Pieces of a Woman – Marketing Recap

How Netflix has sold a story of parental grief.

In Pieces of a Woman, written by Kata Wéber and directed by Kornél Mundruczó, Vanessa Kirby and Shia LaBeouf play Martha and Sean, a young married couple who experience a terrible tragedy during the birth of their first child. The story follows the two – especially Martha – over the course of the ensuing year as she works through the grief of the event as well as the other related emotions that come with it. The movie also stars Ellen Burstyn as Martha’s mother, whose overbearing nature complicates the situation.

Netflix has been selling the film as a prestige piece, especially focusing on Kirby’s performance in part because LaBeouf has once again become a toxic persona. Generally positive reviews have given the film a 78% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so let’s take a look at the campaign as a whole.

The Posters

Kirby’s Martha fronts the movie’s one poster (by marketing agency P+A), released in mid-November. The photo is of her looking longingly at something off-camera, but it’s enough to convey the general idea that the movie will be an emotional one with Martha as the main character. tw

The Trailers

The first and only trailer (1.7 million views on YouTube) came out in mid-November and starts with Martha and Sean preparing for the arrival of their much-anticipated child, which we quickly see dies during birth. That understandably rocks Martha, who is exploring who she can legally blame for her loss, ultimately going to court to testify against the midwife she holds responsible. Alongside all of that, she clashes with her mother, husband and others as she seeks to direct her grief in some useful direction.

Online and Social

Not only wasn’t there a standalone site for the film, which isn’t unusual for Netflix releases, but it seems there also weren’t social profiles set up either. It did get some support on Netflix’s brand channels, though.

Advertising and Promotions

The movie’s debut at the Venice Film Festival garnered positive reviews, especially for the performances by Kirby and LaBeouf. Kirby’s was so good she won the festival’s Best Actress Volpi Cup.

A short clip debuted while Venice was underway. Those positive reviews were likely instrumental in Netflix deciding to acquire the film, which it did shortly after the Venice premiere.

It was also screened at the Toronto Film Festival as well as for the American Film Institute and at EnergaCamerimage Film Festival.

Media and Press

A profile of Kirby from early September included this as one of a couple highly-anticipated projects she was involved in.

Weber and Mundruczo were interviewed during Venice about how they expanded on earlier material for this film and how they secured the cast they did. In another interview during teh festival they talked about tackling taboo subjects and more.

Kirby and Burstyn were interviewed together about making the movie and what drew them to the project. Elsewhere Mundruczo talked about the story and what made it so powerful while also praising his cast.

Closer to release there was another feature profile of Kirby that had her talking about taking on her first major role specifically because it seemed scary and imposing. She also promoted the film in an appearance on “The Tonight Show.”

Mundruczó and Wéber were interviewed about developing such a raw and personal story, and then doing so again for a feature version. There was also an interview with Burstyn, whose performance has created a good percentage of the film’s buzz and been called out in many reviews.

If you’re wondering where LaBeouf was during the press campaign, he either declined to participate or was told not to following recent allegations of abusive, harassing behavior by various women as well as new reports of erratic and problematic behavior on-set.

Overall

Making Kirby the focal point of the campaign was absolutely the right call here, not only because she bears the brunt of the story’s emotional baggage but because her performance anchors the film and is where the audience is intended to throw their attention.

It’s a slow and deliberate campaign, especially exemplified by the trailer, and that gives it an appropriate sense of drama and stakes. Not only that, it’s one of the best from Netflix, particularly in how the company has finally fully embraced giving its movie stars the chance to fully engage the press.

Picking Up The Spare

Kirby and Burstyn were interviewed about working together and how the film is important in telling a woman-centric story, while the filmmakers later commented on working with LaBeouf and what they thought of the harassment and abuse allegations leveled against the actor. 

Kirby also spoke about how the film depicts grief and mourning in the face of unbelievable tragedy and then on one particularly traumatic scene. Mundroczo spoke about telling that kind of heartbreaking story here.

Honey Boy – Marketing Recap

After years of less than favorable headlines, Shia LaBeouf seeks to turn his much-maligned persona into artistic fodder.

honey boy posterHoney Boy not only stars LaBeouf but was also written by the actor as a way to reclaim some of the power he’s lost over the last several years of eccentric and sometimes troubling behavior. He plays not himself but as James Lort, a fictionalized version of his own father who pushes his son Otis (Noah Jupe and Lucas Hedges) into show business, an area James himself has struggled to break into over the years.

The movie, directed by Alma Har’el, follows Otis from his childhood through the young adult years when he is swallowed by the Hollywood entertainment machine, leading to a breakdown that lands him on the tabloid front pages and then into rehab. Through this, Otis tries to reconcile with his estranged father.

The Posters

A pie flies into Otis’ face on the first one-sheet, meant to convey the ludicrous activities actors will subject themselves to as they attempt to climb the ranks of the industry.

Two more posters came out in September (by marketing agency Gravillas). One shows Otis, his face covered in a creme pie like he’s been the victim of an old time comedy skit while wires are seen attached to his back. The other shows an extreme close up of James, his eyes looking sad behind his glasses and the remnants of white clown paint still visible on his face.

In early October a reversible poster that uses a variation on Comedy/Tragedy masks (by marketing agency La Boca) was released. The dark background makes the electric colors of the masks pop, with each side getting the title treatment and credits as well. It’s a nice way to emphasize the mixed nature of the story and a reminder that the two aspects of storytelling are intertwined and inseparable.

The fourth poster shows a clown standing on his head, juggling with his feet and with a rooster balanced on his butt. It’s an image designed to show just how hard the entertainer is willing to work to keep the audience’s attention, while the colors that seem to drip off the clown’s costume evoke something sad.

The Trailers

When the trailer was released in early August it came in both red- and green-band editions. It opens with an actor on the set of a 2005 action film being pulled by stunt rigging as if he’s flying backward because of an explosion. That’s a none-too-subtle reference to LaBeouf’s own career at that time. That actor’s arrest is followed by a flashback to his childhood, as he receives an unwelcome pep talk from his father. His relationship with that father is an influential part of the boy’s life, but as he becomes more successful than his old man was the dynamic also becomes more unbalanced for both of them.

Online and Social

Nothing much on the movie’s website, which is just focused on making sure you know where and when you can buy tickets to see it.

Advertising and Publicity

The movie’s screening at Sundance was very well received, earning accolades for LaBeouf as both a writer and performer and leading many to comment on how this was the comeback vehicle he needed in his career. Amazon seized on the buzz around the movie to make it one of its many acquisitions at the festival.

The Toronto Film Festival included it in its “Special Presentations” section this year. In August it was announced it would screen at the 63rd BFI London Film Festival.

LaBeouf and Har’el attended a handful of advance screenings for select audiences in the last few weeks to talk about the movie and encourage people to spread some word of mouth.

Media and Press

While the casting was happening and plans were coming together the narrative began to emerge that this was going to be LaBeouf’s comeback vehicle. That really started with a profile where he talked about writing the movie under a pseudonym and more.

While at Sundance he talked about the writing process and the personal story he tapped into, as well as how the script was the result of court-ordered therapy for him. He hit similar themes in interviews during Toronto, later talking about how his management team encouraged him not to go down this road.

Cinematographer Natasha Braier was interviewed about the constant state of uncertainty LaBeouf added to the time- and budget-constrained production and how that kept her on her toes and ready for anything. There was also a joint profile of the actor and director where they talked about their collaboration.

Overall

There are several thoughts that come to me after reviewing the campaign from top to bottom.

First, much like any franchise film or legacy sequel, the campaign seems to assume the target audience has some familiarity with the subject of the story. In this case, it seems interesting enough but is firmly targeted at those who have been following LaBeouf’s ups and downs over the last decade, as he went from the darling of the industry to the portrait of the troubled artist.

Second, it has to be stated that the movie being made at all reflects that LaBeouf, despite his issues, still enjoys some pull in Hollywood that seems to come with being a white man. We now have as many movies about LaBeouf’s struggle to overcome his problems as we do about Harriet Tubman’s work to free slaves via the Underground Railroad. The latter took nearly 100 years to finally come to the screen, the former less than 15.

Those points having been made, what works best about the campaign are the posters. The trailer is alright but never really comes together, while the posters carve out a much more clear and intriguing brand identity for the film, using the idea of comedy and tragedy being two halves of the same coin to communicate a key theme of the story to the audience. That’s the strongest non-LaBeouf pitch it has and one that I wish had been continued elsewhere in the marketing.

Picking Up the Spare

LaBeouf made an appearance on “Kimmel” to talk about the movie and his unusual approach to a personal story.

How Hedges prepared to play a fictionalized version of LaBeouf was the subject of an interview with the actor. A feature involving all three leads has them reflecting on the real story of the film and more. while Jupe was interviewed on his own a short while later.

A second trailer came out after the movie was in theaters that offers another look at the story.

There have been a number of clips released since the movie came to theaters. An additional interview with director Har’el also came out to talk about her work on the awards season campaign trail.