I’ve made very little effort to hide the fact that I think the current crop of comedians in movies might just rank among the best the movie industry has had to offer. I’ll put Will Ferrell, Jason Bateman, Steve Carell, Vince Vaughn, Paul Rudd, John C. Reilly, Owen and Luke Wilson, Michael Cera and the rest of the people who frequently appear in movies with them against, in their own way, rosters that include Bob Hope, Jack Benny, The Marx Bros. and a host of others from Hollywood’s golden age. Are the comedic stylings the same or even similar? Not a chance. But right now we’re enjoying a period with a handful of extremely funny leading men and a very, very strong bench of supporting players.
All that leads into the subject of this column, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. The movie is a mock biopic of one Dewey Cox, a singer whose life the movie tells even as it spoofs other biographical films like Ray and Walk the Line. Reilly stars as the title character, a man whose life is filled with tragedy, both accidental and of his own dumbass making.
There was only one poster created by Sony for the movie, but it pretty much told the audience exactly what it needed to know. Reilly stands, shirtless and with a look of bliss that can only be born of ignorance, in a very Jim Morrison as Lizard King type pose. So it’s easy to guess from the one-sheet that this is a comedy and that many of the laughs will come from Reilly’s character bouncing around the world completely oblivious to the impact he’s having on it.
The biggest component to the trailer, which is quite funny, is that it hits many of the same notes as most biographical films. From the tortured backstage posing to the meeting of other famous musicians to the washed-up mess years, the moments being parodied should be instantly familiar to anyone who’s been watching movies for the last several years.
Reilly is obviously having fun and in addition to everything else there’s a ton of sex gags, mostly involving co-star Jenna Fischer (Pam on “The Office”). So it positions the movie as something that should appeal to guys, mainly, who are likely going to be attracted to the sex jokes.
There’s also a lot of mention of producer Apatow’s past films, obviously trading on his current success to try and boost this movie’s chances for success. Superbad, Talladega Nights and Knocked Up all get name-dropped. It’s an obvious tactic but it’s also got decent odds of working.
There was also a red-band, R-rated trailer that contained a fair amount of the same jokes as well as some new ones, mostly revolving around more sex, a bit of drug use and some swear words. Just as funny as the first one, but for different reasons. But like other movies that have employed red-band trailers, this is meant to differentiate the movie for a more adult audience and make the movie more appealing to them.
Just like the Sweeney Todd site, the first thing on Walk Hard’s official website is a nod to the movie’s Golden Globe nominations. Below that is a gallery of video footage and pictures from some of the stops along the “Cox Across America” tour that had Reilly touring in character and performing songs from the movie.
Skipping over the entryway to the official site, there’s a link to a “Fan Site” for Dewey Cox. This is kind of hilarious. It’s setup like a fan site, albeit a very well designed one, and there you can download fan club certificates, order Cox bobble-heads, view bumper stickers and do a bunch of other stuff. It’s a fun site – the fan mail section is a riot – and adds a little something to the Cox mythology.
The next section down is “Watch Restricted Clips.” There you can view an age-restricted trailer, clips as well as the first 10 minutes of the movie.
Before diving into the actual site there is a button prompting “Facebook users click here.” Doing so brings you to a page with the movie’s trailer on it, a trailer that you can then click to have added to your Facebook profile. That’s all well and good, but as I originally noted, the most interesting part of that page is that there’s a brief survey asking you about the experience, probably as a gauge for future moves along these lines.
Just about a week before the movie’s release, Judd Apatow released a video on FunnyorDie that was so meta it’s not even funny. Actually, it is quite funny. It’s a clip of Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill, Justin Long and Craig Robinson sitting around playing Rock Band and then engaging in an off-the-cuff conversation about how funny Walk Hard is. Everything is fine until Robinson realizes he’s unwittingly participating in “some viral marketing bu****it” and chases Apatow around the office.
OK, so finally diving into the site’s main content. The site’s navigation is based around a collection of images from the film. Mousing over any of those pictures brings up the title of that section and from there you can click through to that section’s content.
“About the Film” is the first section, containing a two paragraph Synopsis and…nothing else. There are sections for Cast & Crew and Production Notes, but both of those areas are still labeled as “Coming Soon,” which is a tad disappointing when we’re less than 24 hours (when I’m writing this) from the movie actually showing on theater screens. That same content can be found under “Clips,” which is kind of weird.
The one time a movie site labels a section “Trailer” it’s not actually accurate. In most cases a section will be called “Videos” and just contain the trailer. But this is “Trailer” – singular – and contains a bunch of stuff. That includes the trailer, two TV Spots, three Clips and the Age Restricted Clips as well.
“Downloads” gives you the usual Buddy Icons, a Screensave and some Wallpapers. “Soundboard” is a collection of sound clips from the movie that you can either just listen to or download to your hard drive, which is kind of cool.
There’s a heavy emphasis on mobile content here, with two sections devoted to mobile. One is a link to some free downloads, two ringtones and one wallpaper. The other is to the PlayPhone.com site where you can use that site’s system to get some free – at least I think it’s free – downloads as well.
Finally, there’s another link to RockLikeCox, the fake fan site, as well as to the movie’s Facebook and MySpace pages. I also love the movie’s YouTube channel, featuring reflections by real life rock stars on the Cox legend.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Well, there’s been a bunch of TV spots, a slew of online ads, and this fake commercial for Cox Sausage that almost killed me. There were also a couple of fake “For Your Consideration” ads.
The studio also partnered with Break.com, making a bunch of videos available for people to download and assemble into their own music video to win a Gibson Guitar and other merchandise.
It’s a good campaign but, despite the efforts to bring Dewey Cox off the screen and into the real world, I’m concerned that it spends so much time reminding people of Apatow’s other movies that the campaign doesn’t establish a strong enough brand identity for this movie in and of itself. Everything is geared toward reminding us what a good time we had watching Superbad that it doesn’t sell us the good time we could have watching Walk Hard.
I also kind of think there was so much effort put into the experiential aspect of the campaign that the trailers and other more traditional assets wound up being weaker than they otherwise could have been. But things like the screening/concert tour were a great idea and certainly, at least from what I’ve heard, worked at getting people interested in seeing the movie. So mission accomplished.
Bill Champlin says his upcoming solo album is about finished and should be coming out around March or April of 2008. Time to put away a few bucks specifically to pick this up.
I’m an unabashed fan of director Tim Burton and have been since…well…I first discovered him. I love Edward Scissorhands, really dig Ed Wood and even like Mars Attacks!, a movie most people detest, largely because I don’t think they get what he was trying to do. I think the only Burton movie I haven’t seen is Planet of the Apes, and that’s just because it looks really, really bad. But everyone is allowed the occasional misstep and I don’t think it detracts at all from the rest of his body of work.
(On a side note, a friend of mine said after we watched Batman Returns, “Tim Burton really likes directing snow…” I think that’s such a perfect description of his style Burton should have it put on his gravestone.)
For Sweeney Todd, Burton reteams with frequent star Johnny Depp, who’s also joined him on Scissorhands, Wood and Sleepy Hollow, as well as doing a voice in The Corpse Bride. The movie is, of course, based on the famous musical from Stephen Sondheim about a vengeful barber who extracts his pound of flesh from those who wronged him earlier in life.
There are multiple marketing hurdles Paramount/Dreamworks will have to clear to get Sweeney to become a box-office hit. For one, it’s coming out in a very crowded Christmas season. For another, it’s a musical, but not the feel-good romp that movies like Chicago, Hairspray and others were. It’s also got to appeal to both Burton fans and Sondheim fans, groups that may not significantly overlap.
Over- or under-playing any of these hands and the movie will not connect with audiences. So let’s see how the studio(s) did with the campaign.
The first teaser poster was a bit odd, I felt, in how heavy-handed it seemed. Showing a man’s silhouette as he walks under a bridge of some sort, the poster is filled with signs that shriek to the audience that this is supposed to be scary instead of just being scary in and of itself. Burton and Depp are prominently mentioned, but the oddly on-thel-nose title treatment overwhelms any actual sense of foreboding or terror that the imagery might be trying to create.
Later on there were a whole batch of character posters featuring Depp and co-star Helana Bonham-Carter. There were a number created for each of the two of the but I’m not sure to what end. All were variations on the same theme, that Depp is the Barber and Bonham-Carter the Baker who disposes of his victims in a uniquely culinary way. All accomplished their goals with different levels of success, with some posters working better than others. The ones that I think work the best – and this should come as no surprise – are those that continue the same sort of brand identity from the theatrical one-sheet. But they’re all kind of cool and each one is going to appeal to a different viewer, it’s just that I’m surprised they created multiple posters for just two characters when the movie isn’t a sci-fi movie or anything that traditionally lends itself to character posters like this.
There were then, it seems two stabs taken at a final theatrical poster. At least that’s the way I viewed it.
The first put Depp in his own barber’s chair, staring vindictively at the audience. This is probably my favorite of the posters as it does the best job of presenting a clear, concise picture of the movie. You’ve got Depp, clearly plotting something and looking more than a little honked off. You’ve got the washed out grays and reds that look like they haven’t seen the sun in years, a visual style Burton has done before and quite well. I just love the way it sets the movie up, from the main character to his place of..ummm…business all in one image.
The next one took that image and put it way down at the bottom of the poster, opting to fill most of the real estate with Depp’s ginormous head. The red sky over the London skyline does a nice job of setting up the bloody nature of the movie, but I think that such a close-up of the actor in character kills a good amount of the terror. It’s obviously an attempt to make Depp the focus of the campaign and play off his celebrity but it winds up making it about 60 percent less scary than if he had been more in the background, or at least further away from the camera as in the character posters.
There was just one trailer that was created for the movie’s U.S. audiences. But it’s a very good trailer. It sets up the movie’s plot quite well, showing how the man who would be Sweeney got in the position he’s in after his wife was stolen from him by a corrupt judge. It then shows how he returns and plots his revenge with the assistance of Mrs. Lovett and how he carves his way the London citizenry. Despite the constant cries of some people there is plenty of music in the trailer, with Depp singing what seems to be one of the movie’s major set pieces. I don’t know how much more music would have satisfied people. I can only assume they were looking for a half-hour clip that was 75 percent singing in order to prove to them that they weren’t playing down the music in the movie’s marketing campaign.
When you pull up the movie’s official website the first thing that greets you is the same picture of Depp that was used on the second (and lesser) of the final two posters. Right below his visage is a graphic triumphing in the movie’s four Golden Globe nominations.
Off to the right are links to a variety of things to do if you’re just passing through. First on that list is “View the Trailer” which brings up the trailer that was released. Included there is a “Share this Video” option that lets you send it as an email or grab code to embed it on your own site.
Next is the “Cut Your Own Trailer” feature that lets you create your own Sweeney spot using provided audio and video files as well as other assets like transitions, graphics and title cards. Once you’ve done that you can either email it, embed it or just grab a permalink to that video, which might be my favorite option since it makes it very easy to spread the word simply and efficiently, just like any other webpage.
Finally (overlooking the “Register for Updates” option) there’s a link to the Sweeney Todd MySpace page. Unlike a lot of MySpace pages, this one actually seems to do something – to have some purpose. Much like the “Cut your Own Trailer” feature on the main site, here you can take some provided material and use it to skin your own MySpace profile page. After doing so you can enter a contest to win a MacBook with Final Cut Express software already on it.
There are actually a few more things before diving into the site. You can send a Christmas e-card with a Sweeney-bent that can be customized. Here’s what mine looked like.
There’s also a link to buy the official companion book from Titan Books. That little rotating GIF also eventually prompts you to find out how you can throw your own Sweeney Todd party on Facebook. That’s accomplished by adding the Party On application to your profile, which then gives you a number of themes to choose from, Sweeney Todd among them.
So let’s finally get into what lies underneath the “Enter the Site” prompt.
The first thing to note is that songs – complete songs, not just snippets – from the movie’s soundtrack play over the site as you click around. You can skip to new songs or stop the music altogether by hitting the “Audio” button at the top. Right next to it is “Players,” which is a series of character profiles. On all of those profiles there’s some sort of interactive element. Scroll over a window and someone appears, scroll over a candle and it goes out…that kind of thing. There’s also a character description, seemingly in the form of a lyric from the production or something like that.
To the top left of the screen is a Menu that drops down allowing you to navigate the site’s main content.
“The Film” contains a brief Story synopsis, some fairly extensive Production Notes and backgrounds on the Cast and Crew. “Video” has the Trailer, a handful of Clips, all four TV Spots and a couple of Studio Sessions showing the two stars recording some of their songs. Those videos were released by the studio about a month ago, just as the “They’re downplaying the music” backlash was really gaining steam, which was a smart strategic move.
“Downloads” contains Wallpapers, a Screensaver and Buddy Icons you can grab. There are also some Takeaway Banners that, when you bring them up, give you the embed code so you can grab them and put them on your own site without eating up your bandwidth. That’s a really great move and I like it a lot.
“Music” is pretty self-explanatory. it lists the songs on the soundtrack and lets you select them to sample out. There are also links to buy the album on Amazon, iTunes, and, most interestingly, Nonesuch Records. That last one I’m picking out because of the recent announcement that Nonesuch would allow you to download a free digital copy of every CD you buy, making it that much easier to get a physical record and put the songs on your portable player at the same time.
Considering Paramount/Dreamworks has about six niche groups it had to appeal to, the campaign did a pretty good job of selling the movie. There was plenty in there to connect with fans of Burton, Sondheim and Depp, its three major target groups.
But this is one of those cases where the whole is not equal to the sum of its parts. Each component is very strong, from the trailer to (most of) the posters to the website. But when it’s all added up the campaign just feels kind of…slight. There’s little substance to it, as if the studio was too busy putting a sheen on everything that it forgot to actually let people into the movie’s universe through the campaign. I can’t point out what it is – and I’ve been thinking about it – but it seems like the campaign was designed to be very tasty but not stick to your ribs in any meaningful way.
But that shouldn’t detract from some of the good stuff in each part of the push. The emphasis on spreading the word, through links, embed code and more on the website is great to see. And the trailer is a lot of very dark fun. It’s just that there’s little connective tissue to those components, resulting in the movie not having as strong or as weighty a brand identity as it could have.
One of my favorite ways to amuse myself during the day is to be annoying on Twitter. That should come as a shock to absolutely no one, at least not if you’ve been reading my stuff for more than a day and a half.
Yesterday I dropped a quote from Leon: The Professional over there when making an annoying comment on Google’s 2008 buying strategy and CC Chapman responded saying he loves that movie, so in honor of his birthday today I’m killing time while working on other things by posting that clip from the movie.
Apparently New York City wasn’t the only metropolitan area to be targeted by 20th Century Fox for large-scale Simpsons Movie promotions. From Reuters/THR:
In Los Angeles, holiday elves wearing yellow Santa hats will hand out pink-frosted D’oh!Nut sprinkles, Homer’s favorite treat, to commuters downtown, while in Hollywood a “Simpsons” holiday spectacular will boast inflatable Homer Santas, pink-flocked Christmas trees and donut balloons.
In 20 cities, including Salt Lake City, Honolulu and El Paso, pink donut Mylar balloons will be tied to parking meters at high-traffic shopping areas, signifying free parking.
And in 51 cities — from Mobile, Ala., to Concord, N.H., yellow “Simpsons” Santa hats are being distributed at random locations.
Didn’t see anything like that in Chicago on the walk in this morning, but I’ll be looking out for them on the walk this afternoon.
The idea of resurrecting some of these great shows that were killed before their prime to fill in the strike-created gap is kind of brilliant. And it would help DVD sales to boot.