Movie Marketing Madness: The Town

There’s that famous saying that everyone loves to pull out about there being no second acts in American life. It gets used whenever someone, usually a celebrity, fails to capitalize on their initial burst on to the scene fully and eventually flames out in a flurry of poor career choices and a personal life of struggles that overcomes whatever goodwill they may have built up.

Ben Affleck is certainly someone whom, five years, ago, that quote could have been applied quite accurately to. Having initially come to everyone’s awareness as the result of great turns in a couple of Kevin Smith movies (Mallrats and Chasing Amy) and then hitting the big time with Good Will Hunting, his collaboration with friend Matt Damon, Affleck was seen as a true talent. But then he started dating Jennifer Lopez, made a handful of questionable role decisions and was generally seen as a cautionary tale on how to now handle your celebrity status.

Then in 2006 he took a couple years off from acting – from 2006’s Smoking Aces to 2009’s He’s Just Not That Into You – and directed a critically acclaimed movie in Gone, Baby Gone while seemingly re-evaluating what he was doing.

The latest point in that evolution once again sees Affleck behind the director’s lens with The Town. Set in his own native Boston, Affleck also stars here as the leader of a gang of criminals, mostly a bank robbery crew, who is being pursued by a tireless FBI investigator (Jon Hamm). As he prepares for another job he finds himself increasingly attracted to the manager of a bank that his crew had previously targeted (Rebecca Hall) and therefore questioning his decisions. So he tries to find a way out of the only life he’s known, a life that is all violence and will likely end with him either dead or in jail, and the promise of a new one with this new love interest.

The Posters

The poster makes what I would consider an odd choice. The primary component of the design is a bunch of bank robbers dressed as nuns, complete with old-lady masks covering their faces. While this is familiar to those who have watched the trailer already, anyone who hasn’t probably thinks this is actually a movie about bank robberies – a feeling accentuated by the “Welcome to the bank robbery capital of America” copy – and not about moral conflict.

Below the title we actually see the movie’s cast, whose names are listed boldly above the title.

While the visuals are a bit perplexing – at least they are to me – the gritty, washed out look on the poster is nicely consistent with the look of the trailer, making it clear that the film is set in a colorless urban world of broken dreams and hard characters.

The Trailer

The movie’s first trailer does a good job of setting things up both in terms of character and story. We’re quickly introduced to Hall’s character as she recounts her experience being taken captive by a gang of bank robbers to Hamm’s FBI investigator. In to her life comes Affleck, seemingly as a potential suitor but we quickly see that he is part of the band of crooks being chased down by the FBI. What Affleck’s intentions for her aren’t clear, though the two seem to have genuine feelings for each other, despite the fact that their relationship begins essentially with Affleck kidnapping her.

The trailer moves fast and while it occasionally emphasizes the action set pieces there’s also a clear focus on the plot and characters that form the more dramatic elements. We see Affleck sparring with his criminal buddies as he attempts to convince them his new girlfriend has no clue who they are. In one of the more interesting moments we also see Hamm’s investigator approach Affleck’s ex-girlfriend, who he’s spurned in favor of this new woman, as he attempts to hunt down the thieves.

It’s a bang-bang trailer, whether those bangs are coming from the explosions or the character moments and it does a good job of setting up some excitement around the movie.

Online

Immediately after the official website finishes loading a video player flies in from the side to begin playing the movie’s trailer.

The “About the Film” section contains a Synopsis that lays out an overview of the movie’s story and explains just where the conflict in the movie is going to generated, namely from the pull of Affleck’s character in two directions and his desire to leave his current life behind. There are also Production Notes that download as a PDF with no warning (annoying) and which cover many of the aspects of casting the movie, shooting it and more.

Much of the same background information that’s in that PDF is also found in the “Cast/Filmmakers” section, which has information on the film histories and other tidbits about the talent.

“Videos” just has the one trailer but not, unfortunately any of the TV spots that were released or any other clips from the movie. There are well over 30 – possibly as many as 40, it got hard to keep count – stills in the “Photo” gallery, mostly grouped by subject. So you get a bunch of Renner followed by a batch of Hamm followed by Hall and so on.

There are a handful of Wallpapers and Buddy Icons in the “Downloads” section. And the site rounds out with sections on various “Sweepstakes” that were run by other sites and information on the “Soundtrack.”

The movie’s Facebook page contains updates with photos from the movie, TV spots and more. Not much in terms of publicity there, mostly just the marketing materials.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A handful of TV spots were created and run that were more or less abridged trailers. Many of them, though, completely excised the romantic angle from the story in favor of an emphasis on gun fights and car chases. Can’t blame the marketers for taking such a turn with these spots, especially for spots that were running during the summer, but it still presents a vastly different view of the movie than the trailer does. And considering The American, the recent George Clooney movie, got lambasted for setting one set of expectations through its action-focused advertising and then delivering something vastly different, people – especially industry watchers – are keeping a close eye for another example of this happening.

Media and Publicity

One of the first bits of buzz generation for the movie was the announcement it would be making an appearance at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival. It would also then screen at the Venice International Film Festival.

Hall and Hamm were both interviewed (W Magazine 8/10) on what they went through to be cast in the movie and what it was like to work with Affleck in the star/director’s home town.

The movie was pegged as one that was specifically designed to showcase Affleck’s multi-hyphenate talents (New York Times, 9/1/10) and bring him in to his own. That comes as he tries to put the late-90s to early 00s and the poor choices he made in terms of roles behind him, a history that story makes it a point to make sure we all remember. It’s also interesting that, as the story says, it’s not a project Affleck himself originated but one that was brought to him by the studio and which he was then able to put his mark on.

Hall got the spotlight to herself as well, with a feature (New York Times, 9/8/10) on how the actress is among the best of a new generation of leading ladies who put craft above commerce and are more interested in doing the work than talking about it.

Overall

It’s a really good campaign for what looks to be a good, solid, character-driven drama with the potential to be more than what it appears to be at first glance. Part of the “what it appears to be” is based on the slight difference between what’s shown in the trailer and what’s shown in the advertising, which is much more of an intense action movie.

For those who follow such things this movie also comes with the baggage of Affleck’s previous directorial effort, for which he received a number of accolades. So the expectation is there that this will continue to show the actor as a solid talent behind the camera as well as in front of it.

Moving past how the movie is presented in slightly different ways to slightly different audiences, the other components are all right. The poster is good but, as I stated, seems kind of odd in how it’s laid out. But the trailer and website are strong and more or less make up for that. So all in all it’s a good effort on display here.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

  • 09/16/10: Aris at AdAge makes the connection between this movie’s poster and the Keanu Reeves classic Point Break, which I’m kind of ashamed of myself for not thinking of.

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