My latest post at Adweek dives a bit more deeply into some aspects of the IT marketing campaign I didn’t focus on last week to see what it was that helped make the movie a success.
It, the film adaptation of Stephen King’s best-selling 1986 novel of the same name, was an unexpectedly big hit at the box-office this weekend. Days before release, the smart money was on ticket sales of $50-60 million, which would have been totally respectable. The $123 million take that It pulled in was well above even the most aggressive expectations, leading to the widespread belief that Warner Bros./New Line will greenlight a sequel that adapts the second half of the book, where the kids from the first part have grown up but find Pennywise the clown isn’t yet defeated. So, what lessons can we learn from the marketing of a movie about an ancient evil that takes the form of a clown with a red balloon?
My latest post on Adfreak was my way of reminding everyone that the only proper response to Nazis or anyone claiming to be the “master race” is at the very least a good swift right hook to the jaw.
For more than 50 years, Nazis were a good go-to antagonist for movies. Not only were they unquestioningly evil, but the stakes were implied by their presence: World domination, mass extermination of those deemed “undesirable,” and the collapse of the Western world.
In the past 15 years or so, they’ve been replaced to some extent by Middle East terrorists, who provide similar built-in stakes and seemed more relevant to the moment. World War II, after all, ended over 70 years ago, and those who fought in that conflict are disappearing every day. Young people in America today primarily know a world where non-white people are the go-to enemy, both in politics and popular entertainment.
In light of (cough) recent events, it’s worth revisiting the trailers for six movies that made it clear that America’s preferred response to those violently espousing Nazi ideology was a swift punch in the jaw.
My latest post over at Adfreak looks at how despite being a well-known author, the movies based on his work haven’t always used Stephen King’s name as a major selling point:
King is a household name, with his books gracing many a family trip to the beach for the weekend. To date, there have been over 60 feature-film adaptations of novels, novellas or short stories from the author, along with dozens of retellings on TV. That number will grow even before the end of the year, with a new version of It (previously adapted as a TV mini-series in 1990) coming to theaters and Netflix releasing an adaptation of Gerald’s Game.
So, with King working hard to keep his name and work at the top of the pop-culture pile, it’s a good time to look back at how that name has been used in the marketing for just a handful of previous movies based on his writings.
My latest post at Adweek is about the marketing of The War For The Planet Of The Apes and Hollywood’s rule about how nothing can ever really end:
There’s an unwritten rule in Hollywood—or it may actually be written down, considering how pervasive it is—that nothing can ever end. Franchises built on existing intellectual property, whether adapted from previous media or sprung wholly on film, are the key to success, according to the big movie studios.
Not only can the marketing never tell the audience this is the last time they’ll see these characters (they may not feel it’s worth the effort), but you have to actively take the opposite approach and make every movie a small part of a bigger picture. It’s an approach perfected by Marvel Studios, and since used in the campaigns for The Mummy, King Arthur and other movies, though those efforts have largely failed to launch.
My latest post on The Drum uses two recent releases to compare and contrast the approaches Amazon Studios and Netflix take in marketing their original movies:
Amazon put out The Big Sick, a slightly-fictionalized version of the real story of how Kumail Nanjiani (who plays himself) and Emily V. Gordon (played by Zoe Kazan) met and how her sudden illness defined their relationship at an early point. Netflix put out Okja, the latest movie from director Joon-ho Bong that tells the story of a young girl who needs to rescue her pet super-pig from the clutches of an evil and greedy corporation.
Both movies have received positive reviews. The Big Sick has been praised for its unconventional take on romance and relationship comedies. Okja has been hailed as “the first great Netflix original movie.”
The key difference between them? Amazon, in partnership with Lionsgate, put The Big Sick in theaters before it’s available on its own streaming network. Okja, on the other hand, was made available immediately to subscribers of its streaming service. It’s that difference in release mindset that’s made Amazon, to date, somewhat more attractive to filmmakers since theatrical release is still the ultimate possible outcome.
My latest for Adfreak covers a campaign for Spider-Man: Homecoming that enlisted a number of YouTube stars to create their own Spidey costume:
To return to that handmade concept, Sony Pictures reached out to digital content agency Portal A, which launched the Spider-Man DIY campaign. The agency was tasked by Sony to produce a video that was focused on the costume, and so Portal A recruited a number of YouTube stars, including RoxyRocksTV, AWE me, RobotUnderdog2, TechnoBuffalo and Professor Pincushion.
Those stars were brought to a special “Spidey Lab,” created by the agency, and given the job of creating their own Spider-Man suit. The five influencers were brought into the custom-built design studio at YouTube’s L.A. headquarters, stocked via a partnership with Goodwill, and given access to whatever materials they needed to bring their vision to life. At the same time, fans on Twitter were asked to submit their own custom Spider-Man suit designs using the #SpiderManDIY hashtag for a chance to win a trip to the movie’s world premiere.
“…just like De Niro in Casino.” we hear Will Ferrell’s Scott Johansen say in the trailer for The House as he considers sending a very painful message to a gambler who’s been cheating. That callback to the Martin Scorsese-directed crime drama is all the excuse I need to use it as the basis for this week’s Flashback movie marketing review.
Casino, released in 1995, was very much seen as a follow-up of sorts to 1990’s Goodfellas, with both movies not only directed by Scorsese but featuring both Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci. De Niro plays Sam Rothstein, an underworld-connected entrepreneur who, with his partner Nicky (Pesci) move to Las Vegas to make their millions on the gambling scene of the mid-1970s. The two work alright together but eventually come into conflict not just over the direction of the business but over the affections of Ginger (Sharon Stone), who Sam has married but who Nicky lusts after. As should be expected, things get violent and filled with vengeance.
The movie has never been my favorite Scorsese picture, mostly because it felt like a glitzier take on Goodfellas, a lesser-than follow-up as the talent tried to capture lightning in a bottle twice. But it’s maintained a good reputation, mostly because of its epic scale and amazing visuals, for which Scorsese truly deserves credit.
The poster is designed to trade almost solely on the star power involved and evoke the previous movie from this team. The floating heads of De Niro, Pesci and Stone are all arranged against a black sky that lingers above what’s clearly the Las Vegas Strip, brightly lit at the bottom of the image. It’s simple, slick and uses the actors as the primary selling point. The slight orange glow everyone has is in keeping with the visual aesthetic of the movie itself, which is drenched in that coloring to symbolize the mix of desert sun and harsh neon Vegas is filled with and known for.
Thetrailer starts off with Sam talking about how good he is and how big his casino is. Standard shots of money being loaded and unloaded follow. Sam is offered his own casino operation as a reward for his loyalty and success. Nicky comes out but it’s clear his tough guy style is going to cause friction in the more refined waters of Vegas. Sam begins courting Ginger, a waitress, and marries her. Then things start to go south, particularly because of Nicky’s reckless and violent behavior. Ginger starts threatening to talk to the Feds, Nicky gets more and more unpredictable and all the time Sam wants to keep things together, asking for total trust and that people just listen to him because he knows what’s best.
Like the poster, it knows exactly what it wants the audience to take away, which is that this is a reteaming of the core players from Goodfellas but this time with the action taking place in 1970s Las Vegas. It’s filled with violence and hints at betrayal among the various thieves and mobsters, all while maintaining a flashy veneer that covers the ugly motivations and actions of the characters, much like Vegas itself.
Both of these elements work very well together, giving off the same brand look and feel and making the same basic appeal to audiences, which is that this is a high-quality movie from people you enjoy working together once more. It never explicitly name-drops Goodfellas, but it doesn’t need to, the implication is there, though the campaign still stands just fine on its own. And special shoutout to the music used in the trailer, though while the Rolling Stones song is great the fact that “Layla” isn’t heard here means a major moment in the story isn’t even mildly spoiled.
Religious humor is funny, at least if you’re the kind of person who can laugh at themselves to any extent. Seeking to test the boundaries of even that concept is this week’s The Little Hours. Based in part off a section of The Decameron, a 14th-century Italian collection of short stories, the movie stars Aubrey Plaza, Alison Brie, Kate Mucuci and Molly Shannon as nuns in a convenient overseen by a priest played by Fred Armisen.
These aren’t your conventional nuns, though. Not only do they drink, swear, threaten the local farmers and have wanton sex, they…well, there’s no kicker there. They do all that. One day a young man played by Dave Franco seeks shelter in the convent, passing himself off as a deaf mute so as not to draw attention to himself. But his presence in the convent just adds another to a long list of temptations the sisters already can’t resist.
The first poster is pretty on-point thematically. It’s meant to look like a stained-glass window and features an image of Reilly standing over the other characters like he’s a prophet or something, with everyone else dressed in the garb of a convent. It’s not all that funny, but it conveys the basic premise that the story takes place in a religious setting well, so we’ll call it a success.
Another poster took the same approach, framing all the main characters in a halo of heavenly light. This time at least the faces of the actors are more clearly shown. There’s no tagline or copy, just some positive critic’s quotes at the top.
A series of character posters put each one of the major characters within an angelic glow that’s undercut by the often horribly-inappropriate quote from them. These are pretty funny.
Thered-band trailer that really kicked off the marketing starts off serenely enough, right up to the moment a couple nuns tell a passing farmer to fuck off. From there on out the story and characters are presented within the framing device of a priest enumerating the sins of those nuns, which are plentiful and graphic. We see scenes of the the incredibly inappropriate things that happen, which are too plentiful to describe.
I can’t believe I just saw that and I immediately need to watch it.
Agreen-band trailer came later that told pretty much the same story, just without the cursing and overt sexiness. There’s a bit more context about how Brie’s Allesandra wants to get married and not be a nun, but that’s about it in terms of new material.
Online and Social
The pretty simpleofficial website is in keeping with the small scale of the release. Two big buttons in the middle of the page encourage you to either “See the Film,” which takes you down the page to the list of theaters it’s playing at now and a calendar for future expansion, or “Watch Trailer” which offers you the option of the red-band or green-band versions to enjoy.
Scroll down the site and you’ll see a story “Synopsis” that decently recaps the plot of the movie and shares some of the credits. Keep going and there are photos and short bios for the cast. Then there’s the same list of theaters it is or will be playing at, the trailers and a “Gallery” of stills. Up at the top of the page there are also links to the movie’sFacebook,Twitter andInstagram profiles.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
The only paid efforts I’ve seen so far are some promoted posts on Twitter and Facebook that have used the trailers to drive ticket sales. Not surprising this would be a movie that’s hard to translate into TV spots and may not be big enough to warrant a sizable online or outdoor push.
Media and Publicity
Just before it premiered at Sundance there was a first look still released along with a brief synopsis. More photos followed just a week or so before Sundance, where it was eventually picked up for distribution.
Plaza would bring up the movie and her research for the role in various other interviews about other projects. Of course some of the publicity was pretty off the wall, including a video of Plaza smoking and discussing weedwith a couple of nuns.
Plaza and others involved in production talkedhere about the journey the story took over years of drafting and such as well as how the shoot was largely improvisational and how the Catholic League has (predictably) gone after it.
Baena and Plaza did ajoint interview where they talked more about making the movie and what it was like to adapt something like this and make it this outrageous. Franco also had a fewopportunities to weigh in, especially on the love scene he had to shoot while real-life wife Brie was on-set.
I feel like this campaign is the very definition of “only going to appeal to a select group.” It’s foul-mouthed, borderline blasphemous and completely off the deep end. There’s no attempt to actually adhere to the period the story takes place in, nor is there any to make the main characters anything but wholly unlikable. It’s not a big enough campaign to reach a mass audience and a good portion of the niche it does reach will be actively turned off by some aspect of what’s on display.
On the other hand, it leans into being unlikable and accepts that as its brand identify. It’s actively and aggressively and intentionally unlikable. If you can just focus on the material and humor and not get caught up in thinking too much about it (looking at you, Catholic League), the campaign promises a raunchy good time with some of the best young comedians working today.
In Entertainment Weekly yesterday, Anthony Beznican ponders whether, in the wake of so many replacements on high-profile films, the era of the director is coming to an end. It may seem like a kind of click-bait, outrageous premise like the claimthat’s made every two or three years that traditional advertising is dead or some such. But Beznican has at least somewhat of a point, largely the same one that lends some credence to the similar argument that “movie stars are dead.”
The truth behind both is that these individuals are less and less important to why people see large-scale mainstream movies. They’re drawn, the logic goes, more to the franchises regardless of who is starring in them or, in this case, who’s directing them. Star Wars is bigger than any one director or any actor, so it doesn’t impact anything. That goes hand in hand with the rise of the producer as a guiding creative force as Kevin Feige, Kathleen Kennedy and others take more of a proactive role across movies that lends consistency to multiple entries in a franchise.
The secondary status being assigned to directors is evident in the marketing of some recent massive franchise entries.
Everyone in film news/gossip circles knew Gareth Edwards was directing Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, even before the reports of dissatisfaction at Lucasfilm that lead to massive reshoots and reediting began to trickle out. But while his name appears on the poster, it’s nowhere to be found in the trailers. The same is even true of the trailer for Thor: Ragnorak, for which Marvel went out and signed Taika Waititi, who had an incredible reputation after directing What We Do In The Shadows and The Hunt For The Wilderpeople. Even Patti Jenkins, the first woman to helm a superhero film, didn’t rate billing in the trailer for Wonder Woman, though she’s been hailed in the industry press for setting the movie’s tone.
In all of these cases the story and the characters are more important than the people who stood behind the lens and helped make the movie. They are incidental and not seen as a relevant factor the audience will consider when deciding what to see in the theater.
Contrast that to the trailers for Dunkirk, Baby Driver or The Beguiled, all of which prominently display the names of Christopher Nolan, Edgar Wright and Sofia Coppola, respectively. In all those cases the calculous by the studios says that yes, there’s enough brand recognition in the director’s name that it will result in X number more people deciding to see the movie. These are smaller films that will live and die not on how many Entertainment Weekly cover stories are secured but by the buzz that circulates among fans both online and off.
So for smaller movies calling out the director can have a great positive impact. For bigger ones it’s seen as something that can help, but that doesn’t mean if the movie flops the director won’t be the first one in line to be thrown under the bus. If Wonder Woman had failed Jenkins would have been tagged as part of the problem. Edwards was immediately criticized for the storytelling issues in Rogue One. Josh Trank was singled out as a big factor in making 2015’s Fantastic Four the muddled, incoherent mess it is, but he’s nowhere to be found in the trailer.
It’s a wonder then that directors keep signing on to these franchise pictures. They get little of the credit – with the exception of Jenkins, but that was part of a bigger press narrative – but will shoulder most of the blame. They can be replaced easily, like a lightbulb that’s gone out. Sure, it’s an easy paycheck (at least that’s how it might look) but they see little benefit from it. Joss Whedon hasn’t used his Avengers success to make a series of more personal movies but has instead gone across the aisle to help DC/WB with both Justice League and Batgirl. We can only hope Waititi, Jenkins, Colin Treverrow and others get more opportunities to tell the kind of small stories they excelled at before signing on for bigger projects.
Until something changes with the priorities Hollywood has toward the movies it makes, it’s likely directors will continue to get the fuzzy end of the lollipop when it comes to not only their treatment overall but also how they’re presented in the marketing.