the card counter – marketing recap

How Focus Features has sold a drama from a Hollywood icon.

The Card Counter poster

The Card Counter, in theaters this weekend from Focus Features, is the latest feature from writer/director Paul Schrader, one of the foremost figures in the last 50 years of cinema. Oscar Isaac stars as William Tell, a former military interrogator who now makes a living as a gambler. One day a young man named Cirk (Tye Sheridan) tries to enlist Tell in a scheme to enact revenge on an officer Cirk served with and bears a grudge against. Hoping to turn Cirk from his path, Tell takes him on the gambling circuit. Financing them is La Linda (Tiffany Haddish), who also joins them on the road.

announcement and casting

The movie was first announced in October, 2019 when Isaac was cast. Tiffany Haddish, Tye Sheridan, and Willem Dafoe joined the cast in mid-February of 2020, about the same time Martin Scorcese, who famously collaborated with Schrader on several of the most important films of the last five decades, came on as an executive producer.

A first look still was released in mid-June of last year as production was resuming after a Covid-19-related shutdown had paused filming. Focus Features announced it acquired distribution rights a month later.

the card marketing

Things really started just a few months ago in July, when Focus Features announced the film’s world premiere would take place at the Venice Film Festival in early September.

The original song “Arise Sun” from Robert Levon Been came out at the end of July.

At that point the first trailer (2.8m views on YouTube) was released, the tension apparent from the start. Tell is talking about the weight of things past as it opens and we slowly learn more about him as things go on, including how he was sent to prison for crimes committed while he was in the service. Now free and making a living gambling, he’s backed by La Linda, who smells an opportunity to make money. Cirk’s intrusion on his life is unwanted, especially when Tell finds out what he’s up to but his presence sets a series of events in motion that may upset the life Tell has made for himself even as it offers a chance at closure.

Tell’s face looks out from behind a series of playing card faces on the highly-stylized poster, released a little later in mid-August. Scorsese’s name is prominently displayed at the top, indicating how much weight the studio believes he commands, especially when it’s paired with not only Schrader but also the high-profile cast. The vengeance/redemption storyline is hinted at in the copy “Reap what you sow.”

TV spots like this started running at about the same time, cutting down the story to much broader strokes but maintaining the tension and drama that was found in the full trailer. Even shorter videos served to introduce the individual characters.

Tell explains to La Linda that he’s not a typical gambler and why he’s trying to help Cirk in the first clip, also released in late August.

Schrader wound up being the central figure in the press campaign. Interviews with the writer/director had him talking about the influence his previous work with Scorsese had on this movie, the process of writing and shooting the movie, how he thinks the story reflects at least some of the trauma soldiers coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan can and will have and more.

He also spoke about what it was like shooting the film during Covid lockdowns and with strict protocols in place. Similar ground was covered in a joint interview with Haddish and Isaac as well as how the two actors bonded on set.

Three character posters released in early September showed the leads standing in front of playing cards. The same tagline is used here from the main poster, but what really stands out is the use of shadow, like they are actually standing in front of a physical object and it’s not just a background that’s been inserted.

The stars and director all appeared at the Venice Film Festival, doing interviews and otherwise promoting the film there.

AMC Theaters released a series of interviews with Haddish and Sheridan, both of whom also did a video for Regal Cinemas.

A featurette with Schrader had him talking about the story as well as how important it is to challenge the audience and make them work a little bit.


With the film’s creative pedigree – both in front of and behind the camera – the positive festival reviews that have resulted in an 85% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes isn’t wholly surprising but still good to see.

The campaign has set a tense, dramatic tone from the outset, one that very much brands it as a movie intended for serious adult moviegoers. Schrader is clearly still a brand name with that crowd, which is why he’s been put front and center in the publicity. Isaac is conspicuously absent from all but a few interviews, but there are likely reasons for that. And it’s allowed Haddish to get a bit more time in the spotlight.

Like A Boss – Marketing Recap

How Paramount is selling a comedy about corporate greed and the problem of going into business with your friends.

like a boss poster 2Like A Boss stars Tiffany Haddish and Rose Byrne as Mia and Mel, respectively. The two women are long-time friends who have gone into business together, running a beauty company. The two partners compliment each other nicely, one more impulsive and creative the other more business-like and serious.

When their company falls on hard times an angel seems to appear in the form of high-profile CEO Claire Luna (Salma Hayek). She offers to throw the two the financial lifeline they desperately need. It quickly becomes clear that lifeline is more like a noose and Mia and Mel have to figure out how to get control back and save their livelihood.

Even if it’s not enough to win the weekend, the $15-20 million the movie is estimated to bring in over its opening weekend could make it the top grossing of this week’s new releases. That’s a testament to the campaign Paramount has run highlighting the comedic skills of the leads.

The Posters

like a boss poster“The world of beauty is about to get ugly” we’re told on the first poster (by marketing agency BLT Communications), released in September. That copy, combined with the big perfume bottle that acts as the focal point of the design, establishes what world the story takes place in and what kind of hijinks are in store. It’s a tagline that could work equally well for either a comedy or drama, though, so it remains a bit vague on the movie’s tone.

The second poster, released in December, features the same tagline but this time has all three of the main characters on it, with Mel and Mia flanking Claire, who is clearly the mature one in charge of the situation.

The Trailers

As the first trailer from September starts we’re immediately shown how close Mel and Mia are, discussing all sorts of topics and deep in each other’s lives. The independent beauty retail shop they own together, we learn, is deeply in debt. To the rescue (it appears) comes Claire, but her business-saving investment comes with strings attached and some heavy involvement from her, none of which goes over well with the longtime friends. They set out to get control of their business back, with hilarious results.

A second “NSFW” trailer debuted in early December that presents the same basic story and character attributes, just with more swearing, sexual humor and drug use.

Online and Social

There’s not a lot of material on the film’s official website, which is focused on selling tickets, including for a “Girls Night Out” early screening event being held at select theaters tonight, a few days before the official opening.

Advertising and Promotions

The stars appeared in a short “Friendsgiving” themed TV spot that debuted toward the end of November.

Fandango debuted an exclusive clip showing the scene where Mel and Mia have to fire their assistant to comedic effect.

Online ads like the one here used elements of the key art showing the three leads to drive traffic to the ticket-selling website.

Like a boss online ad

TV spots like this began running in the last couple weeks, with some short versions being used as pre-roll on YouTube and in other social ad units. They highlight the key comedic sequences from the movie, using footage from the trailers.

The stars showed up for a “pink carpet” premiere screening in New York City earlier this week.

Media and Press

There wasn’t a whole lot of pre-release press activity. Haddish and Byrne did make a handful of talk show appearances, though, with Haddish hitting “Good Morning America,” Byrne stopping by “The Late Show,” Hayek on “The Tonight Show” and more.


On its own merits, as presented here, the movie looks like a funny enough diversion at the theater. Haddish’s comedic brand of being loud and proud is fully on display throughout the campaign, as are the chops of Byrne (always underrated for her comedy roles) and Hayek.

The tracking estimates may indicate that, despite all the recent evidence to the contrary, there may still be some life left in theatrical comedies. At least that’s if they feature the right cast, and this one might fit that bill.

Picking Up the Spare

Haddish appeared on “Kimmel” and “Late Night” just as the movie was hitting theaters.

How Haddish and Byrne bonded on the set was covered here.

The Kitchen – Marketing Recap

the kitchen poster“The Kitchen” started life as a comics series from the now-defunct Vertigo imprint of DC Entertainment. Written by Ollie Masters with art by Ming Doyle, the story followed a trio of women whose husbands – all leaders in the local crime scene – are in prison. Promises by others to keep them afloat are abandoned, leading all three women to take matters into their own hands and get into the family business themselves.

This week’s big screen adaptation The Kitchen retains that much of that story. Tiffany Haddish, Melissa McCarthy and Elizabeth Moss star as Ruby, Kathy and Claire, respectively. The three are determined to survive Hell’s Kitchen of the 1970s. What surprises each one of them is that not only do they find they’re adept at the kind of violence and intimidation necessary to control their territory, they kind of enjoy it. Specifically, they enjoy the freedom that comes from no longer being dependent on anyone else for their survival and wellbeing.

[Disclosure: DC Entertainment was a client of mine in 2014 when the series launched at Vertigo and I was involved in promotion for it during the eight months it ran. That, and my enjoyment of that series, has absolutely influenced how I’ve viewed the movie’s marketing campaign.]

The Posters

There’s a strong 70s vibe on the first and only poster, released at the end of May. All three women are shown in their own section of the design, which uses vertical color-coded stripes to break them up.

The Trailers

The premise of the story is laid out in the first trailer, showing the problems the Kathy, Claire and Ruby are having in making enough money to keep their families afloat while their husbands are in prison. With all other options off the table and no one stepping up to help, they begin to carve out their own criminal operations. That brings them into conflict with other established gangs and syndicates, but they’re determined to answer to no one and do what everyone else has been unable or unwilling to do.

The second trailer was released in mid-July and starts with the trio of women having already gained a reputation that brings them to the attention of a competing crime boss. It jumps back a bit to show why they have undertaken their own enterprise and why, including how they refuse to go back to how things were. At the end we’re once back to their meeting with the crime boss as they face a pivotal moment that ends on an uncertain note.

Online and Social

As is now standard, there’s almost nothing beyond an assemblage of marketing materials available on the movie’s official website. Nice use of the key art to maintain some brand consistency, but that’s about all that can be said in favor of the site.

Advertising and Publicity

Exhibitors got a taste of the dramatic work by the often-comedic cast when WB showed off footage during its CinemaCon 2019 presentation.

The movie was among those announced by AMC Theaters as part of the first curated under its Artisan Films program to highlight smaller films.

Haddish, McCarthy and Moss all appeared as a group at the MTV Movie & TV Awards in June.

Featurettes have come out in the last couple weeks including one exclusive to MovieClips that focused on the history of Hell’s Kitchen in the era depicted. Another that was exclusive to DC included nods to the original comic and talked about how the story depicted three women refusing to be beaten down by circumstance. How Berloff assembled a largely female crew was covered in another.

Some TV advertising was surely done but those spots aren’t available on YouTube and don’t seem to have been shared on social platforms.

Media and Press

While this movie’s release was still a ways out at the time, a THR cover story on Haddish included mention of it as one of the in-demand actor’s upcoming projects. Outside of casting announcements, that constituted one of the first publicity beats for the film.

A first look still was released in late October.

A few months later director Andrea Berloff was profiled in a piece that covered how and why she got involved in the project and how she went about tackling the story.

The release of the second trailer was accompanied by stories about The Highwaywomen, the country supergroup whose cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” is featured in that trailer.

McCarthy appeared on “The Late Show” in July to chat about the movie and more. A couple weeks later Moss talked with Kimmel.

The three leads were interviewed together about how they got involved in the project and what attracted them to the story. Similar comments were made by them at the movie’s recent premiere.

Berloff talked about the pressure she was under helming a female-led movie in an industry that gives lip service to expanding the range of stories being told but which puts them under a lot more scrutiny than it does the movies with men in leading roles.


The movie’s comics origins aren’t a major part of the campaign, which is too bad since it’s just these sorts of non-super hero stories that have proven so popular in the larger mainstream entertainment world. Think of how The Walking Dead, Saga and other titles have not only become comics bestsellers but raised the profile of the entire industry, before even getting to adaptations in other media.

What is being sold here is a movie about women doing it for themselves. The three lead characters are turning to desperate measures in the desperate times they face and are making no apologies for it. In fact they are embracing the power they’ve seized and finding it provides the kind of security that relying on their husbands never could.

That message is pervasive, accompanied by visuals that reinforce the vibe of 1970s New York and the crime-ridden environment it was. The work Berloff put into both elements – the female power of the story and the recreation of the period setting of the story – is on display everywhere here, making it a compelling pitch even for those unfamiliar with the original material.

Picking Up the Spare

Warner Bros. released an official video for The Highwomen’s cover of “The Chain” that includes not only footage but dialogue from the movie.

Haddish showed up on “The Late Show” to talk about the movie and more. Common later was interviewed on “The Tonight Show.”

The production team was the focus of this profile looking at how they recreated 70s-era fashion and design.

Lots more interviews with Berloff about how and why she made the movie, including what challenges she faced along the way.

The Oath – Marketing Recap

the oath poster 3Ike Barinholtz writes, directs and stars in this week’s new release The Oath. He plays Chris, who’s married to Kai (Tiffany Haddish). The couple are having his family over for Thanksgiving dinner, but what should just be a standard uncomfortable get-together is given a sharper edge because he disagrees with them politically on pretty much every issue.

Chief among those disagreements is The Oath, a new requirement the government is putting in place whereby all citizens must swear loyalty to the United States. Chris’ right-wing family sees no problem in this, but the more liberal Chris can’t get over how wrong that feels and so fights – both verbal and otherwise – break out over the course of the time everyone spends together.

The Posters

A hand breaks out of he sign that’s featured on the first poster, a pen clutched in the fingers as the text blares out “America needs you to sign The Oath.” It’s reminiscent of propaganda posters from the past, intentionally so as a way to make sure everyone gets the political message.

Another teaser featured a riff on the “live free or die” image of a chopped-up snake, though this one’s head is a fountain pen and the reminder is to “sign or die,” which is a bit more ominous.

The next actually shows the text of The Oath, with the promise of loyalty to the president at the top and the names of the cast members shown below lines for them to affix their signatures. A blood splatter in the corner hints at the uneasy process that’s behind all this.

The final theatrical poster finally shows both Barinholtz and Haddish, but the image of them holding a turkey – albeit one with the knife still in its back – is less political and more just goofy holiday comedy. That’s reinforced by the copy “Nothing is more American than family drama.” It seems like someone decided to go a bit more broad at the end here.

The Trailers

The first short trailer does a great job of explaining what’s happening in the movie. We see that Kai and Chris are at a family gathering, neither of them excited about what’s going to happen over the next few days. Those fears wind up being valid as a dinner table argument – and so much more – erupts over everyone’s reaction to the fictional “Patriot’s Oath” that everyone is about to be required to sign. Chris is the liberal in a sea of conservatives and so is the subject of everyone’s scorn and over the course of the get together people are tased, punched and otherwise assaulted in various ways.

Another short teaser that was more about the crazy gathering of family at an awkward time came out in early September.

A red-band trailer from late September starts out by presenting it as a kind of B-grade horror movie before moving into the story of how Kai and Chris are the only members of the assembled family not willing and eager to sign the oath. New here is a bit of implication as to what happens – or could happen – when someone refuses to do so, which is a bit ominous.

Online and Social

There’s fullscreen video on the front page of the official website, which is presented in the shaky style of the final red-band trailer. In the middle of that is a prompt to save the release date to your digital calendar. Other than that there’s just the “Videos,” a “Synopsis” and some “Social Assets to download along with links to the movie’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter profiles.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The first trailer was promoted on Twitter shortly after release through paid boosting of Barinholtz’s Tweet. A similar tactic was used after the full trailer was released in mid-September.

A TV spot from early October boiled the story down to a kooky comedy about a bickering family, only hinting at the political and societal overtones in the movie.

Media and Publicity

While this movie’s release was still a ways out at the time, a THR cover story on Haddish included mention of it as one of the in-demand actor’s upcoming projects. It was later revealed the movie would premiere at the LA Film Festival. How the story resonated with her as disturbingly plausible was covered in this interview with Haddish mentioning her many films this fall.

One of the movie’s producers tried to connect this to other movies like Get Out that touched on racial issues in modern America. A profile of Barinholtz followed that let him talk about directing as well as various political issues.


I’m kind of curious what the thinking was behind the last-minute adjustment to make the campaign a bit less overtly political. There seems to have been a left turn taken to make it less “scary alt America” and more “horror drama comedy,” perhaps because the political stuff wasn’t testing well or reality began to creep a bit too close to satire.

That being said, it does look pretty funny and is one of a number of authoritarian-minded political movies, something I’m sure isn’t a trend for any reason at all. Haddish is emphasized as much as possible but it’s clear she’s less of a powerhouse in the story here than she has been elsewhere, but the studio still wants her to bring in fans. Whether or not that works remains to be seen.


Barinholtz talks more directly than he had before here and here about how the current administration at least partly inspired this story of authoritarian overreach.

Ike Barinholtz appeared on “Kimmel” to talk about working with Haddish and more.

Another profile of him where he explains how the current political climate inspired the story. He also shared what kind of advice he got from Jordan Peele about making a race-centric comedy.

There was also another profile of Haddish and her career so far.

Night School – Marketing Recap

night school posterBased on the marketing, recapped at The Hollywood Reporter, Night School doesn’t look all that different from most of the rest of Kevin Hart’s filmography. That’s likely the point, though.

Online and Social

Nothing particularly notable happening on the movie’s official website, which just has the trailer, a sub-par story synopsis and links to its social profiles.

Media and Publicity

Hart shared a story of his long-time friendship with Haddish just as the trailer dropped, a story he told again on TV later on in the campaign. Haddish later appeared during Paramount’s CinemaCon presentation to promote the movie to exhibitors and generally charm the room. The movie was also part of the later CineEurope presentation from the studio.

There was a THR cover story on Haddish that covered the comedian’s career to date but which focused on how Girls Trip acts as a dividing line in her career, with this movie coming in the second part, part of her expansion into a cultural phenomenon and box-office draw in her own right. She kept showing up on the late night shows to talk about how frugal she is and expand on some of those stories.

Another spotlight profile of Haddish made it into Glamour and she later did a “3 Ridiculous Questions” segment with Jimmy Kimmel that didn’t address the movie directly but was part of her overall public persona. Both Haddish and Hart later appeared at the MTV VMAs.

Haddish talked about how the story made her laugh when reading it in a story covering the many films she’s appearing in this fall.

Hart co-hosted “The Tonight Show” one night last week and later chatted with Seth Meyers while Haddish appeared on “The Late Show” to banter with Stephen Colbert.

Adweek put Hart on its cover, and featured him during its “Brandweek” marketing summit event, recently to spotlight what a valuable marketing personality he is. Right after that the movie’s premiere featured Haddish leading the audience in prayer along with a few jokes.

One more big feature on how Hart came up with the idea and assembled the cast and crew to make that into reality.


You kind of have to wonder how much longer Kevin Hart can sustain this. He’s certainly staying on brand, but whether or not that works depends so much on the material. In this case the campaign winds up seeming like a greatest hits package of his various ticks and go-to personas. Your mileage may vary regarding how much that works for you.

What strikes me, though, is how people still don’t know what to do with Tiffany Haddish. I mean…why is she the straight woman in this story? It’s great that she’s getting steady work, and you can certainly see how the campaign shifted to give her more of the spotlight, but she would seem to deserve more.


Hart spoke here about how he didn’t go crazy celebrating after the movie did so well in its opening weekend.

IndieWire reviews the very successful career of producer Will Packer, including his ability to target audiences through grassroots and targeted campaigns.