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.