When you think of independent film actors in the late 90s and 00s, two names that are sure to pop up on your list are Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney. The two have achieved tremendous success by engaging in something called “acting,” by which I mean taking movie roles that require them to stretch their craft, and then going beyond the written word to fully inhabit characters that they bring to life. This is less common than you might think and so these two are quite notable for how well they do it.
The two are finally appearing in the same movie in The Savages. They play a brother and sister who haven’t communicated much in recent years but who are brought together because their aging father is sick and likely dying. So the story allows them to run the gamut from sibling humor to sibling rivalry to dealing with the fact that they’re soon to be parentless.
Fox Searchlight is distributing the movie and lets see how they’re selling this funny, small movie in a year when conventional wisdom has it that small movies aren’t selling.
I only ever saw this one poster for the movie, but it’s a winner. Drawn in a style that evokes the independent comic book world, it shows the drawn characters of Linney and Hoffman standing behind a bench with their hands on their father, who is sitting on the bench and facing the other way. The artwork uses softer, muted colors, which is appropriate considering it’s a winter scene that’s being portrayed.
I love this poster for a couple of reasons. For one, the artwork immediately identifies it as the poster for a non-mainstream film, something that’s going to be important in reaching the target audience of more refined movie-goers. For another, it’s just interesting to look at. The viewer isn’t hit over the head with a bunch of brightly lit images. Instead you have to take a look and discover the picture for yourself. That’s a much more rewarding experience.
But most importantly, it sells the movie in a way that is consistent with the rest of the campaign, which makes me believe it’s an accurate representation of the movie. This poster tells me the movie is a small, quiet character drama about issues of family that might have a sly sense of humor about it. As we’ll see from the other marketing components, that’s a message that’s carried over throughout the campaign.
The trailer for the movie plays up the comedy a bit more than you might guess from the poster, but don’t get the idea there are a bunch of sight gags and pratfalls here. Instead the humor that’s presented is the sort that comes out of everyday life. There’s no exaggeration going on, just the very real situations that people find themselves in that are naturally funny.
There are moments, though, of drama, where we see the two siblings struggling to treat each other as adults and struggling to be adults themselves.
The relationships in the movie are pretty well formed and explained in this trailer. Linney’s character is obviously the more serious of the two, the kind of person who always feels – rightly or wrongly – that they burden of responsibility is always on her and so she can’t goof off like some people. Compare that to Hoffman’s character, who is set up as an aimless man-child who just isn’t as serious about serious things like his sister.
Let’s dispense with the low-hanging fruit first. Since this is a Fox Searchlight release, the site operates with the knowledge that, shockingly, it’s not the only destination on the Interwebs. Like other Searchlight sites there are links to the actor’s IMDb.com pages, online stories about the movie and more. I never cease to be impressed by the way these sites embrace the larger online world like this.
As I noted when I first mentioned the movie’s official website, a heavy emphasis is placed on video clips from the movie. This makes a whole lot of sense. Since the movie is going to be targeting fans of quality acting and writing, showing those two things off is an absolutely essential component of the campaign. There are about seven clips from the movie, each a couple minutes in length, in addition to the trailer on the site. If you’re not hooked after watching these then you just need to go elsewhere since this movie obviously isn’t for you.
The site’s menu actually leads off with “Accolades,” a list of all the critical praise the movie has received so far. Again, this is a great thing to focus on online since the audience for smaller, prestige pictures is heavily interested in what the critics from publications they enjoy are saying. They tend to put a great deal of stock in these reviews so it makes sense to highlight them on the site.
After that there are usual content areas like Story, Cast, Filmmakers and Photos. All are good, but are more standard and I want to focus on what’s really sticking out at me on this site since the standards are so high.
It’s hard to find fault with this campaign. From a terrific poster to a solid trailer to a really nice website, there’s nothing much wrong with it. Usually there’s at least something I can pick out but I’m drawing a blank here. This is a movie whose campaign has sucked me in from the moment I first saw the trailer. I think it hits all the right notes it needs to in order to connect with the audience it’s going after.
This could be the movie that turns around the indie-slump that’s been occurring. At least I hope it is.