In many cases movies are made with a specific audience in mind. Even if the filmmakers – the director, writer or stars – are truly expressing themselves artistically in the back of someone’s mind there’s an idea of what kind of people this movie is going to appeal to. Sometimes that’s a very broad group (teenagers) and sometimes it’s incredibly narrow (teenagers with good taste).
Paul is definitely a movie with its core audience firmly in mind even as it seems to be the genuine expression of the guys who created it. Written by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost and directed by Greg Mottola the movie also stars the two writers as Graeme and Clive, friends who are traveling across the U.S. to famous sites of supposed alien sightings on their way to Comic-Con. On that trip they wind up encountering an actual alien, Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen), who’s escaped from a military installation and is looking to get home. The two decide to help him out but wind up then in the sights of a government agent (Jason Bateman) who’s on the hunt to bring Paul back in. The movie also co-stars Kristen Wiig, Jane Lynch, Bill Hader and others that make this a veritable Murderer’s Row of solid comedians of the last 10 years.
The first U.S. poster for the movie was pretty simple. It’s a basic teaser, with words that are descriptive of the title character, who is then standing there looking as unassuming as a tiny gray alien possibly can. Aside from those adverbs the biggest draw on the poster is the cast list, which makes it clear this features some of the biggest names in comedy today.
There was also a fantastic bit of art created as an exclusive poster for the movie’s appearance at 2011 SWSW. It featured monochromatic images of Pegg and Frost – and Paul, who looks smug and very pleased with himself – all staring at the camera with an RV kicking up dust at the bottom of the image. It’s just awesome and shows how a piece of real art can convey multiple elements of a movie’s story in a clear and concise way.
The first teaser trailer shows Pegg and Frost enjoying a friendly trip before stumbling across Paul in the desert, something that brings with it lots of danger and excitement. We see a couple of explosions, lots of car chases and other perilous situations, including what appears to be a pursuit by Bateman’s federal agent.
It’s not an overly funny trailer, which may just be attributable to the marketers not wanting to oversell the comedy or ruin all the gags, but we do get something of a sense of the movie’s action-comedy tone, especially at the end where Pegg, Frost and the alien are walking down the street.
The first full-length trailer was much better. It starts off by introducing us to Pegg and Frost’s characters, who are on their way to visit Area 51 when they come across Paul, who has a frat guy personality in his little alien body. The three of them (occasionally four counting Wiig’s character) continue on their tour trying to help Paul on his journey. But they’re pursued by Bateman and his team of alien chasers.
The trailer is full of incredibly funny moments, most of which involve Paul’s juvenile behavior and sense of humor but whit more than enough help from Pegg and Frost. It presents the movie as being hip and intelligent but also with plenty of broad comedic moments. This is a much better presentation of the movie than what was seen previously, though there’s nothing here from the Comic-Con part of the movie that has been some a prominent part, as we’ll see, of other efforts to promote it.
Later on a red-band version was released that upped the funny factor even higher. We still get the basic idea behind the plot, that the two guys are helping Paul on his way…somewhere. But we get much more – and much raunchier – humor from Hader, Bateman and Wigg in particular. There are plenty of curse words in scenes that have been shown before and there’s a sequence where the four protagonists smoke pot around a campfire. There’s also some pretty funny stuff around the phrase “space man balls” that plays out far better, at least here in the trailer, than it really has any right to.
The movie’s official website starts off with the trailer playing and a stream of Paul-related Tweets scrolling across the top of the page. There’s also a link to the Video Blog that was created by the cast and crew during filming that’s certainly worth checking out.
Working around the content menu clockwise the first section once you enter the site is “Film” which has a decent Story synopsis and Production Notes that are available as a PDF download.
“Features” has the Alienate Yourself tool that lets you upload a photo of yourself that will then be alienated (sorry, I just went with it) and the Alien On Board game that’s kind of fun and can be integrated with Facebook so your friends can see what’s going on.
“Videos” has just one of the trailers as well as three TV Spots. Some Wallpapers, Buddy Icons, Twitter Skins and more are all available in “Downloads.” “Cast & Crew” has career overviews of most of the major players involved in the movie and there are between 15 and 20 stills, including some of Mottola, in the “Gallery.”
While there was a Facebook page I couldn’t access it for some reason. The movie also got a set of its own GetGlue stickers for those viewing the marketing (there was a check-in button on the official site) and for seeing the movie either opening weekend or later in its run.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
A handful of TV commercials were created, with each one taking a slightly different take on selling the movie to the general public. Some focused on the chase the protagonists are taking the government agents on, some focus more on just the sheer comedic potential of Paul and some sell it as a full-on ensemble comedy with a collection of great talent.
Media and Publicity
The movie disappeared off people’s radar for almost a year before re-emerging just prior to Comic-Con 2010, not coincidental timing considering segments of the movie takes part at Comic-Con, which Mottola and his crew recreated, enlisting a handful of movie website editors and managers to help fill in the crowd while also filing set reports.
At Comic-Con the movie was the subject of a panel presentation where the cast and crew talked about making the movie and showed off an early trailer – really just a collection of footage – that got people talking.
Shortly after the premiere of the first domestic trailer came news that the movie would be debuting at SXSW 2011 which, given its geek credentials and story, is kind of perfect.
That SXSW appearance brought with it plenty of buzz both from festival attendees and from the press, with interviews of Mottola (Filmmaker Magazine, 3/13/11) and profiles of the director (New York Times, 3/13/11).
In the NYT story just above Mottola offers the following thoughts on at least one aspect of the movie’s marketing:
Ordering another tall glass of beer, however, Mr. Mottola wondered whether audiences would see it that way. He worried about the latest trailer, which portrayed Paul as an extraterrestrial frat boy.
“Probably every puerile joke is in there,” he said. “They’re obviously in a different context in the movie because the character is irreverent. He doesn’t respect authority.”
He added, “I’d like to believe it’s a slightly more soulful movie than people expect from the trailer.”
I have to say that as much as I like this campaign – it’s funny, well put together and certainly makes it clear that the ensemble cast is its greatest strength – I was afraid that what I was seeing was every chap laugh in the film. Knowing Pegg and Frost were behind the story and being familiar with Mottola’s recent work I *knew* that for every “This man has peed his pants” joke there were three truly sentimental moments or at least a couple jokes that were more subtle.
Still I maintain there’s a lot to like about the campaign and it’s kind of naive to expect the studio to not appeal to the broadest possible audience, something that basically entails going after the lowest common denominator in terms of picking what material to show. So it works for the masses while most people familiar with the people involved will hopefully know better.