Wonder Woman 1984 on HBO Max Isn’t Just the Best Choice, It Was The Only Choice

All the world is waiting for you, in the comfort of their own home.

Wonder Woman 1984, which is the last studio blockbuster standing on the theatrical release calendar, retains that status but now comes with a significant caveat: It will also be available day-and-date, December 25th, on Warner Bros.’ HBO Max streaming service.

That news came just a couple days ago, and not a moment too soon. Earlier this month there were reports Warner Bros. was considering a significantly tightened window of just two weeks between the movie coming to theaters and then to streaming. Indeed, as time ticked by that 12/25 release date seemed increasingly in doubt, given campaigns for major movies like this generally begin in earnest six weeks or so out.

In a significant shift in tone since the beginning of pandemic-related changes in studio release plans, when theater owners and NATO put out statements sounding like Luigi and Dino visiting the Army base, the CEO of AMC Theaters commented by saying it’s all good, and that this is the best solution for everyone. At the same time, Universal Pictures has signed deals with both Cinemark and Cineplex theater chains allowing the studio to shorten the theater-to-home video timeline to just over two weeks.

That change in rhetoric is welcome, especially since Warner Bros., like many other studios over the last eight months, is making not only the best choice but really the only choice when it comes to the movies it’s holding on to.

First, it’s a sign the studio is reading the broader societal landscape as it exists at the moment. The Covid-19 pandemic is, at the moment, essentially out of control in the U.S. and while a vaccine may indeed be on the way, the soonest it will be widely available enough to have a measurable impact on the population is likely the summer or fall of 2021.

Along the same lines, it’s a hedge against the last month of 2020 being even worse in terms of coronavirus infections and hospitalizations. While the CDC, as well as many governors and mayors across the country, has (finally) formally stated people should not travel or gather for Thanksgiving there are going to be plenty who ignore such recommendations and warnings. If/when that happens, cases – including deaths – will be spiking (again) just a couple weeks before Christmas Day. That may well lead to another round of stay-at-home orders and business closures even more restrictive than those put in place in recent days.

Third, it’s an acknowledgement by all parties – WB and exhibitors – that there’s no further financial relief for theaters or any other party coming from the federal government. Not only are Republican officials not taking any steps to meet with House Leader Nancy Pelosi, but Treasury Secretary and Man Who Constantly Looks Like He’s Waiting to Get Back To Kicking Orphans Steven Mnuchin recently announced he is ending several stimulus programs, the impacts of which will likely be felt well into the Biden Administration.

Outside of all that, it does seem that this may finally be the crack that brings the entire dam down. As Peter Kafka said, the pandemic has provided the impetus for the movie industry to fully come into the present and make some substantive changes. The kinds of deals exhibitors are making were first floated a decade ago but roundly rejected at the time. Meanwhile, studios have spent that time building up their own brands and distribution infrastructures, all of which is being brought to bear right now. Those deals, then, are the best chance exhibitors have for survival.

This has been such a wild week in the distribution and exhibition industries that, as big as the Wonder Woman 1984 news is, it’s not by any means the only big beats in this space. Paramount announced it had finally officially sold Coming 2 America to Amazon, which scheduled it for early next year, and there’s rumors Disney could shuffle some of its upcoming live-action remakes of Cruella, Peter Pan and others to Disney+ as it seeks to clear the shelves while playing catch-up when theaters are fully reopened.

It’s great that Warner Bros. will continue to support theaters with the WW84 release, but making it available via streaming is also an acknowledgement of the current realities. There really wasn’t any other option available, at least not one that was feasible long-term.

With Movies Paused, Super Bowl Ads In Question

Big Game, But What Movies Will Be Advertised?

Here’s how Jason Lynch opens his Adweek article on where CBS is in its attempts to sell commercial time during next year’s Super Bowl:

As the NFL regular season nears its halfway point, the clock is ticking for marketers to decide whether they want to be a part of Super Bowl LV, which is scheduled to air Feb. 7 on CBS.

The clock is indeed ticking. Surely some movie studios are considering whether or not to participate and air spots for their upcoming films during the broadcast. But with the Hollywood release calendar constantly in flux – including Disney’s recent removal of Free Guy and Death on the Nile from this December – and coronavirus cases hitting new highs every day, it’s nearly impossible to even guess what movies might make the cut. Heck, it’s even legitimate to ask if the game itself will happen as scheduled.

Of course that won’t stop me from engaging in a little largely unfounded speculation, broken down by studio below.

Disney et al

The King’s Man: This one has been moved around quite a bit by the studio so far, originally scheduled for November, 2019 but is now planned for February 15, 2021. If, at the end of January, that date is still locked then Disney may hope to get a bit of last-minute awareness and attention with a commercial during the game.

Raya and the Last Dragon: The game being a month out from Raya’s current release date means a spot would be hitting right as the marketing campaign was ramping up in earnest.

Black Widow: Of all of Disney’s releases in the first half of 2021 this one seems the most likely, assuming that the current 5/7/21 date holds. The game would provide a big platform for Marvel Studios to essentially relaunch the MCU, which has now been on hold since the middle of 2019.

Cruella: Disney has only stumbled once or twice with its live action remakes/adaptations in recent years, and it’s probably hoping the charm of Emma Stone in the title role makes this one a success. Those titles seem to appeal to all age groups and a Super Bowl spot would reach a broad range of demographics.

Paramount

Tomb Raider 2: The first movie wasn’t a massive blockbuster, but Paramount is in desperate need of a franchise so it was good enough to warrant a sequel. Some of the first advertising for the original happened in the 2018 NFL playoffs, so the studio might hope to tap into the audience one more time.

A Quiet Place 2: Similarly, the 2018 Super Bowl was the launching pad for TV advertising for the original movie, spots that instantly generated massive amounts of buzz for what everyone agreed looked like an intriguing concept and story.

Warner Bros.

Tom and Jerry: Even if movie theaters are still closed, it’s at least a somewhat safe bet WB keeps this on its 3/5/21 date, meaning Super Bowl spots could run that promote a Scoob!-like PVOD release.

Godzilla vs King Kong: This movie has been sporadically promoted since it was announced in late 2015, with several delays happening even before the pandemic. Assuming it’s actually happening, a commercial here would come three months before release, which isn’t unheard of for bigger titles.

In The Heights: Advertising a musical in the highest profile sporting event of the year might seem odd, but WB might hope that audiences are as enamored by musicals – especially those with a connection with Lin-Manuel Miranda – to give it a shot.

Sony

Morbius: This is just a reminder that Morbius is a movie that’s actually happening, so unless Sony decides to dump it somewhere it will likely want to promote it.

No Time To Die: This is the rare instance where the constant pushing of release dates may actually be advantageous, providing an opportunity to put commercials for it in front of a sizable audience.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife: As above, moving this to June means Sony could give this release a big platform. Such a platform might help it reach an audience that needs to be convinced to come back to the Ghostbusters franchise after the disappointing results of 2016’s Paul Feig-directed installment.

Universal Pictures

F9: If the movie is still coming out in June, it will get a Super Bowl spot. End of story. It’s not even a question.

Amazon Studios

Without Remorse: The streaming companies have for years been talking about how they want and need an blockbuster action franchise of their own but so far that’s eluded them. After grabbing this from Paramount, Amazon could want to make a huge deal about a high-profile release with a big-name star debuting on Prime Video with a commercial during the game.

Still…That’s a Lot of Money

CBS is charging $5.5 million for a 30-second spot, according to Lynch. While the studios might not have to pay that full amount, advertising during the Super Bowl would still be a big and expensive bet to make.

To make that bet worth it, the theatrical picture would have to not only be more secure it would almost have to be a mortal lock. And considering they would be making that bet at least a month or so out from release it becomes even more uncertain. Even if a vaccine is available by February, its distribution won’t be anywhere near universal, meaning there could still be closures and other restrictions in place.

A more complete picture of what studios are placing that bet and what movies they’re choosing to advertise will hopefully be more clear in the coming months.

Advertising Is Rebounding Just In Time For Theaters To Reopen For No Reason

Political ads will prop up a market with few movies coming to theaters.

Last week a report was released predicting the U.S. advertising market, in free fall since much of the economy shut down in March and April, should wind up relatively stable for 2020, buoyed in large part by heavy spending from various political campaigns. While still down from its 2019 level, the report forecasts that decline only being around two percent.

That’s not too bad but assumes that more local and state economies will continue to reopen from their pandemic-related closures and that another Covid-19 wave – potentially in conjunction with flu season – won’t cause further restrictions. The report doesn’t go into detail, but it’s safe to assume 60+ percent of that will go to the duopoly of Facebook and Google, with Amazon getting a share of that as well while media companies continue to fall by the wayside.

Among the businesses reopening as states and cities loosen their guidelines for operation are, of course, movie theaters, who have been counting on such easing along with a slate of high-profile releases from Hollywood to bring people back. For months theater owners and other interested parties have been counting down the days until Tenet, Mulan and other titles finally came out.

But Mulan was shifted to Disney+, where it reportedly was viewed by 29 percent of U.S. subscribers to that service during its first weekend. Given the “Premier Access” fee of $30 attached to the movie, that comes out to roughly $260 million. And Tenet’s domestic performance has been very weak, though it’s done pretty well overseas. And it needs to be noted that many of these numbers are estimates given studios are under no obligation to share VOD revenue and WB is holding back official box office reporting.

Since then, Wonder Woman 1984 has moved from October to December and there’s rumors Black Widow may also be delayed while Soul could follow Hamilton! and other recent movies to go straight to Disney+. Theatrical releases are, in the last few months of the year, a risky bet to make, one that studios aren’t willing to make on expensive productions that require the economics of theaters to turn a profit.

Given that’s the majority of what studios are producing these days, that means theaters are now in the position of being open for business but unsure of what movies are going to be available to put on screens for the next several months. It seems like every media outlet has now run a variation on the “The Tenet Experiment Failed and The Fate of Fall is Unknown” story in the last week.

There have also been additional comments from others like the CEO of IMAX, who dismisses the PVOD “experiment” Hollywood has engaged in as “failed.”

While the economics of all this are still largely up in the air and open for interpretation, the repeated delays for some movies like WW84 and others that studios seem insistent on bringing to theaters at some point are causing massive audience confusion. That’s in large part because the advertising and marketing keeps shifting and changing, in some cases multiple times. In the case of WW84, branded products from promotional partner companies have hit store shelves with dates that quickly turned out to be inaccurate. Ads have been placed – including some on DC comics – with revised released dates that also were incorrect even before people retrieved them from their pull list boxes.

So audiences don’t have any idea when the movies they might be interested in are coming out because release dates keep changing. Such changes used to be relatively uncommon and only happened for major titles, often months in advance. Now they’re happening with almost every title save for those always intended for streaming and sometimes are announced just weeks before a target date.

Setting an accurate release date and sticking with it requires studios to select one of two options. They can either:

  1. Set a streaming/PVOD release, deciding that getting some revenue from subscriptions/downloads is better than holding the film back and earning nothing, even if that revenue is less than what it was anticipating from a theatrical release
  2. Maintaining a theatrical release date and counting on a combination of 1) health realities being such that theaters and other businesses are still fully open, 2) audience willingness to venture out to mass gatherings, and 3) the movie being attractive enough to a critical mass of people.

Neither, of course, is ideal and is definitely not a sure thing. While Covid-19 cases in the U.S. are falling (despite inaction and misinformation from the Federal government), there’s no guarantee that trend will continue as the weather in much of the country turns colder. Cases have begun rising in many states, which may lead governors and health officials to impose additional restrictions. That could lead to a chain reaction where such orders lead to theaters having to close or further restrict attendance levels, which in turn leads studios to rethink theatrical release dates for major movies, which means fewer options for the theaters that still open.

On top of the coronavirus, the western part of the U.S. is basically one massive wildfire, disrupting life there and causing many to evacuate or make substantive changes to how or when they venture outside due to unhealthy air quality. On the other side of the country, the Gulf Coast and eastern seaboard keeps getting hammered by a string of hurricanes that similarly upend normal life and cause property damage or loss.

The question also remains how many people are even able to head out to theaters right now or for the foreseeable future. On top of massive sustained unemployment numbers, “essential” workers who may be dealing with reduced hours or the need to change their schedule to accommodate remote learning for their kids anticipate earning have also had the “hazard pay” employers offered for a while cut completely. Even those who can work full-time from home likely don’t have the freedom they once did if they have young kids who need help with online classes and other issues. Gig workers and freelancers are largely uncertain of their future. Overall income has fallen after brief upward movement.

So who, then, is able to go to the movies either because of time or financial reasons?

If people don’t know when a movie is going to come out, how they’ll be able to afford tickets or how safe it will be to go to theaters, it’s unclear what exactly the core value proposition of a traditional movie marketing campaign is, exactly.

Those who question studios’ commitment to theatrical release models would do well to consider those points. Streaming’s lower price point makes the per-view cost almost zero, and even pricey PVOD titles eliminate the health and time points from the decision matrix. That makes running a marketing campaign a lot easier because, quite simply, there are fewer variables to balance and fewer potential potholes to avoid in running that campaign.

Tenet – Marketing Recap

How Warner Bros. is selling the single most important movie of the year.

The stakes could not be higher. Whether or not theaters are open, and how safe they might be amidst the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, has been endlessly discussed and debated. It’s been the subject of more hot takes and think pieces than defunding the police.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, Tenet is finally here.

Writer/director Christopher Nolan’s latest film comes with more baggage than Princess Vespa fleeing her wedding on Druidia and more expectations than an only child going to the same college where her father was student body president.

John David Washington stars as The Protagonist, a man who is recruited into a mysterious spy organization, given only the word “tenet” to guide him as he’s ushered into a world where terrorism and war can be prevented by examing the artifacts that fall backward through time from the future to the present. The war in question is one that seems to be caused by Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh), a Russian oligarch married to Kat (Elizabeth Debicki). Helping him are the scientist who explains how time inversion works named Laura (Clémence Poésy) and his handler Neil (Robert Pattinson).

Warner Bros. originally planned a July release for the film, putting it in the middle of what was sure to be a hot summer movie season. The world had other plans, though, and after a number of delays because of theater closures resulting from the pandemic it is finally coming to U.S. theaters, a week after its international release, which brought in about $53 million. Over the course of 2020 it has been held up as the great savior of theaters, the title that would bring audiences back after months of watching movies at home or at drive-ins.

Now we see if that hope was in any way justified. Nolan is a beloved filmmaker whose work is largely praised, but initial reviews have been somewhat mixed, giving it a 78 percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. That lukewarm reception may be giving theater owners additional concern. Even if they acknowledge that recovery may not be quick, this is the basket in which they have placed most – if not all – of their eggs. AMC Theaters has put off reopening a few times, largely in reaction to this movie’s delays, but is now touting how 70 percent of its locations will be open this weekend. Other chains like Regal have also promoted how many of their screens will be open and in what states, depending on local restrictions on group gatherings.

In some ways, it benefits by not actually being the first big studio release to come back to theaters. After a few smaller titles have come out recently, last week Disney put The New Mutants on screens, and while the $7 million take for that film might have been disappointing, it essentially served as the warm-up act for this week.

With all that on the record, let’s look at how Warner Bros. has selling the film over the last several months, right up to release.

The Posters

The Protagonist strides toward the camera on the first poster (by marketing agency BOND), released last December. The image is split down the middle, showing him walking away on the other side, which is also turned upside down, hinting at the fractured nature of the story.

In July the second poster (by marketing agency Concept Arts) came out, once more showing a split image of The Protagonist, a scene of apparent devastation in the background. Note that this one still has the mid-August release date.

An IMAX poster came out later in July that features multiple versions of The Protagonist placed around the expanded canvas, similar war-like scenes again shown in the background. Nolan is not only mentioned on this one but also identified as the director of Inception and Dunkirk.

The Trailers

The first trailer (24 million views on YouTube), released in December, is as enigmatic as you’d expect from a Christopher Nolan movie. The Protagonist has passed some kind of rigorous test and now finds himself in “the afterlife,” though whether that’s the name of an organization or some other designation is unclear. Whatever the case, he’s now part of a team tasked with preventing the end of the world, and his role allows him to see things in a non-linear, wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey kind of way. There are car chases and expertly choreographed action sequences and, at the end, more questions then there were at the beginning.

The Protagonist is introduced to the word “tenet” almost as soon as the second trailer (28.7 million views on YouTube), released in late May and debuting in Fortnight, begins. From there he – and we – learn about the job he’s undertaking, one that has implications including preventing something much worse than armageddon. There’s discussion of how the time “inversion” he and others are capable of works and how it helps them do their job, and a more or less clear statement of who it is behind the threat they have to extinguish. Throughout the trailer the audience is reminded that Nolan is the creative force behind the film and, at the very end, an emphatic statement that the movie will be coming to theaters.

The “final” trailer (9.8 million views on YouTube) came out in late August, just after release plans were finalized by the studio. There’s a bit more of the story offered here, though not enough to come close to fully explaining what exactly is happening. But we see how The Protagonist is being trained and is given a mission to, essentially, prevent a war that hasn’t happened yet by manipulating time. It’s all very slick, sold like a James Bond adventure complete with fast car chases and more. Notably, it features an end card reminding fans the film opens September 3 “where theaters are open.”

Online and Social

Unless I’m missing something, the official website for the movie seems to just have the trailer and a gallery of posters along with a button to buy tickets. There were also the usual social profiles that offered promos and links over the last few months.

Advertising and Publicity

In a surprise move, the first teaser was attached to Hobbs and Shaw when it was released in early August. That teaser was not immediately released online, generated more questions about the movie – still in production at the time – than it answered, but it certainly created a good amount of buzz.

A brief look at the still-secret film was shared with attendees of CCXP in Brazil in December of last year.

As the first trailer was being released a massive ad buy took place, including a big digital ad on Times Square signage.

The second trailer received a similar but different big stage, debuting and screening hourly in Fortnite, an attempt to gain the attention of that game’s players. Some of Nolan’s previous films were also screened within the game environment.

A video was released in mid-August by Skyscape, a company that trades in the history and techniques of spycraft throughout the ages. Narrated by Hayley Atwell, the video digs into the mysteries surrounding the word “tenet” that date back to ancient times and some of the places it has appeared along with what those appearances might mean.

Initial U.S. screenings were scheduled for three days beginning August 31 at select venues like Chicago’s Music Box Theater and others. Tickets went on sale for those previews went on sale on 8/21.

Rapper Travis Scott teased a song he created for the film, one that was previewed before its scheduled debut during TNT’s broadcast of the Mavericks/Clippers game on 8/21. The song was released online that day and is featured in the final trailer.

Commercials reportedly began running in select markets as recently as mid-August. That included one from IMAX that encouraged audiences to see the mind-bending action on the biggest screen available.

Washington, Pattinson, Debicki, Branagh and others praised Nolan in a behind-the-scenes featurette that explored how massive the movie is, what the primary story themes are and how it was all made.

Media and Press

Casting and other details came out last year in fits and starts, adding to the mystery of the project while building anticipation.

Because shooting had just begun there wasn’t footage to show, but Warner Bros. still included the film among the upcoming releases it promoted to CineEurope attendees in June of last year.

A first look photo was released just before the first trailer came out.

Around May the movie began to become something of a lightning rod with regard to the state of movie theaters. In the weeks prior some states had begun to open up the economies a bit more, releasing some of the pandemic-restricting rules, including on theaters. It seemed likely, then, that Tenet would become the first major studio release since almost all screens were closed, and theater owners were hoping built up anticipation could push it to a $100 million opening weekend.

Nolan even publicly stated that he hoped that would be the case, reiterating his commitment to theatrical releases. And Warner Bros. CEO Ann Sarnoff made similar statements, name-dropping this movie specifically, all in an attempt to both set audience expectations that it would not be coming to streaming and to reassure theater owners the studio was not abandoning them entirely.

But rosy predictions and wishful thinking may not be enough to convince people who are still skittish about public gatherings to sit in the dark with dozens of strangers, even if theaters put social distancing guidelines in place. And it became clear WB was going to need theaters to be open in at least a half-dozen major markets to make it worth moving forward. NATO was reported to promise WB that 90 percent of theaters would be open by mid-July, but what that assurance was based on wasn’t immediately clear, especially considering not only public hesitancy but also the logistical complexities of bringing workers back on and ramping up operations that have shut down for months.

Around the end of May the scale of the production began to become the focus of the press, including interviews with Nolan where he talked about the massive practical effects employed. At the same time Washington commented on the fan theory that this was some kind of sequel to Nolan’s Inception.

One theme that was consistent in the press through June was that the cast wasn’t much more in-the-know than the audience. A profile of Washington had both him and Pattinson talking about how little they understood the mind-bending nature of the story, with similar comments made by Branagh. Nolan, though, stated he thought the cast got what was happening. He also spoke about helping editor Jen Lame get the rhythm of the story down and more.

A lot of previous ground was covered in an EW cover story package that included fresh looks at the film along with the usual comments about its groundbreaking nature. Debecki revealed a few new details about her character in another interview while also talking about working with Nolan and more.

Overall

Let’s address a few open questions and issues.

First, the campaign is pretty great. It sells a slick spy thriller wrapped in a time-twisting sci-fi adventure, James Bond meets “Legends of Tomorrow.” Many of the hallmarks of Nolan’s brand of filmmaking are present, from the slick production values to the stylized lens everything is viewed through. Nolan’s movies are known for being layered mysteries the audience is asked to wade through and that’s exactly what’s being sold here, with few of the story’s details being revealed while lots of great set pieces are shown off.

But the question remains whether the combination of the strength of the campaign and pandemic cabin fever will turn out enough of the audience to make Nolan and WB’s insistence on a theatrical release for the $200 production worth the hassle. They’re aiming for the sweet spot on three overlapping groups: 1) Those interested in the movie on its face, 2) those living in areas where theaters are open for business and 3) those willing to put health concerns aside and endure the frustrations of spaced seating, mask requirements and more that are in place at theaters.

Reports of ticket presales are imperfect measures to gauge actual intent, and overseas results are no more helpful given most countries outside the U.S. have done far better in getting the pandemic under control. So we wait and see if Tenet will provide the way out of the darkness industry insiders and others have been waiting for.

Picking Up The Spare

Regal Cinemas released a new interview with Washington and another with Debicki and then the both of them. IMAX put out their own interview as well. 

Washington appeared on “Kimmel” when Samuel L. Jackson was cohosting.

The DC Fandome Movie Trailers, Ranked

A completely arbitrary list, canon until an arbitrary change.

Over the course of this past Saturday’s DC Fandome, a virtual event focusing on the non-comics projects featuring the company’s stable of characters, a number of trailers debuted for some highly-anticipated movies.

Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the release of most of the films is still up in the air, including Wonder Woman 1984, but the scheduled October date is more sketchy by the day. Issues like that, though, won’t get in the way of passing hasty judgement on the spots that were shared and which served as one of the major attractions of Fandome. Those trailers are ranked in order, from incredible to that’s kind of awful.

Wonder Woman 1984

The campaign has been underway for a while now, based on the original plan for the movie to have been out earlier this summer. This trailer ups what has been seen previously with additional insights into Maxwell Lord’s megalomania, the mystery surrounding Steve Trevor’s return and Barbara’s motivations that lead her to become Cheetah. It’s fast-paced, funny, and has Wonder Woman using her lasso to ride lightning like Spider-Man swinging between buildings. This alone should win the movie all possible awards.

Wonder Woman Dc GIF by Nerdist.com - Find & Share on GIPHY

The Batman

There’s an old adage among corporate technology buyers that “no one ever got fired for buying IBM.” DC’s version of that is “No one ever got fired for suggesting a Batman movie.” And this certainly looks like a Batman movie. There are various shades of things we’ve seen before, but thankfully this *doesn’t* appear to be a straightforward origin story, which is something we do not need. Too bad we didn’t get a good look at Andy Serkis’ Alfred, but Robert Pattinson does appear to be sufficiently gravitasy as a still-unseasoned Dark Knight.

The Suicide Squad

Not an actual trailer, but it doesn’t really matter because both the “First Look” and “Roll Call” videos make the movie seem like a lot of fun. That’s not surprising given director James Gunn also wrote the film and seems to be throwing the kitchen sink into the works, creating what looks like a big, goofy action film. There’s no reference to the first movie – in fact it seems to be running as far away from it as possible – which is fine considering that film was a mess.

Black Adam

We’ve turned a corner here, and are firmly into “Wait…what?” territory. This is a movie that seemed destined never to get made, despite the efforts of Dwayne Johnson to keep it alive over the last several years. Apparently it’s actually in the works, though, as this sizzle reel featuring concept art and voiceover from Johnson attempts to prove. I remain unconvinced, especially since the concept art is so overwrought and the narration so lackluster.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League

And here we find ourselves at the bottom of the barrel. In lieu of rational thought, which this trailer actively works against, I offer simply a series of random thoughts.

  • Minus infinity points for the use of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” which Snyder apparently fetishizes having used it previously in what is objectively the worst scene from 2008’s Watchmen.
  • The big Darkseid reveal finally shows everyone that he looks more or less exactly like both Steppenwolf and Doomsday.
  • Why is the trailer footage shown in 4:3? Is the movie being released in four one-hour installments on Instagram? Is that why everything is so orange, because of the filter?
  • Interesting to note which footage was also included in the theatrical release’s original trailers but didn’t make it into the recut movie. Also, which shots have starkly different color palettes.
  • Is Cyborg’s dad Dr. Manhattan?
  • “Not us united” is an interesting reminder of the “Unite the seven” idea that more or less kicked off the original’s theatrical campaign many years ago.
  • This is…not great. It’s the most Zack Snyder-y thing Zack Snyder ever Snydered, at least based on this and the other teases.

Disney Carves Out An Owned Future With Mulan

None of this is that surprising, tbh.

In response to the (largely indefinite) closure of movie theaters around the country because of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, studios have generally taken one of three potential alternative paths:

  1. Punt: Just keep kicking the release date down the road, hoping that the situation improves by then and the movie can be sent to theaters.
    1. EX: Wonder Woman 1984, Tenet, Fast & Furious 9, Black Widow
  • PVOD: Accepting the reality that not everything can be held for a later date, some titles have been sent straight to VOD, with premium price points to make up for the loss of theatrical revenue.
    1. EX: Scoob!, The High Note, Bill and Ted Face The Music
  • Streaming: Whether it’s an owned platform like Disney+ or a third party like Amazon or Netflix, some titles have been handed off to streaming because the economics make more sense or it fills in some other part of an overall strategy.
    1. EX: Artemis Fowl, Without Remorse, Hamilton, The Lovebirds

With no end in sight for the Covid-19 outbreak it’s only logical studios would seek out some alternative release plan. They are in the production and release business and if they need to they will seek alternative distribution methods. That’s similar to how changes in the retail world as a whole has led to the rise in direct-to-consumer businesses and more.

Add to that the fact that so many of 2020’s planned movies have been delayed by several months – in some cases up to a year – that the 2021 release schedule is backed up all the way to the Tri-State interchange, limiting any studio’s options.

This Did Not Go Over Well

The reaction from theaters has been predictable, beginning with AMC Theaters’ promise to never play future films from Universal after it sent Trolls World Tour to PVOD in April. Most recently, those two parties announced a new deal wherein future films would have shorter theatrical-to-home windows. Smaller theater owners have also had time to express their displeasure while other large chains like Cinemark and Regal have offered their own skeptical takes.

While certainly unprecedented, the deal between Universal and AMC – which has reportedly been offered to other studios – doesn’t break many existing distribution norms in function, even if the details are largely new. The “home” release will still take advantage of the platform infrastructure developed and offered by established players like Apple, Amazon and others.

Still, exhibitors kept holding out hope that one or both of two titles – Tenet and Mulan – would provide the light at the end of the tunnel they needed, offering an attractive film that audiences would, however reluctantly, come back to theaters to see after months at home.

Alternate Futures

Those hopes faded a bit when Warner Bros. announced a unique release plan for Tenet that involved the movie coming out overseas in late August and then in whatever U.S. theaters are available over the Labor Day weekend in early September. That’s bad news for domestic audiences and exhibitors (but great news for Torrent software providers) who are essentially being pushed down the priority list and who may have one of the year’s most secretive plots spoiled for them.

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They diminished almost entirely last week when Disney revealed it was creating its own fourth option for the September 4th release of Mulan on Disney+. The release is notable for at least two reasons:

First, it mashes up a couple of the existing paths to create something wholly new. While many media companies have worked to create their own streaming platforms in the last year, those have largely been subscription services, and once you subscribed you had access to everything. Even tiered services like Peacock didn’t charge you extra for one specific title, you might just have to upgrade to the next membership level.

This works differently, essentially creating a PVOD service within the existing subscription framework. If you’re not a member, you don’t have access to the PVOD content, meaning the true cost of the rental is the $29.99 list price plus at least the $6.99 monthly fee. In other words, the cover charge you paid at the door doesn’t grant you entrance to the Champagne Room.

Existing platforms like iTunes, Amazon and others should be watching this as closely as theater owners have been over the last several months. If Disney – or any other company – can find some success in this way they no longer become the one-stop, producer-agnostic shop they’ve been to date.

Second, it creates a whole new marketing paradigm. The campaigns for movies like The Lovebirds, Scoob! and others have changed, often mid-stream, when their release futures were altered, with the call-to-action shifting from “In theaters on…” to “Watch it at home on…” Even still, the expected action on the part of the consumer was only a single one. Instead of “buy a ticket” it was “subscribe” or “download.”

Whenever Disney launches a new phase of Mulan’s campaign, it will have to communicate a two step process: 1) Subscribe to Disney+, then 2) Pay $29.99 for this single movie. That will be a little harder to get through audiences and could create a fair amount of customer confusion when the movie launches as people are caught unaware they have to make an additional payment to watch the movie.

What’s Next?

That the reoriented campaign for Mulan wasn’t ready at the same time the announcement was made is slightly surprising since Disney is masterful at coordinating initiatives to take advantage of a moment.

Warner Bros. not having a new phase of Tenet’s campaign is equally surprising, though a bit more understandable given how, at least for U.S. theaters, it’s still largely contingent on a best case scenario being available. It is, in other words, less concrete and so WB is likely holding its fire.

On top of those, there are still a number of high-profile titles that are supposedly coming to theaters later this year.

The New Mutants is, against all odds, still scheduled for late August.

Wonder Woman 1984 is still scheduled for late September, but at this point there’s almost no time to mount a campaign for the movie even if that date holds.

Black Widow and No Time To Die are still scheduled for early and mid-November, which is slightly more realistic but becomes less so with each passing day.

The campaigns for those last three have been paused for a number of months now, and would have to fight through the noise of the daily news cycle – a cycle that includes 1,000 or so Americans dying each day and a ramping up presidential election – to get people’s attention. That adds to the odds some alternative will be sought, as it may not be possible to get a critical mass of awareness that overlaps with the segment of the population willing to participate in mass entertainment without a Covid-19 vaccine, much less a cohesive testing and tracing strategy.

Which option is chosen will be determined by what each studio thinks it can manage as it seeks to make a wide range of stakeholders, each with competing priorities, happy with the proposal.

An American Pickle – Marketing Recap

How HBO is selling a comedy starring dual Seth Rogens.

In the last few year, multiple projects have featured a single actor playing two roles, usually twins. Paul Rudd, Mark Ruffalo and others have all turned in split-screen performances, playing off themselves in addition to anyone else who happens to be on screen. One could make the case, like digital de-aging usage, that this is a questionable tactic to employ that deprives other actors of a role and plays down to the audience in a way.

Seth Rogen becomes the latest to take on not one but two characters, this time in the HBO Max original film An American Pickle. Rogen plays Herschel Greenbaum, an Eastern European immigrant who comes to America in the early decades 20th century with his wife Sarah (Sarah Snook). Herschel gets a job in a pickle factory and one day falls in a vat of brine, where he’s left when the factory closes. The brine preserves him and he wakes up a century later, finding himself in a world he doesn’t recognize. His great-great-grandson Ben (also Rogen) is his only relative, introducing Herschel to the 21st century and telling him what became of his family after his disappearance.

The movie, like many others this year, had a very different fate planned originally. But HBO Max’s campaign has used Rogen’s unique sense of humor and an offbeat story to hook audiences who are already streaming subscribers or who might become subscribers.

The Posters

Rogen as Herschel is the sole figure on the one poster (by marketing agency BLT Communications), released in late July. The photo is made to look like an old-fashioned photograph that would be appropriate to the ear he lived in and so helps to establish the premise and setting of at least some of the story. Both The Disaster Artist and 50/50, both movies produced by Rogen and his partner Evan Goldberg, are mentioned at the top while at the bottom the premiere date is shared.

The Trailers

We meet Herschel and Sarah Greenbaum as the first trailer (9.9 million views on YouTube), released in early July, begins. They’re living and working in a small “old world” country and are more or less happy, until the day Herschel dies after falling in a vat of pickles. Cut to a century later and he reemerges, with his great-grandson Ben his only surviving descendent. The two have a hard time getting to know each other, of course, leading to what seems to be much of the movie’s humor.

Online and Social

It doesn’t seem that HBO Max has created a stand-alone website for the movie, nor did they give it much promotion on the brand’s social profiles.

Advertising and Promotions

The movie had originally been setup at Sony for several years. In April of this year, though, with the theatrical release schedule thrown into disarray because of Covid-19, it was sold to Warner Bros., which announced it would go straight to streaming on HBO Max.

No paid promotions were apparent to me, but there were surely at least a few promoted social posts or online ads that drove traffic to the HBO Max sign-up site.

Media and Press

Rogen, of course, was the public face of the movie. He gave interviews where he talked about how this project is the latest in a string of successful productions for Goldberg and himself, how this film was conceived and created and what he made of Sony selling the movie to Warner Bros. earlier this year.

He also appeared on “The Tonight Show” and elsewhere to engage in challenges and talk about the movie.

Overall

You have to at least be partially won over just by the absurd premise that’s laid out in the campaign. It’s so over-the-top and ridiculous that it’s immediately plausible as the basis for a goofy comed that doesn’t care about common sense or believability, as long as it offers a foundation for the humor to come.

In that way it’s pretty solidly on-brand for Rogen and Goldberg, who have made a career of such notions. Therein lies the appeal for anyone who’s already a fan of their previous work.

What seems evident, though, is that this isn’t a massive draw for new subscribers like some other high-profile streaming releases over the last several months. Seth Rogen movies are the kind of thing you watch because you already can, not sign up for a whole new subscription for. That’s not a knock on their work, it’s just that this likely isn’t going to be a game-changer like Hamilton on Disney+. Instead it looks like just a pretty good movie that should be highly enjoyable, which is all it needs to be.

Picking Up The Spare

Highlights from the film’s virtual premiere can be found here

More interviews with Rogen on playing dual roles in the film and learning to speak Yiddish for the film. 

A Promoted Trend was purchased by HBO Max to drive awareness and attention. There were also standard online ads that drove people to subscribe to the service, using this movie as an incentive to do so. 

Rogen appeared on “Late Night” to talk about the difficulty of playing two roles against each other. 

HBO released a featurette that showed off some of the filmmaking techniques employed for the film. It also put out a cast Q&A and a look at how the filmmakers created the vintage photographs in the film. 

The Snyder Cut is Coming, and Now There Are No Rules

Nice studio you got there. Be a shame if anything happened to it.

Three years of denials, obfuscations, claims of workprints being smuggled out by Allied forces and other reports and rumors are done. The Snyder Cut of 2017’s Justice League, as it has come to be called, is real and will be coming to HBO Max some time in 2021.

This latest development comes just a few months after a wave of comments and hints were made by various parties, including original Justice League director Zack Snyder, who kept posting vague images and teases to, of all things, his Vero social media account.

By way of brief recap: Snyder left/was pushed off Justice League at some point in production, either because of a personal tragedy in his family or because the studio felt the film was out of control and getting worse by the day. Joss Whedon came in to oversee additional shooting, including rewriting significant chunks of the story and abandoning entire storylines. The finished product was widely panned by critics, sitting at a paltry 40% on Rotten Tomatoes, and didn’t ignite the box office, bringing in $229 million domestically and $658 million worldwide. It was overshadowed in both respects by the Wonder Woman movie released earlier in the year.

Ever since then there’s been a crusade from some quarters for Warner Bros. to release a cut of the film they believed sat in the studio’s vaults that was completed by Snyder and represented his true vision. Whedon’s interference, they maintained, watered down the movie by adding too many jokes, not being gritty enough and so on. Until last week, WB insisted no such cut existed and that there were no plans to revisit the movie in any way.

Now, though, the studio has changed its tune, reportedly giving Snyder a $20 million budget to undertake a whole new post-production process, including visual effects and editing.

While there has already been much commentary about the announcement, allow me to share a handful of thoughts about what this could and does mean for the world of entertainment and more. And, because I’m just that kind of sociopath, those thoughts will be framed in quotes from Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

I stoked Ren’s conflicted soul: While he waited a while before doing so, in the last year or so Snyder has been the chief rabble-rouser online, keeping audience speculation of his discarded masterpiece alive. He’s taken on the role of a master online troll, dropping hints here and there to whet people’s appetites and, seemingly, maintain the pressure on WB to agree to a release of some sort.

zack snyders justice leage posterIn that way he’s not dissimilar to those behind QAnon and similar conspiracy theories. They take the reality of a situation and manipulate certain things to convince people of alternate facts. Just as with the Washington, D.C. pizza parlor that reportedly acts as a front for a Hillary Clinton-run pedophile ring, some people *wanted* to believe The Snyder Cut was real and would leap at any bait put in front of them supporting that belief. He’s not William Wallace or Carl Bernstein here, he’s a 4chan troll with the power to command tens of millions of dollars and access to some of pop culture’s most prized assets.

This is not going to go the way you think: Justice League, as it was released, is not a great movie. The story makes little sense, the characters act in massively inconsistent ways from scene to scene, there’s no internal logic to it etc. Those who were adherents to Snyder’s style of filmmaking saw this as evidence of meddling by Whedon and the studio, but it’s not as if those descriptors couldn’t be applied to any of the director’s previous films.

Which means, in short, that there’s a pretty decent chance Zack Snyder’s Justice League is going to also suck, just in slightly different ways.

One can only wonder what the reaction will be among those who believe The Snyder Cut is the second coming when their dream becomes reality and it turns out reality is really bad. What will be the excuse then? Thankfully, Snyder himself has already given them the foundation for continued claims of interference by complaining WB will not allow him to reconvene the cast to shoot additional footage. His vision, therefore, will never be truly brought to life.

If Warner Bros. is hoping The Snyder Cut will act as some massive draw to their newly launched streaming service, more so than the Harry Potter films, Studio Ghibli’s catalog and “Friends” reruns, they are putting $20 million worth of eggs in a very questionable basket, one that may wind up hitting them square in the face.

The greatest teacher, failure is: One of the many astounding things about this newfound willingness to revisit Justice League is that it clearly marks a low point in the DC Comics cinematic universe. Consider that not only did Wonder Woman, released just a few months earlier in 2017, get much better reviews and three times the box office revenue, but so did Aquaman. Shazam and Birds of Prey didn’t perform as well in theaters but have much better critical receptions and reputations since release. And Joker, which also did very well, was supposed to usher in a new focus on non-continuity, filmmaker-led original stories.

Justice League, then, had become kind of a turning point, one where the key to success wasn’t “make everything bigger, darker and more EXTREME” but where the stories were better, the characters more central and the visuals less desaturated. Instead, it’s now the Rosetta Stone, something so important it becomes central to understanding everything around it.

Hi, I’m holding for General Hux…OK, I’ll hold. Whedon being given control of the Justice League reshoots and post-production seemed in some ways to be tied to reports he was heading up a Batgirl film at Warner Bros. The writer/director had previously worked on a failed Wonder Woman adaptation and ultimately left the Batgirl project when he reportedly couldn’t crack the story to his satisfaction. Despite that, it can be assumed that Whedon and the studio could have found some way to work together in the future.

Hard to imagine Whedon picking up their calls now, though. WB is sending the message that yes, they actually do find his version of Justice League to be subpar and now that they’re able to deliver a superior product they will push his work to the side. All because, for reasons I have been unable to fathom for over a decade, someone at the studio believes Snyder is a magical genius, not someone who’s often incapable of bringing his “vision” to life.

Supreme Leader Snoke now deploys his merciless legions to seize military control of the galaxy: This is just the beginning.

In every prime time procedural and action drama you hear the hero or leader make it clear they refuse to negotiate with terrorists. Neville Chamberlain’s reputation has not fared well in light of his appeasement of the Nazi regime’s aggressive expansion plans.

Despite these warnings, what’s happened here seems tantamount to paying the ransom and hoping the kidnappers make good on releasing your spouse from where they’re being held. But that’s just hope, and there are no guarantees it will happen.

So too there’s no guarantee that demonstrating who’s actually in control of the situation won’t spiral into countless similar instances. There’s already evidence of this as “#ReleaseTheAyerCut” began trending shortly after the Snyder announcement as fans are now seeking the “pure” cut of 2016’s Suicide Squad, famously edited by a trailer production company among a handful of other parties.

(Note: Nevermind that *that* situation came about after studio execs wanted to punch up the movie after Batman v Superman – another Synder-directed film – performed poorly.)

It makes you wonder where else fans will turn their attention, believing a diamond to be hidden in rough of studio notes and seized control. Many films over the course of Hollywood history have been ripped from their directors, much to their chagrin and the disappointment of fans. Such instances can be found at least as far back as Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons and as recently as Chris Miller and Phil Lord being kicked off Solo: A Star Wars Story halfway through filming.

This extremely vocal minority has seen what tactics work now and will go again, much like state-sanctioned Russian manipulation of the 2016 presidential election, or the #Gamergate movement that wanted to eliminate a pernicious female influence from the video game media industry. There have been smaller successes before and now they’ve snagged a win. The demands will only become more substantial over time.

Scoob! – Marketing Recap

Grab some snacks and see how Warner Bros. is selling the animated reboot of the classic characters.

scoob poster 2

In this, the most fraught movie year in a century, comes Scoob!, complete with “!” as an official part of the title, the most notable release to do so since 2017’s Mother!.

At its core, the movie follows the basic Scooby Doo plot, one that sees Velma (voiced by Gina Rodriguez), Fred (Zac Efron), Daphne (Amanda Seyfried), Shaggy (Will Forte) and Scooby (Frank Welker) investigating a plot to set the ghost dog Cerebus free upon the world. That investigation sees them teaming up with fellow Hannah-Barbara creations Blue Falcon (Mark Wahlberg) and his faithful companion Dynomutt (Ken Jeong).

Amidst all that, the story also flashes back to the childhood first meeting of Scooby and Shaggy, one that was to set the stage for an endless stream of snacks to be consumed while the two try to stay out of danger while sticking with their friends as part of Mystery Incorporated.

While there have been two live-action theatrical films and plenty of animated straight-to-home movies, Scocb! marks the first full-length animated feature starring the characters. While certain adjustments have been made because of the current pandemic, WB’s campaign still retains many of the elements that have made the franchise so popular over the years.

The Posters

A young Scoob is shown on the first poster (by marketing agency Cold Open), released in November of last year. That immediately explains to the audience that the story will head back in time in some way, offering them something new they may not have seen before. Adding to that is the fact that his shadow is of a grown up Scoob, hinting that as an adult he goes on to become a Sith Lord.

The second poster (by marketing agency Works Adv) came out in March and has Scooby standing in a line up with the rest of the gang, including Dee Dee Skyes (Kiersey Clemons), Blue Falcon and Dynomutt. That same collection of characters, along with the same “Mystery loves company” tagline, are used on the next one-sheet (by Cold Open) which also came out in March. Notably, though, the first two posters include the release date along with the promise it will hit theaters on that day. The last one ditches it for the more generic “Coming Soon,” likely an adjustment for the VOD release that was decided upon.

The Trailers

After a brief setup, the first trailer (33.6 million views on YouTube) from November presents the origin of Shaggy and Scooby, showing how they met by accident as a young boy and puppy and became best friends. Back in the modern day, the pair are abducted by aliens tied to whatever they’re investigating at the moment. A scene of Velma doing her science thing and Daphne being over it ends it all without explaining what the story here is almost at all.

That trailer was the first to use YouTube’s new embedded AR features, allowing those viewing it on the YouTube app to take AR selfies with a young Scooby Doo.

The final trailer (1.3 million views on YouTube), released in early March, establishes that Shaggy and Scooby have been taken by some mysterious blue light from the sky. The rest of the team are out to find them as we flashback to the time the friends first met. Back in the present, we’re shown Blue Falcon and his sidekick Dynomutt are involved in their abduction, but what that means isn’t clear as the rest of the trailer is just about sight gags and other jokes.

Online and Social

There’s actually quite a bit of good content on the movie’s official website, including standard marketing fare like trailers and character overviews as well as a handful of casual online games, some Zoom backgrounds and more.

scoob party pack

The site also has a link to WatchScoob.com, a separate site that has lots of information on engaging with the movie from home. There you’ll find links to various VOD platforms to buy the movie and encouragement to join in the increasingly-popular “watch party” trend to experience the film as an online community on the 15th. To help increase that engagement and strengthen the connection in the audience, a PDF is offered that has more details on the virtual premiere event, movie-themed snack recipes, arts and crafts to have fun with and more.

Advertising and Promotions

The movie was among those promoted by WB at CCXP in December of last year.

In March Warner Bros. pulled the movie from its original June release, one of several such changes in the midst of the Covid-19 outbreak. It announced in April the movie would go straight to premium VOD and skip a theatrical release.

Cartoon Network was given an exclusive clip showing Scooby and Shaggy meeting with Blue Falcon, Dee Dee and Dynomutt. Earlier the channel had offered a new preview to audiences of its Saturday programming block.

The new song “Summer Feelings” from Charlie Puth and Lennon Stella was promoted to try and catch the attention of the tweens.

Also on that front was Tik Tok Challenge that had people sharing videos of them doing the “#ScoobDance” with a handful of prominent influencers on that platform leading the way and driving awareness.

Promotional partners for the movie included:

Bark Box, which created a special movie-themed box for subscribers filled with stuffed animals, snacks and more.

scoob bark box

Save Them All, a pet adoption foundation that created a new PSA with the movie’s characters to encourage people to find their new furry friend.

Blue Buffalo, which created a special line of Scooby Snacks dog treats.

scoob blue buffalo

Carl’s Jr., which put movie toys in their Star Pals kids meals.

scoob star pack

Color Me Mine, which offered a couple activity sheets in lieu of the kind of in-store events that are usually run.

Valpak, which promoted the early access digital premiere in its residential mailers.

Walmart also gets its own link on the official site as the “Shop” where you can find exclusive merchandise.

Updates made to social media profiles show the movie offering a keen awareness of the unusual circumstances society finds itself in. So there are lots of posts about hugging your pets, even if it is for the hundredth time that day, staying safe and protecting friends, eating your feelings and so on. It’s a nice touch that shows the movie isn’t trying to gloss over anything, just help people through a tough time.

A new video came out earlier this week offering professional tips on how to draw Scooby-Doo.

There were a handful of short promo videos, visible on social media primarily, that acted like online or TV ads but it’s not clear if they were used there at all. Some online banner ads used elements of the key art as well.

Media and Press

As the movie got close to release, Forte, Jeong and a few others engaged in a handful of interviews to talk about the movie, how they were passing the time during social isolation and other related topics.

Overall

It’s…not a terrible campaign. Certainly better than it could have been. But the best parts of the studio’s effort seems to be everything but the trailers, which isn’t a great sign. Those trailers don’t make the movie seem attractive to anyone above the age of 8 and offers little to nothing about the story, meaning the value proposition being offered is even weaker.

The rest of the campaign is quite a bit better. In particular, the way WB pivoted and offered the home viewing party pack for people to use during the virtual premiere is a great way to make the most of a bad situation. It’s a fun, inventive way to create a new touchpoint for the audience to latch on to and could do a lot to foster additional excitement, creating a moment for the movie that may not be quite as powerful as opening weekend but serves a similar purpose.

Picking Up the Spare

Just as the movie was hitting VOD a five minute preview was released to offer a taste of what to expect. 

WB live-streamed the premiere event, all of which was remote over video conferencing of course. 

Details on the movie’s soundtrack were offered here. There were also interviews like this with the film’s production team about creating the look of the characters. Forte also ‘ more about getting into the character of Shaggy. 

A number of exhibitors and other partners signed up for virtual sponsorships of the movie. 

DC offered 250 of the “Scooby Doo” comics it’s published for free digitally as part of the overall brand revitalization campaign. 

Early animation efforts of deleted scenes were shared to show audiences how the story evolved. There were also some bloopers released. 

The Way Back – Marketing Recap

How Warner Bros. is selling a tale of struggle and redemption.

the way back poster 2With tracking reports estimating an opening weekend of $12-17 million, The Way Back doesn’t seem poised to break any box office records. Early reviews have been largely positive, though, especially for star Ben Affleck.

Affleck plays Jack Cunningham, a former high school basketball star who walked away from the game years ago and has since led a life of divorce, alcoholism and other destructive behavior. One day he’s approached by the head of his old school with an offer to come back and coach the current team. Reluctant to go back down that road, he eventually relents. After a rough start he finds the kids have as much to offer him as he does them, especially finally giving him a purpose outside himself.

The campaign has sold the movie for what it is – Hoosiers, but with the focus entirely on Dennis Hopper’s Shooter – but with odd turns into Affleck’s personal life.

The Posters

the way back posterCopy on the first poster (by marketing agency Gravillas) reading “Every loss is another fight” makes it seem as if the movie will be one with an uplifting and inspiring message. John’s head is in the middle of a basketball scoreboard, helping to establish the story’s setting. Next to the title, the audience is reminded of the previous films from the director, including an earlier collaboration with Affleck.

Earlier this month a second poster was released that changes the copy to read “One shot for a second chance,” which is more specific to the story of this film. The same shot of John is used, but this time the image behind him is a more full look at a basketball stadium, not floating parts of the scoreboard.

The Trailers

Jack is working construction and drinking steadily as the first trailer (2 million views on YouTube), released in November, begins. He’s approached by an old friend to take on the role of high school basketball coach when the old one passes away, a role he’s a good fit for having been a star player in his youth. His team isn’t great, but the job keeps him occupied, except for the times when his depression and regrets lead him back to a drunken state. As he turns the kids around he continues to struggle with his own sobriety, showing that this isn’t a simple redemption tale being told but one that might be a bit more complex.

One of Jack’s players is asking him why he quit basketball all those years ago as the second trailer (9.2 million views on YouTube), released in early February, opens. Turns out he was trying to please his disapproving father. Despite that, he’s asked to come back and coach at his old high school. His work with the team coincides with his work on improving himself and pulling out of harmful behavior. This trailer presents a much more inspiring and emotional message, less dramatic and more about second chances and making amends for the past.

Online and Social

There’s almost no information on the movie’s official website, showing just how deprioritized that platform has become by studios.

Advertising and Promotions

Affleck and others from the cast introduced an exclusive AMC clip showing the first time Jack meets the team, both sides working to establish dominance. Regal Cinemas got another clip showing Jack giving the team an inspirational speech in the middle of a game.

Shorter versions of the trailers were used as TV spots and pre-roll ads as well as promoted posts on social networks. All focused on the inspirational nature of the story and not so much the troubles Jack has to go through to get to that point.

The movie’s premiere was held in L.A. earlier this week, with the cast and crew all in attendance.

Media and Press

An extensive profile of Affleck touched on the parallels between this story and the actor’s real like struggles with alcohol and relationship issues along with much more. Similar topics were covered in another interview with the actor.

Affleck appeared on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” to promote the film and talk about his other interests. He also showed up on “Kelly Clarkson” and other shows to do likewise. Some of the actors who play the team being coached stopped by “GMA.”

Overall

As I stated in the opening, the campaign bears more than a passing similarity to elements of a previous basketball film. That’s giving this movie short shrift to an extent, but it’s also a handy way to understand what’s going on.

Throughout the marketing there’s a consistent effort to portray the glass half full elements of the story, sometimes artificially downplaying the rougher parts of Jack’s story. That’s a shame since it’s that part which gives the uplifting half its emotional heft.

What’s disappointing is how the press has latched on to the similarities between Affleck and the character he plays. That’s low-hanging fruit and kind of disrespectful to Affleck, his ex-wife Jennifer Garner and other real people and doesn’t even sell the movie well since it becomes a sideshow to what’s happening in the campaign proper. The whole effort would be stronger with less of a tabloid sheen.

Picking Up The Spare

AMC shared an exclusive interview with Affleck where he talked about the movie and its story.