bodies bodies bodies – marketing recap

How A24 has sold a dark comedy about friends, murder and secrets

Bodies Bodies Bodies movie poster from A24
Bodies Bodies Bodies movie poster from A24

A reunion of friends gets weird quickly in Bodies Bodies Bodies, the new release from A24 coming to theaters this weekend. The story focuses on a house party being hosted by Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) and David (Pete Davidson). With Sophie fresh out of rehab, hints of secrets and deception around them and an unbalanced social dynamic given David is rich while the rest aren’t, things take a turn after a game of Bodies, Bodies, Bodies – initially intended to loosen things up – ends in the discovery of an actual dead body and the search for who among the group might be the killer.

Maria Bakalova, Myha’la Herrold, Lee Pace, Chase Sui Wonders, Rachel Sennott and Conner O’Malley round out the cast of partygoers in the film, directed by Halina Reijn and written by Sarah DeLappe.

So, with the reminder that this definitely isn’t the Apple TV+ series “The Afterparty”, let’s take a look at how it’s been sold.

announcement and casting

A24 acquired the project, at the time a spec script from Kristen Roupenian, in 2018.

Stenberg and Bakalova were the first to be cast in early 2021 as production began, with Davidson and others added over the next few months.

the marketing campaign

The first move in the marketing campaign was a screening of the film at the SXSW Film Festival in March of this year. Reviews and buzz out of that screening were generally positive and A24 set a release date shortly after the festival ended.

“This is not a safe space” we’re warned on the first poster, released in late April, as seven pairs of eyes look out with a knife cutting through the copy.

The first trailer (1.1m YouTube views) came out at the same time and shows a wild night happening. We get some glimpse into the strained friendships among those in the house, but mostly it’s about showing what a crazy time everyone is having. Eventually, though, things get serious when one of them turns up dead, but the people in the house are still seen to be more focused on their own trauma and making sure they’re not triggered.

Featured in the trailer – and highlighted by the studio after its release – is an original song from Charlie XCX, who is apparently a current popular music artist.

Rejin, Stenberg and others were interviewed in EW’s summer movie preview issue about the origins of the story, the process of putting together the cast and more.

The next poster came out at the beginning of June, this time showing the faces of the characters, all of whom are illuminated by the light from their cellphones. The knife from the first one-sheet is moved to the background on this one, more of a hint than an overt statement to the audience.

Reijn participated in a Q&A after a screening of the film as part of Sundance London later that month.

Herrold and Stenberg interviewed each other about this movie as well as the other projects they were currently involved in.

As the second trailer (7m YouTube views), released in mid-June, begins, Bee and Sophie are on their way to David’s house for the party. From there it follows the progression of the party, from having fun and dancing through playing the game to finding one of their friends dead. Everything gets more tense from there as the night progresses as they turn on each other while also trying to stay safe.

A week or so later a series of short videos were published introducing the audience to the various characters and what personality type they filled in the story.

Most of the cast assembled at San Diego Comic-Con late last month for interviews and a screening to publicize the film to what was hoped to be a young, hip and interested crowd.

“Hot Girl”, the Charlie XCX song teased in the trailer, was released at the end of June with a lyric visualizer and lots of interviews/reviews.

A24 held a few screenings of the film in recent weeks, culminating in a special event in New York City with some of the cast in attendance to introduce the movie and get audiences excited.

overall

The campaign is pretty good, but it’s definitely targeted at those under 30. They’re the group that’s going to find some of the dynamics displayed in the trailers and elsewhere most relatable. They’re also more likely to have a high tolerance for Pete Davidson in particular, who sticks out in the marketing like a sore thumb that has probably crashed on your couch for a month while he “figures things out”, which oddly looks a lot like smoking weed and getting five more tattoos you’re pretty sure are infected.

Wanna Play Lee Pace GIF by A24 - Find & Share on GIPHY

That’s not to say it will definitely fall flat for those outside that group. But it’s clear the studio is targeting those for whom going to parties with glow necklaces and weed-laced cake is the norm.

King of Staten Island – Marketing Recap

How Universal is selling a personal story from an “SNL” cast member.

king of staten island poster

Pete Davidson is…an acquired taste. He has as many detractors as he does fans and has come under considered criticism for a number of choices made in his past. Still, by all regards he remains popular, at least enough to remain on “Saturday Night Live” for a number of years as a prominent cast member.

Now he is working to expand even further into feature films with The King of Staten Island, not only starring in the film but also writing it. Davidson plays Scott, a slightly fictionalized version of himself. Scott suffers from a kind of arrested development, showing no drive to grow and move out of his mother’s Long Island basement. Part of Scott’s ennui comes from losing his firefighter father nearly 20 years ago, just as Davidson lost his own on 9/11/20. When his mother Margie (Marisa Tomei) begins dating another firefighter (Bill Burr), Scott finds the status quo challenged but also an opportunity to finally grow as a person in unexpected ways.

Universal’s campaign has leaned into Davidson’s established public persona while also asking audiences to question what it is they actually know about him as well as relying on the popularity of director Judd Apatow, who also helped Davidson as a writer.

The Posters

Scott stands atop his car with all the unearned confidence of your average white 20-something on the first and only poster (by marketing agency P+A), released in late April. The tattoos that cover his torso speak to Scott’s only occupation as a tattoo artist while the scene shown in the background establish the suburban setting, though it doesn’t get more specific than that. The biggest call to action appears at the top, which displays Apatow’s name and previous films prominently, indicating Universal thinks his involvement is a major draw for audiences to latch on to.

The Trailers

The first trailer (6 million views on YouTube) came out in early May and introduces us to Scott, a grown man who still lives with his mother and has successfully avoided responsibility his whole life, in part because he hasn’t moved past his firefighter father dying almost 20 years ago. It’s clear Scott is a fun guy to hang out and get high with, but not much more than that. When he has to begin caring for the children of his mom’s new boyfriend, he starts to grow up a bit and get his life in order.

Online and Social

In addition to the basic information and material about the movie, the official website has a section devoted to “Critical Acclaim” where visitors can get a sense of the positive reviews the film has already accumulated, all the way back to its festival screenings. The focus of the site, and what’s found on the front page, is offering a variety of ways for people to download the film on-demand since that is its new distribution method.

Advertising and Promotions

After accumulating quite a bit of buzz in advance, the movie’s public debut was scheduled for the 2020 SXSW Film Festival, but that was spiked when the festival was canceled because of the Covid-19 outbreak. It was later scheduled for the Tribeca Film Festival.

In late April the decision was made to pull the movie from the theatrical release schedule and push it over to Premium VOD, just as Universal was doing with a number of other titles. That announcement was accompanied by a staged video call between Apatow and Davidson. Another call, mostly about drugs, followed a little bit after that.

A featurette released in early May featured members of Davidson’s real life family as well as those in the cast and Apatow talking about the origins of the story, how the star examined his real issues and more.

About the same time a clip came out with Scott’s sister encouraging him to be nice to their mother.

A few days ago another staged call came out, this one with Davidson and Burr talking about the imminent on-demand release of the film.

The story and characters are condensed down to their major elements in a TV spot that introduces us to Scott and the world around him but skips touching on some of the struggles he faces.

Media and Press

Shortly after the first trailer debuted both Apatow and Davidson appeared on “The Tonight Show” to talk about the movie and how some of Davidson’s “SNL” castmates helped play a role in making it happen.

In the last week or so there’s been significant activity on the press front. Davidson appeared on “CBS Sunday Morning” to talk about the real-life parallels in the movie and on “Kimmel” to make a bunch of jokes and talk about the story.

Additional appearances were made by Bel Powley, who plays Scott’s casual girlfriend, on “Late Night” and Apatow on “The Late Show.”

An interview with Apatow had him going in-depth on his working relationship with Davidson and how he helped the actor create a narrative out of his experiences. Burr also shared his experiences on the set and what it was like working with Davidson.

Both Apatow and Davidson were interviewed on NPR about their collaboration, which was also the subject of an NYT feature. Costume designer Sarah Mae Burton discussed her process in creating a visual look for Scott and other characters that seemed everyday without overtly reminding audiences of the actor wearing the clothes. Apatow was also interviewed with his daughter Maude, who plays Scott’s sister and has appeared in many of her father’s films along with others.

Entertainment Weekly hosted a video roundtable interview with Apatow and most of the cast to talk about making the film and what it meant to them.

Overall

In the interest of full-disclosure, my tolerance for Davidson is generally fairly low. I fall into the camp that feels he’s not nearly as funny as he thinks he is, making his popularity somewhat perplexing to me.

Unfortunately there’s not much in this campaign that dissuades me from this feeling. The press work he and Apatow have done tries to iron out some of those wrinkles, but it’s not enough to change my mind, and my guess is I’m not the only one. Even Apatow’s involvement isn’t enough to significantly pique my interest.

That being said, Universal’s campaign isn’t bad and works with the strengths it has and, admittedly, Davidson has a substantial fanbase. So offering a movie featuring a slightly askew version of the star working through some personal issues probably has a good amount of appeal for many people. But given the personalities involved, your mileage will almost certainly vary.

Picking Up the Spare

Maude Apatow was interviewed about the movie and making her own way in an industry where her father is a dominant force. 

There were further talk show appearances by Davidson, Burr and Apatow the elder. 

An exclusive preview was shown on HBO. 
A number of new featurettes have been released, covering Davidson’s connections to much of the rest of the cast, a look at how heroes make for good stories and the involvement of Davidson’s grandfather.