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

Bad Boys For Life – Marketing Recap

You can read my full recap of the marketing campaign for Bad Boys For Life at The Hollywood Reporter.

Online and Social

In addition to the usual marketing materials, the official website features a Meme Maker feature that lets people upload a photo and then add the movie’s title treatment to it. The result can then be shared on social or sent to friends.

Media and Publicity

The project was one that had gone through many starts and stops over the years, subject to endless speculation on if or when it might happen. It wasn’t until early January that Smith shared a photo confirming production had begun. He later offered a first official look at the movie as well.

Lawrence and Smith appeared jointly on “Good Morning America” while the two made separate stops on “The Tonight Show” over the last week or so. Smith also chatted with Seth Myers on “Late Night.”

How Lawrence has overcome the troubles he’s had both personally and professionally in the last 20 years or so was covered in this interview with the actor.

Why now was the perfect time to bring the Bad Boys back to the big screen and more were covered in comments made by the stars and others on the movie’s premiere red carpet.

Overall

Picking Up the Spare

More from Lawrence on his return to acting and what he’s been up to here. There was also finally some attention paid to Hudgens and her supporting role in this feature.

Producer Jerry Bruckheimer spoke at the premiere about the movie and why another sequel has been so long in the works.

Will Smith drove a Lyft car in Miami in a promotional stunt for the movie.

Spies in Disguise – Marketing Recap

You can read my full recap of the marketing for Spies In Disguise at The Hollywood Reporter.

Online and Social

Not much of note on the movie’s official website, which is laid out in the usual Fox site template. I would have expected something more like a “turn yourself into a pigeon” photo upload feature or casual game or something else, but none of that is here.

Media and Press

Holland appeared on “Kimmel” in early December to talk about this movie as well as others. Other than that there doesn’t seem to have been a big press push for the film, maybe because both stars have been out promoting other projects very recently and this was deemed not worth the effort.

Overall

I’m honestly not sure who this is meant for or who’s supposed to be enticed by this campaign. It’s a mystery to me.

Picking Up the Spare

Another commercial came out just before Christmas that focused on the “Team Weird” theme that emerged late in the campaign. There were also videos of Smith and Holland experiencing an escape room of sorts and a new clip released as well.

A profile of the movie and its creators focused how it seeks to communicate inventive and non-violent solutions to problems for kids.

Gemini Man – Marketing Recap

You can read my full recap of the marketing campaign for Gemini Man at The Hollywood Reporter.

Online and Social

Just a ticket-centric website for the movie, with no additional materials or information.

Media and Press

Lee, along with members of the visual effects team, spoke about the care they put into digitally altering Smith’s face and how they wanted that to be organic in the story. Later on an interview with Smith revealed his younger iteration isn’t the result of deaging technology but is a completely CGI, motion capture performance. The technology continued to be the focus of interviews as Lee commented again on the process of experimentation with higher frame rates and more.

Clive Owen’s appearance on “The Tonight Show” had him talking about the movie and lots more. When Smith showed up on “The Late Show” he talked about working with Lee and the technical aspects of the film.

The way Smith has carefully cultivated his career and made other professional choices was covered in a profile of the actor that also discussed how he’s been careful to minimize the impact of any failures.

AMC released a featurette that, much like everything else, focused on the technical aspects of making the film. An interview with costar Mary Elizabeth Winstead had her offering her thoughts on deaging and other similar topics. Another profile of Lee and Smith focused on how the director coached the actor, using some of Smith’s earlier choices as examples of what to or not to do.

Overall

Picking Up the Spare

Smith stopped by “The Daily Show” to talk about the film and more.

Aladdin – Marketing Recap

You can read my full recap of the marketing campaign for Aladdin at The Hollywood Reporter. I also wrote about the early commercial that offered the first look at Will Smith’s Genie for Adweek back in February.

Online and Social

There’s next to nothing on the movie’s official website, just the basic marketing materials. There are also social outposts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Media and Publicity

It was mid-December, two months after the first trailer, when the movie was the subject of a cover story in EW that offered the first good look at Smith as the Genie as well as other characters, settings and costumes along with comments and interviews with the cast. Smith later took to Instagram to make sure everyone knew he *would* be blue in the movie since none of the pictures showed him as such. It also included comments from Ritchie, who spoke about what it was like to make the story his own while still adhering to studio and audience expectations. He also commented on how they sought to keep the original songs familiar but offer a new take on them at the same time.

Late April saw a press push start in earnest, with Smith talking about the less than enthusiastic reactions to the first appearance of Genie and a look at how Disney is trying to walk the line between nostalgia and offering the audience something new with all these remakes. Scott discussed the costumes and dresses she wears in the movie. The creation of the world of the movie was the subject of another feature.

When Smith appeared on “The Tonight Show” he talked about the movie and even sang his updated version of “A Friend Like Me.” Much of the cast spoke on “Good Morning America” about the story and working with Smith. Scott then showed up on her own on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” to talk about working on the film. The cast then made a stop on “Ellen” to engage with the audience and have some fun. A final appearance by Smith on “Kimmel” hit similar topics.

One more TV spot to include, one that promises audiences will have the best time by seeing the movie in theaters. IMAX also created a special message from Massoud and others encouraging audiences to see it in the biggest possible format.

Overall

aladdin gif

Picking Up the Spare

Marwan Kenzari, who plays Jafar, was finally interviewed about his character and how some fans have had a very strong reaction to his look in the movie. Another profile of Massoud touched on this being his big break and more. 

The way Smith approached following such an iconic performance was covered in comments he made at the movie’s premiere. Scott also spoke about how she worked to bring a new perspective to the role of Jasmine. 

Additional featurettes and promotional spots focused on the movie’s music, something also covered by Menken and the other songwriters here. Smith and the cast was the focus of another that had some fun with the idea the actor went very method for the role. 

There were more antics from Smith and new commercials touting the movie’s box-office success. 

A snippet of “A Whole New World” from the film was released after the movie was in theaters. 

Bright – Marketing Recap

bright poster 2Director David Ayer reunites with his Suicide Squad star Will Smith in the new Netflix-original movie Bright. In the movie, Smith plays Daryl Ward, a police officer in an alternate world where mythical creatures like elves, orcs and others coexist alongside humans and have since forever. Now, Ward is the first human cop to be paired with an orc, Jakoby (Joel Edgerton).

While they’re still learning how to get along they discover the existence of a magic wand, a powerful magical weapon that can do whatever the wielder wishes. There are various very bad people – and plenty of others – trying to get their hands on the wand but it’s up to Ward and Jakoby to keep it out of dangerous hands and make sure it can’t do any more harm.

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