Quick Takes: 8/26/11

  • Ben Fritz at the LA Times talks about a recent spate of studios announcing sequel release dates well before the original has even hit theaters, in some case a year or so out from when the first installment will be released. Yes, that’s in part studios trying to claim prime release dates well in advance and thereby taking them away from their competitors but it’s also, I think, about the studios telling fans that they’ve already made plans to continue the story so they should be sure to come out for the first one. The studios want to make audiences comfortable with their plans to continue the story and not just do a one-and-done.
  • Lionsgate is adopting a much lower price point for its speedy VOD release plans for Abduction.
  • Ben Stiller has plans to create and release a series of fake trailers under the banner “The Fake Trailer Project” since apparently he had so much fun with the ones that were part of Tropic Thunder. Fake trailers have been a trend in recent years, not just with Tropic Thunder but also, of course, the Grindhouse double feature that contained a bunch of them.
  • Foursquare is adding Events, including movies, to the things you can check in at using their app. That combines their previous focus on location-based check-ins and activity-based ones that have been the focus of other apps like GetGlue, Miso and others. It’s interesting but still not the killer planning/check-in combination I’d like to see someone develop. The movies portion of Events will be powered through a partnership with MovieTickets.com.
  • Miramax is the latest studio to launch some form of movie rental experiment with Facebook. The rentals will happen through an app but there are options for choosing where and when to watch what you rent.
  • While Stephen Baker is talking about books and how all sorts of proprietary platforms lead to the diminishing of choice (not that surprising) I think it’s safe to say the same holds true for movies.
  • ComicsVine has an interesting round-up of striking visual images that have been used to sell comic book movies that may be (based on your own perceptions) better than the movies themselves.

Movie Marketing Madness: Our Idiot Brother

How we manage the slings and arrows daily life throws at us greatly depends on our overall point of view, the perspective that we hold that we view things through. We can be optimistic, in which case things will almost always appear manageable. Or we can be pessimistic, in which case every new situation is, we’re just sure, going to turn out badly. There are different shades of these two extremes, of course, but when we talk about someone’s general demeanor these are the two categories that are broadly used.

Ned, the character played by Paul Rudd in the new movie Our Idiot Brother, is an eternal optimist. Not the brightest bulb in the room, Ned has bounced through life from one thing to another. After being arrested for selling a little pot Ned is trying to get things back on track and so turns to his three sisters Liz, Natalie and Miranda (played by Emily Mortimer, Zooey Deschenel and Elizabeth Banks respectively) all of whom are at doing different things with their own lives but all of whom fancy themselves more sophisticated and worldly than Ned. But, of course, it’s likely that everyone will have a little to turn from everyone else.

The Posters

The first poster is kind of odd. It looks like a concert poster you’d find stapled to a light pole in 1976, with Rudd’s face in the middle of an orange and yellow designed one-sheet, with his name at the top and those of the actresses at the bottom just below the copy “Everybody has one.” I’m not sure what they’re trying to sell here since this doesn’t do a very good job of playing up Rudd as the central component and gives, outside of that sparse copy, no indication of what the story is about. Just kind of a missed opportunity here.

The second poster was just as odd, telling me that someone has no idea how to sell this movie through a print campaign. It shows Rudd laying in a field of grass with a bemused and naive look on his face, orange Crocs clearly visible on his feet in the background. There’s nothing here again about the movie or anything related to the story and I feel like this is another huge missed chance to convey something – anything – about the overall movie to the audience.

A third poster (never a good sign when a movie like this has this many posters – it shows clearly there’s no clue how to sell the movie) finally puts Rudd in the context of his character’s family. He’s laying sideways on a couch looking very slackerish while the three ladies are sitting next to him looking very proper and serious. It’s the best of the three but that’s not saying very much.

The Trailers

The first trailer for the movie opens with Rudd selling pot to a uniformed police officer, a scenario designed to show just how stupid he really is. That’s followed by him telling his family about the “Tumion” a cross-pollination between a tomato and an onion he’s developing. He’s back to living with his family, specifically his mom but also interacting more with his three sisters, who don’t quite know what to do with him and whose lives he’s constantly getting in the way of.

It’s not terrible but it also doesn’t show anything that might set the movie apart from other kind of amusing comedies. If this really was such a hit at Sundance this trailer doesn’t show exactly why that might have been.

The second trailer was much, much better. It starts out much the same way, with Ned being arrested for, basically, being an idiot and then eventually needing to crash with his various sisters while he tries to sort things out. We see him acting all irresponsible and such and how his behavior impacts the lives of those around him. But then we see more of the redemptive second act, as his family begins to realize that he’s not just a bungling moron who’s out to destroy their lives but a well-meaning person who loves them and loves life even as he bounces from one thing to the next. It’s much more structured and shows off more of what’s to like about the story and the performances and should appeal to a much larger audience.

Online

The official website for the movie opens with some cheery music before giving way to one of the trailers.

Once you get rid of that though there’s some cool stuff there on the main page. If you mouse over one of the pictures on the wall in back of the couch where the characters are sitting you’re prompted to add your photo to the collection by connecting with your Facebook account. And clicking on one of those characters will take you to that actor’s career history and backgrounds. Except for the dog – when you click on him you’re taken to an “interactive” feature that lets you control what the dog does by pushing one of a number of buttons on a little doggie remote control. Kind of cute.

Going back to the navigation menu the first section of content listed there is “About” which just has a Synopsis of the film’s story. “Video” then has both trailers as well as another way to access the Play With the Dog feature. There are 11 stills in the “Photos” section as well as more opportunities for you to add your own portrait via Facebook.

“Cast & Crew” offers you histories on the entire list of major players and creators in addition to whatever you already viewed by clicking through from the front page. You can grab Posters, Desktop Wallpapers and Icons in the “Downloads” area.

Down at the bottom of the page are links to features titled “The Search Begins” and “Photo Booth Tag.” The latter simply takes you to the Albums that are hosted on the movie’s Facebook page (which also has videos, updates on marketing activies and so on) while the former is supposed to let you vote on where Willie Nelson (that’s the dog) should search for Ned next after the two got separated when Ned was arrested. There are a series of videos on the TWC YouTube channel that show the dog’s attempts.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Some TV spots were run that focused on the sort of hippie life being led by the none-too-bright Ned. The commercials obviously couldn’t get too deep into the movie’s story but that didn’t seem to be the point as the emphasis is on selling the movie as a variation on the stoner comedy model. A bit of online advertising may have been done as well that featured the poster key art but that’s about it.

Media and Publicity

The movie was first screened at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, though it had already started generating some chatter prior to that event. At the festival there were plenty of interviews with Rudd, who worried the movie may have come in with expectations that were too high (Los Angeles Times, 1/23/11), Banks talked about working with Rudd (Hollywood Reporter, 1/22/11) and comedy in general and everyone shared their opinions (LAT, 1/23/11) on how it was to work on a movie that seemed to straddle genres like this one does.

Paul Rudd shared some of his own thoughts on potential angles for the movie’s marketing as well.

More seriously there was also a nice story (New York Times, 8/21/11) on how while the movie isn’t autobiographical of the brother/sister team that wrote and directed it their worldview and sensibilities do some out in the characters to a great extent.

Overall

There’s some good stuff here but there’s also a lot of so-so material. The poster component never seems to have fully hit its stride with a string of misfires and even the first trailer did nothing to show the general audience what it was about the movie that festival-goers found so charming. The website is probably the strongest thing here and that’s usually not the case, which unfortunately says something about the rest of the campaign.

Things in general never seemed to come together until close to the end and, honestly, make that Funny of Die video of Rudd’s seem more painfully funny for how accurate it is than anything else. I want to like this campaign since I think the movie is likely quite a bit better than what’s being sold here but if you weren’t tuned in to the festival buzz you probably won’t have that opinion.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

Movie Marketing Madness: Higher Ground

Religion is, of course, an intensely personal thing. Sure, you get up and you go to a church of whatever size and hopefully are able to make some sort of common confession of faith. But when it comes down to it what you believe is something that is, quite literally, between you and God. Different people will experience that in different ways and there’s always pressure – on both small and large scales – to appear just as religious as someone else.

The new movie Higher Ground is about one woman’s struggles with that relationship as well as the ones with the people around her. Corrine Walker (Vera Farmiga, who also directs the movie) is part of a small, tight-knit religious community. But she struggles in her faith, seeking the emotional exuberance some have and the outright confidence others exhibit. Set in the 1960 the story has ties to the women’s liberation movement of that time but Corrine is more concerned with her own place in the world and her life, one that’s been all moving in a direction that she’s no longer sure is the right one.

The Posters

Nothing all that interesting here, just a close-up of Farmiga’s face that’s half cut off by a white, semi-translucent background that then houses the credit block. A pull quote from one early review of the movie as well as its film festival tour history make up the rest of the elements of this one-sheet.

The Trailers

There’s so much going on in the trailer that it kind of makes more simplistic trailers look almost idiotic by comparison and certainly hints at a morally complex movie that’s being sold.

We open in a church where young children are being asked to make a decision for Christ in secret, one girl raising her hand tentatively. We then follow that girl forward a few years as she’s grown and, after some tragedies and troubles in her life, being baptized in a revivalist type of church. At first things appear to be sunshine and roses as she looks to serve her church and family as she thinks she’s meant to, but when a friend hints at some sort of emotional religious experience that Corine just can’t manage and then her sister, who is abusing drugs and has other problems, comes to visit we see the wheels coming off the track. We see she’s having personality conflicts with people in the church and is at odds with her husband, eventually culminating a genuine crisis of faith.

It’s clear this is Farmiga’s movie and it’s equally clear she gives a fantastic performance even just based on what we see here.

Online

The movie’s official website doesn’t have a whole lot of sizzle about it. The site opens up with an image of the poster key art and then, once you Enter the Site, gives you a handful of content options to choose from.

What loads automatically is the “Synopsis,” which doesn’t tell you a whole lot about the story other than it’s based on a woman’s memoir of her struggles with matters of faith and her place in the world.

After that is an interesting section called “The Director” that has first a Statement by, then a Q&A with and finally a profile of Farmiga, all of which touch on why she decided to direct this project and what drew her to the story.

The rest of the talent gets their due in either The Cast or The Filmmaker sections, both of which have career overviews of those involved in the film.

There are about 18 stills in the “Gallery” and “Trailer” just has the trailer, obviously.

There’s nothing in the “Reviews” section as of yet, surprising since there are surely plenty of reviews that came from festival screenings. Finally “Links” has links to the actor and talent’s IMDb and Wikipedia pages where applicable.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Nothing that’s crossed my radar.

Media and Publicity

The movie was picked as one of the most anticipated of those that were debuting at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. While promoting it there Farmiga was interviewed (Hollywood Reporter, 1/23/11) and otherwise offered her own thoughts on her directorial debut (Filmmaker Magazine, 1/23/11) before the movie was later picked up by Sony Pictures Classics.

Later appearances included the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival (THR, 3/14/11) and the Los Angeles Film Festival (Los Angeles Times, 5/3/11).

Overall

If I’m a little disappointed in some aspects of the campaign that appear to come up short (the lack of advertising, what appears to be a slackening of the press coverage in the months between festivals and release) it’s because not only was the buzz coming out of those festivals so strong but other components like the trailer are so good that they make me wish for a stronger overall picture.

As it is this is a decent campaign for movie that will rely strongly on word-of-mouth recommendations to sell someone on the idea of checking out an independently produced movie about religious emotionalism. That can be a hard sell, which is why it’s going to come down to recommendations from one person to the next, something that unfortunately (see the lack of links on the official website) doesn’t appear to be something the studio is intent on amplifying.

Movie Marketing Madness: The Help

If you’ve been at all culturally aware for the last 20 years or so you’ll know there’s a consistent movement afoot to take books and other materials out of libraries and other locations that are, by current standards, ethnically or racially insensitive. Books like Tom Sawyer are often singled out because they contain racial phrases and terminology that, while they were completely acceptable at the time, are offensive were they to be used now. These movements overlook the fact that you can’t just unremember these things and that it is, in fact, better to teach to them than to simply try to remove them from public view.

The issues of race and class are the central themes of the new movie The Help. Set in 1960s Mississippi the movie is about a group of socialite women and the black maids who work for them and who are, like or not, part of their lives. Skeeter (Emma Stone) is an aspiring writer who decides one day to interview those maids, including Aibileen (Viola Davis) an Minny (Octovia Spencer), about their lives under the agreement that they remain anonymous. When the eventual book is published it causes waves in the racially charged world they all live in and causes everyone to reevaluate their thinking and assumptions.

The Posters

The movie’s one poster is pretty simple but does setup the idea of dual worlds being lived in. Stone is the only one facing the camera as she and Bryce Dallas Howard (who plays Hilly, her main social rival in the movie) sit on a public bench as two the maids played by Spencer and Davis stand off to the side chatting about something. At the top is the copy “Change begins with a whisper” and the mention of “change” along with the hairstyles and dresses they’re all wearing clearly put this in the 60s and, presumably, amid the civil rights activity taking place during that decade. There’s not much here about the story but the setting is adequately set up for the audience.

The Trailers

The trailer starts off with Skeeter entering a parlor full of her friends, who don’t seem to be completely on board with the fact that she went to college, nor does her mother who complains of being without grandchildren. The niceties of polite society are in contrast with the way the help is treated, with initiatives to require them to use separate bathrooms even in private homes in addition to the public restaurants and other locations. Skeeter, though, wants to draw attention to this imbalance and sets out to write about things. While none of the housekeepers are anxious to help her out of fear of retribution they eventually come around. So she writes a book blowing the lid off the problems that winds up scandalizing the community.

This trailer works so ridiculously well because of all those involved. While Stone is obviously the star here it’s the entire cast that shines and the trailer plays the film as an ensemble of women that just might be fantastic.

Online

When the official website opens you’ll notice the recreation of the poster key art. Each character, though, is clickable and when you do so you’re taken to a profile of that character along with downloads such as Wallpaper and Photos that feature that character. Those same profiles are accessible by clicking the “Characters” selection from the main navigation menu.

Going back to that menu the first section is “About the Film” which has a Synopsis as well as Cast and Crew information.

The “Gallery” has about a dozen stills from the film and “Videos” has the Theatrical Traller, a Featurette and a Mary J. Blige music video featuring movie footage.

“Share Your Story” is a section presented by Participant Media that encourages you to share an inspiring story of your own, presumably about how you overcame some sort of prejudice or other obstacle or how you’re being held down by such problem.

More Mary J. Blige can be found in the “Soundtrack” along with a list of all the other songs that are featured on the album along with a link to download that album on iTunes. And “Partners” lists the companies that participated in some sort of cross-promotion in conjunction with the film.

The movie’s Facebook page has a lot of multimedia features on the landing page as well as a prompt to use a hashtag when discussing the movie on Twitter, where the movie also had a profile that contained lots of updates on the marketing and more.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Kind of surprising for a movie of this kind (read: small, gentle) it received some of its first advertising pushes during this year’s MTV Movie Awards, where it was kind of the odd-man-out because it didn’t feature superheroes or robots.

There were lots of cross-promotional partners for the movie, including HSN, which offered a special collection inspired by the movie and ran a bit of programming that went behind the scenes on the movie and offered other film information.

Tea company The Republic of Tea offered a special movie-branded blend and coffee retailer Starbucks sold the soundtrack in its stores. Famous Amos offered a scholarship for the best inspiring story. Barnes & Noble, Best Buy and AllRecipes.com are also listed as partners but the details of their involvement aren’t apparent on their website.

Media and Publicity

Some of the earliest press for the movie outside of the release of marketing materials was an interview with many of the cast members (Los Angeles Times, 7/31/11) about how the movie was unusual both because it featured a largely female cast and for how substantive the story was. The uniqueness of the movie and its cast was also the subject of cover stories (EW, 8/4/11) and more coverage that allowed the women to talk about their lives and other topics.

Of course the movie’s setting in the era of the civil rights struggle and how it fits into the long list of feature films and documentaries on that period was the subject of some press (New York Times, 8/9/11). And the fact that the movie featured such strong performances from a diverse cast of women on such a topic naturally made it fodder for awards speculation (LAT, 8/9/11).

The movie also got word-of-mouth help (LAT, 8/9/11) from the NAACP and other organizations that continue to fight against the racial prejudice and problems that persist in the world even today, five decades after the monumental struggles that defined the 60s.

Overall

I’ll admit – I didn’t have high hopes for the campaign when I first heard about the movie. It sounded like a glorified Lifetime story. But the organic way in which things were released and how there hasn’t been a massive and overwhelming push to overdo certain things and fall into certain traps has brought me around a bit. I still would have liked to have seen more from the poster and think the website could have done more to act as a sort of educational hub about the world that the story takes place in but those are minor quibbles. This is a nice and dignified campaign for a movie that, while it kind of looks out of place even at the end of the summer movie season, appears to be worth checking out.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

  • 09/13/11 – Alison Nastasi at Movies.com says the cross-promotion with the Republic of Tea is kind of odd given the movie’s subject matter. I thought it was odd just to see any sort of cross-promotion with this kind of movie.
  • 09/15/11 – According to SocialGuide the movie was mentioned in 15% of all movie-related conversations in the weeks it sat on top of the box-office, the highest of any single movie.

Movie Marketing Madness: 30 Minutes or Less

How we react and behave in high pressure situations defines us to a great extent. There are varying degrees of what can be considered “high pressure” that range from periods of great stress that last months or even years to just a few moments that carry high stakes for ourselves and those around us. It’s whether we have the steely resolve to get through those situations that can decide whether we come out the other side a better person or if we come out of them at all.

The new movie 30 Minutes or Less is about just such a situation. Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) is a slacker pizza delivery dude with an ordinary life that he is blissfully happy with because it entails almost no responsibility. One day he’s kidnapped by a couple of hicks (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson) and told he needs to rob a bank or the bomb they’ve strapped to his chest will go off. Panicking, Nick enlists his friend Chet (Aziz Ansari) to help him carry out the robbery.

The movie, while not based directly on these events, is loosely similar to the real story of a man who was blackmailed into robbing a bank for another party with a bomb strapped to his chest. But the real story has a much more tragic ending as the guy died when the blackmailers detonated the bomb.

The Posters

A pair of posters were the first ones released here, with one side showing Eisenberg and Aziz in their ski masks and the other side showing a couple of nameless and faceless guys wearing gorilla masks like they do in the first trailer. It’s alright but it’s going to come off as a little confusing, I think, for anyone who hasn’t already see that trailer since the two leads aren’t recognizable unless you know it’s them and there’s no context for the guys in gorilla masks.

The later theatrical poster wasn’t exactly what you’d call inspired. It simply shows Eisenberg and Aziz looking a little shell-shocked and nervous in front while McBride and Swardson are in the back clearly in control of the situation and looking quite cocky. It’s not the most artistic design in the world but it shows off who’s in the movie and that’s the major hook here so it’s hard to fault them based on pure practicality.

The Trailers

The first trailer, a red-band edition, starts out by introducing us to the two friends who are having a moment of falling out due to one’s actions with the other’s sister. When Nick goes later on to deliver the pizza he’s tasked with he finds himself set upon by two guys in gorilla masks who are intent not to let him go. When he is released it’s with a bomb strapped to his chest and the mandate to go rob a bank. So he goes to enlist Chet’s help and the two set about trying to execute on that plan. Of course hijinks and wackiness ensue since they’re not professional bank robbers and they’re not really getting along at the moment.

It’s a pretty funny trailer because the red-band freedoms are just used for language purposes and not to show off every crude or semi-crude moment that the movie contains. There’s still the bullet points of a story conveyed here. And as funny as Aziz is, Eisenberg actually might be funnier because he isn’t asked to do quite as much mugging to the camera.

Shortly thereafter a green-band version was released that was essentially the same trailer only with the language and other objectionable bits.

The next trailer went back to red-band land so all sorts of foul language was thrown back in. This time, though, the trailer focused much more on the overall plot and not just on selling the movie as some sort of slacker comedy. We see how the plot to have a pizza delivery driver rob the bank is hatched by the two redneck idiots and some of how they factor into the rest of the movie as well, a much larger perceived role than had been previously shown. There’s still plenty of antics from the two friends who are forced into the heist and, as I said, more of the story itself is shown so this is a good (for all intents and purposes) second entry into the trailer category.

It should be noted that the trailer ends not by promoting the movie’s official website or Facebook page or anything but instead a Twitter hashtag – #dontblowit that people should presumably use when discussing the movie. That’s interesting and all and certainly makes it clear what level of audience is being targeted by the studio, though you have to remember that anyone who uses unnecessary hashtags is ultimately going to “the special hell” reserved for child molesters and people who talk at the theater.

Again, an all-ages version of this trailer was released shortly after the restricted one that showed many of the same scenes and jokes, only with the most offensive bits removed.

Online

The official website loads with a list of options to choose from right off the bat. You can watch one of the Trailers, play a game or check out a couple of the movie’s social networking profiles.

The site’s navigation is laid out as if it’s a neighborhood map and when you mouse-over each area you see a location from the film and are prompted to share your visit there with your Facebook friends, something that’s so granular it’s hard to really comprehend.

The first section is “About the Film” and has a Synopsis as well as Cast and Filmmakers sections, though those just have a picture of each actor in the Cast area and just a list of those who worked on making it in the Filmmakers area. So it’s not exactly overflowing with content.

There’s just the one Trailer in the “Trailers” section, not even links to the restricted ones or any mention of them. “Downloads” has Wallpapers, Twitter Skins and Buddy Icons that echo the first poster key art. Finally the “Photo Gallery” has just 10 stills from the film with a couple behind the scenes shots mixed in.

The movie’s Facebook page has lots of updates with clips and promotional videos from the movie as well as additions to the official site and more. There’s also photos and an emphasis on asking people to pick their favorite quotes from the trailers. The Twitter feed has similar updates as well as information about some out-of-home promotions that were run in the weeks leading up to release. There was also a Tumblr blog setup that contains some video clips and lots of GIFs of scenes from the trailers that either the studio has created or which have been reblogged from others.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

There was an innovative promotion with check-in service Foursquare that awarded movie-themed badges when people checked in at places like pizza shops and banks among others. Once someone earned the badge they were open to getting promos from local movie theaters and were entered into sweepstakes awarding a $3,000 prize.

Some TV spots were created that obviously played down the raunch and language in the movie but which still conveyed the extreme circumstances that are in the story but which are played comically. The emphasis here is still on all four of the primary cast members, especially Eisenberg and McBride.

Media and Publicity

One of the first publicity plays for the movie would be during the hipster-teen targeting MTV Movie Awards this year. There a new clip from the movie was shown to the TV audience in an attempt to get the young audience for that show interested.

Then came news the movie would be screening at 2011 Comic-Con since apparently it was felt the geek crowd there would overlap significantly with the people likely to find this sort of slacker comedy funny.

The fact that there are similarities between the movie’s story and a similar real life incident resulted in stories (AP, 8/7/11) about how the family of the victim in that case weren’t interested at all in the movie and naturally found it distasteful.

Overall

The trailers are, in my opinion, the strongest component of this particular campaign. That’s because they most clearly show the kind of movie that’s being sold, with the other components coming up short in various areas. The posters aren’t really able to convey anything beyond the presence of the certain actors that the audience might find amusing to watch. And the website, very surprisingly, doesn’t include anything about the age-restricted material that’s part of the campaign. I’m really shocked by that since there’s not even a mention of it outside of one prompt on the very front page, which sends people over to Facebook.

It’s obviously selling the movie to the same crowd that came out for movies like Pineapple Express but I’m not sure there’s enough of an emphasis on certain components of the story to fully appeal to that audience. It’s a decent enough campaign but it kind of comes off as a middling effort that doesn’t quite commit to one extreme to the other and I wonder how that’s going to come off to various parts of the moviegoing public.

Quick Takes: 8/8/11

  • Some interesting stats from an AdAge survey regarding the number of trailers people think they’re watching as opposed to last year, what people think of the movie selection being offered this summer and more.
  • The Children’s Advertising Review Unit has asked for an investigation into whether ads for this summer’s Pirates of the Caribbean and X-Men installments violated industry guidelines for advertising to kids. The ads they have a problem with appeared on Nickelodeon but the MPAA backs up statements by the studios that the ads received approval before running. Of course that doesn’t address the real issue of whether the ads were appropriate for kids or not and actually makes the problem worse for the MPAA as it tries to continue avoiding federally mandated regulations.
  • Some interesting developments on the digital distribution front as Warner Bros. introduces Flixster Collections and Sundance announces a way for filmmakers who don’t score a lucrative distribution deal to have their movies be available through online and on-demand platforms. Industry watchers are interested to see what this Christmas looks like with so many digital rental options.
  • A Time Magazine article on very literal movie titles includes a quick quote from yours truly.

Movie Marketing Madness: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

“In a world….” is a popular and very stereotypical way for the narration of a movie trailer to start off. The idea, of course, is to setup the the movie’s premise and tell the audience that the circumstances of a movie’s setting are going to be different – or at least unfamiliar – from that of the one we inhabit on a day to day basis. These sorts of setups can range from large-scale differences (the entire world if flooded and people sail all over looking for dry land) to smaller ones (a world where people juggle goslings).

Back in the ‘70s Charlton “You’ll pry my guns out of my cold dead hands” Heston starred in a fantastic trifecta of such movies that were set in worlds that were either post-apocalyptic or in some other manner extremely dissimilar to our own. In The Omega Man he played Robert Neville in an updating of the I Am Legend story, the last survivor of a plague that had turned anyone it didn’t kill into night-dwelling vampiric creatures. In Soylent Green he played Detective Thorn, a police investigator in a near future where food is so scarce that the populace begins to sustain itself quite literally.

Then of course there was Planet of the Apes, where he played astronaut George Taylor, a man who, through an accident on his ship, lands on a planet where apes have evolved to speak and have formed their own civilization, though one that’s extremely distrustful of humans. That movie spawned a handful of sequels as well as TV shows and more spinoffs that continued the story.

While there was a remake of the original in 2001 from director Tim Burton this week sees the new film Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Not meant to be another retelling of that same story this movie is more a remake of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, an earlier film that went back to show how the planet became dominated by apes. This one is a bit different, though. James Franco stars here as Will Rodman, a researchers working on a cure for Alzheimers. His drug is being tested on apes and one in particular, Caesar (motion captured by Andy Serkis) exceeds all the rest. Eventually, after seeing the detestable way his fellow apes are treated Caesar leads the others in a rebellion that winds up with the apes conquering the humans at every turn.

The Posters

Near as I can tell there was only one domestic poster created and released for the movie, something that strikes me as very unusual for a movie that presumably being eyed as a potential late summer tentpole. That one poster isn’t even all that stylistic or unusual.

Instead it’s just a black poster with the movie’s title on it, Caesar’s face visible through that title treatment. That’s about it for the visual elements, though Franco’s name is at the top and the release date is at the bottom. Also toward the bottom is copy promoting the fact that this comes from Weta Digital and that company’s connection to Avatar is called out. So it’s apparent that the movie, at least in this portion of the campaign, is being sold on the basis of the special effects.

The Trailers

The first trailer for the movie makes it clear that we’re dealing with an origin story here, Franco’s scientist talks to his supervisors about a breakthrough in helping the brain heal itself but his girlfriend (?) is afraid of the possible repercussions. Those repercussions are made clear when the apes, whose intelligence has been increased by this experimental drug, break out from their holding pens and begin to rampage through the city and, it’s presumed, eventually the rest of the country and world. The apes hover menacingly over beds while people are sleeping, careen over cars and jump off of buildings to attack helicopters.

It’s an enormously effective trailer that shows the very beginnings of the story and the stakes involved here. This is a story we more or less know the end of so it’s already clear how things eventually turn out, which means the movie needs to invest in the characters and the “how” of where things go wrong and this trailer makes the case for the filmmakers doing just that.

The second, theatrical trailer once again starts with Franco talking about his “cure” for helping the brain repair itself. But then we see that after his superiors want to shut down his program he goes rogue and brings Caesar home with him to continue his experimentation, which goes far beyond what he originally intended and actually helps the chimps become far more intelligent than he anticipated. After being brought back to captivity Caesar escapes and exposes the rest of the chimps and apes to the drug, creating an army for himself. It’s then that we see things going horribly wrong as the primates wreak havoc along neighborhood streets and in cities, revolting against what they now see as their human oppressors.

So there’s much more plot and story information in this trailer than there was in the teaser, which is to be expected, and more than anything comes off as similarly effective and tight as it lays out the stakes the movie is playing for.

Yet another theatrical length trailer takes us even deeper into the backstory of how the world fell to the apes. We get even more background and information about the doctor’s relationship with Casaer, who he treats as a type of son more than a test subject or anything else. But after some incidents where Casaer gets a little violent he’s imprisoned, which is where his resentment comes from. That gets channeled into his plan to release the rest of the primates being held in the facility and the resulting incredibly intelligent hordes go on a rampage across the planet, bringing human civilization to its knees. It’s another in a line of strong trailers that have, all put together, managed to present this is a compelling entry in the franchise and an interesting looking movie in its own right.

As part of the movie’s appearance at Comic-Con 2011 a final trailer was released that was shorter but was specifically designed to get the audience there out of their seats and excited. We skip all the introduction and setup and start right off with an army of apes and other primates massing in the woods before going on various rampages, both back at the lab where some of them were previously held and then across the streets of San Francisco. This one is all about showing off how massively the apes are revolting against all humans, seeing them as potential oppressors and inferiors to be wiped out. The spot even closes with an ape callously pushing a helicopter off the Golden Gate bridge and purposefully failing to save the person still alive inside.

Online

The official website loads and lets you rewatch one of the trailers, which you should go ahead and do.

Once you enter the site you see both a standard navigation menu on the right and a spinning globe of photos in the main part of the screen. Those various photos, when you mouse over them, show that there’s different things there ranging from photos to videos to downloads.

Going back to that standard navigation menu, the first section there is “Story” which is just a paragraph-long synopsis of the movie’s story. The Cast part of “Cast and Filmmakers” lets you see a description of the character each actor plays when you click on that actor’s name. The Filmmakers just displays what their role in the film was.

There are eight stills in the “Gallery” and all three Trailers as well as two TV Spots are in the “Videos” section, which is surprising since there are more available on the front page in the spinning graphical menu. “Downloads” has Twitter Skins, Wallpapers and Buddy Icons.

Finally the “Comic Book” section lets you view pages from the prequel comic that sets up the movie’s story.

The Facebook page has all sorts of things, including links to various news stories, some of the features on the official site, a stream of Twitter updates and lots of photos and video. The Twitter profile has similar updates including frequent usage of the “#apeswillrise” hashtag that was used throughout the campaign.

A series of videos showing chimps and apes doing things they’d been taught to do like fire machine guns and playing video games were added to the movie’s YouTube channel, presented as research videos that had been collected on primate research.

An iPhone app was released that pitted your knowledge against that of an ape to see who was smarter and could remember more number sequences.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV commercials would start running in early June and feature the same sort of “science gone horribly wrong” theme as the first few trailers, with a continued emphasis on how the evolution of the apes into intelligent beings is the result of some misguided attempts to cure disease. Further spots would continue that theme but also bring in lots of information on the battle that ensues between the apes and the humans.

In the online realm the studio would break some new ground, trying out a new “Promoted Question” format from Q&A site Formspring that allowed it to ask people what they thought might happen if the apes took over. With answers usually distributed to Twitter and/or Facebook there was obviously the hope that the message would reach a much broader audience than just those who used Formspring on a particular day.

Media and Publicity

Aside from casting, some of the first news around the movie came earlier this year when it was announced (Hollywood Reporter, 1/14/11) that its release date had been moved from summer to fall.

Things started to heat up when a five-second bit of footage showing one of the titular apes was released that was designed to, more than anything else, show off the effects of how WETA brought those apes to life. It’s only a slight understatement to say that everyone talked about this small clip.

Shortly after that clip was released the emphasis continued to be on the special effects in the movie as WETA and Fox held an online chat on Facebook to talk about how motion capture was used in the movie. This certainly accomplished its goal of getting people’s interest and continuing the positive conversation that began with that footage.

The next big round of publicity would come when the movie was promoted at Comic-Con 2011 (Los Angeles Times, 7/21/11), where an extended clip was played for those in attendance and Serkis did some press (Wired, 7/21/11) about his motion capture work on the movie and more.

There was also some press about the original novel (NYT, 7/31/11) the series of movies and other spin-offs are all riffing off of or are based on and how the premise of that story is timeless in a true sci-fi sort of way in that it can be adapted or interpreted in any number of ways to reflect the issues of any particular time.

Though there wasn’t one particularly big news story about Serkis and the role he played in bringing Caesar to life in the movie his involvement was always buzzing around the edges of the publicity and other news about the movie. About as close as things came were a story (NYT, 7/31/11) about how the studio briefly considered trying to use real apes but then decided that would be weird in a movie about animal exploitation.

Overall

I want to like this campaign. Oh how I want to like this campaign. But it seems to be a little fractured in places, like it’s unsure what kind of audience is actually going to be turning out. You have the poster (again, just the one) that just shows the one ape, signaling to me that they want to emphasize the special effects. The trailers, though, while full of those effects also make the case for the movie being an emotional story that has connections to today’s world. There’s no overt play here to any sort of existing Apes-franchise fanbase, but it’s likely such an appeal would have limited impact anyway.

As it is the campaign is alright but, as I said, fairly fractured. There’s never a sense of continuity or consistency that makes the best campaigns come together into more than the sum of their parts. There seems to be an attempt to make that one image of Caesar into that connective element but it’s too general and not strong enough to overcome the issues presented by the rest of the marketing.

Movie Marketing Madness: The Change-Up

Lucky is the person who is completely satisfied with the life they’re leading. A lot of people, though, go through their lives wishing certain things were different or that their situation was changed. Even if they’re very happy there can be moments where someone wishes this, that or the other part of their lives were different. This problem can be exasperated if there’s a friend who, from the outside at least, appears to be living the dream.

That’s very much the setup of The Change-Up. Dave (Jason Bateman) is married to Jamie (Leslie Mann) and the two have a couple kids. They are happily married but have all the issues any married couple does and Dave occasionally wants to stop the world and get off. He’s friends with Mitch (Ryan Reynolds), who is on the absolute other end of the spectrum, living the single life and sleeping with an ever-changing array of women. One night while out together Mitch and Dave wind up switching bodies and Mitch has to navigate Dave’s life as a married lawyer and Dave Mitch’s as a swinging single.

The Posters

We’re clearly not on high intellectual ground here, with a simple design that shows Bateman struggling with a pair of fussy babies at the top and Reynolds enjoying the company of a pair of lovely ladies at the bottom. Bateman looks exasperated and is staring longingly at the idilic situation below while Reynolds could not have more ridiculously over-the-top smile on his face. It’s really kind of a lousy design, especially with the simplistic solid colors in the background.

The Trailers

The first trailer for the film was a red-band version and we start off by seeing just how different each guy’s night is going. Bateman is awoken by crying babies who then proceed to poop in his face while Reynolds is awoken by the doorbell announcing the arrival of another hook-up. The two then meet for the bar and compare their lives, with Bateman living vicariously through his friend’s sexual exploits. The two drink too much and then while defiling a fountain they wish they had each other’s lives. A flash of lightening later and their wish has been granted. When they start taking on each other’s responsibilities, though, they find things aren’t quite what they expected on a number of fronts. The trailer ends with a naked Bateman running into a room talking about the freckles he has in his nether regions.

Like the poster, the trailer shows we’re not dealing with weighty philosophical issues here. In addition to the taint joke we see Leslie Mann taking a loud, disgusting bowel movement, there’s an oral sex joke to a paralegal and lots of obnoxious complaints about the burdens of having children. I get that we’ll be on an emotional fulfillment journey in the movie but still I don’t think it was necessary to show both characters as quite such scumbags.

A later all-ages version was basically the same trailer, just with some of the more offensive language and other material pulled out.

Another red-band version was released that provided a little bit more story setup and some more ribald language about sex in a variety of ways. It still comes off as quite funny but it’s not clear whether there’s any humor in the movie that doesn’t come from discussions of masturbation, vibrators and regular casual sex buddies.

Online

The movie’s official website has a lot of stuff going on when you first load the front page. The top proclaims the film’s raunch credentials, showing it comes from the director of Wedding Crashers and the writers of The Hangover. Above that there’s a crawl of (presumably curated) Twitter updates where people have used the movie’s title as a hashtag.

Down in the middle of the page is a prompt to watch the latest red-band trailer and then there are things to do as you can find “Your Perfect Change-Up” by connecting the site with your Facebook account. You can also insert you and your friends’ photos into the trailer to create your own version.

Once you Enter the Site the first section of content is “Film,” which has a few paragraphs of a synopsis as well as Production Notes to download. “Cast & Crew” has biographies and career histories for the major players in front of and behind the camera.

There are about two dozen stills from the movie in the “Gallery” and “Videos” has all three trailers including the two restricted versions as well as one of the TV Spots that was released.

“Downloads” has Wallpapers, Buddy Icons and Twitter Skins to grab and then “Features” has the same couple of things that were on the front page.

The movie’s Facebook page has lots of updates on marketing and publicity activity, including TV spots and lots of photos as well as links to the features that are on the main site.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Early June would see the beginning of the TV advertising campaign with spots starting to run that played up the difference in the lives of the two guys in much the same way the trailers did, though the last half was all about how the reality of Bateman’s life was much different that how Reynolds’ bachelor presumed it was going to be. Which is to say it includes the scene of Mann on the toilet complaining about the Thai food. Further spots hit different aspects of the movie but all played up the raunchiness as much as they were able to.

Media and Publicity

Bateman and his ability to be an effective ensemble player and side-man were the focus of some press (New York Times, 7/3/11) that also mentioned his other recent movie, Horrible Bosses.

Overall

There are some funny elements to the campaign but, as I eluded to above, I’m concerned that either the movie has no humor that isn’t based around sex or poop or that the trailers are pulling out all of those elements in an attempt to sell the movie as being overly crass. The marketing is funny enough – all the actors appear to be gamely giving the material their all – but there’s so much crudeness going on that it may actually be too much. It might be so dominant a theme in the campaign that it turns people off.

The main element of the campaign seems to be the trailers and that’s where most of the crudeness comes from. The one poster is kind of awful and doesn’t really match with anything else in the marketing in terms of tone. So it all hangs on the trailers and TV spots, which will either get people exited for another in a long series of raunchy male-focused comedies or have them looking for other alternatives this weekend.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

  • 08/04/11 – The fact that the actors seemed to have canned talking points for their press appearances is news to Mediaite.