How Focus Features has sold a movie of Viking revenge.
Director Robert Eggers takes a break from filming Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson in a lighthouse to bring us The Northman. Alexander Skarsgård stars as Amleth, a man who since being found after escaping the murder of his father (Ethan Hawke) was raised by Vikings as a berserker. Discovering terrible secrets about his mother (Nicole Kidman) and with the help of Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy), Amleth sets out to exact bloody Nordic revenge against those who assassinated his father and reclaim the kingdom that should have been his.
Dafoe, Björk and others costar as the sorcerers, seers, warlords and others Amleth – widely regarded as the historical inspiration for Shakespeare’s Hamlet – encounters on his quest.
So with a story steeped deeply in Norse mythology and folk tales, a director known for making some of the most visually-interesting movies in recent history and a whole bunch of Serious Actors, let’s take a look at how this has been sold to the public that will completely ignore it at the box office.
announcements and casting
The movie was announced in 2020, including most of the main cast. It wasn’t until May of 2021 that Lionsgate added an official release date.
Kidman commented on the weird process of filming the movie while also praising Eggers in an interview from January 2021.
Ineson talked about shooting the film and how he responded to some of the first footage in this interview from later that year. An interview in June with Dafoe had him talking about the larger scale of this film when compared to his previous work with Eggers, saying while it was a bigger story it still wouldn’t lack for detail or nuance.
Universal gave CinemaCon attendees in August 2021 a look at footage from this and other upcoming movies.
the marketing campaign
“Conquer your fate” declares the first poster, released in December of last year. Amleth stands atop a cliff looking out over the sea and the handful of ships sailing there. It very much establishes the visual tone of the movie and the campaign, offering the audience a fiery and violent experience in theaters.
The first trailer (21.3m YouTube views) came out at the same time. It opens with a young Amleth enjoying the love and company of his parents before his father is brutally murdered, Amleth barely escaping the same fate. Cut to an older Amleth, making his way through the world as he looks for those responsible. When he meets Olga he finds someone with her own agenda as well as abilities that could help him, leading to lots of bloodshed and violence.
In February Skarsgård was interviewed by Kirsten Dunst about his role and what it’s like being part of a big family of actors. There was also a conversation with Eggers about creating the costumes and other design elements of the film as well as the physical transformation Skarsgård underwent for the role. Taylor-Joy spoke about filming in the Irish wilderness and how much she enjoyed getting out in nature for an extended period of time.
More here from Skarsgård about filming such a violent story as well as how he got in Viking-appropriate shape.
TV spots like this began airing in late March focusing on the revenge story and Viking violence, keeping some of Eggers’ more esoteric visual stylings kind of hidden behind quick cuts and heavy music.
The second poster came out shortly after that, this one using the same tagline but now featuring the whole main cast.
A profile of Eggers covered what inspired this story and how the director set out to make an epic that was also an ambitious visual film while being historically accurate. How the movie finally moved into production was also covered in a later profile of Skarsgård that included how he collaborated with Eggers both before filming and during production.
The cast and crew assembled for a special screening of the movie in Rome at the beginning of April. They also appeared for an event in London, which led to first reactions from critics that were overwhelmingly positive.
Eggers and others from in front of and behind the camera contributed to a featurette about the technical aspects of making the movie. Similar ground was covered later on in an exclusive featurette from AMC Artisan Films.
At this point Focus Features announced a movie-themed RPG tie-in with Fortnight featuring locations and costumes from the film.
An exclusive Nerdistclip shows an extended look at the killing of King Aurvandill that sets Amleth on his quest for vengeance.
How this movie fits into his daily life as well as career to date, along with other topics, were covered in another profile of Skarsgård.
Last week Skarsgård made a promotional appearance at NASCAR’s Geico 500 in Talladega. He also talked about the movie in an appearance on “Today” and later on when stopped by “The Late Show.”
All that came just before the film’s Los Angeles black carpet premiere that included a Q&A with the cast and crew. That generated plenty of comments from everyone about the process of making the movie, working with Eggers and more. The director also talked about filming a nude Skarsgård, making the production work despite the location and Covid restrictions and more. Another profile of him included him sharing how he convinced Björk to take on a role in the film.
A short red-band trailer was released right after that, just days ago, that doesn’t break much new ground in terms of the story but does feature even more visceral action.
How Skarsgård got in shape for the role was covered here.
With an impressive 88% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and some incredibly positive word of mouth that’s been generated in the last two weeks, tracking projects an opening weekend of $10-15 million, which would be great for a movie of this type.
But really, what matters is that this campaign has been a brutal, bloody good time and that Skarsgård’s glistening abs seem to be the main draw for a substantial portion of the audience. So it’s effectively sold itself to the groups interested in those things, which means this has been a success.
How Marvel and Sony have sold the third entry in the web-slinging franchise
Spider-Man: No Way Home arrives in theaters this week at the end of what can easily and legitimately be described as a weird year for Hollywood and the entertainment industry. At the beginning of 2021, Covid-19 vaccines were only just beginning to become widely available and many new movies were still going straight to streaming or VOD if they weren’t being delayed indefinitely.
Now the theatrical release picture has gone back to something approaching pre-2020 normal, including how only franchise blockbusters seem to score any level of success at the box office. But there are headwinds building, including new Covid variants, that could skew things going forward.
Into all this comes the third film in Sony’s third (or fourth depending on if you count Into The Spider-Verse) Spider-Man franchise. Tom Holland returns as Spider-Man/Peter Parker, as does Zendaya as Michelle “MJ” Jones-Watson and Jacob Batalon as Ned Leeds.
The story revolves around Parker turning to Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to undo the revealing of his identity as Spider-Man that occurred at the end of the last movie. But when the spell goes wrong a rift in the fabric of the universe occurs, leading to intrusions on the MCU Spider-Verse by characters from Sony’s previous two Spider-Man series.
announcement and casting
In late summer of 2019, well before the movie actually moved into production, the press was dominated by reports that the tenuous partnership between Sony and Disney that had allowed Spider-Man to appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe had fallen apart. Both sides blamed the other, saying parts of the deal had been reneged on and a new agreement was impossible to reach that would allow the crossover to continue.
Things seemed destined to go back to their pre-2016 status quo, with Spidey unconnected from the MCU until Holland himself exerted pressure on the heads of both studios, making the fan outpouring clear to them, resulting in a new deal that would at the very least allow for a resolution to the character’s arc within the MCU instead of an abrupt, unexplained exit.
In October reports emerged that Cumberbatch would be reprising his role as Doctor Strange in the film.
Sony moved the movie by a month on the release schedule in July of last year while the Covid-19 pandemic was still causing massive disruptions. In September it raised a lots of eyebrows with the news Jamie Foxx was returning as Electro, a role he played in 2014’s Spider-Man 2 with Andrew Garfield,
Production was underway, as marked by Holland in a timely mask-related post, in November of 2020.
Additional casting news came fast and furious in December of last year, when Molina, Stone, Garfield, Dunst and Maguire were all reported to be coming back, lending credence to the rumors this movie was going full multiverse.
Zendaya spoke briefly about the movie late last year when doing publicity for other projects.
In February speculation as to the movie’s official title came to head when Holland, Zendaya and Batalon all shared a few new stills along with totally fake-out title cards, a planned stunt to get fans talking and sharing. It all culminated when Sony shared a video featuring the three leaving Watts’ office frustrated by his refusal to share the title of the film, only to walk past a white board with that title written on it along with a handful of rejected contenders.
Molina confirmed in April he was returning as Doctor Octopus, but Andrew Garfield in May denied he was involved saying he hadn’t been contacted by anyone about the project.
The first good look at the characters, including hints as to what the story may involve, came when Marvel released photos of some of the toys and collectibles in early July.
The trailer leaked in mid-August, causing Sony to go through the paces to try and have it taken down from the various places it popped up.
When it was finally released by both Marvel and Sony (107.5m combined views on YouTube), it shows Peter is still dealing with the fallout of the last movie, including police suspicion he killed Mysterio. With his secret identity now public, he goes to see Doctor Strange to see if anything can be done about that. But Strange’s spell to reverse what happened goes awry – in part because of Peter’s nervous meddling – it opens up a portal to the multiverse. That means there are glimpses of characters like Green Goblin, Electro and, dramatically at the end, Doctor Octopus.
Sony addressed that leak as it showed off the trailer and other footage to attendees of CinemaCon in August.
A first TV spot from the day after the trailer came out touted how successful it had been as measured by both video views and social media conversations generated.
— Spider-Man: No Way Home says NO SPOILERS 🚫 (@SpiderManMovie) August 25, 2021
Cumberbatch talked about what the story has in store for Peter and Stephen when he appeared at the Telluride Film Festival to promote some of the other films he had being screened there.
As Garfield was doing the media rounds for his other projects he kept being asked whether or not he was appearing in this movie, consistently denying any cameos had been filmed.
The release of Venom: Let There Be Carnage in September included conversation about this movie because of a mid-credits sequence that hinted at Eddie Brock/Venom, played by Tom Hardy, finally meeting Spider-Man in this film because of multiverse craziness.
Holland talked more here about what it was like to finish the trilogy with Watts as well as how he was super-excited to work with Molina. Around the same time a profile of Zendaya covered her experience on this franchise as well as her other recent work. More stills were released in an Empire cover story that had Watts talking about overcoming the seemingly impossible task of assembling so much of the talent from all the previous films.
marketing phase two: amazing
The first poster wasn’t released until early November, over two months after the trailer came out. It’s surprisingly restrained for this franchise but still shows a lot, including Spider-Man balancing on one of Doc Ock’s arms while Green Goblin is seen in the background along with hints of Sandman and Electro’s involvement.
More small hints and comments came from Cumberbatch on “Kimmel” in November during the press cycle for The Power of the Dog.
The official trailer (58m YouTube views from Sony) came out in mid-November. This one skips some of the setup about Peter wanting to make everyone forget his super hero identity and gets straight to the incoming threats from the multiverse. After the challenges become clear, Peter learns that all these villains die in their home universe, something he’s determined to prevent before closing the rifts and sending everyone back. Doctor Strange isn’t on board with that, but Peter and his friends won’t be stopped.
Sony held events screening that trailer in various cities, with Holland showing up at a couple of them to get fans even more excited.
The star was profiled in GQ, sharing some thoughts about this movie as well as what he sees for the future of Spider-Man on film.
At this time Liberty Mutual began running a cross-promotional campaign that worked the idea of Spider-Man saving the city into the company’s commercials about saving people money and hassle. There were also commercials from Hyundai that showed Peter getting picked up by Ned in the middle of nowhere as he tries to clear his name.
More TV spots were released that cut down the message of the second trailer to a shorter runtime while still conveying the multiverse nature of the story and the attendant villains.
Tickets going on sale was announced by the cast in a Fandango video on what was called “Spider Monday,” the Monday after Thanksgiving. Another video had Foxx joining Holland. AMC Theaters promised those buying advance tickets a free “eco-friendly” Spider-Man NFT.
An interview with producer Amy Pascal, who’s been involved with the franchise since she was the head of Sony Pictures, had her confirming there will be future Spider-Man movies, that those will be made in cooperation with Marvel Studios and that Holland wasn’t quite done with the suit yet.
The IMAX poster released at the end of November shows Spidey swinging through a distorted cityscape, hinting at how the universe is unraveling because of what’s happened. The Dolby poster shows him swinging through the city, this time upside down.
Lots of different elements are brought together on the theatrical poster, which has Spider-Man, Doctor Strange and MJ at the center of a twisted reality vortex as the various villains swirl around them. Electro, Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus all got individual posters as well.
Two movie-inspired costumes were added to the Spider-Man video game from Insomniac.
At CCXP in early December there were a couple promotional moments, including a video of Molina, Dafoe and Foxx together talking about the legacy of their characters and working together for the first time, at least in this series, and how production technology has changed since the last time they suited up.
G Fuel released a commercial for its cross-promotional campaign, including new drink flavors and movie-branded cans and packaging.
Holland talked about the movie on “Late Night.” In another interview he cast more doubt on his future in the series while also reflecting on his involvement as being one of growth and enjoyment.
Liberty Mutual came back to the campaign to sponsor Daily Bugle newsstands in New York City filled with newspapers that had Spider-Man pictures and news.
A video of the Paris kickoff to the cast’s press tour was released.
An ESPN commercial that had fun with some of the rumors circulating around the movie and its cast was part of a larger element of the campaign focused on what was or wasn’t known. That included the cast discussing fan theories amongst themselves and then later asking those who had begun seeing the movie not to spoil anything for those who hadn’t yet.
Holland, Zendaya and Batalon all appeared on “GMA” to promote the movie while those three were joined by Cumberbatch for an appearance on “Kimmel.” Marisa Tomei showed up on “Late Night” by herself, though.
Literally everyone, including Marvel’s Kevin Feige and costars Tomei, J.K. Simmons, Jon Favreau, turned out for the red carpet world premiere. Even Jared Leto, who stars in the upcoming Morbius, was there. That event was sponsored by Hyundai and TikTok, which had been a major promotional platform for the movie to date, offering clips, filters, stickers and more. It even released its own commercial touting the features.
PlayStation put out a clip showing the disagreement between Peter and Strange that causes some of the story’s conflict.
One more video of the cast warning against spoiling the movie came out right at the end of the campaign.
First: We have to address the very last part of the campaign, the one where the cast of the film was enlisted in the War Against Spoilers. While I get that there are a lot of plot twists and surprising characters, the entire premise of the story is that the multiverse is coming together, which means that anything is possible. So learning that X has been cast as a character they played previously isn’t exactly an outlandish statement that can upend one’s enjoyment of the film.
Second: You have to love how the three leads – Holland, Zendaya and Batalon – have seemingly formed this tight knit group over the course of three movies. Putting them all together in various components of the campaign, from the title announcement to press appearances and other videos, only works because they’ve clearly bonded and are now a family, with an easy rapport that makes the banter believable.
Third: Everyone needs to get their stories straight regarding Tom Holland’s future in the Spider-Man series. He seems to be pulling a Daniel Craig-esque “Yeah, I had a good run but I’m done” move while Pascal and Fiege are trying to pull him back in. The latter may just be marketing positioning by the executives who don’t want to blow up audience expectations, but then someone needs better media training.
Fourth: If you are brining back Willem Dafoe but also still putting him behind a mask that doesn’t allow for his natural expressiveness to come through, you’re doing it wrong. But am I right in understanding that the one villain from the Holland movies still alive – Michael Keaton’s Vulture – isn’t in this while almost all the villains from the other series are? OK I guess…
Finally: While the reviews have been generally positive and anticipation for the movie seems high, it’s hard to believe the $150m opening weekend projections will wind up being accurate. We’re fully in the midst of a Covid-19 surge (thanks, everyone refusing to get vaccinated!) that is already causing Broadway shows to close, sports teams to cancel games and more. It might be big, but it won’t be that big. And if it is, it might be the last one to reach that mark for a little while here, at least until the spring.
How Focus Features has sold a drama from a Hollywood icon.
The Card Counter, in theaters this weekend from Focus Features, is the latest feature from writer/director Paul Schrader, one of the foremost figures in the last 50 years of cinema. Oscar Isaac stars as William Tell, a former military interrogator who now makes a living as a gambler. One day a young man named Cirk (Tye Sheridan) tries to enlist Tell in a scheme to enact revenge on an officer Cirk served with and bears a grudge against. Hoping to turn Cirk from his path, Tell takes him on the gambling circuit. Financing them is La Linda (Tiffany Haddish), who also joins them on the road.
announcement and casting
The movie was first announced in October, 2019 when Isaac was cast. Tiffany Haddish, Tye Sheridan, and Willem Dafoe joined the cast in mid-February of 2020, about the same time Martin Scorcese, who famously collaborated with Schrader on several of the most important films of the last five decades, came on as an executive producer.
A first look still was released in mid-June of last year as production was resuming after a Covid-19-related shutdown had paused filming. Focus Features announced it acquired distribution rights a month later.
the card marketing
Things really started just a few months ago in July, when Focus Features announced the film’s world premiere would take place at the Venice Film Festival in early September.
The original song “Arise Sun” from Robert Levon Been came out at the end of July.
At that point the first trailer (2.8m views on YouTube) was released, the tension apparent from the start. Tell is talking about the weight of things past as it opens and we slowly learn more about him as things go on, including how he was sent to prison for crimes committed while he was in the service. Now free and making a living gambling, he’s backed by La Linda, who smells an opportunity to make money. Cirk’s intrusion on his life is unwanted, especially when Tell finds out what he’s up to but his presence sets a series of events in motion that may upset the life Tell has made for himself even as it offers a chance at closure.
Tell’s face looks out from behind a series of playing card faces on the highly-stylized poster, released a little later in mid-August. Scorsese’s name is prominently displayed at the top, indicating how much weight the studio believes he commands, especially when it’s paired with not only Schrader but also the high-profile cast. The vengeance/redemption storyline is hinted at in the copy “Reap what you sow.”
TV spots like this started running at about the same time, cutting down the story to much broader strokes but maintaining the tension and drama that was found in the full trailer. Even shorter videos served to introduce the individual characters.
Tell explains to La Linda that he’s not a typical gambler and why he’s trying to help Cirk in the first clip, also released in late August.
Schrader wound up being the central figure in the press campaign. Interviews with the writer/director had him talking about the influence his previous work with Scorsese had on this movie, the process of writing and shooting the movie, how he thinks the story reflects at least some of the trauma soldiers coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan can and will have and more.
He also spoke about what it was like shooting the film during Covid lockdowns and with strict protocols in place. Similar ground was covered in a joint interview with Haddish and Isaac as well as how the two actors bonded on set.
Three character posters released in early September showed the leads standing in front of playing cards. The same tagline is used here from the main poster, but what really stands out is the use of shadow, like they are actually standing in front of a physical object and it’s not just a background that’s been inserted.
The stars and director all appeared at the Venice Film Festival, doing interviews and otherwise promoting the film there.
AMC Theaters released a series of interviews with Haddish and Sheridan, both of whom also did a video for Regal Cinemas.
A featurette with Schrader had him talking about the story as well as how important it is to challenge the audience and make them work a little bit.
With the film’s creative pedigree – both in front of and behind the camera – the positive festival reviews that have resulted in an 85% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes isn’t wholly surprising but still good to see.
The campaign has set a tense, dramatic tone from the outset, one that very much brands it as a movie intended for serious adult moviegoers. Schrader is clearly still a brand name with that crowd, which is why he’s been put front and center in the publicity. Isaac is conspicuously absent from all but a few interviews, but there are likely reasons for that. And it’s allowed Haddish to get a bit more time in the spotlight.
How Netflix is selling a movie that mixes political and family drama.
The Last Thing He Wanted, coming to Netflix Friday, is based on the Joan Didion novel of the same name. Directed by Dee Rees, the movie stars Anne Hathaway as Elena McMahon, a journalist who goes off-script when she gets involved in the government-sanctioned gun-running activities of her estranged father Richard (Willem Dafoe).
That puts her on the radar of Treat Morrison (Ben Affleck), a government agent involved in those activities. Elena must navigate the turmoil of mid-80s Central American politics to have any chance of making it out alive, all while the dangers around her increase the deeper she gets into a world her father long wanted her to stay away from.
Netflix’s campaign for the movie hasn’t reached the level of pushes for its high-profile releases at the end of 2019 but still sells an entertaining feature from a talented filmmaker with a high-profile cast.
All the main characters, including local aide Alma (Rosie Perez), are shown on the movie’s one poster (by marketing agency Mocean). McMahon, her father, Morrison and Alma are placed around the poster, all looking off into the vague middle distance as they clearly are pondering serious matters. The colors and way the white stripes are arranged give the design the feeling of a business lounge at an airport-adjacent hotel, but it’s close enough to “serious geopolitical drama” to convey that basic message.
The first trailer (1.2 million views on YouTube) was released by Netflix at the end of January. It opens with McMahon and other journalists on the run as soldiers in a South American country break into their office and seize their operations. Her reputation precedes her in U.S. government circles, but when an investigation into arms sales reveals the involvement of her estranged father things get complicated. Undeterred, she embarks on a mission to find out what he’s gotten himself in to, at which point she crosses paths with Morrison, sent there to put an end to the operation. It’s a tight thriller being sold here, one with lots of tense situations and dramatic expressions on the faces of the main characters.
Online and Social
There not being a stand-alone website for the movie isn’t surprising given Netflix rarely creates such sites for all but a few select titles. What is unusual is that it didn’t even give the movie any great volume of promotion on brand social channels, focusing instead on recent romantic comedies and continuing to highlight its association with other high profile filmmakers.
Advertising and Promotions
The first real news about the movie was big as it was announced in 2018 that Netflix would finance and distribute it, obviously loving is previous experience with Rees. That preceded the film’s screening at the Sundance Film Festival last month.
Media and Press
Rees shared her process during Sundance, talking about how she worked to highlight what she felt was a key element of the source book, the kinds of influences she pulled from for the story and more. The cast also talked about working with Rees and getting in the heads of the characters they were playing.
An interview with Rees had the writer/director talk about working with Netflix again on this project as well as how it represents the next step in the progression her career has been on for years.
This movie barely got an off-hand mention in a profile of Affleck that instead focused on the other projects he has in the works.
As I mentioned in the opening, it’s clear Netflix hasn’t put the same kind of muscle behind this campaign it did for The Irishman and other releases at the end of last year. It’s not even as robust a push as it game the To All The Boys… sequel that came out last week. It’s an indicator that even Netflix, that great disruptor of the exhibition industry and champion of the mid-tier “I mean it’s alright” drama knows where to invest resources and when to just get the movie out and let it be what it will.
It’s just kind of hard to tell what the movie is about or what the focus of the story is in the context of the limited marketing on display here. The relationship between the characters isn’t unclear, the story a bit convoluted and the dynamics in play muddled. So even those who are big fans of solid geopolitical dramas aren’t going to get much to sink their teeth into here. Whatever brand recognition Didion’s original novel, combined with a bit of interest generated by the well-known cast, then becomes the biggest selling point, albeit one that isn’t featured prominently in the campaign.
Picking Up The Spare
Rees was the subject of a new featurette talking about her inspirations for the movie and more.
Joint interviews with Rees and Hathaway had them talking about the movie’s twist ending and how they were able to adapt the source novel while also exercising their own creative freedom.
Well after the film was released, Rees commented on some of the road bumps she encountered and the lessons she learned from the audience’s mixed reactions.
Edward Norton’s sophomore directorial effort is a 1950s noir about corruption in the big city.
In this week’s Motherless Brooklyn, based on Jonathan Lethem’s 1999 novel, Norton plays Lionel Essrog, a man with Tourette syndrome who’s found his unique way of looking at and processing the world around him is an asset as an assistant to private investigator Frank Minna (Bruce Willis). When Minna is killed, Essrog sets out to solve his murder as a way to pay tribute to the man who helped him out.
Doing so puts Essrog on a collision course with the powerful men who run New York City, including Moses Randolph (Alec Baldwin). That doesn’t stop him, though, as he continues to chase down clues until he finds what he’s looking for.
Norton, who also wrote the screenplay, changed the setting of Lethem’s book from modern times to the 1950s, and Warner Bros.’ campaign has taken advantage of that to sell the movie as a throwback to the days of procedural dramas.
Essrog walks alone across a New York City bridge on the poster (by marketing agency Works Adv) released just a month ago in mid-September. The entire image is shaded in a deep blue to set a somber and cool tone to the film. There’s no copy or other text to explain the story here, but the floating heads of the rest of the cast appear at the top to show the solid lineup of talent on display.
Essrog introduces himself as the trailer (6.6 million views on YouTube), released in August, begins as someone with something wrong. He has Tourette’s Syndrome and will scream things at odd moments, creating problems with those around him. Working for Minna has helped him keep his head straight, so when Minna is shot Essrog is determined to find out who’s responsible. His investigation leads him to meet Rose, who shows him a world he’s unfamiliar with. It also brings him into conflict with Randolph, who will stop at nothing to protect his reputation as an angel in the city, not a devil.
Online and Social
There’s some good stuff on the movie’s official website, but none of it rises above the usual material found on other sites.
Advertising and Publicity
Footage from the film was shown to exhibitors attending CineEurope in June 2019, amounting to the first major publicity beat for the film. In August the movie was named the closing night feature at the New York Film Festival. It was also added to the schedule of the Toronto Film Festival in August and then the Rome Film Festival in October as well as the Camerimage International Festival in November, where Norton was slated to receive the Krzysztof Kieślowski Award.
Regal Cinemas shared an exclusive interview with the cast.
Media and Press
An interview with Norton from August, just before the trailer came out, had him talking about the timeliness of the story and the themes that he wanted to communicate. Many of the pieces and features about the movie focused on how this was only Norton’s second directorial effort, one that’s taken the better part of 20 years to get made after he first became interested in it.
Norton spoke about how Thom Yorke, lead singer of Radiohead, inspired the movie and how he got Yorke to create not one but two songs for the film’s soundtrack.
While in Toronto, Dafoe shared how Norton reacted to the beard he’d grown for The Lighthouse.
Norton appeared on “The Tonight Show” to talk about directing the film and working with the other actors. He and Baldwin in particular made a number of other talk show appearances to promote the film and raise audience awareness. Costar Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who plays a women Essrog befriends during his investigation, was part of some of these appearances along with a few profiles on her own.
Notably, Norton took time to praise the work of the behind the scenes crew that helped bring the film to life, something not many filmmakers take time to do. He also made sure to discuss the care he took in playing someone with Tourette’s, wanting to be true to the condition while not overdoing it and falling into parody, even unintentionally.
Tracking estimates have the movie opening around $3 million this weekend, maybe a little higher if the wind breaks at the right time. It’s hoping to be a serious dramatic alternative to the special effects-driven entries already in theaters or opening alongside it, but despite the totally decent campaign from WB and the enthusiasm of Norton and others, it’s hard to see it going much higher.
At various points in the publicity push, Norton has called this “a love letter to New York City,” something that’s been used to describe many films over the years, but that’s the least interesting aspect of what’s on display. Instead the most compelling message is that it shows someone with a condition not often seen portrayed in a serious way leading a productive and normal life, with goals and feelings that extend beyond that condition. While there’s nothing wrong with the campaign as it is, emphasizing that would have been something unique.
Picking Up the Spare
The cast and crew spoke about the movie and its story at the L.A. premiere. There were also a number of additionalinterviewswith Norton, allowing him to further explain the characters and story.
A24’s black and white character drama is positioned as an alternative to the blockbusters dominating theaters.
Writer/director Robert Eggers returns with this week’s The Lighthouse. The movie stars Willem Dafoe as Thomas, a veteran lighthouse keeper on a remote New England island in the 1890s who one day is joined by a younger assistant named Ephraim (Robert Pattinson). His arrival creates an odd partnership between the two as their days become filled with surreal visions, personal tension and other strange adventures and visions.
The campaign for the film has gone light on the story not because of a fear of spoilers like a Marvel Studios film but because the goal has been to create a tone and sense of mystery about the movie.
There’s little beyond the picture of a lighthouse out amidst the raging sea on the first poster (by marketing agency P+A), which shows off the movie’s black and white visuals. The one irregularity seen is the tail sticking out of the water in the foreground, while the unusual nature of the story is hinted at with the copy “There is enchantment in the light.”
August brought the release of the second poster which shows Ephraim and Thomas standing on either side of the lighthouse they man, the title and a series of positive quotes from early reviews placed between them.
The first trailer (4.2 million views on YouTube) was released at the end of July and immediately presents a unique look and feel for the movie with its black and white visuals and non-widescreen aspect ratio. Ephraim has come to the lighthouse to work and, it seems, to escape something in his past. Thomas is suspicious but the two are stuck with each other on a remote island, so some bonding is bound to take place. Still, there are hints that mysteries will be brought to light and that danger is lurking in the lighthouse as the movie is sold in a way akin to classic psychological horror films.
In September the second trailer (1.9 million views on YouTube) was released that continues showing the strange and shifting dynamic between the two men. It also introduces a few more mysteries into the story, including the circumstances under which Ephraim’s predecessor might have left his position.
Online and Social
The studio’s official website doesn’t have much that will add to anyone’s understanding of the film, just the basic information on the story and actors.
In a random, almost nonsensical move, A24 released an emoji pack for iMessage based on the movie and its characters, something that’s so strange for a black and while drama about two isolated men it’s kind of awesome.
Before the movie’s planned premiere at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, A24 released a first photo showing Dafoe and Pattinson in order to set the tone and begin building buzz, with some critics positioning the movie and its cast as likely Oscar contenders. It went on to win multiple awards at the festival, adding to that buzz.
It was later announced among the films screening at the Toronto Film Festival, specifically in the “Special Presentations” section of the event.
Media and Press
The whole cast and crew appeared at Cannes, with Dafoe being interviewed about it and working with Pattinson. Eggers commented on the important role he sees for horror as a storytelling form and how he worked with the crew to realize the vision he and others had for the project.
Pattinson was the subject of a Variety cover story wherein he talked about this movie as well as a whole lot more from his past and future career. That, along with an interview with Eggers where he talked about how he approached the subject material, popped around the time the movie was in the middle of festival screenings.
More interviews with Pattinson allowed him to talk about the effect the restrained nature of the story had on him while Eggers shared what he thinks about making a movie that’s been labeled one of the most insane of the year. Eggers also talked about the research he did during the writing the story. Pattinson commented on the physical transformation he undertook for the role as well as how this part fits into his career as a whole. The production details, including modifications to handle the black and white film, were covered by Eggers.
There’s a real problem in Hollywood involving a lack of visual style. So many movies, even ones by talented directors and cinematographers, have a tendency to look the same because they’ve been wrung dry of uniqueness by corporate editing that needs to have everything appear as bland and generic as possible.
The campaign for The Lighthouse presents a movie serving as an antidote to that sameness. It’s not only an apparently wildly original story but one that’s told in a fashion unlike anything on screen in recent years. As much as the performances by Dafoe and Pattinson appear to be manic and unhinged, the visuals take that to another level by making the viewer slightly uncomfortable. That alone makes it a fascinating campaign for what appears to be a fascinating film.
Picking Up the Spare
The movie’s unconventional look and feel are covered in this interview with Eggers while the two stars talked about similar topics. Eggers again talked about the unusual nature of the production here and the themes of madness and isolation here.
Another interview with Dafoe where he talks about this role, working with Pattinson and more. Dafoe also appeared on “Late Night” to talk about the film while both he and Pattinson were interviewed here. The latter was interviewed again as well.
Director Kenneth Branagh assembles an all-star cast for this week’s Murder on the Orient Express, an adaptation of the classic Agatha Christie mystery of the same name. Branagh himself takes on the role of Christie’s famous detective Hercule Poirot, who finds himself on a train running through parts of the Middle East and surrounding areas.
Along on the ride are over a dozen other passengers, not to mention crew. When one of those passengers, Edward Ratchett (Johnny Depp) is killed, Poirot uses the time available to him to investigate who the murderer might be from a collection of society figures and others. Daisy Ridley, Penelope Cruz, Judi Dench, Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfieffer, Josh Gad and others all play the assembled passengers/suspects.
“Everyone is a suspect” we’re told on the first poster, which is quite a statement considering the impressive cast list that’s on display. The primary image is of a train speeding along the track, with oddly red smoke pouring out of its stack.
The theatrical poster does inside to the interior of the lounge car, the various characters arranged around the inside of that car, some with a drink in hand and all glancing purposefully somewhere.
Each member of the impressive cast, as well as the substantial supporting cast, was featured individually on their own character poster, some shown inside the train and some outside.
The first trailer sets the stage of being set on a train trip through the wilderness. We get some narration about how interesting the forced-collection of strangers into a confined space can be. Seen we hear a passenger has died and we see the roles each passenger will take on. All of them are a suspect and we finally meet Hercules Pirot, who introduces himself as the greatest detective in the world.
It’s short but it’s to the point, selling the all-star cast being involved in a murder mystery.
The second trailer is no less focused on the cast being a major selling point but also has more of the story to offer. A conversation between Pirot and the gangster played by Depp provides a framing device to show how the detective’s investigation expands to involve everyone aboard. That’s good, but there’s also a lot of shots here of trains derailing and other action sequences that seem designed to assure audiences it won’t all be thinking. I get the sense the studio is trying to dumb it down a bit, at least here in the marketing.
A photo of the room Ratchett was killed in is used on the front page of the movie’s official site, which has a notable domain name, the victim’s own feet visible at the bottom of the image, which keeps bouncing around like the train is still moving.
Some of the objects scattered around the Crime Scene are clickable, bringing up a closer look and a text box where you’re supposed to write notes about that piece of evidence. Those Clues were scattered throughout the marketing and publicity campaign and are assembled in that section of the site, though with no further guidance or hints as to what they might be. The Suspects section then has pictures and names for all the passengers and others on the train who are being investigated and evaluated for their role in the murder. By logging in to the site (using your Facebook credentials) you can track your progress in solving the mystery.
The first TV commercial sells a high-tension thriller involving multiple suspects trapped in tight quarters, making sure to show off the all-star cast and with music that adds to the suspense and sense of urgency involved in finding the real killer in a sea of motives. Further TV spots would hit slightly different beats but all sell the same basic idea.
Some of those commercials wound up being used as promoted posts on Twitter and pre-roll spots on YouTube. Other online ads used the key art of the star-studded cast as well as short video clips.
There were also at least a couple brand that helped with promotional efforts. Godiva released a number of movie-themed collections of chocolates and other sweets and ran a sweepstakes awarding a train trip through California’s Napa Valley. HSN meanwhile offered a bunch of fashion items inspired by both the look of the movie and the time period the story takes place in.
Media and Publicity
While there was certainly coverage of the movie during production, the first big push was kicked off by a cover story in Entertainment Weekly that included first look photos of the cast, comments from Branagh about the production and the ensemble that was assembled and much more. That came around the same time as a big press event in London where the cast was brought together and talked about the movie while the studio showed off a bit of footage.
A first look photo in EW’s fall movie preview was accompanied by a brief interview with Branagh where he talked about how he had the cast shoot one of the movie’s most difficult sequences on the very first day of filming. A later feature profile of Pfieffer focused on this and other upcoming or recent movies that mark the return to regular work for the actor, who talked about shooting such a star-studded production and why she’s taken a few breaks over the last decade. The New York Times did a similar feature interview.
Later on there was a profile of Branagh that talked about the big year he’s having in a number of films and stage productions, this included. The director/star also did the media interview rounds on TV and in print to talk about the movie and taking on such a well known story.
First off, it has to be noted that like this week’s Daddy’s Home 2 this movie features some problematic casting, particularly as the media’s attention is turned to sexual harassment and toxic masculinity in the entertainment and other industries. That Johnny Depp is not only in the movie but featured so prominently in the marketing (though not in the publicity) shows there are no real consequences for domestic abuse or other behavior if you’re white, male and popular enough at the box-office.
Perhaps that’s why so much of the publicity has focused, with the exception of Branagh, on both Ridley (partly in conjunction with her Star Wars notoriety) and Pfieffer, who’s enjoying a much-needed career resurgence.
Putting that to the side, the rest of the campaign sells a movie that may be based on an old musty book today’s young people may have seen on their grandmother’s family room shelves but never picked up as a slick, colorful, energetic thriller. From the neon lighting that’s shown on the posters to the Imagine Dragons tracks used in the trailers and the pacing of the TV spots, the studio is working hard to liven up the story and make it appear to be the polar opposite of a dry, slow thriller. It’s action-packed, the campaign promises, and filled with stars you’ve already enjoyed.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.
Childhood adventure is at the core of the story in this week’s new release The Florida Project. Written and directed by Sean Baker (who made a splash with the highly-praised Tangerine), the movie focuses on Moonee (newcomer Brooklyn Prince) who lives with her mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) in a low-rent motel just outside Disney World.
Moonee is a free spirit with a rich imagination who turns every day into an adventure. She’s constantly exploring the area, which is decidedly seedy despite the presence of so many glamorous tourist attractions. Sometimes those adventures involve Bobby (Willem Dafoe), the manager of the hotel. The lengths Halley goes to in order to support her daughter become increasingly dangerous, though, which could impact the innocent childhood Moonee enjoys.
The first and only poster shows Moonee running through the parking lot of the hotel where she lives, living her best childhood life, it seems. A rainbow streaks through the sky behind her while copy reads “Find your kingdom,” a nice nod to the setting of the movie.
As the first trailer opens with Bobby lovingly scolding the kids for dripping ice cream inside the office of the Magic Castle motel. They leave complaining he’s no fun. From there we’re primarily following Moonee and her friends as they wander about from place to place on endless summer days. Bobby becomes concerned no one is looking after the girl when her mom Halley gets a new job. Things quickly return to Moonee and her childhood adventures, though.
It’s…well…it’s kind of amazing. There’s no shortage of movies that are about childhood in some manner, but this one seems to double down on the idea that we’re not only following the kid but seeing the adult world from her perspective. That’s unique, as is the Florida landscape that’s captured on film here, the one that’s meant to appeal to tourists but is filled with locals just trying to make things work.
Online and Social
The title treatment is the main element on the front page of the movie’s official website. Below that is a rotating series of quotes from early reviews praising the film. At the bottom are links to the movie’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram profiles as well as a prompt to buy tickets.
Accessing the menu in the drop-down in the upper left the first section is “Story,” which offers a brief synopsis of the plot. “Trailer” is next and just has the one trailer. Finally (with the exception of another “Tickets” link) is “Acclaim,” which collects more positive quotes from critics, though it doesn’t link to the full reviews.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
There may have been some online advertising done, particularly in the first markets the movie is opening in, but I can’t confirm that. A24 did boost the trailer with some paid promoted posts on Twitter and Facebook. Nothing on TV that I know of.
Media and Publicity
A first look at the movie, specifically Dafoe’s character, came via IndieWire which also shared comments from Baker about why he shot in Florida again, some confusion surrounding the title and how he cast a good amount of the roles via social media or other unorthodox channels.
Things went dark for a while until Baker spoke more about the movie, both its story and his experience making it, as it was about to debut at Cannes, which resulted in very positive buzz among attendees. That buzz lead to it being acquired by A24. Much later it announced it would screen at the 2017 New York Film Festival. It also appeared at the Toronto Film Festival, where it continued accumulating positive word of mouth and reviews.
In the last few weeks both Dafoe and Baker have made the media rounds to talk about the movie, working together, what it’s like to shoot so close to the Happiest Place on Earth and more. Many of Dafoe’s interviews took unfortunate sidetracks into his work on the upcoming Aquaman movie, but that’s inevitable.
The strongest thing this movie has going for it is the word of mouth that’s come out of various festivals and screenings. The critics who have seen it have almost universally loved the film, praising Baker’s writing and directing as well as the acting work of Dafoe and especially Prince, who anchors the film as Moonee. If that buzz can break out of Film Twitter and into the mainstream, it could help this small film become a box-office success.
As for the campaign itself there’s a lot to like. The consistent use of the title treatment across media ensures a singular brand identity for the movie, no matter where people might encounter it. The variable is how widely those campaign elements have been spread and how many people have seen them. It’s a case where if they’ve seen the trailer and can be swayed by the critical praise, they’ll seek out the movie. Hopefully it hasn’t been buried by all the coverage awarded to bigger blockbusters.
PICKING UP THE SPARE
That’s just one of the movies called out in this New York Times profile of studio A24, which also includes mention of Lady Bird, Moonlight and a handful of others. Distributor A24 has pledged a percentage of the revenue from the movie’s home video release will go to a charity in Kissimmee, FL that supports families living in motels and other temporary housing like those in the film.
Stories of dystopian futures where society is being controlled in some manner often revolve around the hero that will rise up and challenge the oppressive system. What Happened To Monday, the new film hitting Netflix this week, makes the stakes a bit more personal.
Set a vague amount of time in the future, overpopulation and food scarcity has lead to governments putting population controls in place, limiting all families to one child each. Into this world are born septuplets, who are hidden by their grandfather (Willem Dafoe). He gives each the name of a day of the week and creates a system where they all take on the same identity, each going out only on the day they’re named after. Once they’re grown (and played by Noomi Rapace) something happens to Monday that has the potential to expose their secret and bring the full weight of the government down on the family.
The poster does a pretty good job of conveying a few different story points in a single effort. First, there’s the overall setting, which is shown here to be a city that looks as if it were pulled straight from Blade Runner. All the buildings are close together and tightly-packed, offering clues as to the state of society at this point. That’s helped by the “One family, one child” message that’s displayed on a couple of the buildings, a message that seems tied to the face that’s shown on other building exteriors. Toward the top we see seven women leaping across a gap between two buildings, a man with his gun drawn on the other side waiting for them. “Seven sisters. One identity.” helps convey the intrigue and subterfuge that will form the crux of the story.
There was some unofficial marketing done a while ago but the first official trailer hit just a few weeks before the movie’s release date. it starts out with the Cayman explaining that the siblings laws are there for the protection of all society and that illegal children will be taken away, their parents punished. We see then the father of newly-born septuplets conspiring to hide his children, explaining to them all the plan. The authorities are soon on to them, though, and lots of running, jumping, shooting and other action follows as the dragnet around them tightens.
I like the trailer’s pace. It’s a tight recap of the premise of the story and the action that will form much of the movie’s appeal. There’s no time wasted on explaining the backstory of the world it takes place in and why population controls are in place, it just states that reality and moves on to what’s important, namely the lives of the seven sisters. Dafoe is always great but let’s give it up for Rapace, who has to not only play seven different roles but play off six other versions of herself while doing so.
Online and Social
Nope. Netflix gave the movie limited support on its own social channels but that’s about it for online marketing efforts.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Similarly, another goose egg from Netflix, which doesn’t see movie-specific advertising as an important revenue driver.
Media and Publicity
After it screened at the Toronto International Film Festival news broke that Netflix had already picked it up for distribution.
Not a whole lot of publicity outside of that. Most of the press coverage over the subsequent months came from the release of various marketing materials or small comments from Rapace or Dafoe but nothing that amounted to a big press push.
Another movie with a really interesting premise and some well-known actors that are being given short shrift by Netflix in the marketing department. It’s too bad because this seems like a decent story that might have something to say about the path the world is going down, a cautionary tale of sorts. But the small-scale campaign is focused not on the story but on the shootouts and chase sequences that make for better visuals. There’s a nice consistent tone to the campaign as it’s all decked out in slick grays and blues, but it still suffers from just not being substantive enough to, I’d imagine, get on most people’s radar.