A Man Called Otto is the English-language feature adaptation of the Swedish novel A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. Tom Hanks stars as Otto, the neighborhood curmudgeon who rails against neighbors who don’t follow the rules while still grieving the passing of his wife Sonya. His routines are thrown for a loop when a new family moves in next door and he finds himself increasingly entangled in their lives as he helps them navigate various problems, teaches them new ways of doing things and begins to open his heart a bit.
Mariana Treviño, Fredrik Backman, Rachel Keller, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Cameron Britton and Mike Birbiglia star alongside Hanks while Marc Forster directs the film, which gets a wide theatrical release after first hitting select screens in an awards-qualifying run at the end of December.
Let’s take a look at the marketing.
announcement and casting
Hanks’ Playtone announced it was producing the film in September 2017, with the actor also attached to star. Nothing happened for a while as it seemed to linger in pre-production until Forster was announced as director in January 2022.
Sony acquired the project a month later and soon set a mid-December release date. Britton, Birbiglia and others joined the cast shortly after that.
In October Sony pushed the release date to January but still maintained the limited December schedule for awards consideration.
the marketing campaign
We quickly see what Otto’s attitude toward people is in the trailer (10m YouTube views), released in late October. He picks arguments with or verbally jousts with his neighbors for no real reason other than to express his general displeasure. When a family moves into the home next door he starts helping them do things like maneuver a trailer, learn to drive and so on, including babysitting the two young girls. All that, as well as the appearance of a stray cat he can’t get rid of, begins to melt his gruff exterior and expose the caring person within.
Otto sneers at the audience on the poster released at the same time, the condo complex where much of the story takes place in the background and the cat he grudgingly adopts in the front to make it clear there’s some feline entertainment here as well. If all that doesn’t convey the film’s attitude, it’s reinforced by the copy at the top reading “Fall in love with the grumpiest man in America.”
Rotten Tomatoes shared the second trailer in early December. It’s only about half as long as the first trailer and offers a few different looks at the movie, but mostly through alternate versions of scenes already shown.
Rita Wilson shared “Til You’re Home”, her original song with Sebastián Yatra, for the film’s soundtrack, shortly after that.
The cast and crew assembled for a screening of the film that included a Q&A. Another screening was held in Mexico City a few days later.
Rotten Tomatoes then got the first clip from the film, an extended look at the moment Otto meets his new neighbors and makes a first impression.
Additional premieres took place in the U.K., Sweden, Madrid and elsewhere throughout December.
A full TV spot came out just as the movie was entering limited release.
About the same time there was a profile of Treviño that covered her career to date, including her experience working with Hanks and more.
It’s a pleasant little campaign, but feels less like an awards season release than the kind of mid-range studio title that used to come out in April or May and easily make its budget back with the help of adult audiences looking for enjoyable dramas with big stars.
My one concern with the marketing is that it focuses too much on Otto’s unfriendly behavior and not enough on the redemption arc the character undergoes in the original novel. That’s not to say it needs to be all sweetness and light, but aren’t we all dealing with real world versions of this guy enough every day?
How Disney is selling another retelling of a classic fairy tale
Disney continues to hold on to its important intellectual property by remaking animated classics as “live action” films with this week’s Pinocchio. Robert Zemeckis directs the film, which has Benjamin Evan Ainsworth providing the voice of the wooden puppet who dreams of becoming a real boy. Frequent Zemeckis collaborator Tom Hanks stars (and actually acts on screen) as Geppetto, the kindly toymaker that brings Pinocchio into this world. Cynthia Erivo provides the voice of The Blue Fairy that grants Pinocchio’s wish while Joseph Gordon-Levitt does likewise for everyone’s favorite voice of reason, Jiminy Cricket.
Everyone knows the story, which is likely unchanged since 1940. But what makes this week’s release – which happens on Wednesday as the cornerstone of this year’s Disney+ Day – more interesting is that it’s one of two Pinocchio adaptations coming out this year, with Netflix releasing one from writer/director Guillermo del Toro in December.
So with all that in mind, let’s take a look at how it’s been sold.
announcements and casting
The project was announced with Zemeckis in the director’s chair in January of 2020, though the film had been in development with other directors for several years prior to that. Hanks, who had long been rumored for the movie when it was in various stages of development, finally made the deal official in August of that year. More, including Swinton, Blanchett and others, were announced later that month.
Disney announced in December 2020 during its investors presentation that the film would skip theaters and go straight to Disney+.
A first look at Hanks as Geppetto as well as of the “live action” version of Pinocchio was released in early March, 2022.
Things really got underway in late May with the release of the first teaser trailer (5.2m YouTube views). It starts with Geppetto’s wish for a boy of his own and shows some of the action and adventure the story contains. But while we see Jiminy Cricket and some of the other characters, Pinocchio himself is kept mostly hidden.
He’s also only shown as a silhouette on the poster that came out at the same time.
A better look is provided on the next one-sheet, which came out at the end of August. It shows Pinocchio, still just in profile, sitting in front of Geppetto while some of the other well-known supporting characters hang out in the background.
That coincided with the second trailer (9.6m YouTube views). There’s not much to say about it since it shows the look of the film pretty effectively while assuring the audience it has all the expected story beats and will contain absolutely no surprises when they watch it.
A TV spot released at the same time cuts down the trailer into a much more lighthearted message without all the scares and thrills that are shown in the longer version.
Hanks, Erivo and others from the cast talk about why they got involved in this project and what the story means to them in a featurette.
A few more TV commercials and other promos were released that highlight different aspects of the story before the first clip showing Pinocchio being rescued by Jiminy was released at the beginning of September.
Tom Hanks lists Disney movies in another short video that is supposed to be him listing his favorites.
With a few exceptions (cough…Dumbo…cough), Disney’s brand-retention content has been successful with audiences, even if some of the reviews haven’t been stellar. But they’ve done well enough that the studio already has quite a few more in the planning stages.
This one stars one of the biggest actors of the last 40 years and comes from a director responsible for some of pop culture’s most memorable films. And…that’s it. There’s been almost no press for the film, and the entire thing seems lackluster, like the studio is just counting on brand recognition alone to get people to tune in tomorrow.
More than anything, I hope the lackluster effort here is noticed by critics and commentators who are always criticizing Netflix for its lack of substantial marketing campaigns. That isn’t unique to Netflix but is a symptom of the different economics behind selling a streaming-only film compared to a theatrical release.
That being said, there’s nothing offensive or bad about the campaign. It’s just…there.
If you’re familiar with the work of director Baz Luhrmann you probably know largely what can be expected from this week’s ELVIS, new in theaters. Luhrmann directs a screenplay from himself and others telling the story of rock and roll legend Elvis Presley. Austin Butler plays Presley as the action moves from his first forays into public performance through the years of super-stardom and more. Through much of that he’s managed/coached by Col. Tom Parker (Tom Hanks, under a metric ton of prosthetics and makeup).
It’s a simple enough setup, though in the hands of a unique filmmaker like Luhrmann you can be assured there will be plenty of flashy, unconventional stylistic choices being made. The movie also stars Helen Thomson, Richard Roxburgh, Olivia DeJonge and others as the people in Presley’s life, both personal and professional.
With one of the biggest names in all of popular music history as the subject matter, the marketing should be a no-brainer, so let’s take a look at some of the decisions the studio made while selling it to the public.
announcement and casting
The movie was oddly flying under the radar until March of 2020, when production in Australia was halted after Hanks tested positive for Covid-19.
Hanks talked about the movie and his character briefly while promoting other projects last year. Harrison Jr. also briefly commented on the movie in mid-2021 while on the publicity tour for Monster.
Warner Bros. gave CineEurope attendees a look at the movie in October 2021.
Luhrmann teased a bit of footage from the film in November of that year to make sure audiences knew he was still working on it and was trying to do the subject matter justice.
the marketing campaign phase one: a rock star is born
The first trailer (17.2m YouTube views) was released in February of this year following a tease by Luhrmann. Narrated by The Colonel, it opens with a young Elvis sneaking into a tent revival where he’s overtaken by the sound of the music and the feeling it creates. Fast forward several years and Elvis is on stage, making girls go crazy with the sound of his voice and the shake of his hips. From there on out it’s a montage of clips from throughout Elvis’ career, including his ups and downs and even a few acknowledgements of where he stood in the middle of racial upheaval in that time. But it’s mostly about the flashing camera lights, the music and other spectacle.
At the same time the first poster came out, similarly setting the visual tone for the campaign with what looks like a rhinestone belt buckle as the title treatment.
In early April Warner Bros. confirmed the movie would premiere at Cannes in May. Later that month exhibitors and others got a look at the movie when it was part of the studio’s presentation at CinemaCon.
Luhrmann posted a video in mid-April talking about the music of the movie and offering a brief preview of “Vegas” by Doja Cat, with plans for the single to be released in full in early May. It was also revealed Kacy Musgraves was covering “Can’t Help Falling In Love.”
Butler, Luhrmann and others from the cast and crew were joined by Priscilla Presley at the Met Gala, everyone in their highest of fashion as the event offered a perfect venue for a movie with visuals like this. Musgraves also performed “Can’t Help…” here.
Priscilla Presley debuted an exclusive clip showing Elvis getting all the women in the audience worked up with his wiggle in early May.
A profile of Luhrmann had the director explaining why he felt moved to make this project and why it is not, and was never intended to be, a traditional biopic in structure. Butler was given a similar profile a short while later that centered on this being a star-making moment for the actor.
the marketing campaign phase two: family approval
Another positive endorsement for the movie came from Riley Keough, Elvis’ granddaughter, who not only praised the filmmaking and the story but said that watching it with her mother and grandmother had them all crying at seeing their family’s story on screen. She also said she hadn’t been interested in being part of the film since it was a little too close for her comfort.
Three new posters came out in mid-May, all of them featuring Elvis in different phases of his career, from the rockabilly sideburns to the black leather jacket to the white suit.
The second trailer (9.2m YouTube views) came out at the end of May. It opens with Elvis defying police orders to not be suggestive in his movements during a concert, of course leading to a confrontation with those officers but beginning the mythologizing of his persona. The focus here is on Elvis’ rebellious nature, which is presented as coming from a place of believing (and being told by others) that his gift is one that comes from God and that he’d be wrong to deny or hide it. Aside from that it sells the usual Luhrmann glitz and spectacle, which is the real point here.
A screening at the Cannes Film Festival cemented the positive word of mouth that had already been circulating, helped by a reported 12-minute standing ovation as the film ended. Another profile of Butler published in that period had him talking about how his body started shutting down after filming finished and how a call to Luhrmann from Denzel Washington helped him secure the role. The director also spoke about the racial elements not only of the film’s story but Elvis’ life, which he tried to put in context.
Costar Alton Mason, who plays Little Richard, was profiled about how he got into character and what it was like to work with Luhrmann.
Warner Bros. and British GQhosted a special screening of the film in London where the cast and crew participated in a Q&A.
the marketing campaign phase three: the music
Warner Bros. released a tease of Musgraves singing “Can’t Help Falling In Love With You” as the attention turned back to the music, including a performance by Diplo and Swae Lee of “Tupelo Shuffle” at the MTV Movie & TV Awards.
Butler and Luhrmann both talk about the challenges of taking on such lofty subject matter in a featurette that focused on the research and prep work they both did.
A red carpet premiere event was held in Australia in early June, a natural given Luhrmann and much of the cast hails from there. That was followed by a special screening of the film held at Graceland in mid-June with the director, stars and Presley family in attendance, another sign of the family’s endorsement of the film.
In an interview, Luhrmann revealed Harry Styles campaigned extensively for the title role but that the director was too worried Styles’ existing persona would overwhelm the character.
To help sell how Butler did his own singing in the movie Luhrmann released a video of pre-production test footage showing the actor singing and performing along with a small band.
Butler and Hanks both appeared on “GMA” to talk about the movie and Hanks received his own profile about working with Luhrmann and how things are going in his career and life in general. Butler later stopped by “The Tonight Show”.
Another special screening was held in New York City and once again was sponsored by Vogue.
The Presley family joined the cast and Luhrmann at the TCL Chinese Theater for a “Handprint and Footprint” ceremony.
One final trailer was released just today exclusively by Fandango MovieClips. It features a bit of new footage and a slightly different take on some story elements but fits largely with what has been seen so far. It also includes some of the praise from members of the Presley family to let audiences know this has been officially endorsed by them.
As of now the movie is projected to bring in around $35 million in its first weekend, which isn’t at the same level some other recent high profile releases have grossed. Maybe that’s because this isn’t a super hero sequel, even though it’s about an artist dubbed The King for much of his career and who’s been recognized as the best-selling solo musical artist of all time.
So maybe the campaign just can’t make up the difference in generating audience interest despite Warner Bros. hanging the marketing on a few key elements:
Making a star out of Butler: He’s been positioned as a breakout here, someone who lost himself in becoming Presley for the camera. There have been countless profiles and other accolades for Butler, who is the lynchpin of the effort here.
Translating the music for a new generation: Instead of trying to sell people the Elvis originals of his recordings, the focus here has been on the more current artists that are reinterpreting and livening up those classics in a way that’s apparently meant to be palatable for younger listeners. Many of those artists have also been in attendance at various premieres and other events to help hammer home how integral they are to the finished film.
The Presley Family seal of approval: The studio and filmmakers want everyone to know this isn’t a hit job or critical look at the star (thought it might be less kind to Parker) and so the praise from three generations of Presley women has been used extensively in the last half of the campaign.
On top of all that I have a few questions/issues:
First: What’s the connection with Vogue that seems to be laced throughout the campaign? The publication hosted multiple events and published multiple profiles of Butler and others in the cast. It’s so constant and pervasive there has to be some kind of deal in place, but it’s never called out or acknowledged.
Second: Look at most all of the posters, trailers and other material and you’ll see “TCB” emblazoned on them, a reference to the name given to Elvis’ backing band in the 1970s. But that band is almost entirely absent from the trailers and isn’t called out in any way in other promotions. Not only that, there’s nothing about the campaign that uses “Taking care of business” as a slogan or tagline, so it’s a weird stylistic choice here.
It’s an intriguing campaign that sells Luhrmann’s vision very well and repeatedly hits a few key points but has a hard time otherwise resonating.
How Apple has sold a drama of cataclysm and friendship.
It’s easy to draw comparisons between Cast Away and Finch, the latter debuting on Apple TV+ this week, which is why so many people have done just that. After all, both movies star Tom Hanks and have him acting opposite a non-human object in a largely solo performance.
This time it’s not an uninhabited island he’s seeking to escape but the desolated Midwest. Hanks plays Finch, an inventor who has survived the devastation caused by a massive solar flare that destroyed crops and killed nearly everyone on Earth. Along with his dog Seamus he tries to stay alive while building a robot companion (Caleb Landry Jones in a motion capture performance) he names Jeff. With a dangerous storm approaching where he lives, Finch decides the time is right, with Jeff’s help, to make a treacherous journey to where he hopes he’ll find safety and maybe other survivors.
announcement and casting
News of the movie, then called BIOS, first came in late 2017. Both Hanks and Sapochnik were already attached at that time and the project was reported to be the subject of a decent bidding war between various studios. Amblin Entertainment acquired it shortly after that and set distribution through Universal Pictures.
Jones was cast in early 2019 to provide the motion capture performance for Jeff, with others added later in the year.
With production completed in 2019, Universal originally set a release date in October 2020. In response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting theater closures and other delays various further release dates in 2021 came and went.
Finally news came in January of this year that Universal had sold the movie to Apple TV+, which gave it a new title and, in August, a new (and ultimately final) release date.
The first trailer (4.8m YouTube views) came out in September, effectively kicking ffo the actual marketing push. As it starts Finch is explaining how a sudden powerful solar flare destroyed crops and killed much of the population. He survived in part because he found a canine companion he took in. Now he’s working on a robot to help the two of them escape their shelter and find somewhere safer to live but time is running out and other threats are waiting for them on the road.
A poster showing Finch, Jeff and Seamus (the dog) looking out over the apocalyptic wasteland that surrounds and awaits them. It’s not a marvel of design by any stretch but effectively that Hanks is in a movie with a dog and a robot and that’s really the core message anyway.
Sapochnik was interviewed in October about working with Hanks, pandemic-related production shutdowns, the shift from Universal to Apple and more.
A “First Look” came out at the end of October that features Hanks explaining the movie’s story, setting and characters as well as the drama and relationships between the characters.
Hanks then appeared on “Kimmel” to talk about the movie and more, including the recent passing of friend and frequent collaborator Peter Scolari. He made a number of other media rounds as well.
A premiere event was held in Los Angeles with Hanks, Jones and others in attendance.
The first (and only) clip was released via PlayStation.
With a 70% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes it’s not doing too badly in the reviews department, with many critics specifically noting they were surprised at how heartwarming and emotional the movie was.
In part that’s because the campaign hasn’t done a great job of communicating that emotional element. A lot of time is spent on the technical aspects of Finch making Jeff and planning their escape ahead of the encroaching storm but even though Hanks can be seen emoting throughout the trailer it’s not clear what those emotions are based on or what they mean.
Still, it’s Tom Hanks, and that’s never really a bad thing.
How Universal has sold a period drama about the power of news.
Tom Hanks stars in News of the World, the latest film from writer/director Paul Greengrass. Hanks plays Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a retired soldier who now travels across America’s 19th century western frontier telling settlers and others stories from the rest of the country and the world. While in Texas, Kidd encounters Johanna (Helena Zengel), a young white girl who has been raised by a Kiowa tribe and is now being returned to her remaining family. The two encounter all the dangers the rural west has to offer as they try together to make it to their destination.
First reactions started coming out a few weeks ago, mostly positive, and the movie currently sits at a very good 86% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. Universal’s campaign for the film has been as serious and dramatic as you would imagine given both the subject matter and those behind and in front of the camera. Let’s take a look.
Capt. Kidd and Johanna both stare off into the middle distance with the cloudy frontier sky behind them on the poster (by marketing agency BOND), released in October. It’s a simple but effective image that shows off the main selling points of the film, particularly Hanks in a dramatic role. The “Find where you belong” copy is a little vague but is likely intended to communicate the journeying elements of the story.
The first full trailer (9.4 million views on YouTube) was released in late October, introducing us to Capt. Kidd as someone who visits remote towns to share news from elsewhere in the country. In that capacity he meets a young woman who has been raised by Native Americans after her white family was killed. But keeping her safe will be difficult given not only his own unfamiliarity with children but also the robbers and other bad people who were plentiful in the American West at the time.
Online and Social
You’ll find the basic marketing content on the movie’s official website, including the trailer, synopsis and more.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
The first footage from the film came in a TV spot released in early October. That footage shows Kidd and Jane setting out on their journey, including some of the dangers and problems they’ll face along the way.
A short featurette with Hanks talking about the story of the film and the arc of his character was released later that month, just after the first trailer came out. AMC Theaters had another exclusive featurette that touched on the political and social climate the movie’s story takes place in.
Short videos like this were used as pre-roll and on social media.
Media and Publicity
While it wasn’t the first press for the movie, the news that it was among the first titles to be set loose by Fox in the wake of its acquisition by Disney was noted by many. Universal was the savior who likely rescued it from oblivion, eventually setting a Christmas 2020 release date.
Vanity Fair debuted the first stills from the movie in October along with some quotes from Hanks and Greengrass.
A profile of Zengel included comments from Greengrass along with her talking about getting the role and working on set with Hanks, who appeared on “The Late Show” last week.
I want to feel like this campaign was effective, mostly because I’m intrigued by the story and a fan of all involved in making the film. But the marketing seems like it could have happened in any year – particularly during awards season – and there’s little here that offers a sense of urgency or immediacy to what’s being presented.
What I mean is that here at the end of The Year of Our Lord 2020, we’ve all been through some stuff. So the story of the film, that Capt. Kidd is hoping to make something of himself and create an informed and entertained citizenry in the wake of a divisive and deadly conflict is more than a little timely. Hitting that element of the story could have made a stronger impact instead of seeming like a potential awards contender from any year.
That’s not to say it’s a bad marketing push, just that it could have been recalibrated to be a bit more relevant to the moment it’s being released in.
Picking Up The Spare
Greengrass was interviewed about working with Hanks again and more here.
More clips like this continued to come out post-release.
How Apple is selling the latest WWII film starring Tom Hanks
As is the case with many recent films, we should have marked the theatrical release of Greyhound a while ago. As it stands, though, the movie is coming to VOD this week via Apple TV+.
Based on “The Good Shepherd” by C S Forester, Tom Hanks stars as Captain Krause, a relatively inexperienced naval commander who is assigned to an Allied convoy crossing the Atlantic in the early days of World War II. Krause, still unsure in his post, faces a number of challenges, from the elements to the crew to the phalanx of Nazi submarines that stalk the convoy. Determined to keep his crew alive, Krause has to dig deep to balance all the problems in need of solving.
The campaign – first from Sony and then Apple – focuses on Hanks and his role as Krause, a no-nonsense commander in a no-nonsense situation. Reviews have been somewhat mixed so far, with the movie scoring 76 percent “Fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes at the moment.
In March the first poster (by marketing agency Works Adv) came out, showing Krause looking to the side with a colorful sunset – as well as a billowing American flag – behind him. Flying through the sky are warplanes to help establish the military setting. Copy at the top reads “The only thing more dangerous than the front lines was getting there,” hinting at how it’s a story of troop transportation logistics we’re in for.
That same text, and the same photo of Krause, is used on the second poster (by marketing agency Art Machine), also from March. But this time the conflict of the story is made a bit more explicit with the inclusion of images from a naval battle between submarines and destroyers. This fixes a key shortcoming of the first poster.
The same design was used on a new poster from June that ditches the copy but adds the Apple TV+ logo to signal the platform the movie will wind up being available on.
Krause is commanding a ship across the dangerous waters of the North Atlantic in 1942 as the trailer (12.5 million views on YouTube), released in March, opens. As part of a convoy of Allied ships, that means dodging U-boats and coming to the rescue of other ships. This is his first trip, but the choices he makes keep him and his crew alive from one moment to the next, even as others in the flotilla aren’t as lucky. It’s a tense story of survival being sold here, all told in colors that are just as saturated as the emotions are heightened.
Online and Social
Apple didn’t manage any sort of website for the movie, just a product page that has some rudimentary information and plenty of information on how to try the streaming service. It looks like a Twitter account was setup, but likely just to post the trailer so it could be used as an ad on that network.
Advertising and Promotions
Almost as soon as the marketing campaign kicked off in March the studio announced the release date was being pushed back by a month, but the reasons for doing so were unclear. In May news broke that Sony had offloaded the movie to Apple TV+ with no theatrical release potential in sight because of the Covid-19 situation. Finally in mid-June an early-July Apple TV+ debut date was announced.
At the same time, ads on YouTube and elsewhere promoted its upcoming Apple TV+ availability, using elements of the key art along with the trailer.
Apple released a featurette just a few days ago that had Hanks and others talking about the film’s story, the history behind it and more.
Media and Press
An interview with director Aaron Schneider allowed him to talk about how he approached making the film, especially working with Hanks, who also wrote the screenplay.
It’s strange to see the release imminent and for there to have been so little press involvement from Hanks, who was reportedly extremely disappointed when the film shifted from theatrical to VOD release. He’s usually been the biggest resource his film’s campaigns can rely on, and while he’s been out talking about Covid-19 testing and mask wearing, he doesn’t seem to have talked much about this film.
Despite that, this is a decent campaign for what looks like a Very Serious Movie. But it remains puzzling why it was ever slated for a summer release when it seems more like an October or November title with its subject matter, tone and visual style. I’m not sure who the summer audience for this would have been, especially if things had gone as planned and Tenet had been sucking up all the Serious Summer Movie air from the room.
Also missing is any mention of the source book or context for the period that would help audiences get their heads around it. So while it’s good, there’s definite areas where it falls short in capturing people’s attention.
Picking Up The Spare
Hanks and Schneider were interviewed here about their goal of authenticity in how the characters and situations were depicted on screen. Similar ground was also covered in an interview with costume designer Julie Weiss.
Another featurette with Hanks and others offered additional looks at the filming of the movie. Similar ground was covered when Hanks stopped by “The Late Show.”
There was a bit of coverage as awards season started on the behind-the-scenes details of making the film.
One of America’s most beloved figures plays another of America’s most beloved figures.
A couple years ago there was a cluster of documentaries about Fred Rogers and the magical show he helped create. Chief among them was Won’t You Be My Neighbor, which chronicled the beginnings of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” and showed how Rogers worked hard to keep civility, respect and empathy at the core of everything he did and everything he shared.
This week’s new release A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood takes a dramatic approach to telling Rogers’ story. Not a standard beat-by-beat biopic, the movie is based on 1998 Esquire profile of the man by reporter Tom Junod and focuses on the short period of time Junod spent with Rogers researching that article.
Rogers is played by Tom Hanks, fulfilling the head canon most everyone has had since about 1995 in terms of matching an actor to a role. Playing Junod is Matthew Rhys. Sony’s campaign for the movie has, as we’ll see, used Hanks’ widespread adoration as a major selling point while also making clear the Rogers everyone saw on TV for decades was the same one that existed when the cameras were off.
If you’re not already crying at the “We could all use a little kindness” copy that sits atop the first poster (by marketing agency BOND) released in September I’m not sure we can continue to have this conversation. Rogers is decked out in his sneakers and red cardigan, seated on the steps outside his television house and looking every bit the compassionate friend so many of us remember. It’s a simple poster to convey a simple message, right down to the unobtrusive type used for the title treatment.
The second effort (by marketing agency Gravillis Inc.) from October is a little less successful, putting Rogers on a stool against a bright orange background. Descriptions of his character including “Neighbor. Icon. Friend.” are shown at the top. This time around the copy reads “An American icon and the story of kindness we need right now,” which is a little heavy-handed.
Thankfully things get back on track on the third poster (by BOND), released just last week. This time Rogers is shown on his living room set having a conversation with Junod, who looks slightly embarrassed at the situation he finds himself in. Instead of a tagline this one features a handful of positive pull quotes from enthusiastic early reviews.
What the first trailer (12.2 million views on YouTube), released in late July, does most well are two things: 1) We get a good look at Hanks as Rogers and see he gives the performance all the charm we’ve come to expect from the actor without ever breaking out of the guardrails provided by the real man, and 2) Explain the framing device of the story, that we’re seeing Rogers through Vogel’s eyes and experiences, many of which are mirrored in members of the audience. Reactions to the trailer were almost uniformly of the “Give me a minute while I stop ugly-crying” variety.
Online and Social
For all the care and attention given to reinforcing and protecting Rogers’ legacy and reputation in the rest of the campaign, the movie’s official website is a real head scratcher.
Not only is there no biographical information on the subjects of the film – not even a link to Junod’s original profile – but there’s a “Photo Feature” that allows visitors to:
Upload a picture of themselves and add it to the publicity still of Hanks as Rogers sitting on the front steps, or
Upload a picture of their own and have the movie’s title treatment along with their location added to it.
This is just the kind of feature that has been used for a lot of bad, off-brand purposes when other companies have used it. While similar tools have been available on the sites for other movies, it seems like the potential for abuse that would sully the name of Rogers and his mission would be too high a risk.
Other than that, the site simply sports the usual marketing material. But that one section is going to bother me for quite a while.
Advertising and Publicity
The first trailer was released just before the news broke that the movie had been added to the lineup of the 2019 Toronto Film Festival. Hanks, ever the charmer, led a group sing-along of Rogers’ best known song while working the crowd there. Reviews were massively positive, calling Hanks’ performance one of the best of his career. Sony released a sizzle reel of the premiere activity in Toronto.
Later on it was added to the list of films screening at the London Film Festival.
News came in September that Hanks would receive the Cecil B. DeMille Award at this year’s Golden Globes.
A short featurette was released in October with Hanks, Heller and others talking about what made Fred Rogers so special. Another one released in early November has them sharing the care and attention paid to making Hanks believable as Rogers. That the movie is a tribute to Rogers was covered in a third video that features an interview with his widow.
Heller introduced the film and answered questions about it at a screening last week hosted by The Hollywood Reporter.
Another featurette was focused on the article that inspired the movie and included an interview with Junod.
Just recently Sony held the film’s premiere in New York City and released a short sizzle video of footage from the event. On the other coast, a group of artists created a movie-inspired mural in Venice, CA.
TV spots like this were short and focused on the humble nature of Rogers message, even as they included overly dramatic music. Online ads used the key art and video snippets pulled from the trailer.
Promotional partners included:
Vineyard Vines, which touted its position as the “official style” of the film and offered a collection of movie-inspired ties.
Funko, which released a new POP figure of Hanks as Rogers.
Beekman 1802, which is unveiling a new movie-inspired gift set of beauty items on QVC next week.
Additionally, both Random House and Penguin Books are releasing movie tie-in books.
Media and Press
The first look photo released by Sony last September showed Hanks sporting the iconic red sweater in a behind-the-scenes shot. Shortly before the new year the movie was finally given a proper title. An actual production still was released in mid-February and another a month later.
Around the time the first trailer was released Heller was interviewed about how she worked with Hanks to tone down his natural boisterousness in favor of the more subdued stillness that was Rogers’ hallmark style as well as how the production team recreated the sets and other trappings of the show.
Another interview with Heller that happened while she and Hanks were in Toronto allowed her to explain some of the choices she made with the story and how she landed Hanks for the lead role. At the same time, Hanks spoke about how he came to appreciate Rogers’ worldview and approach to educating and communicating with children as well as how he finally got involved with the project. Heller also sought to set expectations that this wasn’t a traditional biopic but a very specific story being told.
The director talked about how hard she worked to get Hanks involved in a profile that also emphasized her notable career prior to taking on this project. Rhys was also profiled, talking about how he got familiar with Rogers’ work after being cast as well as working the Hanks.
How the production team faithfully recreated the “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” set was covered in a feature that talked about the research everyone involved did.
A feature profile of Hanks encapsulated a lot of the press focus, from how “nice guy” Hanks was playing the leading figure for compassion, respect and understanding in the world and how the filmmakers strove to not have the actor’s personality encroach on the subject of their story.
The dynamic between Hanks and Rhys was covered in a joint interview.
He’d mentioned it before, but Rhys talked about how he was wholly unfamiliar with Rogers when he appeared on “The Late Show.” Hanks also made the rounds, including on “Today.”
Just as confounding as the photo feature on the website was the decision to offer an exclusive behind the scenes look at the movie to a website with a reputation for sexism, racism, bullying and blatantly offensive and hurtful behavior both editorially and professionally.
The studio had news anchors on various national and local broadcasts wear red sweaters in celebration of #WorldKindnessDay.
This should be a beautiful campaign.
For the most part it is. Positive word of mouth from early screenings have given it a 97 percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, indicative of the care and grace with which the filmmakers have handled the material. The press has hit exactly the right notes in interviewing both Hanks and Rhys, reinforcing the themes of the marketing (sometimes too heavily) while also being respectful to the legacy Rogers left behind.
A few missteps, though, bring the campaign down dramatically. Particularly that placement of a feature on the making of a movie at a site whose founder publicly threatened to fire any employee who tried to start a union. That’s the kind of off-brand mistake that can really come back to bite you.
Putting that aside, the movie is presented here as a gentle, inspiring feel good time at the theater, one that will cause you to ugly cry but leave feeling reinvigorated and hopeful. If that message can motivate enough people to skip Frozen 2, it may have a shot this weekend.
Disney’s official website for the movie is pretty disappointing, as it usually is. Visitors will find the trailers and other videos along with a small gallery of stills and some character descriptions, but the most material there is the long list of promotional partners. There were social profiles as well, including one from Ducky and Bunny that was only sporadically used and never seems to have lived up to its potential.
Media and Publicity
EW debuted exclusive looks at four new characters in the movie, offering some background on who they were and what they might contribute to the story. That included interviews with Keanu Reeves, Christina Hendricks and Ally Maki as well as details on how Don Rickles’ voice would still be used for Mr. Potato Head.
A feature on the return of Bo Peep explained why she wasn’t in the third movie and what other new characters audiences could expect. That topic also came up in an interview with director Josh Cooley where he talked about creating an emotional journey for Woody to go on that would be consistent with the previous movies. Potts also spoke about returning to the series after unexpectedly taking the third movie off.
As is common with Pixar releases, features like this focused on how the design and tech teams expanded their toolset to create even more detail in the movie.
Director Josh Cooley was interviewed about taking on the challenge of helming such a high-profile and high-stakes release, with the filmmaker talking about his personal connections to the franchise as well.
The Vietnam War still looms large in the collective American psyche, an instance where the cause being fought for was more muddled than usual. So too, the tendency of powerful figures to use whatever tools available to silence dissent and maintain their secrets is as old as time. Both of those realities came together in 1971 when former military analyst Daniel Ellsberg leaked what came to be known as “The Pentagon Papers” to The New York Times in 1971. While the Times published a number of stories on the documents, which contained a classified analysis of the Vietnam War, it wasn’t until later that year when The Washington Post picked up the story that things really heated up.
The Post, the new movie from director Steven Spielberg tells that part of the story. Meryl Streep plays Katherine “Kay” Graham, publisher of the Post from 1969 to 1979. When she’s informed by editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) that he intends to publish reports based on The Pentagon Papers it sets off a whirlwind of corporate and legal action. The Nixon administration moves to stifle that reporting, just as it did for the Times, citing national security concerns. Graham and Bradlee, then, must weigh the threat of being arrested for treason against their duty to inform the public of the real reason behind the Vietnam War.