Movie Marketing Madness: Like Crazy

What sort of sacrifices are you willing to make for someone you love? I’m talking romantic love here, not parental or other familial love since those are very different things. I mean the kind of love between two people, the kind that makes you believe you can do anything and has you walking on air much of the day because you know it’s always waiting for you? Even more simply, what would you do to simply be with the person you loved when outside forces were pulling you physically apart?

In the new movie Like Crazy Jacob (Anton Yelchin) and Anna (Felicity Jones) are students together who fall madly, passionately in love. But she’s a British citizen and when she violates the terms of her visa she must go back home, rending asunder their burgeoning love. So the movie not only tracks the beginning of their relationship but also the consequences of her actions and how they must adjust to still being a couple while at the same time having an ocean between them.

The Posters

The poster for the movie features Yelchin and Jones walking along the beach, the sun bleaching out the colors of the image as they do so. At the top are some of the film’s festival credentials and over the picture of the two characters are all sorts of declarations of love that end with the title, which is a nice way to present that. It certainly shows off the main aspect of the film’s story – the relationship between the two of them – and tells the audience clearly what the movie is about.

The Trailers

The first minute or so of the movie’s first trailer plays like a stand-alone version of the montages that are in so many movies that show days in the lives of our two characters as they spend time with each other and continue falling in love. We’re not introduced to them by name, we don’t get narration or anything that explains their situation. We just see them together doing all sorts of things and talking in deep, emotional ways occasionally. While the couple seems very much in love there’s about 25 seconds toward the end that shows things aren’t all deeply held glances. Each one spends time with someone else but even then they don’t seem all that happy.

It’s a charming and low-key trailer. I like it a lot because while, as I stated, the footage plays kind of like a montage from a much cheesier movie it doesn’t fall victim to the cliches of most trailers in that it doesn’t spend a lot of effort trying to set the movie up for the audience. The music that plays over the video fits it perfectly as well.

The second trailer gets a little bit deeper into the story. The first 30 seconds or so of this one are devoted to showing how much they love each other as they begin their relationship, though things shift after he asks if she’s thought about what they’re going to do after they graduate, which is followed shortly about how she’s about to have visa issues. They start trying to have a long-distance relationship but there are obviously problems that continue to cause stress in their relationship. So it’s that stress that leads them to see other people, though the inference with the last bits of footage are that they work around those problems in some manner.

It’s just as good as the first one but for different reasons. Where the first one was all about atmosphere and feeling this one buoys those elements with some character insights that actually make the movie more attractive, I think, as it lays out the story more clearly.

Online

The first section on the movie’s official website is “Videos” and that’s where you can watch both the Theatrical Trailers as well as a TV Spot. The “Gallery” then has eight or nine production stills, most of them featuring the combination of Yelchin and Jones.

“About the Film” has a story synopsis that teases but doesn’t really go deeply into the story as well as Production Notes that are broken up into four parts and which actually feature a much more thorough recap of the film’s plot points.

There are highlights from the careers of the “Cast & Filmmakers” in that section. “Downloads” has two Desktop wallpapers and five AIM Icons you can add to your collections. “Reviews & Accolades” has a list of the film’s festival appearances and wins along with pull quotes from reviews that came out of those screenings, though without links that could take you to the full story.

The “Tell Someone How You Feel” tool prompts you to add a verb to the phrase “I (blank) you #likecrazy” and then push that contribution to Twitter, complete with hashtag.

We begin our transition over to Facebook with the “Poster Creator” feature here. Clicking that takes you to Facebook, where you can select a photo, add some text and create your own version of the movie’s poster which can then be shared with your other friends on that network.

The rest of the Facebook page is filled with Wall posts from fans, photos, videos and other material. There was also a Twitter feed that had similar updates along with plenty of responses to fan questions, which is good to see.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Limited advertising was done and I’m not aware of any cross-promotions. There was at least one TV spot created that hit the same notes and was structured in much the same way as the trailer and so works for many of the same reasons even if it is quite a bit shorter.

Media and Publicity

Initially debuting at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival (Los Angeles Times, 1/20/11) it would go on to be one of the festival’s most-buzzed about movies. There it became one of the first movies to get bought for distribution and earned rave reviews for Jones and Yelchin, with the latter doing plenty of interviews (Hollywood Reporter, 1/22/11) about the movie and the improvised nature of the shoot. The movie would go on to win the festival’s Grand Jury Prize (Filmmaker Magazine, 1/29/11). Looking to build off the buzz coming off the fantastic screenings a handful of clips were released in short order that let remote audiences get a taste of what everyone was talking about.

Overall

I like this campaign a lot but wish there had been more of an effort later in the game – meaning any time after July or so – to get it in front of a bigger audience. Things seem to have wound down after the release of the posters and trailers, with no sizable press push (at least not any that I noticed) coming to drive the campaign home in the last couple of months.

But what there is is attractive, consistent and sells the movie I think fairly well. There’s a lot of good stuff here for those in the audience who enjoy hopeless romantic movies, particularly those that feature lots of “realism” and genuine emotion as opposed to sitcomish stunts and other such plot devices.

Movie Marketing Madness: The Rum Diary

There are very few people who have done more to change the tone of and style of not just journalistic writing but also the ways many other forms of writing were done than Hunter S. Thompson. Instead of remote detachment it was suddenly trendy – and would continue to become more and more accepted – for the writer to insert himself or herself into the story, providing the reader with a first person account and perspective of the subject matter being covered. It’s tempting to call Thompson the first blogger since that sort of “world through my own eyes” style would become the go-to approach for online journals but I’m not going to do that since it’s not exactly accurate.

So it’s kind of appropriate that when his books get made into movies there’s no attempt to do anything but find a Thompson surrogate to fill the character of the writer. The latest example of this is The Rum Diary. In this story that character, Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp, a friend of the writer who also played him in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), is sent to San Juan some time in the 1950’s. There he seeks to ingratiate himself in the local culture while at the same time investigating the possibly illegal activities of Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), an American who’s more than a little shady. And that’s also while becoming involved with Sanderson’s girlfriend Chenault (Amber Heard).

The Posters

The movie’s first poster certainly sets up the story. The film’s title is spelled out using empty liquor bottles and the equation for the story is laid out as being “One part outrage, one part justice, three parts rum.” That plus Depp’s name is all that’s seen here (I’m surprised he’s not actually seen on the poster) but this is officially labeled as a teaser for now.

The second poster just has Depp looking kind of sideways toward the camera, a hat cocked on his head and the copy “Absolutely nothing in moderation” toward the bottom. Another poster has the same copy but with a shot of Depp staring out the window of a hotel room that’s obviously been the scene of some major debauchery the previous night.

The Trailers

The trailer starts out by introducing us to the Thompson character played by Depp and his introduction to life in Rio, which is filled with lots of drinking and lots of strange characters. Then we meet the girlfriend of a powerful American who he begins to investigate. We finally see Depp get a little earnest as he declares he’s going to go after that guy for illegal activities, something that also lets him get closer to the girl.

It’s basically about selling the movie as another eccentric performance by Depp in an exotic location and with lots of crazy folks around him. It looks pretty good, like there might be more to it than just lots of zaniness by Depp, like there might be a decent story that performance is hung on.

Online

The setup of the movie’s official website is one of the more unique I’ve seen recently.

First off at the bottom there are some of the main content sections. While there are links at the bottom of the page that will take you to the various sections you can also scroll left to right to find them in a different way.

“About the Film” takes you to the section with a Synopsis of the story as well as a Cast/Crew credits. There are just shy of two dozen stills in the “Photo Gallery” and “Videos” has the official Trailer as well as four extended clips from the film. Desktop Wallpapers are also scattered around the site for you to download if you so choose.

There’s also some information that can help you appreciate the film’s a little more. There are sections for “San Juan, P.R.” and “Hunter S. Thompson” that give you some background on both the movie’s setting and the gonzo journalist that wrote the book on which it’s based.

The film’s Facebook page has lots of photos, videos and updates on the marketing and promotion for the movie, including an emphasis on getting you to enter a contest giving away a trip to San Juan.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A TV spot or two was aired, some of which were surprisingly strong on plot and basically played like slightly trimmed down versions of the trailer, showing much of the same footage and nothing new. If anything things that emphasized Depp’s antics were what was cut as the approach here was to sell it as a straight, if slightly funny drama.

Media and Publicity

Despite the fact that the movie finished shooting in 2009 it wasn’t until March of 2011 that news broke it had finally been picked up for distribution by FilmDistrict (Los Angeles Times, 3/29/11), a new distribution house that was just getting off the ground.

There was also a profile of Depp (Vanity Fair, Nov. 11) that talked about his affection for Thompson but which gained a lot of attention for comments made about the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise more than anything.

Overall

There’s some good stuff here. The emphasis, of course, is on promising the audience that they’re in for a crazy, whacked out Depp performance that this time is geared more for adults than the kids the POTC franchise appeals to. It might go a little hard into that particular paint, though, and overplay just how kooky and psychedelic the movie really is, though, in that effort. But it’s still a nice collection of elements even if it doesn’t really add up to a cohesive and whole branding effort. There’s just too much going on here, likely the result of the studio trying out different approaches that it never quite comes together.

Movie Marketing Madness: Martha Marcy May Marlene

It’s easy for some people to get caught up in their surroundings. Some people are just more susceptible than others to the influence of crowds around them, the opinions of particularly charismatic individuals and so on. That’s not necessarily a knock against them as individuals – it’s just a truth. Some people are more easily swayed and more likely to fall under the influence of another, particularly if that person is the kind of charming personality that naturally commands respect and pulls people in around them.

The new movie Martha Marcy May Marlene is about just such a susceptible individual. Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) has escaped a cultish enclave run by Patrick (John Hawkes) somewhere and rejoined her family, including Lucy (Sarah Paulson). But her re-assimilation back into the real world is problematic as she struggles to undo the psychological manipulation she’s been subjected to in the cult’s compound.

The Posters

The first two posters were more than just posters. The one-sheets, which were placed in outdoor locations, had QR codes with the faces of Olsen and Hawkes hidden behind them. That’s all that was on the posters but when people scanned those QR codes with their smartphones they unlocked two new trailers.

The final poster then had Olsen lying in bed, her face visible through the transparent “M” that makes up most of the design in the same way it had through the QR code on the previous one-sheet.

The Trailers

The trailer starts with Martha calling someone unsure of where she is and in trouble. From then on in the trailer we flash between the present, with Martha staying with her family and the past when she spent time (for some unknown reason) on a weird cultish the compound in rural New York State where she was indoctrinated into all sorts of strange goings on. Back in the present, though, her behavior is becoming increasingly erratic as the effects of her time on the compound break through and she lashes out against the people she’s living with.

It’s an effective trailer that builds up a sense of mystery and shows it’s the performances of the lead actors that are going to drive the movie. Based on this it’s easy to see where all the Sundance hype was coming from.

The next trailers – which as I mentioned above, Searchlight released by making them available through the QR codes that appeared on posters placed in out-of-home locations – were a mixed pair. One is all about setting the atmosphere, showing the psychological problems Olsen’s character goes through as she struggles against the two identities she has been assigned, one from her family and one from the community that brings her in and manipulates her. The other is mostly about her time in that community and the damage that’s done to her there, both physically and mentally. Both are equally spooky for different reasons but both show clearly that Olsen is the one that carries the film’s story.

Online

The movie’s official website is pretty good. Using the standard Fox Searchlight template there are news updates that you can share across various social networks, a photo album and lists of videos to watch as well as links to the IMDb pages for the actors.

In addition to that site there were two other sites setup that served various purposes. The first, I Am A Teacher and a Leader, is full of trippy visuals that you move through by clicking your mouse on various parts of the screen. There’s not any content there – at least not that I found – but it does give you a sense of the head games being played by characters within the film. The second, Martha Marcy May Marlene Monolith, seems to be tied to the QR code part of the campaign since when you click on different parts of the image that each have one of the two first posters you get the same trailers that were unlocked through those.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Surprisingly (at least to me) for a movie this size there was some advertising done on television. Spots were released in late September that worked on the same level as the trailers, showing the basic plot of a young woman running away from something that’s obviously troubling. We see some of what happens to her at the camp and some of her attempts to get back with her family but, of course, not much and just enough to give the basic outlines of the plot.

There was also some online advertising done that primarily used variations on the poster art and other images from the movie.

Media and Publicity

The movie was identified as one of those that were debuting at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival that were likely to breakout of that festival into something bigger and much of the cast and crew were in attendance there. Particularly of note in much of the press generated by that debut was the potentially star-making performance of Elizabeth Olsen (Los Angeles Times, 1/21/11), who appeared to be the “It Girl” of 2011 at Sundance.

Fox Searchlight would pick the movie up for distribution shortly after that Sundance debut, though questions remained as to how to market something like this (LAT, 1/26/11) to the general audience as opposed to the refined festival crowd.

Overall

The single most interesting thing about the campaign is obviously the use of QR codes to drive the campaign forward. It’s not a huge usage of that tool but it’s certainly, at least from my perspective, the most extensive use of them in the service of a movie marketing effort. So that’s interesting in and of itself.

Outside of that the publicity has been primarily about Olsen’s performance in the lead. Based on that positive word of mouth my guess it will attract a decent independent film audience anxious to see what could be a breakout performance from the actress. The rest of the campaign should work to cement that appeal among that audience.

Movie Marketing Madness: Margin Call

All great histories of tragic or monumental events need scapegoats, the person or persons on whom to hang the fault of what happened. We look at wars and other singular moments in history and try to find someone to blame, someone to look at as we say “If only this person had done something differently or if we had stopped them then this would all be different.” Such thinking is often useless and foolish, though, since it’s never that simple. A confluence of events is usually actually at work that would have happened with or without a few individuals.

So it is most likely with the recent financial crisis. But while there may not be one single person to blame there are certainly individuals who made calls that would uniformly turn out to be disastrous for the financial markets in general and people very specifically.

One of those situations is the hook for the new movie Margin Call. Zachary Quinto plays an analyst at a financial firm that one day discovers that firm has made some big – and wrong – assumptions and hidden them in various ways. But when he brings those errors to light his bosses aren’t exactly eager to fix the situation and in fact hamper his efforts at every turn. While fictional the movie is set in the early days of the 2008 financial meltdown and certainly looks to tap in to the public’s desire to pin the blame for that on someone, even if they aren’t real.

The Posters

The first teaser poster was pretty simple: Just the cast list and the title with the only other image being a line chart that’s heading rapidly and dramatically down. So it’s clear that the movie is about the financial world in some way, shape or form here.

The second trailer showed off the cast that has been assembled. Everyone gets a headshot with some variation on “stern” as the expression on their face. All the arrows that their faces appear in are, of course, point down and toward the copy “Be first. Be Smarter. Or cheat.” which pretty clearly shows us which path some of the characters in the story will be taking.

The Trailers

The movie’s first trailer starts out by showing Tucci’s character being fired from his big Wall Street firm. On his way out he hands Quinto a thumb drive and tells him to continue working on something he was unable to finish. When he checks it out he finds a Pandora’s Box that causes massive repercussions. The project basically shows that the company he works for is about to take a massive loss that would sink the firm and cause all other sorts of problems with financial institutions across the world. But the higher-ups aren’t eager for that to play out and so decide to try and cover up the problem or at least delay things enough to minimize the damage.

Honestly the trailer doesn’t worry so much about the specifics of the story and instead goes for straight dramatic emotion. The constant presence of a clock on-screen shows the tick-tock of events that are going down and the way the executives of the company are shown as backside-covering cheats is the trailer’s (and presumably the movie’s) way of trying to get the audience involved in a non-explosion based drama by playing to the general sense of resentment toward Wall Street that’s developed over the last three years. It’s a good trailer on that front and shows a movie filled with lots of great performances.

Online

The movie’s official website isn’t all the fully featured.

The first section is “About” and has both a Synopsis and About the Production that goes into some of the origins of the film’s making.

“Trailer” just has one Trailer as well as two Wallpapers you can download. There are about a dozen or so stills in the “Photos” section.

Finally there’s the “Cast and Crew” section that has career biographies of the folks involved in the film.

While I couldn’t find a Facebook page there was a Twitter profile that updates with news about the movie, including reviews and notes on the marketing and publicity.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

I may have seen some online advertising but that’s about it.

Media and Publicity

The movie first started buzzing when it was announced it would make its debut at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. There it picked up some decent word-of-mouth, especially when it was the second high-profile movie to get sold (Los Angeles Times, 1/23/11)

That was about it, though. There was some coverage surrounding the release of various marketing materials and some stuff about the actor’s personal lives but nothing that rose to the level of serious publicity about the movie.

Overall

I’m kind of not sure how this movie has been marketed and I suspect even those involved with the campaign might feel the same way. It came out of Sundance with very strong buzz and momentum and then kind of faded. The website is lackluster, there doesn’t appear to have been a serious publicity effort and it’s otherwise been silent for much of the time in the last couple months before release.

My guess is that it’s getting lost in the early fall shuffle as Hollywood transitions from summer to awards season. It may not be seen as strong enough for the latter so while it’s not exactly being dumped it’s certainly not getting a full-throated marketing effort. Kind of too bad.

Movie Marketing Madness: Red State

One of the major themes of Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy (my second favorite Smith flick after Clerks) is that while artists of any sort can certainly do something for money and recognition there’s always the burning desire within them to tell personal stories. And it’s the desire to tell those personal stories that pushes them to do their best work, which it often is. It’s always better to read something an author is excited about, hear a song played live that the band is actually jazzed about playing and watch a film that has some obvious love and passion behind it.

The telling of personal stories has been the hallmark of Smith’s career. With one notable exception where he acted as a director-for-hire (the only occasionally funny and at times nearly unwatchable Cop Out) he’s consistently lived in public through his films. You can basically track his personal life through the stories in his movies – from the directionless time-wasting of Clerks through the dealing with family issues of Jersey Girl to the finally feeling comfortable in your own skin of Clerks 2.

But now he takes a turn once again into a less personal story, though one that’s still be written and created by him. Red State is, in Smith’s own words, something of a religious horror story. A trio of young boys are so eager to have sex they respond to an ad offering just that. But when they get to the rendezvous they are drugged and brought in front of a small passionate preacher and his congregation, held up as examples of the damnation that society is living in. The compound is well fortified and when federal agents are called in to free the boys things get violent quickly as the zealots within seek to defend themselves.

The story is Smith’s way of commenting on the extremes that those fueled by a determined belief that God is always on their side can go to. And just as with his previous film Dogma it’s become something of a lightening rod for this and, as we’ll see, many other reasons.

The Posters

The movie’s first poster is a pretty simple one but it lays out the overall theme pretty well. In the middle of the image is a large cross and in front of that some sort of figure, presumably the Virgin Mary based on Smith’s doctrinal inclinations, covered in a white sheet. But the whole thing looks like we’re seeing it through a shattered and scratched piece of glass, adding a bit to the mystery of what it is we’re looking at.

Other than the title and “Coming 2011″ the only other text is at the top where it says “Fear God” though just how that ties in to any story is left for the viewer to wonder.

A batch of character posters were released by Smith over the course of several weeks, each being given as an exclusive to the movie site that donated the most in a given time to one of a variety of Smith’s favorite charities. Some site owners complained that this was tantamount to paying for materials but I think it was just Smith trying to not only hype his film but also do a little good so I’m inclined to give him a pass on this one.

The posters were pretty simple in nature, just the character against a plain black background, with the description of their character at the top and the same sort of “looking through cracked glass” feel the first teaser had. First was “The Virgin” featuring Kerry Bishe followed by “The Father” with Michael Parks, “Caleb” with Garman, “The Sons” with the three boys who are going to wind up getting in a heap of trouble, “Sarah” with Melissa Leo and “The Sheriff” with Stephen Root.

The next poster was (technically, I guess) a theatrical version. What we see here is Bishe in profile holding an AK-47, her eyes turned upward. The design has the same sort of rough, weathered look the rest of the posters have and promises through that image what’s likely to be at least a somewhat violent film.

There’s also a fair amount of hyperbole here. The poster pegs the movie as being “unlikely” which can be interpreted as simply being that it’s not about a couple of people talking back and forth incessantly. And it labels it as coming from “That Kevin Smith” which is a reference to his Twitter handle.

The Trailers

The first trailer made a somewhat odd debut, with the audio being shared on an episode Smith’s Smodcast podcast.

When that trailer did arrive (on the Smodcast site) it certainly looked unlike anything we’d seen from Smith in the past. All fast cuts and sped-up footage we only got brief glimpses of the characters and scenes as we see shots of anti-gay protesters, people in a church of some sort, gunfire going off around a young girl, someone looking in at a person who’s being kept in a cage and other scenes of incarceration. It’s more than a little disturbing…or at least it hints at the idea that the movie is going to be more than a little disturbing. With all the fast-moving footage and the only dialogue being the preacher singing about having seen Jesus it’s possible only to get an overall tone here and not any great insights. But, as I said, what’s apparent is that we’re looking at a movie that’s so far removed from Smith’s earlier work as to be all but unrecognizable as his.

The trailer was later released in a more official version at the same time the road show kicked off with a new introduction from Smith.

The next trailer (the equivalent of a red-band version) much more clearly explains what the movie’s plot is. We start with three young guys sharing cellphones and talking about some site that hooks people up for random sex, something they’re looking to utilize in order to lose their virginity. When they arrive at the home of the woman they’re supposed to sleep with she insists they have a couple drinks, which they find have been drugged. Soon they find themselves caged and in some sort of small, radical church. They’re subjected to all sorts of torture then as we see the preacher/leader/father of this community spout off about God’s love and so on. Then the federal officials are called in and things get violent as the community defends itself.

It’s a much better trailer than the first since it plays more traditionally and gives more space for the performances to breathe. You get to see what kind of stuff Goodman, Bishe, Parks, Leo and the others are actually doing here and so makes a stronger case for seeing the movie.

Oh – and it labels the film as coming from “@thatkevinsmith,” referencing his prolific Twitter feed.

Online

The CoopersDell.com site (named after the town much of the movie’s action takes place in) is primarily an e-commerce site, with lots of differently sized packages for people to choose from should they want to buy the DVD or other associated material. There’s a lot of stuff available, you just have to decide what you want and at what price point. The site also has information on all the video-on-demand options that are out there.

There’s also the RedStatements site that Smith started after breaking some important news about the movie at Sundance (more on that below). It’s filled with Smith’s long essays on topics related to the movie and what was happening with distribution and so on.

So there’s nothing here that resembles a traditional movie website. But in its place there are sites that allow for people to take immediate action, from buying the movie and its associated swag to connecting with Smith and his opinions. Which is much more interesting and interactive.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Nothing here that I’ve seen, but with the amount of publicity Smith has drummed up – only a fraction of which is covered below – who needs an ad buy?

Media and Publicity

Aside from the incessant stream of casting updates and related news stories, along with plenty of talk from Smith himself on his Twitter account, the first bit of real news about the movie came when it began to look like he would be taking it to Cannes 2011, news that still broke via Twitter. That was also where Smith distributed the first photo from the film.

Of course Smith was his own best publicity machine, endlessly updating Twitter about the movie and creating a special sub-section of his ongoing Smodcast podcast series to the film.

As Smith himself had said he was hoping for the, the movie got accepted to the 2011 Sundance Film Festival as an out-of-competition entry. Since the film didn’t have a distributor at the time Smith had said beforehand that he would love to run a live auction after a screening there to get people excited and talking. Of course both of those announcements generated plenty of conversations themselves, which was absolutely the point.

There was some discussion about how this was a different type of horror movie, one that dealt with the psychological damage people inflict on each other as opposed to scenes of gory mutilation.

Smith stirred up quite a few reactions when he announced (again over Twitter) that it was his intention to not to do much of any press glad-handing for the movie (Hollywood Reporter, 12/29/10), instead opting to record an epic-length installment of Smodcast that he said would contain just about everything anyone would want to know about the movie. The move was seemingly prompted by his frustrations with movie news writers and what he felt was their “I’ll just write whatever I want” attitude, something that was cemented with his experience in the wake of Cop Out. His statements prompted much hand-wringing from people who said they would just not cover the movie at all, though how serious such declarations were remained to be seen.

That appearance at Sundance wasn’t without issues, though, as it became the venue for protests by Westboro Baptist Church and those attached to its leader Fred Phelps, who Smith has said is the model for the preacher character in the movie.

Sundance also became the tipping point of another kind for the movie. Instead of holding a full-fledged auction for the movie’s distribution rights, which is what many figured he would do based on his comments, he snapped up the rights himself (THR, 1/23/11) for a mere $20 and then announced he would be distributing it himself.

What Smith outlined in a sprawling 20-minute speech after the screening of the movie was finished was the idea of a road-show, where he would travel with the film to select cities and show it to those who had bought tickets for an event more than just a movie, though he did say he would talk to any interested exhibitor as well and was planning on a formal release later in the fall. But the marketing for the movie would be done almost exclusively through Smith’s own – and owned – outlets such as his podcast, Twitter feed and so on.

The plan was so audacious that it immediately gained both ardent fans and fervent critics. Those acquisition executives who were in the audience felt (somewhat rightly) as if they had been duped since this, according to Smith, was the plan all along. And many industry pundits echoed the thoughts of Patrick Goldstein, who felt this was Smith more or less imploding and giving the entire industry the middle finger.

The analysis of the Sundance incident continued as Smith worked to convince people he wasn’t against the business in general, just that he didn’t think it was working for what he was trying to do. Some came to his defense (Time, 2/3/11) and cited Smith’s filmmaking history (THR, 2/3/11) as a reason why he might want to try going this one on his own.

Things sort of died down until the road show kicked off at Radio City Music Hall, where Smith lived up to his promise of holding a Q&A with each screening as he talked about the movie and whatever else came to mind with some of the cast on stage with him.

Profiles of Smith such as this one (LA Weekly, 4/1/11) continued throughout the screening tour, with the usual themes being how he’s very comfortable in his own skin and with his place in life despite all the attention and speculation that’s circling around him. There were also plenty of interviews with Smith (LAT, 4/7/11) where he continued to talk not only about the film’s themes and story but also about his own future as a filmmaker, with the writer/director insisting that this would be his second-to-last movie before retiring and moving into the next phase of his career as a talk-show host/pontificator of sorts.

The movie was later announced as the opening night feature at Montreal’s Fantasia film festival just before news broke that Lionsgate would be handling (THR, 6/28/11) multi-platform distribution for the movie, though did not include theatrical exhibition, which Smith still retained control over since he wanted to include digital Q&As with the audience as part of any exhibition.

Despite all the hand-wringing up front there was the perception that, regardless of whether or not you like the movie, Smith had fundamentally changed the game in a number of ways by controlling the entire process himself.

Just days before the planned theatrical release (though after the initial VOD release) the movie became available on Netflix for instant streaming viewing, thereby opening it up to a whole new – and much broader – audience group.

Overall

I’d be lying if I didn’t say I liked this campaign a lot. Mostly that’s because, regardless of your opinion of Smith and his movies (he may be one of the few actually polarizing writer/directors out there right now), you have to admire the big brass ones that taking a stand like he’s done requires. He’s so passionate about the movie and believes in it so completely that he’s putting his own money where his mouth is and taking the risks himself, at least for the most part. He sees something that’s broken – the distribution and marketing system most movies go through – saying he wants no part of it and blazing a different path. So he gets a thumbs up from me based solely on that.

The campaign, when viewed through a more traditional lens, does work pretty well even though it’s clearly as divisive as Smith himself. People will either be turned off completely by it or put it on their Must See lists. Indeed some of the reviews that came out of festivals and even VOD watchings have played out just like that.

What will be interesting, though, is that since this is so VOD heavy if Smith has the leverage to finally get public VOD numbers released, something that has to date remained behind lock and key. Only then will we be able to judge whether this campaign winds up succeeding or not.

Movie Marketing Madness: Real Steel

Setting a story “in the not too-distant future” is kind of a great narrative get out of jail free card. You can still do whatever you want, really, but also don’t have to create a whole new world in order to tell the story. Cars are likely still cars and houses are still houses. And it’s possible to take something that’s widely accepted now and push it out a few years (whether or not you disclose how many is up to you and your tolerance for news stories when that year is reached about how wrong you got it) to where it’s not or some such and you’re pretty much golden.

One such movie that’s set just a few years out from our own is this week’s Real Steel. The movie stars Hugh Jackman as Charlie Kenton, a down-on-his-luck former fighter who’s barely been making ends meet since they outlawed human boxing and the sport shifted to giant brawling robots. Yeah, you read that right. One day at the very bottom of his fortunes he reunites with his estranged son Max (Dakota Goya) and the two work to piece together a hard-scrabbled fighting robot that just might be Charlie’s ticket back to the big time.

The Posters

The first teaser poster sets up the movie’s premise to a pretty decent extent, showing just a robotic hand coming up and grasping the heavy metal ropes of a boxing ring. You don’t see the entire robot but you do get some copy that promises “Champions aren’t born. They’re made.” It’s pretty good and looks kind of cool.

The next poster at least showed the primary human star of the movie. Jackman appears in the foreground in a boxer’s pose with a large robot behind him mimicking his movements. The copy at the bottom “Courage is stronger than steel” gives us the hint that the story will cover an emotional arc of Jackman’s character that ties in to the part of the story involving the huge machines. It’s not bad but just looks kind of odd because of the manipulation of Jackman’s photo. Other than that it’s alright.

Four posters hit next that featured four of the robots from the movie, including Atom – the one that Jackman and his friends build – and three of the bots that it will presumably go up against.

The Trailers

The first trailer introduces us to the idea behind the movie’s world, which is that the sport of boxing has evolved to no longer feature human beings but instead has people using massive robot surrogates to fight in the ring instead.

That’s about all the information you’re going to get from this spot, though. Jackman’s character is obviously known in the professional robot boxing world but why that is doesn’t get explained. And while there are lots of shots of robots doing the fighting it’s difficult to tell if Jackman is actually controlling any of them and why he’s doing so. Still, it’s a decent first teaser that gives a look at the robots and is probably effective at generating some excitement among some audiences.

The next trailer is much more informative. It opens with Jackman’s character ducking the phone call of someone he owes money to. We then meet a woman and her kid as she tells him about the great fighter Charlie used to be, though now he’s obviously fallen on harder times. The boy convinces Charlie to help him find a robot and teach him to box and he does so, but with a robot that’s not designed for all out fighting. Eventually, though, the two of them turn out a winner despite the robot not being a traditional fighter.After a series of losses things turn around and we see this is, ultimately, a redemption story for Charlie and everyone else involved.

Online

The movie’s official website starts by playing the trailer in full-screen video. After that finishes or after you click to skip it you’re taken to the main site, featuring the poster key art.

The first section in the left-hand navigation menu is the “Gallery,” which kind of tells you right off the bat the emphasis is on the visuals of the film. After that is “Downloads” which has several Wallpapers, a Screensaver and some IM Icons to save if you’re so inclined.

“Story” has a pretty decent overview of the movie’s plot. “Video” has the Teaser and Theatrical Trailers as well as a Featurette on the making of the movie. “Cast and Crew” has career biographies of the major players involved in the film’s making.

You can listen to snippets of songs featured in the movie in the “Soundtrack” section as well as buy it on iTunes.

After that is a link to “Join the WRB,” which there’s more information on below. Then there’s “Video Game” that takes you to the site for the official tie-in game. “Paper Models” is just what it sounds like – instructions on making your own paper version of the movie’s robots.

The Facebook page for the film brings over a lot of the official site’s features but adds some additional extended clips and more video as well as updates on the publicity and marketing.

An online-based ARG kicked off at the PAX East gaming convention, where attendees were given a paper version of the controller that’s used in the movie for the boxing matches. Each of those had a code on it that could be entered on the soon-to-be-launched site for the fictional World Robot Boxing organization. When the code was entered an achievement was unlocked and the user was prompted to register on the site to save that achievement, something that hinted at further tasks to come down the road.

The site did indeed continue to evolve, with more information (that you could unlock with additional codes, which were shown on the site) on the history of the WRB and how it was founded, became the most popular sport in the world and more.

That ARG continued into the E3 gaming conference where robot fighter trading cards were handed out that prompted people to visit a new branch of the WRB site where they could design their own robots.

After a brief period of inactivity things ramped back up in early September as more mailings were sent out that included cool movie swag as well as instructions on how to create their own robot avatars on the WRB site.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV spots started running in early September that of course focused on Jackman and his journey toward career redemption by building a plucky, less than sophisticated fighting robot that he would use to get back in the game. There’s nothing about the kid or any other relationships here, just lots of flashy visuals showing robots beating up on each other.

Outdoor advertising was done as well, with billboards that featured four of the robots from the movie with arms outstretched. And while other outdoor ads that were placed on the sides of buses were also run nothing matched the scale of having a Virgin America A320 plastered with an image of Atom.

There were a bunch of companies that were on board as promotional partners. HP, Virgin America and Bing were such companies, though the details on their partnerships are unclear. Partnerships with Del Taco and Royal Purple were more clear, the former running a sweepstakes giving away either restaurant or video game related prized and the latter running co-branded TV spots.

Media and Publicity

Some of the early press outside of marketing materials and such came in the form of a piece (Los Angeles Times, 1/28/11) that was meant to position the movie as a heartfelt and human drama and not just a sci-fi, robotic boxing movie that was more about the special effects than any sort of meditative story. Whether or not that positioning is accurate with the finished product remains to be seen but it’s an interesting early salvo in the press effort for the movie.

At the 2011 CinemaCon trade show for exhibitors Jackman and director Levy were in attendance to promote the film (Hollywood Reporter, 3/29/11) as part of Dreamworks’ overall presentation to attendees.

Stories began to circulate eventually that had the star and director talking about the tone of the film (Entertainment Weekly, 5/10/11) and how it’s not actually about the robots, who are just there to help the human characters along on their story.

Rumors began to swirl that Jackman would make a surprise, unscheduled appearance at Comic-Con 2011, something that did indeed happen (Los Angeles Times, 7/21/11) as he worked a crowd of folks that gathered in a parking lot to talk and answer questions.

The robots got some press in a piece (LAT, 9/1/11) that looked at the virtual fighting they engage in.

Overall

There’s a nugget of a great campaign here but I don’t feel like it’s fully realized. There’s some nice consistency between all the elements – it certainly feels like a nicely unified campaign from a branding perspective – but I just can’t shake the feeling that there’s no follow-through here, no final push to bring it home and put a bow on it.

But that’s not to say that there isn’t a lot of energy thrown into the marketing. Everything comes off as very high-powered, something that’s exemplified by Jackman and the way he, as is usual, goes full throttle on promoting anything he’s involved in. Even that, though, can’t overcome the feeling that this is a summer movie that’s being marketed in the early fall, something that may wind up coming back to bite the film with audiences.

Movie Marketing Madness: The Ides of March

We live in interesting political times. I’m sure that’s something that every generation has felt about the times they lived in as well as they’ve gone through their own trials and everything else but that doesn’t make it any less true. A feeling that we were on the dawn of something new led to the momentous 2008 Presidential election, an action that had an equal and opposite reaction in 2010, when a wave of those who were more interested in stagnation were swept into power. That’s lead to years of one battle after another between parties as they go back and forth trying to appeal to the lowest common denominators of their supporter base.

Coming in to this climate is the new film The Ides of March. George Clooney stars as Mike Morris, a Presidential candidate that has captivated the nation with his ideals and high standards. Leading his campaign is Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling), the campaign manager that has even more charm than the candidate he’s supporting. But one day the rival campaign comes calling and Myers is tempted to switch sides in order to be on the winning side, a feeling that’s heightened when Morris refuses to cross an ethical line that could ensure his victory. His betrayal scorches the earth behind him and causes all sorts of drama in both camps.

The Posters

The poster is kind of clever and certainly communicates the fact that this is a political drama. Gosling stares at the camera holding up a Time Magazine that has on its cover Clooney’s face along with the question “Is this man our next President?” So the idea of someone being two-faced is also introduced here in a way that still allows both leading men’s faces to be put on the one-sheet, something that’s obviously important for the marketing.

The Trailers

The first trailer starts off by showing us how Myers is a valued advisor for the campaign being waged by Norris for the Presidency, someone Norris refers to as his braintrust. Myers is happy working on the campaign not only because he believes Norris can actually change things for the better but also because he’s friends with Zara, the campaign manager. But he’s approached by a worker for the opposing candidate and asked to work for them. When he decides to switch sides after coming to believe Norris can’t win things get dramatic, as everything is thrown up on the air and his position as the golden boy of the political world is tarnished while those around him start to question whether or not he can be trusted.

It’s a tight and gripping trailer for a dramatic movie that looks like it has adults as its target audience.

Online

The movie’s official website opens with the poster key art, which you can click on to Enter the Site.

Once you do that you’re taken to a collage of images from the film as well as the main content navigation menu.

The first section in that menu is “About the Film” and has a very brief Synopsis as sell as Cast and Filmmakers sections that just have the name of the character each actor plays without any deeper information on them.

After that is “Trailer,” which at least is honestly labeled since that’s all that’s there. There are about 20 stills from the film in the “Gallery” and “Downloads” has a collection of Twitter Skins, Desktop Wallpapers and Buddy Icons for you to add to your collection.

The “News” section is probably the most interesting one here. There are links to some of the press stories that have been published about the movie but there’s also a stream of fake Twitter-like updates from some of the characters that, when clicked, opens up a selection of extended video clips to play. Then there’s a real Twitter update down in the other corner that has a link to a real story.

The movie’s Facebook page includes not just the usual updates on press activities and other marketing materials but also lots of education for the audience on where the term “Ides of March” comes from and what it means. That may help people understand the themes of the movie but you never really know.

Advertising and Cross-Promotion

The first TV spots that began running were kind of odd. Instead of selling the movie as a political drama they recut things we’ve seen in the trailer to make it look like Gosling’s character is the subject of some sort of personal attack, with people digging up skeletons from his past to blackmail and otherwise hurt him and the candidate he works for. That’s kind of strange since it’s not at all the same movie the trailer is selling and so I’m thinking one of them is misselling the film to the general audience.

Media and Publicity

The first major news from the film was when it was announced (Hollywood Reporter, 6/21/11) that it would open the 2011 Venice Film Festival, a very high-brow coming out party for the movie. Before that, though, it screened at the Telluride Film Festival, where it garnered mixed reviews – though with the occasional outlier that pegged it as an early Oscar favorite (Entertainment Weekly, 8/31) – but lots of press (Time, 8/31) for its combination of presidential politics and Clooney.

Of course the movie provided the press with plenty of opportunities to ask Clooney about politics and what he hoped to achieve with the film (Los Angeles Times, 9/25/11), though he consistently denied any political aspirations of his own.

Overall

If there’s a consistent theme to the marketing it’s that this movie is an intelligent drama that’s intended for a grown-up audience. I’m convinced that if the campaign misrepresents the film it’s selling at all it’s in that it makes it seem much more action-oriented than it really is. I’m guessing the slammed phones and terse conversations are much more evenly paced in the film itself than they’re presented here.

But that’s a minor quibble and, as I said, there’s still the clear message here that we’re dealing with a serious drama and not something that has any aspirations of filling seats full of teenagers. It will be interesting to see how it does in the early fall release window and how much of a draw Clooney winds up being for this release.