Challenger

Hard to believe today is the 25th anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger tragedy. I think I was in fifth grade at the time and can remember watching these events unfold in much the way that story describes, on television in the classroom. Just a shocking event that still holds a lot of power for many of us of this generation.

Movie Marketing Madness: The Rite

What does evil look like? That’s a question that civilization has wrestled with since time in memorial as we seek not only to portray it in our artwork but also try to look for the warning signs before something really bad happens. It goes to the issue of wanting to be able to look at someone and be able to predict that they’re evil. They just look the part. While our culture has given us many visual shorthands for evil – beady eyes, twirling black mustache and all that – there’s no sure way we can know for sure what we’re looking at is inherently bad to the core.

The question of what evil looks like is at the heart of most movies about demonic possession and The Rite is no different. In the movie a young Catholic priest named Michael (Colin O’Donoghue) is sent to Rome to attend classes on exorcisms. A skeptic, Michael is partnered with Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins), an expert on the subject who has performed countless such rituals in his own unique way. But as they investigate the latest case things take a turn for the worst and both men have their beliefs challenged.

The Posters

The first poster for the film takes a pretty standard and largely predictable approach to its design. The overall image is that of a cross, though one that appears to be on a wall that has suffered some fire damage, through which Hopkins’ face is peering out of, with his blue eyes being the only thing in color on his face. The whole idea here is to literally put the fear of God in the audience while presenting the movie as being largely a known quantity that may have a couple of genuine scares contained in it.

The copy toward the bottom strikes a tone similar to what we’ll see in the trailer by saying “You can only defeat it when you believe.”

It’s not bad, but the use of the cross is exactly the same route most every other exorcism movie, every drama set at a Catholic school or monastery or with any over over-arching religious theme takes so there aren’t any points for creativity being handed out here.

A second poster took the cross and turned it upside down, because that way it’s more edgy and no one actually cares, apparently, about how it’s portrayed. Hopkins gets billing at the top all to himself and he appears to the side of the image looking very creepy with his face half-obscured by shadows. The other images along the outside of the poster are similarly creepy: nails, someone writhing in agony and so on. It’s not as good as the first one, I don’t think, but this look and feel will be carried over into other elements of the campaign, primarily the website.

The Trailers

The trailer starts off with lots of Latin text, meant to immediately put us in mind of the Catholic church, and then some historic paranoia, with intonations of how the Catholic church denied (meant to be interpreted as covered up) a report about it dispatching thousands of exorcists around the world.

After that it’s a mix of scenes that show Hopkins and O’Donoghue going up against various possessed individuals or talking about how they’re going to go up against various possessed individuals, with a couple looks at a couple of the creepies that they are trying to rid of the demons, folks who are decked out in spooky makeup that’s meant to hopefully appeal to fans of more hard-core horror. There are also a couple looks that make it seem as if Hopkins’ character is at one point chained up himself but that’s never explored in favor of some more thrills and quick cuts.

The second trailer still spends a good amount of time on setup, showing how the American priest played by O’Donoghue winds up in Rome and winds up meeting Hopkins’ older exorcism expert. They clash over whether these people are simply sick or if they are, in fact, possessed. But then we see what the twist is going to be, which is that Hopkins’ priest seems to be coming under the devil’s influence himself, meaning that the believer and most powerful hunter is out of commission and the skeptic overcome his doubt and take over. So this one is a little more insightful but it still comes off as a pretty standard horror flick with little actual terror but lots of smash-cuts that will make the audience jump because they’re timed with dramatic music cues.

Online

Of course the official website opens by playing the movie’s trailer. The first section of content after that, though, is “About the Movie.” There you’ll find a Synopsis that spends two sentences on the plot and two paragraphs on the credits block. There are also Cast and Filmmaker biographies and backgrounds as well as Production Notes that are available in PDF form for you to download.

“Videos” just has the two trailers while “Photos” has, by my count, over 30 stills. “Downloads” has both posters, Wallpapers, Buddy Icons and a Screensaver.

There’s a section here for the “Soundtrack” that lets you preview the songs there as well as buy the album from Amazon and one that lists all the sites that had a “Sweepstakes” going.

Finally there’s a section called “Exorcism Class” that has pictures from exorcisms (whether they’re real or not I’m unsure of – they might be an extension of the scene from the movie that’s shown in the trailers) and one called “True Events” that has links to stories about exorcisms, including the 2010 event that supposedly inspired this movie.

There are also links at the bottom of the page to the Warner Bros. Twitter profile and the Facebook Page for the movie, which has photos, videos and other updates, including more exorcism-related news stories.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The TV spots for the movie were split along the same lines as the two trailers, with some presenting a general exorcism movie and others making it more explicit that something demonic is going to take control of Hopkins’ character. The spots are just about as good as those trailers, with lots of smash cuts and dark hallways and all that.

Media and Publicity

If there’s been a massive amount of publicity I’ve completely missed it. The lack of press that has been of any sort of high profile says to me that this is one of those movies that’s getting sent to theaters on a wing and prayer in January without much support behind it.

Overall

Yeah, “January dump” pretty much sums up what I think about this campaign. The posters, trailers and website are alright, as are the TV spots that were run. It’s obvious that the studio isn’t completely abandoning the movie but it’s all so half-hearted that it’s hard to feel that there was any real belief the movie would break out and succeed at the box-office. So while there’s nothing wrong with the campaign – it may find some appeal among fans of more adult-oriented horror fare – there’s also no spark behind it that’s going to help propel it.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

  • 01/28/11: Catholics seemed to be fairly unsure as to whether the movie was good or bad for that particular domination, though the marketing certainly played up the religion more than the horror.

Social Sundance

As if you weren’t already aware, the 2011 Sundance Film Festival kicks off today and continues on for the next week or so with plenty of screenings, panel discussions and schmoozing going on. If you, like me, aren’t there in person – or even if you are and can’t get to everything – Search Engine Land has a good rundown of some of the ways you can keep up with the goings-on through social media.

You can also check-out the YouTube Screening Room for select shorts from this and past year’s festivals and learn how some of the movies making their premiere at Sundance will be available through various VOD platforms so those at home can enjoy them. Same goes for those appearing at Slamdance, which is also kicking off in Park City.

Where the distribution industry stands

2011 is still relatively new and a number of interesting stories have come out in the last few days that show where the movie industry stands in terms of adapting (or not) to the way consumer behavior is impacting the entire distribution picture.

First up is the Los Angeles Times, which has an omnibus story (1/18/11) on the rough year that was for the entertainment industry, which was down almost across the board. For studios, the picture is rough because DVD sales were down 13% last year as people stopped buying and continued renting, either from Netflix or Redbox (and others). So while more people are seeing the movies, each transaction brings in less revenue. Those with money aren’t building their home video libraries but instead are buying mobile gadgets on which they can watch streaming video or their latest rentals.

To bolster that point, a new study from the NPD Group shows that movie rental kiosks like the ones operated by Redbox and Blockbuster surpassed traditional store-based rentals last year and now account for 31% of rentals, second only to Netflix’s 41% share of the market.

Netflix continues to be the apple of absolutely no-one’s eye in Hollywood, with many executives complaining openly (Hollywood Reporter, 1/14/11) about how the prices that company pays for content is significantly below what they’ve traditionally gotten from cable networks. The one bright spot for Netflix continues to be catalog titles and canceled TV shows, which it seems to be the only buyer for and which helps bring in some money to the studios. But Netflix is going to have some rough going in the near future as it tries to offer more streaming titles, which cost more to license but don’t have the mailing costs that mount up rather quickly.

Older movies are also bringing in more revenue as a result of custom DVD-burning operations a number of studios have introduced recently. These made-to-order services allow customers to choose from hundreds of movies in a studio’s library that haven’t yet been released to DVD because they lack the necessary level of mass popularity and have the movie burned to DVD n a one-off order. While the money might not be huge on each title, the volume has begun adding up to be a significant income generator for the studios that have opened their archives in this manner.

One move Netflix made recently as part of that transition to a streaming focus caused some upset among customers. The company announced that devices that were used for streaming (mobile devices, game consoles) would no longer allow people to add a movie to their DVD queue from that device. Netflix says it wasn’t a widely used feature anyway but the outrage about that removal of functionality has been notable.

That streaming is the future is also the logic behind the $10 million in financing just secured by SnagFilms, which is looking to spend that money to expand beyond the documentaries that it started with into fiction feature films. With the credibility SnagFilms already has as well as its ownership of IndieWire, the site could become a major distribution player for independent films if it’s willing to pay filmmakers at a decent level, which is what I’d suspect some of that money is going to be used for, especially if the site is already profitable as reported.

How these things continue to develop in 2011 is going to be fun to watch.

Line in the sand

I had planned on publishing a Movie Marketing Madness review of the Natalie Portman/Ashton Kutcher sex comedy No Strings Attached today but have been wrestling with that decision, ultimately deciding to scrap it. Not only that but I’ll be passing on other upcoming movies that I might otherwise have covered, notably Hall Pass, Just Go With It and Friends With Benefits.

The reason I’m punting on these is that I just can’t get over my feeling that these movies have some morally reprehensible thematic material. All seem to treat the institution of marriage as a joke, either by portraying it as some sort of burdensome partnership that stifles a guy’s perfectly natural impulses or as being wholly unnecessary since sex is all about physical pleasure and has no connection to marriage or the creation of children.

To be sure there are countless movies that take this attitude as part of their story but the movies I’ve listed above are extreme examples of it, so extreme that I just can’t get over my problems with their subject matter and am unwilling to give them any extra attention by showcasing them here.

–Chris

What I hope happens this year

My latest AdAge column covers a handful of points that I hope come to fruition in 2011 when it comes to movie marketing. As I state at the outset, I really shied away from making predictions since they’re not all the useful and instead just put together a wish list of what I’d like to see happen. We’ll see whether any of these actually come to fruition or if things just continue to get bigger, more fragmented and so on. More than likely if any of these points are going to be ignored it will be by the biggest of the big tent-pole movies coming out since all tools will be used that can be used in their service regardless of whether or not they *should* be used.

If you’re looking for more traditional predictions, some of the AdAge staff put together a couple of ideas they think we’re likely to see this year, including the continued shrinking of release windows and the de-emphasis on 3D to some extent.

Movie Marketing Madness: Barney’s Version

Let’s just be honest – some people are, have been and always will be a mess. That doesn’t mean they’re fundamentally bad people. Sure, some are, but just because someone is constantly living in a state of being flustered, directionless and in some sort of conflict with those around them doesn’t automatically mean that they’re not good people. Often they’re just not comfortable in their own skins and haven’t found good ways to deal with that. They try and they love their friends and families but are, again, just kind of a mess.

One of those type of people appears to be the subject of the new movie Barney’s Version. The movie tells the story of Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti) a guy who doesn’t seem to know what he wants or wants things at the wrong time. His first wife Clara (Rachelle Lefevre) is a bohemian spirit who’s always cheating on him. His second (Minnie Driver) is a spoiled woman who Barney loathes. But when marrying that second wife he meets – and begins chasing after – the woman (Rosamund Pike) who he feels is his true love. The movie is based on the novel by Mordecai Richler that has a lot of fans but which, as we’ll see later on, has been a struggle to translate to the screen.

The Posters

The movie’s poster is a relatively simple design but it does a number of things that I think increase its attractiveness to the audience, at least the portion of the audience that’s going to be pre-disposed to character-driven movies like this.

The design shows mostly the interplay between Giamatti and Hoffman, which is the first thing it does right since the more these two are on-screen playing off each other the better the movie is likely to be, at least that’s the promise here. At the top it shows off the three women that will make up Barney’s romantic history but at the very top are the badges of the film festivals the film has appeared at, giving it that much more credibility in the eyes of that discerning audience. Below the main Giamatti/Hoffman picture is the tagline “First he got married. Then he got married again. Then he met the love of his life.” That’s a great encapsulation of the film’s story in a concise way that’s kind of funny and does a lot to convey the spirit of the movie when matched up against the trailer.

The Trailer

The movie’s first official trailer is kind of fantastic – much better than the early promotional and international versions that had appeared earlier.

We are introduced early on to the premise behind the title, that there’s a story to Barney’s life and this is his version. That life is mainly told through the romances in it, beginning with his first wife, who was carrying another man’s baby but making him think it was his, to his second, which seems to be a physical thing, to the woman he eventually fell in love with after meeting her on the day of that second wedding. There’s a bit toward the end about a gun that ties back to the opening, where someone is confronting him about being a murderer but that’s not really explained or expanded upon.

This is a role Giamatti fits in to very nicely since Barney is kind of a schlub who seems perpetually melancholy but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t seem to play this role very nicely. Particularly attractive seem to be the scenes he shares with Hoffman since this is exactly the kind of role that actor would have – and did – play 20 years ago. So it works in presenting the film as an entertaining but largely known quantity with some reliably good performances.

Online

The movie’s official website opens by playing the trailer, which is certainly worth re-watching. You an also view a handful of Stills, find a theater near you that’s playing the movie, read “About the Cast” and download a Press Kit. there’s also information on the source novel and the option to buy it right there.

Entering the site the first section, which loads automatically, is the “Synopsis,” which gives a pretty good overview of the movie’s story.

“Trailer” just as the trailer, obviously and “Gallery” has mostly the same collection of stills that were seen before.

The “Cast” section here has the same information that was found earlier but it’s broken up by actor and not just one long document with everyone’s information. The same sort of backgrounds are given for those behind the camera in “Filmmakers.” Some information on the author can be found under “Mordecai Richler.”

“Reviews” just has a couple of pull quotes from early reviews of the movie but no links to read them in their entirety and “Press Kit” has the same PDF download available.

The “About the Production” section is pretty robust, starting with the publication of the novel and providing an overview of the story before getting in to how the movie actually and eventually came together.

The movie’s Facebook page is pretty standard, with information on where Giamatti in particular was doing publicity for the film and with the usual assortment of photos and video to offer people there.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Nothing that I’ve seen.

Media and Publicity

News of the movie’s acquisition by Sony Classics was the first real bit of news about the movie other than an international trailer (not covered here) that had hit the web  a few months previous. That news coincided with the movie’s debut appearance (Reuters, 9/10/10) at the Venice International Film Festival and, at about the same time, at the Toronto International Film Festival. Between these two appearances the initial buzz about the movie was largely positive, mostly focusing on the excellent cast and their performances.

The journey the movie took from its source book to the screen was also the focus of some stories (New York Times, 11/28/10) that looked at what was cut, what had to be modified and how such a winding and twisting narrative was eventually made to fit into the form and structure film demands.

Co-star Rosamund Pike got profiled (Los Angeles Times, 12/2/10) for having such a varied and unorthodox career that has included some choices that might seem odd based on the fact that she first appeared on the scene as a Bond Girl but which have allowed her to follow her own path. Then both Pike and Giamatti were interviewed (LAT, 12/3/10) about how Barney’s Version fits in – or doesn’t – with the majority of what’s in theaters and what they think about the material.

Overall

The campaign works in its efforts to appeal to fans of independent, character-driven movies by playing up the performance of Giamatti, which is really a no-brainer when it comes to what to highlight. The poster puts him front and center (alongside Hoffman, which again is a great pairing) and he’s in almost every frame of the trailer.

The marketing plays the movie as a tragically funny film filled with moments that you may laugh at as you look through the fingers you’re covering your eyes with because they’re also quite painful as the main character self-destructs before your very same eyes. It all plays together very nicely though and, as I said, presents a very attractive option for those people looking for something that is a little tougher to digest this time of year.

Movie Marketing Madness: The Dilemma

At some point or another in a friendship one person will have to be the one to break bad news – or at least speak some sort of brutally honest but largely uncomfortable truth – to the other. That could be something as innocuous as telling them that, despite what they might be thinking they really shouldn’t wear those shorts or something life-altering like admitting that they don’t really get why they’re so excited about “Red Dwarf” despite the hours that have been spent watching and discussing it.

The big one, though, is when you have to tell a friend something unfortunate about the person they’re married to or dating and that’s what forms the premise of the new Ron Howard-directed film The Dilemma. Business partners Ronny and Nick (Vince Vaughn and Kevin James, respectively) are also great personal friends, doing everything with each other and their ladies, Nick’s wife Geneva (Winona Ryder) and Ronny’s girlfriend Beth (Jennifer Connelly). But then one day by happenstance Ronny sees Geneva kissing another guy (Channing Tatum). Ronny the wrestles with the decision as to whether or not to tell his friend about the indiscretion, not wanting to be the bad guy and the bearer of bad tiding.

Let me just say right off the bat here that the premise doesn’t make a ton of sense. Sure it provides the springboard for what’s likely to be some good comedic moments. But to any self-respecting guy above the age of about 10 this isn’t really much of a dilemma. You may not want to be the one that punctures someone’s perceived perfect world but, if you know something, you have to say it. There isn’t even a decision process that goes into this – it’s just the right thing to do.

That being said, let’s take a look at how this ridiculous – though likely funny – story is being sold.

The Posters

The movie’s single poster does little to nothing for the movie. It’s just Vaughn and James (actually I think it’s wax statues of the two of them) standing there smiling at the camera with the title treatment in the middle of the image. There’s nothing – not even some annoying copy – that talks about the story or anything else. It’s selling the movie strictly on the assumption that the audience will find the two stars charming and amusing in and of themselves without any explanation as to what the movie is about being necessary.

The Trailers

The trailer starts off with Vaughn doing his verbal thing, immediately selling the movie to the audience as an extension of his on-screen persona. We then see that he and James are the best of friends and that they, along with their smoking hot wives, hang out together pretty regularly.

But then the story starts as Vaughn sees Ryder kissing some other guy. He then begins asking anyone he comes across what he should do about the situation, getting all sorts of different answers.

Aside from a joke about Vaughn landing in some powerfully poisonous plants that’s setup and to which we see the payoff (likely not the only one) for, that’s about it. The trailer sells the movie as a light and fun good time with some actors who the audience can relate to going through the funny lines and not much else, but that’s probably all it really needs to do.

The second trailer excises the controversial opening joke from the first one (see the massive amount of ink spilled on that issue below) and presents more of a straight-forward pitch for the movie. We again get the setup of Vaughn and James being salesmen but then we move more quickly into Vaughn seeing Ryder cheating on James and then following her around. Much of the rest of the spot is about him trying to figure out what to do with that information, including confronting Ryder about it, which leads to a little stare down between the two of them.

I labeled this as more straight-forward since, while the focus is still clearly on Vaughn’s character, there are less digressions into his off-topic moments, specifically the running joke about him landing in some poison plants. So there’s time here for those other plot elements.

I’m still not sure why we need to see so much of Queen Latifah’s graphically inappropriate descriptions of her reactions to the presentations, though.

Online

The first page on the movie’s official site gives you a few tidbits of content before fully entering. There’s a “Story” synopsis that isn’t bad but is displayed in a font that makes it incredibly hard to read. The “Gallery” has 22 stills from the movie with a few behind-the-scenes shots with Howard thrown in as well. There’s also the “Trailer” and a “How Far Would You Go For a Friend” sweepstakes that gave away a trip to Aspen and other prizes that requires you to login to Facebook to participate.

When you do Enter the Site you immediately watch the second trailer. If you close that you get a rotating series of images from the movie.

The “Video” section has just the second trailer (an attempt to unremember the first one that raised so many hackles?) and four TV Spots.

“The Film” has the same Story synopsis that’s on the front page along with Cast Bios, Crew Bios and Production Notes that come as a PDF download.

Under “Downloads” you’ll find a handful of Wallpapers, some Icons for your instant messaging life and Twitter Skins that you can add to your social networking profile. Finally “Images” has the same handful of stills that were already mentioned.

One thing that has to be noted is that there are an awful lot of “Share” options on the site. Almost every section of the site allows you to share photos, videos or whatever on the social network of your choice. Or, if you prefer, you can mark your presence on the entire site through one of the Share links at the bottom of the page. The studio certainly wants to encourage people to spread the word to their friends about the movie.

The film’s Facebook page opens with the “How Far Would You Go” sweepstakes and also has a game that is supposed to put you in the position of helping Ronny navigate the situation he’s in. In addition to that there videos, photos and updates as to the talents publicity efforts.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A lot of TV advertising was done, much of which focused primarily on Vaughn. A lot of the spots showed the same setup of the two guys pitching their car technology, then transitioning over to Vaughn finding out about Nick’s wife and trying to find out the truth. They’re good spots that retain the same spirit and tone as the trailers but the already frantic pace of those trailers is only increased by the shortened running time commercials allow for.

There also appeared to be lots of outdoor advertising done using the same artwork that was featured on the poster. Of course many people couldn’t help but point out that this artwork featured plenty of post-production work, which it very much did.

Media and Publicity

The first bit of coverage for the movie outside of reports of it shooting in and around Chicago was when the first still debuted (USA Today, 8/20/10), something that may seem silly for a movie like this but which was still covered extensively.

Aside from a brief bit of questioning about why the movie was being released in January (Los Angeles Times, 10/6/10), which the studio explained as being the result of January no longer having the “dumping ground” stigma to it, the next bit of publicity for the movie was not very good.

Despite the fact that the first trailer had been out for almost a month prior to this, Anderson Cooper raised a bit of a firestorm (LAT, 10/8/10)when, during an appearance on “The Ellen Degeneres Show,” he decried the use of the word “gay” in a derogatory or disparaging way. That led the studio to announce it was pulling that first trailer and releasing a new one, though it stressed that the release of a second version was planned all along for this time and had nothing to do with the controversy.

Indeed the incident blew up in to a full-fledged crisis in a very short period after that first report, resulting in discussions of the use of such jokes (LAT, 10/12/10) and statements from GLAAD that it too was offended (Hollywood Reporter, 10/11/10), though it’s initial silence was simply because it was already negotiating with Universal and didn’t want to go public since they felt a solution was coming. Part of the uproar to be sure had a lot to do with the fact that there were some true tragedies involving homosexual teens in the news just prior to this, so it hit the media at a particularly sensitive moment.

All that sort of culminated in a story (LAT, 10/30/10) that had Howard himself defending the decision to keep the joke in the movie but also making some important points about how society can’t both self-censor everything that might possibly offend someone, especially when it comes to humor, and how some things need to be read on a situation-by-situation basis.

Overall

I’m not sure what to make of this. The campaign certainly sells the movie as a relatively light-hearted good time with a couple of charming comedians that will do their best to sell the material they’ve been given. But there are some definite parts to the marketing that just don’t work, including the poster that shows the two leads in heavily altered forms. The controversy over the first trailer certainly worked to keep people talking about the movie but not in a great manner and considering that wound up dominating the coverage that didn’t allow for a lot of other stories to be told.

The thing the movie – and its marketing – has going for it is that it’s January and audiences may be looking for entertainment options that aren’t quite as heavy as what they’ve been given in the last couple months. Because this is aimed at adults it might not suffer the same fate as Gulliver’s Travels, which tried to bring in families, and go on to be a modest success unless the word-of-mouth that comes out of opening weekend absolutely kills whatever prospects it might have had.

No Predictions Here

For whatever reason I have a deep dislike for making predictions. I don’t mind that others go ahead and engage in their own speculation (I know, my affirmation means a ton to them) but as for myself I just don’t see the need to prove that I’m not sure what’s coming down road in the next 12 months. I could probably make some intelligent guesses but that’s all their going to be: guesses.

Instead what I – and everyone I work with and the other smart folks I know – will be doing is keeping our ears to the ground throughout the year to make sure that if there’s something percolating that will be of use on a client program we know about it, have vetted it and know exactly what to do with it.