After the Campaign: Captain Fantastic

When Captain Fantastic was being sold to the public last summer, the campaign tried to make the case for a story about an unconventional family going through the tragic loss of its wife and mother. It’s so much more than that.

captain fantastic pic 1

The story centers around Ben (Viggo Mortensen), the father of a group of kids whom he’s raising out in the woods, teaching them how to hunt, how to read and understand philosophy and complex mathematics and more, all almost completely cut off from the rest of civilization. It’s what he and his wife wanted. She, it turns out, has been in the hospital suffering from severe depression and has recently killed herself. Her parents hate Ben and everything he stands for, blaming him for her illness and they ban him from coming to her funeral. He and the kids flout that request, though, and for the first time the tribe is out in what we all consider civilization needing to adjust to normal conventions that we take for granted but which they have no context for or experience with.

The campaign back in the first half of 2016 coming out of its debut at Sundance last year focused on the quirks and eccentricities of Ben and his family. The idea was to sell it as a sort of fish-out-of-water story about this highly unusual family that’s so odd and now is *shocked* to find hot dogs and soda on the menu at a diner. It almost took a contemptuous look at the family.

That’s not the attitude of the movie itself, though. While those moments are in there, of course, they’re all part of a larger story that’s only hinted at slightly in the marketing, the fact that book-learning can’t fully replace experiences and the rebellion by some of the kids to Ben’s decisions and style as they get more exposure to what else is out there. There’s a whole dynamic between the family that’s completely missing from the marketing campaign but which forms the most interesting and engaging elements of the movie itself.

I get why the decision to focus on the one thing over the other was made. It’s easier to sell quirk than it is a complex coming-of-age tale about the virtues of both being inside and outside the system. But the movie is significantly weightier in its commentary on society and family than the trailer and the rest of the campaign might have led some in the audience to believe, particularly with the key art that shows Ben in his bright red leisure suit and the young boy wearing a gas mask. The campaign made it seem like a variation on the Little Miss Sunshine theme when in fact it’s a much different and in many ways more affecting story.

Key Art, Key Changes: Masterminds, Queen of Katwe

Reaching an audience in the home video market is much different than reaching the theatrical audience. That often means the key art that’s used for home video releases is changed significantly from the one-sheets that were available during the theatrical marketing cycle. What I’m going to try and do is see what those changes are and what they mean for the appeal being made.

Queen of Katwe

The home video box takes a big part of the theatrical key art – the images of Wyong’o, Oyelowo and Nalwanga all clustered together and looking in different directions – and removes the soft orange light it was originally tinged with. Instead they’re presented in more natural light, though the bright orange sky behind them still evokes wide open spaces, something that’s reinforced by the lake and landscape in the lower part of the art. That lower section is also different. Where originally it featured Nalwanga walking along a series of chess pieces, this one has her and Oyelowo actually playing chess on the shore of the lake, a more overt message to the audience that this is about the game. So it takes the best part of the original artwork and changes other elements to make things a bit more explicit for the audience.


The theatrical poster for this comedy, along with other elements of the campaign, took pains to include the presence of Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones, both of whom were on the tip of everyone’s tongues in the wake of Ghostbusters. Now that buzz has apparently cooled off (despite continued outstanding work from both on “SNL”) because they’re cut off of the home video box art. That box art otherwise simply reuses the images from the previous one-sheet, with photos of Galifianakis, Wilson, Wiig and Sudeikis that show them in character and offer a one-word description of that character. Nothing original here, but the omission of those other two actresses is notable, whether it’s because time has passed or the smaller real estate would have just been too cramped with them here.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

A straight-up repurposing of one of the posters, thankfully the one that kinda sorta features Colbie Smulders as well as Tom Cruise, though only the side of her left cheek is seen as she’s facing away from the camera. It’s the exact same image, just cropped a bit differently for the box art aspect ratio.

Hollywood Directors and Super Bowl Spots

My new post on The Drum looks at some of the tops top Hollywood directors have helmed commercials set to air during the biggest TV event of the year, the Super Bowl:

One of the big stories already surrounding this year’s broadcast is that The Coen Brothers are directing their first TV commercial. If you don’t know the Coen Brothers by name, you certainly know their work: The Big Lebowski, Blood Simple, Fargo, No Country For Old Men and other classics of the last 30 years are all among their filmography and established them as among the most innovative and interesting filmmakers working today.

The Coens are far from the first A-List directors to helm a commercial. In fact they’re not the only Hollywood directors in this year’s game, as Louis Letterier (The Incredible Hulk, The Transporter, Now You See Me) is also helming a spot starring Gal Gadot and Jason Statham, the latter of whom Letterier worked with on The Transporter.

Before we setting in to see what’s in store in the breaks between the New England Patriots taking on the Atlanta Falcons let’s a take a look at what big-name directors have participated in past years.

Source: The Movie Marketing Blog: A-list Hollywood directors at the Super Bowl over the years | The Drum

Movie Marketing Madness: The Space Between Us

space_between_usWe’re going back to Mars in this week’s new release The Space Between Us. Far from an attempt to rescue Matt Damon, this new movie is about a young man’s journey from the red planet to connect with the life he never knew on Earth. Gardner Elliot (Asa Butterfield) was born on Mars after his astronaut mother only became aware she was pregnant after taking off on her journey there. She dies in childbirth, though, leaving Gardner to be raised by the other members of the team, who are there for the long-haul.

Now a teenager, Gardner has some contact with Earth, though, especially a connection with Tulsa (Britt Robertson), a young woman who doesn’t really believe his story. Eventually he’s able to return to Earth and he seeks her out, starting a journey of self-exploration for the two of them as Gardner seeks to find his father, whose identity was never told to him. Tragedy lurks, though, as the scientists responsible for Gardner realize his organs, which adapted for Mars’ environment, can’t handle Earth’s atmosphere.

The Posters

The first poster is all about making sure the audience knows this is an emotional journey of some sort. Butterfield is decked out in some kind of astronaut gear, his helmet off of course so we can see his face, as he walks through a field of grass and flowers, a blazing sunset in the background. “What’s your favorite thing about earth?” the copy at the top asks, setting up the idea that he – or someone – isn’t actually from here.

The Trailers

“I want to go to Mars” we hear as the trailer opens and we see a mission is being prepped to send six astronauts to Mars to live there, not just visit and return. On the way one of them becomes pregnant but the woman dies while the son lives, spending his entire life on the planet, something he starts to push back against. Eventually he’s brought back to Earth, but he’s then confined to a hospital room. He breaks free, though, to meet with a girl he’s been video-calling with over the years, a girl who takes him on all sorts of new adventures. Those adventures are cut short, though, when he can’t handle being in Earth gravity for so long.

There are some overt references to other Mars films here – “Bring him home” being shouted by BD Wong among them – but for the most

There are some overt references to other Mars films here – “Bring him home” being shouted by BD Wong among them – but for the most part this sells the movie as a YA romance that happens to involve a space travel element. It’s super emotional and what plot points aren’t spelled out by the trailer are easy to guess at. For those fans it will work, for others it won’t.

The second trailer is much more focused on the relationship between Gardner and Tulsa, starting out showing them video chatting, with her not quite knowing that he’s actually on Mars. After some quick back and forth among the scientists, he’s back on Earth and on his way to find Tulsa. She agrees to take him on a road trip to find his father, which gives them a chance to spend time together. But again we see his physiology isn’t suited for Earth and things quickly turn south for him, even as the scientists responsible for the mission try and track him down to save his life. 

It’s sweet and moving and all that. It’s basically being sold as a variation on The Fault in Our Stars, with a girl trying to save the dying boy, who’s too sensitive for his own health. This is meant to appeal directly to the teen and younger audience who has made other such movies a success.

One more short trailer wasn’t all that different, again not focusing on the Mars aspect of the story but more on the YA romance angle, which makes sense.

Online and Social

The movie’s official website has the standard layout from STX, starting with the key art at the top along with links to the official Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles along with a prompt to watch the trailer again.

Scroll down and the “Videos” section has both trailers and a couple of TV spots. After that there’s a “Sweepstakes” section that has information on how to enter by sharing what one thing about Earth you would want to share with someone who didn’t know about it.

The “About the Film” section has a synopsis along with cast list and the name of the director. Finally, there’s a “Gallery” of a few images.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV spots like this one started running a bit out from release that focused not so much on the whole “the kid was born and raised in space” thing but instead on the teenage romance between the two main characters and the raise to save Gardner. It works hard to fit in as much angst as possible, positioning it in the same vein as The Fault in Our Stars and similar stories.

Online ads were surely run in some measure.

Media and Publicity

The cast and crew talked at the movie’s premiere about the story, getting into character and more. That seems to be about it in terms of a major press push. There were other comments from the cast here and there and some conversations around the release of marketing materials like the trailers but that seems to be the extent of things.



There’s a good reason the movie has become known as “The Fault In Our Mars” or some such like that. It’s a young adult type tale of star-crossed love that’s fated to end badly but which is just so heartwarming that you don’t mind watching the story. It’s a story we’ve seen before and the movie is clearly trying to latch on to the trend of space exploration stories that have proven to be so popular recently.

The marketing makes sure to include as many allusions to those other movies as possible. There’s “bring him home” that’s cribbed right from the marketing for The Martian and lots more. It’s not to say there’s nothing original here, it’s just that it looks like a standard YA love story that’s had moderately sci-fi elements tacked on to make it part of a larger trend. All the usual elements of the YA genre are here, selling the movie effectively to the audience that might be interested.

Want to get Movie Marketing Madness via email? Sign up here. Then connect with MMM on Twitter and Facebook.


Hollywood Uses Influencers in Marketing Efforts

My latest post at The Drum is a profile of an influencer technology platform that’s being used by Hollywood to help sell their movies:

Influencer marketing is all the rage right now. Back in December of last year a report was released by Linqia showing that while ROI was sometimes sketchy, more and more brands were pouring more and more money into influencer campaigns. The rationale and logic behind these efforts seems to be that these influencers – those with large and highly-engaged online audiences – have a more authentic voice than a brand could ever hope for, not to mention a built-in audience that can sometimes number in the millions.

Source: The Movie Marketing Blog: IBM Watson-powered Hollywood influencers | The Drum

After the Campaign: Hail Caesar

Let’s make this clear: In some big ways, Universal missold Hail Caesar, the latest movie from the Coen Bros. The tone of the campaign may have matched what’s shown in the movie, but in some very real ways the movie does not match the marketing in advance of the February 2016 release.


Set in1950s Hollywood, the movie’s story follows Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) as he deals with the disappearance of Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), a major star at the studio Mannix runs who’s in the middle of shooting a huge swords-and-sandals picture. He’s been taken by a group of Communists who demand ransom, so Mannix has to not only get him back but also keep the news he’s disappeared out of the gossip columns. That’s just one fire he has to put out, though, as he has cowboy actor Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) whose image he’s trying to change and aquatic starlet DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) who he’s trying to get married before her pregnancy starts showing. All the while, Mannix wrestles with his role in the world and whether he’s a good person.

There are at least three disparate stories in Hail, Caesar, but the marketing made it seem like they were all tied up together. If you rewatch the first trailer it seems like Mannix recruits Doyle and Moran along with director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes), song-and-dance man Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum) and bookkeeper Joe Silverman (Jonah Hill) in the effort to get Whitlock back. But the story actually keeps most of those separate for almost the entirety of the running time, with only Doyle’s story intersecting with the reclamation of Whitlock at the very end.

That doesn’t make the movie any less engaging, though based on the trailers and other marketing I kept waiting for the plot threads to come together more fully in a way they never really do. It’s alright, though, once you lean into it and accept the antics going on among all the characters and realize the kidnapping plot is only the loosest of hooks on with the Coens have hung an excuse to make a movie about classic Hollywood and the studio system. It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey and the brothers provide a heck of a journey to enjoy. 

There are a lot of things I could say about what the movie is or isn’t beyond what’s already here, but those might ruin your enjoyment of the story. Hail Caesar immediately leaped in my mind toward the top of the list in terms of my favorite movies from these writers/directors and shouldn’t be missed. It’s unconventional and funny and everything you’d want from the pair.

The Marketing Campaigns for 2017’s Academy Awards Best Picture Nominees

The nominees for this year’s Academy Awards were announced yesterday. While Deadpool didn’t get the nomination the filmmakers and many in the press had been hoping it would there were still a few surprises, including that the acting categories actually featured people of color after years of #OscarsSoWhite being the dominant theme of the reactionary commentary. To mark the occassion, let’s look back at the marketing campaigns for this year’s nine Best Picture nominees



As for the marketing itself, it all seems to be working together to create a slick, stylish brand identity for the movie. Everything here is crisp and clean, presenting an adult thriller that’s geared for the adult and discerning audience. There’s little pandering here to the unwashed masses. Many have drawn the connection between this and previous movies like Interstellar and Gravity and it’s very much in that vein, an art film for grownups that’s dressed up like a big-budget alien movie. It’s more about the themes of the story, though, a message that comes through clearly in the campaign.


Denzel Washington plays Troy Maxson and Viola Davis plays Rose Maxson in Fences from Paramount Pictures. Directed by Denzel Washington from a screenplay by August Wilson.

The movie that’s being sold looks incredibly powerful. It’s a story about long-delayed dreams, unfulfilled potential, what you owe the generation after yours and how all that relates to race told by some of the best of today’s working actors. It’s a vital story in this time in history and it’s one that will hopefully continue to garner not more awards consideration but also an audience to see that story told.

Hacksaw Ridge

hacksaw ridge pic 1

It’s hard to get a sense of the scale of the actual movie from the campaign. This seems like a big release and an important movie. But there’s only one trailer, a mismatched TV campaign and a press push that was kind of light for what seems like it should be an awards contender. It just seems like there should have been more. And there certainly should have been something on the official site that offered a bit more background on Doss, considering his story is so important.

Hell or High Water

hell-or-high-water pic 1

Somewhere around the second trailer, though, that started to turn and it became more and more interesting as the story came more into focus. Foster’s performance came more to the forefront and the dynamic between him and Pine was more clear and the campaign started to show audiences what the movie was trying to say, what it’s message was. If the audience caught that message it could be enough to turn out some specialty box office success.

Hidden Figures


I honestly feel like this movie couldn’t be more 2016 if it tried. At least the marketing campaign couldn’t. It’s all about how women of color have been removed from the narrative of one of the country’s – hell, mankind’s – greatest achievements. If “men get all the credit for something women were an integral part of” doesn’t sum up this past year I’m not sure what does. So the campaign has worked not only to tell people there’s an important story here, but it’s one that’s likely repeated daily as men talk over their female colleagues and mansplain what’s it’s “actually” about. For that reason, the movie is likely to become a lightning rod as one group claims the story as their own and the other complains how it downplays the contributions of white men. I’m guessing the phrase “white genocide” may even come up in one or two Facebook comments.

La La Land


The entire campaign is meant to evoke a timeless nature. The throwback images that were used in early posters and the way the trailers make you think the movie could take place this year or in 1961 all creates a sense that the story exists out of time to some extent, reinforcing the slight nostalgia-esque approach to the marketing. Add to all that the almost universally positive word of mouth that’s resulted from festival screenings and the love the soundtrack has received and you have a campaign that’s…yeah, it’s ridiculously charming



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.

Manchester by the Sea


There’s a ton of emotion in this campaign and it’s great to see. As with other movies from Lonergan, the focus is clearly on the relationships that are driving the story here. These are not shallow emotional waters we’re wading into, something that comes through in most every aspect of the marketing. The audience is expected to connect with all the characters, from Lee to Patrick to Randi, throughout the campaign.



The movie’s personal focus and touch really comes through in this campaign. Everything here is focused on making sure the potential audience sees that it’s a human story with a very small scale, focusing on Chiron’s journey and emotions. The trailer, the press push and the posters all work to make it clear the spotlight will never leave him and his struggle for identity and acceptance.

After the Campaign: The Nice Guys

The marketing for The Nice Guys promised a fun throwback detective buddy comedy from writer/director Shane Black, the man who perfected the formula back in the 80s with movies like Lethal Weapon and others. It sold a caper that matched Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling and sold the movie based on the chemistry and charisma of those two actors. It delivers on that and so much more.

nice guys pic 1

The story revolves around Amelia, the daughter of Los Angeles federal prosecutor Judith Kuttner (Kim Basinger), who has gone missing and is being sought not only by her mother but by some shady mob types as well. On her tail is private investigator Holland March (Gosling), who’s hired by Amelia to warn him off. But when Judith hires both of them to find her, they find themselves wrapped up in an investigation into official corruption, mob activity and lots and lots of murder that they can’t quite get out of.

In case you didn’t see the movie – and based on its disappointing box-office that’s likely true – you need to fix that immediately. Yes, it’s a throwback to the kind of movies they don’t really make anymore but which many of us were raised on a steady diet of. But that’s just the hollow frame on which the performances of Gosling, Crowe and the others are hung on and it’s those, along with a whipsmart script that never stops long enough for you to really take stock of the insanity, that makes it worth watching.

You wouldn’t think someone as traditionally staid at Crowe would make for a commanding comedic presence, but you’d be wrong. While he’s certainly used mostly as the straight man of the pair more often than not, there are a half-dozen moments where he gets to break out and get a full-throated laugh of his own, sometimes with his actions sometimes just by raising his eyebrows. He’s the heavy in the story, but the moments where he’s most memorable are where he’s comedically world-weary and knowing along with the reactions to the antics his partner gets into.

Which brings me to Gosling, who’s just fantastic here. His comedic timing and ability to go for it when the script and dialogue require it are superb and while he appears to be half-asleep for much of the movie, that’s in-character and serves to heighten the comedy. For all the attention he (deservedly) gets as a dramatic actor, the guy just seems to be inherently funny, knowing how to play a comedic scene in a classic, non-showy way. He’s the star here, make no bones about it.

There are two big areas where the campaign didn’t do the movie justice: First, it never really explains why all sorts of interested parties are after Amelia. That’s understandable to some extent since the marketing was trying to sell a vibe and the plot is so convoluted it’s hard to explain concisely, though it makes sense in context. Second, it doesn’t show how important Holly March (Angourie Rice), the young daughter of Gosling’s character, is to the story. She, even more than the two adult men, is largely responsible for piecing things together and finding clues they were missing. Also, Rice is really funny and good in her own right.

Again, if you were among those who missed The Nice Guys in theaters you owe it to yourself to fix that oversight as soon as possible.

How Often Should You Post To Your Blog

I feel a great deal of anxiety when I get toward the end of a day ad realize I haven’t posted anything to my blog. A knot begins to form in the pit of my stomach as I consider what opportunities I might have missed to share my thoughts. Not that everything here is world-changing or encompassing the best, most insightful commentary, but still, as a writer I loathe missing any chance to write on topics ranging from personal to professional.


That stress has only increased in the time I’ve been looking for full-time work and as I’ve tried to piece together some freelance work. If this is the field I want to be in, and if this blog/site is going to be the central hub around which I’m building my thought-leadership and public persona, then I need to be contributing to it regularly, right? That’s not necessarily the case, regardless of what the incessant voice in my head would have me believe.

Advice about posting frequency comes in all flavors and sizes. You can find one study advocating for daily posting and one saying once a week is fine, with both offering the same lists of benefits for its point of view as well as pitfalls for the opposing stance. Whatever your preconceived notion or opinion might be, there will be someone with data on pageviews and other metrics that tell you it’s the right approach for you. My advice has always been to ignore this data as much as possible.

That’s even been my opinion when it comes to corporate blog and social media programs I’ve worked on. Generalized data pulled from dozens – if not hundreds – of sources and averaged out has been less than useless in my line of work. I don’t care how much of an industry bigshot someone is, if they’re outside of the program then their opinion carries almost no weight in my mind.

Instead I’ve always advocated for frequency of posting being a decision best made on the feeling and art of the program rather than the science of hard-and-fast numbers. Do what feels right. If you’re longing to write something on a particular topic and that topic makes sense for the program (or you as an individual) then go for it. It doesn’t matter if it’s the third or thirteenth post that week. Make a case for it and make it happen if you feel strongly about it. Don’t be afraid to publish often but also don’t feel beholden to the anxiety that can come from adhering to a daily posting schedule.

There are caveats to the above points, of course. While outside stats should be weighted lightly, internal program stats should play an important part. So if your own numbers show a dropoff in interest after three posts a day, adjust accordingly. If they’re still rising after 10 posts in a week, there’s some room to indulge yourself a bit more.

Most importantly – and this is what I keep telling myself – it’s important to post when you feel it’s appropriate. Forcing the issue and saying “Well, I need to write today so here I am writing” is unnatural and will come off as inauthentic to the readers. If there’s nothing about which you feel strongly enough to opine, don’t push it. You’re going to do more damage to yourself and irritate your audience. They’ll sense the pressure and react negatively. Don’t do it. That’s not to say that holding yourself to a daily (or otherwise regular) routine is bad. As with physical exercise, writing involves a set of muscles you may not always feel particularly motivated to utilize but which are important to flex nonetheless.

So finding the balance point between those two points is astoundingly important. Write regularly and deliver on the audience expectations you’ve set. But don’t try and create something simply for the sake of creating it. That’s the trap which cable news and others have fallen into, where a controversy or inflammatory opinion has to be held by someone in order to create drama. Find what’s working for you, what’s advancing your goals and what feels good. Anything less, no matter how many studies an approach might be based on, has the potential to turn against you and derail your efforts.

Picking Up the Spare: Deadpool and More



  • There’s a narrative that’s gaining steam in the entertainment press that Deadpool could be an Academy Awards contender, with stories in The New York Times, Variety and elsewhere furthering that perspective. The idea seems to be that the movie was so nervy – and that the experiment paid off – that it deserves some sort of consideration by the staid Academy members. I’m not sure I completely buy that line of thought, though. While it certainly captured the zeitgeist of the moment there was little about the filmmaking itself that jumps out at me as being among the best of the year. It was fun to be sure, but this seems to pin hopes on the Academy wanting to appear hip and with it, a role it’s not really embraced in the past.


  • Those who worked on the campaigns for Deadpool, The Jungle Book and many other movies have been nominated for Maxwell Weinberg publicist showmanship motion picture awards.