don’t worry darling – marketing recap

How Warner Bros. has sold movie that’s been as dramatic off-screen as it is on-screen

Don’t Worry Darling, new in theaters this week from Warner Bros., stars Florence Pugh and Harry Styles as Alice and Jack Chambers, a young couple whose marriage is tested by the mysteries of the town they live in, Victory, CA. Victory is a company town created by Jack’s employer, run by Frank (Chris Pine). Alice becomes obsessed with discovering the truth behind the enigmatic “Victory Project” her husband works on and her investigation leads to problems throughout the town and its citizens.

Olivia Wilde directed the movie and plays Alice’s friend Bunny, married to Bill (Nick Kroll). Kiki Layne, Kate Berlant, Gemma Chan and others also play members of the Victory community.

There’s lots going on here, some of which even has to do with selling the movie to audiences, so let’s take a stiff drink and get started.

announcement and casting

After reports there were multiple interested parties the script was finally acquired last August by New Line in a deal reported to be unusual in the high “backend” fees the creators can see if/when the movie succeeds.

Wilde shared a first look on Instagram in March but it wasn’t until September that New Line/Warner Bros. set a 2022 release date.

Warner Bros. gave CineEurope attendees a look at the movie in October 2021.

In other interviews later that year Wilde shared how the films of Adrian Lyne served as inspiration and warned audiences should expect to see more female desire and pleasure than is usually shown in films.

WB finally shared a release date in late April and made the movie part of their CinemaCon presentation to exhibitors and journalists. Things got weird, though, when Wilde was served with legal papers on stage, reportedly custody papers from her ex-husband Jason Sudekis. A back and forth over who knew what when commenced over the next few weeks.

This is no longer the weirdest off-topic anecdote about this film, as we’ll see later.

the marketing campaign

The first trailer (5m YouTube views) was released at the beginning of May. It opens showing a party with all the key characters having a good time before offering us a glimpse of how in love Alice and Jack are. Frank then explains, via voiceover, how important the wives are to the work their husbands are doing for the mysterious “Victory Project”, which the women are encouraged to not ask about. When Alice starts doing just that strange things start happening, including a couple suicides and other incidents. In the end it looks like a slightly trippy drama about the illusory nature of 1950s domestic bliss and all its confines.

A plane flies over the idyllic planned suburb of Victory on the poster released in mid-June, but a trail of smoke comes from the back of the plane. Not only that, but on the motion version of the poster the whole image flips upside down, indicating everything isn’t as it seems.

There’s even more of an overt horror vibe given off by the second trailer (2m YouTube views), which came out in July. We get the same basic premise as the first, but the strange hallucinations and other happenings begin even sooner and are even more disturbing.

Shortly after that confirmation came the film was scheduled to screen at the Venice Film Festival.

Chan was featured in a cover story for Harper’s Bazaar UK. A short while later Pugh got similar treatment on the U.S. version of Harper’s while Styles was profiled in, naturally enough, Rolling Stone.

Another motion poster takes the image of Jack and Alice in a warm embrace and mixes in a few quick glimpses of something terrifying lurking beneath the surface.

At the end of August Wilde was the subject of a Variety cover story in which she praised the other actors, talked about the film’s sexuality and lots more. It also served as the flame striking the tinder of a number of controversial issues and topics, many of which dominated as everyone prepared for Venice. They included:

  • Wilde’s assertion she fired Shia LaBeouf, who had originally been cast as Jack, in 2020, citing his “combative” on-set energy. LaBeouf subsequently denied he was fired but that he quit, with the truth eventually landing somewhere in the middle.
  • While Wilde had nothing but nice things to say about Pugh, the latter didn’t offer her own comments for that story, resulting in continued suspicion of on-set tension between the two and a general lack of enthusiasm on Pugh’s part to promote the movie.

Another interview with Wilde later on had her saying that as steamy as some of the shots in the trailers are, the MPA cut out even more explicit clips. She also shared how the lousy experiences she’s had on previous projects has informed her own directing approach and who the real-life inspiration for Pine’s character was.

As Venice approached things continued to get uncomfortable when it was reported Pugh was to be on the red carpet for the screening but not participate in the press conference with the rest of the cast.

That press conference and screening were notable for many reasons, including:

  • Wilde refusing to comment on her reported conflicts with Pugh
  • The festival moderator intercepting questions about LaBeouf so Wilde wouldn’t have to answer them again
  • A massive internet investigation into whether Styles spit on Pine at the screening (he didn’t)
  • Pine’s many fantastic facial expressions at the press conference that quickly became memes on social media

Things got more tense when Pugh said she wouldn’t attend the film’s New York premiere, once again citing her commitment filming Dune Part 2.

All that tension was once more dismissed by Wilde as the internet eating itself in another profile about how her personal life has become so enmeshed with the promotion of this movie.

At the beginning of September IMAX announced it would feature a live Q&A session with the cast in advance of early screenings of the movie just before the official release date.

An exclusive Dolby Cinemas poster was a reworking of the image of Jack and Alice in bed.

The first clip offers an extended look at the dinner scene where Alice challenges many of the other attendees, especially Frank, as she looks for deeper answers than she’s been getting about what it is the guys are working on and where everyone else is from.

Another clip shows Alice having a very odd moment in front of some dance studio mirrors, a moment glimpsed in the trailers.

Cinematographer Matthew Libatique did what he could to talk about the film’s look and feel in an interview of his own but also had to deny there was any on-set tension between the talent.

Wilde appeared on “The Late Show” to promote the film and talk about her character but also, of course, had to deny Styles spit on Pine and so on.

overall

There’s at least some speculation that, based on tracking, the film could open to a healthy $20 million in its first weekend, either in spite of or because of all the drama and controversy that has enveloped it and seeped out into the public conversation.

The campaign itself is pretty good, dipping occasionally from being a straight drama to elements that are more in the realm of psychological thriller. Pugh is clearly the main attraction here as she’s seemingly asked to carry the burden of the story while all the other actors support her.

It’s a shame, then, that it’s been overwhelmed by all the inside-baseball rumor mills and other pettiness. The press cycle could have been about Wilde’s second directorial outing after the much-acclaimed Booksmart and other more relevant topics, but instead we’re trading gossip like we all just came out of a junior high assembly. If I were a cynically-minded person I’d say that’s been the focus because it gives the press (and public) an opportunity to once again pit one woman against another.

constantine rises again

What the hell(blazer)?

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one taken by surprise last week when Warner Bros. announced it was producing a sequel to 2005’s Constantine, including the fact Keanu Reeves was returning to the title role and that director Francis Lawrence – who in the intervening years has directed or is planning to direct four of the five movies in the Hunger Games series – was also coming back.

The reasons the news came as such a shock were many and varied, including in no specific order:

  • While it was a decent success at the box-office, I didn’t think the 2005 original was particularly beloved. Surely there are some that have remained or become fans of the movie, but reaction to the original wasn’t all-that positive. A lot of folks criticized it at the time because they didn’t think the character on screen bore much aside from the name in common with the one found in the comics published by DC/Vertigo.
  • A lot of that came down to the fact that being from working class Liverpool is kind of key to who Constantine is and how he acts, with Reeves not conveying any of that.
  • There’s also the fact the movie version relies a lot more on gadgets and weapons and a lot less on sleight of hand and con artistry, which again is a big part of who the character is.
  • On the other hand, the character of John Constantine has been played by Matt Ryan since 2014, first in his own show (unceremoniously canceled by NBC during its first season) and then as a recurring/regular character on “Legends of Tomorrow” after an appearance on “Arrow.”
  • Ryan’s take on Constantine has been so popular he’s also voiced the character in a series of animated features and shorts.

Tv Show Constantine GIF by Warner Archive - Find & Share on GIPHY

I should state here that in the wake of the news I made the decision to rewatch Constantine, likely for the first time in at least 10 years. While it’s an entertaining enough Keanue Reeves supernatural thriller, the criticisms about this take on the character are absolutely well-founded. At one point Lucifer warns John about not pulling another con on him, but the line is completely unfounded as Constantine hasn’t conned anyone in the film. He *has*, though, blown up a bunch of demons with a massive grenade launcher thing.

Ryan’s take on the character, though, is much more like the original Hellblazer, and it’s a shame that 1) That series isn’t on HBO Max or Netflix, and 2) That he’s not being given a chance to keep going as Constantine as he’s clearly been having a blast for the last eight years.

[Full disclosure: I was heavily involved with promoting the TV series during its run as I was still working with DC Entertainment at the time.]

On top of all that, WB announcing a new movie based on a DC property comes at a time when the studio is…let’s just say it’s in flux, particularly when it comes to its stable of comics characters.

  • It just canceled the Batgirl film that was nearly complete and has shuffled the release dates for movies like Black Adam and others because it reportedly doesn’t have the available cash to support more than a couple major releases a year.
  • Last month Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav said he was hoping to “reset” DC projects and find someone who can oversee the whole stable of characters and properties. But that search has been difficult as no one seems to be jumping at the chance to be blamed for the next disappointment after finding they don’t have as much control as they thought.
    • I only say that because it’s happened at least three times in the last 10 years, each time ending by the executive being forced out, quitting because the studio said he couldn’t make his five hour dystopian team movie or being made to feel extremely unwelcome when the movies he *did* develop are canned.

Whoever is eventually selected will now find themselves with a Constantine film in the works they had no hand in greenlighting and may not feel particularly excited about. And they’ll be reminded that no, it’s not part of the Justice League universe. Or maybe it is but not in an official way. Or it’s not, but some of the same characters are referenced. Or the movie is but the TV show reboot that was licensed to another company isn’t.

This new movie could be much better than the first and much more faithful to the source material, just as the live action series and some of the animated follow-ups were and have been. But the fact that it’s even happening is a big surprise, all the more so for the uncertain moment it was announced in.

Baz Luhrmann’s ELVIS – marketing recap

How Warner Bros. has sold a flashy non-biopic

Elvis movie poster from Warner Bros.
Elvis movie poster from Warner Bros.

If you’re familiar with the work of director Baz Luhrmann you probably know largely what can be expected from this week’s ELVIS, new in theaters. Luhrmann directs a screenplay from himself and others telling the story of rock and roll legend Elvis Presley. Austin Butler plays Presley as the action moves from his first forays into public performance through the years of super-stardom and more. Through much of that he’s managed/coached by Col. Tom Parker (Tom Hanks, under a metric ton of prosthetics and makeup).

It’s a simple enough setup, though in the hands of a unique filmmaker like Luhrmann you can be assured there will be plenty of flashy, unconventional stylistic choices being made. The movie also stars Helen Thomson, Richard Roxburgh, Olivia DeJonge and others as the people in Presley’s life, both personal and professional.

With one of the biggest names in all of popular music history as the subject matter, the marketing should be a no-brainer, so let’s take a look at some of the decisions the studio made while selling it to the public.

announcement and casting

The movie was oddly flying under the radar until March of 2020, when production in Australia was halted after Hanks tested positive for Covid-19.

In January WB announced a delay in release.

Hanks talked about the movie and his character briefly while promoting other projects last year. Harrison Jr. also briefly commented on the movie in mid-2021 while on the publicity tour for Monster.

Warner Bros. gave CineEurope attendees a look at the movie in October 2021.

Luhrmann teased a bit of footage from the film in November of that year to make sure audiences knew he was still working on it and was trying to do the subject matter justice.

the marketing campaign phase one: a rock star is born

The first trailer (17.2m YouTube views) was released in February of this year following a tease by Luhrmann. Narrated by The Colonel, it opens with a young Elvis sneaking into a tent revival where he’s overtaken by the sound of the music and the feeling it creates. Fast forward several years and Elvis is on stage, making girls go crazy with the sound of his voice and the shake of his hips. From there on out it’s a montage of clips from throughout Elvis’ career, including his ups and downs and even a few acknowledgements of where he stood in the middle of racial upheaval in that time. But it’s mostly about the flashing camera lights, the music and other spectacle.

At the same time the first poster came out, similarly setting the visual tone for the campaign with what looks like a rhinestone belt buckle as the title treatment.

In early April Warner Bros. confirmed the movie would premiere at Cannes in May. Later that month exhibitors and others got a look at the movie when it was part of the studio’s presentation at CinemaCon.

Luhrmann posted a video in mid-April talking about the music of the movie and offering a brief preview of “Vegas” by Doja Cat, with plans for the single to be released in full in early May. It was also revealed Kacy Musgraves was covering “Can’t Help Falling In Love.”

Butler, Luhrmann and others from the cast and crew were joined by Priscilla Presley at the Met Gala, everyone in their highest of fashion as the event offered a perfect venue for a movie with visuals like this. Musgraves also performed “Can’t Help…” here.

Priscilla Presley debuted an exclusive clip showing Elvis getting all the women in the audience worked up with his wiggle in early May.

A profile of Luhrmann had the director explaining why he felt moved to make this project and why it is not, and was never intended to be, a traditional biopic in structure. Butler was given a similar profile a short while later that centered on this being a star-making moment for the actor.

the marketing campaign phase two: family approval

Another positive endorsement for the movie came from Riley Keough, Elvis’ granddaughter, who not only praised the filmmaking and the story but said that watching it with her mother and grandmother had them all crying at seeing their family’s story on screen. She also said she hadn’t been interested in being part of the film since it was a little too close for her comfort.

Three new posters came out in mid-May, all of them featuring Elvis in different phases of his career, from the rockabilly sideburns to the black leather jacket to the white suit.

The second trailer (9.2m YouTube views) came out at the end of May. It opens with Elvis defying police orders to not be suggestive in his movements during a concert, of course leading to a confrontation with those officers but beginning the mythologizing of his persona. The focus here is on Elvis’ rebellious nature, which is presented as coming from a place of believing (and being told by others) that his gift is one that comes from God and that he’d be wrong to deny or hide it. Aside from that it sells the usual Luhrmann glitz and spectacle, which is the real point here.

A screening at the Cannes Film Festival cemented the positive word of mouth that had already been circulating, helped by a reported 12-minute standing ovation as the film ended. Another profile of Butler published in that period had him talking about how his body started shutting down after filming finished and how a call to Luhrmann from Denzel Washington helped him secure the role. The director also spoke about the racial elements not only of the film’s story but Elvis’ life, which he tried to put in context.

Costar Alton Mason, who plays Little Richard, was profiled about how he got into character and what it was like to work with Luhrmann.

Warner Bros. and British GQ hosted a special screening of the film in London where the cast and crew participated in a Q&A.

the marketing campaign phase three: the music

Warner Bros. released a tease of Musgraves singing “Can’t Help Falling In Love With You” as the attention turned back to the music, including a performance by Diplo and Swae Lee of “Tupelo Shuffle” at the MTV Movie & TV Awards.

Butler and Luhrmann both talk about the challenges of taking on such lofty subject matter in a featurette that focused on the research and prep work they both did.

A red carpet premiere event was held in Australia in early June, a natural given Luhrmann and much of the cast hails from there. That was followed by a special screening of the film held at Graceland in mid-June with the director, stars and Presley family in attendance, another sign of the family’s endorsement of the film.

An exclusive poster from Dolby Cinemas came out at this time.

In an interview, Luhrmann revealed Harry Styles campaigned extensively for the title role but that the director was too worried Styles’ existing persona would overwhelm the character.

To help sell how Butler did his own singing in the movie Luhrmann released a video of pre-production test footage showing the actor singing and performing along with a small band.

Butler and Hanks both appeared on “GMA” to talk about the movie and Hanks received his own profile about working with Luhrmann and how things are going in his career and life in general. Butler later stopped by “The Tonight Show”.

Another special screening was held in New York City and once again was sponsored by Vogue.

That was followed by a featurette on the fashions and costume design of the film. Another had Luhrmann talking with a member of the group BLACKPINK about how she was inspired by Elvis and more.

Additional media appearances by the cast included Hanks on “The Late Show,” Olivia DeJonge (with Priscilla Presley) on “GMA,” Butler (again with Priscilla) on “20/20” and lots more.

Luhrmann and others appeared in an exclusive AMC Theaters interview video.

The Canadian premiere of the film was held last week in Toronto with DeJonge, Butler and Luhrmann in attendance.

The Presley family joined the cast and Luhrmann at the TCL Chinese Theater for a “Handprint and Footprint” ceremony.

One final trailer was released just today exclusively by Fandango MovieClips. It features a bit of new footage and a slightly different take on some story elements but fits largely with what has been seen so far. It also includes some of the praise from members of the Presley family to let audiences know this has been officially endorsed by them.

overall

As of now the movie is projected to bring in around $35 million in its first weekend, which isn’t at the same level some other recent high profile releases have grossed. Maybe that’s because this isn’t a super hero sequel, even though it’s about an artist dubbed The King for much of his career and who’s been recognized as the best-selling solo musical artist of all time.

So maybe the campaign just can’t make up the difference in generating audience interest despite Warner Bros. hanging the marketing on a few key elements:

  • Making a star out of Butler: He’s been positioned as a breakout here, someone who lost himself in becoming Presley for the camera. There have been countless profiles and other accolades for Butler, who is the lynchpin of the effort here.
  • Translating the music for a new generation: Instead of trying to sell people the Elvis originals of his recordings, the focus here has been on the more current artists that are reinterpreting and livening up those classics in a way that’s apparently meant to be palatable for younger listeners. Many of those artists have also been in attendance at various premieres and other events to help hammer home how integral they are to the finished film.
  • The Presley Family seal of approval: The studio and filmmakers want everyone to know this isn’t a hit job or critical look at the star (thought it might be less kind to Parker) and so the praise from three generations of Presley women has been used extensively in the last half of the campaign.

On top of all that I have a few questions/issues:

First: What’s the connection with Vogue that seems to be laced throughout the campaign? The publication hosted multiple events and published multiple profiles of Butler and others in the cast. It’s so constant and pervasive there has to be some kind of deal in place, but it’s never called out or acknowledged.

Second: Look at most all of the posters, trailers and other material and you’ll see “TCB” emblazoned on them, a reference to the name given to Elvis’ backing band in the 1970s. But that band is almost entirely absent from the trailers and isn’t called out in any way in other promotions. Not only that, there’s nothing about the campaign that uses “Taking care of business” as a slogan or tagline, so it’s a weird stylistic choice here.

It’s an intriguing campaign that sells Luhrmann’s vision very well and repeatedly hits a few key points but has a hard time otherwise resonating.

the batman – marketing recap

How Warner Bros. has sold the latest Bat-tastic caper.

The Batman movie poster
The Batman movie poster

After all the sturm und drang over the last few years over the Snyder-verse and how the various DC Comics-based movies are or aren’t connected, this week brings the kind of film we haven’t seen in about a decade: A solo adventure for Batman.

The Batman, the title of which represents the latest example of a trend where reboots, reimaginings and retakes simply at “The” before the name of the character or team to set it apart from a previous movie without it, stars Robert Pattinson in his debut as Bruce Wayne/Batman. Directed by Matt Reeves, the story is, surprisingly, not an origin of The Dark Knight but instead picks up when the vigilante is a couple years into his career as a crime-fighter. As such, he’s already developed a working relationship with Lieutenant James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright), one he will need as he investigates a crime wave perpetrated by someone referring to himself as The Riddler (Paul Dano).

Over the course of events, Batman will also come into contact with Gotham City crime boss Carmine Falcone (John Turturro) and Falcone’s lieutenant Oswald “Penguin” Cobblebott (Colin Farrell). He’ll also be helped – and occasionally hindered – by Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz), also known as Catwoman.

Pattinson is the third actor to play Batman in a live-action film in the last 15 years, not counting various animated incarnations, and as such represents DC Films’ recent “whatever” approach to connected universes that allows multiple versions of a character across media without being beholden to the same sort of restrictions found in the MCU and other franchises.

Arriving in theaters this weekend, let’s take a look at how this version of the 80+ year old character has been sold to the public.

announcement and casting

While it had been rumored for a while, Affleck was officially confirmed as the movie’s director at San Diego Comic-Con 2016.A tweet a few months later from Affleck showing what was reported to be test footage of the villain eventually lead to confirmation that Deathstroke was the bad guy Batman would be facing off against in the movie. Affleck later confirmed the movie’s title and talked briefly about why Deathstroke was chosen as the villain.

After months of rumors and reports, it was eventually officially announced that Affleck would *not* direct the movie but would continue on as producer and star.

Matt Reeves, who was later announced as the director, was asked repeatedly about this movie while he was promoting War For The Planet Of The Apes, remarking how he was trying to bring a noir-like feel to Batman. He talked more about it, hitting similar topics, while promoting “The Passage.”

In early 2019 WB finally gave the movie a release date while at the same time it was confirmed Affleck was not going to be the one playing the title character as it was reported the story would focus on a younger version of Bruce Wayne. Affleck commented on stepping down from the role while promoting Triple Frontier in early 2019.

A couple months later, in mid-May, reports circulated that Pattinson was the top contender for the role, news that sparked either joy or outrage among fans online depending on their overall perception of the actor. The process of casting Pattinson was unusually smooth and brought about because Reeves’ story was set early in Batman’s career, requiring a younger actor.

While the movie wasn’t part of WB/DC’s 2019 San Diego Comic-Con promotional push – the studio largely sat out the convention – a panel generally related to music in super hero films included fan exhortations directed at Reeves about not screwing up the project and character. It was somewhat surprising WB/DC didn’t make an exception to their SDCC absence given the event hosted multiple celebrations of the 80th anniversary of Batman’s debut in comics, celebrations that included costumes from Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, a screening of Tim Burton’s 1989 film and Batman’s induction into the Comic-Con Hall of Fame.

Pattinson spoke briefly about the movie while he was making the festival rounds in 2019, with former Batman Christian Bale offering some costuming advice based on his own experiences.

the marketing begins

The first official promotional activity for the film came in December 2019 when Reeves sent a video message to attendees of CCXP promising he and the cast would be there in person in 2020 to show off footage and talk more about the movie they were making.

In January of 2020 Reeves announced the beginning of production while WB revealed the full cast list.

A short while later in February Reeves offered fans their first real look at Pattinson in costume, releasing a “camera test” showing Batman slowing approaching the camera and coming more into focus the closer he gets. Then in early March he shared a first official look at the new, more conventional Batmobile.

Later on, Pattinson promised to bring his same eccentric style to this role that he’s brought to others, revealing later he received the official word of his casting just as he was starting work on Christopher Nolan’s Tenet. Serkis was also interviewed during the movie’s production shutdown about how he was approaching the role of Alfred, as was Wright about playing Gordon.

While she was promoting her new Hulu show in early 2020 Kravitz dropped some hints as to what people could expect from her take on Catwoman. She kept talking about it throughout that publicity cycle.

The movie was one of many to have its production put on hiatus because of the Covid-19 outbreak. Later on WB rescheduled its release from May to October as a result. Production restarted in August of 2020, but with the change that most of the shooting would happen on a closed set instead of outdoors. That new phase didn’t last long, as only a short while later Pattinson himself was reported to have been diagnosed with Covid-19, putting a halt on any aspect of production including him.

In July 2020, Reeves announced a spinoff series for HBO Max set in the same world as the movie but focusing on the Gotham PD, with Warner Bros. promising the show would expand on the stories and ideas established in the film.

dc fandome 2020 – the marketing begins

Both Reeves and Pattinson were listed among the talent making a virtual appearance at DC’s “Fandome” event in August, 2020, fueling speculation a more substantial first look might be revealed to those following along from home. Just before that, Reeves shared a look at the movie’s title treatment. During Fandome, the director praised his cast while also revealing that the corrupt nature of Gotham City would be explored in the HBO Max series, which he clarified is set in “year one” of Batman’s career while the movie takes place in “year two.” That event is also where the first teaser trailer debuted.

In August 2020, just days before the DC Fandome virtual event, Reeves shared a Fandome-specific teaser poster designed by DC publisher Jim Lee.

The first teaser (36.9m YouTube views) trailer debuted during DC Fandome in August of last year and, considering the reports that the film was only ~25 percent complete, is surprisingly robust. It shows that things are getting very dark in Gotham, with a string of murders accompanied by riddles intended for The Batman, who is already an accepted partner of the GCPD and Commissioner Gordon. There are also looks at Catwoman, an unexplained Joker gang and lots more.

Fans online quickly worked out the answer to one of the riddles presented in the trailer, finding that the answer to “What does a liar do when he’s dead?” is “He lies still.”

That trailer’s use of “Something In The Way” by Nirvana helped that nearly-30 year old song jump back to the top of the charts on both iTunes and YouTube.

In September 2020 an exclusive bit of artwork was released to celebrate that year’s Batman Day.

spinoffs and other interim publicity

“Batman: Caped Crusader”, an animated series produced by Reeves along with Bruce Timm (of “Batman: The Animated Series” fame) and J.J. Abrams was announced in May 2021, but despite Reeves’ involvement it didn’t appear the series is tied to the movie in any way.

Those and other pandemic-related production delays were cited as the reasons behind a later delay to March, 2022.

There were a few shots from the movie, along with comments from Kravitz and Reeves, in a Catwoman documentary Warner Bros. shared on YouTube in May 2021.

Farrell talked about the movie when he appeared on “Kimmel” in July of last year.

A profile of Affleck included his comments on how the advice of a friend helped convince him to drop out of this project.

the marketing returns: dc fandome 2021 and more

In August 2021 this was among the movies WB showed off to exhibitors and others attending CinemaCon. A new trailer was promised for that year’s installment of DC Fandome, followed by the announcement another HBO Max series, this one focused on The Penguin, was in early development.

Kravitz was interviewed about how she approached her audition with Reeves and how it ultimately led to her getting the role of Catwoman.

Ahead of Fandome 2021 Reeves shared a photo of Batman looking out over Gotham and another of Kravitz as Catwoman. Two posters – one featuring Batman and one with Riddler – also came out just before Fandome.

As the trailer (42.6m YouTube views) released during Fandome opens, the Gotham PD is storming a diner to arrest Riddler. From there we see Batman as he goes about trying to track down the villain and figure out his plans, a process that involves lots of punching of henchmen and other violence. There’s quite a bit of screentime devoted to Catwoman along with introductory shots of Alfred, Comm. Gordon and Penguin, the latter of whom is, at the end of the trailer, surprised at the resilience of the very muscle-car looking Batmobile.

A cutdown version of that trailer was released right after the virtual event as the first TV spot in the campaign.

News came in December that Farrell was slated to continue playing Penguin in an HBO Max spinoff series focusing on his character’s rise to power before the events of the movie.

Rumors circulated for a while that Warner Bros. was testing two different versions of the movie, one with an ending that includes Joker and which would setup a sequel.

Another interview with Kravitz had her talking more about the training she engaged in to play Catwoman. At the same time, Pattinson talked about how he had an idea of where Bruce/Batman would go over two additional movies and that he’s open to making it a trilogy. Reeves also made it clear this movie was not set in the loosely-defined DC Extended Universe but was a standalone story not connected to the Multiverse being established in other projects. All those were part of an Empire Magazine cover story devoted to the film.

A new trailer came out at the end of December. Titled “The Bat and The Cat”,(26.2m YouTube views) it opens by juxtaposing Bruce Wayne being chastised for not continuing his family’s philanthropy with shots of him as Batman chasing villains through the city. From there it focuses on how Catwoman and Batman have to navigate their…complicated…dynamic to team up and try and save Gotham from the scourge of The Riddler and other threats.

the marketing forever: into 2022

Twitter Movies debuted two exclusive posters in mid-January. One shows an extreme closeup of Batman’s face with the words “Unmask the truth” at the top while the other has Batman and Catwoman standing on top of a building looking out over Gotham City.

Another poster came out a couple weeks later that sports the same tagline but features most of the main characters, both good and bad guys.

In an interview with Reeves, the director talked about the stories – both Batman and otherwise – that inspired the story and the visuals of the movie, while members of the cast praised Reeves’ exacting nature and his approach to filming. Another profile of Reeves had him offering all kinds of details about the production, including Pattinson’s makeup, the original script from Affleck and lots more.

Little Caesars Pizza teased their tie-in food offering, the Batman Calzony, at the end of January.

TV spots picked up around that time, including this commercial that distills the recent trailer down to its core elements, showing the conflict between Bruce Wayne and Batman along with hinting at some of the other elements of the story.

After a scene from the movie leaked online Reeves released it himself, followed shortly by WB. It shows Bruce arriving at a funeral and alternatively being berated for his lack of public philanthropy, eavesdropping on a police conversation before Riddler interrupts the service with a message to the Batman.

Riddler, Penguin and Catwoman are all featured on a series of character posters released at the beginning of February.

Batman-branded Oreos packaging, unveiled at that time, contained cookies that were stamped with the hero’s image. That packaging also featured a QR code that, when scanned, entered someone for a chance to win a trip to London for an immersive Batman experience.

DC announced all of the Batman titles released in March would sport movie-inspired variant covers.

Tickets for early IMAX screenings of the movie, scheduled for March 1st, went on sale around the same time.

Pattinson got the feature profile treatment, with the story focusing on how his career has evolved over the years to the point where he’s taking on more complex roles as he tries to shed the emo-heartthrob image he was pegged with for a while. Kravitz got a similar profile that also touched on how she fits into the legacy of the other actors who have portrayed Catwoman on screen.

IMAX and Dolby-exclusive posters used profiles of Batman as their central feature, varying in how close the camera is to the figure.

Both Pattinson and Kravitz were featured on the cover of EW in a package that had them talking about working with each other, becoming part of the Batman history and more. There were also interviews with Dano about creating a truly creepy version of Riddler and more.

An exclusive behind-the-scenes featurette was released by Little Caesars that had Pattinson and others talking about the story as well as the scope of the story.

Reeves joined Kravitz and Pattinson in Paris for a promotional stop over there. More of the cast joined them for a special screening in London a bit later.

Wright promoted the movie when he appeared on “GMA,” having previously stopped by “The Late Show.” Serkis also talked about becoming Alfred on “GMA” while Pattinson shared the tips he’d gotten from other super hero actors on “Kimmel.” Dano later talked about the movie on “The Tonight Show.”

Google introduced a special feature where people searching for “bruce wayne” were delivered results for “batman” and shown an animated Batsignal highlighting those results.

There’s been a plethora of coverage of the various branded consumer products that have been released recently to tie in with the movie, but this is really only a slight uptick when put in the context of the usual massive amounts of Batman merchandise that’s readily available.

Another profile of Reeves focused on how the director worked to find a personal and emotional connection to the character before agreeing to take on the project. Meanwhile an interview with Kravitz had her saying she approached the character as bisexual, something that may or may not be explicity in the movie but which definitely got people’s attention. A THR cover story of Dano had him talking more about joining the super hero world and how that does or doesn’t fit in with his career to date.

Most of the cast and crew came out for the red carpet world premiere in New York City earlier this week. Unfortunately Reeves had to sit the event out due to being diagnosed with Covid-19.

AMC Theaters offered an exclusive interview with Reeves. That came days after AMC revealed this movie would be subject to “variable pricing” wherein tickets to this film will be priced higher than those for other movies showing at the same time. This is a major departure for U.S. theaters and it remains to be seen how audiences will react to those tickets being $1.50 more expensive than they’re used to.

overall

It needs to be pointed out that nowhere in the marketing is the movie’s nearly 3-hour runtime explicitly mentioned, despite this being important information for the audience to have.

One has to wonder whether the reality of that will have any impact on the $100 million opening weekend that’s projected for the movie.

The 86% Fresh rating The Batman has on Rotten Tomatoes, though, indicates mostly positive reception for the film so far, and it may be that audiences are willing to hold it for three hours in order to get back to the theater again and reinforce the narrative that only super hero and other franchises can actually survive at the box office.

Aside from that…this certainly looks like a Batman movie. It hits slightly different beats than have been seen in the campaigns for the other Batman movies that have come out but also seems utterly familiar, which is the whole point of IP franchises like this. There’s some good stuff in here, especially when the focus is on Kravitz and Pattinson, but mostly it comes down to whether you enjoy the character or not.

At least, according to Reeves, the movie does *not* feature those damn pearls falling. That’s a win and might be the strongest point of differentiation between this and previous incarnations.

kimi – marketing recap

How Warner Bros. has sold a drama about whistleblowing and isolation.

Kimi movie poster Warner bros. HBO Max
Kimi movie poster

Director Steven Soderbergh is back with another in his career-long experiment with style, structure and genre. This time around it’s Kimi.

Zoe Kravitz stars as Angela Childs, an agoraphobic woman who works from home for a tech company. One day she finds what she believes to be evidence of a violent crime in the data she’s reviewing, but her higher ups don’t seem to be interested in acting on it. So Childs has to confront her fears and venture outside her apartment to find others who will take it seriously.

The movie also stars Rita Wilson, Byron Bowers, India de Beaufort and others as the people Childs has to deal with in her efforts to find someone who will believe her story. Let’s take a look at how it’s been sold.

announcements and casting

HBO Max announced the film in late February, 2021 with Kravitz starring and Soderbergh directing. Bowers, Erika Christensen, Devin Ratray and the rest of the cast joined a couple months later in advance of filming taking place in the middle of last year.

the marketing campaign

The trailer (120,000 YouTube views) was the first bit of marketing that was released, hitting in mid-January. After some juxtaposition of Childs’ automated home/work life and her running from something dangerous, we settle in to see how she has arranged her life so she never needs to leave her apartment. When she hears what she believes to be a murder on an audio file she’s transcribing she finds her superiors want her to forget it. Others are also skeptical, but despite attempts to make her feel she’s the crazy one her fears seem to be justified as she’s targeted by some powerful people who want her to go away.

Childs peers nervously around a corner, hoodie up to keep her as hidden as possible, on the first and only poster, released at the end of January. As if her positioning weren’t enough, the “She’s not the only one listening” copy hints strongly that there’s something sinister about the story.

Outside of those elements there wasn’t much to the marketing of the movie. Kravitz has been in the press quite a bit lately, but that’s mostly for The Batman, coming out next month.

Just now a 30-second cutdown of the trailer was released that hits the major points of Childs being on the run after hearing something she wasn’t supposed to and navigating the various parties who at best don’t believe her and at worst want to eliminate her.

overall

What I’m most surprised at is that this isn’t getting a bigger push from Warner Bros. and HBO Max. Not that everything Steven Soderbergh does needs to be treated like the biggest release of the year, but it feels like this is an afterthought for the studio/platform as they focus on not only major features like The Batman but also buzzier titles like “Euphoria” and others that have captured the public’s attention.

That being said, Soderbergh has rarely (if ever) turned in something boring and this doesn’t seem to deviate from that. He doesn’t turn genres upside down like the Coen Brothers, but instead offers examples of what the best of a genre can look like, a talent that’s on display fully in this trailer.

On top of that, more than other similar recent movies, it creates a sense of dread around what are now largely considered everyday conveniences and devices. Every time the KIMI says “I’m here,” you’re reminded of how the one-sheet copy hints at everything being monitored, with the vague threat that those sessions will be used against us in some way.

the matrix resurrections – marketing recap

How Warner Bros. has sold an unexpected sequel

The Matrix Resurrections movie poster
The Matrix Resurrections movie poster

1999’s The Matrix was, of course, a massive success and a groundbreaking shift in the idea of what science fiction on film could look like and, even more importantly, *be* like. After two subsequent sequels (which are better than conventional wisdom in the early 00s held them to be) the series seemed to be done, with The Wachowski Sisters moving on to other projects.

Now it’s back with The Matrix Resurrections. Lana Wachowski directs, with Keanu Reeves returning as Neo and Carrie-Anne Moss back as Trinity.

The story picks up 20 years after The Matrix Revolutions, with Neo living in what seems to be the real world under the name Thomas Anderson, working a job and occasionally seeing things he thinks are odd or unusual. He also meets Tiffany, the “real world” version of Trinity, someone he can’t help but think he has some kind of connection to. Eventually Thomas meets a new version of Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who gives him a red pill that once more opens his mind to the reality that is a new, more aggressive Matrix, with Neo and Trinity again going to war against the machines.

Neil Patrick Harris, Jessica Henwick, Jonathan Groff, Jada Pinkett Smith and others also star as those either fighting against or with the pair.

announcement and casting

The announcement of the fourth movie in August, 2019 came after a year or so of conversation about what plans Warner Bros. might have for the property. Speculation had included prequels or sequels that would go beyond the story of Neo, Trinity and the others and often didn’t include the involvement of the original creators. So when WB let it drop that most, if not all, the excitement was palpable.

The movie was one of many to have its production put on hiatus because of the Covid-19 outbreak, with the release date pushed from its original March, 2020 to April of 2021. It was later moved back to December, 2021.

In mid-2020 Ross and others were interviewed about their reactions to the project happening, what they were most looking forward to about the film and more. Harris and Reeves both commented on the story over the course of the year, as did Moss and others.

One of the first, albeit very brief, looks at the movie came via an HBO Max promo touting the same day theatrical/streaming availability of WB’s 2021 lineup.

Abdul-Mateen II talked about joining the franchise and what it was like to film the movie in an interview that covered a number of projects the actor is involved in.

down the rabbit hole: the marketing campaign begins

This past August marked the first steps toward a formal marketing campaign when Warner Bros. brought footage from the film to exhibitors and other attendees of CinemaCon.

That really kicked off in early September when a video teasing the arrival of the first trailer was released. Also in that video was the https://www.whatisthematrix.com URL where visitors could get a brief look at the first footage from the new film, with different experiences for those selecting red or blue pills.

When the first trailer (41m YouTube views) finally did come out it hinted at a very different continuation of the series than people might have imagined. Neo – now living in The Matrix under the name Thomas and with no memory of what’s come before – is having dreams of things he knows couldn’t have happened but is otherwise living his life. Even meeting Trinity, also suffering amnesia, doesn’t trigger anything in his mind. Things start to change when he goes off his meds (which just happen to be blue pills) and is then offered a red pill by Morpheus. So Neo has to go through the process of discovery all over again, followed by lots of visually impressive fights and other challenges he and the others have to navigate and overcome.

Later that month it was announced the movie’s premiere would take place in San Francisco.

A featurette released in early October had this movie’s cast and crew reminiscing about the first movie in particular and its legacy on their lives specifically and the overall culture more generally.

The first poster came out in late October and, like the teaser videos and other images released earlier, it focuses exclusively on the red and blue pills sitting side by side, waiting for someone to choose one or the other. Intriguingly the copy at the top reads “Now, based on real events.”

In an interview later that month Abdul-Mateen II confirmed he was playing Morpheus, albeit a different version of the character than what we’ve seen before.

United Masters launched a contest where songwriters could submit their original compositions for the chance to win $15,000 and a chance to have that song featured in the movie’s promotional and marketing campaign.

The five primary characters are arranged on the theatrical poster, released in mid-November. Neo and Trinity are dressed in familiar outfits while the other characters each get something that fits with the story as well as their role and personality, all in front of the green code that symbolizes the Matrix.

Some of the biggest moments from the trailer and more are pulled into the first of several TV spots that kicked off that part of the campaign.

Warner Bros. partnered with Niftys.com to create 100,000 NFTs inspired by the movie people could buy with the option later to keep the NFTs as they are or choose to have them transformed, with more such opportunities coming later as well.

Each of the main characters got their own poster as part of a series of one sheets that came out in late November.

One of many profiles of Reeves focused on his zen, chill approach to the acting gig he’s been in for decades as well as this movie in particular.

IMAX announced that, for the first time ever, the original film would be screened in the large format for two nights in early December, part of a move to not only bring audiences back to theaters but also of course set the stage and build anticipation for this new installment.

Short videos continued to come out regularly offering recut versions of what we’d already seen along with tantalizing glimpses of new footage that usually generated more questions than were answered.

A few new photos and comments from Henwick, Wachowski and others were included in an EW cover story focusing on the reunion of Moss and Reeves and how they quickly fell back into the easy connection and chemistry they’d developed over the filming of the first three movies.

your mind makes it real: the marketing campaign continues

Moving into December there was another interview with/profile of Abdul-Mateen II where he talked about putting his own spin on the character of Morpheus.

The “glitch in The Matrix” concept introduced in the first movie is used in an extended TV spot as a way to highlight how things have changed but are still familiar over the years.

The American Red Cross ran a sweepstakes offering the chance to win a private hometown screening of the movie to those who came in to donate blood in advance of the holiday season.

“I remember this,” Neo says in the opening moments of the second trailer (12.8m YouTube views). From there we see what’s new through the lens of what’s come before, whether it’s Neo and Trinity’s relationship, a new look for the Smith agents that safeguard the Matrix or anything else. But we’re also told “Maybe this isn’t the story we think it is,” a line reminiscent of Luke Skywalker intoning “This is not going to go the way you think” in the trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

The IMAX exclusive poster puts Neo and Trinity at the center of The Matrix. There was also an IMAX-specific TV spot that shows Neo reluctant to get back into the fight.

A MovieClips featurette focused on the relationship between Neo and Trinity and how those characters are informed by the chemistry between the actors playing them

Abdul-Mateen II talked more about becoming Morpheus and working on the film when he appeared on “The Tonight Show.”

The first official clip debuted during the “Game Awards” earlier this month. It shows Anderson being led by Bugs through a series of portals until they finally arrive at Morpheus. In a sly twist, and a hint of the movie’s overall tone, he seeks to reassure Anderson by including scenes of his previous life, saying that nostalgia can be soothing and comforting.

That show was also where Unreal Engine debuted a demo of the company’s 3D technology set in the world of the movie and featuring many of its characters, including an introduction by Reeves.

Reeves talked about the movie and more on “The Late Show” as did Groff in his appearance a few days later. Priyanka Chopra Jonas showed up on “Late Night” to talk about keeping the story’s secrets. Harris then appeared on “Kimmel.”

Another featurette was about the place the original movie now holds in our culture and how this installment builds on what’s come before. The action and stuntwork was covered in another featurette.

Nvidia ran a promotional campaign where it had creators design movie-inspired custom PC mods, which fans could win by entering a sweepstakes by Retweeting one of the posts.

Users of Snapchat and other apps could add themselves to the Matrix via an AR app. A movie-inspired effect was also added to Instagram and Facebook that could be used during video calls.

The United Masters contest mentioned above paid off recently with a new spot that featured “Back To Life” by Quantrelle.

The green carpet premiere was held earlier this week in San Francisco, just making it in under the wire given a number of other premieres and events have been canceled because of the current Covid-19 case surge in the U.S. At the premiere Wachowski talked about making the movie without her sister while the rest of the cast was just amazed the movie was made at all.

The Matrix Resurrections online ad

Another clip was released via IGN, this one showing the moment leading up to the scene in the earlier clip as Thomas is confronted for the first time by Bugs, agreeing to go with her to learn the truth of what’s seemed so unusual about his life.

Moss was interviewed again about how this movie is part of and was influenced by what had come before in her career and what’s come after her first outing as Trinity. She and Reeves then spoke more about the strength of their on-screen relationship and how that informs the story this time around.

overall

The initial reactions that came out after the premiere were mostly positive, calling out the “metatextual” nature of the story and how strong the stars are in returning to their roles. The full reviews published since then have been a bit more mixed, focusing on action sequences and other components that don’t quite live up to the promise of what was featured in the first movie and the two earlier sequels.

But the campaign itself has been *very* strong, mostly because it leans early and often on the personalities of Reeves and Moss. They may not be Bogart and Bacall, but it’s clear they have a deep friendship that helps them play off each other professionally and were both committed to only returning to this franchise if it rang true with what had come before.

It also benefits from more than a little self-awareness, with characters commenting on how expectations may be upended and things may turn out differently than anticipated. That’s a good way to set the stage for a sequel that seems to have a clear message, even if it’s not the message people might assume based on the earlier films.

king richard – marketing recap

How Warner Bros. has sold a biopic about the man behind two legends

Most biopics are about the people who have made the headlines, not the people who pushed them along the way or otherwise supported them. Sure, those folks may appear as supporting characters, but the movie itself is about the lead singer, the star athlete, the groundbreaking comedian.

King Richard, out this week in theaters and on HBO Max, takes a different tack. The movie is focused on Richard Williams (Will Smith), the father of tennis superstars Venus and Serena. Set when those two were still up-and-coming childhood prodigies, the story is about how their father not only pushed them to be their best on and off the court but pushed, cajoled and bargained for them to get every opportunity to excel.

As several people have said on Twitter and elsewhere, it takes a special sort of mindset to take two of the greatest tennis players to ever compete and decide that it’s actually their father who deserves to be the focus of a motion picture.

announcement and casting

Shortly after the film was announced in 2019 it was slammed with a lawsuit by those who claim their work was being stolen by the producers and filmmakers. That lawsuit was eventually settled so that production could continue.

Smith was attached to star from the outset, with others added to the cast over the first half of 2020. Those additions included Demi Singleton and Saniyya Sidney as Serena and Venus, respectively, as well as Joe Bernthal, Liev Schrieber and others as the people the Williams family encounters along the way from potential to success.

One of the first, albeit very brief, looks at the movie came via an HBO Max promo touting the same day theatrical/streaming availability of WB’s 2021 lineup. Another promo showed off a bit more footage.

the marketing campaign

Richard pushing the girls in a shopping cart filled with tennis balls is the central image on the first poster from July. Copy at the bottom makes it clear the story is about “Venus, Serena and a plan for greatness.”

The first trailer (14.1m YouTube views) came out in late July and opens with Richard coming home with Venus and Serena to find a child services investigator in the house. He contends he’s hard on those two and the other kids but that they are all becoming better people as a result. His ambition is evident throughout the trailer as he pushes the girls to perform at the top of the game, constantly putting them in positions to show off what they can do.

The movie was among those shown off by Warner Bros. at CinemaCon in late August.

How Smith has changed his perspective about his career and how that plays into the choice to take on this project were covered in an extensive profile of the actor from September.

After that it screened at AFI Fest, where it was the closing feature, and at the London BFI Film Festival and Telluride Film Festival. It was also the centerpiece screening at Miami Film Festival GEMS in November.

Empire debuted the second poster in October, this one showing the three main characters huddled together as the copy tells us this is a true story we’ll have to see to believe.

Another trailer, (4m YouTube views) this one featuring “Be Alive” by Beyonce, came out in mid-October. It’s less about the domestic troubles of the Williams household and more about the push-back Richard gets every time he wants to give his girls a chance to perform. But he also is obstinate in constantly going against the grain of what people advise him to do with their careers, which causes as many problems as it solves.

Promos like this began running after that as TV spots, social promotions, pre-roll ads and more.

At the beginning of November the movie was the opening feature at the American Black Film Festival. Just before that it had been the closing night feature of the Chicago Film Festival where it won the Best Feature Audience Choice Award.

Smith, Sidney and Singleton were the subjects of an Entertainment Weekly cover story that had them talking about researching their roles, the process of actually making the movie and lots more.

Earlier there had been a number of early screenings at colleges, culminating with a coordinated push to historically black colleges and universities to try and reach those audiences ahead of time and begin building even more buzz outside the usual critics and media circles.

A video was released showing the real life Venus and Serena visiting the set and meeting, apparently for the first time, the girls who are playing them as children and the other actors playing family members and others.

Reports emerged around that time that Smith himself wrote checks to many of his costars and others in an effort to compensate them for the revenue they stood to lose because of the changed release plan, which could impact their bottom line. Whatever the case, the stories were intended to help burnish Smith’s image as a nice guy and a leader on set.

Aunjanue Ellis, who plays the Willams sisters’ mother, was profiled about her experience on this movie and how it fits into a career spent mostly as a secondary player. Director Reinaldo Marcus Green was interviewed about how he first heard about the project and how he ultimately scored the job after making a connection with Smith and convincing him he could do the story justice.

MovieClips released an exclusive featurette covering the dynamics and drive of the Williams family.

Smith has made the talk show rounds of “The Tonight Show,” “The Daily Show” and more, including an appearance on Oprah’s show. Even the real Serena stopped by “Kimmel” to promote the movie. Sidney and Singleton made multiple stops together, including on “Drew Barrymore” and “Tamron Hall” talk shows.

The three major stars showed up at a Chicago tennis event to talk about the movie and encourage those folks to go see it.

What it felt like to play a sports icon so early in her career was covered in a profile of Sidney.

Regal Cinemas and AMC Theaters both featured exclusive video interviews with the cast and crew.

Both Smith and Ellis received the Outstanding Performers of the Year Award from the 37th annual Santa Barbara Film Festival. The two were also jointly interviewed about the movie specifically but also what it has to say about black families and other topics.

There were additional profiles of Ellis and Bernthal, the former focusing again on how this is her long-worked for overnight success and the latter how it’s an opportunity for the actor to not play a stereotypical tough guy character.

The Williams sisters stopped by the movie’s red carpet premiere at AFI Fest where the cast talked about portraying people who are still alive and more.

That was followed by a cast and crew appearance at an event at Wimbledon in London that also served as the movie’s UK premiere.

Ellis appeared on “Kimmel” just days before release.

overall

Reviews have been very good – the movie is 91% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes – but tracking estimates an opening weekend of just about $10 million, which would be pretty low.

That could be for a number of reasons: A lack of interest in largely conventional biopics, the split distribution pattern, other plans over the weekend before Thanksgiving or something entirely different.

But the campaign hasn’t really taken a wrong step, so it doesn’t seem that the marketing is playing a role in those lowered expectations. Of course that may be part of the problem, that following the variation on a theme shown in Spencer and other recent true stories, something that’s more conventionally heartfelt, inspiring and standard just isn’t resonating

dune – movie review

Thoughts and reactions while wondering the Gom Jabbar scene was triggering to the anti-vaccine crowd…

So I watched Dune.

Despite the most peer-pressure I’ve felt since high school, that viewing took place in the comfort of my own home, via an internet streaming device connected to my television set. I understand this violates the catholic doctrine that has swept the world of film criticism, where anything less than 100% adherence to seeing the movie on the biggest theatrical screen available requires immediate confession and will result in generations to come being required to buy AMC Indulgences™.

Somehow I was able to still enjoy the movie and appreciate the work of director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Greig Fraser. This is obviously because, based on the opinions of various essayists and sharers of hot takes, I do not truly love film, nor do I support filmmakers.

Its Time Adventure GIF by Dune Movie - Find & Share on GIPHY

Still, there are a handful of thoughts I’d like to share, though of course you are free to give my opinions the weight you consider appropriate given the shameful admissions above.

on the presentation…

I’m the first one to agree that theatrical viewing is great, but we need to do away with the notion that there’s some sort of hallowed experience that needs to be preserved. Even putting issues of the quality of the theater – including the parking lot, lobby and everything else connected with it – aside, arguments that seeing a movie theatrically is “immersive” fall apart quickly. That’s especially true with any movie over 1:45. After that point I’m no longer immersed in whatever I’m watching and can only concentrate after I miss 10 minutes of the movie and come back to my seat.

Tell me how that’s a more pure viewing experience than being able to pause the film and come back to it without missing a single scene.

Also, I’m going to assume every critic and columnist insisting people can only fully appreciate the movie on a massive screen will not be buying or viewing any home video release, including its current streaming on HBO Max. Wouldn’t want to sully yourself, after all.

Which leads me to:

on the box-office…

Dune’s $40 million domestic opening weekend total may seem somewhat on the small side, especially since both Halloween Kills and No Time To Die recently hit or exceeded $50 million and Venom: Let There Be Carnage hit $90.

Conventional wisdom has suggested that, if Dune hadn’t been on HBO Max in addition to theaters, it might have scored closer to $80 million or so. But that $40 million is significantly better than Villeneuve’s last two big budget sci-fi movies, and given the…imposing…nature of the source material in this instance, it could have been a lot lower.

While it’s impossible to prove a hypothetical alternative, I’m inclined to believe the constant “go see it in theaters!” message from the filmmakers, critics and the campaign itself motivated a lot of people to go do just that. In a non-HBO Max timeline my hunch is the weekend total would still be under $50 million, and the long-term value of the hybrid release to Warner Bros. is probably greater than the difference.

on the visual design…

One thing Villeneuve, with the help of his production designers and other trades experts, seems to do better than many other current filmmakers is create a sense of proportion between massive sets (both practical and virtual) and the performers being asked to move in and around them.

Fight Defend GIF by Dune Movie - Find & Share on GIPHY

Throughout Dune, especially in the first 1:30, characters are walking around massive 50-foot tall inscribed solid walls. Somehow the director and his team are able to successfully convey the size of these while also showing the characters as fully inhabiting them instead of being dwarfed by them.

on the performances…

That’s in part because the performances of the actors are not trying to fill the room. Oscar Isaac, Rebecca Ferguson and Timothée Chalamet all seem to be acting in a small, storefront black-box theater instead of on the set of an epic sci-fi motion picture. The focus from all of them and others is on the moment and the emotions contained therein, not on trying to act next to a huge dragonfly-esque flying craft.

There’s not really a weak link in the chain in terms of cast. The three mentioned above are all great, Chamalet conveying a lot about Paul Atreides simply by staring at the sculpture of his grandfather fighting a bull, Isaac being stoically honorable behind his thick beard and Ferguson clearly demonstrating love for her son Paul despite repeatedly setting him up for various tortures and tests.

Serious Film GIF by Dune Movie - Find & Share on GIPHY

Also completely enjoyable are Josh Brolin, Jason Momoa, Zendaya, Javier Bardem, Charlotte Rampling and others. Rampling in particular manages to be more menacing behind her black veil than most mustache-twirling villains in other movies.

Speaking of which:

on the score…

The praise being given to composer Hans Zimmer for his score is absolutely deserved. But you really have to stand up and applaud how the music fits into the overall sound design from Mark Mangini and Theo Green, who are responsible for creating everything from huge mining vehicles to the smallest sound of two grains of sand bouncing off each other.

I mean it’s no Toto, but in this economy, what is?

on the comparisons to David Lynch’s 1984 film…

The two can’t really be compared, at least not objectively. They’re both trying to do completely different things and convey completely different themes and messages.

Villeneuve’s movie is more straightforward, seeing the whole story about honor and destiny, whereas Lynch’s is more about the machinations of the characters that lead them to take the actions they do and break the trusts they do. That’s most seen by considering what scenes Lynch included but Villeneuve did not and vice versa.

The visuals are just as stunning in both versions but in different ways, most clearly exemplified by the different approaches to portraying Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård), not just because certain…unsavory…aspects of the character have been excised in the new version but in the general design of the gluttonous leader of the clan opposing House Atreides.

Adventure Float GIF by Dune Movie - Find & Share on GIPHY

the many saints of newark – marketing recap

How Warner Bros. has sold the much-anticipated prequel to a critically-acclaimed series.

The Many Saints of Newark poster

“The Sopranos” retains its status as one of the most acclaimed and influential series of all time even 14 years after its final episode aired. It is still a cultural touchpoint alongside fellow HBO series “The Wire” and a handful of others that have been off the air (so to speak) for over a decade.

This week the world of mob boss Tony Soprano – memorably brought to life by the late James Gandolfini – returns in the form of The Many Saints of Newark. Jumping back to 1967 Newark, the prequel movie is still centered on Tony, whose younger self is now played by Michael Gandolfini, James’ son. At this point, though, he’s just an underachieving teen who idolizes his uncle Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola), who leads the family’s criminal operation. Tony’s ruthlessness grows as time goes on under the influence of Dickie and others, setting the stage for his eventual ascent to power.

Leslie Odom Jr., Joe Bernthal, Corey Stall, Ray Liotta, Vera Farmiga, Billy Magnussen and others also star, some as wholly new characters who will influence the direction Tony and others take, some as younger incarnations of characters familiar to viewers of the show and who are part of Tony Soprano’s orbit. Let’s take a look at how Warner Bros. has sold what should be a slam-dunk with a built in audience of loyal super fans.

[disclosure statement: I’ve never watched a full episode of “The Sopranos” but I do believe the ambiguous cut-to-black ending is incredible simply because it refuses to neatly tie things up. Watching people freak out was highly enjoyable, even if the next 10 years of endless debate and discussion made me sometimes want to walk into traffic. Let’s move on…]

announcement and casting

Ever since the elder Gandolfini’s passing, series creator David Chase had ruled out telling stories that would take place after the end of the show. His idea of telling a story set earlier in the timeline, though, remained intriguing and it was this idea that New Line and HBO Films finally greenlit in 2018. Alan Taylor, who had directed a number of episodes during the original show’s run, was hired to helm the movie at that time.

Nivola was one of the first to be cast later in 2018, with others added over the course of 2019. That included the younger Gandolfini, who reportedly was hesitant to step into his father’s shoes and who, despite the genetic connection, had to audition for the role.

Originally scheduled for September, 2020, in April of last year the date was pushed to March, 2021 because of pandemic-related theater closures and other delays. This past January release was moved to October at the same time Warner Bros. announced it, like the rest of its slate, would debut simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max.

selling the movie

One of the first, albeit very brief, looks at the movie came via an HBO Max promo in January touting the same day theatrical/streaming availability of WB’s 2021 lineup. But the campaign didn’t really kick off until just this past June.

That’s when the first trailer (9.5m YouTube views) came out in late June. It starts with the older Tony’s voice introducing us to his younger self on screen. After getting into a fight we see his mother being told by a high school teacher that Tony is smart, a born leader, a label she disagrees with since he’s not doing well in school. He eventually gets involved in the “family business,” first as a lark and then as he accumulates more power and influence. But it’s clear there will be hurdles he has to clear on the way up, including lots of violence and betrayal.

The first poster was released at the same time. Using the same stylized typeface and black-and-white photography – albeit with a single pop of color – it shows the primary dynamic of the story with a young Tony looking to Dickie

Van Zandt talked in July about how he had consulted on parts of the movie’s story at the request of Chase, even though he doesn’t appear in the film.

Director Alan Taylor talked about the difficulty he had in taking the story from the small to big screen while keeping Chase’s vision intact. For his part, Chase was interviewed about not only the pressure of returning to a story he’d already left behind but also the difficulty in casting many of the parts.

TV spots/social media promos began running in late August, cutting down the trailer to focus on a few key moments in the criminal development of young Tony Soprano and how that’s enabled by Dickie.

A sprawling feature from early September went in-depth on the making of the film, especially how the actors sought to capture the spirit of well-known characters, making them familiar to those who know them from the show without doing impressions. It also covered the long road the movie took to finally being made all these after the end of the original show.

Rolling Stone followed that with profiles of the cast members, including Gandolfini, Odom Jr. Stoll, Liotta and Bernthall.

About about the same time there was an interview with/profile of Chase, who talked about how the original show came to be, the passing of Gandolfini and what eventually convinced him to return to the world of Tony Soprano for this prequel story.

Chase talked more about casting Gandolfini to play a young version of the same character his father brought to life when he appeared on “Kimmel.” Gandolfini himself appeared on “CBS Sunday Morning” to talk about the same thing, including sharing how at times he went a little hard in that direction and had to be pulled back. Bernthal’s appearance on “Late Night” had the actor telling fans of the show they shouldn’t just expect more of that in the movie.

Like many others, Chase was asked for his thoughts on the movie going day-and-date on streaming and theatrical, saying he wasn’t thrilled with that decision and, if he’d thought it was a possibility, he might not have made it at all.

Dickie is looking to make a name for himself as the second trailer (2.9m YouTube views) released in early September, begins. His aspirations have made enemies, of course, but they also overlap with his nephew Tony’s burgeoning interest in the family business. It’s a more fast-paced trailer that has more of an emphasis on Dickie’s story than Tony’s, along with what I’m sure are a few nods to stories from the show that fans will enjoy.

Dickie is all on his own on the next poster, also from early September. The same design aesthetic from the first one-sheet is used here. This time he’s labeled as “Who made Tony Soprano.” That the copy is declarative instead of being framed as a question is intriguing, telling the audience that the movie won’t so much be a journey to find out who it is that made the future mobster the man he would become but that this is the guy, so come along and see what happens.

A series of almost a dozen character posters came out shortly after that, showing off the movie’s impressive cast.

At this point the younger Gandolfini began a substantial media tour that would, in the three or so weeks leading up to the film’s release, include “CBS Sunday Morning,” “The Tonight Show,” “Late Night” and elsewhere. He was also the subject of a number of feature profiles like this.

Odom Jr., Bernthal, Liotta, Nivola and others from the cast also made appearances on a handful of morning and late night talk shows.

A featurette from later in September had Taylor, Chase and many of the cast members talking about returning to these characters and this world or, in many cases, entering for the first time.

Just a couple weeks ago the movie’s world premiere happened at the first ever Tribeca Fall Preview, an offshoot of the Tribeca Film Festival. At that premiere Chase, Taylor and the rest of the cast hit on similar themes about their experiences with the movie and the franchise as a whole.

Betting site DraftKings ran a free sweepstakes where fans could simply name their favorite “Sopranos” character for a chance at a $5,000 prize.

The focus is more squarely on Dickie in some of the additional TV spots run in the last couple weeks, continuing a shift begun in the second trailer.

AMC Theaters had an exclusive video interview with some of the primary cast members, as did Regal Cinemas.

overall

It’s not terribly surprising that many of the reviews of the movie have been lukewarm, resulting in a 71% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. To some extent no movie, whether it was set before or after the series, could live up to the reputation the show developed or the hallowed place it has been elevated to in the intervening years.

WB’s campaign for the movie has been solid, though, designed to give fans exactly what they want, which is more tales of Tony Soprano and his “family.” To that end, much of the marketing has been designed to evoke or outright mimic the key art and other elements of the show. Other elements are more geared to make fans react to an important mention or appearance that’s explicitly tied to the show that has come before.

Leonardo Dicaprio Reaction GIF by Once Upon A Time In Hollywood - Find & Share on GIPHY

What’s missing is a message to those (like myself) that haven’t yet explored the show. This could be an excellent on-ramp to that broader experience, allowing us to start with a young Tony and then continue on with his later, more established years. That could leave people in that category feeling shut out for one reason or another and therefore uninterested in checking out the movie.

cry macho – marketing recap

How Warner Bros. has sold the latest Clint Eastwood joint.

Cry Macho poster

Remember when Unforgiven was considered “late career Clint Eastwood? Now that revisionist Western, which opened up a wave of similar films reevaluating the “good guys wear white hats, bad guys wear black” model of previous decades, turns 30 next year but Eastwood has continued steadily working, especially as a director.

This week Cry Macho, the latest in which Eastwood both appears and directs, comes to HBO Max as well as theaters. Based on the 1975 novel of the same name by N. Richard Nash, the story follows Mike Milo (Eastwood), a retired rodeo rider who now breeds and trains horses. Milo is approached by his former boss Howard Polk (Dwight Yokam) to travel to Mexico to find and ultimately bring back Polk’s son Rafeal (Eduardo Minett) who is involved in an illegal cockfighting ring there.

announcements and casting

Warner Bros. announced the movie in October, 2020. One of the first, albeit very brief, looks at the movie came via an HBO Max promo touting the same day theatrical/streaming availability of WB’s 2021 lineup.

Eastwood’s multi-pronged role was part of the original announcement but the rest of the cast wasn’t confirmed until after production, which took place with Covid-19 safety protocols in place, was completed in mid-December of last year.

A release date was finally announced in March, 2021.

marketing campaign launches

The marketing campaign officially kicked off just over a month ago in early August with the release of first look stills showing Eastwood, Minett and others along with comments from the actor/director about getting older, directing during the pandemic and more. Another piece with more from Eastwood and a second round of photos came out shortly after that.

The movie’s one and only poster is so on the nose in terms of what you’d expect from a 90 year old Eastwood it almost slips into parody. It just shows an extremely grizzled and leathery Milo looking off into the middle distance. Copy on the one-sheet explains this is “A story of being lost…and found.”

We hear all about how great Milo once was on the rodeo circuit as the trailer, also released at the beginning of August, opens. After engaging in some barbs with his former boss, he accepts the job of going to Mexico to find Polk’s son. But Rafeal isn’t exactly eager to return. The journey the two embark on won’t be smooth, we see, but it will involve more than a few opportunities for both a discussion of what being “macho” means and examples of what being a man actually looks like. It’s short on story and long on sentimentality, honing in on the idea of Eastwood himself and his character looking back over a long life of ups and downs.

Things were relatively quiet for a while with the exception of CinemaCon at the end of August, where Warner Bros. included footage from the movie in its presentation to exhibitors and press.

Just in the last week or so leading up to release things picked back up, starting with a featurette about the legacy of Eastwood as a director along with an overview of the story.

Another interview with Eastwood had him again talking about getting older as well as the experience of riding a horse on screen for the first time since Unforgiven.

Another featurette continued focusing on Eastwood’s legacy and how that translates to this movie.

Even more explicit was a short video that looked specifically at Eastwood’s evolution as a director going back all the way to Play Misty For Me with interviews from many of the actors that have appeared in his films along with fellow directors like Spielberg, Scorsese and others.

overall

With a very much middling 50% on Rotten Tomatoes, the movie seems like it might benefit from getting the hybrid theatrical/streaming release even more than other titles. There’s not a lot here for anyone who doesn’t already have decades of appreciation for Eastwood and his work. In fact the vast majority of the marketing only gives the smallest amount of attention it reasonably can to the story or anything about the movie itself, instead almost wholly focused on making sure the audience knows what a legend Eastwood is, not why they should see this film specifically.

That may work and it may not, but it doesn’t seem likely there will be a lot of word of mouth that carries this along in the weeks following release.