Hey, did you hear the news? The Best Picture win by Spotlight at this past weekend’s Academy Awards is the best news for journalism since…sorry, I’m struggling to think of the last time there was good news for for journalism. But apparently critical recognition coupled with box office success going to save legacy media as everyone rallies around the inspiration provided by a story of journalists doing good for society. It follows in a long line of movies about the Fourth Estate that have gone on to become classics of cinema, but I don’t know how much long-term help past movies provided for the industry being depicted. Still, movies about real journalists continue to be popular with the studios and often with audiences.
Entering that genre is this week’s Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. In the movie Tina Fey plays Kim Baker, based on the book “Taliban Shuffle” by Kim Barker, a woman who volunteered to go report on the war in Afghanistan for the Chicago Tribune between 2004 and 2009 as the paper’s South Asia bureau chief. The story is about her experiences in that war zone, a place that’s not for the faint of heart and the trouble not only being a reporter relatively inexperienced in this field but also dealing with the inherent double standards for a woman in a male-dominated environment.
The first and only poster is just about selling us on this being a new Tina Fey movie. So she’s there in the center of the image with a notepad and pen in hand – telling us she’s some sort of reporter – and with a helicopter and explosion at different points in the background, telling us that she’s in some kind of war zone. It’s not bad, but there’s a lot that has to be implied from the clues here as it’s mainly, as I said, about trading on our fondness for Fey as a comedian.
The first trailer starts off with Fey in Afghanistan as part of convoy before we flashback six months to her getting the assignment to go there, something we find out later that she does because she’s discontent with her life and wants to shake things up. So we see her getting used to life in a war zone, including making friends with the other foreign journalists there, some of which are played by Freeman and Robbie. She grudgingly gets the respect of the general who’s in charge of taking care of her as she makes it through one situation after another.
It’s a pretty good trailer that relies heavily on Fey’s considerable charm. There are some moments of what might be called racial stereotyping, but it looks charming and kind of funny, even if the trailer seemingly gives away 85% of the story here.
A red-band trailer was released later that wasn’t a whole lot more explicit than the first one, just with a couple more curse words in there. The plot is largely the same and many of the same jokes get ported over, but there are a couple new scenes in there too.
It’s still being sold as largely a comedy but there’s an emphasis in this trailer on the friendship between Kim and Tanya, which looks to be the central relationship in the movie as opposed to anything about the women and the guys around them.
Online and Social
The official website is…kind of confusing. There’s nothing there for you to do other than “Watch Videos,” which you can only do once you’ve confirmed your age. And even then there’s nothing to click on after the videos are done. The site is literally just a landing page, at least as far as I can figure out. If you’re not going to do anything with a site like this with just the key art displayed why go through the trouble of setting up a vanity URL?
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
A number of TV spots were created and run of both the :30 and :15 second variety. Most all of them used various combinations of footage we’ve already seen in the trailers, just moved around for comedic effect. A lot of them also included critics quotes as a way to convince people this is worth their time in case the trailers themselves hadn’t convinced them.
I’m sure there were online and outdoor ads run as well that in all likelihood used some variation on the key art, though I didn’t see much of anything outside of a few Twitter sponsored Tweets.
Media and Publicity
The first official stills for the movie debuted as part of a USA Today interview with Fey where she talked about the movie and how doing action-type sequences was a big departure for her. Later on Barker, the woman Fey portrays in the movie, talked about the experience of having her life and her book adapted like this, as well as what liberties the film takes with her story. At the movie’s premiere it got endorsements from some of today’s leading female TV journalists, who lauded it for its realistic portrayals of the reality of covering war zones as well as the overall tone of the story. The cast, particularly Fey and co-star Martin Freeman, also made a few late-night and early-morning talk show appearances to talk about the movie.
As I said when I was discussing the trailer, the campaign as a whole relies a lot on our affection for Fey and her particular brand of comedy. This is the Tina Fey show so whether or not you go to see the movie is greatly dependent on whether you liked “30 Rock” or Sisters or her on “SNL” or anything else. That’s not a bad strategy – you generally want the responsibility for selling the movie to fall on the star’s shoulders – but it also creates a single point of failure. It also arrives at an odd time. In the last few months we’ve seen both Spotlight, which took journalism much more seriously, and 13 Hours, which took the War on Terror (™NBC) much more seriously. So tonally it might be a tough sell more than anything.
But aside from a poor excuse for a website it’s a nice campaign. No, it’s not going to blow anyone’s doors off or really convince anyone not already inclined to see it. But it does what it needs to do to sell the audience on a movie with a particular (and hopefully familiar) tone and point of view and kind of wishes for the best. It could be a much more serious story than the trailers let on, which is my guess, in which case the marketing may have created some problems word-of-mouth from and to the audience will have to overcome.