Death seems to loom over everything in the new movie Collateral Beauty. Will Smith plays Howard, a man who loses both his wife and child in a great tragedy. He retreats from much of his life, alienating his friends and those around him. So he begins to write letters to concepts like Love, Time and Death to express how he’s feeling and see if there are answers out there.
He’s surprised, then, to find that he begins being visited by personified versions of these concepts. Love, Time and Death all begin appearing to him, speaking to him and urging him to get back into the world. He’s skeptical, of course, and a big wigged out to be talking to these concepts as if they were people. But he finds that the process has benefits to his process and it gets him to slowly reenter the world and his remaining relationships.
The first poster is very simple, almost frustratingly so. It’s a stark white poster with the cast list cascading down from the top and the title treatment set in the middle of what looks like a circular arrangement of dominoes. There’s nothing about the story here and it’s not clear what the image has to do with the characters or the plot, so we’ll call this a teaser and let it be for the time being.
The second poster offers a bit more information. Smith’s is the primary image on the one-sheet, but pictures of the rest of the cast are shown within the photo of his body, a notion that’s reinforced by copy reading “We are all connected.” It’s a slightly more artistic version of the tri-band poster design that’s used so often with big ensemble movies.
“We’re here to connect,” we’re told as the trailer opens before he goes on to list the three things we share with everyone else on the planet: Love, Time and Death. Fast forward and we see that he’s experienced a tragedy, specifically that he’s lost a child, which sends him into a state of depression that has all his friends worried. Howard writes letters to those emotions and one day Death shows up to have a conversation with him. Howard resists but then he’s greeted by the personifications of Time and Love, all of which he has some serious issues with but whom he eventually begins to engage with and who, we kind of see, eventually lead him back to connecting with the world around him.
It’s not bad, certainly selling an emotional story that will fit in very well with audiences looking for something like this over the holiday season. Smith looks really good and Mirren appears to be giving in to her inner scenery eater as Death, which is absolutely valid. Yes, the fact that someone says the name of the movie at the very end is a bit hokey but the rest of it is pretty solid, particularly when you take into account the cast that’s been assembled.
The second trailer starts off presenting Howard as trying to fix himself after the loss of his child. We get the premise that he’s writing letters to emotions and things as a form of therapy. Those concepts start appearing to him and talk to him, which cause him to question even more than he already is. Eventually he starts learning he can’t completely shut down but has to continue to be open to life.
It works and doesn’t work on roughly the same levels the first one did. It seems a bit more cohesive than the initial trailer and certainly is aiming for more of a sweeping story. The basic pitch of this being an emotional tear jerker of a story, though, remains intact.
Online and Social
The movie’s official website is built on Tumblr and so is pretty barebones. It opens with the trailer, which you can watch again if you need a good cry. At the top of the page there are two prompts, one labeled “Dear Universe” and the other “Discover Your Collateral Beauty.”
Dear Universe wants you to write your letter to the universe, so you can create messages to either Love, Death or Time, at least if it’s less than 150 characters. Those messages can then be posted to a gallery along with those from other people. Discover Your Collateral Beauty asks you to connect your Facebook or Instagram accounts to see your connections and the lives you intersect with. Again, there’s a gallery of the efforts of other people.
Scroll down the page and there are links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. The same sort of posts that were made there can also be found on the Tumblr site, which has trailers and other videos along with promotional graphics about cast appearances on TV and more.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
TV spots like this one started airing just before Thanksgiving that present the story in a nutshell, showing that Howard has been writing letters to emotions, which are now presenting themselves as people. They – along with his real friends – are encouraging him to reconnect with the world following his loss, something he’s been reluctant to do.
Social media ads on Twitter and Facebook were run in the weeks leading up to release. Notably, many of those ads tagged the movie as coming “from the director of The Devil Wears Prada,” an attempt to bring in the audience who continues to love that movie and attract their interest in this one.
Outdoor and other online ads were also run using the key art and other images.
Media and Publicity
While the movie’s story had been kept very secret for a long time, a few details were shared by Smith along with a first look at a still in Entertainment Weekly.
There was also a decent push on TV, with Naomi Harris, who plays the grief counselor Smith’s Howard talks to, along with Edward Norton and others showing up on late-night talk shows.
Other than that there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of press activity outside of occasional other interviews with Smith and other stories.
The strongest card the studio has to play is the big emotions that are part of the story. So it hits that beat as forcefully and repeatedly as it can, showing Smith breaking down and having his conversations with death and everything else as a way to sell the movie as a big-budget tearjerker. In fact that’s the primary value proposition on display here, that the audience should come in and have a good cry with the characters who are all feeling everything so hard they can’t keep their emotions in for even a minute.
Since that’s the movie’s primary brand it’s pretty good in presenting that on a consistent basis throughout the campaign. The entire campaign uses that white-space heavy look and feel along with the images of Smith, along with primarily Mirren, exploring his emotions time and time again. It’s all over the marketing from the poster to the trailers and everywhere else.