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Movie Marketing Madness: The Lost City of Z

Charlie Hunnam stars as real-life explorer Percy Fawcett in this week’s new release The Lost City of Z. The movie tells the true story of Fawcett’s quest to find evidence of an advanced civilization that once inhabited the darkest interior of the Amazon rainforest. His colleagues believe he’s on a wild goose chase, seeking nothing but backwards savages, but he’s determined to find evidence they not only existed but were ahead of their time.

That quest becomes somewhat of an obsession for Fawcett. Over the years he returns to the area time and time again to try and prove his theory, trips that begin to alienate him from his wife Nina (Sienna Miller), who supported him but who begins to see his beliefs driving him crazy. Ultimately his obsession leads to his apparent demise as Fawcett disappears in 1925 while on one such exploratory trip.

The Posters

The first poster sets out the basic idea that this is about a trek into the deepest, darkest jungle. A small group of people stand around a campfire in the foreground, a fire in the middle of the circle. A light winds from that encampment up the mountain, which is otherwise shrouded in darkness.We’re told this is “Based on the best-selling true story” but it’s surprising that Hunnam isn’t featured here more prominently.

Another poster switches the perspective and features a close-up of Hunnam as he’s crouching down, apparently contemplating the next move as he navigates the jungle. A large quote from an early review, along with four stars, takes up the top right of the design and below the cast credits and title is a long couple sentences that explain Fawcett’s backstory to help convince the audience that this is based on a true story. It’s alright, but the wider scale of the earlier poster works a bit better because it shows the scope of the world the characters are entering.

The Trailers

The first teaser trailer lays out a story of obsession. We meet Fawcett and hear him talk about how he’s determined to find a missing city somewhere in the jungle, despite the warnings and other input from those around him. That’s about all the story we get, though, as the majority of the trailer is just footage of Fawcett and his team moving through the jungle and encountering natives, who may or may not be friendly.

It’s not bad and does work as a pure teaser, setting the stage but not revealing too much about the story or other plot details.

The full trailer takes that emphasis on obsession and amps it up a bit. We get more of what’s driving Fawcett and why he’s so intent on finding “Zed,” the lost city he’s convinced a few wealthy patrons to finance his search for. But we also that his focus borders on dangerous and self-destructive, not only to the extent that he ignores and neglects his wife and family but that he doesn’t seem to realize he’s diving deeper and deeper into madness and losing that family along the way.

Online and Social

The official website opens with full-motion video that’s pulled from the trailer showing the journey into the heart of the Amazon. There’s a big “Get Tickets” button on the page below the title and that’s the first option in the content menu at the top of the page with the exception of links to the movie’s Facebook and Twitter profiles.

“Videos” is the next link and is where you can watch the two trailers already mentioned above. “Story” then has a detailed description of the plot of the movie, explaining Fawcett’s motivations and situation, emphasizing how this is based on a true story. Finally there’s “Book” which is a link to buy the source book on Amazon, which makes sense considering the movie is being distributed by Amazon Studios.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

No paid efforts I’m aware of, though once it’s actually in theaters it’s easy to assume there will be some online advertising done. The odds of that go up a few months down the road when it’s available on-demand through Amazon.

Media and Publicity

Last year’s New York Film Festival hosted the movie’s first screening, including a Q&A with the cast and crew and it was there Amazon and Bleecker Street announced its release date.

A first-look photo a few months later was accompanied by an interview with Hunnam about the movie, how he got into character and more. More photos came out over time. Much later on director James Gray talked about the themes of racism and more that are prevalent in the story and how he thought this was an appropriate time to bring such issues to light.

Director James Gray talked about the technical challenges of shooting the movie and stars Hunnam and Robert Pattinson also did some media work to promote the movie in the weeks leading up to release.

Overall

I’m left a little cold by this campaign. That might be because I can’t identify Hunnam as a distinct or notable actor or personality for any longer than I’m actively looking at his face. He’s a cipher to me, someone I never recognize until I’m told who he is and without any defining characteristics of his own. It might be because the story comes off as singularly unexciting and lack any drama of note. The campaign wants us to really get invested in Fawcett’s journey, but he comes off as a bland, whiny individual who ignores everyone around him for no good reason other than because he won’t give up his beliefs. It wants to be Moby Dick, but it comes off more petulant than tragically obsessive.

The campaign is, though, nicely consistent across all the different elements. All of it plays up the lush, if dark, visuals of the journey through the jungle. Even the shots of the London clubs and backrooms where Fawcett works out the logistics of his journey are presented as dusty and poorly-lit. The best parts of the marketing are the ones that emphasize the scale of the adventure as opposed to the more personal story. That might seem counter-intuitive, but the former makes the case for a story about man dealing with the harsh reality of untamed nature as opposed to one man who can’t let go of an idea that may ultimately destroy him.

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