In the new movie Lion, Dev Patel plays Saroo Brierley, a young man who was adopted by an Australian couple (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham) back when he was just a child. See Saroo was born in India but was separated from his mother and brother on the streets of Calcutta, with no idea where he was or where he should go to find them. So the Brierleys took him in and raised him as their own.
25 years later, Saroo is feeling anxious about his life. Specifically he’s curious about the life he might have had if he hadn’t gotten lost decades earlier. At the risk of alienating his girlfriend (Rooney Mara) and adopted parents, Saroo sets out to find his lost family, using only the fragments of memory he has. With the aid of Google Earth he starts to piece things together though and finds that technology has brought what might have been impossible within his reach.
The first poster is all about selling Patel as the star of the story. So it’s just a closeup of his face that dominates the design, though there’s a search bar that cuts across the middle with the text “The search begins” in it, hinting that this is a journey of some sort he’ll be undergoing. Below title the audience is told this is based on a true story, upping the emotional resonance it’s hoped is felt by the viewers.
The second offers a bit more in the way of value propositions. Patel this time is seen at the top of the poster looking down at Mara, the two of them obviously having an intimate moment. Between them we see a picture of two people, a man and young boy, walking down the middle of a set of train tracks, their backs to the camera. The same search bar cuts into that middle image, but this time the query reads “The true story of a life lost and found.”
The first trailer starts as Saroo is talking to a group of people about where he’s from. As we flashback to him as a child in Calcutta we see he was separated from his brother and mother while they were on a train trip, so he’s the only one on the train as it starts moving again. As an adult, he’s determined to find them, a quest that his adoptive mother and current girlfriend aren’t completely on board with, or at least caution him on the dangers of. From there on out it’s voiceover of Saroo saying he has to do this mixed with footage of both him searching online for the train stations of his memory and of him as a child running through those streets.
It’s a solid trailer but is a bit overly dramatic. I’m sure the whole movie isn’t all gushing dialogue and swelling music against montages, but that’s how it’s being sold. Could have used a little more story and character development and a little less overly-earnest tugging on the heartstrings, but it’s clear they’re going for an emotional play to the audience here.
Online and Social
When the movie’s official website loads the trailer plays so you can rewatch that if you like. Close that and the first thing you see are a few prompts to contribute to the #LionHeart project, a campaign working with a handful of organizations to help and protect the tens of thousands of children who reportedly go missing in India each year. In fact aside from a brief synopsis at the bottom, calls to find out more about this project make up most all the content on the site.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
TV spots like this one started running a bit before release that map out (sorry) the basic story of Saroo, that he’s trying to remember his life as a child and struggling to with his identity as an adult. It’s tonally very similar to the trailer, but without some of the details about how he finds the clues to track down the rest of his natural family.
A few online ads were run along with social ads that used the trailer to raise awareness. That’s about it, though.
Media and Publicity
In advance of the movie’s debut at the Toronto International Film Festival a first look still was released that was accompanied by Patel talking about the story, his character, getting cast in the movie and more. Right after that it was announced the movie would debut at the BFI London Film Festival.
That Toronto screening garnered mixed, though generally positive results and some awards conversation for Kidman and Patel. Mostly, though, the narrative around the movie seemed to be that it was a return to form for The Weinstein Company and Harvey Weinstein in particular, especially since he and the company have been dogged for a while now by rumors the company is on the verge of collapse.
Patel talked about the demands the movie’s director asked him to endure if he wanted the part as well as how there just aren’t a lot of roles for someone like him as it got closer to release. The actor also appeared on the late night talk shows to talk about the movie and his career in general. Kidman also got a chance to talk about her role and the themes of the story and also made a few talk show appearances. Patel got a great feature interview in the NYT where he hit similar themes as he talked about the movie and more.
It’s pretty clear The Weinstein Co. is positioning this as their big emotional Oscar contender for this year. Everything here is setup in as emotionally manipulative manner as possible to sway audiences that this is going to be a big sweeping story they should plan to cry during. It’s this year’s The English Patient for the company, following that model of marketing and audience appeal. Not to say that’s bad or anything, but it’s clearly what the studio has in mind.
In terms of the marketing itself, it’s more or less consistent across the elements as to what it’s selling, which is Saroo’s search to uncover his true identity and find his family. That comes through just about everywhere. The website is lightest on this angle, but considering it sacrifices story for a charitable appeal, it’s hard to fault it on that front. The repeated use of the search box in the graphical elements works pretty well once you figure out what’s going on and helps to setup the story. All in all this is a decent campaign for a movie that counts on emotions more than other traditional commercial appeals to turn out the audience.