How Netflix is selling its latest psychological drama.
Based on the book of the same name, The Devil All The Time comes to Netflix this week from director Antonio Campos. Tom Holland stars as Arvin Russell, the son of Willard (Bill Skarsgård) and Charlotte (Haley Bennett). Arvin is a troubled young man in 1960s rural Ohio who’s dealing with the legacy of murder and violence his late father and others have left in their wake. That even includes the small church Willard built after his tragic experiences during World War II.
Reverend Preston Teagardin (Robert Pattinson), the new preacher at that church, charms much of the small town but quickly comes into conflict with Arvin because of Teagardin’s sexual assault of Lenora (Eliza Scanlen), Arvin’s step-sister, which leads to her suicide. Adding to that is the corruption among town leaders and law enforcement and the secrets that everyone there seems to have.
Netflix’s campaign for the movie – which has a 68 percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes – has played up the gothic noir elements of the story while also highlighting the all-star cast.
A small fire smolders in the corner of the first poster (by marketing agency P+A), released in early August. The title treatment is presented in landscape on the portrait-oriented design, meaning you have to turn your head a bit to see it. The transparent letters of the title reveal the faces of the cast, whose names also appear just above it.
In September the second poster came out. This one puts the members of the cast in an orange and brown image on the top half of the poster, the dark colors creating a sense of mystery and dread that’s emphasized by the ominous looks on most of the faces. At the bottom of all that is an animal skull that only adds to that sense. Of particular note here is the copy “Everyone ends up in the same damned place.”, which speaks not only to the fact that history tends to repeat itself in families but that some places are just damned.
The photos that appear on a series of character posters are all damaged in some manner, illustrating the way the characters themselves are damaged and twisted. Each one features a quote from that character as well to help set up who they are and what their motivations are.
The first trailer (11 million views on YouTube), released in early August, sets up a story about unexpected connections and sinister motivations. Centered on Arvin, we see how he’s grappling with the legacy of his late father in many ways while also trying to keep his mother safe from a creepy local preacher. Other relationships between the characters aren’t as clear, but the trailer certainly establishes a dark mood as a small town’s secrets and demons come to the surface.
Online and Social
No website for the film, but it did receive support on some of Netflix’s brand social profiles.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Netflix announced it had acquired the film in early 2019.
In the last couple weeks a handful of clips have been released, including an extended look at a key scene set in the church where much of the action happens.
A featurette released a week or so ago had Holland talking about his accents, why he got involved in the project and approaching such dour material.
In August 2020 Netflix released the first stills from the movie along with an interview with comments from Campos, Holland and others.
A number of interviews with Holland included the actor talking about having to go a little darker than he has previously and his nervousness around that and more, though many of those wound up turning to topics like Spider-Man and other projects. There were also conversations with Campos where he talked about the violent nature of the story and with Pattinson about how he approached his role and performance.
Campos also talked about developing the gospel music heard in the film with producer/music supervisor Randall Poster. Costume designer Emma Potter was interviewed about creating the look of each character.
Your mileage for this campaign may vary depending on your interest in largely unredeemable characters and dark, nihilistic stories. Assuming you’re on board with that kind of thing, this may be right up your alley, something to scratch a particular itch with a movie that has lots of bad people doing lots of bad things for largely bad reasons.
While the details and actual outline of the story isn’t super clear from the campaign – there’s no identifiable through-line to the events or characters – the emphasis Netflix has placed on the actors themselves works in place of that. So there may be some fans of Holland, Pattinson and others who will check it out based largely on that alone, though they may find material that’s very different from the popular franchises those actors are well known for.
How Warner Bros. is selling the single most important movie of the year.
The stakes could not be higher. Whether or not theaters are open, and how safe they might be amidst the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, has been endlessly discussed and debated. It’s been the subject of more hot takes and think pieces than defunding the police.
And now, ladies and gentlemen, Tenet is finally here.
Writer/director Christopher Nolan’s latest film comes with more baggage than Princess Vespa fleeing her wedding on Druidia and more expectations than an only child going to the same college where her father was student body president.
John David Washington stars as The Protagonist, a man who is recruited into a mysterious spy organization, given only the word “tenet” to guide him as he’s ushered into a world where terrorism and war can be prevented by examing the artifacts that fall backward through time from the future to the present. The war in question is one that seems to be caused by Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh), a Russian oligarch married to Kat (Elizabeth Debicki). Helping him are the scientist who explains how time inversion works named Laura (Clémence Poésy) and his handler Neil (Robert Pattinson).
Warner Bros. originally planned a July release for the film, putting it in the middle of what was sure to be a hot summer movie season. The world had other plans, though, and after a number of delays because of theater closures resulting from the pandemic it is finally coming to U.S. theaters, a week after its international release, which brought in about $53 million. Over the course of 2020 it has been held up as the great savior of theaters, the title that would bring audiences back after months of watching movies at home or at drive-ins.
Now we see if that hope was in any way justified. Nolan is a beloved filmmaker whose work is largely praised, but initial reviews have been somewhat mixed, giving it a 78 percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. That lukewarm reception may be giving theater owners additional concern. Even if they acknowledge that recovery may not be quick, this is the basket in which they have placed most – if not all – of their eggs. AMC Theaters has put off reopening a few times, largely in reaction to this movie’s delays, but is now touting how 70 percent of its locations will be open this weekend. Other chains like Regal have also promoted how many of their screens will be open and in what states, depending on local restrictions on group gatherings.
In some ways, it benefits by not actually being the first big studio release to come back to theaters. After a few smaller titles have come out recently, last week Disney put The New Mutants on screens, and while the $7 million take for that film might have been disappointing, it essentially served as the warm-up act for this week.
With all that on the record, let’s look at how Warner Bros. has selling the film over the last several months, right up to release.
The Protagonist strides toward the camera on the first poster (by marketing agency BOND), released last December. The image is split down the middle, showing him walking away on the other side, which is also turned upside down, hinting at the fractured nature of the story.
In July the second poster (by marketing agency Concept Arts) came out, once more showing a split image of The Protagonist, a scene of apparent devastation in the background. Note that this one still has the mid-August release date.
An IMAX poster came out later in July that features multiple versions of The Protagonist placed around the expanded canvas, similar war-like scenes again shown in the background. Nolan is not only mentioned on this one but also identified as the director of Inception and Dunkirk.
The first trailer (24 million views on YouTube), released in December, is as enigmatic as you’d expect from a Christopher Nolan movie. The Protagonist has passed some kind of rigorous test and now finds himself in “the afterlife,” though whether that’s the name of an organization or some other designation is unclear. Whatever the case, he’s now part of a team tasked with preventing the end of the world, and his role allows him to see things in a non-linear, wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey kind of way. There are car chases and expertly choreographed action sequences and, at the end, more questions then there were at the beginning.
The Protagonist is introduced to the word “tenet” almost as soon as the second trailer (28.7 million views on YouTube), released in late May and debuting in Fortnight, begins. From there he – and we – learn about the job he’s undertaking, one that has implications including preventing something much worse than armageddon. There’s discussion of how the time “inversion” he and others are capable of works and how it helps them do their job, and a more or less clear statement of who it is behind the threat they have to extinguish. Throughout the trailer the audience is reminded that Nolan is the creative force behind the film and, at the very end, an emphatic statement that the movie will be coming to theaters.
The “final” trailer (9.8 million views on YouTube) came out in late August, just after release plans were finalized by the studio. There’s a bit more of the story offered here, though not enough to come close to fully explaining what exactly is happening. But we see how The Protagonist is being trained and is given a mission to, essentially, prevent a war that hasn’t happened yet by manipulating time. It’s all very slick, sold like a James Bond adventure complete with fast car chases and more. Notably, it features an end card reminding fans the film opens September 3 “where theaters are open.”
Online and Social
Unless I’m missing something, the official website for the movie seems to just have the trailer and a gallery of posters along with a button to buy tickets. There were also the usual social profiles that offered promos and links over the last few months.
Advertising and Publicity
In a surprise move, the first teaser was attached to Hobbs and Shaw when it was released in early August. That teaser was not immediately released online, generated more questions about the movie – still in production at the time – than it answered, but it certainly created a good amount of buzz.
A brief look at the still-secret film was shared with attendees of CCXP in Brazil in December of last year.
As the first trailer was being released a massive ad buy took place, including a big digital ad on Times Square signage.
The second trailer received a similar but different big stage, debuting and screening hourly in Fortnite, an attempt to gain the attention of that game’s players. Some of Nolan’s previous films were also screened within the game environment.
A video was released in mid-August by Skyscape, a company that trades in the history and techniques of spycraft throughout the ages. Narrated by Hayley Atwell, the video digs into the mysteries surrounding the word “tenet” that date back to ancient times and some of the places it has appeared along with what those appearances might mean.
Initial U.S. screenings were scheduled for three days beginning August 31 at select venues like Chicago’s Music Box Theater and others. Tickets went on sale for those previews went on sale on 8/21.
Rapper Travis Scott teased a song he created for the film, one that was previewed before its scheduled debut during TNT’s broadcast of the Mavericks/Clippers game on 8/21. The song was released online that day and is featured in the final trailer.
Commercials reportedly began running in select markets as recently as mid-August. That included one from IMAX that encouraged audiences to see the mind-bending action on the biggest screen available.
Washington, Pattinson, Debicki, Branagh and others praised Nolan in a behind-the-scenes featurette that explored how massive the movie is, what the primary story themes are and how it was all made.
Media and Press
Casting and other details came out last year in fits and starts, adding to the mystery of the project while building anticipation.
Because shooting had just begun there wasn’t footage to show, but Warner Bros. still included the film among the upcoming releases it promoted to CineEurope attendees in June of last year.
A first look photo was released just before the first trailer came out.
Around May the movie began to become something of a lightning rod with regard to the state of movie theaters. In the weeks prior some states had begun to open up the economies a bit more, releasing some of the pandemic-restricting rules, including on theaters. It seemed likely, then, that Tenet would become the first major studio release since almost all screens were closed, and theater owners were hoping built up anticipation could push it to a $100 million opening weekend.
Nolan even publicly stated that he hoped that would be the case, reiterating his commitment to theatrical releases. And Warner Bros. CEO Ann Sarnoff made similar statements, name-dropping this movie specifically, all in an attempt to both set audience expectations that it would not be coming to streaming and to reassure theater owners the studio was not abandoning them entirely.
But rosy predictions and wishful thinking may not be enough to convince people who are still skittish about public gatherings to sit in the dark with dozens of strangers, even if theaters put social distancing guidelines in place. And it became clear WB was going to need theaters to be open in at least a half-dozen major markets to make it worth moving forward. NATO was reported to promise WB that 90 percent of theaters would be open by mid-July, but what that assurance was based on wasn’t immediately clear, especially considering not only public hesitancy but also the logistical complexities of bringing workers back on and ramping up operations that have shut down for months.
Around the end of May the scale of the production began to become the focus of the press, including interviews with Nolan where he talked about the massive practical effects employed. At the same time Washington commented on the fan theory that this was some kind of sequel to Nolan’s Inception.
One theme that was consistent in the press through June was that the cast wasn’t much more in-the-know than the audience. A profile of Washington had both him and Pattinson talking about how little they understood the mind-bending nature of the story, with similar comments made by Branagh. Nolan, though, stated he thought the cast got what was happening. He also spoke about helping editor Jen Lame get the rhythm of the story down and more.
A lot of previous ground was covered in an EW cover story package that included fresh looks at the film along with the usual comments about its groundbreaking nature. Debecki revealed a few new details about her character in another interview while also talking about working with Nolan and more.
Let’s address a few open questions and issues.
First, the campaign is pretty great. It sells a slick spy thriller wrapped in a time-twisting sci-fi adventure, James Bond meets “Legends of Tomorrow.” Many of the hallmarks of Nolan’s brand of filmmaking are present, from the slick production values to the stylized lens everything is viewed through. Nolan’s movies are known for being layered mysteries the audience is asked to wade through and that’s exactly what’s being sold here, with few of the story’s details being revealed while lots of great set pieces are shown off.
But the question remains whether the combination of the strength of the campaign and pandemic cabin fever will turn out enough of the audience to make Nolan and WB’s insistence on a theatrical release for the $200 production worth the hassle. They’re aiming for the sweet spot on three overlapping groups: 1) Those interested in the movie on its face, 2) those living in areas where theaters are open for business and 3) those willing to put health concerns aside and endure the frustrations of spaced seating, mask requirements and more that are in place at theaters.
Reports of ticket presales are imperfect measures to gauge actual intent, and overseas results are no more helpful given most countries outside the U.S. have done far better in getting the pandemic under control. So we wait and see if Tenet will provide the way out of the darkness industry insiders and others have been waiting for.
A24’s black and white character drama is positioned as an alternative to the blockbusters dominating theaters.
Writer/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.
There’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 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.
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.
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.
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.