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The Style and Substance of Edgar Wright’s Movie Trailers

Director Edgar Wright has not only provided us with some of the funniest movies of the 15 years but some of the most visually inventive. Not content to just point a camera and have the actors be vaguely funny in front of it, Wright uses every frame available to him and combines it with whipsmart writing to create movies that don’t feel like anything else. That’s what has lead to him not only being one of the best filmmakers of the last two decades but one that hardcore film fans will clamor over at any available opportunity.

With his latest movie Baby Driver hitting theaters this weekend it’s a good opportunity to look back at the trailers for his previous four directorial efforts and see how they’ve sold his unique cinematic vision to audiences.

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Just look at the visual style that’s on display as the trailer opens. Simon Pegg’s Shaun is introduced with a bit of misdirection, showing his dragging zombie-like feet before eventually revealing no, he’s just still waking up. But really, that sequence that follows tells the audience right away everything they need to know about Wright. It’s’ a quick montage of toast being topped with jam, teeth being brushed and more. When the zombie apocalypse actually kicks in the laughs ramp up but the camera cuts, musical cues and staging of both the laughs and the action make it clear this is not our usual comedy, nor is it our usual zombie flick.

Hot Fuzz (2007)

Once more the first image that greets the audience in the trailer is of Pegg’s feet, though this time he plays an obsessively by-the-book police inspector. The following montage once again establishes a lot about the character, showing how he was sent away because he was too good, and what the movie is going to look like. The setting might be a quiet English village but the action is non-stop and the flashy cuts and consistently-moving camera shows there’s more going on here than in your average action comedy.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (2010)

The only movie (before Baby Driver) Wright made without collaborators Pegg and Frost didn’t mean he ditched his unique visual style, which is clear in the trailer. The same sort of super-slick look and feel is here as is the fact that he has more on his mind than just mildly-funny dialogue. True, the special effects owe greatly to the incredible look of the source comic, but it really took someone with the sensibilities of Wright to make them come to life. It very much looks like it’s on-brand for the director while also being something that’s outside his usual wheelhouse.

The World’s End (2013)

This trailer takes a slightly different tack, setting out the basic premise of a group of childhood friends who reunite to finally finish the pub crawl they started 20 years ago. Again, the quick cuts and funky visuals show that we’re dealing with someone who knows how to frame a shot. Not just that, but how to have every frame be part of the story. So we see the very unusual situation they find themselves in as they return to their hometown. Cool music accompanies and underscores the action, which is also reinforced through the little bits of dialogue that are shared.

It’s About Substance, Not Just Style

While the visuals are certainly at the forefront of the trailers for Wright’s movies, there’s more going on.

Those visuals are just what’s most easily noticed by the casual viewer. Look at what’s going on with all of these, though, and you’ll see that the visuals tell you a lot about the tone of the movie and the attitudes of the characters. Pegg’s introductions in those three movies are both immediately able to be comprehended and then surprising as those expectations are upended. Frost often plays the foil and is shown reacting in some manner to what Pegg’s characters are up to, but he also gets some of the best bits because of that.

The characters in Edgar Wright movies don’t react like similar characters in other movies would. When Ed in Shaun of the Dead sees Shaun being attacked by a zombie, he gets them to turn so he can get a picture. When the group on The World’s End finally realize there’s an alien invasion happening in their town, Gary’s suggestion is they go finish their beers.

These trailers need to convey the visual aesthetic, those unexpected character moments and the high concepts of the stories. It’s not just a zombie movie, it’s a zombie movie that’s also a relationship comedy. It’s not just a police procedural, it’s an action comedy that’s hyper-aware of how self-referential it is toward other movies.

Those outrageous concepts are part of what have attracted people of discerning tastes to Wright’s movies. The trailers for his movies – and this is certainly a trend that continues with Baby Driver – sell all of this, promising audiences an experience at the theater that’s unlike the latest lazily-named Will Ferrell or Jason Bateman comedy. There’s a lot going on in the movies and that’s all on display in the marketing for them.

Movie Marketing Madness: Baby Driver

Director Edgar Wright is back, bringing his unique cinematic storytelling sensibilities to this week’s new release Baby Driver. Far from his collaborations with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, this new movie isn’t a genre satire but instead a crime thriller with musical sensibilities. The story follows Baby (Ansel Elgort), a savant behind the wheel of a car who uses music to compensate for an incessant buzzing in his ears. Baby is in hock to Doc (Kevin Spacey), a crime boss who uses Baby as a getaway driver for his heists.

Baby is tired of the life and wants to get out. That desire only increases when he meets Debora (Lily James), a beautiful young waitress who he immediately falls in love with, and vice versa. Those plans to escape a life of aiding and abetting crime are hampered by Doc’s insistence Baby help him out with one more score. But as the plans come together it looks more and more doomed to fail and Baby must decide when and how to make his stand and make his own getaway with Debora.

The Posters

“All you need is one killer track” we’re told on the first poster. Along with the title and the cast list the main element on the poster is a car that’s tearing away as if it’s being shot out of a gun. It’s simple but it’s great, a very artistic effort that thankfully just doesn’t show the big heads of the cast.

The artistic direction of the poster campaign continued on the second one-sheet. This one is more focused on the entire cast, with images of all the major players arrayed here. The fact that this looks painted, though, in conjunction with the bright pink background and the action shot of the car on the highway at the bottom makes it much more interesting than the usual collage of photos you see. It looks like the cover to a comics trade paperback collection. The same copy point from the first poster is used here as well.

Each character gets their own poster in a cool-looking series that features a pop-art looking background and a key quote from them. These are a very cool way to show off all the big names individually while maintaining the movie’s overall brand identity of snazzy visuals.

The Trailers

We meet Baby as the trailer starts. He’s flirting with a diner waitress who’s interested in his job and he’s a bit evasive. He tells her he’s a driver but we see he actually means a getaway driver for some very unsavory people. Then we find out via some exposition why Baby is always sporting earphones and listening to music. He’s warned by various bad guys about the danger of forming any connections but also see that he can’t extricate himself from the violent criminal life he’s in the middle of.

It’s insane, the movie that’s presented here. It looks fast and funny and bright and just great. It’s not the kind of thing we might normally expect from Wright, but that’s alright since he’s made a career of defying expectations. There’s just a lot of fun stuff going on here as the characters and situations are all introduced.

The second trailer is even more focused on style and attitude, working to present the movie as the coolest cinematic choice out there. It heavily features the positive reviews it’s already received from early screenings and has the great soundtrack that’s been assembled at its core. There’s minimal story here, just vibe.

Online and Social

The movie’s official website plays the “TeKillYeh” trailer when you load it up, so settle in and watch it again as you like. Close that and you get a full-screen version of the key art of the car being shot from the gun. A big prompt to “Get Tickets” is toward the middle of the page by the title and links to the Twitter, Facebook and Instagram profiles sit in the upper right corner.

Opening up the drop-down menu in the upper-left, the first link there is to “Trailer” which plays the same trailer that opened the site. After that is “About” which has a brief story synopsis.

You can see the talent that made the movie in the “Cast & Crew” section, but there aren’t any bios or links to dive in any deeper. “Partners” has the information on the few companies who signed up to help with promotion. Finally there’s a prompt to “Get Exclusive Content” that takes you to an email registration form.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV spots like this one boiled down the story to its core elements of Baby being an extremely-talented driver who may not be on the right side of the law. There’s a bit about the romance with Deborah and it makes it clear the movie is powered by some great tunes.

When it came to promotional partners, the movie signed up:

  • Alpha Industries, which created a movie-inspired line of apparel, with jackets named after six of the movie’s main characters.
  • New Era Cap, but details on that promotion weren’t readily apparent.
  • Subaru, which is using the movie to promote its WRX model.
  • Urban Outfitters, which offered an exclusive t-shirt and vinyl version of the soundtrack.

Online ads used some version of the key art and the trailers were heavily used for social media ads that drove views and interest in ticket sales.

Media and Publicity

While there was no lack of buzz for the movie (as is expected for Wright’s features), the first official look came in EW’s 2017 preview issue along with an interview with the director. It was later announced as one of the movies that would screen at SXSW Film, a screening that went very well.

The clear sense of unique style on display in the first trailer and posters lead to a bevy of fan art from designers and other creatives who were inspired by it, leading to some nice organic word-of-mouth for a movie that isn’t a big franchise release.

There was a profile of Eiza Gonzalez, who plays one of the criminals in Doc’s crew, that talks about her career in telenovelas and other shows to date as well as how she got the role in this movie. Wright also talked about how it had been 20 years since he came up with the idea for the movie, which came to him while listening to music unsurprisingly.

Elgort of course did a bit of press, talking about how he got into the movie, his career and fame level so far, what he’d like to do next and more. And of course given the movie’s focus on music the cast was asked for their guilty pleasure songs.

That’s just a small part of the press push, though, as Wright and Elgort in particular lead up the effort to go talk about the movie, its inspirations, its music, their careers so far and related topics. Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Spacey and other members of the cast also got involved to varying degrees to play up their involvement, talk about working with Wright and so on.

Overall

There are a couple things going on with this campaign.

First, the formal marketing is almost solely focused around the music. Even when the story is being laid out or emphasized, the angle is on how that story is supported by the music that’s included on the soundtrack. Posts on social media have come with the look and feel of mixtapes and cassette singles and, as I wrote about a few weeks ago, one of the final trailers is more interested in the music than it is anything else about what might appeal to moviegoers. That angle was also heavily used in the press push.

Second, there’s the appeal of Edgar Wright himself. He has a great reputation among film geeks with his Cornetto Trilogy and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, in addition to his fabled work on and then firing from Ant Man a few years ago, something that came back up in the last bit of press interviews. His name isn’t plastered over everything, but it’s noticeable enough that if you’re prone to give his movies extra consideration, you’ll catch it.

All that adds up to what’s being sold as just a fun time at the movies. The whole campaign has that fast and loose attitude, much like the driving that’s on display. You’ll tap your toes and watch intently, just like if you’re cruising down the highway with the windows open and your own personal soundtrack blaring from your car speakers. To finish up the metaphor, the marketing hits the gas and keeps going, showing enough of the characters to make you care about their fate but also selling more legit car action than any three Fast / Furious movies combined.

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Imagining A Superman: Red Son Movie Marketing Campaign

News has been bouncing around online today that Warner Bros. is at the very least kinda sorta considering the idea of creating a feature film version of the Superman: Red Son story from the comics, hearing pitches from various directors about how they’d tackle the project.

If you’re not familiar, Red Son is what DC Comics usually refers to as an “Elseworlds” story, one that takes place in an alternate reality that’s completely separate from the main DC Universe. There’s always the potential for universes to collide, of course, and various mainstream character have bumped into this incarnation of the Man of Steel from time to time, but it’s not part of “our” world.

Everyone knows Kal El crash-landed in Kansas, U.S.A.. What Red Son, as written by Mark Millar in 2003, presupposes is: What if he didn’t? What if instead he landed in the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War? Instead of being brought up to embody the spirit of small town America, where you help everyone and believe justice prevails, Kal is instead raised in Ukraine to believe in the expansion of socialism and the almighty, unquestioned power of the soviet collective.

While the comic, released in a three-issue “prestige” format, came out 14 years ago, the political winds have shifted since then. Where Russia was considered for decades as being, in general, an opponent of the U.S., now America’s ruling political party is alternatively denying collaborating on election tampering with Russian state actors or saying even if they were that’s not even a crime, man. So relations with the former Soviet Union are at an odd place in history. All of that would make a marketing campaign for the movie…well, it would be interesting to watch. Let’s do some speculating:

The Hypothetical Poster

It’s easy to imagine WB adhering fairly closely to the trade dress for the collected edition of the comics, which shows Superman standing upon a platform that’s shaped like his traditional symbol but with the Soviet hammer and sickle inside it instead of the “S” that we all know. The same symbol adorns his costume, which is now not blue, red and yellow but dark brown and red, the colors of the Soviet Union.

That might be a tad overt for the mainstream U.S. audience, though. Instead a poster might take a more mysterious approach, showing Superman largely from the rear, perhaps walking away from the camera and toward something that’s clearly Russian like the Kremlin building in Moscow. The symbol doesn’t have to be shown since, again, it would might be a bit much to swallow. So it’s going to use shadows, shading and other visual cues to sell the idea of an alternate, non-traditional Superman. It doesn’t have to explicitly sell the idea of a Soviet Superman, just one that’s not Christopher Reeve.

The Hypothetical Trailer

A teaser would take a similar approach to what I’ve outlined above for the poster, hinting and teasing the idea that this Superman isn’t who we’ve all known for 75+ years. In fact a slow-motion shot of him walking toward the Kremlin as we see more aspects of his different costume are shown could be supplemented with title cards that lay out the premise, that at the height of the Cold War a strange alien craft crashed in a rural part of the Soviet Union. The alien aboard grew up to fight not for liberty and justice, but for the forces that opposed those ideals.

A full trailer would be a bit more difficult in terms of masking the very, very Russian tone of the story. We’d have to see Kal’s craft landing on the Ukraine farm and the child being whisked off by government agents to test him. I’m imagining a montage of Kal’s strength being tested that, in my head, plays out like Drago’s training montage in Rocky IV.

This one could focus not on the political ideals of the characters but instead on the conflict between Superman and Lex Luthor, who in this story has been elected President of the United States. (This keeps getting too real.) Cut out the bits of the story that involve Luthor enlisting a Russian-trained version of Batman and using a cold, heartless characterization of Wonder Woman as bait and stick with selling it as Superman vs. Lex Luthor, the essence of any good Superman story.

OK, But Even So…

There are multiple elements of the source material that make it almost unfilmable, including Luthor creating a global American empire and curing all disease before living for 1,000 years, variations on the Green Lantern mythology, Brainiac’s involvement on both sides of the conflict and much more.

Beyond even the story logistics, though, it’s hard to see how this is successfully sold the audience. The current cinematic incarnation of Superman as played by Henry Cavill only has two movies under his belt, 2013’s Man of Steel and what amounted to a supporting role in 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. He’s been completely absent from 95% of the marketing to date for Justice League, coming later this year.

So would Cavill play Red Son Superman? How would the marketing convey to the audience that this is an alternate reality and not the same DC Cinematic Universe that only really got off the ground for fans with Wonder Woman? And how would the dark, dystopian tone of Red Son go over after Wonder Woman was praised by fans and critics alike for its hopeful, optimistically-heroic tone that was such a contrast to Man of Steel, BvS or Suicide Squad?

Those are the real questions Warner Bros. would have to answer as it not only produced but eventually sold a Red Son adaptation to the mass audience. While the project is still barely, if reports are accurate, in the larval stage, they’re still hanging out there and will have to be addressed before a single frame is shot.

Movie Marketing Madness: Despicable Me 3

despicable_me_three_ver3Universal and Illumination are back for another go around with Despicable Me 3, the second sequel in the surprisingly successful franchise that also spun-off Minions a couple years ago. As we saw by the end of the last movie Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) is now working for the good guys, having given up his life of villainy to be a better example to Margo, Edith and Agnes, the three girls he adopted in the first movie. In that fight he’s joined by his girlfriend Lucy (voiced by Kristen Wiig).

This time out though there are problems. After letting an 80s-themed villain slip past him he’s fired by the secret organization he’s been working for. That sets the stage for him to be reunited with Dru (also Carell), the long-lost twin brother he didn’t know he had. Dru wants Gru to embrace what turns out to be the family business of being a bad guy, but Gru isn’t sure which way he wants to go.

The Posters

Lots of white-space on the teaser poster, with Gru just popping his head up through a manhole cover and the promise of a summer release date here. It’s just about telling fans it’s coming. The next poster explains that we’re going to meet Gru’s identical twin brother and shows Gru does not appear to be thrilled by this.

A series of character posters showed the Minions clad in prison overalls and sporting various (adorable) tattoos that were, it seems, designed to show how tough and still evil they are.

The Trailers

The first trailer is primarily concerned with establishing the new villain for this movie, in this case a shoulder-pad-sporting bad guy who’s still obsessed with the 1980s. Balthazar Bratt is taking over a cargo ship, but Lucy and Gru are on the case and trying to stop him. That doesn’t go according to lan, of course, and Bratt fights with a keytar and more. Oddly, it’s not until the very end when we see the Minions pop up.

Yeah, it’s not bad. It’s certainly another Despicable Me movie. Gru, it seems, is now a full-on good guy, though he’s still a bit anti-social. Other than that it’s funny enough introducing a new villain with a schtick. And maybe the studio heard the comments about the Minions being a tad overdone in their solo movie by minimizing their role in this trailer.

The next trailer shows Gru being fired after failing to stop Bratt’s heist. That means he’s out of work and doesn’t take well to unemployment. Someone comes to find him on behalf of his twin brother, who Gru runs off to meet, only to find he’s a super-rich guy with lots of great hair. Dru wants Gru to give into his criminal heritage and help him pull off one last crime. The partnership is not without its speed bumps though, but the minions are certainly on board with more villainy.

Yeah, OK. It’s funny in its own way and explains more of the plot. The Minions are still being somewhat downplayed here, lending credence to the idea that Universal is holding them back a bit.

The final trailer starts out by explaining how it is Gru doesn’t know he has a twin brother, who when they reunite tries to lure him back into a world of crime. Nothing new or different here, just some scenes we haven’t seen before and a bit more of the Minions but otherwise it’s more of the same thematically.

Online and Social

You get full-screen video pulled from the trailer when you load up the official website. On the front page there’s a big prompt to buy tickets as well as a rotating carousel of features ranging from “Watch the Trailer” to “Pre-Order the Soundtrack” to “Create Your GIF,” which takes you to another site where you find a clip from one of the trailers and edit it into a GIF to be shared on social media. There are also links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Finally, there’s a “Partners” link at the bottom that takes you to more information on the partner companies the studio enlisted.

If you go to the drop-down menu at the left the first section is “About,” which has a decent write-up of the story. “Characters,” which is also labeled on the front page as “Meet the Good/Bad Guys,” has a small bio of the main characters, including the Minions. There are about seven stills in the “Gallery.” Finally “Videos” has the latest Pharrell Williams song along with trailers.

The movie as also one of the launch partners for Facebook’s new camera masks, which allow users to add some movie-themed element to their photos in the same way Snapchat filters work.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The paid campaign kicked off with TV spots that showed Gru celebrating his return to villainy while working with his twin brother. That’s a slightly different tack than was taken in the full trailers and outlines a different story for the audience, one that doesn’t show his reluctance to return to his former life.

Outdoor and online ads used the key art of Gru and Dru along with some Minions, of course.

In terms of promotional partners, there were quite a few, particularly of the food kind.

  • 23andMe, which used the movie’s story of finding family you didn’t know you had to sell its genetic testing services. This is a bit odd for a kids movie like this.
  • Bounty, which put movie branding on some rolls of its paper towels.
  • Kellogg’s, which put put out cobranded packaging and offered movie-themed treats in select snack boxes.
  • Chiquita, which put Minions on its banana stickers (which makes sense as those are the characters’ preferred snacks” and offered a sticker book to collect all of them as part of a challenge to win more prizes.
  • Yummy Spoonfuls, which ran a contest to win prizes if you submitted a photo of your “messy eater.”
  • McDonald’s, which put Minion toys in Happy Meals, though that U.S. promotion is nothing compared to what the fast food chain did in select Asian cities.
  • Puffs, but there aren’t any details on what this promotion is.
  • CandyMania, which offered a movie-themed casual game to play.
  • TicTacs, which ran a sweepstakes awarding a trip to Hawaii.
  • Nutella, which put out co-branded packaging and offered some movie-themed recipes that let you use the product to create Minion-shaped food.

Zumba, which created official choreography featuring instructor Toni Costa that was available only in Zumba classes.  

Media and Publicity

Carell talked about how he approached playing dual characters and how he found the accent for Dru along with the challenge of playing both brothers in an interview that included a first look photo from the movie.

A first look at some of the new Minions appearing in this movie also hinted at some story points the trailers haven’t gotten around to, including that the little yellow guys are more than just disappointed Gru isn’t returning to his criminal ways but actively and openly rebelling.

despicable-me-3 pic

The cast and crew did some media touring, of course, talking about how they felt with returning to the franchise as well as offering thoughts while attending the premiere. There was also a bit of a publicity pop around Zumba’s partnership involving a well-known trainer.

Overall

So this is an interesting little case study in marketing a film. It’s the third movie in the franchise, the second sequel to the original, which was a big hit and has become very popular. And it comes after the Minions spinoff, which was successful but not exactly a critical darling. But the Minions have also become a corporate calling card for Illumination, appearing as ambassadors of a sort in the trailers for Sing, The Lorax and other movies from the production studio. So not only have we seen them in the Despicable Me movies but their brand (yes, I said it) has become powerful enough to be used as shorthand for the studio’s overall output, a reason in and of themselves for people to see the movie.

As for the campaign itself, this is the most profound example of selling the promise of “more of what you’ve already enjoyed” I’ve seen in quite a while, even after having just dived into the latest Transformers marketing. Not only does it make it clear that Gru is still Gru and the Minions are still the Minions, it seems to be sold on the concept of apologizing in some way for the second movie offering changes to the characters, making it clear that everyone’s real inclinations are still toward villainy. So come see this, the campaign promises, because everyone’s getting back into character to some extent. It’s like if there was a sequel to Leaving Las Vegas where Nicolas Cage got sober and then a third one where Elizabeth Shue introduced him to his brother, a bartender.

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Movie Marketing Madness: Okja

Set in South Korea, the latest Netflix original film Okja is also the latest movie from director Bong Joon Ho, he of Snowpiercer, The Host and more. Okja is the name given to a massive mysterious beast that looks like an elephant crossed with a manatee and a pig who is the closest companion to Mija (An Seo Hyun). The two are always together in an idyllic life being lived with Mija’s family far-removed from much of civilization.

That all comes crashing down when Okja is taken by the Miranda Corporation, owned and run by Lucy Miranda (Tilda Swinton). The company has big plans for Okja, including using it as the basis for a revolution in meat production. Mija isn’t ready to see her friend permanently disappear, though, and sets out to rescue it, variously helped and hindered by individuals who have their own reasons for wanting to see Okja freed, even if it’s only long enough for them to exploit it.

The Posters

The poster – yes, Netflix actually created and released one – hammers home the movie’s story through metaphor. Okja is shown in the shadows being led by Mija, who’s walking ahead of it holding a leash. But mounted on Okja’s back is a factory, shown pushing out smoke from the stacks. It’s meant to be a literal interpretation of how the business in the movie is aiming to be built on the back of Okja and the leap forward it represents. Copy at the top makes it clear this is “A Netflix original film” and the Cannes logo is shown as well.

Not only did the movie get a regular poster it got a series of character posters, with personality traits for each person drawn on them like a map of cuts of meat on a pig or cow.

The Trailers

The first teaser trailer doesn’t explain much. It starts out with someone explaining how she’s managed to combine nature and science, but that’s about it. The other major part that’s revealed here is a brief look at Mija’s relationship with the titular beast. Again, not much here but it does do enough to create some sense of anticipation that there’s a whole world ready to be explored here.

The official trailer is much more story-centric, with Mirando talking about the scientific breakthrough the super pig represents and all the benefits it entails. All that is countered with footage of that pig in the woods with XXX until it’s recaptured by the corporation. An animal rights group comes along and promises to save Okja from the corporation, but that doesn’t go according to plan of course. Action and intrigue ensues.

Wow. That’s..unique and I really don’t know what to make of it.

In the next trailer we get even more cute shots of Okja and her friend out in the wilderness before it’s taken somewhere by people with their own agenda. She’s determined to get her pet/friend out, though, and we see some of the adventure that’s experienced along the way. It’s not much, but it’s a solid second effort that dropped just a couple weeks prior to release.

Online and Social

The movie’s only online platform is its Facebook page, which has been used to distribute various in-world videos from the Miranda Corporation, share cinemagraphs from the movie and more.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A very strange promotional item came in the form of a video message from Lucy Mirando (Blanchett) who talks about the immense benefits her company has provided. That turns dark for a moment but ultimately ends on a high note. The video debuted in what appears to have been a sponsored post on Wired that was meant to seem like actual coverage of the Mirando Corporation and its activities around the Super Pig Project. Oddly, that article was pulled from the site, though it still shows up in search, with the page throwing a “not found” error.

That to my knowledge is the only paid effort engaged in. No online ads were run that I’m aware of and certainly no TV spots have been aired.

Media and Publicity

The first look at the movie, including some storyboard concepts, came via EW along with a few details about the story. A bit later it was announced that, unlike many Netflix releases, this one would get theatrical distribution as well.

The movie was one of the handful that had its premiere at this year’s Cannes International Film Festival. That caused some controversy, though, as French projectionists objected to screening a movie that would not first get a theatrical release.

That Cannes screening became something of a lightning, focusing the debate over whether Netflix is good or bad for film in general. Some, including many actors and directors with past, current or upcoming projects at Netflix, pointed out that it was financing and releasing smaller movies that studios weren’t interested in and leaving talent alone to realize their vision. The counter argument seemed to be “If it’s not on a huge screen it’s not a real movie” which confuses production for distribution and discounts that the current system keeps many filmmakers of all stripes from having their work shown anywhere. Throughout the festival, right though this film’s debut screening, various actors and others chimed in with their thoughts, resulting in lots of press and exposure.

There was a bit of publicity outside of the Cannes issue, though one has to believe that controversy only helped raised the movie’s profile in the press to the point where it became one that was worthy of coverage. That press activity included an interview with Ho where he talked about his cinematic influences as well as the intended and unintended messages of the movie. There were also a few stories about the style of Swinton’s character and how the actress got Chanel to provide a key bit of wardrobe.

Overall

Well first of all it just has to be noted that Netflix put demonstrably more effort into this movie than it usually does. That comes through with the presence of not just one but multiple posters, a Facebook page and some actual press activity, something the company doesn’t usually engage in. It’s obvious Netflix felt that with a movie of this stature, one they ultimately to the premiere film festival in the world, it had to put some serious muscle behind selling it, regardless of whether or not it was going to screen in theaters.

I just wish it were a bit more consistent in its tone and messaging. The poster tells a story of corporate exploitation, the trailers tell a story of a girl and her super-pig, the publicity hammers home the idea of vegetarianism and the odd in-world campaign makes it look like a bit of Brazil-esque surrealism. So which one is it? The best case for seeing the movie, the strongest message, comes from its festival screenings and the good word of mouth that resulted from those. Outside of that there’s little for the average moviegoer to latch onto. This might be, as some have speculated, Netflix’s first truly great movie but it’s questionable whether the campaign is going to convert many subscribers or if this is just a prestige title for the streamer to tout.

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Picking Up the Spare: Keeping Up With the Joneses, Pirates of the Caribbean, Cars 3, The Big Sick

Keeping Up With the Joneses

  • I usually don’t cover developments after the movie is on home video, but you have to stand up and applaud 20th Century Fox for jumping on the Gal Gadot bandwagon by releasing a clip from last year’s under-performing comedy starring the now-hot actress.

The Big Sick

  • Director Michael Showalter wasn’t a huge part of the pre-release publicity efforts but finally gets a feature to himself that talks about how between this and his recent Hello, My Name Is Doris turn he’s on the cusp of a breakout.

Cars 3

  • Fullscreen Media is running a screening for the movie at VidCon, a massive event devoted to video production that’s happening now.
  • Promotions for the movie will continue into the summer, with Mattel offering an exclusive set that includes not only a finished McQueen car but also versions from earlier stages in the toy’s production.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

  • Saw this small poster hanging out on a table at my local AMC Theater. No idea how long they’ve been there but it was the movie’s third weekend and there were still plenty available.

MMM Recap: The Big Sick, Transformers, The Beguiled

The Big Sick

The key selling point here is the charm of Nanjiani. That’s what’s conveyed throughout the campaign more than anything else. It’s what’s on display throughout the push, from the trailers to the poster to the press and everywhere else. Kazan is a big part of it as well but she understandably disappears through vast swaths of the the trailer and TV advertising. It’s being sold as an unconventional romantic comedy, something that may or may not resonate with audiences depending on how much they want to be challenged by material that might be outside their comfort zone.

Transformers: The Last Knight

Oof, there’s a lot to digest here. The story that’s being sold completely upends all the mythology of the previous Transformers movies to an extent that defies credulity unless I’ve missed something massive in the first three entries (I’ve yet to see the fourth) that hints a centuries-long presence on Earth. But honestly, does that even matter? They found a new way to create some new robots that look kind of cool and which are visually indistinguishable (my major complaint with these films) as the rest. It doesn’t matter what the story is, just come see Michael Bay light some fuses and ask a Josh Duhamel to look up at and interact with something that will be inserted digitally later.

The Beguiled

The entire campaign is one of female empowerment, of them holding the key to their own fates and not being beholden to the whims of any man. That’s clear in the trailers, which present Farrell’s McBurney as a secondary character at best, even if he’s an instigator of much of the story. It’s clear in the social media campaign, which has used cinemagraphic Tweets that overlay current phrases like “Get it girl” in bright colors over the dark, gothic images from the movie. Others have labeled Kidman’s Martha as the “Head Bitch in Charge.” Banner ads have proclaimed on June 23rd, “Good girls go bad.”

Movie Marketing Madness: The Beguiled

Sophia Coppola returns to the director’s chair with this week’s The Beguiled. A remake of the 1971 film starring Clint Eastwood and Geraldine Page, this one features Nicole Kidman as Martha Farnsworth, the headmistress of a school for girls in Civil War-era Virginia. One day one of her students comes across a Union soldier named John McBurney (Colin Farrell) who’s been severely wounded. Martha and the girls, including Edwina and Alicia (Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning, respectively), take him into tend to him and nurse him back to health.

(side note: If this sounds a lot like Sir Galahad’s brief time in the Castle Anthrax…you’re not the only one.)

Problems begin to arise almost as soon as McBurney gets his strength back. Despite strict instructions for him not to fraternize with the girls, Edwina soon becomes attached to him, believing his declarations of love. But he’s not the best, most upright guy around and has been fooling around with Alicia as well. That causes tension in the house among the girls, but that tension is directed back around at McBurney, who feels the full weight of the women he’s scorned as well as their protector.

The Posters

The first and only poster is just fantastic. Like many of the one-sheets for Coppola’s movies, “pink” is the dominant color, this time used for the title treatment that runs along the side of the design, formatted for landscape display along with the alignment of the names of the main cast and the credits. The three primary women, Dunst, Kidman and Fanning, are shown in their genteel glory, all sitting or hovering around the bed of Farrell, whose face is just out of the camera’s range. It’s a gorgeous poster that sells a lovely domestic drama with the exception of the copy, which reads “Innocent, until betrayed” that takes things in a dark direction.

The Trailers

The first trailer definitely sets an interesting tone. It opens with a Union soldier being found by a young girl. He’s brought home to the house she shares with the rest of the women in her family and the tension quickly ramps up as two of them vie for his affection, which is forbidden by their mother. A series of quick shots ends with him shouting in the background, asking what they’ve done to him.

It’s pretty great, working to create a feel that all is not what it seems here. It almost plays out like Misery at the end and shows that these aren’t helpless belles here, they’re perfectly capable not only of defending themselves but apparently taking proactive measures to right some wrongs.

The second trailer hits many of the same beats as the first, just in a slightly different way. The focus this time is on the dynamic between the women who live on the estate and how that delicate relationship is upended by the arrival of the wounded stranger. A betrayal sets things down a dark path and we see the kinds of turmoil that ensue for everyone involved until it ends, again, with Farrell yelling after the “vengeful bitches.”

Online and Social

The official website loads and begins playing the second trailer. Close that and the front page of the site offers prompts to watch the trailer again, buy tickets or subscribe to email updates. There are also links to the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles established for the movie.

Scroll down the page and you get the usual Focus collection of media that gives the appearance of only being marginally organized, despite the content menu on the left that shows up. So you get a mix of social updates from the cast and others, videos including the trailers and press appearances by Coppola and others, official stills, links to press interviews and lots more.

The social media push was odd enough it attracted the attention of Jason Bailey at Flavorwire, who noted the contrast between the bright pink branding and the dark, gothic tone of the movie itself.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Nothing in the way of TV advertising that I’ve come across or been able to find. Some online advertising was done that used the key art to drive ticket sales and the trailers have been used for social media ads, but that’s the extent of the paid push as far as I know.

Media and Publicity

With such a female-centric cast and crew, that combination became a central focus of the campaign. That included comments from Dunst about how filming a sex scene is so different with a female director as opposed to a male director.

The movie was one of the handful that had its premiere at this year’s Cannes International Film Festival. While at Cannes Coppola also talked about not just this movie but also why the franchise films she’s sometimes offered don’t interest her at all as well as the struggles she faces not just as an independent filmmaker but a female one to boot. The movie was one of a few Kidman appeared in at the festival, leading to a narrative in the press about the actress’s resurgence and her work ethic.

In an extended interview, Coppola talked about what attracted her to the material, the process of shooting in such a gothic environment, the styles on display, what this period piece still has to tell us today and much more. A short while later comments from Fanning appeared alongside a new photo in EW’s summer movie preview.

Coppola and the cast made the usual comments about working together, the story and more at the movie’s premiere. During an appearance on “The Late Late Show” Coppola had a bit of fun by showing off the off-camera antics the cast engaged in while still in costume.

It makes sense that this being the third movie Dunst and Coppola have made together that they’d do some joint press revolving around that fact and looking back at previous collaborations. It was also, it should be noted, the second time the director has worked with Fanning. There were other features like this one of Coppola on her own, most all of which don’t fail to mention her famous lineage.

A minor firestorm emerged in the last days before release when Coppola addressed what some were calling a disturbing commission: The excising of a slave from the original story in this new version. She explained that forthrightly, saying basically she didn’t want the only black person in a story focused on female empowerment to be a slave, as well as that if she were going to tackle that topic she wanted to do so more fully and not as a side note in a bigger story. It’s a reasonable answer and approach, though that didn’t stop some outrage as people claimed she was trying to erase mistreatment of blacks from the history of the south.

Overall

Because I can’t put it better than I already have, I’ll lift these points from my post earlier this week about the changed portrayal of gender roles from 1971 to 2017:

The entire campaign is one of female empowerment, of them holding the key to their own fates and not being beholden to the whims of any man. That’s clear in the trailers, which present Farrell’s McBurney as a secondary character at best, even if he’s an instigator of much of the story. It’s clear in the social media campaign, which has used cinemagraphic Tweets that overlay current phrases like “Get it girl” in bright colors over the dark, gothic images from the movie. Others have labeled Kidman’s Martha as the “Head Bitch in Charge.” Banner ads have proclaimed on June 23rd, “Good girls go bad.”

 

The female empowerment is so palpable it’s surprising a character isn’t wearing an “Ask me about my feminist agenda” t-shirt and that the movie hasn’t received wall-to-wall cable news condemnation for indoctrinating youth to believe men are all evil. The bright pink text used in ads, posters and social media posts are so stereotypically “girly” while the actions of the characters are anything but cute and adorable.

That may be over the top for some. But it’s completely on-brand for Coppola and fits stylistically into the campaigns for previous movies like Marie Antoinette and The Virgin Suicides. And it’s absolutely in-line with where the culture is right now, as women are allowed (and encouraged) to be both simultaneously girlish, embracing all things pink and frilly, and every bit as fierce and self-protective as men have long been. That’s the strongest message the movie’s campaign offers.

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Amazon Betting Clips Will Help, Not Hurt, Big Releases

I haven’t watched the clip from The Big Sick that Amazon released yesterday as part of their efforts to get people out to the theater. Too many people on Twitter were saying not to click through since the scene that’s excerpted is a key one in the movie and delivers one of the biggest laughs.

Similar warnings were given in advance of the theatrical release of Manchester By The Sea. In that case it was again Amazon that released a clip that contained one of the movie’s most heartbreaking and emotional scenes, something that was part of the climax of the story.

Why does Amazon love taking what are reported to be the best scenes out of context and spoiling them to audiences in advance of release?

On the one hand this makes sense. Everyone has come out of these two movies talking about *that* scene, saying that’s the one that audiences to date have responded to the most strongly and which is going to be discussed more as the movie is released widely. It’s the cornerstone scene, the one that everything kind of builds toward or which is a major turning point in the story. So Amazon wants to get that out there as part of the appeal to the audience, particularly the general audience who might have followed some of the buzz out of Sundance and wants to see even more of the movie everyone’s talking about. It’s a big talkable moment and Amazon doesn’t want to leave anything in the chamber.

On the other hand, these scenes appear to be a big part of the reason to see the movie. So by showing off a key moment from the story out of context, this tactic takes away the emotional impact of the movie.

Movies aren’t records, where you can take Track 7 and put it on the radio and have it represent the whole album because Track 7 (unless you’re King Crimson, Pink Floyd or The Who) can live on its own, without the setup of Tracks 1-6 and the follow-through of Tracks 8-12. It’s fine. Taking a scene out of a movie reminds me of the parable of the 12 blind men who are arranged around an elephant, they draw conclusions about the whole based on a very small sample size.

To be fair, Amazon isn’t the only studio/distributor to release clips ahead of release. Just the other day Illumination/Universal dropped a half-dozen or more clips from Despicable Me 3. But it’s the second time it has taken not just an expanded version of a scene we’ve seen in the trailers already but one that has become a core part of the movie’s appeal. I’d heard of the moments from The Big Sick and Manchester By The Sea back when they debuted at festivals and knew they were important and noteworthy.

Amazon is betting that the word of mouth generated by these clips will be a benefit to the theatrical release more than it will be a detriment. It’s counting on the audience watching them – or at least seeing more discussion about them – and saying that seeing the movie is important because it will allow them to be part of the conversation. It’s a big bet and one that movie nerds don’t see to be fully on board with, but until it stops working it’s safe to assume not only will Amazon continue to do this for their prestige releases but other studios will adopt the tactic as well.

Movie Marketing Madness: Transformers: The Last Knight

[downs entire whiskey sour]

Well, the Transformers are back, once more in the hands of director Michael Bay. It’s been 10 years since he first brought the big freaking robots to the big screen, with this being the fifth film in the franchise. Now the Bayhem is unleashed once again in Transformers: The Last Knight, which once more stars Mark Wahlberg and once more features a lot of human beings acting like they matter at all as massive robot warriors decide the best possible place in the universe for them to work out their issues is our planet MARS IS RIGHT THERE GO SOMEWHERE WITHOUT ALL THE CULVER’S, YOU JERKS.

Anyway, this time around there’s yet another plot contrivance to set humans and Cybertronians against each other. Optimus Prime has disappeared but now seems to be back and this time is evil or something. There’s a bigger threat coming toward the planet so it’s up to Wahlberg’s Cade Yeager, Oxford professor Laura Haddock (Vivian Wembley) and Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins) to unravel the secret history of Transformers on Earth in order to save humanity from the latest world-killing threat.

The Posters

“Rethink your heroes” we’re told on the first poster, which shows a sword-wielding Optimus Prime standing along a rocky beach as something massive looms in the background, including both sea and air.

A series of character posters were released by Bay on his Twitter that featured many of the main characters, some old, some new. The caption he used when posting them contained some kind of explanation of who they are and what they’re after in the movie. These aren’t bad.

Another poster told the audience the main conflict of the movie was going to be between Prime and Bumblebee, with the former seen looming over the latter as if he’s preparing the killing blow. That’s amplified by copy that reads “For one to live the other must die.”

Another poster plays into the theme from elsewhere in the campaign that the Transformers have been on Earth for a long, long time, by putting one at the forefront of a group of WWII soldiers storming a Nazi headquarters. “Every legend hides a secret” we’re told at the top and it’s called out at the bottom that this was filmed with IMAX cameras, a direct appeal to the tech-heads that are going to be interested in spectacle more than anything.

Black and white character posters started to come out that highlighted the various robots and humans that are in the middle of the story, all with a different descriptive word associated with them.

An IMAX poster put Prime in the middle of the design with not only the looming…whatever in the background but also a huge three-headed dragon for a moment of “what the hell.” I know some of the campaign has shown footage of Transformers fighting with knights and so on, but dragons? Where the hell is this coming from? Seems out of left-field.

One final poster brings the whole cast together, including the humans. They actual actors are arrayed just above Stonehenge, which is shooting a while space laser into the sky. Looming over them are Prime and Bumblebee on opposite sides of that space laster, setting up the conflict between them once more.

The Trailers

There’s not much story in the first teaser trailer. Burton narrates and offers some exposition about a timeless fight that’s been raging. He intones that Optimus Prime has left and asks the question of why the Transformers keep coming to Earth. After that, though, it’s all about Big F***ing Robot action. We see Prime is back, but he doesn’t seem to be acting like himself. Throughout the trailer there’s something – maybe Unicron? – that’s huge and moving toward the planet and is clearly a threat.

God bless Hopkins for doing what he can with what he’s given. His narration is meant to add some dramatic import to the trailer, but that can’t overcome the senseless action and unexplained chaos on display. This looks like exactly the same kind of movie as the previous four installments, which is just what the studio thinks people want.

The first full trailer is somewhat less concerned with the Big F***ing Robots and more with the humans who are around them. It presents a world that’s very different from what we might expect, with humans and robots coexisting in some ways and at odds in others. It almost presents Decepticons as an occupying force and some humans as the militaristic resistance. It focuses on Izzy, a young girl who’s living rough and surviving on her own. She narrates and encourages everyone to “fight like a girl” as we see some of the fighting against our new robot overlords. Izzy is the center of attention throughout, though.

There’s no bigger mythology being played into or hinted at here. It’s actually kind of an overt plea to young girls who may not have been targeted in the campaigns for earlier movies. We get some story hints, particularly with that “Enemy” sign featuring Prime’s face and the fact that everyone seems to live in bombed-out buildings.

The official trailer starts off in the past as we see Transformers in the world 1,000 years ago in castles with kings and knights. We then cut to Optimus Prime having an odd confrontation with his maker. Next it’s Yeager talking to Izzy about what he’d say to his daughter if she were there. After that it’s about Sir Edmund warning that it’s up to a couple of everyday humans to turn the tide of history and stop the persistent threat of the Transformers on Earth. Scenes of chaos raining down on the world are followed by defiant speeches about not giving up and continuing the fight. Prime then intones that the Earth must die for his world to live, meaning we’re in conquest territory here.

OK, fine. The whole idea of Prime being the bad guy here seems really odd and as with most of Bay’s movies the ambitions toward something epic and transformative (sorry) are greater than the actual execution. It’s being sold as yet another entry in the franchise and on that front it succeeds just fine.

Online and Social

Prime’s grizzled visage glares out at you from the front page of the official website, which mostly just has the usual information and a Get Tickets button on it. Remarkably non-cluttered for a movie whose entire visual aesthetic is “busy.”

Moving to the content menu at the top of the page, the first section is “Story,” which lays out the basic idea in the broadest possible terms. There’s a decent chance this is the actual script. After that the “Characters” section has the character posters mentioned above, each with a button to share that image on either Facebook or Twitter.

The “Gallery” has one of the posters along with a handful of stills and some behind-the-scenes production shots of Bay at work just so we remember who the real star of the movie is. “Videos” has the trailers, a couple TV spots and a featurette.

There’s a section for the promotional “Partners” and then “Social” is a drop-down with links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram profiles.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A short TV spot appeared to have kicked off the advertising campaign showing some of the biggest, most explosive elements from the first trailer, including using the “Rethink your heroes” copy that’s interspersed throughout those shots.

A TV spot aired during the Super Bowl that featured more of Hopkins’ intellectual talking about why the Transformers keep coming to Earth and Prime talking about meeting his maker. Future commercials showed off the action and humor of the movie and some were focused intently on continuing to build up the idea that the Transformers have been here throughout history, secretly protecting Earth and participating in major world events.

The debut of movie merchandise in stores was accompanied by a campaign dubbed “Reveal Your Shield” that encouraged fans to identify as Autobots or Decepticons.

In terms of cross-promotional partners, here are some of the companies that helped promote the latest entry in the franchise:

  • Enterprise Rent-A-Car, which created TV ads that took a throwback approach, featuring kids playing with Transformers action figures that are helped in their battle by the company.
  • Maaco, which launched a cross-promotional campaign including a TV spot directed by Bay himself.
  • Schick, which offers a limited edition Transformers-themed handle when you signed up for their subscription shave product service and created other movie-branded products.
  • Sonic Drive-In, which put movie toys in their Wacky Pack kids meals and ran a sweeps offering a hometown screening of the movie and other prizes.
  • Valvoline, which ran some co-branded ads and created “Valvotron,” a new Transformer action figure sporting the company’s logo that was given away to select customers.
  • Crush, which gave away a free movie ticket with the purchase of any three of their four movie-branded cans of REM’s favorite soda.
  • Tasty Kake, which created a quiz to see if you were an Autobot or Decepticon that entered you into a sweeps. That went along with co-branded product packaging.
  • Cat, which offered behind-the-scenes exclusive material and the chance to win exclusive merchandise.

Online and outdoor ads were plentiful, all using variations on the key art, mostly of the close-up of Prime staring at the camera.

Media and Publicity

A first look at the movie’s new villain was teased ahead of time with a series of cryptic messages and really kicked off the publicity campaign outside of news and announcements about the title and filming. Speculation about the movie and its story continued with the release of a banner showing Optimus Prime taking on some sort of dragon.

A small amount of new footage was seen before the first trailer was released in this promotional video celebrating 10 years of collaboration between Bay and IMAX, which has been used for all of the movies in the franchise. The studio also held a fan event at IMAX theaters that showed off footage from the movie as a way to generate some buzz in advance of release.

A short promotional video was released that was structured to appear like it was examining old photos from throughout history from battles and other events that include giant robots. Hot Rod was officially unveiled in a first look photo that appeared in EW’s summer movie preview along with background information on that character’s history. It also included comments from Bay about the extent he went to create monuments to blow up. A clip as well as a humorous promo involving Prime trying to learn a London accent were released during the MTV Movie and TV Awards.

As the final press push was happening and both Bay and Wahlberg were making the media and TV rounds they each signalled this would be the last Transformers movie for both of them. If you’re keeping count, that’s the first such declaration for Wahlberg and at least the third for Bay and he always comes back.

Overall

Oof, there’s a lot to digest here. The story that’s being sold completely upends all the mythology of the previous Transformers movies to an extent that defies credulity unless I’ve missed something massive in the first three entries (I’ve yet to see the fourth) that hints a centuries-long presence on Earth. But honestly, does that even matter? They found a new way to create some new robots that look kind of cool and which are visually indistinguishable (my major complaint with these films) as the rest. It doesn’t matter what the story is, just come see Michael Bay light some fuses and ask a Josh Duhamel to look up at and interact with something that will be inserted digitally later.

As much as the generic designs make many of the robots indistinguishable from one another within the movie, the similarity in tone and feel of the marketing for these movies makes them virtually indistinguishable from one another. They all feature the same shots of landscapes blowing up and humans scattering, of someone warning of dire consequences should the bad guys win and so on. It’s all about selling metallic imagery with no sense of the motivations of anyone, just vague dialogue about the consequences of such and such happening.

The one interesting thing to watch is whether the fifth installment of this series will suffer the same sort of franchise fatigue that’s tanked recent installments of Smurfs and other IP as well as legacy sequels including Independence Day. This isn’t a reboot or remake and it’s only been a couple years since the last Transformers, but still: Audience preferences seem to have shifted recently. So while it’s likely this will do just fine, there’s a chance it could tank and bring the house of metal cards Paramount and Bay have built crashing down.

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