Movie Marketing Madness: Shame

Many of us struggle with an addiction of some sort. Whether it’s over-eating or too many chocolate cravings or something far more serious there’s something that draws us and compels us to indulge even if our conscious mind knows that it’s bad for us. For some people that’s sex. And while that is often the subject of jokes and derision it is a real thing and can cause real problems for people.

The new movie from director Steve McQueen is about just that topic. Shame stars Michael Fassbender as Brandon, a New York City professional who lives a closely guarded private life, one that allows him to indulge in and hide his terrible sexual addiction, something that leads him to sleep with an endless string of women. But that routine is disrupted when his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) visits him for an extended period of time, something that leads to the collision of his personal problems and the fact that he’s no longer as solitary as his addiction necessitates.

The Posters

The first teaser poster – which oddly turned out to be the only one-sheet released – got more or less straight to the point while also merely hinting at the movie itself. It showed just a bed with wrinkled covers, the title of the film over that image. So we’re clearly into some kinky territory here though the details remain unclear and vague.

The Trailers

The first official trailer for the movie offers a decent look at the themes the story will touch on. It’s all framed around the idea of Fassbender’s character running, which we see him doing in-between shots of him checking out various beautiful women. Then his sister decides to stay with him and things get even weirder. We see him continuing to hit on and make love to various women and his sister is trying to help him overcome what she sees as a problem.

It’s kind of creepy, kind of fascinating and very intriguing. It’s obviously Fassbender’s show here and so it’s going to rise or fall based on whether he can pull the character off, which he likely can. It’s a very good trailer that shows what the film will be about without giving away all the points on the story arc completely.

The second trailer features a lot of the same footage of Fassbender’s character hitting on and then getting it on with a variety of women. But this one has over all that his sister singing “New York, New York” in a plaintive kind of way, something that serves to make what we’re watching just that much more sad and kind of depressing. It’s short – only 90 seconds or so – which means we’re still not getting much of a look but what we do see is kind of fascinating.

A red-band trailer was released just a week or so before release. The core component here is an extended look at the subway sequence that’s shown in the other trailers, showing a bit more of the gaze-filled flirtation that happens between Brandon and the girl he sees there, something that ends with her apparently ditching him. Inbetween that, though, there’s lots of shots of the various kinds of sex that he has with the neverending stream of women he manages to hook up with. The only surprise here is that age-restricted material wasn’t a bigger part of the trailer component of the campaign.

Online

The official website is has a brief Synopsis, profiles of Fassbender, McQueen and Mulligan as well as the two all-ages trailers. That’s all wrapped in a nice interactive display at the top of the page that ties in nicely from a design perspective to the trailers and poster, which is good.

Also there are all the usual Fox Searchlight features: A widget taking you to the studio’s Facebook page, a scrolling box of Twitter updates mentioning the movie, a list of blog posts and news stories about the film and more.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Nothing that I saw or was aware of. Because of the NC-17 rating the film wound up earning from the MPAA (more on that below) there would have been severe restrictions placed on its advertising ability, with most all TV/cable stations as well as print outlets have a strict policy on no ads for movies with this rating.

Media and Publicity

The 2011 New York Film Festival marked the movie’s first known public appearance and was heralded as one to definitely see at that event. But before that it debuted at the Telluride Film Festival (Hollywood Reporter, 9/1/11) to generally positive buzz (Los Angeles Times, 9/5/11) though the consensus is that the movie is a tough sit and likely a tough sell to non-festival audiences.

It also appeared at the Toronto Film Festival, where the buzz around it led to a relatively quick acquisition by Fox Searchlight (THR, 9/9/11) and at the Venice International Film Festival, where Fassbender won that festival’s best actor award (LAT, 9/10). It would later go on to appear as one of the most anticipated films at AFI Fest (LAT, 10/18/11)

During the festival period both Fassbender and McQueen talked to the press about the film, with Fassbender labeling the controversial movie a social critique (LAT, 9/12/11)  and McQueen saying he was surprised (LAT, 9/13/11) by the controversy around the movie despite its graphic subject matter.

That subject matter continued to be the focal point the press revolved around as Fox Searchlight declared its intention to release the film as widely as possible regardless of the rating (THR, 10/20/11) just before it was officially given an NC-17 by the MPAA (THR, 10/25/11). Fassbender, at least, came out as being of the opinion (LAT, 11/10/11) that the rating was actually a help to the movie.

Something that got pointed out was that this was one of two movies Fassbender starred in that opened within just a week or so of each other (Time, 11/18/11) and both of which were apparent awards contenders. It was also pointed out that this was the second collaboration between the actor and the director (New York Times, 11/27/11), the first of which was Hunger a couple years ago.

Overall

Whatever your comfort level with the subject matter might be – and there have already been numerous discussions about the movie and how it portrays the nature of sexual relationships – one thing that can’t be denied is that there’s been an effective campaign built up around selling the film. With the two central components being the trailers and the publicity the focus has been put squarely on Fassbender’s performance and a sense of mystery that’s been built up around the movie.

That’s heightened by the fact that the trailers, particularly the two all-ages versions, show much of the same footage but in different ways. Where that usually creates a sense of “uh oh, that might be the only good two minutes there are” here it instead makes the audience wonder why nothing else could be shown. While it’s not likely to set the box office on fire this weekend my guess is that there will be a small contingent that seeks out this movie not based on titillation but on the feeling of this being something truly unique even if it might be largely distasteful.

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