Two Ben Stiller Roles Show a Generation’s Shifting View of Nostalgia

In While We’re Young, the latest relationship drama from writer/director Noah Baumbach, Ben Stiller plays Josh, a documentary filmmaker who’s been struggling for a decade to finish his latest movie. Naomi Watts plays his wife Cornelia and the two of them have more or less settled into their comfortable marriage and lives. All their friends are having kids, though, so when they meet Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried) their world is turned upside down. The younger couple opens up all kinds of new experiences and remind the older pair of the kind of things they used and how cool they used to be even as they become more conscious of the reality that they’re not as young as they used to be.


It was Stiller’s character that I’ve been pondering the most since watching it. Specifically I’ve been thinking about how it provides an interesting counterpoint to the character Stiller played 20 years earlier in Reality Bites.

In that movie he’s Michael, a hipster executive who buys the documentary made by Winona Ryder’s character Lelaine. He says it’s because it’s really good but it’s also so he can impress her and sleep with her. When he turns it over to the editing team at the TV network he works for – something like MTV at the time – they edit and change it from a heartfelt, earnest look at where the newly-graduated slackers of 1994 are into zippy, fast-paced monstrosity with lots of special effects, loopy editing and other tricks. Earlier in the movie we see he’s got a thing for 70s pop culture, including the Dr. Zaius statue that gets broken. The other characters, particularly Ethan Hawke’s Troy, dislike Michael on general principle: They see him a sellout who is inauthentic in his appreciation for things and willing to make any compromise for success. The butchering of Lelaine’s film only cements that.


In While We’re Young, Stiller’s Josh is pining for the things he’s lost. Cornelia even says “Their apartment is filled with the things we threw away.” When Josh surveys Jamie and Darby’s apartment, he remarks that he has a lot of the same albums Darby has, but on CD, not the vinyl that graces Jamie’s wall. He marvels at the way Jamie enjoys movies on VHS, 80s music and more, the kinds of things Josh would have grown up with. Josh is past enjoying things like this – or really anything – and is caught up in the trance of Jamie’s involvement and dedication to outdated pop culture, even if he can’t quite tell if it’s ironic or genuine.

So in 1994, Stiller played a character who leaned on nostalgia to define him, even if other people saw that as a sign he had no personality of his own. In 2014 he’s on the other side of the fence as his character deals with someone who has taken a nostalgia that’s not his own – Jamie would have been born after most all the things he claims to love were popular – and created something that seems original and authentic but is just as much an act as anything else.

That’s indicative, I think, of how the mindset of the young people of this country has changed in the last two decades. To rely too much on nostalgia in the 90s meant you weren’t being true to yourself and your peers. Think of how the rise of Nirvana and other bands signaled an embrace of the weird, the socially awkward and others at the margins of society. That was a wave that swept through all of early 90s culture, from music to film to books.

Now, though, to embrace the culture of 20 or 30 years ago – pop nostalgia always seems to work on a ~25 year rolling scale – is part of being authentic. You can’t express who you are unless you’re doing so through “Friends” GIFs. It’s not only acceptable to be rocking out to Def Leppard, it’s a sign that you are truly being our own person.

While I recognize that one character – Reality Bites’ Michael – was written by Stiller and the other was not, I still find it intriguing to use Michael and Josh as a prism through which to view how popular culture and the hipster mindset has swung 180 degrees in its view of nostalgia as a means of self-expression.

Netflix and Amazon See Movies As a Means to Your Dollars

The biggest story coming out of Sundance in the last week is just how dominant both Netflix and Amazon have been in aggressively buying up movies. Sometimes the deals are just for streaming and sometimes they come with the promise to find a partner for theatrical distribution at or around the same time the movie in question debuts on the streaming service.


While that’s notable in and of itself – and I have plenty to say on that topic alone – it also has to be put together with the news yesterday that IFC Films signed a deal with Hulu to make it the exclusive streaming  partner of all the studio’s future documentaries.

I’ve written before about how it would be nice to see the companies who are distributing these online-only releases experiment with new form factors for key art and other media. So we’ll see if there’s any innovation or evolution in how these Sundance-sales are marketed. In a traditional sense.

More than that, though, the news of so many streaming deals has me thinking about how movies have become a commodity being used to market the services themselves. In other words, Netflix and Amazon want you to watch a movie, sure. But that’s secondary to their desire that you sign up for their services.

The overall mindset has always been true. AMC, Regal and other theater chains don’t really care which movie you come see, they just want you to come buy a ticket and, more importantly, popcorn and soda. They offer a variety of attractive movies the same way Target and Walmart offer a variety of toothpastes. With similar product offerings it’s up to them to differentiate on experience and service. AMC gets your money because it’s closer, you like the seats more, they have the Coke Freestyle machines or any of a number of other factors.


Now, though, the underpinning of that idea has changed. If you want to watch the much-buzzed about Manchester By The Sea, you’ll need to be an Amazon Prime subscriber. Yes, there may be a theatrical release but it’s likely to be limited in the way most indie films are so if you’re not in an urban center Amazon will be your *only* choice. There’s no market to choose from based on preference or, specifically, existing subscriptions.

It’s great that these movies are getting on-demand streaming deals. That’s the kind of thing people like myself who don’t live within convenient distance of Music Box or other theaters that play these niche movies have been dreaming of. We can finally see all these movies at the same time as everyone else (discounting festival attendees). But we should be wary of a world that’s divided along subscription lines because that means we’re being devalued in new and interesting ways. Hulu doesn’t want your money to watch an IFC documentary. It wants your money to watch that and “Brooklyn Nine Nine.” Netflix doesn’t want your money for The Ridiculous Six. it wants your money to watch that and “Parks and Recreation.” They’re meant to be differentiators between one and the other – Netflix wants you to choose it and not Amazon – as opposed to letting customers choose in a non-exclusive marketplace.

That’s why I think we’re heading toward another wave of something along the lines of the Paramount Decree, which broke up the vertical monopoly held by studios that controlled production, distribution and presentation. With both Amazon and Netflix getting into original productions we see the same kind of situation developing and it might only be a matter of time before someone has something to say about that. Until then we can choose with our subscription dollars, but it will be hard for movie fans to really make that choice since it inherently means missing out on a certain percentage of the films they very much want to see.

Universal and Paramount Use Longer Snapchat Ads

As reported by Adweek, movie studios – specifically Universal and Paramount – are among the first advertisers to get access to a new long-form ad unit on Snapchat. The two have used these ads to promote Neighbors 2 and 10 Cloverfield Lane, respectively. The full-length trailers that have run as ads are a big departure from the short-form video ads previously allowed by Snapchat. As the story points out, though, letting studios (and others) run longer video ads means access by Snapchat to more advertising revenue. The ads appeared within the Snapchat Discover section in various publications.

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Hollywood studios have been right there on the forefront of not just Snapchat advertising but new ad formats from many social networks and other apps. Creed was the premiere advertiser on Twitter Moments, The Peanuts Movie and others bought Snapchat’s now-defunct Sponsored Lenses and more.


While this is an easy decision for two of the parties involved – Snapchat is happy to take Hollywood’s money and Hollywood is happy to repurpose existing material – it remains to be seen how the third party (the audience) reacts to these. Snapchat is all about that immediate moment and a 2:30 trailer is a big time investment and creates a big delta from the previous 10-second time limit. I have to believe that while everyone involved is saying this is still in testing phase, the company will soon find that no one is sticking around much past that 10 or 15 second mark. We’ll have to see if anyone actually reports on the effectiveness of this new expanded format.

MMM Flashback Friday: The Road to Utopia

RoadToUtopia_1946I was searching around for a topic for this week’s Flashback Friday column and had a few ideas but never really settled on anything. Then I saw Noel Murray’s great article at The A.V. Club on the Hope/Crosby Road movies and decided to write about my favorite of the series: The Road to Utopia.

If you’re not familiar with this movie – which would mean you aren’t a fan of great comedy and/or didn’t grow up in the Chicago area, where this was regularly featured during WGN’s “Family Classics” show, which broadcast classic movies of all types – Bob Hope and Bing Crosby play Chester and Duke, respectively, a couple of song-and-dance men who head to Alaska to make their fortune mining for gold. On their way they assume the identities of two crooks they meet on their travels. That lands them in the middle of a dispute involving Sal (Dorothy Lamour), the hostess at a mining town bar, a map to a massive gold claim and more. This being the fourth entry in the popular “Road Show” series, hijinks ensue and there’s never a dull moment as Chester and Duke try to not only strike it rich but also talk themselves out of the uncomfortable and dangerous situations they face on the road to that goal.

The theatrical poster uses a slightly-altered scene from the movie as its primary image. The trio are seen on a dogsled, cruising through a snowy landscape. Crosby is seated while Hope is driving, with Lamour holding on to him at the rear. In the movie itself Lamour is also seated with Crosby, but considering her flirtations with Hope (which usually turned out badly for him) were such a big part of the series’ regular beats perhaps this was a move by the studio to play that up a bit more than it really was in the film. A crossroads sign displays the title and the names of the stars, again establishing the wilderness setting of the story. Copy in the corner promises this is “Paramount’s most riotous “Road” show.”

Being from the age it is, the movie also had a number of “lobby cards” created. Three out of four available on TCM’s page for the movie show all three of the cast, though notably one of them features Lamour not in Yukon-ready furs but her signature sarong, obviously in an attempt to up the sex appeal of the star. The only one to not feature Lamour shows Hope and Crosby in the middle of the traveling show their characters are part of in the beginning of the film. That appears to be the studio establishing that yes, there’s plenty of the familiar song-and-dance routines fans had come to expect.

When you watch the trailer you can immediately get a sense of the kind of humor that’s on display, that unique Vaudeville-perfected kind of banter and timing that Hope and Crosby were so well known for. We see Hope as the butt of jokes, Crosby crooning and Lamour bringing the sex appeal. There’s nothing about the story here but that’s beside the point. The series and the stars were so well known at this point the audience knew exactly what they were getting when they walked in, so the promise here is that all the familiar beats will be hit.

What I love most about the trailer is that it shows how self-aware the series had become by this time. Early on Crosby warns Hope against sledding without hands by saying “No teeth!,” to which Hope makes a crack about his sponsor, which fans of the comedian at the time would know was Pepsodent, a toothpaste brand.

As I said, there’s not much about the story in the trailer. We get that Hope and Crosby will be embarking on yet another adventure and can see from the setting and clothing that it’s set this time in the Yukon. But that’s about it. The rest is devoted to a handful of gags, some singing and the promise that the pair at the center of the action will fit into familiar roles.

You can see elements of the different parts of the campaign here – I’m sure there were plenty of press stories as well as Paramount exercised its considerable muscle – that are very similar to how sequels and other franchise extensions are sold today. As I mentioned a couple different times above, the trailer plays to audience familiarity quite a bit, though it’s important to remember these Road movies weren’t actually sequels; Hope, Crosby and Lamour always played different, unrelated characters in each installment. It was the actors the audience was coming to see, though, and that’s why the marketing took the approach of focusing on them.

Facebook’s Only Getting Bigger

New from me on Voce Nation:

It’s hard, at this point. to see where the ceiling is for Facebook. It’s becoming so big at this point only the government would be able to shut it down (you have to wonder how close we are to an anti-trust case). With usage patterns increasingly turning toward mobile-first and Facebook now fully committed, it seems, to owning the mobile experience (helped by acquisitions of Instagram, WhatsApp and more) it’s positioned to be a major force in content marketing for the foreseeable future. You may not like it, but that’s where we are, so plan accordingly.

Source: Facebook Gets Most of Its Users – and Revenue – From Mobile « Voce Communications

Expect the Best, Plan for the Worst When Asking for Fan-Generated Content

I’m not sure why anyone is surprised this went south so quickly. Coke recently launched a tool that gave people the ability to easily make custom GIFs using a stock of supplied images and featuring Coke branding. And of course people took that and used it to be as annoying as possible, putting the worst possible spin on those GIFs.


History is rife with examples of this going very, very poorly. Years ago there was a car maker that did something similar and found they quickly had to shut it down because it was doing substantial damage to the brand. In all cases it seems the common thread is that the company – and the people behind it – seriously underestimated the internet’s desire to poke fun and be annoying.

It’s easy to write some of this off to the equivalent of online hecklers and cross your arms and complain how the Reddit/4Chan wing of the internet won’t let anyone have nice things. It’s not that the person who put the program together failed to account for worst-case scenarios or do *any* research into similar previous campaigns. It’s always the hooligans.

Except that it’s not. It’s not that sarcastic people just won’t let brands inject their marketing into the conversation. It’s that brands are fundamentally misunderstanding the power dynamic. They think people need and are just waiting for these kinds of opportunities and tools. But they exist already. And anyone with even cursory experience on the web will be able to point that out.

Yes, it’s completely reasonable to expect people to play nicely when asking for user-generated content as part of a marketing campaign or other effort. But that’s most likely to come to pass when there’s something in it for the participant and creator, be it entry into a sweeps, the chance to have their material featured in a broader campaign or other incentive. When it’s just “look how hip we are, here’s a GIF creator that includes our campaign messaging,”…well…it doesn’t take a genius to see that that’s going to go badly in no time. That creates the feeling that people are being co-opted into something they want no part of. So you get “Bye, Felicia.”

Marketing, including content marketing, *is* about injecting corporate messaging into places it otherwise shouldn’t be in an attempt to reach the desired audience. But before you start thinking people will gladly latch onto any attempt to have them do your marketing for you, be sure you’re brought in the most annoying person in the company to poke holes in the plan. Then decide whether you need to either spike the program because the downsides are too substantial or have a plan for when thing go pear-shaped on you. Because the odds are good they will.

Movie Marketing Madness: Kung Fu Panda 3

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kung_fu_panda_three_ver3Many of us strive to be something more than what we are now. We look up to heroes and try to emulate them, whether that’s in the realm of sports, an academic field or just within our own homes and families. The Kung Fu Panda movies have been about just that, following Po (voiced by Jack Black) as he lived his dream to become a kung fu master and join the Furious Five. The movies have been about wish fulfillment as we watched a lowly, misfit panda go on to achieve great things and become a hero in his own right, all without losing core parts of his goofy, fun-loving personality.

Now Po and the rest of the gang are back in Kung Fu Panda 3. This time the story gets personal for our favorite panda as one aspect of the story that has been strung through the previous films finally gets addressed: The fate of Po’s family and the rest of panda-kind. As soon as a long-lost family member resurfaces so does a new threat that threatens all of China as it carves its way through all the kung fu masters. So it falls to Po and his village of peaceful pandas to defend against what seems to be an unstoppable evil.

The Posters

kung_fu_panda_threeThe first poster immediately tells the audience that yes, this new movie will feature the same sense of humor as the previous installments. Po is suspended between two pillars eating dumplings while a group of horrified pandas look up into a buffalo shot.

The second poster continues the theme of Po being among the village of pandas, but this time he’s more artfully balancing on a pillar while a group of cubs are climbing on him. This time the gathered crowd looks more amazed than terrified.

That’s actually it in what seems to be an abridged poster campaign. There’s nothing about the story here other than that it involves Po being in a village of his own kind. But no hints as to conflict or even the more emotional elements of the story are hinted at on either version. Instead they just want to tell the audience the movie is coming out and assume that will be enough to draw people in.

The Trailers

The first trailer was dedicated to setting up the return of the characters. So it stars with a training sequence involving Po and the rest of the animals. But then we see his “greatest challenge” awaits. So he has an encounter with an older panda who says he lost his son years ago and they have a conversation that none of the onlookers can believe is actually happening because yeah, the relationship is obvious.

It’s an alright first entry that certainly does the job of evoking what it is audiences like about the franchise while also slightly introducing at least one element of the story in this new entry.

The second trailer starts out with Po asking Shifu a question, which leads to Po going on a journey of self-discovery. We see the “I’m looking for my son” scene again, but this time with a different ending (so the first trailer was lying). His dad takes him to a panda village in the mountains. But a new threat is emerging that threatens Po’s newly-found family so it falls on him to teach them all how to fight. Po and the villain have a final confrontation, which goes exactly as you expect.

This one is a bit better at showing the full story of the movie and so works pretty well. Again, if you find Dreamworks’ brand of humor amusing this will appeal to you. If you have low tolerance to puns, though, this may not be your cup of tea.

The third trailer starts off with Po being told it’s time for him to take the next step on his journey, a step that’s necessary for him to fulfill his destiny. We get the shots of him meeting his dad and finding the panda village before we meet the bad guy again. He teaches the pandas to defend themselves, despite the problems in doing so before the final conflict.

It’s not bad but it doesn’t really cover any new ground from the previous spots. That’s alright though since the idea here is just to sell people something they’re familiar with, not to get overly clever with the marketing.

Online and Social

The content on the front page of the movie’s official website is displayed to try and get people to click on various things but it’s also available easily in the four content sections that are included in the menu at the top of the page.

“Watch” has all the trailers as well as clips, interviews with the cast and more, including a walk-through of the movie-based Minecraft skin and mini-games.

“Play” has more information about that Minecraft World and how to get the game and play it. There are casual games that you can play on the site (some are from the previous movies) and downloadable art projects to get too. Finally, the section has downloadable media including GIFs and posters.

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Find out all about the characters from the entire series in “Characters.” Bios for each animal has a brief description of who they are, what their fighting style is and a gallery of images featuring them.

Finally “News” pulls in updates from the movie’s Facebook page – the only off-site profile for the movie itself – as well as Dreamworks Animation’s Twitter, Instagram and YouTube profiles.

Advertising and Social

The first TV spot for the movie debuted just a few days before the release of Star Wars and had a little bit of fun with that, having Po’s father say “I am your father” while breathing heavily from climbing the stairs. It’s a nice little play on what was at the time dominating the media landscape.

DreamworksTV launched a tie-in web-series hosted by Mei Mei, the panda voiced by Kate Hudson, that was helping to promote the movie to the young audience on that YouTube channel.

The film got promotional support from website development platform Wix, who ran co-branded ads starring characters from the movie in commercials, including one that will air during the Super Bowl and which is part of a bigger promotional push featuring Po and the rest of the favorites from the movie.

Media and Publicity

Unfortunately one of the first real bits of news about the movie was when it was announced Kate Hudson would be replacing Rebel Wilson as the voice of a character. That raised a number of questions since swapping out voice talent just months from production is pretty unusual when it comes to animated movies.

J.K. Simmons talked to EW shortly before release about being a fan of the first two movies, which is what prompted him to accept this role, and how he wanted to make the villain he voices scary without turning off the kids in the audience.

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Black, Hudson and other stars also made the rounds of the morning and late night talk shows to promote the movie and engage in various stunts.


It’s a nice little campaign for a movie that has a lot of goodwill built up before it’s even released. The Kung Fu Panda franchise is seen by many as being at least one of Dreamworks’ best, if not the best outright. That explains why the posters only needed to raise audience awareness and not go too heavy into plot territory. The trailers hit the story a bit more squarely but even there the focus is on not just the humor but also creating a sense of familiarity in the audience that yes, this is more of what you already like.

The campaign promises just that: a return to familiar ground, albeit with a few new twists. I’m guessing the tone and feel of the film won’t be drastically dissimilar from that of the first movie. It’s not like this is the Godfather series. But that’s exactly what the audience wants. If the marketing can convince people that this is a safe bet for late January then people who haven’t had a decent all-ages movie to go to in a while should turn out in droves.

Theatrical Movie Delivery Has Changed. Posters, Not So Much

When I worked at a movie theater back in the early 90’s, we always looked forward to getting a new shipment of one-sheets. Assuming they weren’t tagged to be returned to the distributor after we were done with them we could call “dibs” and buy the ones we really liked. But all of them had to be unrolled and placed in the glass cases – a few on the outside of the theater, more inside in the lobby – to be displayed. Posters were usually delivered at the same time and by the same people who delivered the canisters containing the next week’s movies, which had to be assembled by hand and spooled onto the platters that fed into the cameras.

Now, though, most movies are presented via digital files that are sent directly to the theater. But, as I notice whenever I go to the theater, hard-copy posters are still being shoved (sometimes not well at all) into glass cases. When I was walking up to the building the other day many of those one-sheets were crumpled and others were beginning to fade. In other words, this is not the best presentation of movies that both the studio and the theater chain are hoping people will find interesting enough to spend money on. 

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It got me thinking about why this hasn’t changed along with not only digital delivery of movies but also the trailers that proceed them? Imagine if that glass case that features a backlit printed and fading poster were actually an LCD screen that could be programmed to display key art. Here are some of the possibilities that might open up:

  • Easy swapping in and out. Instead of having to ship, install and remove a physical item each screen could be tweaked and changed with the push of a couple buttons.
  • More than still images: Many movies have released “motion posters” that feature key art that’s been animated or some sort of other movement. These kinds of screens would not only for those to be displayed but also may make them the preferred format.
  • More information can be displayed. Even if the key art isn’t animated, the posters could rotate with some other information, alternating between the artwork, a curated stream of Tweets or other posts from people talking about their excitement for the film. Heck, you could even filter these so a screen in Chicago only displays updates from posts geotagged as coming from the area.
  • Different form factors: Instead of being constrained by the 27″ x 40” that still constitutes a standard key art dimension, the screens could literally be any shape. Yes, standards are still going to be necessary, but they don’t have to be the same standards as are in place today.

I’m sure this will come around eventually, but it seems the time is right for some innovation in the local presentation of key art.

The Mystery of Where Deadpool’s Lines Will Actually Appear

As I’ve watched the campaign for Deadpool unspool over the last couple months in particular I’ve found myself noticing that, almost more than any other super hero or similar movie, it seems to feature a lot of dialogue that’s just kind of placed randomly in trailers.

Taking one example, let’s look at the shot where, in the first trailer, Deadpool inhales the smoke from his recently-fired weapons and says “…I”m touching myself tonight.” That same shot shows up in the trailer that debuted on Christmas Day but this time he says “This is a different kind of super hero story.” There are plenty of other examples of lines being swapped out and rearranged. In some cases this is to make the trailer or TV spot more contextual – so the whole Canadian Rules Football spot features dialogue that I don’t think is in the movie. Same with the “Well it’s Christmas” dialogue that accompanied the Christmas Day trailer.


Those are understandable since they’re attempts to contextualize the trailer to be relevant to where or when it was released. Overall, though, I feel like there’s a lot of playing fast and loose with where dialogue is being placed, something that’s largely possible because Deadpool wears a mask, unlike many of today’s cinematic heroes. This is different from the standard practice of cutting two different scenes together to make it seem they’re connected because the dialogue provides a punchline or some such.

I’m not trying to say the Fox marketing team is intentionally trying to mislead the audience. But by playing to loose with the dialogue from the they’re also presenting a somewhat disjointed picture of the film. No, none of this will really matter but there are going to be more than a few heads that turn when watching the movie as someone thinks “That’s not how that was supposed to play out.” That kind of thing adds up over the course of a movie and could ultimately impact whether or not someone enjoys – and then recommends – the movie in question.

I get the desire to punch up a particular shot with dialogue borrowed from another scene or to overlay something more contextual to an existing scene. But doing so too often does create a distorted view of the movie, signalling that it may not be strong enough to stand on its own without some punchups in the trailer editing department. That’s where you start to risk blowback and with a movie that’s as widely anticipated as Deadpool it’s surprising that the studio would muck around with how it’s presented any more than is necessary.

Movie Marketing Madness: The Finest Hours

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finest_hours_ver2“Duty” is a frequently misunderstood term. It’s too often used interchangeably with “responsibility” or even “burden” as a way to describe something we don’t really want to do but will grudgingly put on pants and do anyway, but not without a bit of griping. It’s better, though, to understand it as being more synonymous with “vocation,” or the kind of thing we do because it’s a responsibility we’re supposed to execute joyfully as a service to our neighbor, employer or family members. Our duties and vocations define us.

In the new movie The Finest Hours “duty” is front and center. The film tells the true story of what is remembered as the greatest small ship rescue operation in Coast Guard history. During a particularly bad nor’easter that slammed into Cape Cod in 1952. The tanker “Pendleton” was split in two, with most of the crew staying afloat on one half thanks to the leadership of Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck), who took command when the captain was lost. They survived long enough to be rescued by a small craft – too small for all the remaining crew, seemingly – from the local Coast Guard commanded by Bernard Webber (Chris Pine).

The Posters

finest_hoursThe first poster sets up both the scale of the story and the stakes. In the background is a large ship that we can see is splitting in two, dozens of men on the deck waiting for the rescue that’s hopefully coming from the smaller ship in the foreground and a massive storm creating huge waves all around them. But the copy says not all is well as it explains “32 survivors, room for 12,” which isn’t good math. Below the title treatment we’re told this is “Based on the incredible true story.”

The second poster sells a similar angle but zooms in on the action a bit more. The larger ship in this one has already split, half of it moving away in the background as the rescue ship gets men off the other half as the storm swirls around them. This one features a cast list and drops the copy explaining the scale of the rescue operation but retains the note about it being based on a true story.

While the second poster does have the cast list (all-male here, despite a major portion of the story featuring a couple female characters), neither of them actually features the faces or images of that cast. That says the studio is more concerned with selling this as a big-screen epic story and not with trying to tap into the drawing power of any of the members of the cast. Which says something and I think we can all assume rightly what that is.

The Trailers

We immediately meet Pine’s character and his girlfriend in the first trailer before we’re quickly thrown over to the crisis on the shipping vessel. We hear about the massive storm bearing down on the area, something not everyone is a fan of but which is still the crew’s duty. Pine’s girl especially isn’t thrilled and bucks tradition by staying at the Coast Guard station, begging the chief to call the crew back. We see Pine’s team go through one wave and storm surge after another as they try to reach the sinking vessel.

The pacing of this trailer is kind of all over the place and so never really comes together, at least not in my mind. The transitions between trying to sell the big action and the smaller emotional moments are too sudden and to really work. I get what they’re going for here, but I feel like a tighter trailer would have made a cleaner move from establishing the connection with the characters to putting them in situations we’re asked to care about them making it through.

The second trailer takes us immediately to the ship that quickly begins breaking up, with the crew of the ship realizing soon they’re in dire straits. Pine and his crew are sent out and everyone soon sees that the situation is not great and the odds of everyone surviving are even less so.

Honestly, it’s not a whole lot better than the first but for different reasons. This one provides even less emotional hooks on which to hang our caring about the characters’ fates on, instead going right to the spectacle of the accident that drives the story.

Online and Social

The film’s official website is about as barebones as you’re likely to see for an official studio release. There’s a few trailers and other videos, a story synopsis and a cast and crew list and that’s it. No additional sections, just a button to “Get Tickets.”

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The movie had a Facebook page where the studio shared press stories, countdown images and more but as far as I could find that was it in terms of off-domain profiles as well.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

There were a variety of TV spots run. Some were 30 seconds, some 90 but all played more or less like the trailers, showing various amounts of footage but all hitting the same basic idea and focusing on the giant storm faced by all the characters.

While I haven’t seen any of it I’m sure online and outdoor advertising was done as well.

Media and Publicity

Much of the publicity focused on how this was inspired by real events and recounted those events to show just how harrowing the ordeal depicted here was. There was even some press that featured the real people who lived through the events of the story and are still around to share their memories.

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The primary cast made the talk show rounds as well. Most of the rest of the publicity was in the form of exclusive clips seeded out to various media.


Disney obviously wants us to be swept up in the scale of the rescue operation, heading to the theaters to experience the massive waves the feel the desperation of both the sailors hoping and waiting to be rescued as well as the determination of the Coast Guard operators who are on their way to effect that rescue. This is very (and unfortunately) similar to how WB sold In The Heart Of The Sea a few months ago, and we can see how that turned out.

The problem I’m having with this approach is that there’s very little about the campaign that allows us to form any sort of connection with the people whose story is being told. The trailers aren’t put together well enough to let us feel like these characters are anything more than cardboard cutouts who are there in service to the scale. That’s exemplified by the posters, which don’t even spotlight the cast and only once name them. I’m sure the story itself is fine and there may be a genuinely gripping movie here, but it’s largely not part of the marketing.