the northman – marketing recap

How Focus Features has sold a movie of Viking revenge.

The Northman movie poster
The Northman movie poster

Director Robert Eggers takes a break from filming Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson in a lighthouse to bring us The Northman. Alexander Skarsgård stars as Amleth, a man who since being found after escaping the murder of his father (Ethan Hawke) was raised by Vikings as a berserker. Discovering terrible secrets about his mother (Nicole Kidman) and with the help of Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy), Amleth sets out to exact bloody Nordic revenge against those who assassinated his father and reclaim the kingdom that should have been his.

Dafoe, Björk and others costar as the sorcerers, seers, warlords and others Amleth – widely regarded as the historical inspiration for Shakespeare’s Hamlet – encounters on his quest.

So with a story steeped deeply in Norse mythology and folk tales, a director known for making some of the most visually-interesting movies in recent history and a whole bunch of Serious Actors, let’s take a look at how this has been sold to the public that will completely ignore it at the box office.

announcements and casting

The movie was announced in 2020, including most of the main cast. It wasn’t until May of 2021 that Lionsgate added an official release date.

Kidman commented on the weird process of filming the movie while also praising Eggers in an interview from January 2021.

Ineson talked about shooting the film and how he responded to some of the first footage in this interview from later that year. An interview in June with Dafoe had him talking about the larger scale of this film when compared to his previous work with Eggers, saying while it was a bigger story it still wouldn’t lack for detail or nuance.

Universal gave CinemaCon attendees in August 2021 a look at footage from this and other upcoming movies.

the marketing campaign

“Conquer your fate” declares the first poster, released in December of last year. Amleth stands atop a cliff looking out over the sea and the handful of ships sailing there. It very much establishes the visual tone of the movie and the campaign, offering the audience a fiery and violent experience in theaters.

The first trailer (21.3m YouTube views) came out at the same time. It opens with a young Amleth enjoying the love and company of his parents before his father is brutally murdered, Amleth barely escaping the same fate. Cut to an older Amleth, making his way through the world as he looks for those responsible. When he meets Olga he finds someone with her own agenda as well as abilities that could help him, leading to lots of bloodshed and violence.

In February Skarsgård was interviewed by Kirsten Dunst about his role and what it’s like being part of a big family of actors. There was also a conversation with Eggers about creating the costumes and other design elements of the film as well as the physical transformation Skarsgård underwent for the role. Taylor-Joy spoke about filming in the Irish wilderness and how much she enjoyed getting out in nature for an extended period of time.

More here from Skarsgård about filming such a violent story as well as how he got in Viking-appropriate shape.

TV spots like this began airing in late March focusing on the revenge story and Viking violence, keeping some of Eggers’ more esoteric visual stylings kind of hidden behind quick cuts and heavy music.

The second poster came out shortly after that, this one using the same tagline but now featuring the whole main cast.

A profile of Eggers covered what inspired this story and how the director set out to make an epic that was also an ambitious visual film while being historically accurate. How the movie finally moved into production was also covered in a later profile of Skarsgård that included how he collaborated with Eggers both before filming and during production.

The cast and crew assembled for a special screening of the movie in Rome at the beginning of April. They also appeared for an event in London, which led to first reactions from critics that were overwhelmingly positive.

Clips began coming out then. One shows Amleth leading his warriors on a raid while another has Amleth getting something of a pep talk from Olga.

A set of three character posters was followed by a Dolby-exclusive poster showing a close up of Amleth on a bloody tear through his enemies. More character one-sheets came out later.

Eggers and others from in front of and behind the camera contributed to a featurette about the technical aspects of making the movie. Similar ground was covered later on in an exclusive featurette from AMC Artisan Films.

At this point Focus Features announced a movie-themed RPG tie-in with Fortnight featuring locations and costumes from the film.

An exclusive Nerdist clip shows an extended look at the killing of King Aurvandill that sets Amleth on his quest for vengeance.

How this movie fits into his daily life as well as career to date, along with other topics, were covered in another profile of Skarsgård.

Last week Skarsgård made a promotional appearance at NASCAR’s Geico 500 in Talladega. He also talked about the movie in an appearance on “Today” and later on when stopped by “The Late Show.”

All that came just before the film’s Los Angeles black carpet premiere that included a Q&A with the cast and crew. That generated plenty of comments from everyone about the process of making the movie, working with Eggers and more. The director also talked about filming a nude Skarsgård, making the production work despite the location and Covid restrictions and more. Another profile of him included him sharing how he convinced Björk to take on a role in the film.

A short red-band trailer was released right after that, just days ago, that doesn’t break much new ground in terms of the story but does feature even more visceral action.

How Skarsgård got in shape for the role was covered here.

overall

With an impressive 88% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and some incredibly positive word of mouth that’s been generated in the last two weeks, tracking projects an opening weekend of $10-15 million, which would be great for a movie of this type.

But really, what matters is that this campaign has been a brutal, bloody good time and that Skarsgård’s glistening abs seem to be the main draw for a substantial portion of the audience. So it’s effectively sold itself to the groups interested in those things, which means this has been a success.

Alexander Skarsgard Kill GIF by Regal - Find & Share on GIPHY

The Lighthouse – Marketing Recap

A24’s black and white character drama is positioned as an alternative to the blockbusters dominating theaters.

lighthouse poster 2Writer/director Robert Eggers returns with this week’s The Lighthouse. The movie stars Willem Dafoe as Thomas, a veteran lighthouse keeper on a remote New England island in the 1890s who one day is joined by a younger assistant named Ephraim (Robert Pattinson). His arrival creates an odd partnership between the two as their days become filled with surreal visions, personal tension and other strange adventures and visions.

The campaign for the film has gone light on the story not because of a fear of spoilers like a Marvel Studios film but because the goal has been to create a tone and sense of mystery about the movie.

The Posters

lighthouse posterThere’s little beyond the picture of a lighthouse out amidst the raging sea on the first poster (by marketing agency P+A), which shows off the movie’s black and white visuals. The one irregularity seen is the tail sticking out of the water in the foreground, while the unusual nature of the story is hinted at with the copy “There is enchantment in the light.”

August brought the release of the second poster which shows Ephraim and Thomas standing on either side of the lighthouse they man, the title and a series of positive quotes from early reviews placed between them.

The Trailers

The first trailer (4.2 million views on YouTube) was released at the end of July and immediately presents a unique look and feel for the movie with its black and white visuals and non-widescreen aspect ratio. Ephraim has come to the lighthouse to work and, it seems, to escape something in his past. Thomas is suspicious but the two are stuck with each other on a remote island, so some bonding is bound to take place. Still, there are hints that mysteries will be brought to light and that danger is lurking in the lighthouse as the movie is sold in a way akin to classic psychological horror films.

In September the second trailer (1.9 million views on YouTube) was released that continues showing the strange and shifting dynamic between the two men. It also introduces a few more mysteries into the story, including the circumstances under which Ephraim’s predecessor might have left his position.

Online and Social

The studio’s official website doesn’t have much that will add to anyone’s understanding of the film, just the basic information on the story and actors.

In a random, almost nonsensical move, A24 released an emoji pack for iMessage based on the movie and its characters, something that’s so strange for a black and while drama about two isolated men it’s kind of awesome.

Advertising and Publicity

Before the movie’s planned premiere at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, A24 released a first photo showing Dafoe and Pattinson in order to set the tone and begin building buzz, with some critics positioning the movie and its cast as likely Oscar contenders. It went on to win multiple awards at the festival, adding to that buzz.

It was later announced among the films screening at the Toronto Film Festival, specifically in the “Special Presentations” section of the event.

Media and Press

The whole cast and crew appeared at Cannes, with Dafoe being interviewed about it and working with Pattinson. Eggers commented on the important role he sees for horror as a storytelling form and how he worked with the crew to realize the vision he and others had for the project.

Pattinson was the subject of a Variety cover story wherein he talked about this movie as well as a whole lot more from his past and future career. That, along with an interview with Eggers where he talked about how he approached the subject material, popped around the time the movie was in the middle of festival screenings.

lighthouse banner

More interviews with Pattinson allowed him to talk about the effect the restrained nature of the story had on him while Eggers shared what he thinks about making a movie that’s been labeled one of the most insane of the year. Eggers also talked about the research he did during the writing the story. Pattinson commented on the physical transformation he undertook for the role as well as how this part fits into his career as a whole. The production details, including modifications to handle the black and white film, were covered by Eggers.

Overall

There’s a real problem in Hollywood involving a lack of visual style. So many movies, even ones by talented directors and cinematographers, have a tendency to look the same because they’ve been wrung dry of uniqueness by corporate editing that needs to have everything appear as bland and generic as possible.

The campaign for The Lighthouse presents a movie serving as an antidote to that sameness. It’s not only an apparently wildly original story but one that’s told in a fashion unlike anything on screen in recent years. As much as the performances by Dafoe and Pattinson appear to be manic and unhinged, the visuals take that to another level by making the viewer slightly uncomfortable. That alone makes it a fascinating campaign for what appears to be a fascinating film.

Picking Up the Spare

The movie’s unconventional look and feel are covered in this interview with Eggers while the two stars talked about similar topics. Eggers again talked about the unusual nature of the production here and the themes of madness and isolation here.

Another interview with Dafoe where he talks about this role, working with Pattinson and more. Dafoe also appeared on “Late Night” to talk about the film while both he and Pattinson were interviewed here. The latter was interviewed again as well.