Movie Marketing Madness: The Invention of Lying

MV5BMTU2OTQzOTc1Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNDM5MDE4Mg@@._V1_SX640_SY720_Is there a place for Monty Python in today’s comedy world? While Anchorman and other similar movies from recent years are certainly classics it seems like 98 percent of what’s released under the “Comedy” heading in the last 10 years or so has either been one of the incredibly lame “parody” movies like Scare Movie that aren’t movies as much as they are a dozen “SNL” skit ideas that are loosely strung together or they’re simply romantic comedies that are all pretty much the same. There are occasional exceptions, but there’s not much place it seems in today’s media market for comedy that challenges the viewer at the same time you’re laughing uproariously at it.

There is, to put it simply, a lack of intelligence in most of today’s comedies.

One bright spot in this is Ricky Gervais. While I haven’t yet caught “Extras” I am a huge fan of “The Office,” the series he created and starred in on the BBC. I absolutely prefer it to the later, very popular American version simply because the U.S. one did not have nearly the number of moments that were incredibly funny but which I watched with my hands over my eyes but fingers open because it was so painful. Gervais seems to be one of the true comedic heirs of the Python troupe, if only because his goals seem to be the same: Make himself and about three of his friends laugh and if anyone else enjoys it then, hey, bonus.

Gervais has had a couple of early film introductions to the American public, most recently in Ghost Town. But those have been other people’s projects. His new movie, The Invention of Lying, is, like “The Office” and some other of his projects, a creation of his own and so is going to be more representative of his own style. The movie takes place in an alternate universe where no one lies or is even aware of the idea of not telling the truth. But one day Gervais’ character stumbles on the notion that if he says something – even if it’s not actually true – people will believe it because the notion of something not being so is completely foreign to them.

The Posters

The movie’s poster is a mix of heads and text (which would be a great name for a band made up of graphic designers). It shows some of the supporting characters along with the truths that they tell in this world without lying that we, in our civilized society, would never dream of saying out loud. At the bottom stands Gervais, labeled as the only guy in this world who can actually tell a lie.

It’s really not all that funny, at least not at first. It’s selling the premise of the movie – that Gervais’ character is the sole person who thinks of not telling the truth – without selling much of the funny. Instead it looks like a mildly pleasant movie with some calm, serene background.

At the bottom of the one-sheet is copy that tells us this comes from the co-creator of “The Office” and “Extras,” which will probably have many in the American audience thinking “That’s not Steve Carell” and “He’s not on ‘Extra'” respectively. Only a select percentage of the audience is going to see those as being points to emphasize.

The Trailers

The trailer presents a light, breezy comedy that relies heavily on Gervais’ considerable charm and talents. It lays out who his character is, a slightly chubby middle-management type who is a hit neither with the ladies or with his co-workers, all of whom have no problem telling him exactly what they think of him in very clear terms. Then when day he discovers he can lie to people and they’ll believe him because they have no reason not to – everyone always tells the truth. So he uses this new found power for his own personal gain, including convincing Garner to go out with him again.

It’s pretty funny but way – I mean severely – too dry for most comedy audiences, even with the inclusion of Tina Fey in the supporting cast. There are some funny moments, but Gervais’ deadpan never oversells a joke and that’s going to hurt him in appealing to people who like to be told when it’s alright to laugh. Still, it might reach a decent enough sized audience that’s going to be drawn to both the material and the delivery. At least we can hope so.


The movie’s official website leads, as many do, with the trailer, which plays after a brief loading sequence.

After that the main content menu loads in a style and format that mimics the film’s key art, giving it a nice sense of consistency. If you mouse over those content areas you will get more honest descriptions of what they contain, which is pretty funny.

“About the Film” contains a Synopsis that opens by making it clear Gervais is the creator of the “The Office” and then gets into the film’s plot and eventually the cast list. That gets expanded on in the Cast & Crew section, where you’ll find the credits of the major players on the movie. Finally there are Production Notes that come in (unlabeled) PDF form.

There are 24 stills, including a handful of behind-the-scenes shots, in the “Gallery.” One of those shows a cast chair Gervais is sitting in that has what I would presume to be the film’s original working title on it. “Videos” has the trailer and three TV spots. The usual collection of Wallpapers, Icons and a Screensaver can be found in “Downloads.”

“Features” has The Web of No Lies, which shows what the Internet would look like if people weren’t capable of fluffing their resume or actually said what they really think to people online (can’t imagine that some people are holding back in real life) and The Truth Translator, which is still labeled as “Coming Soon” just a couple days before the movie opens.

The next section is a partnership with, a site that has some funny e-cards that extend the idea of telling the truth to those you’re talking to and dealing with the consequences.

The last section, “Promotions,” is just a list with links to sites that were running contests in conjunction with the movie.

There’s also the requisite Facebook page, which contains the trailer, poster, some stills and updates about some of the cast’s appearances on TV and elsewhere. Many of the updates seem cross-posted from the WBPictures Twitter profile, which isn’t a bad thing.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

I think there was a bit of online advertising done around and about but I didn’t encounter much along those lines. And there weren’t, aside from the sites that ran contests, any corporations signing up to help cross-promote the movie to their buyers.

That left TV advertising and the handful of commercials that all acted as condensed versions of the trailer. They’re pretty funny and sell the movie as a general comedy whose premise is laid out via voice-over instead of being made clear through scenes from the film as the trailer does. A disturbing amount of the running time of these spots is devoted to the same couple of sex jokes that are included in the trailer. All three also include the same scene of Tina Fey’s cameo appearance, meaning the marketers are hoping her position as one of the biggest stars on television has a halo effect on the movie.

Media and Publicity

A series of clips was released that, for the most part, expanded on some of the scenes we’d seen originally in the trailer.

In terms of media appearances and such, Gervais was certainly at the center of all that and the primary face of the movie in the press. Garner also did some lifting to this end and the two provide the great majority of the coverage that’s resulted from the entertainment and other press. The two were interviewed by this, that and the other person, sometimes without pants (sadly not Garner there) but most of the time, thankfully, with.

All that included taking the movie to the Toronto Film Festival for one of its first and most important debuts, a debut that garnered mostly positive but sometimes mixed reviews but, regardless, got people talking about the movie. The movie’s showing at TIFF included a panel with Gervais, Garner and Lowe


There’s a lot to like about this campaign, including how it shows Gervais is willing – even eager – to present himself as the butt of the jokes and not as something he’s not, a dashing leading man. Since that’s kind of the point of the movie’s premise it makes sense for that to come through in the marketing.

It seems at times like the campaign is playing a little broadly, or more accurately that it doesn’t trust the movie to stand on its own. That’s the sense I get when, for instance, Tina Fey’s cameo scenes become the focus of the TV spots or when the same two sex jokes get repeated throughout the campaign.

I honestly can’t decide if I think the campaign as a whole seems kind of light or just about right. I guess the confusion comes from wanting to see a stronger push made, with a solid call to action for people to see the movie. Instead it’s presented in a “Hey, this is kind of funny so check it out” manner. Which isn’t exactly bad, just that that’s not how smash hits are made.


  • 10/12/09: Could a profound anti-religious bent that the movie takes but which was completely missing from the marketing campaign be partly responsible for its fall-off at the box-office? Eric Zorn asks exactly that question.

Finding an Audience: Distribution Notes for 9/30/09

movie-ticket-and-popcornAnne Thompson, Roger Ebert and Steven Zeitchik (among countless others) are talking about the state of independent film and, well, it’s depressing.

Meanwhile mSpot is launching Mobile Movies, a service that lets users stream full-length feature films on about 30 different mobile devices. And everyone, most recently Sarah Perez, is talking about the debut or Rage on the iPhone.

And while some new research shows VOD and set-top-box delivery is where consumers increasingly want to spend their money we’re supposed to act like it’s a big deal that Sony will allow you to transfer Blu-ray movies to their own PSP.

Movie Marketing Madness: A Serious Man

serious_manMake of the Coen Bros. career what you will. I’d be willing to bet they don’t really care since they seem to be making movies based on what tickles their fancy and not based on any idea of what’s going to resonate with the audience or “test” well with audiences. Sit down with a list of their movies and try to come up with a five-sentence synopsis that can be put on a poster and appeal to the same crowd that makes Transformers movies into mega-hits. I dare you.

Even their most accessible works – The Ladykillers, The Hudsucker Proxy – are so slyly subversive it probably blows right by most people, even as they confound expectations and conventions.

Two years ago they had one of the biggest critical successes of their run (truly saying something) with the fantastic No Country for Old Men (featuring one of the best movie endings ever) and then followed it up with Burn After Reading, a quirky comedy that left some people cold. Now they’re back with what some are calling their most biographic movie to date, A Serious Man.

The movie tells the story of Larry Gopnick, a Jew living in Minnesota in the 1960s who just tries to do what’s expected of him. But around him life seems to be unraveling and his serious, reserved nature just doesn’t know how to handle all that. His wife announces she’d like a divorce so she can marry his best friend, his kids are in all sorts of trouble and he’s having career difficulties as well. So he’s going through a rough patch and turns to a series of rabbis for help, only to be thrown into even more or a tailspin.

The Posters

Looking at the poster for the movie, I just can’t help thinking that between them the Coens possess the biggest set of cajones that can currently be found in Hollywood. Seriously.

The poster simply shows the main character standing in a shirt and slacks on top of a house with a television antenna beside him. Between the outfit he’s wearing, including his glasses, and the mere presence of an antenna like this we’re told clearly we’re in the 1960s here.

It’s just so…boring. Nothing is happening. This could be anyone’s dad in that time period doing something that was pretty common at that time. He’s just…ordinary.

It’s also brilliant, conveying a sense of the movie so clearly to anyone who pays even the slightest bit of attention to it. There’s no copy save for the director’s credit at the top, which in and of itself speaks volumes and which actually enhances the imagery since we then have a bit of context for it.

The Trailer

The first trailer was released shortly after it was announced the film would make its first appearance at the Toronto Film Festival and…well…it’s kind of awesome. We get no backstory about why some bland looking schlub is getting his head pounded against the wall but that’s exactly what we see, with that rhythmic pounding then continuing as we see what else is going on in this guy’s life. His wife is very blandly announcing she’d like to start talking about a divorce, he gets into a car accident, he’s told the university he works for is being urged to not grant him tenure…basically things are a mess. And with all this coming to a head he’s trying to go see a Rabbi, only to be told that the Rabbi is busy thinking.

The trailer alone works on a level that’s just higher than most other films even attempt. It’s funny, it’s tragic. In short it looks very much like a Coen Bros. movie. There are no stars in it at all…none. But the story looks so darn funny and tragic that you don’t even notice. This is immediately appeal to fans of the filmmakers, even if most of the rest of the audience is going to be a bit perplexed and wonder why things aren’t laid out more clearly and where the recognizable faces are.


The movie’s official website opens up with a smaller version of the poster key art and a prompt to watch the trailer.

The main content menu in the middle of the page starts out with “Synopsis” and it contains just that, an overview of the film’s plot and cast and other important information about it. “Cast & Crew” has a list of the players and makers and their professional background.

“Video” is where you’ll find the trailer as well as two extended clips from the movie that, unlike many such clips, aren’t just pulled from the trailer. Or if they are, these scenes make such brief appearances it hardly even counts. Either way they give a brief taste of the movie’s flavor. There are a small handful of stills in the “Photos” section.

Production Notes and other information on items like the musical score and such can be found under “Articles.” Links to the movie’s Facebook page, the Focus Features Twitter account and a form to sign up for an email newsletter are contained under “Community.”

Finally, “Reviews” contains excerpts of – and links to – some of the reviews the movie has received in its early appearances, which is a great move.

The movie’s Facebook page has the poster, the trailer and clips and links to the reviews that have been written as well as a much more robust photo gallery and the conversations that people are having in anticipation of the movie.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

I haven’t seen any TV spots for the movie but there has been a fair bit of online advertising that I’ve come across, mostly appearing on sites with indie-film audiences in mind, so you can’t say the ads aren’t targeted. Those online banners used the same elements as the poster key art and made it clear the movie was coming from the Coens, with some full-motion units including what amounted to a condensed version of the trailer.

Media and Publicity

Right around the time the movie was making its debut at the Toronto Film Festival, where it picked up significant buzz, a nice slideshow of images from it in The New York Times (9/9/09). There were also interviews with that cast at the festival and more. That Toronto appearance would eventually result it being selected as the best film of the festival by entertainment writers.

Also in the wake of TIFF was news that it would make its “domestic” (read: We know Canada is North America, but come on…) debut at the Friars Club Film Festival (Variety 9/10/09), which is kind of perfect considering the ethnic origins of that group match up with who the movie’s about.

One of the biggest breakout stars from the movie, at least in terms of ink spilled, was lead actor Michael Stuhlbarg, a Broadway and stage veteran making his first starring turn on film and who reportedly anchors the film with a completely believable and note-perfect performances.


As is usual with campaigns for movies from Joel and Ethan Coen, there’s nothing here that’s going to set the mainstream media on fire. It’s too small, there aren’t any stars and it’s not something that’s instantly recognizable by the majority of the potential audience.

But for fans of the brothers’ previous work there’s a great deal here to get excited about. The campaign makes it clear, for those paying attention, that there’s a great story being told that will probably reward the viewer even further upon multiple viewings. For those familiar with the Coens’ filmmaking style the trailer especially shows that this film has that in spades and, really, that’s what’s going to get a lot of people to check it out. While not an out-and-out comedy like Raising Arizona or Hudsucker it also doesn’t appear to be a straight drama like No Country or Blood Simple, meaning it’s more likely to be akin to Fargo in tone, a funny movie with almost no laugh-out-loud moments.


I hate to have to say this again, but the idea that a vast majority of online users would object to having their behavior tracked by marketers is not surprising at all. I’d be more surprised if a study on that issue resulted in any other conclusion.

But what I’d like to see is a study that looks at people’s opinions about an internet that does not contain some level of behavioral tracking. Higher pay walls, more ad clutter (volume to make up for targeted specificity) and other changes I’m guess would not be so welcome. And the study would have to be free of the bias that would come from talk of behavioral targeting.

I’m not a huge fan of the practice and think that fair disclosure should be made when people are being tracked in this manner. But there’s a trade off and before any policies are put into place that are hard to undo it’s important to gauge just how willing people would be to make that trade.

Journalism growing pains

The East Bay Express’ Robert Gammon thinks that a project involving student journalists is going to be the death knell for his publication. Obviously he had little faith in the strength of a professional news gathering organization if he feels this threatened by something that’s more an experiment than something designed to be a direct competitor.

Stephen Baker at BusinessWeek talks about how journalists need to walk the line between serving their publications and themselves. Specifically, though, he’s talking about how the tactics that help writers build strong personal profiles sometime run counter to the social media policies that pubs like The Washington Post are putting out there.

David Poland offers his thoughts on the state of transparent media and how it means more people can chime in on a story, something he doesn’t necessarily think is a good thing.

It’s fine

You’re right…the current insurance system is just fine as it is. Just read this story and you’ll feel better about things.

Tell me about it

Believe it or not I don’t watch a lot of TV. And most of my online activity takes place within the confines of Google Reader. So I don’t get exposed to a lot of television or online advertising, which is why I often have to punt in the “Advertising and Cross-Promotions” section of my columns by saying “Well I didn’t see much…” There my have been a sizable online push but not where I went and so I have no idea.

So feel free to drop me a line with JPEGs or your online ads, videos of your TV spots or whatever else you think I might be missing and it will make those columns all that much more complete and therefore better.

Indie distribution hope?

Great write-up by Eugene Hernandez at IndieWire on a panel discussion during the recent Independent Film Week about the new reality of independent film distribution that apparently included some remarkably cogent and well-reasoned advice and commentary.

Also interesting to read is a press release about a new distribution plan by IndieFlix that they’re hoping to draw some attention to, specifically about how a movie can be part of a larger conversation on a topic or issue. Good thinking here as well.


As always, ROI in social media is going to be a target of your choosing. It may not be sales, it may not be clicks, but it should be something that gets buy in from all major stakeholders on a project.

Which is why this is a problem.


Movie Marketing Madness: Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

Film adaptations of weighty literary tomes – I’m not talking about sheer page count like with The Lord of the Rings and other such films but the ones that are philosophically deep as well as sometimes just long – are usually tough to do. Inevitably some of the source book’s original meaning and depth are lost as the constraints of the film medium require plot points are dropped, characters are merged or finagled into simpler arcs for the audience to follow and other changes are made. It may wind up that, based on its own merits, the film is as good or even better than the book but a lot of times the two have little in common other than a title and some character names.

Brief Interviews With Hideous Men is an adaptation of the David Foster Wallace novel of the same name. Coming from first-time director John Krasinski – the actor who plays Jim on NBC’s “The Office” – stars Julianne Nicholson as a woman who sets out to interview men of all types to see what makes the male brain tick. Along the way she interviews Krasinki’s character and a relationship develops that forces her to re-evaluate her work and many other things about her life.

The Posters

The Hideous Men poster puts, for lack of a singular image that the visuals can be hung on, the focus on the cast list. That list is displayed on the paper grocery bag that’s placed over someone’s head, the implication there being that this hidden gentleman has done something he’s in hiding over, either of his own choice or that of someone else. At the bottom is some kind of awkward copy about being warned but then inviting the audience to listen in.

It’s not a bad poster but it doesn’t exactly create a strong sense of desire in the audience. I’m not sure what kind of imagery would, precisely, but this looks…well, it looks like a book cover. I’m not sure that’s completely a bad thing considering the source but it also doesn’t lend itself to a strong visual that’s needed here. I don’t want them to just slap everyone’s faces up there but it would have been better, I think, to incorporate this strong cast’s presence in some way shape or form.

The Trailers

The trailer certainly sets up the film pretty well, at the least the basic bones of it. We see a handful of shots of Nicholson’s character (actually she’s off-screen for much of these shots) interviewing various men, either in a gray cinder-block walled room or in a more informal conversational setting. It’s not until toward the end that we get a scene of her explaining to Timothy Hutton’s character – presumably some sort of academic or another adviser – about the research project she wants to undertake. In the middle there are a couple appearances by Krasinski’s character and some clear pointers to how the two of them are, at least for a short while, in a relationship. But mostly it’s men giving voice to their ID and acting like scumbags.

The trailer actually, I think, works quite a bit better than the poster. It’s funny and, because it’s video and not a static image, is able to show off much of the cast without coming off as too cluttered. Granted, there’s not a ton of story points that are dropped, but there’s enough that the audience should be able to get a sense of what the film is about and judge appropriately.


The official website is more than a little disappointing, even by the standards of most small movies. The poster is displayed, along with the cast and crew lists and a link to the trailer.

There are a couple of links at the bottom to information about David Foster Wallace but none that’s worth seriously checking out, much less links to any of the coverage the movie has received on movie blogs or other entertainment industry outlets. The same Peter Travers pull quote that appears on the poster is put in the middle of the page. Overall if you’re actually looking for information about the movie this is a disappointment

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Nothing that I’ve seen on either front.

Media and Publicity

Much of the movie’s word-of-mouth was the result of its debut at 2009’s Sundance Film Festival, where it didn’t receive a universally warm reception but also didn’t stink up the joint, which a decent showing for such an ambitious project from a first time director. Unfortunately, like many films appearing there, it didn’t get picked up right away, with time elapsing until the July announcement that IFC had picked up distribution rights.

There was also news a short time before it was scheduled to hit theaters that not only would that theatrical release be preceded by a VOD showing but would be following shortly thereafter by it being made available for free on Hulu. As Matt Dentler points out, that’s not only a ballsy distribution strategy but also one that’s likely meant to play into the popularity of Krasinski’s day job, “The Office,” on that streaming site.


The poster and trailer are pretty good, with their own respective strengths and weaknesses. And the focus is rightly on generating as much publicity and word of mouth for the movie as possible, even if there’s a fumble at the end zone by not using the positive components of that WOM as amplifiers for the movie’s campaign. I’m disappointed but not completely surprised by the lackluster official website. So overall it’s a campaign that is going to reach the independent film crowd but not many others, which isn’t that far from being a success. Still, I wish there was a bit more to it so the movie could be found by a bigger audience.