Movie Marketing Madness: The Darjeeling Limited

thedarjeelinglimited_teaserbigNo one, I don’t think, has ever accused director Wes Anderson of having a lack of vision. The guy has churned out a series of films that are almost all vision. Movies like Rushmore, The Royal Tennenbaums and The Life Aquatic are all lavishly detailed, portraits of a world populated by people who who can’t help but express their feelings but who at the same time have no idea how to deal with the feelings of those around them. Everyone has issues with their father and other authority figures and everyone maintains a strict deadpan way of communicating with each other.

The latest entry in the Anderson oveure is The Darjeeling Limited. The movie tells the story of three brothers who haven’t talked for years but who are brought together on a trip on India’s famed Darjeeling Limited trainline.

There are two major obstacles that the campaign for Darjeeling has to overcome. The first is the vague sense that the sheen has come off of Anderson as a true visionary. That started after Life Aquatic, which a lot of people loved but which was seen by a number of critics (and fans) as not building off Tennanbaums in the same way that film had built off Rushmore. Aquatic was the first movie Anderson had not co-written with friend and star Owen Wilson and some people chalked it up to that change in the process.

The second stumbling block is, of course, the incident involving Owen Wilson a couple months before the movie’s release. Wilson apparently tried to commit suicide or overdosed or…well…what exactly happened has never been made clear. But the star has been out of reach and unavailable to participate in the publicity push leading up to the release. As I’ve said before, that has had a pretty sizable impact on the usual marketing campaign. Anderson and Wilson are so connected in the minds of fans and the press that the removal of one from the mix even under the best of circumstances is going to be a glaring omission. The two are co-owners of the brand that is this series of films and so when one is involved in something tragic like this that takes him out of the equation it’s going to effect that brand.

So knowing all this, let’s look at the campaign Fox Searchlight put together.

The Poster

As I mentioned when the poster was first released, this one-sheet is so very much Anderson-esque that even if you had no idea he had directed this movie you’d be able to figure it out based on this alone. The lushly detailed background and off-center framing of the actors are all Anderson trademarks. Even the coloring of the background, the turquoise wall, is very much Anderson. The title treatment closely resembles the one used for The Life Aquatic, being a strange sort of yellow and, again, a highly stylized font.

It’s a good poster for a number of reasons. First and foremost because it’s so immediately identifiable as part of the Wes Anderson movie brand. That’s because of the layout and the highlighting of the actors involved. It’s also just a fun, playful poster. The coloring and the stoic but ironic look on the faces of Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman and Adrian Brody make it entertaining in and of itself. When I first looked at it it elicited a chuckle in me that I would wager was a common reaction.

Whatever reaction you have is going to be highly influenced by whether or not you’re already a fan of Anderson’s movies. This poster is very much a play at the existing fan base and, while it might attract the attention of a larger audience, is essentially designed to alert fans of the director’s previous movies that he’s got a new movie coming out. So in that respect it’s very much a play at the niche of a niche, the segment of independent movie fans who are also Anderson lovers. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s kind of obvious that they’re invoking previous Anderson films in order to bring out the audience for this new movie.

The Trailer

You can pretty much take everything I just wrote and replace the word “poster” with “trailer” we’ve both just saved ourselves a lot of time. The only thing I will say is that the pacing of the clips makes it seem kind of like two trailers that have been cobbled together. You’ll see what I mean when you watch it. There’s a point just about halfway through where Schwartzman says, “Let me think about that” where it seems like it should end but then it keeps going. It still works overall but it’s kind jarring when you realize the trailer is about to keep going after that.

Online

The movie’s official website opens with a video montage with music of some clips from the film, mostly just shots of the three brothers running or some such. It doesn’t last long, which is a nice change of pace from a lot of sites, so there’s no real pressing need to use the “skip” button. Once that ends you’re presented with a site that looks like most of the rest of the Fox Searchlight website. That might sound dismissive but it’s really not. Let’s look at what’s there before even diving into the movie’s main content menu.

  • “The Production of The Darjeeling Limited” is a series of shorts videos from, obviously, the production of the movie. Pretty short little videos but they’re cool, and each one has code for you to embed the clip on your own site.
  • “Featured Articles” is just what it sounds like, a series of stories from New York Magazine, the Los Angeles Times and others that have featured the movie or the talent involved.
  • There’s a photo “Flipbook” that plays a slide-show, which you can also expand into its own window, of stills from the movie.
  • “Meet the Cast & Crew” links to the IMDB pages of the major players so you can learn more about them.
  • “More on the Darjeeling Limited” contains a series of links to the Fox Searchlight blog entries that have provided news on the film, a great way to encourage readership of that.
  • You can see trailers for Anderson’s previous films under the “Wes Anderson Filmography on YouTube” which links to the YouTube videos for those trailers.
  • “The Latest News” is an extension of the linkage out to other sites that have written reviews or stories about the film.

If you notice a single trend in all these sections it’s that the site is constantly linking out to other places on the internet. Why is that important? For the same reason that the Internet in and of itself is important, because one site can’t possibly contain all the information on a topic, so it’s important to point people to others who have opinions/information in order to give someone who’s looking for info a more complete picture.

Getting off my soapbox and back to the site, let’s look at the content that’s actually part of the formal site. First of all there’s a button off to the right that allows you to grab a widget that can be embedded on MySpace, Friendster, iGoogle or other profile or personal pages. Very cool. There’s also a link to the Hotel Chevalier short (discussed below) on iTunes.

Expanding the main menu takes you to the following areas:

  • “About the Film” is pretty standard, a three paragraph or so description of the movie and Anderson. Nothing special, but also not the worst such section I’ve seen.
  • “Cast & Crew” contains the regular recounting of each player and behind-the-scenes crew member’s past, current and upcoming works.
  • “Downloads” just has ten AIM icons and a couple of Desktops, both of which actually recreate the look of the website, which is kind of odd. Not odd in a bad way, just different from the way most movie sites do it.
  • “Video/Trailer” contains just the trailer. So it really should just be “Trailer” but that’s just a quibble.
  • “Gallery” collects about 16 stills from the movie.
  • “Open Soundtrack” lets you choose a track to listen to from the soundtrack. That’s kind of a nice feature, a bit different from how soundtracks are usually presented on sites.

This main, or more traditional, section of the site is completely fine and absolutely serviceable, but it’s not nearly as exciting (to me, at least) as the good stuff down below that not only tells me about the movie but also sucks me more deeply into the brand by presenting outside points of view.

Advertising and Other Publicity

First let’s talk about “Hotel Chevalier.” The 13 minute short film was written and shot by Anderson to act as a lead-in of sorts to the Darjeeling feature. In the closing credits it’s even billed as “Part 1 of The Darjeeling Limited.” Starring Schwartzman and Natalie Portman, there’s not much of the feature film’s story that you’re going to gleam from this short. Essentially, Schwartzman’s character has been staying at the hotel for an undetermined length of time and has now been found by his wife, played by Portman.

Essentially the short film is an introduction to Schwartzman’s character but does little to set up the film. It’s not bad – in fact it’s quite good. But it’s slightly disappointing, if only for the fact that I wish Anderson had done similar cinematic introductions for Brody’s and Wilson’s characters as well, stories that would show us where they were coming from before the story of the main film starts.

The Hotel Chevalier was released via iTunes just days before the Darjeeling’s theatrical release. Apparently it had been playing at festival showings before the main feature and Anderson has expressed his desire to put it back in front of the movie after it’s been in theaters for a few weeks. The latter is obviously a move to encourage repeat viewings, hopefully drawing people back to the movie after they’ve already seen it. But, by signaling this in advance, Anderson may have just delayed some people’s seeing of the film for the first time. If they had been planning on seeing it opening weekend they may wait until Chevalier is back as part of the exhibition. With its release on iTunes, though, that may not be such a factor.

I didn’t see much advertising, online or otherwise, for the movie. Fox Searchlight did, though, send out a branded toiletry bag to some movie writers, a fun and completely appropriate promotional item for the movie with its travel themes.

Along those same lines the studio partnered with Louis Vuitton to put a poster for the movie in the window of one of the retailer’s new York City locations along with some old-fashioned travel cases. Again, a completely appropriate promotional effort considering that traveling is what the movie s largely about. It’s also the latest in a line of such promotions from Fox Searchlight. The studio has previously put displays in retailer windows for movies like Waitress and Little Miss Sunshine.

Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman will make an appearance on Comedy Central’s Reel Comedy. While this is a regular stop on the publicity tours for most of the comedy films of late, I thought this was a pretty odd mix for this movie. Comedy Central is great, but most of the stuff on the channel is more broad, whereas Anderson’s movies are anything but. Seems like they’re going to break out of something like “Reno 911″ and then have these two guys introduce a clip that’s all dry and ironic and such and the audience will likely be confused. That’s just my take on it, but it just seems like an odd fit to me.

Overall

From a high-level perspective the campaign is very good and each individual component is well-executed and compelling, especially to the director’s fan-base. I think it’s a solid campaign that managed to overcome – or at least deal with in stride – the loss of one of the leading men from the last-minute publicity parade fairly well. The poster and trailer and well done and completely consistent with the Anderson film brand. The website is full of good stuff, including the actual movie content but especially in its acknowledgment of the larger internet. I really have no complaints about the campaign. It completely sold the movie in a way that was designed to appeal to the niche, which is a good thing in cases like this.

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