Movie Marketing Madness: V For Vendetta

As big of a comics geek as I was in my youth I never read the big ones for some reason. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, DC’s Crisis – all of them passed me by. Thanks to my brother-in-law I recently read The Watchmen for the first time and thought it was absolutely fascinating. Even more recently he lent me his copy of V For Vendetta so that I could become familiar with the story before the movie came out.

(I also have to admit that I never read the Lord of the Rings books until just shortly before the movies hit the big screen. Sometimes I wonder what exactly I was doing with my time.)

V For Vendetta is the tale of a totalitarian state, Great Britain, that is brought to its knees by a lone vigilante. The country barely survived a nuclear attack and in response cracked down on Jews, Muslims, homosexuals and others who didn’t fall in line behind the new leadership. When a “terrorist” who goes simply by the name V and wears a Guy Fawkes mask begins bombing buildings and committing other acts of defiance the government seeks him out only to find that they may have had a role in making him what he is.

The Posters

The two main ones were this teaser poster that was simply a close up of the mask V wears and this later one-sheet that has a full-body shot of V standing poised for battle with his two large signature knives. They were both very slick and shiny and while cool, might have been a bit, I don’t know, antiseptic for the story. The teaser poster also contained the original release date for the movie, 11/5/05, which was chosen because it coincided with the phrase from the comic “Remember remember the fifth of November.” That date was moved out for various reasons (some no doubt true, some suspicious) so the later poster just says “Coming Soon.” Both, though, completely ignore the comics origin of the story and instead hype the fact that the Wachoski brothers, creators of The Matrix series, were the producers of the movie. “An uncompromising vision of the future from the creators of The Matrix Trilogy” appears on both posters. I can see where ordinary moviegoers might latch onto that as a selling point but it ignores the core audience. Comics geeks are going to make or break this movie’s success and, considering the large crossover between that group and Matrix fans, there’s no real point to not putting the names of Alan Moore or David Lloyd, the creators of the comic, on the poster. It’s not like there’s going to be many Matrix fans who don’t also know of Moore so it seems Warner Bros. missed the boat on this one.

There were also a number of other posters created that look very cool. They feature V and Natalie Portman, who plays Evey, a key figure in the story, and almost look like they were made to look like propaganda posters. Stark designs and bold splashes of color along with the phrase “Freedom Forever” make these a series of posters suitable for collecting and framing, which is exactly what Warner Bros. wants you to do. This one in particular looks like it was chosen to be the actual theatrical one-sheet for the film since it has the full credit block in addition to the copy point and image.

Considering the volume of output there’s not a weak image in the batch. They’re all very cool posters. Nice effort.

The Trailers

There are two primary trailers along with spot that debuted during the just passed Super Bowl. All three make it obvious that while James McTeague might be the credited director of the movie the Wachowski brothers obviously had their hands in all aspects of the movie’s look and feel. That suspicion is made evident by the numerous slow-motion shots of V’s knives being thrown through the air.

As for how the spots convey the story of the movie, that differs depending on which one you’re talking about. Both of the full trailers make it pretty clear that London is under strict police-state rule and that V, or Codename V as he’s referred to, is fighting against that. Both show his introduction during a rescue of Portman’s Evey, who is about to be raped and killed by undercover cops. Both then also show Evey being shaved bald by government agents who question her as to Codename V’s whereabouts. Other things the two trailer share are large images of John Hurt’s head, various London landmarks being blown up and V acting all, you know, mysterious and such.

The Super Bowl spot is drastically abbreviated from the two full trailers and loses some of the impact those others had. The story of the movie is just too complex for a short 60 seconds or so. A lot of the same elements appear but in a hacked up fashion that doesn’t make the same points the full trailers do. We still get Evey, V and John Hurt but not enough of them to really sell the movie. Much of the action appears on screen while a voice over reminds us that it comes from the creative minds of The Matrix, something the other two trailers avoid doing. I’m wondering how the WB arrived at the decision to advertise during the Super Bowl. Considering the original November release date it can’t have been part of the initial marketing plan but more of an audible that was called at the last minute. I’m guessing – and this is merely a guess – that Warner Bros. bought “X” amount of time during the game and then split it between a few movies with V For Vendetta just being in that group. They advertised other movies (Poseidon and Running Scared off the top of my head) and so likely had 60 seconds left over, which they decided to award to V since they had the shift in release schedules.

It’s interesting that the trailers don’t make the connection between V For Vendetta and The Matrix considering that seems to be the sole point of the posters. I wonder why the team behind this at Warner Bros. felt it was a necessary element for one aspect of the campaign but drop it almost completely from another part of the push. I’m sure there’s a reason behind it but am at a loss for what it might be.

The Website

The official website for V For Vendetta has been up for a year now. It went live in March, 2005, with content that was solely pulled from a press conference the producers held to announce the movie and begin to build anticipation. Over the course of the last year it’s been used to debut the trailers, posters and other interesting content that has built up slowly but surely as the movie has gone from pre- to post-production to being just about ready for release.

Warner Bros. has a habit of producing not just a Flash-animated full site but also an HTML-based site-lite that is accessible right off the homepage. That’s enabled people who didn’t feel like – or weren’t able to – sit through all the animation to still get at the content. They didn’t go quite to that level of effort but did put some stuff there right off the bat. From the homepage you can access trailers, a Quicktime VR tour of some of the sets and a photo gallery.

Once you enter the full site you’re immediately brought to the News section. When you look at it you’ll be struck by how much it resembles – without actually being – a blog. There have been pretty regular updates of information on the production of the film and the release of new materials but it’s not even RSS enabled so there’s no way to get these updates without visiting the site everyday to check for new news. It’s even formatted like a blog, with line breaks between each post/update. Why not just go the full nine yards here? I’m not going to get into that again, at least not here and now.

Moving on, all four of the propaganda-like artwork posters are available as Desktop themes you can download. Very cool. Videos does not contain the trailers – those are found under Trailers – but instead video from a number of press conferences and premieres. This is the kind of stuff that fans are likely to geek out over so their inclusion on the site is a nice touch. VR Sets is the same option that was available on the entry page but the feature is neat so you should definitely check it out. Posters contains all five poster images in both their “Web Preview” and “Print” versions. There’s also a version of one of the posters that is being used to promote the IMAX release of the movie. I can tell that because it has “See it in IMAX” across it in big letters.

Interviews contains two text interviews with members of the production crew. Costume designer Sammy Sheldon and assistant art director Stephen Gessler share their thoughts on both how they got into the movie business and working on this particular film. About is where you’ll actually learn about the movie itself. There are the usual “Cast” and “Crew” bios and an all too brief “Synopsis”. Press contains a paltry two press releases, one about the IMAX release and the other about Hugo Weaving joining the cast, which he did after filming had begun with another actor in the role of V. There’s also some pretty good “Production Notes” that covers a good deal of not only the source story but how it was molded into a movie and how said movie was filmed. The section labeled “Comic Con” is pretty much what was originally on the site and is a series of audio, video or text interviews from last year’s Comic Con. Finally there’s “Film Credits” which is a recreation of the credits that will appear at the end of the movie.

Art Dept is where you can find a number of storyboards organized by subject matter. There’s one group for storyboards relating to Guy Fawkes, one for the Fingermen and one group about Larkhill. There are more but they’re all labeled “Classified” which I’m assuming is the way they’re labeling content that’s still to come. There’s a very cool section on the historical Guy Fawkes including a time line, gallery and more. There’s even a game of “Hangman” you can play where, when you guess wrong, you help Fawkes get hung. That’s so funny I don’t know quite what to do with it. Was everyone who approved this aware of just how funny a Fawkes-themed game of Hangman would be and is? Goodness I hope so.

Talk-Back is kind of a forum/conversation starter where people can post their thoughts in a community environment. Most of the posts I read were about totalitarian governments. Can’t imagine there’s much fodder for that conversation right now, can you? Lastly is the Soundtrack, where you can listen to clips from the soundtrack, most of which are bits of the score by Dario Marianelli.

Overall

I have to say this is an incredibly strong campaign. If the movie fails to live up to box-office hopes it certainly won’t be because of the marketing. It might be because of whatever changes were made to the story from the source comic – always a point of contention among comics fans and one they don’t easily forgive or forget. On the other hand that very group is being targeted with the certain aspects such as the Comic Con footage and that from other press conferences. So Warner Bros. know where the keys to its success lie and are willing to play to that audience.

It’s obvious that the Warner Bros. team overseeing this campaign had a great deal of access to the filmmakers and shared a unified vision for how the campaign was to be put together. The viewer is immersed in the world of V and not let out. The themes of the movie are repeated over and over again so that the viewer feels instantly familiar with them. That singular vision is carried over from the excellent trailers to the frame-worthy posters to the fully stocked website where, if you so chose, you could spend hours reading and watching.

I want to go back the RSS issue once more before I finish up. Yeah, I would have loved to have seen the News section of the website be more bloggy, with the attendant RSS enabling that goes with that. I also think the audio and video postings should have been turned into podcasts and their video equivalent by publishing them through RSS feeds. That way every time a new one was produced it could have been downloaded and synced to the MP3 player of choice for listeners/viewers and listened to or watched at a time of their convenience.

That might seem like a minor gripe to make about such a well put together campaign but it really is going to be increasingly important for studios to remember as things move along technology-wise. Other than that this push gets a major thumbs-up from me.

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