Movie Marketing Madness: Shutter Island

For as much of a fan as I am of Martin Scorsese’s films as a whole, my favorite works of his tend to be those in which he stops being Martin Scorsese for a little while and moves a bit outside his comfort zone. So movies like Cape Fear and The Age of Innocence tend to hold a special place in my heart as movies that were easily identifiable as coming from the legendary director and yet are examples of him resisting the urge to give in to his instincts to take the easy way out. It’s not that I don’t like Casino, Goodfellas, Mean Streets or any of his other movies, it’s that while those are great examples of what the director can do better than anyone else, it’s that I like to see him stretch artistic muscles that don’t often get used.

All of that is a long setup to say that I’m looking forward quite a bit to Shutter Island, the latest film from the legendary director and one that sees him reteaming with Leonardo DiCaprio, who has collaborated with Scorsese on a handful of films in the last several years. This movie casts DiCaprio as a detective sent to investigate the disappearance of a patient of a remote mental facility that lies on a small island. But once there he gets entwined in the odd goings-on at the hospital, where the patients warn him of imminent danger, the staff seem to be holding their own secret agendas and everyone seems to be conspiring against his investigation.

The Posters

The first poster was appropriately creepy, with the DiCaprio’s BFH lit at the top by the flame of a single match, hinting at him being alone in a very dark place. Below him is the titular island that’s being pounded by rain. The image of the island looks normal at first but as you stare at it you realize its actually made up of a bunch of squares, like the whole has been pieced together with a series of individual photos. Scorsese’s name appears above – and much smaller than – DiCaprio’s which is placed just above a blood-red, smeared version of the title treatment.

A second version of the one-sheet retained the overall design elements but with some changes. DiCaprio’s face is bigger and less angled and the match casting its light seems to have a slightly larger flame. The island itself is still made up of blocky photos and such but the rain that added a bit of creep to the first poster is removed here. The title treatment itself is different as well as this one uses more of a fire orange/yellow and more spaced-out lettering. This version was released well after the film was delayed by the studio so it’s possible Paramount just decided a re-branding was in order with the extra time they’d bought themselves.

The Trailers

The trailer starts off with a boat appearing through the fog before we’re shown DiCaprio’s character talking to his colleague on that boat and giving the audience a bit of expeditionary dialogue about how he only knows the island they’re approaching is a home for the criminally insane. They’re there to conduct some sort of investigation into the mysterious disappearance of one of the inmates. But hey quickly gets caught up in the madness that runs through the asylum, with DiCaprio himself being to hallucinate and go crazy as he tries to uncover the truth behind the clinic.

It’s a fast-paced trailer with lots of mood lighting and quick cuts that add to the creepiness factor that it’s meant to create. But there’s not a whole lot of plot going on here outside of “goes to mental ward, goes crazy himself” and there’s little in the way of visual style that would identify the film as being from Scorsese if there wasn’t a title card in the first 30 seconds of the spot that identified it as such. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s that it doesn’t hit as many notes as it might need to in order to appeal to an audience outside of those who are just looking for a mysterious time at the movies.

Online

For a big film from a big director and featuring a big name actor, the official website is pretty bare, likely the result of the difficulty creative people have in crafting something flashy and interactive when the subject matter doesn’t inherently lend itself to that interactivity.

The first section is “Videos” and there you’ll find the film’s one trailer and three TV Spots, including the one that aired during the recent Super Bowl, though for legal reasons they have to label it as “Big Game Spot.” After each video plays a box pops up giving you the option to share the video on Facebook or Twitter, embed it on your own site of social page or email it to a friend.

“About” has a brief Synopsis of the film’s story, downloadable Production Notes and a section containing excerpts of Reviews that have already been published, including links to those reviews, which is a nice touch that often gets left off.

You’ll find the usual bios, film histories and award credits under “Cast & Filmmakers.” And a handful of Wallpapers and AIM Icons found under “Downloads.”

And that’s it for the official site. There’s also a Facebook Fan Page that has been created that features a lot of people talking about how excited they are to see the movie as well as a few updates with links to film clips, trailers and other material.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Most all the online advertising I’ve come across has used DiCaprio’s face as the central component, either pulling that image from the film itself or from the poster art. That poster art was also used for various outdoor ads, whether they were indoor outdoor or outdoor outdoor.

There was also a substantial TV push, with plenty of commercials being aired that for the most part took the route of being subsets of the trailer. That included the Super Bowl spot that aired this year that decided to sell the movie to that game’s audience as being a pretty standard genre horror entry, albeit one with DiCaprio as a detective rummaging around the spooky mental institution.

Being a period genre thriller there wouldn’t seem to be many opportunities for tie-ins or cross-promotions and, indeed, I didn’t see any mentioned anywhere.

Media and Publicity

One of the biggest of the initial waves of publicity for the movie came when it was announced that Paramount was moving it from its original October 2009 opening slot to February of 2010. That decision was made, reports said, based on the amount the studio was expecting to lay out for marketing, including a very likely Oscar push, with very little of that being recouped in 2009. This despite the priority being placed on a movie from such a high-profile director and starring such a high-profile actor.

That delay, though, allowed Scorcese and the studio to bring the movie to Harry Knowles’ Butt-Numb-a-Thon, a fan-geared screening event he puts together annually and which provided the movie with a nice kick-off in terms of word-of-mouth.

Of course since this is Martin Scorsese we’re talking about here no movie release can pass without plenty of appearances by the man himself. One such appearance (Los Angeles Times, 12/29/09) was at the LA County Museum of Art, where he discussed the role of film at museums, something that fits in nicely with his passion for film preservation and exhibition.

Some stories like this one (Los Angeles Times, 2/7/09) focused on all three of the major talents involved – Scorsese, DiCaprio and Lehane – and told the tale of how the story was an emotionally nerve-wracking one for all of them at their different levels of participation.

Overall

What to make of this campaign I’m not rightly sure. This is one of those cases where the individual elements stand up pretty well on their own – the trailer is adequately spooky, the posters are nicely atmospheric and the website, while sparse, also doesn’t waste your time on a lot of useless information – but when you put them together it seems to be less than a sum of its parts.

I think what’s missing is a cohesiveness to the campaign. Maybe it’s because of the extended gap between these materials being released and the film finally hitting theaters but there doesn’t seem to be the consistent brand feel that should come across in a campaign like this. The poster gives off a very dark tone but the trailer is more gray and brown, like the rust running off of iron bars on to the stone walls of the hospital in which the movie is set.

I’m not saying it’s a bad marketing push – it’s not. It’s just that there doesn’t seem to be an overarching idea that it seeks to unite the audience around other than that of Scorsese, but that’s not dealt with fully enough to make up for the lack of visual consistency.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

  • 02/26/10: The exposure the movie got with its full-throated advertising campaign during the popular Winter Olympics broadcasts was, according to The New York Times, a bit reason for its success at the box-office in its opening weekend.
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