fast x – marketing recap

How Universal Pictures has sold the latest in a massively-ridiculous franchise

Fast X movie poster from Universal Pictures
Fast X movie poster from Universal Pictures

Before we begin recapping the marketing campaign for this week’s big new theatrical release it once more needs to be stipulated that, with the exception of Hobbs & Shaw, I’ve not seen any of the Fast and/or Furious films. A scene here and there has crossed my radar but that’s about it. And I’m doing just fine.

With that out of the way, we’re here to look at the campaign for Fast X, the latest film in the series that’s now been going on for 22 years, five more than the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Once more the story that began with a bunch of street racers sidelining as thieves hawking stolen DVD plays grows more outrageous, this time with those drivers getting involved in international espionage after being blamed for an explosion at the Vatican. Of course the theme of the story is about family and what it means to be in one, whether because of blood or friendship.

Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, John Cena and others from the earlier movies return along with newcomers Brie Larson, Scott Eastwood and Jason Momoa, the latter playing the film’s villain who bears a personal grudge against Diesel’s Dom.

Dan Mazeau and Justin Lin wrote the screenplay and Louis Leterrier directed, so let’s fire up the nitrous and take a look at how it’s been sold.

announcement and casting

Everyone knew the movie was happening – Lin and others even commented on it during the F9 marketing and publicity – but it wasn’t until August 2021 when Universal officially gave it a release date.

In mid-April Universal announced the beginning of production on the film and revealed the official title, one that was met with lots of gags about the treatment’s similarity to both the X-Men movies and to things like Jason X as well as the franchise’s inability to stick with a cohesive numbering scheme.

Larson joined the cast in early April and Momoa later that month.

Those additions were followed by a subtraction as Lin exited the film in late April, reportedly over creative conflicts with Diesel. Leterrier was named the new director a week or so later, picking up a production that was already halfway complete.

The casting of both Eastwood and Moreno came in May 2022. A month later it was among the movies Universal talked up to attendees of CineEurope. Perry joined the film in January.

Rodriguez talked about the impact Leterrier had when he joined the production and Momoa commented on joining the series while he was promoting “See” last year.

the marketing campaign: first gear

At the end of this past January a poster dropped promising audiences “The end of the road begins” while showing Dom clutching a rosary. That copy indicates this installment is *almost* the last in the series but that we’re only really at the start of the last chapter.

That was followed by a series of videos with highlights from the first nine movies, all meant to show how the story has been building to this point and how it really is all about family.

The ensemble cast of the film was shown off in a video where they all get out of a race car and look very serious.

The trailer (38m YouTube plays) was finally released, but in usual franchise fashion it wasn’t just dropped willy-nilly online but introduced at a massive event in Los Angeles in early February. In the trailer itself we see that Reyes (Momoa) is coming after Dom and his crew because he wronged him years ago and is seeking revenge. Other highlights include:

  • Dom smashing two helicopters behind him after he launches his car out of a transport plane
  • Jakob (Cena) firing missiles out of two launchers crudely attached to the sides of his car
  • Reyes not being able to look at anyone unless his head is tilted down so he has to look out the tops of his eyes
  • Flashback footage from earlier films with the late Paul Walker’s Brian O’Conner working with Dom

There were lots of interviews and such from that trailer event, including Leterrier talking about the harried circumstances under which he joined the film halfway through.

A commercial that aired during the Super Bowl broadcast shortly after that cut the trailer down to its most essential elements. Right around the same time Diesel appeared at the NBA All Star Draft to open the event and hype up the movie.

The theatrical poster released in mid-March puts Dom at the center of a collage of all the characters, cars and locations, all of which is framed within a big “X”.

There was a very short featurette that has Diesel and everyone else talking about coming together once again and how it’s really all about family.

TV spots began airing in earnest (the only time that word can be used when discussing these movies) in early April, continuing to pull out some of the biggest sequences to highlight while also offering time for Dom to brood and sound solemn. There was one specifically for the NBA Playoffs featuring Bronny James, a good chance to once more stress the importance of family.

Another featurette has everyone involved talking about how this one ups the ante on all fronts even more than the previous installments and how great it was to have some of the new faces around.

The studio sponsored livestreams of performances from Coachella in mid-April.

the marketing campaign: second gear

With a month to go before the movie came out, a couple rounds of character posters had each of the major players staring out over the top of a steering wheel.

The second trailer (28m YouTube plays) features a bit more story than the first, opening with Reyes framing them for a massive bomb that rolls through Vatican City before going off. Dom then has to assemble lots of his current and former compatriots to help save his son who’s been kidnapped and clear their name.

Momoa and others give the audience some background on who Dante Reyes is, as well as why Momoa wanted to join the franchise, in a featurette.

Universal showed off the movie during its CinemaCon presentation at the end of April, with Diesel and others from the cast appearing on stage to talk about their love not only for this series but also the theaters it will be shown in.

We get a recap of the relationship between Dom and Letty as yet another setup for the stakes of this movie’s story.

Additional featurettes cover the father/son dynamic between Dom and his son “Little B”, shooting those key sequences in Rome, more about filming in Rome, the additions of Cena and Larson, the process of filming the fistfight between Letty and Cipher (Charlize Theron) and how the “ball bomb rolls through Rome” footage was mapped out and shot.

More sports-related promotions came in early May as Diesel and Rodriguez made an appearance at a Formula 1 race in Miami and those watching the Kentucky Derby on NBC or Peacock got a look at exclusive footage from the film.

An extended “final” trailer (7m YouTube plays) came out just earlier this week, pretty much compiling lots of the footage we’ve previously seen in trailers, TV spots, clips and other media.

Everyone turned out for the premiere, held appropriately in Rome. That kicked off the international media tour with additional stops in Mexico, New Zealand and elsewhere before concluding in L.A., where Ludacris was joined by some of his costars at his Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremony.

At the Rome event Diesel hinted that this was just the first in a two-part story to be concluded in the 11th film in a couple years, though the director and studio have been more vague about those plans.

There were also a bevy of stories about the whirlwind process of Leterrier coming on as director, something that apparently went from “inquiry” to “he’s landing and on his way to the set” in a matter of hours. He was also interviewed about securing some of the cameos seen in the film and more.


The $60 million projected for the movie’s domestic opening weekend is overshadowed by the $280 million it’s expected to bring in globally, showing that this campaign hasn’t changed many minds or done much to attract new interest here in the U.S. but it has successfully triggered awareness overseas, and that’s what really matters.

From the moment it kicked off, the marketing has been all

And there’s plenty here about the cars and how the focus is still on characters wanting to

But really, isn’t it all about

renfield – marketing recap

How Universal Pictures has sold a movie about one of culture’s most famous lackeys

Renfield movie poster from Universal Pictures with Nicolas Cage and Timothy Hoult
Renfield movie poster from Universal Pictures

Renfield, out in theaters this weekend from Universal Pictures, stars Nicolas Cage as Dracula and Timothy Hoult as Renfield, Dracula’s long-serving and long-suffering servant and whipping boy. Set in present day New Orleans, the story focuses on Renfield’s attempts to break free of the Dracula’s thrall because he’s fallen in love with Rebecca Quincy (Awkwafina), a local human police officer. But the century-spanning relationship between master and servant is complicated and cutting ties isn’t so easy.

Ben Schwartz, Shohreh Aghdashloo and others costar as the people who get sucked into the drama.

The movie is directed by Chris McKay and written by Ryan Ridley, with a story by Robert Kirkman, so let’s take a look at how it’s been sold.

announcement and casting

The project, with McKay as director and Cage as Dracula, was announced by Universal in April 2021.

Hoult’s casting in the role of Renfield came a few months later, in August, with Schwartz, Awkwafina and Adrian Martinez joining over the next couple months.

Cage commented on the experience of playing Dracula a few times over the course of later 2021 and early 2022.

A release date was set in March 2022, with Universal marking the end of production a month or so later.

There was one more interview with Cage where he called this a “pop-art Dracula” story.

the marketing campaign

With the beginning of 2023 came the launch of the marketing campaign. That included a poster showing Dracula – here made to look very similar to Max Schreck as Count Orlok in Nosferatu – hovering over a skittish-looking Renfield. It pretty effectively communicates the dynamic between the two in a simple manner.

The trailer (45m YouTube plays) released at the same time opens with Renfield bursting into a support group and declaring he needs help getting out of a toxic relationship. As he struggles with what he’s asked to do for his master he saves Quincy from a group of armed robbers at a local restaurant. Eventually the support group Renfield has found discovers he’s not exaggerating the hold his boss has over him or how much power he has. It’s all very funny while bringing in plenty of straight horror elements.

Both Hoult and Cage appeared on exclusive Empire Magazine covers in February, with a story about the movie and what audiences could expect in the issue.

The final trailer (18m YouTube plays) hit at the end of March, flashing back to Renfield’s first day as Dracula’s assistant. We get a lot of the same moments seen in the first trailer, but this time there’s more of Renfield’s attempts to push back on Dracula’s constant dark needs, as well as Dracula’s unwillingness to let him go so easily.

A short featurette has Cage, Hoult, Awkwafina and others talking about the insanity of the story as well as the action and horror aspects of the film.

The Overlook Film Festival at the end of March served as the movie’s world premiere, with the stars and others in attendance.

Hoult appeared on “The Tonight Show,” “GMA” and other shows to talk about the movie and what it was like to make a horror comedy with Cage.

One of the TV spots from earlier this month begins with Cage and Hoult in character recreating the meeting of Dracula and Renfield from the Boris Karloff-starring movie before segueing into footage from this movie.

a professional presence

One aspect of the marketing needs to be broken out for special consideration.

Universal’s marketing team decided to go all-in on the idea of Renfield being a lowly assistant in the present day and so created a Tumblr blog for him where he complains about how demanding his boss is. They also mocked up a LinkedIn profile where he’s marked himself as being open to new opportunities, set up a Hotmail address where he is out of office on an errand for his master and even used Twitter’s “pinned conversations” feature as a way to interview applicants looking to be hired by Dracula. Finally an AR lens for Meta’s suite of networks added Dracula to the background of your camera in the same way he appears on the poster.

These are all very fun and certainly extend the joke of Renfield hoping to be on his way out from under Dracula’s thumb.

For the most part they all work, but the Tumblr blog may be a step too far as it runs afoul of my feeling that character profiles are extremely hard to pull off and often tripped up by the need to advertise the movie directly instead of consistently staying in-world. It’s a solid effort, it just can’t avoid the usual pitfalls that break the illusion.


A few minor quibbles like those directly above aside, this is a fun campaign that may have no chance whatsoever of reaching a theatrical audience. Not that there won’t be people who are interested in it, it’s just going up a combination of two big factors:

  • It’s in the fuzzy middle between genres that tends to fall through the cracks. At times it appears to be a straight comedy, at others it’s very much a horror picture. But the lack of clarity as to which category it really belongs in could mean some who are on the fence opt out because of uncertainty.
  • It’s opening against the unexpectedly powerful Super Mario Bros., which will likely continue to dominate the box office, with Renfield projected to eke out just about $10 million.

Still, if you’re into movies that take big swings and play around with established concepts (I am among those), this should appeal to you.

picking up the spare

How production designer transformed an abandoned hospital into one of the film’s key locations was covered here. There was also a feature on costume designer Lisa Lovaas and more comments from McKay on the story’s themes and messages.

cocaine bear – marketing recap

How Universal Pictures has sold a for realzies true story

As hard as it may be to believe, the new movie Cocaine Bear is based on a true story. Even harder to believe is the cocaine-powered bear of the title *isn’t Larry Kudlow.

Directed by Elizabeth Banks and written by Jimmy Warden, the movie’s premise is this: A duffel bag full of cocaine falls out of a plane as it’s being transported by criminals and lands in a national park where it’s ingested by a massive grizzly bear, which then proceeds to act exactly as you would expect a coked-out bear to.

Keri Russell stars as Sari, one of the local residents that gets involved in efforts to wrangle the bear after it takes its disco nap. O’Shea Jackson Jr., Ray Liotta, Brooklyn Prince, Alden Ehrenreich and others play those who encounter the bear or are searching for it, whether they’re locals just trying to survive or criminals trying to get their drugs back.

The real story the movie is inspired by is much less dramatic, but that doesn’t make for good cinema so let’s take a look at the marketing campaign Universal Pictures put together.

announcements and casting

The movie was announced in March, 2021, with Banks as director. Russell, Ehrenreich and others were added to the cast in June.

A release date was revealed in May of last year.

Unfortunately just a short while later Liotta passed away, though it was clarified he had finished filming his scenes already.

the marketing campaign

Universal kicked off the campaign in late November with the release of the first trailer (16 million YouTube plays). It is…insane…but shows the basic premise and major characters pretty well. Basically, a bear eats an entire package of cocaine and everyone is just trying to not die while a bunch of criminals are trying to recover said cocaine and also not die. It plays as very over-the-top, which is the only choice you can make with material like this.

The poster accompanying the trailer shows the bear of the title dancing around in a shower of cocaine, communicating to the audience exactly what the movie is about. A motion poster that came out a month later illustrates this point even more clearly.

Banks talked about how the story is really about the dynamics between the characters and that there’s a lot of empathy for the poor bear that didn’t know what it was getting into in an interview from December.

In late January TV advertising began with a commercial that takes the opposite approach of the trailer and juxtaposes that insane footage with a very serious score and pacing, making it seem like an awards-contender type of release, not a ridiculous commercial film about bears, drugs and death.

Rotten Tomatoes shared an exclusive featurette that had Banks and much of the cast talking about how nuts the movie was and how in tone it’s a comedy wrapped instead a horror movie.

Banks was the subject of a Variety cover story in early February that focused on how she went about preparing to tell a story like this as well as how this was her first directorial effort after her version of Charlie’s Angels didn’t connect with audiences. She then promoted the film when she appeared on “The Tonight Show” to tell lots of crazy stories.

What it was like to reunite with producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller as well as working with Liotta were both covered along with other topics in an interview with Ehrenreich.

A Snapchat lens was released that added Cocaine Bear to the background of your photos or videos.

Most everyone turned out for the premiere red carpet where they talked about hitting the right tone with the film, how wonderful Banks is as a director and more.

Warden was also interviewed about the process of taking the true story and turning it into something even more outrageous, including what liberties he took with the real events.


The movie is projected to open with about $15 million this weekend, which is a testament to how good the campaign is that it might be able to reach beyond the niche appeal film’s like this often have.

But really, inspired by Banks’ comments she would be open to making a movie about a coked-out shark, we need to think about the future and speculate about what other drug/animal stories might be coming soon:

  • Heroin Hedgehog
  • Oxycontin Ostrich
  • Marijuiana Manatee
  • Ecstasy Elephant

What else you got?

knock at the cabin – marketing recap

How Universal has sold the latest big mystery feature

Knock At The Cabin poster from Universal Pictures
Knock At The Cabin poster from Universal Pictures

After a few years of missteps, writer/director M. Night Shyamalan seemed to be getting his fastball back with the success of Split, Glass and Old, all of which combined to help revitalize his reputation as an engaging and entertaining filmmaker. Now he hopes to continue that streak with the release of Knock At The Cabin, an adaptation of the novel The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay,

Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge star as Eric and Andrew, a couple staying at a remote cabin with their adopted daughter Wen (Kristen Cui). What starts out as a nice family vacation takes a turn when four strangers accost them, claiming they have been drawn together by visions of coming disasters heralding the end of the world. The only way to stave off the apocalypse, they claim, is for the family to sacrifice one of their own. Tensions mount as the family refuses, even as reports of natural and other disasters begin to come in. Dave Bautista, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Rupert Grint and Abby Quinn play the four predictors of doom.

With all that in mind and with the fact Shyamalan is known for pulling the rug out from under the audience, let’s take a look at how Universal Pictures has sold the movie.

announcement and casting

While everyone knew the movie was happening in advance of this it finally got an official name in October 2021.

Bautista was cast in December of that year, with the rest of the cast added over the next few months.

the marketing campaign

The campaign got started in late September of last year with the release of the first trailer (23.3m YouTube views). Everything looks nice and peaceful as the family starts their vacation until Bautista’s Leonard approaches Wen and the cabin followed by the three others. After they break into the cabin, Leonard explains the shared mission the four of them are on and what the stakes are should Andrew and Eric fail to do what the visitors deem necessary. That’s as far as this spot goes as it’s meant to introduce the story, not share much beyond the premise.

Wen sits in the grass on the poster released at the same time, reaching out to figures we only see in shadow. The copy reading “Save your family or save humanity. Make the choice.” explains more of the story than the trailer does, though it’s a bit clunky in doing so.

A shorter version of that trailer that skips some of the setup and cuts straight to the home invasion came out at the end of November followed by a second poster that this time shows the four visitors, all carrying some kind of heavy weapon, approaching the cabin.

The second trailer (34m YouTube views) was released on Christmas Day. This time there’s a bit more explanation after Leonard and the others break in as to what the family is being asked to do, something that apparently others have done throughout history to avert previous cataclysms. Their skepticism is met with news reports of tsunamis and other incidents around the world, increasing the stakes as they attempt to find a way out of the situation but also guided by visions of their own.

This time the poster accompanying that trailer is a bit more artistic, with four figures shown standing around a small version of the cabin, their size compared to the building lending them a bit more menace. There’s no copy on this one, just the promise it’s coming to theaters.

In early January Shyamalan made an appearance at CES in Las Vegas. In partnership with Canon, he supervised the creation of an immersive VR experience allowing participants to view an action sequence from the movie from the perspective of four different characters.

The gist of the story was shared in TV spots that began airing shortly after that as tickets went on sale.

Another poster used a similar motif as the previous one-sheet, this time showing a massive hand reaching down for the cabin, its fingers separated by the shape of the four intruders.

Bautista opens a featurette released later in January, explaining the premise as Shyamalan talks about what drew him to the story and how he set out trying to make it and mold the characters.

Most of the additional TV commercials just used variations on the trailers, often using the same footage. But one spot, likely intended for broadcast during a basketball game, has Shyamalan playing chess with NBA star James Harden in a cabin until they’re visited by an unexpected guest of their own.

One more featurette has Bautista explaining how this was the most challenging film role he’s taken on to date before the director sings his praises as an actor.

A profile of Shyamalan focuses on this film but also goes into the ups and downs he’s had over the course of his directing career.

The cast and crew assembled in New York for the red carpet premiere last weekend. While there everyone sang the praises of the director and Bautista while being careful to not spill too many details of the story.

Many of the interviews with Bautista only gave cursory attention to this movie and instead focused on his role in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, which are coming to an end in the near future. But Aldridge got a profile of his own where he talked about his own history with coming out and what it’s been like for him since then.


If tracking predictions turn out to be accurate and the movie enjoys an opening weekend box office take of around $20 million it would be pretty good, though the negative reviews could push that lower.

As for the campaign itself, it’s fine and certainly accomplishes the goal of telling the audience there’s a new M. Night Shyamalan movie hitting theaters. But it goes too far in an effort to not spoil whatever story twists there are and winds up not establishing enough of a foundation for anyone – at least in my opinion – to even care about the premise. It’s a trap a lot of superhero movies fall into for the same reason and has me lukewarm on the campaign for this movie as well.

the fabelmans – marketing recap

How Universal Pictures has sold a nostalgic look back

The Fabelmans movie poster from Universal Pictures
The Fabelmans movie poster from Universal Pictures

Steven Spielberg directs – after cowriting with Tony Kushner – this week’s The Fabelmans, in wide theatrical release now after a few weeks playing in New York and Los Angeles. A semi-autobiographical look at the director’s own childhood, the movie stars Gabriel LaBelle as teenage Sammy Fabelman, the Spielberg proxy who uses his love of making movies as a way to process and deal with the tension in the marriage of his parents, played by Michelle Williams and Paul Dano. As the two influence Sammy in different ways he also comes into his own as he realizes what he can do with a movie camera.

Also playing roles in Sammy’s life are members of his extended family, especially uncle Bennie (Seth Rogen) and great-uncle Boris (Judd Hirsch).

With so much talent up and down the roster, including longtime Spielberg collaborator John Williams once again providing the music, it’s time to look at how it’s been sold to the general public.

announcements and casting

The movie was announced in early 2021, though Spielberg and Kushner had been working on the project throughout the previous two years.

Williams and then Rogen were included in the cast at that time. Dano joined a couple months after that followed by LaBelle. Others in the supporting cast, including Hirsch, were added over the next few months leading up to the beginning of filming in mid-2021.

Dano talked about the imposing nature of playing a real-life person and working with Spielberg in an interview earlier this year as part of The Batman’s publicity cycle. Similarly while she was promoting Showing Up Williams admitted to having her mind blown when the director said he wanted to work with her.

the marketing campaign

In a move that makes some sense given the talent and subject matter the first marketing beats of the film’s campaign involved announcements the world premiere would take place at September’s Toronto Film Festival and then that it would be the closing feature of November’s AFI Fest.

Things really got going in September, just before TIFF, with the release of the first poster. It immediately establishes the premise of the film by showing a young boy walking down a row of soundstages as filmstrip images of the boy’s family and life are projected on the building in front of him. It hits a warm, nostalgic tone that lets the audience know what they’re in for.

The first trailer (3m YouTube views) came out as well. As soon as young Sammy is given a film camera by his mother he begins making his own movies. From there on out it’s a mix of being told to follow his artistic heart and being told to stop fooling around and get serious about his life, all filtered through Sammy’s experience with his parents, including his mother’s frustrated dreams.

At TIFF the stars joined Spielberg and Kushner to share their thoughts on making the movie and more. They all turned out for the premiere as well. Spielberg also talked more about how the pandemic and his parents getting older made him realize if he was ever going to make this film, which he’d been considering for 20 years, it was going to have to be soon. The movie went on to win the People’s Choice Award at TIFF as well as accumulate plenty of positive reviews from those in attendance.

Also on the festival front, the movie was slated as the opening feature of MOMA’s The Contenders series.

There were, of course, a number of feature profiles of Spielberg that examined how it’s the culmination of the family-centric themes he’s explored throughout his career but the first to do so in such a personal and explicit way.

Hirsch was interviewed about how Spielberg prepared him to play a character based on the director’s uncle, which included precious little actual direction but lots of encouragement to make choices and do what he felt was right for the character.

At the AFI Fest screening Rogen, Williams and others talked about how emotional filming was for everyone involved as well as the occasionally surreal experience of working with Spielberg on such a personal project.

In a clip released to Fandango in early November Sammy’s mom is giving him a camera to film his trains with so he can watch them crash over and over.

The cast and crew assembled again for a conversation about the movie at The Academy.

A short video shows Spielberg engaging in his traditional toast before filming the last shot of the movie and praising the cast and crew for their hard work while behind-the-scenes footage rolls of everyone making the movie.

Rogen appeared on “The Tonight Show” to talk about the movie while Williams appeared on “The Late Show” and “Kimmel” and Dano stopped by “The Late Show” as well. The whole cast as well as Spielberg then appeared on “Today”.

LaBelle was profiled in a piece where he talked about the pressures of playing a young Spielberg in front of the old Spielberg and more. Another feature on Dano again emphasized how he’s beginning to loosen up in his career and have some fun with the roles he chooses.

A featurette that came out last week opens with Spielberg talking about how he’s always drawn from real life experiences for his movies and that this one is just an extension of that while the cast praises the director and his approach.


A few non-sequential thoughts on what’s been recapped above:

  • Spielberg is always at his best when he’s making movies he wants to make as opposed to making movies he should be making and this seems to fall firmly in the former category.

The Fabelmans GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

The Fabelmans GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

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The Fabelmans GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

she said – marketing recap

How Universal Pictures has sold a retelling of a reckoning

She Said movie poster from Universal Pictures
She Said movie poster from Universal Pictures

No industry is perhaps more associated with the “#MeToo” movement of a few years ago than Hollywood. After all, it was the women who finally stood up against now-disgraced mogul Harvey Weinstein that was central to it as one woman after another came forward to share their experiences with Weinstein and other men in the workplace.

Adapted from the book of the same name, She Said arrives in theaters from Universal Pictures to revisit the era where two reporters worked to pierce the movie industry’s veil of silence. Carey Mulligan plays Megan Twohey and Zoe Kazan plays Jodi Kantor, both of whom worked at The New York Times and followed the whispers, evidence and statements of a number of women whose lives and careers had been impacted by Weinstein. The results of that investigation were first published in a ground-shaking NYT story and later in book form.

With Patricia Clarkson, Andre Braugher and others in supporting roles, Maria Schrader directs from a screenplay by Rebecca Lenkiewicz so let’s look at how the movie has been sold.

announcement and casting

Mulligan and Kazan were named the leads when news broke in June, 2021 that Universal was developing the film. A release date was announced a month later. Over the next few months others were added to the cast including Clarkson, Braugher and Morton.

Footage was shown during Universal’s CinemaCon 2022 presentation, with Mulligan and Kazan appearing in person to talk about and hype up the film.

the marketing campaign

For the public the marketing began in mid-July with the release of a poster that nicely illustrates the nature of the story by showing a woman’s silhouette against a white background with “Will you go on the record?” running across the image. That shows how the story relies on the accounts of multiple women who are both in the background – whether by choice or not – and whose identities are being either protected or withheld.

The trailer (11.8m YouTube views) released at the same time starts out Kantor taking on the story of sexual harassment in Hollywood and enlisting the help of Twohey to do so. What she finds is overwhelming as numerous women share their experiences as Weinstein’s victims. Still, some are unwilling to speak with them and there are plenty of people still trying to protect him in various ways and the reporters find themselves under surveillance. As a few women agree to go on the record the story unfolds, leading to its ultimate conclusion.

In August and September the movie began being slated for screening at festivals including New York, BFI London and AFI among others.

How Zazan and Mulligan worked to get the story right and effectively portray the journalism that was done was the subject of a feature story that included not just the actors but the writers they portray in the film.

Lenkiewicz was interviewed about the process of writing the movie, including speaking with some of the women abused by Weinstein herself and getting work-in-progress chapters of the source book from the journalists as they were putting it together.

The cast and crew along with Twohey and Kantor and others were in attendance at the NYFF world premiere in mid-October. At a Q&A there they all spoke about the impact the story had and how the movie reflects that along with how it’s not as if all problems have now been solved and there’s still work to be done. To coincide with that premiere the two journalists wrote an account of how things have gone since the story was initially published, how the movie came about, what changes have been made to compress it all into a two-hour film and what it’s like seeing their work dramatized on the screen.

A similar event was held at the BFI London Film Festival just a couple days later.

Women in Film announced at the end of September that Mulligan, Kantor, Twohey and producer Dede Gardner would be given their “Forging Forward” award at this year’s ceremony. At that event in late October Mulligan recounted her experiences after getting the script and tapping Twohey and others for background and context about the events depicted.

TV spots and other online promos began running in late October as well. They feature different cutdowns of the trailer footage for the most part while banner ads mixed the key art of the two leads conversing in the newsroom with the same footage.

IMDb was given an exclusive featurette with the cast, crew and real journalists discussing the making of the movie and the story behind it.

Right after that the AFI Fest screening took place with another Q&A with the major players. There were also other select screenings held by different groups, often with a subset of that group in attendance.

Another feature story included both the pairs of Mulligan and Kazan along with Kantor and Twohey. All four then appeared together on “The View” to promote the film and discuss the story. Mulligan and Kazan broke off for a joint appearance on “Today”.

It should also be noted that the movie’s official website has, in addition to the usual selection of marketing material, sections devoted to resources for those who need to report sexual harassment/abuse or deal with its aftermath as well as profiles of Kantor and Twohey.


As I’ve said about a number of recent movies, the supportive relationship between Kazan and Mulligan is constantly referenced in this campaign and is a nice touch, especially given the subject matter. That lends a humanity to the marketing that grounds the story even more than already happens by virtue of the subject matter.

Having the real life journalists so heavily involved is both a blessing and a burden in that they provide some valuable context for the story and how it was investigated and told before becoming a movie but also pull focus from the movie at times. They are there to lend their expertise and experience, of course, but the message sometimes becomes muddled as to whether audiences should be more interested in this dramatized version of events or the more factual retelling in the original book.

It’s an otherwise solid campaign that unfortunately also seems a bit underwhelming, maybe because it’s being crowded out by so many other late-year releases, though few seem as culturally relevant and important as this one.

ticket to paradise – marketing recap

How Universal has sold a romantic comedy with two mega-stars

Ticket To Paradise movie poster from Universal Pictures
Ticket To Paradise movie poster from Universal Pictures

Julia Roberts and George Clooney have been Hollywood royalty for a few decades now and have worked together before, notably on Ocean’s 11 and its sequel Ocean’s 12. Now they’re back together in this week’s Ticket To Paradise, opening in theaters from Universal Pictures.

The two play Georgia and David Cotton, a divorced couple who are brought back together when they find out their daughter Lily (Kaitlyn Dever) is about to marry Gede (Maxime Bouttier), a man she just met in Bali. Determined she’s making a mistake that will haunt her for the rest of her life, David and Georgia put their differences aside and work together to sabotage the upcoming nuptials. Of course it’s not quite that simple for anyone.

Written and directed by Ol Parker and costarring Billie Lourd and Lucas Bravo, the movie’s expected to enjoy an opening weekend of about $15m after already bringing in $75m overseas so let’s take a look at the campaign Universal put together.

announcement and casting

Universal Pictures announced the film at the end of February, 2021. Parker was attached to direct and both Clooney and Roberts were already set to star at that time.

Lourd, Dever and Bravo were added a couple months later as production ramped up.

Dever spoke briefly about the movie toward the end of 2021 while promoting other projects.

The movie’s original September 2022 release date was pushed back a month in October of last year.

Universal showed off the trailer to attendees of CinemaCon in April 2022.

the marketing recap

As the trailer (34.1m YouTube views), released at the end of June, begins, Georgia and David find themselves on the same flight and make the life of the person stuck between them miserable. We then see a brief shot of Lily falling in love in Bali. When they arrive they call a truce in their sparring in order to undermine their daughter’s plans, but those plans are soon discovered. As things progress the couple find themselves actually having a good time despite themselves, which is probably going to lead exactly where you think it’s going to.

The poster that came out at the beginning of August knows exactly what it’s selling and what the audience is looking for: Two big stars all dressed up and set against a tropical backdrop. It’s not exactly the world’s most innovative graphic design, in fact it’s quite boring visually, but the appeal here is clear and can’t really be argued with.

The first of many profiles of Clooney and Roberts that focused on how they are such great friends in real life and how much they enjoyed working together on a breezy romantic comedy like this came in The New York Times in early September.

Everyone was in attendance at the London premiere of the movie around that time as well.

Clooney and Roberts explain the premise of the film and show off their chemistry in a short video that kind of seems like it might have been used as a commercial or pre-roll, but the exact purpose isn’t clear. Another similar video featured Dever and Lourd also declaring what great friends they are and how that made working together even more fun.

When he appeared on “The Late Show” Clooney kept hitting the same topics, selling the film based largely on the chemistry between all the stars.

A promo for the film aired during an episode of “Bachelor in Paradise” in late September.

The first clip shows the moment Lily introduces Gede to her parents, who can’t stop their sniping for even a minute.

Roberts and Clooney praise their younger costars in a short featurette that keeps the fun, light vibes going.

Ticket to Paradise online ad featuring the same poster art of Roberts and Clooney.
Ticket to Paradise online ad

Promotional stops on “Today,” “CBS Sunday Morning”, “Kimmel” and other shows had both of the older stars appearing together so their charm and banter could be fully displayed to the potential audience. Dever stopped by “Today” and “Late Night” to talk about what a fun set it was during filming on her own while Bravo appeared on “Kimmel” to share what it’s like to kiss Roberts on camera.

Online ads used the poster key art to drive traffic to the official website, where people could find out more and buy tickets to a showing near them.

The L.A. premiere happened just earlier this week, with the cast and crew once more turning out. On the red carpet the mutual admiration society kept going as everyone talked about how wonderful everyone else was and what a great time it was filming the movie. Clooney also commented on how “brave” Universal has been by insisting the movie open theatrically when there was pressure from a lot of angles to sell it off to one of the streaming services.


Centering the entire campaign around the chemistry and friendship of two of the most likable and bankable movie stars of the last 40 years can’t be a bad bet, right? That $15m opening weekend estimate may be the clearest message yet of how the theatrical landscape has changed in recent years than anything that’s come before.

Everyone’s mileage will vary, of course, but I’m pulled all the way in on this because, as has been made clear before, I’m a sucker for movies that actually feature two seasoned professionals playing off each other like this. And to make that the entire focus of the marketing just increases its appeal that much more.

halloween ends – marketing recap

How Universal has sold the final installment in the horror franchise.

Halloween Ends movie poster from Universal Pictures
Halloween Ends movie poster from Universal Pictures

Halloween Ends hits both theaters and Peacock this weekend. As the name implies, this is the third and final installment of the series that began in 2018 when director David Gordon Green and others gave the franchise a fresh start by ignoring everything except John Carpenter’s 1978 original.

Jamie Lee Curtis is back – reportedly for the last time – as Laurie Strode, the woman who has survived a number of encounters with the villainous Michael Myers and the killing sprees he’s gone on in the past. When yet another tragedy hits her hometown, Laurie and her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) set out to make it the last time Myers is able to terrorize anyone and the last time their lives are dictated by his actions.

As with the previous two installments the movie is directed by Green, who co-wrote the screenplay with Danny McBride. Let’s dive into how the marketing campaign has been run.

announcement and casting

Comic-Con 2019 included news this movie as well as its predecessor were on the release schedule with the same cast and creative team intact.

Along with the other sequel, this one was pushed a full year from 2021 to 2022 as the Covid-19 pandemic kept theaters closed.

Universal gave CinemaCon 2021 attendees in August of that year a look at footage from this and other upcoming movies.

As he was doing press for Kills, Green hinted that he’d come up with a new twist ending for this movie, which would have a slightly different tone than the other films.

In April of this year Curtis appeared at CinemaCon 2022 to show off more footage and thank theater owners for their support over the years.

the marketing campaign

It was just this past July that the campaign kicked off with the release of the first trailer (4.9m YouTube views). Laurie is clearly not playing around as we see multiple instances of her taking the fight to Michael as he stalks around in the shadows threatening her and others. The main point is to communicate this is the end of the story, and so uses a few shots from the original film to mark the passage of time in addition to showing off what’s new.

The poster that came out at the same time is a variation on those used for the previous two movies, showing Michael’s mask up close and looking more than a little worn while sparks float up from an off-screen fire.

In August Universal announced the movie would be available on Peacock at the same time it was distributed to theaters. While there was uncertainty at first, theater chains soon made it clear they would still book the film despite the hybrid release, apparently not wanting to lose out on a horror title that always does well when it comes to selling tickets.

The one-sheet that helped make that announcement shows Laurie and Michael back-to-back.

Total Film debuted several new stills from the movie along with comments from Curtis about where Laurie is when this story opens and how this time she’s ready for Michael in a way she hasn’t been before.

Around that same time news came the film’s premiere was scheduled for the opening night of Beyond Fest later in September.

In a short featurette Curtis talks about the conclusion of the story and how this movie represents a “final reckoning” between Laurie and Michael.

The final trailer (10.3m YouTube views), released at the end of September, begins by establishing it’s been four years since the events of the last movie. Laurie is convinced Michael is back but people aren’t sure and believe she’s just obsessed and refuses to move on. When the killings start the attitudes change, but this time Laurie is prepared to do whatever’s necessary to end this once and for all.

Another featurette a week or so later makes it clear this is the final battle between the characters while Curtis shares Laurie’s journey in a third.

An interview with Curtis had her talking about her 45 year history with this franchise, what she thought about playing Laurie one last time and lots more about her career in general.

The Dolby Cinemas-exclusive poster that came out at the end of September shows Michael holding a knife placed between the company’s brand logo. Similarly, the IMAX logo gets slashed by that knife on the poster for that format.

Universal used Peacock to release a special titled “Halloween in Hollywood” that included exclusive interviews with the cast and crew along with first-look footage from this movie.

Short videos that were used as online and TV commercials had come out for a while before this, but full 30-second spots don’t seem to have been used until earlier this month.

Street teams were out around New York Comic-Con last weekend handing out tickets to those who found them that could be redeemed at the movie’s booth for exclusive swag.

NYCC also hosted a panel with Curtis celebrating the role these movies have played in her career, praising the skill with which Green reinvented the franchise and generally giving fans a big “thank you” for supporting it all.

While she was in New York City Curtis stopped by both “Kimmel” to promote the film and reiterate her commitment to this being the last time she plays Laurie Strode. On “Late Night” host Seth Myers had his “cousin” Michael Myers on for an interview that went very poorly.


The main message being conveyed to the audience is that they better not miss this movie because it’s the summation of everything that’s been going on to date, at least if you make sure not to count all those sequels that have been retconned out of the franchise’s canon. Whether it’s in theaters or on Peacock, this is your last chance to see Curtis as the original Scream Queen in anything new so you’d better get on it.

That appeal has included lots of praise and thanks offered to fans of the franchise as well as lots of Curtis reflecting on her experiences playing Laurie. But many of those aren’t substantively different from her comments about *returning* to the character for 2018’s Halloween, so the impact of them is somewhat muted.

bros – marketing recap

How Universal has sold its latest romantic comedy

Bros movie poster from Universal Studios
Bros movie poster from Universal Studios

Billy Eichner stars in – and wrote with Nicholas Stoller – this week’s new release Bros. Eichner plays Bobby Lieber, a neurotic museum curator who’s so in his own head about everything he hasn’t been very successful when it comes to relationships. That starts to change when he meets Aaron (Luke Macfarlane) and the two dance around each other on the way to actually dating, all as Bobby works with his team to open a museum dedicated to the LGBTQ+ experience and history.

The movie features what Universal is touting as “an entirely LGBTQ+ principal cast” and indeed has been positioned Eichner as the first openly gay man to both write and star in a major romantic comedy from a big studio.

With all that, along with the fact it was directed by Stoller and produced by Stoller and Judd Apatow, in mind, let’s take a look at the details of the campaign.

announcement and casting

Universal announced the movie in mid-2019 with Eichner writing and starring and Stoller directing.

The cast –all of whom are LGBTQ – was revealed in September 2021. Rash and others were added a month later and Yang and Fierstein a while after that.

Universal made the movie part of their CinemaCon 2022 presentation, with Eichner and the rest of the cast in attendance to get exhibitors and other executives excited for the film.

the marketing campaign

The first trailer (393k YouTube views) – labeled as NSFW – was dropped in mid-May. Bobby is recording an episode of his podcast, which allows him to explain to his listeners and therefore the audience what the plot of the story is. Namely, that he’s been hired to write a romcom about dating and love in the LGBTQ+ world, but that the reality may not be what the people who hired him expect it to be. Along the way we see Bobby meet Aaron and interact with others in his personal and professional life and it all looks very funny.

It’s presumably Bobby and Aaron we see on the poster released at that time, though all that’s shown is two guys from the back, each one grabbing the other’s ass. Which really tells us a lot of what we need to know about the story.

Eichner was interviewed in The New York Times about what it was like to make the movie and how as a story exclusively about gay relationships it’s still an outlier among Hollywood’s output. He then was part of a conversation with collaborator Joel Kim Booster about being gay men in comedy and how that’s played out in making this movie along with other projects over the past few years.

When he appeared at the “MTV Movie & TV Awards” Eichner spoke about how an LGBTQ+ cast brings an experience to their roles that straight actors playing the same characters just can’t.

The second trailer (11.8m YouTube views) came out in mid-June. It eschews the framing device of the first trailer and also drops the plot about Bobby working on a movie script in favor of focusing on how awkward he is when it comes to relationships, even when he meets Aaron. We also see more of the drama surrounding his work on the museum and how all of that informs the problems Bobby experiences.

Because the world is just this random, Mariah Carey hosted a New York City screening of the movie complete with red carpet and a Q&A with Eichner later in June.

A feature in Rolling Stone had Eicher, Stoller and Apatow all talking about the unique aspects of a romantic comedy focused on two gay men, including how Stoller admits how he had to get over some of his more generalist impulses to fully appreciate how this story was different than those told about straight couples.

In July it was announced the film’s world premiere was scheduled for September’s Toronto Film Festival.

Macfarland got his own profile covering his career to date and how this might be the star-making turn he’s been waiting for.

In late August Eichner gave an impassioned speech at the “MTV Video Music Awards” that combined promoting the movie with railing against the majority-conservative Supreme Court that seems inclined to undo the rights of anyone who’s not a land-owning hetero cis white male.

An Out cover story featured Eichner and Macfarland talking more about the movie’s unique status. Eichner also got interviews in Rolling Stone and Variety. Additional interviews with Macfarland covered his experiences coming out as gay and filming sex scenes for the movie as well as being a gay man in the entertainment world in general.

Fathom Events in early September held movie-sponsored screenings of Forgetting Sarah Marshall (directed by Stoller, featuring Eichner and produced by Apatow) and Knocked Up (directed by Apatow).

The cast and crew were on the red carpet for the TIFF premiere, which generated almost exclusively positive reviews from those who saw it.

Fandango shared an exclusive featurette with Eichner talking about casting the movie, making it with Stoller and more.

Eichner resurrected his “Billy on the Street” gag with some help from Paul Rudd to get out and promote the movie on the streets of New York. He also talked more about the movie when he appeared on “The Late Show” and then “Late Night.” That coincided with the New York premiere event where the cast and crew once again walked the red carpet.

There was lots of advertising for the movie that began in mid-September and continued up until…roughly now. That included TV spots, online promos and pre-roll and audio spots.

A clip shows an extended look at the scene where Bobby and his other museum executives are trying to figure out the theme for the opening.

Jack Black then joined Eichner in an L.A. version of “BotS” around the time of the premiere on that coast.

One final extended commercial has Bobby talking about the confidence he feels or at least fakes as he goes through life, citing moments when he’s been told to suppress who he is or not do something he feels passionate about.


The campaign is very good. Sometimes it feels like the “history making” aspects of the narrative are being oversold a bit, but that’s a small quibble when Eichner is out there selling the film through sheer force of will and charm. And if you check out the official Twitter account you’ll see it’s been endorsed by a who’s who of modern comedy, including many of the actors and others that Eichner, Stoller and others have worked with previously.

Whatever the movie’s opening weekend – predicted to be about $10 million – is, it stands as reasonable we should be nearing a point where stories like this don’t *have* to be heralded as so unique and groundbreaking. They can just be part of the landscape and their commercial success or failure doesn’t have to be seen as indicative of any particular narrative.

minions: the rise of gru – marketing recap

How Universal has sold the latest adventure starring the little yellow meme machines.

Minions: The Rise of Gru poster from Universal Pictures
Minions: The Rise of Gru poster from Universal Pictures

In an age where properties are spun off with abandon, it’s understandable if you have a hard time figuring out which part of the franchise this week’s Minions: The Rise of Gru belongs to.

Near as I can tell, the two Minions movies are prequels to Despicable Me, with the sequels sporting the Despicable Me name. But still, it makes the kind of sense that doesn’t.

Anyway, this new movie continues the story of a young Gru (voiced by Steve Carrel) and the Minions (voiced by Pierre Coffin) he already has helping him become the super villain he’s destined to be. This time Gru is about 12 years old, with aspirations to join the Vicious 6, a team of the worst villains. When his plans go awry, he’ll get into all kinds of hilarious trouble.

Voicing some of the villains Gru encounters are Michelle Yeoh, Russell Brand, Danny Trejo, Alan Arkin and others.

announcements and casting

Universal announced the movie was happening in 2017, a couple years after the successful opening of the first Minions in 2015.

The studio confirmed the film’s subtitle and gave exhibitors a first look during its CineEurope presentation in mid-2019. Carell and Coffin’s return was confirmed later that year.

the marketing campaign: 2020

A commercial aired during the Super Bowl in early February 2020 was the first official look the public got at the movie. There isn’t much of the story on display here, just the promise of lots of actions and laughs and the return of everyone’s favorite little yellow characters.

That was followed by the first trailer (36.3m YouTube views). As it opens, a young Gru is interviewing for a spot on a society of super villains only to find himself rejected. To prove himself he steals a valuable stone from those villains and with the help of the Minions he escapes. Unfortunately those same Minions have made some questionable choices and he needs to find the stone before the villains find him.

A poster introducing Otto came out at the same time. It uses a wild, tye-dyed look that would come back throughout the campaign.

In March of that year the movie became one of many delayed, in this case by a year to July, 2021, as theaters were closing down and people sheltering at home during the Covid-19 outbreak.

Scenes from the earlier films were put together with a new voiceover from Carell in a World Health Organization PSA in May, 2020, with some helpful tips and hints on staying safe during that difficult time.

Another TV spot came out in June of that year.

In September a line of apparel and other items from Verdy was revealed. That was followed in November by a line of items from Yeenjoy Bob and then a Minions-themed skateboard from The Berricks.

NBCUniversal worked to keep the Minions top-of-mind despite the delays with a holiday special in late November featuring the characters as well as others from various Illumination films.

the marketing campaign: 2021

After having some fun tweeting at various companies during the 2021 Super Bowl, another delay of another full year to the release date was announced in March of that year.

The Minions showed up with Simone Biles in an ad for the Summer Olympics in June, 2021.

A month later a movie-themed DLC for Minecraft was released that let players build cityscapes they could then navigate as young Gru, complete with Minions to follow him around and interact with.

With that new release date, a short commercial was released in December 2021 not showing much more than a few Minion hijinks but promising audiences the movie was still on its way.

Insta360 revealed a Minions-shaped camera in December as well.

the marketing campaign: 2022

That was followed by another TV spot presenting the movie more clearly as the backstory of how Gru became the super villain he would one day be.

It was then Olympics time again, with the Minions and skier Mikaela Shffrin appearing in a commercial for NBC’s coverage of the Winter games.

In March Illumination announced the movie would be the opening feature at this year’s Annecy Animation Festival.

Gru’s origin story is the central message of the next trailer (24.2m YouTube views), released at the end of March. In addition to the trouble he gets into on his way to becoming fully despicable we see more of the story, including how his antics bring him and his Minions into conflict with some other villains who don’t appreciate the competition from a youngster.

The tye-dye backdrop returns on the poster released at the same time, this one showing three of the Minions in tracksuits, one of them holding a boombox above his head.

Regal shared a pre-show video of the Minions on a roller coaster with all the usual “no texting” and “buy more candy” messages in it, along with a promotion for Regal’s loyalty program and app.

Details of the movie’s soundtrack were released in May, including the fact that the album would include Diana Ross, which set the internet ablaze with excitement. The first single – ”Turn Up the Sunshine” from Diana Ross and Tame Impala – was made available quickly after that.

More songs from the album continued coming out over the next few weeks.

Another new trailer (9.2m YouTube views) came out in early June that largely pulls footage from the previous trailers but is still cute for all the expected reasons.

A TV spot that aired during the NBA Finals doesn’t feature anything from the movie but instead has the Minions in a “SportsCenter” type environment arguing which basketball player is indeed the GOAT. Another commercial from mid-June had the Minions visiting Jurassic World, a tie-in with that movie hitting theaters.

Promotional partner commercials also started running around this time, including spots from Liberty Mutual, CarMax and others.

Another video game tie-in was announced with the Minions joining the world of Adopt Me.

To take advantage of A) Universal and B) Carrel being behind both properties, a promo video inserting the Minions into the opening of “The Office” was created.

More commercials and clips continued to be released, each showcasing a different part of the story but always featuring plenty of the mayhem the Minions are always involved in.

Andrews talked about being part of the movie when she appeared on “The Tonight Show,” with Carell stopping by the same show shortly after that.

A “yellow carpet” event was held last weekend at the TCL Chinese Theater with Carrel and others adding their hand/footprints to the cement there. That was followed a few days later by the official premiere, with the cast and filmmakers in attendance.

This past week’s episode of “American Ninja Warrior” featured a Minions-themed challenge and offered viewers an exclusive look at the movie.


Projections have the movie, which currently has an unenthusiastic 68% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, opening in the neighborhood of $70 million this weekend.

It’s somewhat telling that the most interesting (at least from my perspective) parts of the marketing are those that have little to nothing to do with the movie. The way the Twitter account was jumping in to reply to sporting and other cultural events in the space between trailers and other materials was more inventive and engaging than those trailers or commercials.

Maybe that’s because the Minions are no longer characters but have become pop culture artifacts that can be inserted into any moment. The evolution has progressed to the point where they exist more as ideas than objects. So this movie will come and go from theaters – and then come to Peacock in about four weeks – but those moments will persist outside of their context.

Oh, and the plot is essentially the same as Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog if there were hundreds of copies of Moist running around. There, I said it.