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.

overall

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

The Fabelmans GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

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.

overall

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.

overall

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.

overall

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.

overall

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.

overall

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.

jurassic world dominion – marketing recap

How Universal has sold the end of another dinosaur trilogy.

Jurassic World Dominion movie poster from Universal Pictures
Jurassic World Dominion movie poster from Universal Pictures

Jurassic World Dominion has an ambitious goal: Not only does it set out to conclude the trilogy of films begun in 2015 when director Colin Trevorrow brought us back to a world of genetically-resurrected dinosaurs but also put a cap on the sextology begun by director Steven Spielberg all the way back in 1993.

Picking up four years after the events of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, this one takes place in a world where colons no longer exist dinosaurs have proliferated across the planet, upsetting the balance of nature.

Details of the story are relatively inconsequential, as the movie’s cast provides its major selling point. Not only do Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard return from the first two World films, but the core trio from the first films – Laura Dern, Sam Neill and Jeff Goldblum – all come back for the first time since the 1993 original. Oh, and of cours BD Wong once more reprises his role as Dr. Henry Wu, the scientist behind the mistakes made by so many other people.

Joining the cast are DeWanda Wise, Mamoudou Athie, Campbell Scott and others. But unfortunately Lauren Lapkus, Wayne Knight and Jake Johnson are nowhere to be found.

So, with all of that established, let’s take a look at the marketing campaign.

announcement and casting

While the movie was still a ways off from production, in September 2019 Universal released “Battle at Big Rock,” a short video directed by Trevorrow that showed what life in a dinosaur-filled country was like. The story was meant to fill in at least some gaps between Fallen Kingdom and the third film.

A short while later it was revealed this new movie would not only bring back Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm but also have Sam Neill and Laura Dern return to the franchise for the first time since Jurassic Park III.

In February of 2020, Trevorrow marked the first day of filming with a photo that also revealed the movie’s subtitle.

Pratt spent some of his time on the Onward press tour building anticipation for this film.

The movie was one of many to have its production put on hiatus because of the Covid-19 outbreak. A big deal was made when shooting restarted in July with safety precautions in place but the Malta-based production had to scale back in August due to another outbreak in that country. In October Universal moved the movie’s release date out an entire year because of continued production delays as well as the uncertainty still plaguing the U.S. theatrical market.

Neill made his return official with a post at the beginning of August.

In an interview in May, 2020, producer Frank Marshall clearly stated this was just the beginning for even more stories and not the end of a trilogy as some had suspected.

Reports came out in June that a fan-favorite character from the first Jurassic Park would be returning in this story.

Goldblum talked about not only making another appearance in the franchise but also reuniting with Neill and Dern when he was on “Late Night” in August. A bit later there were additional interviews with Goldblum on his own and with Neill.

In an interview with EW, Trevorrow talked about why he felt motivated to return for the series’ final installment and what he thought fans could look forward to.

Neill talked more about shooting the movie, including the Covid accommodations that had to be made, here.

The final day of filming was announced once again by Trevorrow, with details coming out later that over 40,000 Covid tests were used during production along with a raft of other safety protocols and challenges.

the marketing campaign phase one: we spared no expense

Universal announced in June 2021 that a special sneak preview of the movie would screen in from of IMAX showings of F9, giving it what was expected to be a massive platform. Trevorrow was interviewed about that footage, promising this movie would be the culmination of everything that had come in the five previous installments.

A commercial promoting that footage’s IMAX-only availability was released as F9 was hitting theaters.

Around the same time there were promotions of the new “VelociCoaster” ride at Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure theme park, including revelations there would be easter eggs from the new movie sprinkled around the ride that would hint at what fans could expect.

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

the marketing campaign phase two: it’s a unix system

Things got started again in November, 2021 when Universal released the five minute “prologue” footage that had earlier been shown in front of F9’s IMAX screenings. Trevorrow made it clear at that time that the footage had originally been intended to be this movie’s opening sequence but had been cut during the editing process.

There was also a poster to promote this video.

The director was interviewed about uniting the casts of the new and old trilogy while introducing some of the new dinosaurs in Total Film along with a couple of new photos. He also commented on the kind of story audiences could expect alongside another exclusive new photo.

In January U.S. ski racer Mikaela Shiffrin shared a Universal Pictures/Winter Olympics cross-promotional commercial showing her trying to outrun a velociraptor. Completing the corporate synergy trifecta, Shiffrin then talked about the commercial when she appeared on “Today.”

Another commercial featured Shaun White.

Marshall confirmed that, of course, this was not the end and that the franchise would continue after this trilogy finale.

the marketing campaign phase three: hold onto your butts

The campaign finally for real kicked off in February with the release of the first trailer (53.6m YouTube views). It starts off by showing how dinosaurs are now something people face in their everyday lives, though that has had disastrous consequences for them and the environment. After we see the reunion of Drs. Sattler and Grant we’re off to the races, with lots of running and escaping from various dinos until the end, when all the principles from the entire franchise are assembled in front of a T-rex.

The poster that came out at the same time puts the familiar franchise logo in a circle of amber while promising this is “The epic conclusion of the Jurassic era.”

Because the Super Bowl was broadcast on NBC it provided Universal with another chance at cross-promotion, so Pratt narrated a video introduction to the game that used the movie’s music, text style and more. Goldblum also appeared in a bit at Universal Studios.

An exhibit that mixed movie promotion with a little actual science opened at the National Western Center in Denver. It featured animatronic dinosaurs, a recreation of the lab from the first movie and more Instagrammable moments.

Both Pratt and Howard participated in the launch of a competition encouraging young artists to design a new ratings card for the British Board of Film Classification.

A pair of Empire covers featured both casts for an issue that contained a handful of new images, comments from the cast and director and more.

A featurette released in mid-April explores the legacy of the six-part series, with the cast talking about how things have progressed to this point and how this is them throwing everything against the wall to finish the story off.

the marketing campaign phase three: must go faster

In late April the next trailer (29.1m YouTube views) came out. This one starts off with Owen meeting Blue’s baby raptor, a baby that’s soon grabbed by hunters. From there the chaos starts as the heroes have to evade a series of bigger, more feathery and more dangerous dinosaurs because somehow riding a motorcycle will somehow save the world from disaster.

The same tagline is used on the next poster, but this time all seven of the primary cast members are shown, the new cast at the top and the older trio at the bottom.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar starred in a commercial that aired on ESPN.

In the first of many such pieces, Neill, Dern and Goldberg were jointly interviewed about reuniting and how easy it was for them to fall back into step after so many years, largely because they’ve remained friends.

Traditional TV advertising began around this time, with spots that hit all the main selling points seen in previous trailers and other material.

Barbasol announced it would release movie-branded cans of shaving cream in the payoff to a joke that’s almost 30 years old.

Additional promotional partners included:

  • Dr. Pepper, which offered movie tickets, a t-shirt and more to Rewards members who earned sufficient points.
  • General Mills, which put dinosaurs and other movie branding on packages of cereal, snacks and more.
  • Kinder, which did likewise.
  • Ferrara, which partnered with Fandango to offer movie cash and a chance to win other prizes in a sweepstakes requiring purchase of certain candy products.
  • Progressive, which used footage from the “Prologue” in a commercial assuring those having their cars destroyed that all the damage was covered.
  • China Glaze, which launched a line of movie-inspired cosmetics.
  • Carl’s Jr./Hardees, which offered a selection of items in movie-branded packaging for just $.93 to celebrate the 1993 release of the original film.

A T-rex is seen in the darkness on the IMAX poster released at the end of April. IMAX later announced a special live Q&A with “special guests” that was scheduled for just before the movie opened.

Howard and Goldblum appeared together at CinemaCon 2022 as part of Univeral’s presentation to exhibitors and other executives/press.

Pratt appeared on “Today” and “The Tonight Show” to start promoting the film around the time tickets went on sale. That “Today” spot included the unveiling of a giant LEGO T-rex statue.

He then introduced a featurette that explains the film’s premise, with Trevorrow and others weighing in as well.

The Dolby Cinemas poster features an image from the trailer of Owen motorcycling away from a pack of raptors.

A short behind-the-scenes video shows Pratt and Howard meeting and interacting with Neill and Dern for the first time on set.

the marketing campaign phase four: woman inherits the earth

Dern, Howard and Wise were interviewed about the importance of female characters to the franchise, a theme that would come up a number of times in the last bits of the campaign. Those three, along with Isabella Sermon, then appeared in a featurette all talking about the same thing and paying tribute to Dern’s original turn as Ellie Satler.

Trevorrow and some of the cast were in attendance at a premiere event in Mexico City. Howard, Dern and others later took part in a similar event in Germany.

Around this time there was an interview with Dern and Neill that highlighted something that didn’t register with a lot of people back in the day, which is that she’s 20 years younger than Neill but that despite that the two were established as a romantic couple in the first film.

In late May the movie was featured on the cover of Total Film, with exclusive interviews and photos in the issue.

The two casts squared off in a trivia quiz testing their knowledge of the series.

NowThis debuted exclusive footage that showed more of the real world implications of having dinosaurs roaming around.

Jeep once again signed on as a promotional partner, sharing a TV commercial showing how versatile a Jeep can be in a world overrun by dinosaurs.

A TikTok filter let people put themselves in a situation where they’re being chased by virtual dinos.

The cast appeared in an exclusive interview for AMC Theaters. Trevorrow talked about bringing the franchise to a close in an exclusive interview with Dolby.

Pratt, Goldblum and Neill were all interviewed about the importance of father figures to the story and how that’s reflected in their own families.

Finally everyone was out for the world premiere in Los Angeles earlier this week.

overall

Tracking has the movie opening with about $50 million this weekend, which might be enough to finally dethrone Top Gun: Maverick from its impressive showing.

But the paltry 42% Rotten Tomatoes rating hints that this one may not have the legs of that other sequel and may fall quickly to both the highly mixed reviews to date and what might not be great word of mouth from opening weekend audiences.

Despite all that, the campaign has been some fun, especially in seeing the easy rapport of Dern, Goldblum and Neill. The problem is that it stands in marked contrast to the forced chemistry of the other stars.

So you have a campaign that leans heavily on nostalgia but doesn’t do much to alleviate the concerns of those who thought the second World movie was a mess. But it did give us this moment, and that’s not nothing.

Lauradern GIF by Jurassic World - Find & Share on GIPHY

firestarter – marketing recap

How Universal is selling a pyro-tastic drama.

Firestarter 2022 movie poster with Ryan Kiera Armstrong recreating the poster from the 1984 film.
Firestarter 2022 movie poster

Firestarter, out this weekend from Universal Pictures in theaters and on Peacock, is another adaptation of the Stephen King novel of the same name.

This version stars Ryan Kiera Armstrong as Charlene “Charlie” McGee, a young girl who one day finds she has developed pyro-telekinesis, able to start fires with the power of thought. That makes her a danger to those around her, including her father Andrew (Zac Efron) and mother Vicky (Sydney Lemmon). It also makes her a person of interest to a government agency known as “The Shop”, personified by agents and assassins played by John Beasley, Michael Greyeyes and Gloria Reuben.

An earlier adaptation was released in 1984 with David Keith, Drew Barrymore, George C. Scott and others. This time around Universal partnered with Blumhouse Pictures for a version that promises to be just as terrifying as the original movie as well as the book both are based on.

announcement and casting

Universal and Blumhouse, along with Akiva Goldsman, announced their plans for a fresh adaptation of King’s book back in 2017. After a few missteps, Keith Thomas was named director in late 2019, with Scott Teems writing the script.

Efron and Greyeyes were cast over the course of 2020, with Armstrong joining in mid-2021 just as production was getting underway.

the marketing campaign

If you recognize the first poster, released in early February, that’s because it’s virtually identical to the one-sheet for the 1984 film, just with Armstrong instead of Barrymore. As such it’s pretty simple, conveying the basic idea that the story involves a young girl and fire. Copy at the top makes an additional appeal, calling out Blumhouse as the company behind the well-received The Invisible Man. It also makes sure to note the simultaneous theatrical/streaming release date, the copy here amounting to an announcement of those plans.

The trailer (18.8m YouTube views) opens by showing Charlie beginning to lose control of her powers in the middle of class, causing the temperature to rise, water to steam and metal to become hot to the touch. Her dad wants her to learn to keep those emotions buried deep down, but that’s impossible and an outburst gets the government’s attention. Now on the run, Andrew tries to teach Charlie how to harness her abilities, but the more control she gains the more she gives into the righteous feeling she gets when hurting others, especially those chasing them.

Around that same time, Universal announced horror legend John Carpenter, along with others, had composed the film’s score.

A TV commercial-like video (likely used as pre-roll on YouTube and probably on Peacock as well) came out in mid-April, about a month out from release. It boils (sorry) the trailer down to a few key dramatic moments to show the audience what they can expect. More spots like this continued to come out over the next few weeks.

Just a couple weeks ago Universal promoted the movie to exhibitors at CinemaCon, leading to an awkward moment on stage.

https://mobile.twitter.com/MattBelloni/status/1519008878356164608

Over the last week or so there have been pre-roll ads placed in front of YouTube videos as well as online banner ads like the one here that lead clickers to the page where they can find out more about where and how to watch the movie.

AMC Theaters and Regal Cinemas both shared their own exclusive video interviews with the cast and crew.

Efron promoted the movie when he appeared on “Kimmel” recently.

overall

The marketing here is…fine. It communicates what it needs to and includes multiple nods to the first film, which is a legitimate choice to be made versus trying to carve out and create a brand new identity for this new adaptation.

What I can’t quite grok, and which the campaign largely ignores, is that Zac Efron is now playing dad roles. That seems like a cultural turning point we should have collectively marked, or at least been made more aware of as it happened.

ambulance – marketing recap

How Universal sold the latest experiment with Bayhem

[ed. note: yep, this came out last week, the schedule just didn’t pan out as planned]

Ambulance movie poster
Ambulance movie poster

The logline for Ambulance, which hit theaters last week, really doesn’t matter as it essentially boils down to the fact it was directed by the one and only Michael Bay. But for the sake of completeness, let’s fill in the rest of what the movie’s about.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II stars as Will Sharp, a military veteran desperate to raise the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed for his wife’s surgery. Out of legitimate options, Will reaches out to his adoptive brother Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal), who enlists Will in a bank robbery he’s planning that could net them $32 million. But the robbery, of course, goes sideways and the two find themselves on the run in a stolen ambulance with an EMT (played by Eiza González) still on board while pursued by both the FBI and LAPD.

So with the thinnest of premises in place and a director known less for his storytelling skills than his ability to keep the action going at all costs (including to common sense), let’s see how this was sold in advance of last week’s release.

announcement and casting

News of the movie’s production, along with the lead, broke in late 2020 with Bay directing. But that was only after he had passed on the film a few years earlier. Now, though, he eyed it as a good project to get him out after a bit of Covid-relaterd quarantine.

Gyllenhaal and Eiza González were cast in late 2020, Abdul-Mateen II joined a short while later, replacing Dylan O’Brien, who had previously been selected to play the more legitimate of the two brothers.

A couple months later its release was delayed by Universal to February, 2022.

the marketing campaign

The first trailer (22.5m YouTube views) was released in late October of last year, opening with Will explaining to Danny he needs money for his wife’s surgery. Danny takes that as an opening to get Will’s help with a bank robbery offering an even bigger payday. That heist goes south quickly, leading the two of them to go on the run to avoid the police, taking a cop wounded in the shootout hostage in the ambulance they’re escaping in.

A poster showing an ambulance’s rear doors with two massive bullet holes in it came out at the same time, the image making it clear the title is very literal and not a metaphor as well as conveying the kind of action and danger the story will contain.

The next poster came out in February and this time shows the three main characters, their huge heads arranged above the ambulance they spend so much time in, which is being pursued by various elements of law enforcement.

That was followed by the first TV commercial, which focuses on the drama between the two brothers and interestingly *not* the chaos that results from their impromptu chase across the city of Los Angeles.

A handful of new images from the movie were included in an interview with Bay about how he choreographs the massive action sequences he’s best known for. Right after that a profile of Gyllenhaal came out that had him talking about the experience of shooting a Michael Bay movie along with comments from Abdul-Mateen II about how the actor would occasionally seize the camera and start filming things himself as well as how Gyllenhaal made sure everyone on set was doing alright.

A series of character posters was released in early March that makes sure to highlight the L.A. location as a character in and of itself.

An IMAX-exclusive poster offers a variation on some of the earlier design themes.

Bay’s creativity and how that influences the process of shooting those big explosions and other sequences were covered in a featurette that included comments from many of the coordinators, drone pilots and others responsible for actually pulling those shots off.

The director along with the primary cast were in attendance at a red carpet premiere in Paris later in March. That was followed by similar events in Berlin, London and elsewhere, each accompanied by a round of interviews and other press activity.

An interview with Abdul-Mateen II and Gyllenhaal focused on how they bonded on set, a theme that kept coming up at this point of the campaign. That just reinforced how great Gyllenhaal is in junket settings when bantering with his costars, something he’s demonstrated repeatedly in recent years.

MovieClips debuted an exclusive featurette with the cast and crew talking about Bay’s skill as a filmmaker as well as the details of the story and the emotional stakes the characters have in the movie. Similar ground was covered in a Dolby Cinemas featurette.

Another trailer (10.5m YouTube views) came out toward the end of March that skips some of the emotional setup for Will in favor of cutting straight to the action. We see lots of the moments between Will and Danny as they navigate the situation they’ve found themselves in, all while Cam is stuck along for the ride caring for a patient in the back of the ambulance. There are some interesting moments, but the primary message is that there’s lots of gunplay and other violence, all set to the sound of grown men shouting at each other.

Additional TV spots like this were released that cut down the trailer footage in various ways to help sell the different aspects of the movie.

A movie-themed version of “Grand Theft Auto” gameplay was streamed on Twitch.

Just last week the stars and others came out for the red carpet premiere in Los Angeles. Once again the theme of the conversations with the stars was working with Bay and how they adapted to his unique energy on set and similar topics.

Just as she’d done in previous interviews – and a featurette – Gonzalez talked about how she hopes her role and performance as an EMT in some way honors the kind of work first responders do every day.

How he worked to cut through the chaos to focus on character was the subject of an interview with Abdul-Mateen II. A joint interview with him and Gyllenhaal was again about working with Bay and being pushed by the director to break out of what they may have expected.

USA Network aired a short exclusive featurette/commercial that mixed comments from the cast with high-octane footage. There was also a solo featurette with Abdul-Mateen II where he expanded on his character.

Gyllenhaal hosted “Saturday Night Live” just as the movie was opening. That came after her and Abdul-Mateen II appeared together on “Kimmel” to promote the film while Gonzalez showed up there on her own.

overall

Tracking estimates prior to opening had projected $10m for the weekend but it failed to clear even that bar, leading to lots of hand-wringing over the future of original action movies at the box-office and so on. But the lukewarm critical reception, as represented by the movie’s Rotten Tomatoes rating, likely led many people to choosing the family film in theaters over the action-oriented one.

What jumps out most from the campaign is how so much of it is devoted to everyone praising Michael Bay as if he’s some sort of impassioned but relegated artist. He has a reputation as being somewhat difficult, sure, but this feels like a kind of effort to trigger a Baynaissance of sorts, which is odd considering he’s been one of the most reliable box-office performers of the last…30 years? And as much as everyone can talk about his craft, this is still what Bay is best known for, which is why all those flipping cars and such are stil so central to this movie’s marketing.

Jake Gyllenhaal Action GIF by Ambulance - Find & Share on GIPHY

the 355 – marketing recap

How Universal has marketed star-packed action drama.

The 355 movie poster
The 355 movie poster

The 355, out this week in theaters, is a magnificent case study in the power of wish fulfillment.

Before going into that, the movie stars Jessica Chastain as Mason “Mace” Browne, a CIA agent who, when a top-secret weapon goes missing, assembles an international team of fellow agents to go after those who stole it before it can be used.

It’s a simple enough premise and the appeal is only enhanced when you consider the other agents Browne recruits are played by Lupita Nyong’o, Penélope Cruz, Diane Kruger and Fan Bingbing.

With that, as well as the fact the movie is directed by Simon Kinberg who cowrote the screenplay with Theresa Rebeck, established, let’s look at how the project came to be and had been sold to the public.

announcement and casting

While Chastain had pitched the idea to Kinberg while the two were shooting X-Men: Dark Phoenix, the first real announcement about it came when Chastain brought the *concept* of the movie to Cannes 2018. While there she essentially assembled the cast in an attempt to get someone interested in producing or financing it.

The actresses did their part too, basically presenting it as a done deal should someone be brave enough to step up and get the ball rolling. It was a nervy, risky move that generated a lot of attention and interest in the audience, at least, and one of many female-led projects at Cannes or coming out around that time. Rights were eventually bought by Universal.

The lead up to the movie included features like this that profiled Chastain as both an actress and advocate, particularly within the #MeToo movement.

Reports emerged in April that Fan Bingbing, who had been out of sight for months, was still going to be in the movie. A few months later Chastain announced production had officially begun. In August of 2019 Universal finally gave the movie a release date.

Most of the primary cast was in place from the outset, but Kruger replaced Marion Cotillard in mid-2019 as production was getting underway. Sebastian Stan and others were added over the course of that year.

the marketing campaign: phase one

With an initial release date set for January 2021, marketing got underway in October 2020 with the release of a poster that has the members of the assembled spy team standing side by side, each in front of the flag of their respective countries. And, as someone has pointed out on Twitter, it’s the rare one-sheet that actually has the actor standing under their own name.

A couple batches of character posters that break out each one of the leads came out at the same time.

The first trailer (7.4m YouTube views) – debuted by Chastain when she appeared virtually on “Late Night” – also came out then. Mace, we see, is being given an off-the-books project by the security service she works for and sets out assembling a crack team of experts to get the job done. Together they have to stop some very bad people from doing some very bad things, but their mission puts not only themselves but those they love back home in danger. Still, they manage to kick an impressive amount of butt.

A TV spot debuted right after the first trailer came out, showing not only the mission the agents in this movie are engaged in but also offering a bit of backstory behind the “355” designation.

Most of the cast appeared on Entertainment Weekly’s “Women Who Kick Ass” panel at New York Comic-Con, which happened just days after the trailer’s release. They talked about how unique an all-female action movie is, the fun they had doing the stunts and lots more as they promised audiences a good time at the movies.

In November 2020 it was announced Universal was delaying the film by a full year, pushing it from January 2021 to the same date a year later.

The 355 Movie GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

the marketing campaign: phase two

As a result of that delay things went dark on the campaign until almost exactly a year after the marketing had first kicked off with the release of the second trailer (14.7m YouTube views). It covers much of the same ground as the first, but with a few tweaks and more of a focus on the objective of the team as well as the team itself.

An interview with Chastain had her talking about how the movie addresses the idea of female secret agents within the framework of the action movie and how the idea evolved over time. That story also included a new still and other looks at the film.

Short character introduction videos like this started coming out in early December.

Also in early December, Universal held a promotional event/party (seemingly sponsored by Stella Artois) in Miami with lots of music and movie-branded swag available to attendees.

IMDb debuted the first featurette from the movie showing Chastain and others talking about making an action movie and handling their share of the stunt work.

Dolby offered an exclusive clip/featurette that, like everything else, focused on the action of the movie.

More character posters were released that put each agent against a background of all the flags instead of just the one for their own country.

Additional clips also came out over the last couple weeks showing various action sequences involving different characters.

overall

The campaign’s continued emphasis on the action of the movie isn’t different from any other ensemble picture in this genre, so that’s chalked up to a tried and true tactic being executed here.

On the one hand, that’s all well and good because it means it’s not being sold substantively differently from similar movies featuring all-male casts.

On the other hand, by fitting the movie into such a well-used format it doesn’t allow the biggest unique selling point to really shine through.

GIF by The 355 Movie - Find & Share on GIPHY

I’d almost rather have seen something unusual be done here because it would have provided a stronger hook, though it’s not assured that audiences would turn out no matter what the messaging was. That’s reflected in the $5 million the movie is projected to bring in this weekend as Spider-Man once again dominates theaters and Covid continues to sweep through the country, disrupting much of everyday goings-on.