Much of the time the term “desperate situation” get thrown around in relation to situations that aren’t actually all that desperate. The local fast food location being out of special sauce is not exactly something that is life or death, no matter how badly we’d been craving that hamburger. Not only is that not the difference between eating or not eating, but it’s likely the other location of the same chain that’s .75 miles away is well stocked. So it’s more of a moderate inconvenience.
What could actually be described as a desperate situation would be finding yourself trapped in a box that’s been buried somewhere in the Iraqi desert with only a cigarette lighter, a cell phone and 24 hours to have someone on the outside either help you or raise the ransom money being demanded by those who put you there.
That right there is the story in the new movie Buried. Ryan Reynolds plays Paul, a U.S. contractor who wakes up to find himself in a coffin-like box somewhere underneath the deserts of Iraq. The entire movie is told from his point of view as he tries to use the limited tools that have been buried with him to escape in some way or another. But the people who put him there want to make sure he doesn’t get out without them getting paid and so the tension continues through his attempts to contact anyone on the outside who can help him.
The first poster was, well, perfect. It’s all black save for the single image toward the bottom of Reynolds lying in the coffin in which he’s been buried, visible only because of the lighter he holds.
It’s simple, it’s striking and works tremendously well at setting the tone of the movie as well as the setting, which is obviously a single location that’s just lightly larger than a human body. And by not going over the top with a huge picture of Reynolds’ face or anything it actually works at being scarier than many of the “torture porn” genre entries. That works to bring in a different audience while the similarities to that genre might bring in those fans.
Later on a “motion poster” was released that basically mashed up the poster art and the trailer (discussed below) by taking the design of the poster but putting in the video elements of Reynolds trying to spark his lighter and gasping in desperation.
A second poster was more artistic. Clearly inspired by the classic Saul Bass posters of years gone by, especially the one for Vertigo, it shows a man lying still at the end of a series of maze-like lines. Monochromatic save for the red lettering of the title and all the more striking for it, this is an incredibly powerful poster that really raises the game for the campaign as a whole. This isn’t selling the movie simply as the story of a man trying to escape from an underground box, this makes it look much more mysterious and…artistic, if you get what I mean. It’s as if the poster is telling the audience that there’s more to the movie than they had previous expected. Whether or not that winds up being the case remains to be seen, but this is a big step up for the campaign.
The third poster took a similar approach as the second one but instead of concentric lines coming down to the picture of someone in a box it’s a collection of pull quotes from various critics’ early reviews that are hemming in Reynolds in his confined quarters. So the claustrophobic sense that’s created is more or less the same but the way it achieves that is a bit different while at the same time the studio gets to show off some of the praise the movie has already accumulated, something that may be viewed as an important way to draw people in to an unknown product.
The first trailer (I think there was a promotional one created around the time of its Sundance debut but this is the first one after the Lionsgate acquisition) was just as simple and terrifying as the first poster. With a completely black screen the only sound that’s heard is Reynold’s voice as he tries to dial 911 and get someone to help him. But when the signal is lost his voice becomes more frantic and you hear him fumbling with a lighter. The only visual on screen comes when that lighter comes to life, when a small segment of the screen shows the box that he’s trapped in. When he sees his situation the cries become more desperate and the lighter goes out, once again leaving him and the audience in the dark. It’s pretty cool and a wickedly effective way to sell the movie without giving almost anything away.
A second trailer featured a bit more dialogue but actually less film footage. The spot is made up of snippets of phone conversations Reynold’s character is having, either with a (supposed) 911 operator, the person who’s put him in that box or his wife. But shown along with that dialogue are just stills from the movie, often wrapped in solid lines that mimicked the look of the movie’s second poster.
Obviously for a movie that takes place solely (or at least mainly) in a small pine box the challenge here is to create a trailer that isn’t just that and this does a pretty good job of rising to it. There’s little to actually show the audience so it doesn’t even try, instead working to amp up the tension by playing that increasingly panicky dialogue at a high speed so the audience begins to feel unnerved by it.
When the official website loads you may thing it’s having problems since it stays pitch black for a couple moments. But eventually images start appearing of Reynolds trying to escape as text appears on-screen that details his situation.
Moving over to the content, first up is “About” where you’ll find a brief (though better than some of what I’ve been seeing lately) Synopsis that lays out the movie’s storyline. There’s also Cast, which just one entry for Reynolds, and Crew where you can learn more about the filmmakers.
“Video” has both the Teaser and Theatrical trailers as well as a TV Spot. “Photos” just has four images that appear full-screen in the browser window, three of which are from the movie and one from production.
Finally, “Downloads” just has al three of the movie’s posters that you can download and save.
While some movie websites with this same amount of content have seemed rather skimpy this one isn’t nearly as frustrating for its lack of material. That’s because the expectation is that the movie is a bare-bones production, taking place in one location for the entirety of its story and focusing just on one character. So the website not exactly being extravagant is, contextually, appropriate for a movie of that scale.
The movie’s Facebook page has a Wall full of updates, with photos and more also on the profile, including showtimes and other information. You have to Like the page in order to fully experience some features, a hurdle I’m seeing more and more not only on movie pages but also in general.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
TV spots for the movie began airing in mid-September that certainly highlighted the drama of Paul’s perilous situation in the coffin. There may have been some online advertising done as well but I don’t remember seeing any.
Media and Publicity
Buzz first started to percolate coming out of an extremely successful Sundance screening (Los Angeles Times, 1/24/10) where the movie press got their first look at the movie and seemed to embrace it. After that it wasn’t long at all before it was announced Lionsgate had picked the movie up for distribution.
Despite not exactly being a geek-leaning property, the movie was brought to Comic-Con, where a booth was setup that allowed people to enter a makeshift coffin and have a video shot of their reaction, video that was then posted online for people to share with their network of friends. The attraction soon became one of the first break-out hits (New York Times, 7/22/10) of the convention, with lines forming quickly as people were eager to check it out.
Also on the convention front was the film’s appearance at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival and then at Fantastic Fest 2010. But before Fantastic Fest a publicity stunt was held at the popular Alamo Drafthouse in Austin that screened the movie for just four people who were “buried alive” in the theater while watching the movie.
Most of the press focused on how shooting the movie was still haunting Reynolds (LAT, 9/8/10) but, at the same time, allowed him to express how interesting the experience was because of the limitations of the shoot. Along the same lines were stories about the physical constrictions of the production (New York Times, 9/16/10) and how they were largely borne of the filmmaker’s desire to do something interesting without a lot of money to work with.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom, though, as other profiles (Vanity Fair, 10/10) took an overview of the actor’s career to date and pointed out that Buried is among the more serious work he’s done amidst other films that are lighter and more comedic in tone.
I really, really like this campaign, especially from an artistic point of view. The posters in particular reflect a desire to go beyond the obvious – a huge version of Reynolds’ head in close up – and instead explore more interesting design territory. All three one-sheets work for different reasons: The teaser because it’s minimalist and creepy, the second one because it’s an interesting and disorienting design and the third one because it uses a similar design but also leverages the positive word-of-mouth that had been generated at early screenings.
The rest of the campaign works just as well. The trailers are creepy and give the audience a distinct sense of claustrophobia and the website, while a bit under-stocked, is representative of the scale of the movie.
Buried has benefited from having Reynolds as the star, of course, especially since the publicity is beginning to start on his next movie, Green Lantern. So it was able to piggyback off some of those efforts and gain some additional exposure.
This one’s going to come down to audience reactions, though, as it will be people who tell their friends it is or isn’t too bad to sit in a theater and watch a guy in a box for 90 minutes.
PICKING UP THE SPARE
- 12/10/10 – In a discussion of why Buried flopped at the box-office while the thematically similar 127 Hours didn’t no blame is assigned to the marketing campaign. It’s cool retro feel was simply overlooked by audiences who have been trained now to expect more gore and horror from marketing materials and, as someone says in the story, they “cheated themselves” out of seeing a worthwhile movie.