Movie Marketing Madness: Melancholia

What sort of attitude you ponder the end of the world with is largely dependent, in most cases, on your religious or philosophical point of view. Christians believe the world will end when Christ returns for a final judgement, bringing the redeemed to Heaven and ending the struggle here on Earth. Other religions have their own beliefs despite the fact that we all know the world will really end when it’s blown up by the Vogons (an exceedingly stupid race of aliens with incredibly bad poetry) to make way for an interstellar bypass. Really it’s the only logical conclusion. But again how you think the end of the world is going to happen impacts whether or not you anticipate it with longing, dread or indifference.

It’s that kind of indifference that is at the core of the new Lars von Trier-directed film Melancholia. Essentially the story of the relationship between two sisters Justine (Kirstine Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Ginsburg) the plot then revolves around two major events: Justine’s marriage and the discovery of a mysterious planet that’s been hiding behind the sun and which is now moving towards Earth – but is it on a collision course or will is simply pass by? No one is sure but it’s clear that Melancholia – the name of the planet as well as a descriptor of the feelings felt by some of the characters toward life and others – will change everything.

The Posters

The first poster almost had the look of a wedding invitation. An image of Dunst in a wedding dress clutching a bouquet while lying down in some sort of pond is in the middle of the one-sheet, with Von Trier’s name above that along with the title while the names of the three main cast members are below that photo, which has been repurposed from one of the first publicity photos that was released.

The second poster wasn’t all that much different. This time the photo of Dunst takes up the entire frame, giving more color to the one-sheet right off the bat. At the top is a critic pull quote from a festival screening of the movie along with mentions of its award from Cannes. Toward the bottom are the cast’s names along with the copy “It will change everything” which is meaningful enough if you know the director’s previous work to get you interested but also vague enough to not tip the audience to any clues as to the story. That may or not be a great tactic to take but it’s unlikely there will be much mainstream crossover for a movie like this so it’s fine since the film is being sold primarily to von Trier loyalists.

Up next was a motion poster that featured an image of Dunst and Skarsgard on the verge of a kiss while a star chart materialized on top of that image. The motion poster even featured a bit music, in this case a little Wagner for people to enjoy while the image transitioned from one phase to the next.

The Trailers

The movie’s first trailer lays out the story in broad strokes but, as you would expect from von Trier , there’s a lot more under the surface.

We start with images of Dunst in her wedding dress running through a garden talking about how life exists only on earth. After some family drama at the reception we are introduced to Melancholia, a planet that seems to be heading right toward us. So the impending arrival of that interstellar visitor – it’s not clear whether it will pass by or crash into the planet – is played as a metaphor for the relationships that exist between the characters, none of whom seem to be all that emotionally put together.

The trailer sells a film that is beautiful to look at and somewhat mysterious. It’s obvious that there are a lot of threads we’ll be following and that, as is often the case with von Trier, he doesn’t put a lot of faith in the kindness of people as a whole.

Online

The movie’s official website is interesting if a bit perplexing and offbeat, a description that likely matches the movie and most of von Trier’s work. It’s arranged as one big scrolling page that you can navigate using the menu at the top or just by moving your mouse down the page.

The first section after the “Welcome” screen is a “Director’s Statement” from von Trier where talks about…I’m honestly not sure what. It’s a bit of a screed mixed with thoughts on German romanticism and more. After that it’s more from the director in an “Interview” that allows him to expand his thoughts about the themes of the movie.

Following that is a “Filmography” that isn’t really what it sounds like and is instead just a list of the major actors and talent involved with the movie. Then there’s “Technical Info” which is exactly what it sounds like and is mainly for those wanting to confirm what aspect ratio the movie was shot in.

“Trailer” is next with just the one video followed by “Social,” which has a little widget of Facebook updates and then “Download” which is where you’re able to grab some stills from the movie and of von Trier as well as the movie’s one-sheet.

If you want some background on the production house operated by von Trier and his partners you’ll find it in “Zentropa.” The site then ends with some “Contact Information” for PR, sales and other needs.

In between all those sections, though, are some of the stunning photograph stills of the movie.

The movie does have a Facebook page that features updates on the release and other posts. Not much here, though.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

At least one TV spot was created that played up the dramatic elements of the story and was designed to promote not only the upcoming theatrical release but also the movie’s on-demand availability. It’s short but pretty good at hitting some of the same major notes the trailers do.

Media and Publicity

The movie got its first major publicity push when it was announced (Los Angeles Times, 4/14/11) that it would screen at the 2011 Canne Film Festival alongside features from other big-time directors like Woody Allen, Terence Malick and others.

That Cannes appearance wasn’t all sunshine and roses, though, with the director making comments he had to have meant jokingly about Jews and Nazis (Hollywood Reporter, 5/18/11), comments he later apologized for (LAT, 5/18/11) but which still got him declared “persona non gratis” at the festival, meaning the film could stay in competition but he may not be welcome to pick up any prize it might win.

Overall

Well it’s certainly not going to bring any new fans into the von Trier fold is it? No, it’s not as outright offensive, particularly to American sensibilities, as Dogville (a movie I greatly enjoyed as a sort of visualized theater experiment) and the like but it’s also not nearly as accessible as most people will be looking for. The campaign makes it clear that there will be thinking involved in this particular trip to the theater and that’s going to turn off certain audience segments even as it attracts others.

That being said this is a very cool and very cohesive campaign that, I suspect, represents the movie well. The posters and trailer all work well together and the website compliments that nicely with a unique experience all its own. Good stuff from my perspective.

Book Review: Drew Struzan Oeuvre

The new book Drew Struzan Oeuvre is a mixed bag. There’s no doubt that it contains stunning representations of Struzan’s work from throughout the years and across genres and categories of media. Projects not just from his movie-related work but also music, general entertainment and even personal commissions are included here and there’s little way they could look better. But while it reaches broadly across what the iconic artist has produced it doesn’t go very deeply into those works of art.

The problem is that this new book comes on the heels of the previous one The Art of Drew Struzan. That may have contained less examples of Struzan’s work and been focused exclusively on his movie poster work but the stories from Struzan himself that went along with each one of those were invaluable and often provided interesting insights into the artistic process. This book doesn’t have that and instead simply lists what’s what at the back.

But enough of the comparisons. What this book gets right is the high quality presentation of Struzan’s artwork. And the fact that it goes beyond the poster work he’s so well known for makes it a must have for completists and those who are able to appreciate his consistent and instantly recognizable style beyond just the movies that people like in and of themselves.

If there’s one other quibble I have with the book it’s that the “Personal” section – the book is divided by category – is largely unnecessary. We get it. People like to commission works of female nudes. We don’t need endless examples of it.

In the end, though, this is a great addition and works to complement the earlier book quite well. The fact that things are categorized nicely makes it easy to bookmark your favorite sections. It’s certainly something that can serve as a wonderful present for Christmas or whatever other holiday might be to your liking.

Movie Marketing Madness: J. Edgar

There are certain individuals who have had an out-sized impact on history. Most often these individuals are presidents or other rulers or someone who contributes some meaningful piece of artistic work to society. They are the outstanding ones, the ones who make the big decisions and make a big impression on the world around them. Occasionally, though, one of these outstanding individuals aren’t real leaders and aren’t great creators. They’re just people who have managed to amass an extraordinary amount of power.

One of those individuals would definitely be J. Edgar Hoover, the man who basically founded the FBI and certainly built it into a full organization. Hoover’s story is being told in the new movie J. Edgar, directed by the legendary Clint Eastwood. Playing the title character is Leonardo DiCaprio, who portrays Hoover through all portions of his life from his young days through his old age. The movie deals with not only Hoover’s professional accomplishments and amassing of political power but also with his personal life, which has been much discussed since his death. Specifically what’s examined is his relationship with his right hand man Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer) and what exactly what that might have been.

The Posters

The first two posters were really just one with the other being a variation on that theme. In the primary one-sheet we see DiCaprio’s face leaning forward, presumably over a desk or table and clearly not in the best of moods with the person on the other side from him. We get DiCaprio’s name as well as Eastwood’s along with a gorgeous title treatment in the form of Hoover’s signature.

The other one is the same image, only manipulated so the photo looks sort of black and white while the background has been changed from a standard room to the American flag. The first one is better simply because it’s simpler and more stark but I get what they were going for with the second.

The Trailers

The first trailer plays, quite frankly, like gangbusters. We start out with some scene setting with archive shots of peace demonstrations and photos from the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and so on like that. Eventually we see DiCaprio as Hoover first as a younger man then as an older one. After some setup about his relationship with his mother we see him rising to power in the FBI, encouraging men to lead uncorrupted lives and working to build files on important people, including the President. He sees himself as the strongest of heroes compared to the bad men out there.

It’s clear there are a number of strong performances from DiCaprio and everyone else. There’s more than a little innuendo in the trailer about Hoover’s personal life and his sexual orientation, something that is purposely placed in stark contrast to the heroic, upright image he insists those under his command maintain and the way he doggedly pursues anyone who he might have the slightest bit of dirt on. It’s a solid trailer that shows (unsurprisingly) what seems to be a solid film from Eastwood and his cast.

Online

The movie’s official website opens by playing the trailer. You can skip that, though and go straight to the site’s content.

The first section there is “About the Film” which has a very good Synopsis complete with cast list as well as Production Notes that are downloadable as a PDF.

“Videos” just has the one trailer and so is incorrectly plural and “Photos” has several dozen – over 60 by my count – stills both from the movie itself and some behind-the-scenes shots.

The Facebook page has plenty of updates about the marketing and publicity as well as photos and videos.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Shortly after the first trailer debuted TV spots started running that played basically like a shortened version of that trailer, showing Hoover as someone with ambition that stretches into collecting dirt on other people’s lives even as his own becomes filthier and filthier.

Media and Publicity

The first major publicity for the movie came when it was announced (Los Angeles Times, 9/7/11) it would open AFI Fest 2011, a pretty prestigious slot for a movie that had some serious awards buzz before a single frame was seen.

That news was soon followed by a big profile (GQ, Oct, 2011) of DiCaprio that talked about the actor’s career to date and why he was anxious to work with Eastwood. Further profiles of the actor would focus on how he was attracted to complex, hard to define characters (New York Times, 11/6/11) and more on working with Eastwood (Hollywood Reporter, 11/2/11).

Overall

It’s not a bad campaign but I’m wondering what the target audience is here. While everything comes together to make the movie seem very attractive, the people that it seems are most likely to feel that way are award voters. To the general public this is likely to seem cold and slow and almost homework like. The trailer does what it can to make the drama fast and compelling but it’s impossible to not feel like it’s going to be a long 2+ hours in the theater. For some people that’s not a problem but for others it’s going to turn them off immediately.

Movie Marketing Madness: A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas

I have to admit that when I first saw the original Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle years ago I was extraordinarily underwhelmed. Sure there were some funny moments and it was enjoyable overall but by the time I’d gotten around to seeing it the expectations were built up so that I expected it to be an instant classic. I’m not sure what conventional wisdom currently holds as to how well it has or hasn’t held up over the intervening years but it’s obviously still seen as popular enough that it’s spawned not just one but now two sequels.

The newest installment sees the titular pair not in the pursuit of good eating but on a mission to save Christmas. A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas puts Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) accidentally being brought back together after years of growing apart, the reunion a result of some misunderstandings and comedic irregularites. They, of course, encounter all sorts of wacky situations and people on that journey, including Neil Patrick Harris (Neil Patrick Harris) who isn’t letting the fact that he died in the second movie get in the way of appearing here. The movie, as the title suggests, is being released in 3D for, as far as I can tell, no discernible reason other than the fact that someone thought it would be funny to do so.

The Posters

A series of four posters were the first one-sheets released. The first showed Harold brandishing a rifle with Santa lying just off screen and only his boots visible. The second had Kumar with a bow on his crotch and mistletoe burning around him. The third showed NPH looking smugly at the camera as he shoved a giant candy cane toward the audience. The fourth brought all three together and showed a bunch of other random stuff that’s going to be in the film.

Another series of eight – eight! – character one-sheets was released after that. That included ones featuring NPH, Kumar and Harold as well as Jesus, Santa Claus and other supporting characters. Most of them feature copy that alluded to drug usage and in some cases it was far more than just an allusion.

The Trailers

The first trailer starts off like it’s selling a standard high-end Christmas movie, with lots of shots of New York City at that time of year. But then Harold shoots Santa Claus in the face and things turn weird. We get a girl telling Kumar why she won’t date him, the guys accidentally getting a toddler high and all sorts of other hijinks, including a very painful looking homage to A Christmas Story. Harris, of course, appears and we see what’s happened to him after he met what appeared to be his demise in the last movie as well as what he’s doing with the fact that he’s come back to life.

It’s completely random and pretty funny. It’s obvious that they’re poking fun at the whole 3D thing with lots of winks to the audience and such. There’s also an obvious attempt to make it clear to the audience that the main characters haven’t lost a raunchy step since the last outing but all in all it’s pretty good. It jettisons anything resembling plot reveals after the first 45 seconds in favor of random gags but that’s alright for this first trailer.

Close to release there was a red-band trailer released that opened with Santa Claus smoking a bong before getting shot by our two protagonists. There proceeds to be shot after shot from the movie show there are lots of naked woman, lots of jokes involving drug use and lots of foul language. It’s funny enough but it is definitely positioning the movie as being a lot more extreme in the humor department than I remember the first two movies being.

Online

There’s a lot of material here on the front page of the official website.

The first option on the top content menu is to watch the “Red Band Trailer” and then there’s a link to “Bong Along,” some sort of app that I couldn’t get to load in a browser window for whatever reason. After that is “Munchies,” which takes you to Facebook and the the “Poster Creator” is also a standalone site that is exactly what it sounds like. “Mistle-Toasted” is another Facebook game that, because I don’t connect things with my Facebook account, I can’t tell you more about though I presume it’s something vaguely drug-related. The “Ecard” tool also uses Facebook to, I presume, send one of your friends there a movie-themed electronic card of some sort.

We finally move beyond Facebook with the “Videos” section, which has the one all-ages Trailer as well as two TV Spots. “Photos” then contains 11 stills from the movie that show many of the same scenes we’ve seen in the trailers.

“About” has a Synopsis as well as Cast and Filmmaker sections that give you an idea of what everyone involved has been doing for their careers as well as Production Notes to download as a PDF if you want to do some reading.

There are Posters, Wallpapers and Buddy Icons to grab in the “Downloads” section.

Likely because of the age-sensitive material that’s there you have to be logged in to Facebook in order to access the movie’s page there. The page has information on the “Munchies Truck Tour” that will bring the movie’s attitude to colleges across the country as well as the usual assortment of videos and photos along with publicity updates on the Wall, including questions from fans that have been answered by the movie’s stars.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A variety of TV commercials were created and released that hit most of the comedic high points – Claymation, a toddler getting high, NPH’s womanizing return, lots of implied drug use – in various ways. They all served their purpose of making sure people were aware that, after a six-year hiatus, the characters were returning and that they were more offensive than ever, which is the point of the entire campaign so it’s not like anything here can be argued with in terms of effectiveness.

Media and Publicity

There wasn’t a ton of publicity. Some basic pieces about the return of the franchise and such but the only one of note was a story (Los Angeles Times, 10/24/11) about Penn and this being his big return to acting after taking a bit of time off to, of all things, work at the White House. Outside of that there were various interviews with the actors and all that and some shilling by them on the talk show circuit.

Overall

It’s not bad but it’s definitely intended to show today’s audience – which is quite a bit different from the one that existed just six years ago when the last installment was released – just how extreme the humor is. So the same gags showing the baby getting messed up on drugs, the claymation sequence that’s supposed to hit all sorts of nostalgic chords and the sexual antics of Neil Patrick Harris are repeated over and over again to make the comedy here as much of a known quantity as possible.

It’s presumed that by giving the audience what is meant to be just a sample of what’s in store that they’ll be interested enough to come and get the whole lot but I suspect that what we’ve seen here, especially in the red-band trailer, is a fair representation of the movie as a whole.

Movie Marketing Madness: Tower Heist

The last several years have left more than a few folks feeling like they’ve been willing participants in their own robberies. Money that we were assured would be available to us dried up and disappeared because of the greed and subsequent shady dealings of certain individuals who are in the financial system. Not that things need to be no more complex than the dimmest person can understand but some of the ways that money was moved around – and eventually lost – are confusing even to the most logical of laymen.

The new movie Tower Heist is about a group who decides to do what many of us have wanted to do: Get even with those who lost our money. The residents and employees of a high-end apartment building, including Josh (Ben Stiller), Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick) and Charlie (Casey Affleck) among others all trusted a wealthy resident (Alan Alda) with substantial amounts of their money But one day they find he’s embezzled it and it’s all gone. So they enlist Slide (Eddie Murphy), a thief who once hit the building, to help them steal their money back. Wackiness, of course, ensues.

The Posters

The movie’s first poster is primarily concerned with selling the movie as an ensemble film. So Stiller, Murphy, Broderick and the rest of the crew are shown leaning against a building and looking very cocky. The copy “It’s not a robbery, it’s payback” does a decent job of setting up the story without actually telling the audience very much. But honestly the campaign is probably designed just to convince people that they should just sit back and not worry about plot holes because the cast is so charming. So the lack of any story points here beyond what are obvious is likely by design and not something that’s keeping anyone up at night.

The second one-sheet cut out everyone aside from Stiller and Murphy and, oddly, took out any and all copy aside from their names and the rest of the credits. The idea here, obviously, is that the audience should be attracted to the film by the presence of these two stars and little else. No plot description is necessary apparently and the fact that these two are in the film should in and of itself be enough to fill seats.

The Trailers

The first trailer is all about laying out the basic premise of the movie’s story. We meet the gang that works at a posh New York City high rise apartment and one of its residents, a high-profile Wall Street type. Everything is going fine until he’s arrested for fraud and the workers in the building find out the pensions he’s been managing for them are now completely gone. Stiller and a few others determine to get what they can back, though, and set out to steal whatever cash that might be laying around in order to exact some revenge and get their losses back. Being novices, though, the need and expert and so recruit Murphy’s character, a professional thief. But of course things don’t go very smoothly and lots of wackiness ensues as they run into all sorts of problems.

The trailer shows that the movie hits all the notes you’d expect such a story to but the most surprising thing about is that Eddie Murphy actually looks like he’s legitimately funny. That’s something that hasn’t happened in 10+ years and, honestly, his interplay with Stiller looks like it might be worth checking out in and of itself. It reminds me of some of Murphy’s best work in the 80’s and hopefully marks a return to form for him.

Unfortunately not everyone was thrilled with the trailer, as actor Greg Grunberg reacted very badly to the line about Stiller’s character being a “seizure boy.” That outrage was the result of Grunberg having an epileptic son, something that’s sure to change your perspective on things.

A second trailer hit many of the same notes though slightly rearranged. We still get the setup that Alda’s banker has lost money from all of the employees of the building he lives in and that a select few are determined to rob form him to get it back. We get a few different scenes, particularly of Murphy teaching the group how to be criminals but that’s about it that separates it from the first one.

Online

The official website loads and the first thing I notice (aside from the recreation of the poster key art that makes up the primary image) is how devoted to social sharing the top of the site is. There’s a scroll of updates from people on Twitter who have used the hashtag #towerheist or who have otherwise mentioned the movie. It’s a curated feed, of course.

Outside of that the front page allows you to get some ringtones, download a song from iTunes from the movie’s soundtrack and play the “Heist it Back” game that is mentioned more below. There’s also prompts to check in on GetGlue to unlock character stickers and more and an invitation to play an 8-bit game version of the movie.

Moving beyond all that end Entering the Site the first thing there are images of the main characters that, when you mouse over them, give you a one-sentence description of the character and their motivations.

Accessing the Menu, which is arranged like the schematics of a building, the first section is “Video” and there you’ll find just the two Trailers. “Downloads” has some Wallpapers, Buddy Icons and Ringtones.

Hitting “The Film” section you’ll be able to read a halfway decent Story synopsis but the Cast and Crew information along with the Production Notes are all only available as PDF downloads. That’s odd for Cast/Crew.

The “Gallery” has just five stills from the movie, though the way they’re arranged in a nice endless scroll gives the initial impression that there are many more.

Finally the “Features” just has links to play the same games that are listed on the front page.

The movie’s Facebook page ports over or links to a lot of the games and other features from the official site and, of course, hosts the games that use Facebook as part of their mechanisms. There are also lots of videos – including tons of 30-second TV commercials – and photos along with the regular updates on press and marketing activities. There was also a Twitter profile that contained many of those updates.

There was a kind of cool online scavenger hunt run, with clues hidden across Facebook that, when found, gave people Facebook Credits that could be used for playing the “Heist it Back” game that brought them into the movie’s story and allowed them to interact with characters.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV spots began running in late September that certainly sold the movie as an ensemble comedy, setting up the basic plot of a group of people working together to exact a pound of flesh from the corrupt finance guy who stole from all of them and lost their money. A whole bunch of spots were eventually produced though they all, for the most part, hit the same three or four notes though in different ways and in different orders.

Outdoor advertising was done as well, with posters that sold the movie primarily as a Stiller/Murphy partnership, which is hardly surprising.

Media and Publicity

There was a lot of publicity for the film when Ratner, the director here, announced that he had chosen Murphy to host the 2012 Academy Awards ceremony (Hollywood Reporter, 9/6/11), which he was also directing.

Other than that the biggest news around the movie came when it was announced Universal would make it available for video on demand just three weeks after its initial theatrical release (Los Angeles Times, 10/5/11) for $60, though only in a couple markets and only through Comcast. That led to as much outrage from theater owners as it did interest from the press and industry pundits, who will then be watching closely whether its promised availability has an impact in those markets on box-office receipts.

Cinemark and other theater chains later announced they would refuse to book the movie (LAT, 10/10/11), saying they wouldn’t support the studio’s plan to go VOD so soon, something that ultimately led Universal to back down and cancel the experiment (THR, 10/12/11).

Overall

There’s a lot I like about this campaign. As I said before it’s single biggest accomplishment may be that I’m somewhat interested in a new movie starring Eddie Murphy, something that hasn’t happened for upwards of 15 years or so. Aside from that this is selling a movie that appears to be entertaining and light weight for the most part, something that’s professionally put together and, unlike many of Brett Ratner’s movies, may not make me actively want to jam a pointed stick into my thorax. Which is a win, really.

More than that the movie is arriving at the time of the Occupy Wall Street movement that’s gripping the nation. I’m sure the studio has at least flirted with the idea of tying this in with that more overtly through the press but the fact that hasn’t happened tells me the idea was rejected. But the coincidental timing may still wind up benefiting the film as people look to it as a fictionalization of the rage they feel and enjoy seeing a group of people act out the kind of personal revenge they’d like to see exacted themselves.