Many independent and smaller films fall into the sort of macro-genre of being a “character study.” By that I mean they take one, maybe up to three characters and attempt to fully immerse the audience in their world so that that can experience those character’s world-view and attitude more wholly. These are movies that are long on dialogue and short on special effects for the most part since every single sentence acts in service of the story and provides the audience an additional bit of insight into what makes that character or those characters who they are.
Seemingly very much in that category is the latest film from writer/director Noah Baumbach, Greenberg. The movie stars Ben Stiller as the titular character, someone who is all intellect and discontentment in his life. House-sitting in Los Angeles for his brother he meets Florence (Greta Gerwig), his brother’s personal assistant who’s also dealing with trying to figure out how to bring some meaning to her life. So these two wandering souls wind up helping each other navigate their lives and get things back on track.
The one poster for the movie is pretty simple, in keeping with the low key nature of the film itself. Stiller appears with wild, unkempt hair, at the bottom of the design with a word balloon appearing above him. within that balloon is the solitary text “He’s got a lot on his mind,” which appears in tiny type within a bigger area, a design that implies this is not literally true and in fact while he thinks he has a lot on his mind he doesn’t have very many thoughts at all. At the bottom we get a reminder that this comes from the writer and director of The Squid and the Whale, something that’s going to make the film at least halfway appealing to fans of Baumbach’s in general and especially people who appreciated that previous movie.
The trailer starts off with Greenberg complaining about how no one calls on each other’s birthdays for anymore, telling a friend that he’s “not doing anything for a while” and then writing a letter to Starbucks about how they suck. All of this is meant to position the character as someone who thinks he’s an intellectual but is actually just kind of odd. Then we’re introduced to his latest girlfriend, who wants to take things slow and realizes he’s “vulnerable.” His kind of lameness is shown as he asks a doctor if he can catch the sickness his dog. Then we get a montage of scenes that make it clear he’s continuing down his aimless road with the help of his good friend and girlfriend – who’s briefly shown in the hospital – and continuing to show just how he wants to see himself as a deep thinker when he’s actually not, though a resolution of him becoming finally comfortable with himself is hinted at with one or two lines.
The official website opens with a recreation of the movie’s poster art with Stiller staring upward with an empty thought bubble above him.
That thought bubble is eventually populated, though, with short tweets from a handful of Twitter accounts, those of @greenbergmovie, @fmylife and @rushmoreacademy. I get that FML is kind of contextually relevant with how the title character is always complaining about his lot in life and the inclusion of the Wes Anderson fan account makes sense since Baumbach is an occasional Anderson collaborator. But the @greenbergmovie is just weird. The background makes it look official but there’s no link in the profile and the updates are, quite frankly, awful. If fhere’s a strategy there I’m not seeing it. Why not make what appears on the website a stream of fan mentions of the movie or something like that? This is just odd.
Moving into the site’s main content, the first section is “Synopsis,” where you’ll find a very well written description of the movie’s story that lays out who these characters are and what their primary motivations are pretty clearly.
“Articles” is chock full of content that you can dive in to at your leisure. There are profiles of Stiller, Q&As with Baumbach, photos from the Berlin premiere, lists of Gerwig’s favorite movies about Los Angeles, production notes and a lot more. The sort of effort on display here – along with the fact that each article has a “Share” and “Email” button – is great to see since it’s the ability to create and aggregate such content that sets the sites for smaller movies apart from the blockbusters.
You’ll see the usual biographic and film credits information under “Cast and Crew.”
“Videos” has the film’s Trailer, a handful of extended clips from the movie and an Extended TV Spot that runs as long as a trailer but is a mix of cast interviews and footage from the film. That’s an interesting label for that concoction. I can see the footage running as a traditional TV commercial but can also see this extended edition running as a long-form spot on niche cable channels. There are also a bunch of featurettes that cover different aspects of production.
Eight stills, mostly pulled from the film, are found under “Photos.” “Community” has links to the Focus Features Twitter profile and the Greenberg Facebook Fan Page. Finally, “Reviews” has snippets from a half dozen early reviews of the movie and links to read them in their entirety.
The Facebook page is among the better ones I’ve seen for a movie recently. Not only are there updates on the cast’s publicity appearances and other information but there are also prompts for the audience to respond and talk back, which is a level of interaction not seen on most pages. There’s also a “Greenbergisms,” which has user-submitted lines that are as dryly pessimistic as those form the title characters.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
There was a very cool online ad unit for the movie that started out playing full-motion video from the trailer. It then prompted the viewer to share a line from the movie that was applicable to their life with their Twitter followers. Eventually the ad resolved into a form that allowed the viewer to enter their Twitter username/password and said line from the movie. That’s an interesting way to spur engagement with the ad and seems to feed the “Greenbergisms” section of the Facebook page mentioned above.
That extended TV spot did indeed air on cable, the Sundance Channel to be exact. Not sure, though, if any pure TV commercials were run and there weren’t any promotional partnerships that have been publicized at all.
Media and Publicity
Unsurprisingly a good amount of the press focused on Stiller (New York Times, 3/14/10) who was returning to what might be considered his more independent-minded roots. Baumbach got some press as well, though, including this profile in the Los Angeles Times (3/21/10) that focuses on how and why he crafts the characters he does. And Gerwig, who has been known to fans of independent films for a few years now, even gets a little press of her own, even though this story (New York Magazine, 3/7/10) uses the slightly easy hook of labeling her the poster girl for early adulthood angst.
More than the brand consistency, more than the way I like the way the website provides a plethora of material to enjoy, more than just about anything about the individual campaign elements I like the fact that this campaign feels like it sells the movie accurately. Looking at it from top to bottom I don’t sense a false note in the entire marketing push and have the feeling when I see the movie I’ll think about the campaign and come away with the sense of, “Yeah, that was just about right.”
But the elements do work in and of themselves. The poster is simple and funny, the trailer gives the audience a good primer on who the characters are and why we should be interested in watching them and the website, as I mentioned, is deep and rich in parts. There’s also some interesting advertising going on that takes advantage of rich media’s possibilities to increase engagement, a key needle to move on the way to generating interest. If nothing else, people are going to take a longer look at that ad and, even if they don’t participate, they may come away thinking about the movie. And that’s kind of the point.