the unforgivable – marketing recap

How Netflix has sold a drama about rehabilitation and rebuilding

The Unforgivable movie poster
The Unforgivable movie poster

Sandra Bullock stars in The Unforgivable, out this week on Netflix following a brief theatrical release period. Based on a British TV series, the movie focuses on Ruth Slater (Bullock), a woman just released from prison, having served her time after being convicted of a violent crime. Despite having theoretically paid her debt to society she finds that few are willing to give her the chance to prove she genuinely wants to turn her life around.

The movie, directed by Nora Fingscheidt, also stars Viola Davis, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jon Bernthal and others as those in Slater’s orbit. Let’s take a look at how it’s been sold.

announcement and casting

While development of the film dates all the way back to 2010, shortly after the original British series aird, things didn’t really begin moving forward until 2019. That’s when Bullock was announced as the lead (as well as producer) with Fingscheidt directing and Netflix distributing.

The rest of the cast was added between late 2019 and early 2020.

the marketing campaign

Netflix kicked off the marketing push in September of this year with the distribution of a still showing Bullock in character that also served as the announcement of a release date.

An extreme close-up of half of Slater’s face is used on the poster, released in late October. That doesn’t do much to communicate the story but the copy “No one walks free of their past” picks up the slack by hinting that there’s something that will continue to haunt her throughout the story.

The trailer (6.2m YouTube views) came out at the same time. As it starts Ruth is just getting out of prison and we quickly see she’s still being harassed after release. We learn some of the details of why she was sent away and then that she’s now looking to reconnect with her little sister Katie (Aisling Franciosi). That effort, though, is met with resistance from just about everyone, despite some taking her side. Ruth refuses to give up.

A clip came out in mid-November showing Ruth getting a dressing down from her parole officer (Rob Morgan).

Shorter promos like this came out later in November and were used as social and video pre-roll ads and likely for TV spots as well. They distill the trailer down to its core elements to make a quick, punchy appeal to the audience.

A premiere red carpet event was held at the beginning of December with Fingscheidt, Bullock and the rest of the cast in attendance. While at that premiere the cast talked about telling stories of people at society’s margins, working on the film during Covid restrictions and lots more.

overall

I think what appears to me to be the biggest missing element is something overt that calls out organizations that deal with helping former prisoners reenter society, or those working to reform the system that spits people out with little support or other ways to deal with life outside prison.

Other than that, it’s a nice little campaign Netflix put together, but the 35% the movie has on Rotten Tomatoes speaks to some issues critics have had with the film. A stronger appeal from the cast and crew, especially from the topline stars, might have made the message delivered to the audience a bit stronger.

Bird Box – Marketing Recap

bird box posterBird Box, coming to Netflix this week, is the latest movie from director Susanne Bier. Sandra Bullock plays Malorie, a woman whose ordinary life, along with everyone else’s, comes unraveled when a mysterious force sweeps across the world that causes everyone to go slightly mad and kill themselves.

Malorie survives along with her young children and aligns herself with a group of others in the wilderness. Because the terror shows people illusions of their greatest fear, an eventual trip to find safety requires Malorie to blindfold herself and her children, with birds acting as literal canaries in a coal mine to alert them danger is nearby.

The Posters

The blindfolded Bullock, holding the kids, is the central element of the poster, which communicates the story through the copy “Never lose sight of survival.” The photo conveys a dramatic tension that’s perfectly in line with what we see in the trailer.

The Trailers

Malorie is blindfolded in the middle of the jungle as the first trailer opens for reasons unknown. Flashback to her as a pregnant mother, which should be a happy time, but as she’s leaving the hospital people around her start acting very strangely, including in ways that injure or kill themselves and others. They’ve apparently been seeing visions of their worst fears. She joins a group of people who have holed up for survival. Her kids now older, she takes them out into the world to try and find help, blindfolding them so they don’t see the visions. But that also means they can’t see the dangers approaching.

It’s a tight thriller of a trailer, selling the movie as a more artistic version of some of the end-of-the-world stories that have come out recently. Bullock looks great and I get a very The Mist feeling from the group of survivors who can’t get along with each other but who need to cooperate to survive.

The second trailer, released just a couple weeks ago, starts out by mixing pleasant memories with terrifying footage of the world gone mad. The cause of the madness is said to be not a virus or chemical but “evil” that infects people with visions of their worst fears. It ends with Malorie on the same mission to take her children somewhere safe we saw in the first spot.

Online and Social

There was no official site created by Netflix for the movie, just an Instagram profile where it showed the same sort of intentional planning and publishing it did when promoting The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Pre-roll videos were run on YouTube that featured shorter, TV spot-like versions of the trailer but that’s about the only paid promotions I’ve come across.

Media and Publicity

A story in late August included director Susanne Bier among a handful of other female directors with Netflix original films coming out in the late months of 2018, allowing her to talk about her career as well as this movie specifically.

In mid-October the movie was added to the lineup of the AFI Film Festival. Later on Netflix announced it would be one of three films this season to receive pre-streaming theatrical release, something unusual for the company’s original features but a decision made to attempt to increase its chances for awards contention.

The November red carpet premiere at AFI Fest had to be canceled because of the wildfires raging through California. At about that time Bier was interviewed about the movie’s various tones and assembling the substantial supporting cast.

Bullock was interviewed in the weeks leading up to release, but most of the resulting stories focused on her fashion, her kids or what potential there may be for another Ocean’s film. She stopped by “The Late Show” to chat about various things as well.

Overall

There’s a vibe, of course, that’s more than a little reminiscent of The Happening, but thankfully Bullock is a much better actor than Mark Wahlberg was or could ever hope to be, so the story similarities are easily overlooked.

More than that, the marketing of this movie creates a more palpable sense of real tension and danger by not only making the stakes more personal – it’s about Malorie’s quest for safety with her family, not just outrunning the wind – and because it’s clear the danger is real, even if it remains unseen.

Picking Up the Spare

Bier spoke about her career to date and how making this film fits into that path, as well as how she’s been effected by sexism in Hollywood. She was later interviewed about the whole theatrical run issue as well as how the story portrays motherhood. Further comments focused on how the success of the film was and should be measured.

Rhodes was was also profiled on what it was like working with Bier and the story he was part of. He then  partnered with Lil Rey in an official Netflix chat about the movie.

The company also released a couple fun featurettes, one where they were auditioning people for the role of Sandra Bullock and one where birds reviewed the movie.

The general public picked up on the “Bird Box Challenge,” meaning trying to navigate somewhere while blindfolded. It was all good fun, but Netflix wound up warning people to be careful so they wouldn’t get hurt. it could be liable, after all, even though it had no role in encouraging participation.

The production designers shared their concept for the creatures that remain all but completely unseen in the finished film.

Nielsen released numbers that back up Netflix’s claims of success for the movie, but it’s important to note that Netflix has disputed claims from the measurement company in the past.

Paulson kept being asked about the movie while promoting Glass.

Ocean’s 8 – Marketing Recap

oceans 8 posterSeveral years ago comedian John Mulaney joked that a female Ocean’s 11 couldn’t happen because there’d be no actual coordination. Two of the crew would, he said, would split off to gab about the other nine and the planning would devolve into passive-aggressive sniping. You know…like women do. Little did he know that Ocean’s 8, out this week, would be exactly that, only without the sexism implied in the bit.

You can read the core of the marketing recap for the movie at The Hollywood Reporter, while below I share some of the additional online and publicity beats not included there.

Online and Social

The “main” trailer plays when you load up the official website for the movie, so take a couple minutes and watch that again. After that the main page features the red curtain-themed key art with links to buy tickets or connect with the movie on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

As far as the rest of the site’s content there isn’t a whole lot. “Cast” just has the characters posters for each member of the team along with the name of the actress that plays her. “Videos” has the first two trailer and the “Gallery” has a handful of images. Finally, “Partners” just has information on the Cartier partnership detailed elsewhere.

There was a Snapchat filter created back in December timed with the release of the first trailer.

Media and Publicity

Outside of casting announcements, some of the first press was an interview with director Ross as he talked about working with Soderbergh over the years and more. It was a while then before the first production still was released.

Through 2016 and 2017 there were a few publicity pops here and there, including Blanchett talking about about why only eight women are involved here, Paulson shooting down the idea that all-female sets are filled with “cat fights” and more. Basically the cast spoke briefly about it while they were promoting other projects.

After the second trailer was released the publicity kicked into gear a bit, including this interview with members of the cast and the director where they talked about getting the vibe of the first three movies to come through here as well. There was also a profile of costar Awkwafina in EW’s summer movie preview that probably brought her to the attention of a lot of new people in the audience as well as a similar profile in the Los Angeles Times and then in Buzzfeed. Those stories came at the same time WB was presenting the movie to CinemaCon attendees as part of its upcoming release slate.

Later on there was an interview with Bullock and Kailing where the two talked about the unique opportunities afforded by working on a set filled with other women, something that doesn’t happen often as most of the time they’re the lone female around. At a press event hosted by the Metropolitan Museum of Art the whole cast talked about working together and how they all worshipped and adored Blanchett and showed off their fashion.

The press tour more or less started with Paulson showing up on “The Tonight Show” and talking about being starstruck by the cast she was working with. Kaling did likewise on “Late Night” as did Hathaway on “The Late Show” while Bullock hit “Kimmel.” There were a few instances where there was a group effort by all or most of the cast, including things like this game of “Never have I ever”, Rihanna making her costars uncomfortable and more. Kaling also showed up on “Ellen” to talk about working with all the other ladies.

That didn’t mean there weren’t individual efforts such as this solo interview with Hathaway, a feature profile of Kaling, a similar profile of Bullock and one for Rihanna. That being said, there has been a strong focus on selling the whole assembled star power. There was also a conversation with screenwriter Olivia Milch where she talked about the challenges of writing the movie, including introducing a bunch of female characters to a predominantly male universe and what that meant in terms of audience expectations.

Paulson and Blanchett gave a hilariously off-the-wall joint interview on “Today” that included more jokes at each others’ expense than information about the movie. Bullock also talked more about the movie, her career in general and the sexist behavior she’s been exposed to over the years.

AMC announced a special advanced “Girls Night Out” screening at select locations to help get the buzz going, an event that was open to all genders despite the name.

Overall

In addition to what I shared at THR, I just want to point out that this movie *feels* like an installment in the Ocean’s franchise. It has the same sizzle and energy as the trailers for the first three movies and that’s a big chunk of the heavy lifting that needed to be done. While the campaign doesn’t make the connection to the earlier movies overt, it gives off the vibe of being part of the same world and featuring some of the same character types, which is very much a good thing.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

There were multiple interviews with Sarah Edwards, the movie’s costume designer, as she talked about outfitting all the actors for the fake Met Gala they attend. How that event was filmed was also the subject of a behind-the-scenes profile.

 

Get the details on the Touissant Necklace that is the object of the heist.

 

Given that James Corden has a supporting role in the movie it’s only natural the cast would stop by his show to have some fun.

 

Gary Ross, the movie’s director, spoke about what cameos from the first three movies did or didn’t make the cut for the finished film.

 

More from Anne Hathaway and others in the cast here about how they hope the movie will help burst the myth that female-led movies are question marks theatrically.
Another quick profile of breakout star Awkwafina here. And Helena Bonham Carter is finally getting some attention with a profile where she talks about how fun it was to work on a light caper movie.