Irresistible – Marketing Recap

How Focus is selling a political satire with big names and big expectations.

In any other year, the timing of Irresistible hitting theaters (or some other platform) would be immaculate. It is, of course, a presidential campaign year and, given the hyper-politicized world of the last 30 year, a biting satire of those behind the scenes seems like a great idea. That only increases when you consider the names of those involved both in front of and behind the camera.

Unfortunately, even aside from the Covid-19 pandemic that led Focus Features to shift release from theaters to premium VOD, this is not any other year. With trust in government continuing to fall among Americans, and a current situation where the realities of inequality are being laid bare in a way even the most stubborn idealogues have to work to ignore them, the timing of a comedic take on the problems inherent in the system is…sketchy.

The movie, written and directed by Jon Stewart, stars Steve Carell and Rose Byrne as competing political strategists who see a mayoral campaign in rural Wisconsin as key to nationwide success. So Democratic operative Gary Zimmer (Carell) and Republican operative Faith Brewster (Byrne) take over the town, with Zimmer trying to boost the chances of local “everyman” Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper).

Focus’ campaign has emphasized the talent, especially Stewart, as well as the subject matter. But the 44 percent the movie currently has on Rotten Tomatoes speak to reviews that frequently have been more critical of the tone and the timing than of the movie’s actual quality.

The Posters

Zimmer’s forehead is seen at the bottom of the first poster (by marketing agency Arsenal), released in March. The black and white photo of him contrasts with the bright red, white and blue of the “Uncle Sam” hat he’s wearing. Amidst what’s most white blank space, Stewart’s name is prominently displayed at the top, as is the fact that the movie will be available in homes everywhere upon release. The comedic tone is communicated through the tagline “Send in the clowns.”

Most of those elements are removed on the second poster (by marketing agency Cold Open), which came out just last week. Instead it features color photos of both Zimmer and Brewster, but Stewart’s name is still a major value proposition shared with the audience.

The Trailers

Democrats are getting their “asses kicked” Zimmer explains as the first trailer (5.4 million views on YouTube), released in January, opens. They need to add more rural appeal, he says, and shows his team a clip of a farmer and retired veteran making an impassioned speech at a local meeting in Wisconsin. Zimmer convinces Hastings to run for mayor of his town, but he himself has trouble fitting in with the locals. Still, his efforts attract the attention of the Republican party, turning the small town into an ideological battlefield between the two parties, who each see it as key to victory in the state.

The timing of the trailer’s release seems designed for maximum relevance and timeliness. Late January was both right before the Iowa Caucus (which wound up featuring the Democratic party tripping over its own feet repeatedly amidst technical problems) and in the middle of the Senate impeachment hearings, which wound up in the acquittal of President Trump as Democrats couldn’t find enough Republicans to vote for conviction.

Online and Social

An “About” synopsis along with the trailer and a featurette are all that’s on the movie’s official website, which seems paltry. There’s no photo gallery or other information to be found. Surprising there wasn’t something like an essay from Stewart on why he made the film or other additional context. VOD information is available on that site as well as a separate page setup specifically for that.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

In late May, shortly after the change in release was announced, a short promotional featurette came out includes a few comments from Stewart – who’s his usual dry self – along with clips from the movie. It plays half like an informational piece and half like a TV spot, leading me to believe it was used in some sort of paid slot.

A couple of TV spots ran that boiled down the story to a showdown between the warring political consultants. Some split their time between that story and comments from Stewart as well.

Zimmer’s awkwardness in a small town setting was conveyed in a clip given exclusively to The Playlist. Another clip has Zimmer strategizing with Hastings and his daughter. ET shared another clip as well.

An installment of Focus’ “You Know That Scene” YouTube series featured a discussion of a few key moments from the film.

A Twitter Watch Party was scheduled for this Friday with Stewart participating.

Online ads like the one below featured elements of the key art, with the primary call-to-action being to find information on how to watch the film this weekend, especially at home.

Media and Publicity

Focus Features acquired the movie while it was still in pre-production. A release date in late-May was finally announced in January.

Stewart pulled one of his “pop out from under Stephen Colbert’s desk” gags to debut the trailer on “The Late Show.”

In mid-May Focus announced the movie, like many others, was going to skip theaters since they were closed because of Covid-19 outbreaks anyway. Instead a new plan involving a late June premium VOD release was planned.

A substantial profile of Stewart came out last week, but his comments about the movie were overshadowed by his reaction to the current situation involving the police and their disproportionate response to black citizens.

Unsurprisingly, Stewart stopped by (virtually) “The Late Show” to talk about the movie and more with his good friend Stephen Colbert.

Overall

Let’s address a few standout ideas that are evident in how Focus Features has conducted this campaign, as well as a few issues that are influencing how it’s being received.

First, neither the studio nor Stewart had much influence on the world the movie is being released out into. Sure, they could have delayed it a year because a satire about largely-white politics in the middle of protests for racial equality and justice seems out of touch. But doing so would have meant losing the timeliness of coming out during the campaign cycle. It was a no-win situation here.

Second, reviews seem to be focusing on how the satire of the story isn’t sharp enough, as if everything needs to be merciless in its takedowns. That’s a false measurement, especially since nothing in the campaign here promises anything more than a few laughs at the machinations of sociopathic political strategists.

Third, it seems Focus recognized early on that the story itself was only one part of the potential appeal of the film and that Stewart’s involvement was at least as big a draw given his continued popularity post-”The Daily Show.” And it aligns well with the role he’s played over the years as an outspoken voice for various political causes important to him. Unfortunately, his advocacy in those areas has meant that most all of the interviews he did as the movie’s primary public face were more about the politics of today than the film he made.

All of that being said, it’s a strong campaign that stands up with some of the other major political satires of the modern era. It makes the case that the movie is a pleasant good time with a few laughs from some very funny people. It may not be life-changing, and it’s unlikely to result in the dissembling of major societal systems, but it looks here like a decent way to spend a couple hours.

Picking Up The Spare

Byrne was interviewed about how she created the character she plays and what inspiration she drew from. 

Stewart stopped by “The Daily Show” to talk about the movie as well as society in general. 

Focus offered clips of Stewart behind the camera as part of its “60 Second Film School” series. Another came as part of the “Stories From The Set” series.

Welcome to Marwen – Marketing Recap

The marketing of WELCOME TO MARWEN.

welcome to marwen poster 9Steve Carell stars in this week’s Welcome to Marwen, the new movie from director Robert Zemeckis. Based on a true story, Carell plays Mark Hogancamp, an artist who one day experiences a violent attack by a bunch of ignorant rednecks in a bar and suffers injuries requiring surgery and later physical therapy.

The attack also leaves Mark with few memories of his pre-attack life. To try and regain those memories Mark channels his artistic tendencies into creating a miniature town named Marwen. Populating the town are figures representing himself as well as the various women in his life, including his new neighbor Nicol (Leslie Mann). The fantastic stories he concocts for these characters channel his feelings, which come to a climax when he’s asked to testify against those who beat him.

The Posters

Hoagie, Mark’s figurine alter-ego, is shown on the first poster but nothing else about the story is shared. Instead the main value proposition offered here is that the movie comes from the director of Forrest Gump and that he’s inviting you “to a most unexpected place.”

A series of posters uses the action figure incarnations of each character to introduce them to the audience, offering their name and their status in the story as as “The new recruit,” The leader” and so on.

The final theatrical poster puts Mark and Hoagie next to each other on adjoining seats, the audience being told that “You can’t put this hero in a box.”

The Trailers

The trailer gives us a good look at the fantastical world created by Mark. It follows him as we hear about who he is – a well-respected artist – and see him meet the lovely new neighbor from across the street. When he’s jumped by a gang of Nazis, his injuries limit how much he can do so he finds inspiration to go on from the characters in the art he makes, including the determination to testify against his attackers.

It shows a movie where reality and fantasy are going to bleed into one another but features what looks to be a strong performance from Carell and yet another tragic underuse of Mann.

The second trailer focuses more firmly on how Mark was attacked and how his injuries left him with no memories of his life before, meaning he lives out the stories in his head through the figures he’s created. He explains how every one of them represents someone from his life and are part of his healing process.

It’s a much stronger trailer because it’s more clearly about the story of Mark dealing with the repercussions of what’s happened to him, without getting too bogged down in the relationship with Nicol.

After introducing us to the main characters that live in Mark’s stories, the third and final trailer offers the same explanation of the story we’ve seen before, but with a slightly stronger emphasis on how he’s created this fantasy world to deal with being the victim of a hate crime.

Online and Social

It’s only the basic information about the movie offered on its official website, including prompts to buy tickets and links to profiles on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Short videos like this were used as Promoted Posts on Twitter starting in mid-November.

An augmented reality experience was promoted, offering users the chance to not only view 360-degree versions of a scene from the movie but put themselves in that scene and share pictures elsewhere online.

Media and Publicity

The movie was part of the CineEurope presentation from the studio. Carell was named as a host for a mid-November episode of “Saturday Night Live” to help promote the movie closer to release.

Things were pretty dark on the promotional front until the movie’s red carpet premiere a couple weeks prior to release, where the cast and crew talked about the true story and the process of creating the world of the film.

Mann stopped by “The Late Show” to talk about the movie and everything else, with Kruger appearing there a couple days later. Other members of the cast, including Janelle Monae, did their own media rounds, as did Zemeckis himself. Carell also did “The Late Show” to chat with his old buddy Colbert.

A short featurette released just before the movie came out included Zemeckis talking about the inspiring true story and more. A bunch of clips offered expanded looks at scenes glimpsed in the trailers.

The release of the movie also brought new attention to the documentary that tells Hogancamp’s story and which is available to stream or download on a few platforms.

Overall

For a movie that seems to be so focused on emotions there’s an odd coldness to the campaign. It’s so concerned with the idea of watching Mark’s figures act out his stories that it doesn’t offer audiences much in the way of empathy toward what he as a person is actually going through.

It makes sense as those sequences are interesting and, most importantly, part of Zemeckis’ brand that’s focused on innovative visual effects. But the campaign fails to connect those visuals to anything meaningful no matter how many times we see Carell struggling.

Picking Up the Spare

Kruger was interviewed about the movie and the roles she’s tired of taking.

Beautiful Boy – Marketing Recap

beautiful boy posterSteve Carell plays David and Timothée Chalamet his son Nic in the new movie Beautiful Boy, based on the real life story told in the book of the same name. David is a loving father who wants nothing but the best for his son, something that’s difficult given Nic’s recurring substance abuse problems that keep him on the streets, in one rehab clinic after another and which cause nothing but friction between the two.

So it’s both a movie about the problems caused by addiction and the dynamic between father and son and how that relationship influences so many things. It looks emotionally devastating.

The Posters

Nic and David are shown in better times in a black-and-white photo on the first poster. Aside from the cast list at the top and the title at the bottom, the main element here is the reminder that this is based on a true story, mentioning the book that inspired the movie.

The Trailers

Before the first trailer came out there were two short videos released to whet people’s appetites, one that has Nic arguing with his father that he just wants to be understood, and one that takes a similar approach but is more gentle in its presentation.

That trailer opens with the same scene shown in the first clip before alternating between footage of Nic and David struggling to understand each other as adults and them being the idyllic father and son pair when Nic was younger. The problems they have with communicating and seeing the world from each other’s point of view are the dominant themes in the trailer as we see Nic just want to be accepted for who he is and David insist that he’s better than the issues Nic is dealing with. Carell and Chalamet look to be giving high-energy performances here, but we don’t get much of the characters played by Tierney and Ryan, which is too bad.

The second trailer continues highlighting the dynamic between Nic and David, showing that at least in part Nic’s problems stem from feeling the need to live up to his father expectations and love and I don’t think I’ll be able to watch this movie.

Online and Social

The website for the movie has both trailers under “Videos,” along with a “Synopsis,” “Gallery” and plenty of prompts to buy tickets and Twitter, Facebook and Instagram links. What’s nice to see is that not only are the books by Nic and David Sheff available to purchase for those who want to explore more but there’s also a link to a seperate site with contact information for those who may be dealing with addiction in one way or another. That’s just the kind of real world connection that should be on more sites for movies that deal with real issues like this.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The trailers have been used as paid posts on social media but I haven’t seen and can’t find any online ads or TV spots.

Media and Publicity

With this being Chalamet’s first post-CMBYN project to go through a full marketing cycle, the release of a first still was greeted with plenty of attention and interest. Later on Chalamet and Carell appeared at CinemaCon to debut footage and talk about the story with the executives and press in attendance.

The movie was announced as one of those screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, with the cast and crew appearing there to partake in Q&As and screenings. A short while later Chalamet was interviewed in a piece where he talked about the challenges of shooting such an emotionally raw story.

While in Toronto the whole cast did a handful of interviews and Q&As, allowing Chalamet to talk about how he lost a lot of weight and had to go to some difficult emotional places for the role, how he geeked out at working with Carell and Ryan since he’s a massive fan of “The Office” and how he’s become friends with the real person he’s playing in the film and received encouragement from Nic.

A Chicago Film Festival screening was also booked.

Meanwhile both Carell and Chalemet hit the talk shows to promote the movie.

Overall

Well, as I said at the outset, that looks like it will emotionally wreck me. Even putting aside the issues of addiction and substance abuse that are obviously key to the story, the theme of paternal expectations being so pervasive that Nic has to escape however he can from under their weight seems…rough. Even if the audience can’t relate to the substance abuse, they will likely find the crushing expectations resonate.

The movie has some decent buzz coming out of its festival screenings and benefits from what seem to be strong performances from Chalamet and Carell. This seems like it’s the kind of release that could gain some word of mouth among early audiences and expand into a hit in the last part of the year.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

Amazon, with support from AMC Theaters, released a video featurette recapping the movie’s Toronto Film Festival appearance and activities.

The cast and crew talked more about the difficult emotional material they tackled at the movie’s premiere.

Another clip expanded on the diner scene that’s shown in the trailers and was one of the first teasers released and one more showed the way Nic and David had grown apart.

There’s a new featurette with the stars of the film talking about the emotional impact of the story.

Chalamet appeared on “The Late Show” a few weeks after the movie hit theaters.

Last Flag Flying – Marketing Recap

The emotional trauma and bonds of brotherhood that results from experiences in war are explored in the new movie Last Flag Flying. Written and directed by Richard Linklater, the movie stars Steve Carell as a man who learns his son, who followed his example and joined the Marines, has died in the Iraq War in 2003.

Before setting out on the trip to claim his son’s remains for burial, Larry (Carell) tracks down and enlists the help of two of his closest friends from their time in the service, Richard (Laurence Fishburne) and Sal (Bryan Cranston). Larry doesn’t just want to be there for his son’s return but wants to take him back to his hometown for burial, eschewing – to the surprise of most – a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

The Posters

The three friends stand together on the first poster, Larry clutching the folded flag he received upon retrieving his son’s body. That clearly conveys to the audience that death, as well as friendship, is at the center of the story. The friendship angle is reinforced by the copy that reads “Their last mission wasn’t on the battlefield.”

The Trailers

We meet Sal and Larry as the trailer opens, with them having taken some sort of impromptu road trip and go find Mueller. All three were buddies in the Marines back in the day and Larry’s son, who did likewise, has been killed. The Corps wants to bury him at Arlington, but Larry wants to bring him home, so his friends join in the effort, despite the obstacles.

So it’s being sold as a road trip movie featuring three reunited old friends. What sets this apart from other movies that have had similar stories is the talent and charisma of the three leads as well as the emotional story. This isn’t a crazy comedy where there will be at least three Viagra jokes, the trailer promises, it will be a drama about family, grieving and your duty to old friends.

It should also be noted that for as many times as I’ve watched this trailer, I still well up every damn time. It’s the music. It’s the story. It’s the stoic grief. It’s…yeah.

Online and Social

Load up the official website and the trailer starts playing in case you need a good cry this morning. Once it closes you get a recreation of the key art of the three actors looking somberly at the camera. There’s a prompt to get tickets on the page while at the bottom are links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

Moving on to the content menu at the top of the page, “Synopsis” offers a brief write-up of the story. Skipping over “Videos,” which just has the trailer, next up is the “Gallery,” where you can check out a number of production stills.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Some online and social advertising was done around the release of the trailer as well as in the last week using the trailer, short clips or variations on the key art.

While I couldn’t find them online, it does seem some TV advertising was done recently, with the movie’s Twitter account sharing a photo of a commercial that apparently aired during one of this past weekend’s World Series broadcasts.

Media and Publicity

News broke back in June that the movie would get a high-profile debut by screening at this year’s New York Film Festival, where it went on to garner decent praise and buzz and where Linklater talked about it briefly, including praising Amazon Studios for helping him to make the movie after a decade of false starts.

Shortly after the first trailer debuted and while the movie was screening at festivals Linklater talked about finally making a movie about grown-ups, how time spent with friends inspired some of the story and more.

While at NYFF, Fishburne addressed how the intent was not to tie the movie to anything overtly political happening at the moment but to tell the story of a father doing what he can to grieve for and honor his dead son. Linklater made similar comments, saying the story would have played out the same even if Hillary Clinton was currently occupying the White House.

Where the movie falls in Cranston’s career was the primary subject of this feature interview as well as how he decides what roles to take, regardless of how they might be viewed by others.

Cranston and Carell have made a few media appearances in recent weeks and will likely be making more in the coming days as we get close to release.

Overall

Amazon Studios’ campaign isn’t massive, possibly because it follows just a week after the release of Wonderstruck, for which there was a much more comprehensive and general push. That’s not to say it hasn’t put a solid or committed effort together, just that the lack of additional paid efforts and a more subdued publicity campaign adds up to signal that this is a movie it doesn’t think will have the widespread appeal of that other movie.

While the volume may not be quite what we’ve seen for other movies, the emotions here are the real selling point. Everything about the campaign wants you to feel Larry’s conviction, determination and stubbornness deeply, mostly be experiencing them through the filter of Sal and Richard. Linklater has underscored this in interviews, but there really isn’t anything political in the campaign. It’s just about a father who wants to do right by his son and needs the emotional and other help of two men he’s always been able to count on. It’s not taking a stance on the war or anything, it’s just about dealing with a tragedy no parent should have to face in the most manageable way he can.

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