Picking Up the Spare: BlacKkKlansman, The Meg and More


Great profiles here and here of Laura Harrier, who didn’t get much attention in advance of release. Costume designer Marci Rogers also was interviewed about her work on the movie.

John David Washington shared what his first experiences on the set of the film were and what inspired him about working with Spike Lee.

Washington and others from the cast spoke out about what has happened in the country in the year since the Charlottesville incidents and how the movie connects to that. They also explained how they got into character for the time period the story is set in.

There have been a number of stories like this that continue to explore the real events depicted in the story and the connection between the real Ron Stallworth and Washington, who plays him in the movie.

Topher Grace continues to be a central focus of the press as he appears on “Late Night” to talk about the film.

Lee finally got on TV, talking with Seth Meyers about the connections between this movie – and the events that inspired it – and the present day. He also appeared on “The Daily Show.”

Solo: A Star Wars Story

ILM’s Rob Bredow spoke about a number of technology issues, including the use of virtual reality in the making of the movie.

The Meg

Director Jon Turteltaub and others shared how they wanted to make a fun, exciting and pulse-pounding shark movie. Meanwhile, star Jason Statham continues to complain about how difficult the set was and how this wasn’t the movie he thought he’d be in.

Deadline hits many of the points I already covered when discussing the movie’s marketing but adds a few quotes from studio executives as well.

The details of Intel’s promotional partnership with the movie wasn’t clear in advance of release, but there have been more details that have come out since then about how the company contributed to the AI that helped power the digital shark.

Crazy Rich Asians

Awkwafina continues to be a bit focus of the publicity as the “breakout” star of the movie, with new features on her hitting Rolling Stone and Variety.

Michelle Yeoh has also gotten some warranted attention for her long and varied career in Hollywood. And Constance Wu once more hits the point about how this isn’t just your average romantic comedy.

Both Wu and Awkwafina made additional late night TV stops.

Juliet, Naked

Chris O’Dowd made an appearance on late night TV while a profile of Rose Byrne calls out how she’s an extremely underrated comedic powerhouse.

The team responsible for creating the music of Ethan Hawke’s musician in the movie talk about that process here.

The Equalizer 2

A new spot hits a theme that wasn’t emphasized very strongly in the earlier campaign, that of the mentor/mentee relationship between Robert and Miles.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Picking Up the Spare – Sorry To Bother You, Skyscraper and More

Sorry to Bother You

The movie has generated a metric ton of stories such as this about code-switching and “white voice.” Annapurna Pictures leaned into that by releasing a featurette with Patton Oswalt and David Cross, who provide some of the white voices used by black characters in the film.

Star Lakeith Stanfield has engaged in a bit more media, including appearing on “Kimmel” to promote the movie.


It was apparent in the film’s campaign, but the distinct lack of sense of humor was one (at least potential) reason the movie didn’t perform up to expectations at the box-office. While I haven’t seen it, the problem likely stems from how it adds the element of putting the hero’s wife and children in the middle of the action. That increases the stakes, but it also makes a wise-cracking protagonist odd and out of place. You’ll note that Die Hard, which the movie clearly was aspiring to be, avoided that.

Dwayne Johnson and director Rawson Marshall talk here about Neve Campbell’s character, who was all but missing completely from the campaign.

This is an interesting profile of Johnson and the clout he wields, including his formidable social media presence.

Also, the movie has come under some scrutiny as another example of Hollywood casting an able-bodied actor to play a disabled character, which is part of a bigger conversation around representation.

Avengers: Infinity War

While Marvel Studios isn’t at San Diego Comic-Con this weekend, LEGO is bringing a life-size version of Thanos to the convention.

Ready Player One

The theatrical run is over for the movie but it’s freshly out on home video platforms and media, so Warner Bros. has brought costumes, props and a VR experience to San Diego Comic-Con.

Solo: A Star Wars Story

It’s not a big push, but Disney/Lucasfilm are including a life-size replica of the Millennium Falcon’s cockpit as seen in the movie to the Star Wars booth at San Diego Comic-Con.

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot

Amazon released a bunch of new posters on Twitter that are much better than the low-effort theatrical one-sheet.

Jonah Hill showed up on “Kimmel” to talk about the movie and working with Phoenix.

Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again

Cher announced she has recorded and will release a whole album of ABBA covers to capitalize on her involvement with the movie and her time once more in the spotlight.

Christine Baranski, Amanda Seyfried and Dominic Cooper both hit late-night talk shows to talk about working with Cher and even kind of the rest of the movie.

The producer of the original stage show had a chance to weigh in on the musical’s legacy, and the movie’s director talked about the cameos by two of ABBA’s original members.

Universal worked with an influencer marketing agency to coordinate a shot-for-shot remake of the original video for “Mamma Mia!” the song featuring a bunch of YouTube personalities.

Black Panther

Shuri, T’Challa’s sister and the breakout favorite character from the movie, is reportedly getting her own comic series.

Eighth Grade

Writer/director Bo Burnham continues to make the media rounds to talk up his movie, which is gearing up to be a word-of-mouth success. Also many people have pointed out this disconnect, which is that a few words and scenes that are going to be familiar to anyone in junior high have given the movie a rating designed to keep out anyone who’s actually in junior high.

The Equalizer 2

Denzel Washington addressed directly how this is his first sequel and why he’s long avoided doing them and how he tried to bring the feeling and emotion back to the character. Also, he and costar Ashton Sanders talk here about their on-screen dynamic.

Deadpool 2

Yeah, the Comic-Con stunts promoting the movie’s home video release are just about what you’d expect.

Movie Marketing Trends 2018 – Augmented Reality

Augmented reality is, to steal a line from Beck, where it’s at.

While some of us who are old enough have been awaiting the full, immersive virtual reality experience promised to us in Lawnmower Man in 1992 (minus the homicidal inclinations), AR has shown to be more promising as a consumer product. At least for the moment, the way augmented reality has been positioned as a portable creative outlet has helped it build significant interest in the consumer tech and marketing fields. According to Digi-Capital, AR adoption will far outstrip VR for the foreseeable future.

One big reason AR is so popular is, for lack of a more technical term, that it’s so much easier to carry around with you. VR is still hobbled by cumbersome goggles and other accouterments, even its most (currently) advanced incarnations. As anyone who played Pokemon Go last year or who has done roughly anything on Snapchat knows, AR is right there in your pocket, adding a bit of animation to the world around you.

There’s plenty of speculation as to what the future of advertising and marketing might look like in an AR-enhanced world. The movie marketing field isn’t waiting for tomorrow, though, and is in the middle of full embrace of the technology to help sell some of Hollywood’s biggest films. That includes some major releases coming out this summer, but the water has been tested by others already. Let’s look at some recent and upcoming AR executions from the studios.

Deadpool 2

deadpool 2 arNext time you’re stopping into your local 7-Eleven for coffee and reminding yourself that hot dog would be a bad idea, pull up the store’s app and get a guided tour from an AR version of the Merc With A Mouth himself. He’ll scribble over the selfie you take while pulling a special Slurpee into a movie-branded cup. Scannable codes around the store will unlock exclusive content as well. You can get a look at some of what awaits you in the commercial to promote the tie-in.

Solo: A Star Wars Story

solo holochess arAn AR version of Dejarik (aka “holochess”, the game it’s always a good idea to let the Wookie win, even if he didn’t initially get it) has been added to the popular Jedi Challenges mobile game from Lenovo. The original version of the game required special AR goggles but an update aided by ARkit means you can play it on iPhones or iPads without additional equipment, just in time for the movie.


pandas imax arThe IMAX original documentary was recently promoted with an AR component including an animated, anthropomorphic panda that kids, the target audience for the film, could ask questions of and get answers from. That’s very much in line with the goals of the filmmakers, who sought to educate young audiences about the conversation efforts being undertaken around the animals.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

jurassic world aliveThe Pokemon Go concept is being brought to the world of dinosaurs with Jurassic World Alive, part of the marketing for this summer’s sequel. Players roam their neighborhoods and other locations looking for dinosaurs, including some of the new creatures featured in the movie. When they collect DNA samples from the creatures they can grow their own in incubators, including the ability to create original genetically-modified dinosaurs of their own. Because that always works out so well.


rampage arThe slightly-on-the-nose branded “AR Unleashed” app allowed users to add the genetically-enhanced monsters featured in the movie to the world around them. People were encouraged to get creative with the situations they put the creatures in and enter their work into a contest, the winner of which joined Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson on part of the movie’s publicity tour.


ghostbusters world arWhile we wait to see what the next cinematic incarnation of the franchise will be (I’m personally hoping for a sequel to the 2016 film), mobile users will be able to play Ghostbusters World an AR game, coming out later this year, that incorporates ghosts and story elements from all the movies, cartoons, comics and other media. The game was announced by Google at Mobile World Congress alongside the launch of its ARCore 1.0 developer platform.

Ready Player One/A Wrinkle in Time

ready player one arBoth movies were part of initial tests by Facebook of its AR Target Tracker and involved posters placed at bus stops and other outdoor locations equipped with that technology. For A Wrinkle In Time, scanning the posters added reality-bending effects like those seen in the movie. For Ready Player One, doing so opened a portal to the OASIS, the VR world the story largely takes place in.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

jumanji ar

As an illustration of how much popular apps are driving the adoption of AR, Snapcodes added to the packaging of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle allowed users to unlock movie-themed World Lenses that brought a couple different experiences to life for Snapchat users.

Justice League

justice league facebook arAnother promotion involving Facebook, this time the effort used the social network’s Camera Effects Platform. Choosing one of the characters from the movie, you could add their mask to your selfie and trigger various additional effects with different facial movements.

These are just a few of the AR executions that have happened in support of various movies in the last year or so. It’s not just studios that are getting in on the trend, either. Way back in 2013 theater chain AMC added AR stickers to select movie posters in theaters that, when scanned with the app, opened up trailers and other related content. Earlier this year in-theater advertising network National CineMedia introduced the Noovie ARcade app to let moviegoers play AR games while not talking to the person sitting next to them.

Moviebill introduced an AR-enhanced playbill handed out exclusively at Regal Cinemas locations to those with tickets for Avengers: Infinity War that, when scanned with the Regal app, the displayed exclusive videos and other content, all of which was ad-supported. Future editions will support Deadpool 2, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and other big releases.

Are there more AR-assisted campaigns coming down the road? You’d have to assume the answer will be “yes.” Looking ahead a few months at movies like Ant-Man and the Wasp, Skyscraper, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies and others there are definitely some possibilities for augmented reality to come into play.

More than that, though, if the technology continues to get more and more user friendly thanks to efforts by Snap, Google, Apple and other companies there will be more and more studios and other marketing professionals looking to catch the wave. User adoption numbers are few and far between for any one execution, but success usually breeds continued usage, so if each new promotion speaks to some extent to the success of the last one.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Picking Up the Spare – Tag, Superfly and More


More from Future on the soundtrack he produced and curated, which was a big part of the marketing campaign, here. Director X has also been giving interviews like this now that the movie is out.

Also recommended is this compare/contrast of this album with that of the original.


Star Jeremy Renner’s broken arms are part of this interview with director Jeff Tomsic where he talks about all the challenges he had making the movie.

Solo: A Star Wars Story

Star Thandie Newton talked more here about the dress she wore to the premiere featuring the faces of the characters of color in the franchise to date.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

More on the Kellogg’s promotion for the movie here.

The movie is the next release to get the AR treatment from Moviebill, which is once again handing out periodicals to Regal Cinemas audiences that can be scanned using the Regal app to unlock exclusive content, including interviews (in print and AR format) with star Bryce Dallas Howard and director J.A. Bayona, a welcome message from star Chris Pratt, an interactive “dino-lab” and a sample of the dinosaurs available in the Jurassic World Alive, the location-based AR mobile game developed by Ludia.

That game is built on location and other data from Google Maps, which is helping to promote both the game and the services behind it.

Daniella Pineda has received a few profiles like this after being identified as the breakout newcomer – or at least largely unknown – in the movie. That makes the reports that a scene clearly identifying her as LGBTQ was cut, the latest instance of that happening in a major studio franchise film, somewhat awkward.

There’s also a bit of extra attention coming to co-star Justice Smith.

Director J.A. Bayona was never the focus of much of the press in advance of the movie’s release, but there was an interview with him here and another one here.

First Reformed

More from director Paul Schrader on the film’s disturbing characters and situations as well as his feelings and thoughts on God.


The campaign for this is one I let go by me because it seemed like a terrible mess and the post-release developments have only reinforced that decision. Here are some examples:

  • The studio, along with MoviePass (which invested in the film), published a really weird and insulting Tweet positioning critics giving it a negative review as enemies of the common folk.
  • That same message was conveyed in push notifications to MoviePass mobile users and is what the movie’s marketing team is selling as they float the idea Rotten Tomatoes is artificially keeping its score down.
  • There’s speculation that the disconnect between that score and a strangely high audience ranking could be because of a bot/fake account campaign being mounted, something the studio denies.

Wonder Woman

As the marketing for the sequel ramps up, Turner Ignite placed a paid article on Ad Age about how Turner networks and shows helped sell the first movie to audiences.

Lady Bird

Amazon promoted the movie’s availability on its streaming service with a Father’s Day clip featuring some of Tracy Letts’ wonderfully-delivered lines from the movie.

The Incredibles 2

More from costar Holly Hunter in this brief interview.

A Wrinkle In Time

It seems Disney used the tactic of pairing this movie, which is already on home video, with The Incredibles 2 at drive-in theaters around the country to help it eek past the $100m mark.

Avengers: Infinity War / Deadpool 2

Josh Brolin is interviewed about how popular he is right now and how that kind of bothers and worries him.


OK, I’ll grant you that co-star Peter Fonda’s Tweet about Bannon Trump was in poor taste, but right now the last person who should be asserting any sort of moral highground on literally any issue at all is Donald Trump Jr. Indiewire has the whole recap, including Sony Classics’ position on the matter.

Christopher Plummer’s character was based in part on the real life grandfather of director Shana Feste.

The Catcher Was a Spy

The New York Times delves into the real history of Moe Berg, played by Paul Rudd in the movie.

Black Panther

An exhibit of the movie’s costumes will be on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.


No, it wasn’t a real movie, but the campaign for Tourism Australia that sure looked like a movie’s marketing push just won multiple awards at the Cannes Social Lions.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Picking Up the Spare – American Animals, Adrift and More


New interviews with both star Shailene Woodley and director Baltasar Kormákur offer insights into the story and process of making the movie, though the latter contains significant spoilers so beware.

American Animals

The narrative that’s emerging of how MoviePass, which partnered to release the film as its first move into film distribution, helped the film succeed is that it used its own platform to heavily promote the film, utilizing the user data it has to target ads. If I’m *any* other distributor right now I’m pretty honked off.

Both the cast and crew and the real people the actors are playing are interviewed here about the blurring of fact and fiction in the movie.

Girls Trip

Details on a creative campaign for the movie involving Snoop Dogg were shared here by Viacom, which ran that campaign across some of its networks and platforms.

Solo: A Star Wars Story

To the surprise of [looks around quickly] literally no one, a Wall Street analyst has blamed the marketing for the movie’s lackluster box-office results. He’s like 27% right, in that the marketing campaign was dictated largely by the release schedule, which was dictated by the other Star Wars movies coming out before and after it.

There’s a trailer for the Solo-related material coming to Star Wars: Battlefront II.

First Reformed

Ethan Hawke continues to make the press rounds to talk about the movie, which keeps getting positive reviews and buzz.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

All of you jackweeds who have hijacked Star Wars fandom to disseminate your backwards-thinking, anti-women, regressive worldview and mindset: Please get off my franchise. There is no place here for you and never was. Leave. Now.

Ocean’s 8

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.

Hearts Beat Loud

Nick Offerman has done a bit of press in the last few days to promote the movie, which is nice to see.


Jeez, even Annabelle Wallis has been forced to talk about Jeremy Renner’s broken arms during her portion of the publicity cycle. Hamm and Helms have also done a bit more publicity.

A clip from the movie was played in an episode of Machinima’s “Inside Gaming” to try and reach that crowd.

Nice profile of co-star Jake Johnson here at GQ. And there’s more from Hannibal Buress as well as an interview with the comedian.

A Kid Like Jake

Claire Danes has continued to do press for the film and talk about the issues raised in the story.

Avengers: Infinity War

Viacom offers details on a creative execution involving Comedy Central’s show with Jordan Klepper.

The Incredibles 2

Good story here about how Pixar got the band back together for the sequel after over a decade.


Apparently star Trevor Jackson initially rejected as the lead because it was felt he was too young. More about how he got involved in the movie here.

The Kissing Booth

I know I didn’t give this movie a full campaign review, but that’s largely because it didn’t get a full campaign from Netflix. That’s too bad since it seems like the story’s origins on story-sharing website Wattpad seems like it would have been a decent hook for the press.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Solo Is Successful…From a Certain Point of View

It’s actually kind of impressive how myopic most all of the commentary around the box-office underperformance of Solo: A Star Wars Story has been. It’s undeniable that the movie has failed to live up to the impressive standard set by the earlier movies, particular with it dropping by 65% in its second weekend.

Still, I find much of the finger-wagging and predictions of doom for the Star Wars franchise to be incredibly ignorant of anything approaching the bigger picture. Commentary seems, after over a week of hot takes, to be running along one or both of two lines:

  1. Disney doesn’t have a plan for Star Wars. This remarkably wrong-headed Phil Owen piece at The Wrap is a good example of that ridiculousness.
  2. Disney’s plan for Star Wars is wrong. There are too many instances of this to count, but most tend to lay the blame for Solo’s box-office at the feet of Rey, Jinn and other female characters introduced since 2015.

Let’s dismiss the second one out of hand, shall we? The first three Star Wars movies released by Disney, all of which featured female heroes much more prominently than those in the past, are among the most financially successful films of all time, not to mention within the Star Wars franchise itself. This is mostly promulgated by overgrown children who are mad the girls have come in and are trying to touch their action figures, not realizing that sexism isn’t cool anymore. Get over it, guys, because if you refuse to accept any growth in the audience you’re going to wind up with a dead franchise. A stronger case could be made the Solo is tanking because it’s swimming against the tide by trying to sell a male anti-hero in an age where people want a full movie about what Qi’ra was up to for those three years between when Han left her and then came back.

As to the first, this is where people show off just how little they’re thinking about the whole playing field, particularly in terms of the modern media world.

Keith Phipps at The Ringer asks why others, including Disney itself, are having such issues recreating the Marvel Cinematic Universe model. It’s a fair question, but only if you are looking solely at the idea of the current definition of “cinematic universe.”

Believe it or not, the concept of shared fictional universes did not leap forth into the world for the first time when Nick Fury offered to tell Tony Stark about The Avengers Initiative 10 years ago. Sequels, spinoffs and similar extensions have been around forever across all media. “Happy Days” was the starting point for an endless number of TV shows, as was “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” There are any number of examples.

Star Wars has been at the forefront of that idea for 40+ years now. From the moment Splinter of the Minds Eye was published and the idea that those characters only existed in the stories told on film was punctured the Star Wars universe has done little but expand. There are countless books, audio originals and TV shows that have offered new stories, some of which follow the same core group we see in the films and some that take us down side roads to meet new characters.

The Expanded Universe, as it came to be known, really hit a stride with the 1991 publication of Heir to the Empire, the first novel from author Timothy Zahn in the “Thrawn Trilogy” that picked up years after the events of Return of the Jedi. The books and comics published between then and 2015 have been removed from canon and labeled “Legends” as Disney created a fresh continuity to go with the new films it produced. Characters have reappeared and some events made official, but anything carried over now needed to match with the new official record.

One of the criticisms leveled at Solo is that it makes the Star Wars Universe “feel small” by following characters we already know and trying too hard to segue into other movies. Both Solo and Rogue One basically act as lead-ins to A New Hope to varying degrees.

That might be true, but it’s also true that the overwhelming majority of the original Expanded Universe books and other stories feature additional stories featuring the same couple dozen characters we see featured in the original six movies. Luke, Leia, Han, Obi-Wan, Anakin, Padme, Darth Vader, Yoda…they’re all over those novels and other media. Even the new canonical stories tend to stick with the familiar, occasionally branching out into side characters like Ahoska, Thrawn and others but still only rarely giving us something wholly new.

While the lens of the storyteller never moves far off the same heroes and villains seen in the movies, it certainly can’t be said that there aren’t plenty of stories to choose from.

And that’s where the position that Disney is going to kill the Star Wars franchise doesn’t have a plan falls apart when you don’t step back several dozen paces to consider that the movies, while certainly big (and expensive) content beats, are just one part of the Star Wars media plan.

Consider that Solo-related content is available now or coming soon to a number of Star Wars video games. Or that Qi’ra will be getting additional stories in the “Forces of Destiny” series of animated shorts. Or that there are more Han/Chewbacca/Lando stories in the Last Shot novel. Or that Beckett is getting his own one-shot comic.

Think about how the Catalyst story gave us more of Jinn Erso’s story. Or that Ahsoka provided the connective material between two cartoon series. Or that Poe Dameron has starred in his own comic for a while now.

Consider how many stories that might be to tell about L3 or Dreydon Voss. Or how there’s likely a lot to explore in Lando’s casual aside that Beckett is the one that killed Aurra Sing.

The possibilities here are endless. And the all start with the movies, taking characters introduced there in new directions and offering either further adventures that happen after the credits have rolled or jump backward to tell earlier stories.

In other words, if you’re thinking only of how the movies impact the movies, you’re missing out on the multimedia potential of the characters and situations featured there.

A while ago I wondered why so few franchises were embracing multimedia storytelling in an age when more and more people are bouncing between YouTube videos and podcasts and other media types. Even Marvel, held up as the gold standard when it comes to building a shared cinematic universe, hasn’t offered that many extensions of the characters and situations seen on film. There are prequel comics here and there that specifically take place in that universe, but nothing ongoing. Even the various Avengers cartoons don’t extend what happens in the movies, though they feature largely the same characters.

Star Wars – both before and after the Disney era – has done multimedia storytelling from the get-go. Sure, some stories aren’t great and some don’t *really* fit together, but that’s alright. Even lesser stories like The Courtship of Princess Leia and Masters of Teras Kasi have wound up at least being referenced later, adding new importance to what were originally seen as largely inessential entries. And let’s not forget that the events of the Prequels in many ways invalidate elements of the Original Trilogy.

The brand and character managers at Lucasfilm and its subsidiaries have always known how to take what’s introduced and offered in the movies and spin those characters and ideas off in different, variably engaging ways. So if you view the success of Solo exclusively from a financial perspective or feel it’s failed in some ways to broaden the universe you’re overlooking how it’s already outgrown the confines of the big screen and will likely continue to do so.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Picking Up the Spare – Solo, Black Panther

Solo: A Star Wars Story

A substantial profile of Harrelson here that touches on why he decided to get involved in a big movie like this and how it fits into his overall career.

Screenwriters Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan talk about working together and how they wanted to stay true to what audiences knew about the title character while also adding new elements to his background.

There’s a lot of Solo-related content coming to various Star Wars video games.

Black Panther

Angela Bassett spoke about working on the movie and what it meant to her as part of THR’s Actress’ Roundtable conversation.

The movie took home the top prize at the recent Golden Trailer Awards.

A Kid Like Jake

Jim Parsons spoke more here about the gender identity issues and other elements of the story. And Claire Danes hit the late-night talk show circuit to talk about the movie.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Solo and the Future of Star Wars (After the Campaign Review)

There’s been a wave recently of writers using the box-office results of Solo: A Star Wars Story as a kind of Rorschach Test for their own personal issues and beliefs regarding the potential future of the Star Wars series. Terms like “franchise fatigue” and “inessential” have been thrown around pretty freely. People have wondered whether opening to $103m domestically in its first weekend is a sign Disney needs to rethink its Star Wars strategy or if the franchise is about to falter. Poor reviews have lead people to speculate on what correct measures need to be taken by the studio to right the ship.

Solo, in case you need a refresher, tells the story of the younger days of the lovable smuggler and scoundrel. Played by Alden Ehrenreich, we start off with him as a hard-living thief on his home planet of Corellia, where he works for a local thug alongside others, including Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). Over the course of the story he embraces his destiny as an outlaw, albeit one with a penchant for doing the right thing, even if it costs him in the short term. He meets Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and Chewbacca along with others who will help shape him into the cocky, boastful pilot we meet in a Tatooine cantina.

Unlike many other recent large-scale movies, Solo delivers more or less exactly what the marketing campaign mounted by Disney/Lucasfilm promised. It’s fast-paced and funny, with a zip in its step that keeps the mood light even when dealing with some heavier topics. Glover steals most scenes he’s in but Ehrenreich really and truly delivers with his take on Han, never trying to do an impersonation of Harrison Ford, who made the character leap off the screen, but working to make him his own and succeeding in doing so.

While I respect and understand the viewpoints of those who didn’t care for the movie for one reason or another, there are some commonalities to the criticism that’s been shared by many people that I feel need to be addressed.

The Movie Feels Cobbled Together

You will never convince me that widely-reported production problems don’t wind up impacting eventual reviews. Critics can claim to be focusing on the finished product, but it would be impossible for them not to be considering the drama that went on behind the scenes. In this case, the replacement of original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller with Ron Howard created a lot of noise, poisoning the well of goodwill the movie would need to draw on. Suddenly it can’t help but be viewed through the lens of the “troubled production.” There is, in other words, a thumb on the critical scale.

solo pic 7

I don’t blame anyone for this point of view, especially since I have it myself. Honestly, though, it didn’t feel any more disjointed in assembly than any other major studio franchise release from the last 10 years. These movies almost always are made by committee, with various producers, editors and executives wanting to have their input counted in the final product. And it certainly is less so than last year’s Justice League, a monstrosity that had all vestiges of coherence stripped from it, though that’s a low bar to clear.

It’s An Inessential Story

OK, but what counts as an “essential” Star Wars story? Does it need to focus on Luke, Leia and Han in order to matter? Does it need to have galaxy-spanning implications? Would it have been better if there had been a giant space laser of some sort that needed to be shut down at all costs?

Much as I did after seeing some of the same issues raised in the wake of 2016’s Rogue One, I maintain that your comfort level with these “smaller” stories depends to some extent on whether or not you’ve dug into the Expanded Universe. Whether we’re talking about the new line of books and comics that have come out since Disney rebooted what is or isn’t canon or those prior to that turning point that are now branded “Legends” titles, those stories were often just like this, with lower stakes, a broad set of vaguely-defined supporting characters and so on.

solo pic 8

Many of these are great stories, but few could make the cut if we really wanted to take a strict approach toward what is or isn’t “essential.” That’s alright, though. We need throwaway stories every now and again, otherwise the stakes just keep getting bigger and bigger and more unrealistic.

Along these lines the question has been asked as to whether we really need Han’s backstory. Well…no. He was fine as a character just as we had him in the Original Trilogy, where we learned very little of his background and history. But since when has “need” been the standard determining which stories are or aren’t told? There’s nothing in Solo that takes away from the enjoyment of the character in the OT and as long as we clear that hurdle we’re fine.

It’s Too Full of Fan Service

This is perhaps my least favorite point of criticism against this or any other movie.

First of all, “fan service” is a terrible term, making it seem like the filmmakers are just throwing in some moment or detail to make some members of the audience turn to their partner and say “I get that reference” or something like that. I don’t believe that’s actually how things work, though “Hey, the fans will like this” is almost certainly a consideration. Also, you can’t spend three months dissecting all the easter eggs in every new trailer or TV spot and then act put out when the movie itself is full of such moments.

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It’s true that Solo hits a lot of “Oh, that’s why he later…” beats. That’s called “establishing the character,” though, and is in the DNA of any flashback or prequel story. But so does the first 10 minutes of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and I defy you to find anyone who doesn’t feel that’s one of the greatest sequences in that series. If that came out now it’s easy to imagine it would be pilloried for making cheap plays on the audience’s emotions as we see Indy get the hat, whip and other accessories he’ll use for decades to come on his adventures.

People Are Tired of Star Wars

Disney *is* taking an awful risk by releasing Solo within six months of The Last Jedi, though there are a number of reasons for that decision. And this *is* the fourth Star Wars movie it’s released inside of three years.

On the other hand, Disney has put out three Marvel Cinematic Universe entries within the last six months and has two more slated for this year, making a total of five in a 12-month window. And you don’t see the same kind of hand-wringing with that franchise that has been a common media narrative around Star Wars since before Rogue One hit theaters.

Looking at numbers, Solo’s $103m opening weekend places it in line with 2014’s Thor: The Dark World ($108m) and higher than Ant-Man ($83m), Thor ($85m) and Captain America: The First Avenger ($92m). Somehow the MCU powered bravely through those setbacks and kept the franchise going, not concerned whether malaise was setting in among the members of the audience but continuing with their plans. That’s worked out pretty well and each one of those movies has had or will have a sequel released.

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Basically the “franchise fatigue” idea seems to be a narrative that’s uniquely applied to Star Wars. It’s tainted a lot of coverage since commentators and critics seem to just be waiting for the first signs of labored breathing in the patient, like an ungrateful child looking for any excuse to send dad to the assisted living facility and get him out of the basement. I don’t mean to imply ill-will, just that there’s a very different conventional wisdom being applied to coverage.

Disney’s Future Plans Are In Doubt

It’s true that Disney’s stock took a bit of a hit in the wake of Solo’s lower-than-projected opening weekend. That’s to be expected when shareholders are disappointed the made-up numbers the studio shares impact the made-up money those shareholders deal in. I think, though, that the company will be fine and certainly, given its history in managing the MCU films through ups and downs, knows how to take the long view of franchise management.

One specific subset of this argument I’ve seen is that specifically it calls into question plans the company has to use Star Wars as a foundation for its upcoming streaming service. The idea, this line of thinking adheres to, is that if a movie like Solo is going to bomb theatrically (which it did not do) then you can’t expect Star Wars content to anchor this service.

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This is an argument I don’t buy at all, though there are some caveats.

The kind of mid-tier space western that is Solo would actually be *perfect* as a streaming original, but the budget would need to be cut at least in half. The $250-300m Solo cost wouldn’t work, but a $125m feature would likely work just fine. This is just the kind of “good enough” movie material that is exactly what Netflix in particular has been aiming to produce and acquire. I’m not saying they could make even that more than once every couple years, but in concept, Solo represents just the kind of add-on stories that you’ll watch because it’s there and it’s entertaining and you can pause it to go get a beer.

So Here’s What I Think Actually Happened

There are elements of truth in all the above points. I’m not dismissing any of them completely. It’s true that:

  • The movie lacks a clear and consistent vision, something both The Last Jedi and Black Panther had in spades. I’d say that’s less a symptom of directorial shuffling than that Ron Howard, for all his many qualities, is not a strong action director. The guy does drama with the best of them, but action isn’t his forte.
  • It is an additional story that’s easily skipped if you only want to devote your time to those stories that bring something new and significant to the universe. The same can be said of many MCU movies, though, especially something like Ant-Man or even Guardians.
  • There is a case to be made that it’s too full of moments specifically designed to create the character as we see him in A New Hope. Again, though, you could make the same case about the flashbacks in The Godfather Part II, this isn’t unique to Solo.

The main issue, though, is simply timing. While there were certainly good reasons for Disney to maintain this release date, it also meant it was competing against itself, with Avengers still eating up a lot of box-office oxygen. Combine that with Deadpool 2 and you have a lot of people who have already used up their moviegoing allowance for the month. Finally the (similarly understandable) tight marketing window means it just didn’t have the kind of time to truly and deeply penetrate the public’s conscious.

Solo is a fun, highly enjoyable movie. Not everyone feels that way and that’s fine. It worked for me, it didn’t for others. That’s how most movies are. When it came down to it, though, the biggest obstacle it faced was just not having the time it needed to make a compelling case to the audience.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Picking Up the Spare – Deadpool 2, On Chesi Beach and More

Deadpool 2

Fox has extended the social media presence of Peter, the non-powered member of the team Deadpool assembles, adding a LinkedIn profile that the studio has been advertising on Twitter to get people’s attention. He’s even been writing blog posts.

The constant stream of Green Lantern cracks in this and the first movie have finally prompted Warner Bros. to (jokingly) ask for the ring back, to which Ryan Reynolds had a thoroughly appropriate response.

Seems at least one British movie critic got a Royal Wedding-themed invitation to see the movie, which is a nice touch.

Kristina Monllos at Adweek adds her own recap of the movie’s campaign to the growing list. And Ashley Rodriguez has one at Quartz.

I’m not linking to them because there are a lot of spoilers, but there’s a whole series of stories that have come out in the last week that have not only gone in-depth on some cameos in the film but talked about how the cast and crew intentionally shot scenes for the trailers that weren’t going to be in the movie. The point of the latter was to run what amounts to a fake out campaign to throw people off the scent of the actual story and I’m honestly not sure how I feel about that.

Rebecca Rubin at THR is wondering out loud if the movie’s success will lead to more R-rated super hero movies. I maintain the same position I did last year that this is something that may be experimented with from time to time but won’t become “normal” and certainly won’t be adopted by Marvel Studios or even WB/DC.

There wasn’t much of a focus on Julian Dennison, the actor that plays Rusty in this movie and who broke out in The Hunt For The Wilderpeople a few years ago, but that’s changed with a few talk show appearances and this feature profile where he talks about coming into a super hero film and his young career to date. Also, this look at how his casting represents a solid move into diversity for the genre.

Artist boneface took to Twitter to show off some poster art he’d been commissioned by Fox to create, though he admitted he wasn’t sure what the studio ultimately had in mind for his work.

Finally, the team shared a “thank you” video to fans recutting footage from the movie as a sitcom opening montage using the music of “The Golden Girls” because of course.

On Chesil Beach

More here about how this isn’t the first time Saoirse Ronan has shown up in a movie based on an Ian McEwan book as the two talk about finding themselves on the same project again.

First Reformed

A solid feature profile of writer director Paul Schrader at GQ in which he talks about not just this movie but his extensive and noteworthy career as a whole.

You Were Never Really Here

Amazon Studios put out a short promo video acknowledging this was one of two movies starring Joaquin Phoenix-starring movies it was distributing this year.

Life of the Party

Adria Arjona, who plays Melissa McCarthy’s daughter in the film, talks more here about working with the veteran actor and what she learned just by being in the room with her.

Mary Shelley

Director Haifaa al-Mansour finally got a profile of her own where she talks about getting involved in the story and how she broke into the industry.

Avengers: Infinity War

Moviebill, the company that put those AR-enhanced magazines in the hands of opening week moviegoers at Regal Cinemas, is reporting that with 1 million copies distributed there were 2 million scans that weekend, meaning at least some people were repeatedly going back to the Regal app to view additional material.

Solo: A Star Wars Story

It’s the most wonderful time of the year because Matt Singer at ScreenCrush chronicled his day spent eating the entire movie-themed menu at Denny’s, as did Heather Mason at SyfyWire.

The Chicago Tribune profiles local native Bradford Young about how his upbringing in the city influenced the style and attitude he brought to his work as cinematographer on the movie.

While it’s not specific to the movie, both The Hollywood Reporter and Film School Rejects use the occasion to talk with Perry King, who gave voice to Han Solo in the NPR-produced radio drama adaptations of all three of the Original Trilogy movies.

Super Troopers 2

I think I missed this earlier, but Vice talks about the crowdfunding that got the movie made and the subsequent data that went into the marketing.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

The Solo Marketing Has a Beat You Can Dance To

Right now everyone is focusing on sound design as a result of A Quiet Place. In a story where the slightest sound can alert alien predators to your presence and cause them to pounce, it’s understandable that considerable weight would be given to every snap, crackle and pop.

There’s another example of sound designers having a bit of fun and using audio techniques to enhance the storytelling: The trailers and TV spots for Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Continue reading “The Solo Marketing Has a Beat You Can Dance To”