Let’s just dismiss this whole “mumblecore” thing right off the bat. It’s a stupid word, it’s not descriptive at all of the genre it attempts to label and quite frankly whenever you say it to anyone you sound like you’re mumbling and will probably be asked to clarify what it is you’re trying to say. So that’s the last time you’re going to read that word in this column, good day sir.
But there is a new genre of sorts being created by Joe Swanberg, Alexander Duplass and a handful of other writers, directors, actors and other creatives. The genre strips away the veneer from much of the movie-making process and takes it down to its essentials – cast and camera. They even take away much of the concept of a script, with a loose story being defined and then the actors and creators being free to improvise and riff along those lines. If that sounds familiar it’s because, if you think about it, what these guys are doing owes a lot in spirit to Christopher Guest and his series of mockumentaries (Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show and such).
These guys, though, don’t use that for comedic purposes but in an effort to showcase the relationships and quirks that dominate their everyday life. Sex simultaneously means everything and nothing. Work is necessary but also something that frustrates the main characters because it doesn’t engage them and channel their creativity. Everyone wants to feel passionate about what they do and who they’re with, but they’re not sure they ever can because of the emotional baggage they carry with them from their childhood.
The latest entry into this genre is Alexander the Last from director Swanberg. The movie follows a young married couple, both of whom are in the arts, and how they struggle with life together and all of the issues that come with it. That’s about it. So let’s see how IFC is selling it.
Just one was created but it pretty effectively sums up the movie and its overall feel, at least if Swanberg’s previous movies are any precedent. Star Jess Wexler is shown lying in bed with someone – her husband unless we miss our guess but it could be anyone really – and that’s about it. But since the movies in this genre are all about connections and trying desperately to not feel alone this is a perfect encapsulation of the plot. Look at the way they’re holding each other. There’s a desperation in the way they’re holding each other, though. Like if they let go or even if the embrace isn’t tight enough the other one will fall away and once again they’ll be alone. It’s really good and will certainly appeal to the built-in audience Swanberg in particular and the genre in general have.
The trailer instantly brings you into the genre with the hand-held look of the camera and the naturalistic performances given by the actors. The story is pretty well laid-out for the audience, introducing us to the main married couple and the relationship they have. Then the complication is introduced in the form of the actor Wexler’s character is working with, someone with whom she’s supposed to share an intimate scene with on-stage and which then begins to infiltrate into her personal life. You see the relationship with her husband begin to change a bit. It’s an engaging and funny trailer that sells the movie very well, again especially with the audience that is already interested in these types of movies.
The movie’s official website is a pretty bare bones affair that’s somewhat fitting for the movie it’s in support of.
The front page gives you a cast list and, primarily, information on the film’s availability via on-demand as well as in theaters. The first few sections are “Synopsis,” “Trailer” and “Images,” which are exactly what they sound like. There’s unfortunately nothing in the “Images” section yet but the site is filled with stills from the movie so it’s alright to some extent. There’s also a section for “Screenings” that promises to have information on where the movie will be showing but which doesn’t have anything right now.
The primary section, at least the one with the most information, is “Journal.” That’s where director Swanberg and producer David Lowry have been chronicling the shooting of the movie as well as other production details. It’s a Blogger-based blog but not laid out like one. Entries are heavy on behind-the-scenes pictures of the cast and crew and it’s pretty interesting to read.
There’s also a presence for the movie on IFC’s site that has the film’s synopsis as well as the trailer and poster along with a few other details about the cast and screenings and such. Combined with the stand-alone site I’d say the movie has about the same online identity that most independent features do.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Nothing to speak of in this section. A movie this size, especially one that’s just debuting on-demand and on the festival circuit, isn’t going to have a whole lot of advertising dollars to blow through so I’m not surprised.
Media and Publicity
The distribution plan has been one of the lynchpins of the publicity campaign for Alexander. IFC Films debuted the film on-demand at the same time it screened at SXSW, effectively breaking the release window.
The cast and crew also did plenty of interviews in support of the movie, especially with online writers and bloggers who were among those most likely to be behind it to begin with.
Let’s be honest and point out that this campaign isn’t going to have a huge amount of penetration within the general movie-going public. With no advertising during “Grey’s Anatomy” or “American Idol,” no big floating banners all over the Internet and the cast not hitting the late night talk-show circuit or anything it’s going to fly under the radar of vast swaths of the public.
But it will, I’m sure, appeal to the indie-film crowd. The campaign doesn’t need to be – which is good because it isn’t – big and flashy. The most important element is going to be word-of-mouth and so the tactics have been shifted to focus on creating just that. The formal marketing (trailer, poster, website) elements are good and they work for selling what the movie is, but they’re ancilary to the goal of getting people talking enthusiastically about the film. Having accomplished that, the campaign can be called a success.