How Sony has sold its adaptation of a best-selling novel
How The Crawdads Sing, opening this weekend in theaters, is based on the 2018 Delia Owens novel of the same name. Written by Lucy Alibar and directed by Olivia Newman, the movie stars Daisy Edgar-Jones as Catherine “Kya” Clark, a young woman who has grown up largely on her own in the wild marshes of 1950s North Carolina after being abandoned there by her parents and siblings. Solitary and suspicious by learned nature, she eventually bonds with two young men: The kind Tate Walker (Taylor John Smith), who teaches her to read and shares her love of nature and wildlife and the hunky high school quarterback Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson), who manipulates Kya for his own sexual gain.
As the story reaches the end of the 1960s, Chase is found dead in the marsh with little evidence indicating who is responsible. Kya is charged for the crime but maintains her innocence as the people in town who have always viewed her with apprehension take sides.
Reese Witherspoon, who selected the book for her Hello Sunshine Book Club in late 2018, produced the film and has been central to the marketing campaign, so let’s dive in.
announcement and casting
The movie was announced in mid-2020, with Sony naming Newman as director in July. Edgar-Jones was named lead in January, 2021 at the same time the casting of Smith and Dickenson was revealed.
Production began in April, 2021, and throughout the year updates were shared of behind-the-scenes action and more, especially when Owens or Witherspoon would stop by the set.
the marketing campaign
Things kicked off in March of this year with a Vanity Fair feature including first-look stills from the movie along with comments from Newman and Witherspoon.
That was followed by the release of the first poster, which shows Kya’s face blending into the river that, in another photo, she pilots her small boat down. It’s a nice way to show her in her natural environment and communicates how Kya’s identity is the marsh and the marsh is who she is.
The first trailer (7.8m YouTube views) came out at the same time. It opens with the attorney who defends Kya (played by David Straitharn) explaining to the jury – and the audience – who she is and what her life has been like. That then gives way to more of Kya’s experiences, from having to survive on her own in the marsh to her tentative trips into town. Especially there are her relationships with Tate and Chase and how they come to shape her story.
Edgar-Jones was interviewed about how she connected with the character of Kya during the pandemic and how Owens encouraged her to make that character her own instead of worrying about how she’s presented in the book. In another interview she shared how she prepared for filming by working with the film’s art director to understand Kya’s drawing style and learned to drive a small motorboat.
A short vignette featuring comments from Jones, Witherspoon and others was released in mid-May, just before the second trailer. That trailer (5.2m YouTube views) hits many of the same beats as the first but shifts it so Kya is responsible for telling her own story. It also very clearly calls out that the film features a new song from Taylor Swift, which is played over much of the action.
Another profile of Edgar-Jones focused on her career so far and how she’s starred in a number of novel adaptations.
An exclusive clip was aired during the “MTV Awards” in early June. That was followed by another short featurette about making the movie, what the story’s about and getting Taylor Swift to contribute a song.
Sony used Pinterest (which makes a lot of sense given the female-skewing demographics of the book) to share a number of movie-inspired recipes, printable bookmarks and mobile backgrounds people could grab.
Kya and Tate have a conversation about what they are to each other in a clip released later in June.
Swift then released the full version of “Carolina” for everyone to listen to.
Fandango got an exclusive clip of the scene where Kya drives her boat through the marsh to avoid the sheriff and deputy looking for her in connection with Chase’s death. Another scene of Kya and Tate was shared by Southern Living.
The process of casting Edgar-Jones and how Newman worked with her to flesh out the character of Kya and capture the spirit of the book was covered in an interview with the two.
Newman and Owens both appeared at the Bentonville (AR) Film Festival in late June.
TV spots calling the movie “the most thrilling mystery of the summer” started airing at this point, highlighting Witherspoon’s involvement as well as the new song from Swift. Additional spots covered similar ground over the next few weeks, with some hitting slightly different aspects of the story.
A partnership with Chasing Paper offered peel-and-stick removable wallpaper designs inspired by the film and its locations.
Moving into July, another clip has Kya talking with her attorney about how she doesn’t hate the people in town who have looked down on her, she just wants to live her own life.
Later that month the New York premiere of the film had Edgar-Jones, Witherspoon, Newman and everyone else in attendance. Edgar-Jones also made a few appearances on “CBS Sunday Morning” and other talk shows to promote the film.
Critical reception of the movie so far has not been positive, and projections have it opening to a shade over $10 million this weekend, dwarfed by what’s expected to be another big weekend for Thor: Love and Thunder.
But the latter says more about what the box-office looks like in mid-2022 than the campaign that’s sold the film. The marketing outlined above is solid, doing a nice job of appealing to women of all ages, those who made the book a best-seller and those who want to support anything Taylor Swift does. Using Witherspoon as a central element also makes a lot of sense given her name recognition and overall likability.
The reality is, though, that anything north of that $10 million would indeed qualify as a “sleeper hit” here. Looking at the movies that have scored big this year, they’re almost all driven by the turnout of male audiences, especially older men.
How it winds up performing will likely be influence as much by word of mouth from those who see the movie and wind up telling their friends how it does or doesn’t adhere to the book’s story as the campaign proper.