketing begins
Both Reeves and Pattinson were listed among the talent making a virtual appearance at DC’s “Fandome” event in August, 2020, fueling speculation a more substantial first look might be revealed to those following along from home. Just before that, Reeves shared a look at the movie’s title treatment. During Fandome, the director praised his cast while also revealing that the corrupt nature of Gotham City would be explored in the HBO Max series, which he clarified is set in “year one” of Batman’s career while the movie takes place in “year two.” That event is also where the first teaser trailer debuted.
In August 2020, just days before the DC Fandome virtual event, Reeves shared a Fandome-specific teaser poster designed by DC publisher Jim Lee.
The first teaser (36.9m YouTube views) trailer debuted during DC Fandome in August of last year and, considering the reports that the film was only ~25 percent complete, is surprisingly robust. It shows that things are getting very dark in Gotham, with a string of murders accompanied by riddles intended for The Batman, who is already an accepted partner of the GCPD and Commissioner Gordon. There are also looks at Catwoman, an unexplained Joker gang and lots more.
Fans online quickly worked out the answer to one of the riddles presented in the trailer, finding that the answer to “What does a liar do when he’s dead?” is “He lies still.”
That trailer’s use of “Something In The Way” by Nirvana helped that nearly-30 year old song jump back to the top of the charts on both iTunes and YouTube.
In September 2020 an exclusive bit of artwork was released to celebrate that year’s Batman Day.
“Batman: Caped Crusader”, an animated series produced by Reeves along with Bruce Timm (of “Batman: The Animated Series” fame) and J.J. Abrams was announced in May 2021, but despite Reeves’ involvement it didn’t appear the series is tied to the movie in any way.
Those and other pandemic-related production delays were cited as the reasons behind a later delay to March, 2022.
There were a few shots from the movie, along with comments from Kravitz and Reeves, in a Catwoman documentary Warner Bros. shared on YouTube in May 2021.
Farrell talked about the movie when he appeared on “Kimmel” in July of last year.
A profile of Affleck included his comments on how the advice of a friend helped convince him to drop out of this project.
the marketing returns: dc fandome 2021 and more
In August 2021 this was among the movies WB showed off to exhibitors and others attending CinemaCon. A new trailer was promised for that year’s installment of DC Fandome, followed by the announcement another HBO Max series, this one focused on The Penguin, was in early development.
Kravitz was interviewed about how she approached her audition with Reeves and how it ultimately led to her getting the role of Catwoman.
Ahead of Fandome 2021 Reeves shared a photo of Batman looking out over Gotham and another of Kravitz as Catwoman. Two posters – one featuring Batman and one with Riddler – also came out just before Fandome.
As the trailer (42.6m YouTube views) released during Fandome opens, the Gotham PD is storming a diner to arrest Riddler. From there we see Batman as he goes about trying to track down the villain and figure out his plans, a process that involves lots of punching of henchmen and other violence. There’s quite a bit of screentime devoted to Catwoman along with introductory shots of Alfred, Comm. Gordon and Penguin, the latter of whom is, at the end of the trailer, surprised at the resilience of the very muscle-car looking Batmobile.
A cutdown version of that trailer was released right after the virtual event as the first TV spot in the campaign.
News came in December that Farrell was slated to continue playing Penguin in an HBO Max spinoff series focusing on his character’s rise to power before the events of the movie.
Rumors circulated for a while that Warner Bros. was testing two different versions of the movie, one with an ending that includes Joker and which would setup a sequel.
Another interview with Kravitz had her talking more about the training she engaged in to play Catwoman. At the same time, Pattinson talked about how he had an idea of where Bruce/Batman would go over two additional movies and that he’s open to making it a trilogy. Reeves also made it clear this movie was not set in the loosely-defined DC Extended Universe but was a standalone story not connected to the Multiverse being established in other projects. All those were part of an Empire Magazine cover story devoted to the film.
A new trailer came out at the end of December. Titled “The Bat and The Cat”,(26.2m YouTube views) it opens by juxtaposing Bruce Wayne being chastised for not continuing his family’s philanthropy with shots of him as Batman chasing villains through the city. From there it focuses on how Catwoman and Batman have to navigate their…complicated…dynamic to team up and try and save Gotham from the scourge of The Riddler and other threats.
the marketing forever: into 2022
Twitter Movies debuted two exclusive posters in mid-January. One shows an extreme closeup of Batman’s face with the words “Unmask the truth” at the top while the other has Batman and Catwoman standing on top of a building looking out over Gotham City.
We can’t decide who we want to get our claws into more.
Another poster came out a couple weeks later that sports the same tagline but features most of the main characters, both good and bad guys.
In an interview with Reeves, the director talked about the stories – both Batman and otherwise – that inspired the story and the visuals of the movie, while members of the cast praised Reeves’ exacting nature and his approach to filming. Another profile of Reeves had him offering all kinds of details about the production, including Pattinson’s makeup, the original script from Affleck and lots more.
Little Caesars Pizza teased their tie-in food offering, the Batman Calzony, at the end of January.
TV spots picked up around that time, including this commercial that distills the recent trailer down to its core elements, showing the conflict between Bruce Wayne and Batman along with hinting at some of the other elements of the story.
After a scene from the movie leaked online Reeves released it himself, followed shortly by WB. It shows Bruce arriving at a funeral and alternatively being berated for his lack of public philanthropy, eavesdropping on a police conversation before Riddler interrupts the service with a message to the Batman.
Riddler, Penguin and Catwoman are all featured on a series of character posters released at the beginning of February.
Batman-branded Oreos packaging, unveiled at that time, contained cookies that were stamped with the hero’s image. That packaging also featured a QR code that, when scanned, entered someone for a chance to win a trip to London for an immersive Batman experience.
DC announced all of the Batman titles released in March would sport movie-inspired variant covers.
Tickets for early IMAX screenings of the movie, scheduled for March 1st, went on sale around the same time.
Pattinson got the feature profile treatment, with the story focusing on how his career has evolved over the years to the point where he’s taking on more complex roles as he tries to shed the emo-heartthrob image he was pegged with for a while. Kravitz got a similar profile that also touched on how she fits into the legacy of the other actors who have portrayed Catwoman on screen.
IMAX and Dolby-exclusive posters used profiles of Batman as their central feature, varying in how close the camera is to the figure.
Both Pattinson and Kravitz were featured on the cover of EW in a package that had them talking about working with each other, becoming part of the Batman history and more. There were also interviews with Dano about creating a truly creepy version of Riddler and more.
An exclusive behind-the-scenes featurette was released by Little Caesars that had Pattinson and others talking about the story as well as the scope of the story.
Reeves joined Kravitz and Pattinson in Paris for a promotional stop over there. More of the cast joined them for a special screening in London a bit later.
Wright promoted the movie when he appeared on “GMA,” having previously stopped by “The Late Show.” Serkis also talked about becoming Alfred on “GMA” while Pattinson shared the tips he’d gotten from other super hero actors on “Kimmel.” Dano later talked about the movie on “The Tonight Show.”
Google introduced a special feature where people searching for “bruce wayne” were delivered results for “batman” and shown an animated Batsignal highlighting those results.
There’s been a plethora of coverage of the various branded consumer products that have been released recently to tie in with the movie, but this is really only a slight uptick when put in the context of the usual massive amounts of Batman merchandise that’s readily available.
Another profile of Reeves focused on how the director worked to find a personal and emotional connection to the character before agreeing to take on the project. Meanwhile an interview with Kravitz had her saying she approached the character as bisexual, something that may or may not be explicity in the movie but which definitely got people’s attention. A THR cover story of Dano had him talking more about joining the super hero world and how that does or doesn’t fit in with his career to date.
Most of the cast and crew came out for the red carpet world premiere in New York City earlier this week. Unfortunately Reeves had to sit the event out due to being diagnosed with Covid-19.
AMC Theaters offered an exclusive interview with Reeves. That came days after AMC revealed this movie would be subject to “variable pricing” wherein tickets to this film will be priced higher than those for other movies showing at the same time. This is a major departure for U.S. theaters and it remains to be seen how audiences will react to those tickets being $1.50 more expensive than they’re used to.
It needs to be pointed out that nowhere in the marketing is the movie’s nearly 3-hour runtime explicitly mentioned, despite this being important information for the audience to have.
One has to wonder whether the reality of that will have any impact on the $100 million opening weekend that’s projected for the movie.
The 86% Fresh rating The Batman has on Rotten Tomatoes, though, indicates mostly positive reception for the film so far, and it may be that audiences are willing to hold it for three hours in order to get back to the theater again and reinforce the narrative that only super hero and other franchises can actually survive at the box office.
Aside from that…this certainly looks like a Batman movie. It hits slightly different beats than have been seen in the campaigns for the other Batman movies that have come out but also seems utterly familiar, which is the whole point of IP franchises like this. There’s some good stuff in here, especially when the focus is on Kravitz and Pattinson, but mostly it comes down to whether you enjoy the character or not.
At least, according to Reeves, the movie does *not* feature those damn pearls falling. That’s a win and might be the strongest point of differentiation between this and previous incarnations.
Paul Dano makes his directorial debut with Wildlife, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Carey Mulligan. The two play Jerry and Jeanette Brinson, a couple in 1960s Montana whose marriage is falling apart all around them and right in front of their son Joe (Ed Oxenbould).
That dissolution is coming from the fact that Jerry has lost his job and abandoned the family while Jeanette is left behind with Joe. The story, co-written by Zoe Kazan, is a simple one but contains all the powerful elements of a relationship flaming out in dramatic fashion.
(Ed. note: Yes, once again I got release dates wrong as this opened in limited areas last week. Let’s just move on.)
The movie’s poster is simple, showing Jeanette and Jerry looking at each other from opposite chairs, looking vaguely dissatisfied with the other. That photo is crowded by not only the icons of the festivals the movie has appeared at but also a number of positive quotes from early reviews.
Jerry is going through a rough patch, we see in the trailer, as Jeanette tries everything she can to both support him and explain his moody and erratic behavior to their son and others. Their son Joe observes all of this, upset by what’s going on but unable to really do anything about it. We see scenes of the family dynamic in various iterations and get a sense of Jeanette’s loneliness and isolation.
The visuals are enough to really hit you where it hurts, particularly all the emotions on display in Mulligan’s performance. We don’t see a lot of Gyllenhaal, but that seems to be the point. Throughout the trailer the audience is shown quotes from critics praising the movie to reinforce the idea that this one is worth seeking out.
The second trailer, released in early September, features much more dialogue and explanation of the story, showing how Jerry is reeling from a recent setback, dealing with it by having his own version of a midlife crisis. Jeanette tries to reassure Joe that everything is going to be alright while at the same time explaining to him the world isn’t as cut and dried as he’d like it to be.
A 60-second trailer from late September hit roughly the same story points, just in more condensed form.
Online and Social
There’s just the basic information found on IFC’s page for the movie, including the trailer, a synopsis and the poster.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
TV spots that debuted in early October focused on Jeanette and Jerry, showing scenes from previous trailers to sell the two aspects of the story.
Media and Publicity
With a great cast and Dano in the director’s chair, along with quality source material, it was almost immediately one of those people were most excited to see when it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival. The cast and crew spoke frequently about the film, with Dano and Williams talking about working together after being friends for years and Kazan and Dano talking about the collaboration they undertook as real life romantic and now screenwriting partners. It was a couple weeks after the festival ended when the movie sold to IFC Films.
It was later announced as one that would screen in a sidebar series at the Cannes Film Festival, where Dano spoke more about taking on directorial duties for the first time and what it was like working with Kazan. Around that time Mulligan was interviewed about why she signed on for the movie and also answered questions about #MeToo and other industry issues.
The movie was announced as one of those screening at the Toronto International Film Festival. It also made the list for the New York Film Festival and the Chicago Film Festival. The movie was added to the lineup of the Austin Film Festival.
Kazan and Dano were often asked what it was like to work together, eventually making it clear they weren’t likely to do so again. Dano talked more about why he decided to step behind the camera here.
Two clips were released in mid-October, one featuring Mulligan and one featuring Gyllenhaal in scenes that expanded on what we’d seen in the trailers.
The two leads were interviewed together about working with Dano and each other to create the nostalgic tone of the story.
The focus has been placed on two pairings: Dano/Kazan and Gyllenhaal/Mulligan. Those pairings have given the press – and the studio – some clear hooks on which to hang their stories about the movie. That’s good since, while the movie does look affecting and dramatic, it’s also lacking a strong hook in and of itself. So we’ve heard plenty about Dano taking up directorial duties, both from him and some mix of Kazan, Gyllenhaal and Mulligan, providing the strongest appeal for discerning audiences to turn out to theaters.
Picking Up The Spare
Mulligan appeared on “Jimmy Kimmel” to talk about the movie and tell some amusing anecdotes. Meanwhile Dano showed up on “Late Night.” She was also interviewed about the fearless, emotional performance she offers in the film.
Dano talks more about his career and what went on behind the scenes of making the movie here.