Dark Waters – Marketing Recap

A fight against entrenched powers comes to the forefront in Focus Features’ campaign.

dark waters posterThe idea that there are good people of virtue and character out there willing to put themselves and their reputations on the line to do what’s right may seem quaint these days, but those are just the kind of people society relies on. We see what happens when they are removed or diminished and it’s not pretty.

Just that sort of virtue is at the core of Dark Waters, the new movie from director Todd Haynes. Based on a true story, Mark Ruffalo stars as Robert Bilott, an attorney who works for major chemical companies. Through a series of circumstances he’s pulled out to visit the farm of a family friend, one where the owner believes pollution from nearby factories is killing his land and his livestock.

Soon Bilott finds himself taking up the cause of farmers and fighting against the very corporations he once defended. Doing so puts him in the crosshairs of very powerful people who would like not to have their bad actions – environmental and otherwise – exposed for all the world to see, thank you very much.

How Bilott and his family face those threats is central to the campaign run by Focus Features.

The Posters

Bilott is shown on the movie’s single one-sheet (by marketing agency Eclipse), released in September, looking out his car window. In the reflection we see a pair of figures approaching the car, the implication being these are dangerous people he’s looking out for. Copy at the top reading “The truth has a man inside” hints at how he will use his knowledge of how the industry works to hit them where they’re vulnerable. It’s a dark and slightly ominous image in keeping with the look and feel of the rest of the campaign.

The Trailers

September saw the release of the first trailer (4 million views on YouTube), which starts out by showing how Robert is convinced to switch sides, defending farmers suffering from the effects of chemical pollution instead of the chemical companies doing the polluting. He begins investigating the water that not only the cows in a small town but the people have been drinking, finding that DuPont has knowingly allowed it to happen for years. The company brings all of its resources to bear in the fight as Robert finds himself and his family targeted by powerful interests who would like him to be silenced.

Online and Social

Though it uses the same template Focus always does, the movie’s site is barely stocked by even today’s meager standards. The trailer, which pops up when you load the page, is also available when you scroll down along with a synopsis and a single photo. That’s it.

Advertising and Promotions

Focus Features announced a November release in August.

Ruffalo, who has gained a reputation as an activist fighting for many worthwhile causes, joined the real Bilott along with others on Capitol Hill recently to advocate for restrictions on various chemicals that are leached into the environment. While in Washington the pair also appeared at a Washington Post Q&A about the movies and the issues it raises.

Participant Media, which produced the film, held other screenings in Austin, New York and elsewhere in recent weeks.

At the premiere the whole cast and crew were in attendance, sharing more of their thoughts on the movie and the issues at the heart of the story.

Advertising efforts included spots like this that condense the story shown in the trailer down to the simple message of farms being destroyed by the willful actions of companies who believe themselves immune from accountability.

Media and Press

How Ruffalo connected with the material and how his commitment to the story and cause were covered in an interview with the actor. He and Haynes spoke about the urgency of the story and what it means to them following a Hollywood screening in late October.

Ruffalo made various talk show appearances on “Good Morning America,” CNN, “The Late Show” and elsewhere.

Haynes received a profile of his own that focused on his process and the kind of environment he creates on the set for the actors.


A few days ago there was a story quoting a Wall Street analyst who believed, after seeing the movie, it might damage the reputation and business prospects of DuPont, the major antagonist in the story, the one Bilott is fighting hardest against. But, he noted, any negative impact felt by individual investors walking away from the stock (it’s apparently not even feasible institutions would exit their investments) would be mitigated if or when a big M&A transaction is announced.

If there’s a better example of late stage capitalism around I’m not aware of it.

You see something like that in the footage from the movie of Bilott explaining to his wife that the system is rigged, that the people in power aren’t going to protect us and it’s up to us to protect ourselves.

In its quest to play up as many dramatic moments as possible – file boxes being dropped to the ground, doors being shut angrily, people confronted in ballrooms – some of the advocacy seems to get lost in the campaign, but the overall message still comes through. This is a serious film made by serious people about a serious topic that should be important to serious members of the audience. It’s the kind of mid-level drama with a great cast that used to be seen 28 times every Awards Season.

The real reason to see it, though, is to be shown the level of malfeasance on display in America’s corporate boardrooms and what impact it has on the kinds of hardworking Americans the politicians who defend those companies claim to care about. Should the movie serve as any kind of call to action, it will have done its job.

Picking Up the Spare

Ruffalo, Haynes and others were interviewed about the research they did to fully understand the real people at the heart of the story and get their motivations right.

Focus released a behind the scenes featurette with comments from the cast and crew. Another had Ruffalo sharing his first gig while one more discussed the real people portrayed in the story.

A later interview with Ruffalo focused on how he used the film as an outlet for his political nature and he spoke about playing a real individual when he appeared on “The Daily Show.”

Additional profiles of Ruffalo, Haynes and cinematographer Ed Lachman and writer Mario Correa. There was also a feature on how many of the real life people involved in the story were brought on as extras.

Wonderstruck – Marketing Recap

Director Todd Haynes brings us this week’s new release Wonderstruck. Based on the book of the same name by Brian Selznick, the story is split into two parts that share a common core.

In 1977 Ben (Oakes Fegley) has been in an accident and is now deaf, all this coming shortly after his mother Elaine died. He’s set out to New York City to find the father he never knew. Meanwhile in 1927 Rose (newcomer Millicent Simmonds), who was born deaf, has run away from the father who keeps her hidden away in shame. She’s also going to New York, in this case to find the actress Lillian Mayhew (Julianne Moore), who she idolizes. Both stories are connected in unexpected ways that appear as the story continues.

The Posters

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see” is the copy at the top of the first one-sheet. The rest of it is a photo from the inside of the natural history museum where much of the action and story seemingly take place, with a dinosaur skeleton on one side, a stuffed giraffe on the other rand a massive walk-in area filled with smaller items in the center. I know it’s bad, but I can’t help thinking this looks like a more serious-minded version of Night at the Museum.

A poster was given out at San Diego Comic-Con (with the same image made available online later on) that presents the story in coloring page form. So the main characters are seen walking down a New York City street, with animals from the museum arranged all around them.

Elements of that version were used in the theatrical poster, which had the two children walking down opposite sides of the street, showing the time period their story takes place in. Meanwhile, the animals and creatures hover in the background.

The Trailers

The teaser trailer starts off by showing us the scenes of the two children from the two eras we’re following and what sort of adventures they get up to in the museum where the story takes place. There’s some sort of connection that’s very mysterious and which is hinted at as we get various small character moments. It’s a good teaser that certainly sets up lots more to come.

We finally find out more about Ben in the first full trailer. It opens as he’s asking his mom about the father he never knew. He has an accident and can’t hear and that seems to send him down the path that winds up intersecting with Rose across the decades. Both are, in their own way, trying to solve mysteries that eventually lead them to the same museum.

There’s a great sense of childlike innocence that’s on display here. The kids never seem to be, at least not based on what’s seen here, in any real danger. It’s just about being where adults think you shouldn’t and having to make your way on your own. Looks great.

What was notable was that a captioned version of the trailer featuring an introduction by Simmonds was released at the same time, a nice touch that acknowledges the hearing impaired audience and recognition of the fact that Simmonds herself is deaf.

Online and Social

On the main page of the official website you’re greeted with full-screen video that;s pulled from the trailer. There’s a prompt to get tickets, a critic quote praising the movie and release dates all on that page.

If you open the menu in the upper left you can visit “Novel,” which has more information on the source book as well as “Videos,” which has both the trailers and a clip. That’s also where you’ll find links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles.

Back to the home page, there’s the option to switch between 1977 and 1927. Each one changes the footage that’s shown on the splash page as well as the information and photos that are available as you scroll down the page. That’s a nice way of continuing the split nature of the story to the web and set audience expectations.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

It doesn’t appear Amazon/Roadside did any TV advertising, but there was plenty online. Key art and clips were used in online ads and the trailer was used in promoted Twitter posts to drive interest and ticket sales.

Media and Publicity

The movie was one of a handful that had its premiere at this year’s Cannes International Film Festival. Just before that a first-look photo was released featuring Moore.

The first official marketing effort came just before the movie debuted at Cannes and took the form of an extended clip showing Ben and another boy chasing each other around a museum intercut with black-and-white scenes from the same museum, this time from years in the past and featuring Rose examining the exhibits. While at Cannes, Haynes and the rest of the cast spoke frequently about making the movie, the unique story structure and, Amazon’s support of cinema and filmmakers more. That screening resulted in plenty of positive buzz for the film.

Haynes also talked about how he intends this as a “Kids’ movie” and how he worked with the child actors that make up a good chunk of the film. Moore also talked about Simmonds in particular, praising her performance.

The movie’s profile was raised when it was announced as the “Centerpiece” selection of the New York Film Festival. EW shared a profile of Simmonds in its fall movie preview issue where Haynes also commented about the magnetic presence of the young actor and more.

While Moore was interviewed occasionally, including this joint piece with Simmonds where they talked about learning new languages and how that impacted filming, the majority of the press was actually done by Haynes. He talked about how he wanted to make an intelligent kids movie, not one that played to the lowest common denominator, how this fits in with his other work, what it was like to work with child actors so prominently and how critical the film’s score is to the story.


The campaign works hard to create and maintain that sense of childhood wonder we feel when we’re exploring and on our own, that magical sensation that feels the awe of being in the presence of something greater than ourselves but also the curiosity to explore it and learn more about it. Emotionally, that’s what the studios are going for and that’s reflected in the way the teaser trailer, in particular, is framed as well as how the movie is sold on the posters. We’re looking up at the world from a child’s point of view, which sometimes is too sure of itself to be more careful.

More concretely, the focus on both Simmonds as the breakout star and on Haynes shows where the studios have identified the strongest appeals to be. These tactics speak more to film fans than the general audience, who are meant to be pulled in with the emotional approach above. Film fans are going to be drawn in by the promise of a truly unique performance by a young actor and by the promise that this is another in a long line of outstanding films from the director, particularly in the wake of Carol a couple years ago.


Amidst reports that Amazon Studios was foregoing a physical home video release entirely (which…wow), I noticed there are a ton of ads for the movie plastered around IMDb, which Amazon owns. Those ads are sometimes, as in the screenshot example below, interrupting the flow of content on the site and take you directly to where you can stream it now on Amazon.


You Were Never Really Here – PICKING UP THE SPARE

A joint interview here with Joaquin Phoenix and Lynne Ramsay about the working relationship they developed and the story they were trying to tell in the movie.
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.