Hollywood’s Golden Age, the early years when the stars were big and the movies were bigger, is rife with stories. After all, this was an era when the public personas of those stars were as carefully managed as the art department’s work on a poster. Marriages were arranged, scandals covered up, officials paid off to stay silent and more, all in an effort to protect the bankability of the actors and actresses the growing studios counted on to bring in ticket sales and sell a fashionable, aspirational product to the masses. If you doubt any of that I highly recommend you go listen to Karina Longworth’s excellent You Must Remember This show, which tells story after story from this time.
Back in November she devoted an episode to MGM “fixer” Eddie Mannix, a guy who made problems for the studio go away in whatever manner he needed to. A slightly fictionalized version of Mannix is played by Josh Brolin in the the new Coen Bros. comedy Hail, Caesar. In the movie a major star by the name of Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) is kidnapped under mysterious circumstances. In order to both find Whitlock and keep the press or others from getting the story – Whitlock is in the middle of shooting a huge new prestige picture – Mannix brings in a bunch of the studio’s other stars to keep it under wraps.
The first and only poster is pretty understated and simple but is still pretty effective. Two people are seen in silhouette as they walk away from the camera, one carrying the other over his shoulder. A Roman helmet is seen lying on the ground from where the one was presumably picked up and taken away. Above the two people we get the title treatment along with the information that this is coming from Joel and Ethan Coen. Above *that* are pictures of the five leads, Brolin, Clooney, Johansson, Tatum and Hill. Below the title is the copy “Lights. Camera. Abduction.” which nicely gives us both the the setting – we can also imply an early 20th Century time period based on the hat one of the people is wearing if we look closely enough – as well as the general plot, which will obviously involve a kidnapping.The cast list appears at the very top and at the very bottom is the release date.
The first trailer for the film is just…fantastic.
Brolin’s studio head is the centerpiece of the action as he tries unsuccessfully to confess to a priest, who shuts him down. Then we shift to him explaining that Hail Caesar will be the biggest picture he’s ever produced, starring the biggest star of the time, who it’s then revealed has been kidnapped. So the exec enlists the help of some of the studio’s other roster of stars to help, but what exactly it is they’ll be doing is kind of unclear. All the while he’s being hounded by a reporter who senses a story but can’t get an answer out of him.
It’s just…fantastic. Everything about it is pure Coen Bros., from the framing of the shots to the facial expressions on the actors’ faces to the color palette on display. It’s just amazing and is sure to appeal to anyone who has even the slightest appreciation for the Coens and their particular brand of comedy.
The second trailer has nothing about the kidnapping plot or other elements of the story. Instead it mostly just has Fiennes as Lorenz and Ehrenreich as Tobey, they former trying to get the latter to overcome his native Southern drawl and say his lines in the same mid-Atlantic style that was popular in elite circles in this time period. The efforts…do not go well. In the last third of the trailer we see a montage of familiar footage but there’s nothing about the story here.
While there’s no plot explanation here that doesn’t mean the trailer doesn’t work, especially if we’re looking at the Coen fans it’s targeted to. If nothing else, it reminds us that Fiennes is a great comedic actor, something we still don’t see enough of.
Online and Social
When you open the official website you’re greeted with the second trailer, which you should definitely rewatch. I’ll let you have a moment.
The main part of the page is a recreation of the theatrical poster, but with motion graphics that pop in and out of what otherwise are still images.
The “Videos” link opens up the trailer again and you can view the other videos that are part of the YouTube playlist there as well. “About” is mostly about a cast and crew list but there’s a single sentence about the film’s plot in there as well along with Production Notes you can download if you want.
There are seven non-downloadable images in the “Gallery.” “Characters” is probably the best section of the site since you can get decent background on the nine major characters that are featured in the film here. It’s all written with a good sense of humor that sets up the film’s story pretty well.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
TV spots began running fairly early with this commercial that played largely like the first trailer but made the comedy seem a touch more broad and included name-checks on all the big stars. Some of these were 60 seconds, some 30 seconds but they all hit roughly the same beats, just occasionally condensed.
There was lots of online advertising done, with banner ads all over the place as well as video spots that were placed on YouTube and elsewhere. And I’m sure there was plenty of outdoor advertising done as well.
No promotional partners I’m aware of, though Hero Complex Gallery in Los Angeles put on an exhibition of artwork inspired by the movie featuring the work of 40 artists.
Media and Publicity
Publicity for the movie really started with a feature that explored the real history of Eddie Mannix, the MGM fixer played by Brolin in the movie. Closer to release there was also a look at the real-life twin gossip columnists played by Tilda Swinton.
Outside of that most of the press was generated by the release of trailers and clips right up until the film’s premiere when the cast and crew talked about the story and more.
If you’re a Coen Bros. fan already, there’s nothing about this campaign that’s not going to bring you to the theater on Day One. The sense of humor and visual style that we’ve come to know and love from the filmmakers is fully on display here. You get the humor, you get the characters and you get the attention to detail that they’re known for along with a fun premise that offers plenty of opportunities for the brothers to tell their usual morality tale against.
That’s what I get out of the campaign for the most part: A bright, shiny, funny movie with a cast of quirky and interesting characters that serves as the backdrop for a story about how we’re none of us that righteous. It looks fast-paced and zany, sure, but it also looks like the Coens will be once again telling us that one poor moral decision can lead to the downfall of a massive house of cards. Set against the backdrop of classic Hollywood, it looks like great fun.