Movie Marketing Madness: The Freebie

How many times have you been completely convinced one day that the decision you were making was the right and best one, only to question the very foundations of that decision a day, week, month or more later? I’m not just talking about the impulse to engage in certain biological functions on the quad that results from the consumption of one two many Icehouses (wow am I glad I went to college before the advent of digital cameras or camera phones) but of the life choices that are hashed out, weighed and otherwise debated before a course of action is decided on, a course of action that sometime later seems like just a massively bad idea.

One such decision that probably matches that criteria is explored in The Freebie starring Dax Shepard and Kate Aselton (who also directed) as a married couple who find their love life has grown a bit staid. So they have a conversation and ultimately decide to spice things up by allowing each one to have a one-night-stand that won’t be counted as cheating. The idea, it seems, is that by having an extracurricular sexual experience they will be more appreciative of their marriage partner, whom we’re given to believe they truly love. Of course this isn’t cut and dried and it’s likely the “freebie” that is supposed to be judgement-free will cause just as many problems as if the affairs had been carried out covertly and were later discovered.

The Posters

The poster tries to sell the movie as some sort of wacky romantic comedy. Shepard and Aselton are seen naked together with just a sheet covering them. But while they’re intertwined their outstretched hands are holding on to other, off-screen people. Above the couple sits the copy “A one night experiment in infidelity,” which is kind of on the nose but I’ll let that slide.

As I said, the poster seems to want to sell this as a wacky comedy where the characters are shocked all the time. That’s the only reason I can think of for the looks on the actor’s faces. But as we’ll see from other components in the campaign, the movie actually appears to be a bit more subtle than that.

The Trailers

The trailer starts off pretty light-heartedly, with the married couple realizing that it’s been a while since they…were intimate. That then cuts  to a conversation where he throws out the idea that maybe the two of them having a one night stand, entanglement free. But then the two actually embark on this plan, with him hitting on a comely barista and her being picked up by a guy in a bar.

The repercussions of their actions aren’t laid out clearly in the remainder of the trailer. Instead we get a montage of clips alternately showing the husband and wife being playful and obviously being in love and some tenser moments where emotions are clearly running high.

The trailer makes the case for the movie by showing off the performances of its two leads, especially Aselton, who also gets raved about in some of the press quotes that are shown on-screen. it’s obvious that we are going to buy in to the premise, which is not all that unique, based on how the chemistry between the two appears so we get lots of shots of them together in some form or another in order to show off and sell that chemistry.


The movie’s official website contains surprisingly little information. With a graphic that mimics the poster key art there’s just a “Synopsis” that goes over the main points of the fin’s plot and a link to “Watch the Trailer” on Yahoo.

There’s also a link to the Untie The Knot Blog, which features all sorts of advice and hints on how to broach the subject of having a freebie, how to go about executing that plan and more. There even appear to be Q&As here where people have submitted questions, though how legitimate those are is somewhat in question. The site has plenty of ads for the movie though there’s no other disclosure that it’s part of the film’s campaign.

The blog is built on WordPress and probably could have used another couple weeks of planning and development. The tagline for it is still “Just another WordPress blog” and the post slugs aren’t optimized for search. Just something I noticed since I deal with this stuff all day.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Aside from the ads on the movie’s blog there wasn’t anything that I saw.

Media and Publicity

The movie debuted at Sundance 2010 and seemed to bring in some decent buzz, including profiles of Aselton and what led her to make the movie (Los Angeles Times, 1/24/10) and interviews with her and the rest of the cast and crew.

It also made an appearance at SXSW where it continued to get on the radars of devotees of those gatherings.

Closer to release there was a profile of Shepard (New York Times, 9/15/10) which looked at how the actor was taking an unusual role in a drama. I don’t think it’s all that unusual for him since his comedic turns have usually come with more than a little darkness but I can still kind of see that it’s a little outside his comfort zone.


Let’s just state the obvious: The best parts of this campaign are the trailer and the publicity. The former has shown off the movie to the audience in the most compelling way possible, by presenting characters that are easy to like and relate to and then laying out what conflicts they will face throughout the story. The latter has done a decent job, it seems, of getting the attention of film festival regulars and garnered a decent amount of coverage and reviews as a result, bringing the movie to a lot more people than would have sought out the marketing materials.

The poster is alright but a tad underwhelming and the web presence is almost non-existent. I’m surprised they opted to create a fake blog instead of doing something simple like focusing on a Facebook page or something like that. But the trailer makes up for a lot of those shortcomings by being charming and engaging, which should make the movie moderately attractive to those who hear about it.


  • 10/01/10: I like Steve Zeitchik’s notion that The Freebie is a romantic version of Paranormal Activity in that it’s a micro-budget movie that has the potential to have a huge return relative to that investment.