Selling The Gentlemen

My latest marketing recap column for The Hollywood Reporter covers the campaign for STX’s The Gentlemen from director Guy Ritchie.

STX has been selling the film as a violence-filled comedy that’s very on-brand for Ritchie, one where the veneer of polite society masks the seedy underbelly of the drug-selling underworld. The pic clocks in at a 76 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes so far. The following is a look at the marketing campaign.

You can read the whole thing here.

Movie Marketing Madness: King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

I think we can all agree that, to date, the definitive cinematic version of the King Arthur story was the one told in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. That’s just science. But this week director Guy Ritchie is going to throw another contender in the ring with King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. Despite having a title like the third entry in a video game franchise, the movie is not a sequel but instead offers Charlie Hunnam in the title role as Arthur, the man who would be king.

“Would be” is key here as in the story Arthur has had the kingdom that is his birthright stolen and kept a secret from him, growing up a hardscrabble rapscallion. When he, through some means or another, pulls the magic sword Excalibur from a stone he gains an insight into his destiny and joins the forces taking up arms against Vortigern (Jude Law), the less-than-benevolent current ruler of the land. He will do whatever it takes to not only quash the rebellion but also take out Arthur and stop the one man who could actually oust him from his comfortable position.

The Posters

The first poster looks like an outtake from an Anton Corbin photoshoot for the pictures for a mid-90s U2 album. It’s a black-and-white shot of Hunman, standing stoically and looking out into the distance while clutching and leaning on the sword we all know symbolizes his right to rule. The title treatment is in purple to stand out from how it’s overlaid on the photo. I get that it’s meant to show this is a gritty movie but it just comes off a bit pretentious, as if they literally couldn’t figure out any other way to introduce the character other than through someone’s junior-year photography class final project. Plus, is Hunman that big a star that he can just be there with little supporting material or information and still be expected to sell the movie?

“From nothing comes a king” we’re told in the latest example of a poster that aims to make an impact by putting bold copy over a stark closeup of the lead actor’s face. Hunman looks grizzled and worn here in a shot that’s designed to appear as bleak as possible. A similar poster featuring the face of Law used the copy “Temptation blackens the heart,” which sounds like a lyric from a Christian speed metal band and other characters got similar treatments.

Another poster, maybe the theatrical version, just shows a full-body shot of Hunnam standing there with sword in hand. “From nothing comes a king” we’re again told on the one-sheet, which also again touts this as coming from the director of Sherlock Holmes. It’s not that interesting, just a publicity shot with the title treatment and some other elements laid over it.

The Trailers

The first trailer is so very Ritchie. It starts out with Arthur and others on the run through a city, footage that’s intercut with someone asking him to tell the story of what happened. Arthur is presented as kind of a cad and a scoundrel right up to the moment he attempts, successfully, to pull the iconic sword from the stone. That sets into motion a series of events that appears to lead to war with…someone, presumably a neighboring kingdom that wants what Arthur’s land has.

Hunman looks completely bland in the role. It’s possible this isn’t actually an actor we’re watching, just a bag of straw that’s being controlled like a marionette. Law chews the scenery around him as the bad guy, but it just reminds the audience that he’s never given a leading role of his own in Ritchie’s movies. Overall this looks like it turns King Arthur, like other characters such as Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan and others, into a super hero in need of an epic origin story where he rises to the potential he didn’t know he had.

We meet Arthur in the next trailer as a young boy who’s being spirited away from danger by his father the king. Cut to him as a grown man as someone who’s living in exile until he comes out to claim Excalibur. But there’s another who wants that power and will fight to take it for himself. So there are two conflicts, one between the two men who are vying for power and one within Arthur himself as he struggles to embrace his destiny.

So…Excalibur is some sort of magic sword that imbues the weilder with powers of speed and more? That seems different. It’s a big, ridiculous trailer for a movie that seems to make an epic spectacle out of what always seemed a more personal story. Again, there seems to be an effort to keep Hunman in the background to some extent, focusing more on the big visuals than on his actual story. Basically it appears that any excuse the trailer could find to not include the title character, it took.

The final trailer is mostly more of the same, showing Arthur’s reluctant journey to become king even as the current holder of that office wants him found and dead. There are training sequences and fights and dramatic slow pulls and CGI armies talking of becoming more than a myth and magic and dragons and so on. It all looks utterly ridiculous.

Online and Social

The key art of a black-and-white Hunnam looking like he’s promoting his album of 1960’s soul covers greets you when you launch the official website. At the top are links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles as well as prompts to email a link to the site to someone you know or to buy tickets.

Down at the bottom of the front page are lots of options if you care to engage in any of a number of movie-related activities. You can find out more about the mobile game, download the VR experience, generate your own version of the poster, find out when the “Sword in the Stone Tour” is coming to a location near you or listen to or buy the movie’s soundtrack.

Going back to the content menu that’s in the drop-down found in the upper left, the first section there is “Social” and just has a few posts that have been published to a Tumblr blog and which can be shared if you so choose. All three trailers are all you’ll find in the “Videos” section.

The “About” section has a decent synopsis of the story along with the usual credits of those involved in the movie’s making. A whopping three stills can be found in the “Gallery.” The site finishes off with “Partners” and information about the companies who signed on for cross-promotions in some manner.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The first extended TV spot sells the movie as a science fiction “claim your birthright” kind of story involving embracing your destiny and defeating some kind of massive creature that’s destroying castles and kingdoms. It’s full of spectacle but tells the audience almost nothing about whatever story the movie might have. Future TV spots hit on the same or similar themes, selling the movie as a big action movie about embracing your destiny. Spots closer to release sought to tap into peer recommendation by featuring Tweets from fans who had seen it already and who were enthusiastic in their reactions.

Warner Bros. was the first to buy into Snapchat’s sponsored puzzle-game selfie ad unit, allowing people to put a robe and crown on their pictures and then unlock a puzzle, with their time posted to the image. And of course there was a 360-degree VR experience that took viewers inside the world of the movie and let them explore a bit while trying to not die.

In terms of promotional partners, there are a few that were listed on the official website, including:

  • Wahoo’s, which offered a sweeps to win a prize pack including movie tickets, food gift cards, a Vans shopping spree and more.
  • Xperia Lounge, which offered a King Arthur-centric theme to Sony Mobile users and which included the “Sword and the Stone” experience at Mashable House during SXSW this year.
  • Visit Britain, which understandably created a whole campaign around the movie.
  • Men’s Health, which offered a movie-themed version of their subscription box that’s usually full of snacks, health tips, exercise packages and more.
  • UberEATS, which offered – only to those in select CA cities – a sweeps awarding free movie tickets to users who ordered meals using the service.

Media and Publicity

The first look at the movie came in the form of stills in Entertainment Weekly showing off Hunnam and Law. A little bit later the movie would be part of WB’s overall Hall H presence at San Diego Comic-Con, where the cast and crew made comments about it.

Ritchie spoke later about how he wanted to do something different with the Arthur story, what was behind the multiple release date shifts the movie has undergone and more, including details about the effects and visuals in the movie. Hunnam talked about how he created the character in EW’s summer movie preview.

Hunnam and Ritchie in particular did the press rounds of talk shows and more, talking about making the movie, the challenges of the story and everything else. The campaign dovetailed with Hunnam’s promoting of The Lost City of Z, which came out just a few weeks ago, so the two often overlapped and if that publicity push seemed small, with a focus on director James Gray, it’s likely because the actor was being saved for this release.

Overall

Getting over my belief that Charlie Hunnam isn’t actually a human actor but the result of a Hollywood exec feeding a machine pictures of other leading men in an effort to create the blandest, least memorable movie presence ever…actually, I don’t have an ending to that. Hunnam’s lack of screen presence really comes through here as he fails to hold what little attention the campaign, particularly the trailers, give to him. Yes, he shows up on the posters, but in the trailers we want to watch him as little as possible, getting straight to the part where the sword gives him super powers to fight dragons or some such.

Instead the focus seems to be mostly on Law and his scenery-chewing bad guy. The campaign wants to sell this as a big action movie with a wounded, reluctant hero at its core, but the stakes are never clear here. The trailers for Gods of Egypt made that story more understandable, and that’s a low bar to clear. It’s all science-fiction action instead of political intrigue as Arthur tries to reclaim his rightful throne because reasons, all of it presented in a muted color palate that even Zack Snyder probably thinks is desaturated a tad too much. It’s hard to see how this makes a meaningful impact at the box office unless Guardians Vol. 2 suffers really bad word of mouth and drops significantly.

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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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