Movie Marketing Madness: Cop Out

Most all of us who came of age in the 1980s – I was five when the decade started and 15 when it ended – hold much of that era’s cinematic output to be sacred, the way a farmer looks at the earth and he holds it sacred…the way a Christian hold the bible sacred…the way some people hold their marriage sacred. It was, after all, through those movies that we first learned many of the curse words we now use on Facebook , got our first glimpse at some naughty bits and learned that sticking a banana in someone’s tailpipe will cause the car to backfire.

Much of that canon involved the “buddy picture.” Take two guys and put them in all sorts of violent and sometimes comedic situations. Rinse, repeat. Sometimes the guys are long-time police force partners, sometimes they’ve just been paired together, sometimes one’s black and the other’s white, sometimes one’s not originally from LA…whatever the circumstances there was sure to be gun play and bonding going on. Oh, and don’t forget the female love interest, likely for just one of the characters.

This, in other words, set a generation’s definitions of what it meant to be a man: Shoot the bad guys, joke around with your partner and go to bed with the lovely lady. And DONE.

Paying homage to that genre this week in much the same way he did for the high school/college comedies of the same era with Mallrats is director Kevin Smith in his new movie Cop Out. The movie stars Bruce Willis – himself one of the definitive movie action stars of the ’80’s – and Tracy Morgan as long time police partners who have to track down a valuable baseball card that’s been stolen.

Interestingly this is the first movie directed by Smith that doesn’t also feature his own screenplay, though there’s little doubt that Smith has not left many of his own distinctive fingerprints on the finished product. Anyway, enough setup…let’s get into looking at the marketing.

The Posters

The movie’s one poster is, unfortunately, pretty generic and not all that funny. With the bullet-ridden title treatment behind the two primary starts there’s not a whole lot that is memorable or which stands out in any way. Willis stands with his gun at the ready much as he has in countless other movie posters and next to him Morgan mugs to the camera as he holds up his badge with a “No, really, I’m a cop” look on his face.

Aside from the smug, kind of clueless look on Morgan’s face there’s little about this poster that identifies it as a comedy, which could prove problematic. Well there is one thing – the copy “Rock out with your glock out” that appears below the title. It’s a play on a popular slang expression but isn’t all that clever in and of itself, even though it probably made some designers chuckle for about five minutes. Hell I probably would have suggested it myself…it’s that annoying. It unfortunately also just serves to remind the audience, with its sly referencing of male genitalia, of the film’s original title – but we’ll get to that more later.

The Trailers

The movie’s first trailer doesn’t touch at all on anything resembling a plot or even a broad story outline, instead relying completely on the idea of selling the film as a straight-ahead comedy.

In lieu of any sense of story we get lots of scenes that emphasize the dynamic between the characters played by Willis and Morgan. Willis is, of course, the more serious of the two and much of his screen-time is spent giving Morgan questioning looks, like he can’t believe what’s going on over there. But then there’s obvious camaraderie between them and we get plenty of those shots as well. For his part, most of Morgan’s screen time is devoted to him acting somewhat heroic but also in large part buffoonish, such as when he keeps devouring a bowl of nachos at an inappropriate time.

It’s a funny enough spot, but it does have a couple problems. First, the lack of any sort of plot is noticeable and worrisome, as if there isn’t much there and so let’s just not mention it. Second, action comedies are incredibly hard to pull off and without seeing more the fear is there that the full film is just a hot mess. But hopefully these fears are misplaced and it will certainly be interesting to see how the vibe this trailer gives off will translate to the finished movie.

Of note also is that the trailer credits confirmed that Harold Faltermeyer, who who created the scores for many of the most memorable action and comedy films of the 1980s, would be returning to create the soundtrack for this movie.

A later red-band trailer starts off with a conversation entailing watching Animal Planet documentaries about chimpanzees and oral sex and goes on from there to show Tracy Morgan punching a 10-year old boy in the crotch after tagging him as the biggest car thief in New York. There’s very little plot here as the primary purpose of the trailer is for it to serve as a venue for at least four other oral sex jokes. We do get to see the pay off to the “knock knock” sequence the first trailer set up, a pay off that involves Scott making a double-penetration joke about Morgan’s wife.

Online

The official website opens with video of Tracy Morgan welcoming you to the site and warning you that the content here is going to be in some manner or another offensive to you. It then gives way to one of the TV spots that was created. Above the video player is a prompt to watch the Restricted Trailer on one of the sites it was distributed to or on this one, but only after you use Facebook Connect. That’s actually kind of a genius way to satisfy the age-gate requirement but also keep people on the site.

Below the video player is a Download the Ringtone prompt that lets you grab a section of the movie’s score (if it sounds familiar…keep reading and you’ll figure out why) for your iPhone or other device.

Diving into the content available through the Menu at the top, the first section is “About” and there you’ll find a Synopsis that explains in broad strokes what the movie’s about and gives credits to the case and crew, who are then given expanded bios and filmos in the Cast and Filmmakers areas. There are also Production Notes that can be downloaded in PDF format.

There are probably a good 20 stills from the movie – and one from production that shows Smith – in the “Gallery” section. “Downloads” then has Wallpapers, Icons, aScreensaver and the Poster you can download to your desktop.

For some inexplicable reason “Videos” just has one of the TV Spots – the same one that was on the front page – and the option to watch the Restricted Trailer again or some extended film clips. But the all-ages trailer and the other TV spots are no where to be seen just days before the film’s release. Odd.

In the “Soundtrack” section you can sample from the score that’s been composed by Harold Faltermeyer. Yes, that Harold Faltermeyer.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

There were at least three TV spots created and broadcast. 75 percent of the content of those spots is taken from the green-band all ages trailer but one of them features quite a bit more footage of Seann William Scott that shows his character is equally annoying to just about everyone. All three spots are pretty funny in the same way those trailers are and all three make it clear to the audience that most of the comedy is going to come from Morgan, an understandable sell since right now he’s on a successful TV show.

A good amount of online advertising was also done that, for the most part, melded the trailer footage and the poster key art into banners or towers or whatever would fit the space available.

Media and Publicity

Aside from photos taken on the movies set (both official and not-so-much) the major kick-off to the movie’s publicity was an appearance by Kevin Smith at Comic-Con 2009. He wasn’t there specifically to talk about the movie but has gone there for years and years to do his Q&A schtick and connect with the fans.

It was at that appearance that he confirmed what had been reported elsewhere, that the executives at Warner Bros. wanted him to change the title. That wasn ‘t news in an of itself, but he went on to explain that part of the problem was that many of the major TV networks were indicating they would not run ads for the movie before 9PM, thus limiting its exposure to the audience.

Smith also found working with a major studio was a little different when he announced, kind of off-the-cuff that as usual he’d plan to take a scene or two with him to the next Comic-Con. That announcement was met with, according to him, something like laughter as they were amused by this independent filmmaker who wasn’t familiar with how they do marketing in the big leagues.

There were also frequent stories and rumors about squabbles on the set between Smith and Willis. While the truth of these stories is probably significantly different than the headlines would portray them, they did serve to draw attention to the movie.

The issue of the title came up again shortly before the expected release of a first trailer when speculation, based on a title found on the Warner Bros. website, started circulating that the title had been changed to Cop Out, a change that had, of course, actually occurred.

And no, I’m not going to waste any time talking about the Southwest Airlines story. “Meh” would actually be overstating my feelings on the matter. Though on Twitter Smith did say once or twice that he turned down some publicity opportunities because they would have wound up being less about the movie and more about this incident.

There was also some conversation (New York Times, 2/19/10) about how this movie fit in to the “buddy copy” genre and hearkened back to some of that genre’s roots, including the fact that the pair in this movie is bi-racial.

Despite the Southwest incident there were some long-lead interviews with Smith such as this one in Wired (2/22/10) where he continues to be the most self-deprecating guy possible.

Overall

It’s not bad, but it’s missing an important element: Smith himself.

Let me unpack that a bit. The marketing for the last two movies he’s written and directed – Clerks 2 and Zack and Miri – have been fun and loose with a light attitude and absolutely filthy mouth. They have, in other words, been representative of the director himself. And that’s missing from this campaign. In the place of that attitude is a pretty by-the book effort that hits many, but not all, of the right notes but never succeeds in making a strong case for the movie.

In light of that it would have been interesting to see what would have happened if Warner had told Smith to go and do his thing and let them know how it turns out. Or at least given him the freedom to do his thing in parallel to their efforts. This kind of movie, because we all know the source material and because we’ve seen so many variations on it that have varied from really good to really bad, needs a breath of fresh air in how it’s presented to the audience.

I don’t have a problem with how Smith was (or wasn’t) included in the official marketing for the movie. It’s often the case, even with legendary directors like Woody Allen or Martin Scorcese , that the marketing will leave the director off much of the material because that’s not what’s going to draw the audience in. But when you have someone who has shown such a passion for creating his own materials in the past it can be a good idea to give him or her a little latitude in this area.