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.

overall

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.

The Mountain – Marketing Recap

the mountain posterFollowing the loss of his father, Andy (Tye Sheridan) is looking for some sort of purpose and connection in the new movie The Mountain, written and directed by Rick Alverson. One day he crosses paths with Dr. Wallace Fiennes (Jeff Goldblum), a lobotomist who once new Andy’s mother years ago.

Dr. Fiennes hires Andy as a photographer to document his practice as he travels around the country performing a procedure that is on its way out as a preferred treatment for mental and psychological problems in the 1950s. That involves documenting Fiennes’ patients and learning their stories, making this an even more emotional journey for Andy than he anticipated, especially when Andy becomes involved with Susan (Hannah Gross), a young woman they encounter along the way.

The Posters

On the poster the movie is described as “A psychsurgical” odyssey,” which is a new one for me. The washed out colors used to show photos of Andy and Dr. Fiennes combined with the way those photos are repeated into the background do add a sense of it being a trippy drama.

The Trailers

As the trailer begins Andy is interviewing for a position with Dr. Fiennes, hoping to take pictures of the doctor’s work and patients as he travels around performing his procedures. What exactly those procedures are is unclear, but it’s something that changes people in some way Andy still isn’t comfortable with. The two are shown as having some form of deeper connection, but that’s also an element of the story that remains vague in what’s shown here.

Online and Social

There isn’t a whole lot of information on Kino Lorber’s page for the movie, just the basic marketing materials along with a list of locations and dates it’s opening at and on in the coming weeks.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Nothing on this front that I’ve seen.

Media and Publicity

The movie was among those slated to appear at the Venice International Film Festival, appearing on many critics’ “most anticipated” lists. A first look still from the movie was released at the same time it was announced it would be screening at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. It was picked up at the festival by Kino Lorber.

Goldblum, Alverson and Sheridan did a few Q&A appearances in New York and L.A. accompanied by screenings, but that’s about it since then.

Overall

For all the anticipation and buzz the movie had going into the most recent festival season, things have been remarkably quiet in the weeks leading up to release. Those select Q&As with the cast and crew have been it and those don’t appear to have generated any substantial press push in the build up to this week.

That’s disappointing since not only do the performances look uniformly wonderful but the story looks like one of those original takes that has the potential to be dramatic and unsettling, a far cry from how many modern movies are thrilling but comfortable. This minimal campaign isn’t going to move the needle on awareness at all and the movie as a whole is likely to go by as barely a blip that registers.

Picking Up the Spare

Goldblum appeared on “The Late Show” to keep feeding our collective appreciation for this eccentric talent. How Goldblum’s character weaves in and out of the story was covered by Alverson in this interview. 

Another interview with Goldblum, one where he talk about the story of the movie and how he got involved.