I’m talking about the current wave of movies revolving around a murder investigation in 1940’s or 50’s Hollywood. I would have expected this kind of thing to have been popular more immediately after the success of L.A. Confidential. But now in the next couple weeks there are two such films coming out. Next week is the release of The Black Dahlia, about the the gruesome murder of actress Betty Ann Short. This week’s release, and the subject of this column, is Hollywoodland.
Hollywoodland deals with the investigation by one reporter into the reported suicide/suspected murder of actor George Reeves, star of the â€œAdventures of Supermanâ€ television series that ran from 1952 to 1958. That’s the story. The setting, though, is the glamorous world of old Hollywood, with its champagne cocktails, evening gowns, tuxedos and a system so tightly controlled by the heads of the big studios that no one could breathe without clearing it with them first.
A few months before the movie’s release, basically around the time posters and trailers were set to appear, the movie actually got a title change. It had been known as â€œTruth, Justice and the American Wayâ€ a nod to Superman’s long-standing motto as well as the small recap of the themes the movie would explore. I think the title was ditched for at least two reasons. First, it’s just too long. People would be abbreviating it all over the place and that’s not good for branding. Second, Hollywoodland plays more into the nostalgic feelings we all have for that bygone era of film-making. Hollywood now is so transparent, with everyone being able to find out the sexual histories of actors at all levels and photos of them unshaven and slurping Starbucks that the audience likes to fetishize the Golden Age of Hollywood. There’s also the possibility that the title was changed for the same reason Frank Langela’s line in Superman Returns became, â€œ…truth, justice â€“ all that stuff.â€ The theory behind the dropping of â€œ..and the American way.â€ from his speech is that, with America’s reputation in the rest of the world not being the best right now that the phrase doesn’t mean a whole lot.
But enough about that. Let’s get into the campaign.
A set of three character-centric one-sheets were released about a month and a half before the movie’s release. One featured Affleck, another Adrian Brody‘s reporter and finally there was one for Diane Lane as the wife of the studio chief played by Bob Hoskins and mistress to Affleck’s Reeves. All three were pretty good and all featured a yellow-organish look to them, like a film negative that hadn’t been preserved properly.
That same look was used for the final theatrical poster , except this one combined all three characters into one images. It looks like the same picture of Brody was used, but Affleck and Lane were this time shown in the background in a passionate embrace. I like the way those two were pushed behind Brody. It simultaneously shows that the storyline involving those two happens in the past and that it’s secondary to the Brody thread. I can’t say that it, or the character posters, are all that visually pleasing (the color seems overly harsh) but they get their message across pretty well. That being said, I’m not sure why the character posters were deemed a necessity. Affleck isn’t the box-office draw he once might have been, and neither are Lane or Brody in that elite category of actors who can bring in a big opening weekend based solely on their presence. The movie, too, isn’t exactly what I’d call an ensemble piece. Not sure about the call to put out that many posters.
I have to say the trailer does a nice job of selling the movie. It opens with a trip through the clouds, Superman-style â€“ as we get the basic setup and a quick primer on just who George Reeves is and why we should care about him. One of the first shots from the movie is of Affleck as Reeves in Superman costume walking away sullenly from the camera. (As an aside, that shot reminded me just how low they insisted on hanging that cape on Reeves. Whereas in the comics the cape is pretty much attached around the entire back of the neck on the show it was attached only to each shoulder and then hung down to the middle of Reeves’ back. Always bugged me. Let’s move on.)
After that we get the basic plot. Brody’s reporter is tipped off that Reeves’ suicide might not so much have been a suicide. There’s a studio tough-guy who, after warning Hoskins’ studio exec that he needs to tell him anything he might need to know, tries to warn Brody off any further investigation. We also get plenty of flashback shots of Affleck and Lane and their romance. We also see that Reeves longed for more of a career than being thought of only as Superman and thought, at least in part, that his romance with Lane’s character would help him achieve that. There are plenty of shots of the Hollywood of that era, with plenty of huge flashing bulbs on photographers cameras and such.
It’s a tight trailer that also shows the visual look the film will have. Everything seems just a tad over-exposed, like they were trying to create a glow about everyone in the cast. It’s interesting in the trailer but I don’t know how it will play for a whole movie.
The movie does have an official website but it’s a half-hearted and lackluster affair dressed up with seemingly cute names for average and uninspired content.
It starts off promisingly, with a very nicely designed background of old newspaper headlines that touch on the story’s plot points of murder, adultery and Hollywood. That background has the same sort of visual look as the posters, which provides a nice consistent feel to the campaign. Clips of dialogue that have been pulled from the trailer play over it.
The actual content, though, is strictly run-of-the-mill, albeit with section names that somebody thought were a good idea. â€œScandalsâ€ is where you’ll find a Synopsis and About the Production write-ups, both very short- four paragraphs or less. Cast biographies are found inside â€œSuspectsâ€ and the crew’s bios are under â€œInsiders.â€ It’s always a bad sign when the site is so desperate for content that cast and crew are actually separated out from each other. That’s a bit of a stretch. â€œEvidenceâ€ is where you can find six or so still Photos, the Trailer and seven Film Clips. Those clips are the best part of the site since they most effectively communicate the brand message. There’s also a â€œMysteryâ€ section but what it contains is, well, a mystery since as of now â€“ the Monday before opening day â€“ the section is still labeled â€œComing Soon.â€
Hint for next time: Less time thinking up funny names for content and more time spent on coming up with said content.
Beginning the week before the movie’s opening, Hollywoodland was the featured advertiser on the â€œTiVo Showcase,â€ the option that appears to TiVo subscribers allowing them to view an ad on-demand more or less. The Showcase contained the trailer as well as an extremely superficial three-minute long behind the scenes spot consisting mainly of footage from the trailer interspersed with brief interviews with the major cast member and director.
There was also the option to â€œDig deeper into Hollywoodland.â€ That led you to a screen where you could record an upcoming A&E Hollywood Real episode on George Reeves and/or a special on the â€œWorld of Hollywoodland.â€ I love this tactic because it really does invite some sort of deeper thinking about the movie/brand on the part of the viewer and gives them push-button access to more information. Good information + ease of use = good marketing in case you were wondering.
I like this campaign. Aside from the extremely disappointing website it’s got some strong components. The posters probably are the second-weakest part of the push but is compensated for by a good trailer and a nice and easy to use promotional effort via TiVo. That last part is my favorite part of the campaign. The way it’s layered to allow for those who are casually interested to go to one level and then, when their interest is stoked, join the heavily interested crowd deeper down is fantastic to me. Giving people the option to easily record those programs, which are but aren’t part of the official marketing effort, is a great way to get people to engage with the brand for that much longer, helping the odds the movie will do well at the box-office.