Dark comedies about socially awkward situations are probably among my favorite. That likely has a lot to do with the fact that I just love black comedies and am, myself, socially awkward a good amount of my life. So I might be projecting a bit, or at least finding solace in the fact that at least I’m not *that* bad.
Death at a Funeral certainly seems to fall into the “black, socially awkward comedy” category. On its surface the plot description isn’t very exciting (Family gathers after the patriarch dies, wackiness ensues). The marketing campaign, though, really shows off just what this movie is willing to do for a laugh.
Mourners in this poster sit in cheap folding chairs at the gravesite of the deceased. Most of them have their backs turned to us, except for the little person on one end. Likewise, most of them are clothed, except for the person sitting at the opposite end. It’s not the most visually exciting or challenging one-sheet out there but it works very well at what it’s trying to accomplish. That would be setting the appropriate tone for the movie, which is that the world of stiff formality and solemnity is about to be invaded by the patently absurd. Nice job encapsulating the entire movie in one image, something too few campaigns are actually capable of.
The movie is setup in this trailer as one calamity after another for the attendees of the funeral at the heart of the film. It’s uncomfortable situation followed by uncomfortable situation and is one of the funniest trailers I’ve seen in a long, long time. Despite the son of the deceased being the main character seemingly, it’s AlanTudyk – that’s right, Wash from “Firefly” – that steals the show. He gets some of the best reactions when straight and then gets to go all crazy after someone slips him not Valium but a powerfulhallucinogen. It’s kind of awesome.
OK first of all the image that appears while the official website is loading is a rising coffin. I’m not even sure what to do with that. Let’s deal with the content under the Menu that appears when you mouse-over the tie sticking out of the coffin (you read that right).
“Synopsis” is a nice, if sparse, overview of the movie’s plot. It sets up all the main characters and their place in the story nicely, which is really the whole point of this feature no matter what movie site it’s on. All the main players get their due in the “Cast” section, with nice write-ups of their careers to date and other assorted facts. “Trailer” is just that, but it’s so funny you won’t mind watching it again.
“Production Notes” is just a single page of the back-story on the making of the film, probably the equivalent of three Word pages or so of text. But it’s nicely written and provides some decent insight on how the actor’s approached their parts. There are about 13 pictures in the “Photo Gallery” but just about everyone in the cast is showcased.
When you close the menu and put your mouse over the cast that’s assembled in the background of the site you’ll see that each one lights up as you do so. Click on one of them and they come to the foreground and a little text balloon opens up that explains who they are and what they’re doing at the funeral. I would have liked to have seen this expanded a little with some video clips or something but it’s a nice backgrounder regardless.
Something I don’t cover a lot here on MMM is radio advertising. That’s because 1) There isn’t very much of it and 2) What there is isn’t very good. Oh sure there were some spots for TheBourne Ultimatum, but they essentially just ripped the sound off the TV spot and called it a radio commercial. That’s how most mainstream films advertise on radio. Not very inventive. Smaller films are usually relegated to sponsoring “Morning Edition” on NPR or something.
But I heard a radio spot for Death at a Funeral the other day and was honestly taken aback. The spot was on a rock radio station (they’re a client of the PR firm I work for so I won’t mention them) and took a different tack than just somesound-clips from the movie.
It started off with a brief description of the plot but then featured several sound-bytes from Frank Oz about what attracted him to the project and what makes him laugh and how he thought others would enjoy the movie every bit as much as he had. There were a few lines of dialogue sprinkled in but it almost played out like a behind-the-scenes featurette you’d see on HBO or “Entertainment Tonight” or something. I was struck by the breathless tone of the voice-over guy, which tried to make it seem like a wacky non-stop slapstick comedy as opposed to the more reserved comedy of manners the rest of the campaign seems to be selling (naked Alan Tudyk not withstanding).
It’s not a massive campaign but then again it’s not a massive movie. Most of the push strikes a calm, reserved tone completely in keeping with a small-scale comedy like this and that’s a good thing. While the online execution could have been a little more robust – it’s the weakest part of the campaign by a long shot – small films such as this just don’t usually get huge web budgets. That’s a reality.
Fortunately the rest of the campaign is very funny, hopefully hitting at a time when audiences are in the mood for a gentle laugh after being bombarded by high-octane action films and adult, coarse comedies all summer.