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Movie Marketing Madness: 127 Hours

How often do you worry about the repercussions of your actions? Depending on your personal level of paranoia or guilt making the decision to go to get some drinks with co-workers might bring on a full panic onset. What if this the time the train I’m on crashes? What if this is the time that I trip and fall into the Chicago River? What if this is the time that something goes horribly wrong?

That “what if” scenario is at the heart of 127 Hours. The movie, directed by Danny Boyle, stars James Franco as the real life Aaron Ralston, a thrill-seeking adventurer who one day faced an incredible situation. While hiking and climbing through the Utah desert he fell into a ravine, his right arm trapped under a boulder he couldn’t move. Quickly losing water after being stuck there for the titular amount of time Ralston used his camping knife to amputate the arm and was able to climb out of the ravine and find help. So this is very much an extreme example of a worst-case scenario coming to pass.

With such uncomfortable subject matter at the heart of the story let’s see how it’s being sold to the public.

The Posters

The movie’s first poster hits what appears to be the central theme of the campaign, which is that it’s a story of one man against the vastness of nature. Franco is seen as a small figure balancing precariously between two canyon ledges, an image that’s set against the vast open blue sky and the setting or rising sun.

The top of the poster hits the heartstrings with the double-punch of “A triumphant true story” making the appeal that we’re watching a human-will victory story and the name-dropping of Slumdog Millionaire looking to attract the audience that made that movie a sentimental cross-over hit.

It’s a bright and vibrant poster that’s hard to ignore and certainly would be a stunning piece of photography if any aspect of it was reliably real. But design-wise it works and gets to the thrills that are being sought by Franco’s character while hinting at the fact that he’s going to be struggling to survive in this environment at some point in the story.

The Trailers

The first trailer is very much meant to simply introduce us to Franco’s character, someone who obviously is in to extreme adventures and a thrill ride lifestyle. He’s a biker, he’s a partier and he’s enjoying every minute of it.

But then we see shortly after he helps a couple of lovely young ladies enjoy their hike through the canyons he has an unexpected accident, which they’re not then around to help him out of. The trailer ends right as he’s entering the rough part of the story, setting the audience up for what’s coming next.

The second trailer got much more specific about things. It starts more or less with the same set-up, that Aaron is a thrill-seeker who is going hiking by himself in the desert canyons. So we see the same few scenes of the ladies that he comes across. The central component of this trailer, though, is a video he’s making of himself as a sort of last testament. So it’s through that device we see him confess that he told no one where he was going and is quickly running out of water, which is the only thing that’s going to keep him alive for any length of time. We also get lots of flashback shots of him throughout his life that fill in backstory and add to the character development, a tactic being employed likely because otherwise we’re watching a guy in a cavern for two hours. That wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, I’m just saying that’s not what they’re going for here.

This is a much more effective trailer overall since it has a bit more room to breathe and tell the story more effectively. It’s still clear that Franco gives a solid solo performance here and that the movie will rise or fall based on how interested it can get the audience in his character’s journey from reckless adventurer to someone who’s just trying to survive.

Online

Because the movie comes from Fox Searchlight, the official site is mostly given over to the social elements that it uses for most all their movies. So below the main content section (which we’ll get to in a minute) There are streams of updates on the movie’s publicity and advertising, links to the IMDb pages of the cast and widgets for the studio’s Facebook profile and a stream of Twitter updates about the movie.

Moving back to that top content section, the first area there is “About” and there you’ll find a Synopsis and some Production Notes that go into detail on the making of the movie as well as the players and creators of it. Much of that latter information can also be found in the “Cast & Crew” section.

The “Gallery” is actually split into two parts, one with stills from the movie and one with a series of shots of the Utah desert where the action is set, which is a nice touch.

“Downloads” seems to just have a selection of Desktop wallpapers while the “Video” section has both trailers and one TV Spot.

There’s also a link on the site to 127 Defining Moments, which invites you to share a defining moment in your life. Of those submissions, 126 will be chosen to receive some form of outdoor-themed prize pack from the movie’s promotional partners.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Some TV advertising was done, most of which focused more on presenting the movie as kind of a travelogue of a young adventurer than as some sort of triumph of the human will story. The fact that at some point he does get his arm stuck in a canyon is mentioned, but it’s left to a couple of brief cuts to show what he does to get out of that. The remainder of the time shows all the crazy locations he visits and beautiful girls he meets while on those adventures.

The movie did have a number of promotional partners that are listed on the website but which I couldn’t find out much information on. Unsurprisingly they’re almost all companies involved in outdoor gear, either clothing or other products. So Eddie Bauer, Nalgene, Sierra Designs, LARABAR and Camelbak are all on board though the extent of their promotions seems to be limited to the 127 Defining Moments contest mentioned above, for which they offered prizes to the winners.

Media and Publicity

Just a couple weeks after the first trailer was released the movie made an unexpected but, I guess, more or less expected debut at the Telluride Film Festival (Hollywood Reporter, 9/4/10), albeit in a not-quite-finished form. It was there where one of two reported incidents took place with people in the audience passing out or needing to be taken out because of panic attacks, though whether they were do to the movie’s subject matter or something else going on is unclear.

Franco and his peculiar approach to the acting game were also put in the spotlight (New York Times, 9/12/10) along with how he goes about preparing for each role he takes on.

There was also some press around what situations the filmmakers found themselves trying to make their movie in (Los Angeles Times, 10/24/10) and what lengths they took to recreate this true life tale

There was also discussion of what kind of a director Boyle was and how this movie seems to be a bit outside his comfort zone (USA Today, 10/29/10)since it’s about subject matter that’s more outdoorsy than he himself is.

Overall

There’s a lot of good stuff here, particularly in the trailers, which when you view them together form a nice one-two punch for the audience. Those, in turn, form a nice unit with the poster. Those are the main things that are going to get people to come out and see the movie. Word-of-mouth will do that to a lesser extent but it’s the primary marketing components that will work on the general public and they seem to do a decent job of getting the movie’s point across.

The campaign, both the marketing and the press aspects, have done a nice job of keeping Boyle and Franco out in the front of everyone’s awareness since they’re the primary draws on this movie. They’re front and center in the trailers and in the press, even if Franco isn’t seen on the poster while Boyle is given prominent placement. But the studio has done a good job of making sure to connect them with the movie and make the case for the movie through them.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

  • 11/03/10 – Brandfreak says the studio isn’t doing enough to play up the faintings that have occurred at various screenings, though this is because the movie is being sold as a serious triumph-of-the-spirit drama and not a B-movie horror flick.
  • 12/16/10 – Searchlight apparently decided to have a little fun with the reports of people passing out and started distributing shirts and buttons to people who saw the movie successfully that touted that achievement. That’s a great word-of-mouth opportunity as people can show off their funny pin or t-shirt to their friends and then talk about the movie itself.