There are few directors working today who have worked in as many genres as Quentin Tarantino. He’s done straight-up crime films like Reservoir Dogs and Jackie Brown, homages to kung-fu movies like Kill Bill, late-night B-movies like Death Proof, war movies like Inglorious Basterds and westerns like Django Unchained. He’s never made any attempt to hide he’s a fan of certain types of movies – indeed it’s part of his personal brand and a big aspect of the media narrative around him – and has his roots in the kind of obscure movies he’d discover while working at a video store. If he dabbles it’s not because he’s searching for something, it’s because now he wants to pay tribute to *this* kind of movie he loves.
Tarantino is back with The Hateful Eight, another movie that’s roughly in the “Western” genre. John Ruth (Kurt Russell) is a bounty hunter on his way to collect his due after capturing Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a killer with a price on her head. After meeting up with two other bounty hunters on the road they’re forced to seek shelter overnight in a stagecoach shop. But they’re not alone there and everyone else also in for the night has their own agenda and plenty of secrets, many of which will become clear as time passes and everyone acts according to their own motivations.
The first poster is so Tarantino it’s only marginally necessary to have the director’s name on the poster. It’s a stark while image that shows a old-fashioned wagon with blood trailing behind it. The director’s name appears at the top while the title treatment is at the bottom alongside mention of the special Super CinemaScope engagements the movie is getting. It looks like a pulp fiction (sorry) cover that hints at not just the setting but also the likely outcome for at least one or two of the film’s characters.
The next poster does more to show that this is an ensemble cast, though none of those cast are seen or even named. We see a woman being led up a hill by someone with a gun toward a cabin of some sort, blood sprinkled among the footprints they’re leaving and a group of other people waiting outside the cabin. With the exception of the cabin itself it’s all blue and while as befits an outdoor winter picture. Tarantino’s name is somewhat diminished here but this time below the title treatment there’s the copy “No one comes up here without a damn good reason.”
A series of character one-sheets was up next, with six of the eight main characters getting their own posters while Russell and Leigh appear together, which is appropriate considering their shackled to each other. Each one sets the character not only against a snow-covered mountain-top range but also a series of red, blood-like hashmarks showing where they are in the count. Each one not only promotes the movie as coming from Tarantino but also has the actor’s name, the name of their character and what that character’s “role” is. So Leigh is “The Prisoner,” Michael Madsen is “The Cow Puncher” and so on.
The theatrical poster hit about a month prior to release and didn’t show much but did focus on everyone everyone moving toward the cabin where much of the action takes place. “No one comes here without a damn good reason” the copy at the top declares, making it clear this is not a random gathering of people but something that’s very purposeful. The cast list and photos are at the bottom. Again, it’s pretty minimal without much going on, but there’s a lot of story that’s hinted at here.
The teaser trailer starts out by showing the stagecoach carrying Russell and Leigh coming across Jackson, who provides some helpful characterization. When they get to the lodge Russell introduces himself and his charge to the rest of the people there and makes clear his intentions. But it quickly becomes clear that not everyone there is on the up-and-up, which means we and they are in for a night of sleeping with one eye open and trying to discern everyone’s true motivations.
The trailer promises a very Tarantino-like experience that involves snappy dialogue, plenty of violence and other earmarks of the director. It is a teaser in that it doesn’t show any more than it absolutely needs to, which is just enough to get people interested, particularly if they’re already fans of the director. I’m also convinced Leigh’s motion where she pretends to hang while Russell is explaining the situation should in and of itself earn her an Academy Award nomination.
The second trailer starts out with Jackson asking what drives a man to go out in a blizzard just to kill someone. Then we get a bunch of fast cuts of various action sans context before we see Russell’s character enter the house where he’s going to be spending the night, which leads to the character cards that introduce us to the various personalities that he’ll be bunking with and keeping his bounty safe from. After that it’s all action as it becomes clear that keeping her safe isn’t exactly going to be an easy proposition.
It’s a great trailer that sets up the story in a very unique way and provides decent introductions to most, if not all the cast. Even if Tarantino’s name weren’t all over the trailer, anyone with a passing familiarity with the director would be able to pick it out as one of his.
Online and Social
When you open the official website you see a recreation of the key art from the theatrical poster, but with the added element of animated snow coming down on the scene. There are couple different ways to navigate the site so first we’ll focus on the menu that opens up when you click the hashmarks in the upper right-hand corner of the page.
The first section there is “Characters,” which gives you a picture of each of the major character/actors and when you click on that image it opens up to a career bio of that actor.
“Roashow” has information on where and when the movie is playing in Super 70 format along with an explanation as to the mindset of doing so, which is to recreate some of the “event” feeling around a movie’s release that accompanied films in the 50s and 60s when widescreen presentation was first taking off.
You can get a decent synopsis of the film’s plot in “Story.” You can find out everything you want to know about the film’s behind-the-scenes crew in the “Filmmakers” section, which reads like a press release from about six months ago, which is likely when the site really went live. Finally there’s a “12 Days Sweepstakes” you can enter if you so choose.
If you go back to the homepage you can find more content by just scrolling down the page.
First up is the official trailer, which isn’t labeled but is hidden in the red strip featuring Jackson’s face that runs across the page. Then there’s another prompt to find out more about the roadshow screenings.
Then there’s a big section of links to off-site news, including cast interviews, features on Tarantino and lots more. This is the second site I’ve seen recently that features a full section rounding up news like this and I hope it becomes a trend. There are also character banners here that, if you click them, take you to the same information on the actor that was accessible above.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
The first TV spot for the movie showed a lot more than the trailers, hinting at a secret the prisoner has that will impact everyone. The narration is a bit heavy-handed (as is most narration) but it’s clear this is a Tarantino movie from the visuals, the dialogue and everything else. More TV spots like this would follow, some of which would really emphasize the 70mm roadshow.
There was some online advertising done too, much of which featured the various poster art and highlighted not only the general release date but also again made a big deal about the roadshow engagements, signalling that as something the studio wants everyone to know about.
Media and Publicity
The early news about the movie was not great. The script for the movie leaked in early 2014 and Tarantino not only threatened legal action against the sites that posted it but also threw up his hands and announced that because of the leak he would no longer proceed with the movie. He obviously changed his mind a few months later after organizing a table read featuring some of the same cast members that would go on to be in the movie.
As the official publicity cycle got into full gear news broke that Tarantino was doing some interesting stuff around distribution. For one, he announced he was doing a roadshow of the film, taking it around and doing Q&As with a special 70mm version that was a few minutes longer than the theatrical cut. The idea being, it seems, that not only does 70mm allow for a slightly different experience but also that if someone bought a premium ticket to an event they should get a unique cut of the movie.
Later on the cast would be singled out for the Hollywood Ensemble Award at the Hollywood Film Awards, one of the first events to kick off awards season in the film industry. The size of the cast would be a constant theme of the publicity campaign, so much so that it necessitated a guide like this to whom all the characters were.
Unfortunately not all the press good. After Tarantino made comments at a Black Lives Matter rally that were misconstrued as calling all police officers murderers (he said no such thing, he just said those who kill people without good cause are bad cops) police unions and other organizations around the country joined a boycott of the movie.
Tarantino wrote a comic book-like early look at the characters from the movie.
Just a couple weeks out from release Variety ran a huge feature that covered the whole cast but focused on the long-standing working relationship between Tarantino and Jackson, who have made a number of movies together at this point. That story also got into Tarantino’s working process, his decision to release the movie on 70mm and lots more.
At the movie’s premiere the cast would talk about collaborating with Tarantino and how much they all trust him to not only come in with fully-formed characters for them to explore but to do all kinds of other supporting research into time periods and more material that can help inform their performances.
It’s interesting to me that much of the publicity for the film focused on the road show and the technical aspects of that production and not on the film itself. That could speak to something about the movie itself or it could be indicative of the climate the film industry is operating in right now, particularly around distribution and how to incentivize the theater-going experience.
Tarantino’s name is obviously all over this campaign, from the site to the trailers to the posters. With a director of his caliber and with his name recognition that’s not surprising since that name recognition is going to draw a fair percentage of the audience to the movie in and of itself. But as I said a couple times above, those fans are so familiar with his work the marketing could likely remove his name completely and they’d still be able to pick this out as coming from his pen and eye.
Outside of that the campaign promises a violent movie that features some great characters working to either conceal or reveal a mystery that will touch all of those character’s agendas and motivations. We get the general idea of the film’s plot – or at least it’s easy to assume we get it – from the trailers but there’s lots more that’s hinted at being just below the surface of what’s on display. It’s easy to assume that we’ll be getting a standard Tarantino movie here but the director always has at least one or two surprises he pulls out that I’m guessing the campaign here doesn’t even hint at.