Movie Marketing Madness: The Myth of the American Sleepover

If you read stories in Time and Newsweek you’re probably convinced that the notion of teenagers having crushes and summer romances is dead and buried, replaced by hook-ups and a complete deconstruction of romance and all the butterfly-laden stomachs and dreamy eyes that used to come with it. The consequences of a culture saturated by Britney Spears and her ilk are, according to much of the press coverage of teenage lifestyles, that first love is a thing of the past.

But the new movie The Myth of the American Sleepover appears to make the case that this is not so much the case. The movie stars a cast of first-time actors and takes place in a small Texas town where a group of teenagers are enjoying their summer. No wacky hijinks or high-concept plots are in store for them, though. Instead the story is about how these budding adults begin to address their feelings toward the opposite sex. And far from a “everyone jumps into bed with everyone else” story it’s more about furtive glances, blushing cheeks and tentative hands coming together.

All that means a lot of the story elements that are usually pulled out for campaigns simply aren’t there. It also means the filmmakers are going to have a harder time appealing to teens than usual because this movie does not appear to be going for “hip,” edgy” or any derivation thereof. So let’s dive in.

The Posters

There’s not much to the movie’s one poster but it’s still much better than many other minimalist one-sheets that are released. The entire cast is presented in animated form (despite it not being an animated movie) standing against a garage that could be found in any American suburb. The large number of people make it clear this is an ensemble film and it’s clearly about young people. Some helpful quotes from early, festival-based reviews along with the symbols for those film festivals it’s appeared at are shown at the top.

The Trailers

The first trailer (later more officially released), released in advance of the movie’s debut at SXSW 2010, doesn’t actually introduce to any of the characters by name. But it does introduce us to a collection of characters in suburban America who are, seemingly, either in or about to leave high school and who are struggling with the romantic portions of their lives. So we get lots of shots of teens furtively touching and kissing each other, very much seeming to experiment with the feelings they have in unsure ways. So it comes off as very low-key and charming and it’s clear the movie is full of naturalistic performances from a cast of unknowns, which makes it easy for the audience to project their own experiences on to them and so resonates maybe just a tad more deeply than it otherwise would have.

Online

There are kind of two websites for the movie, though neither is that much more fully stocked than the other.

One, which we’ll call the official website for reasons of discussion, has been around for a while and has the trailer, some aggregation of press quotes and links round-ups of the movie’s festival appearances.

The other, an IFC-official site, has some information on the cast and story synopsis along with a Photo Gallery. Many of the same press quotes are here as well, though sans the links the official site has.

There is a Facebook page for the movie that’s surprisingly robust, a testament to how the filmmakers are trying to get out there and hustle. And the director, David Robert Mitchell, has been beating the Twitter drums in support of the movie.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Nothing that I’ve seen, though it’s like I was expecting a whole heck of a lot from such a small and non-commercial movie like this.

Media and Publicity

The film certainly put in its time on the festival circuit, appearing at both SXSW 2010 and Cannes 2010, two high-profile debuts that garnered the movie a good amount of positive buzz. Those appearances would later win it a distribution deal from IFC, largely because of that buzz, right around the time it was screening as part of the Chicago International Film Festival.

After that it was up to the director to continue selling the movie to the press as he does in this interview (Filmmaker, August 2011) where he talks about the origins of the story and how he sought to tap into something more real about the teenage experience than what’s usually presented on film.

Overall

At the outset I mentioned that, lacking many of the “edgy” hooks of most teen-focused movies this film was going to have a harder time reaching those young people than most studio-produced teen films. To compensate for that and in order to show off the film’s true strengths the marketers have instead apparently chosen to sell the movie to the adult art-house crowd.

The fact that the movie screened at Cannes is evidence of that in and of itself but the rest of the actual campaign bears out that notion as well. The marketing shows a movie that has a strong story going for it and is full of naturalistic, emotional moments from the rookie cast. We, as the audience, are sold a movie that might not be so hip it need elastic-wasteband-pants but does have something more interesting to say. And that’s going to appeal more to those who like a little more steak than sizzle in their film choices.

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