Hard to believe today is the 25th anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger tragedy. I think I was in fifth grade at the time and can remember watching these events unfold in much the way that story describes, on television in the classroom. Just a shocking event that still holds a lot of power for many of us of this generation.

Movie Marketing Madness: The Rite

What does evil look like? That’s a question that civilization has wrestled with since time in memorial as we seek not only to portray it in our artwork but also try to look for the warning signs before something really bad happens. It goes to the issue of wanting to be able to look at someone and be able to predict that they’re evil. They just look the part. While our culture has given us many visual shorthands for evil – beady eyes, twirling black mustache and all that – there’s no sure way we can know for sure what we’re looking at is inherently bad to the core.

The question of what evil looks like is at the heart of most movies about demonic possession and The Rite is no different. In the movie a young Catholic priest named Michael (Colin O’Donoghue) is sent to Rome to attend classes on exorcisms. A skeptic, Michael is partnered with Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins), an expert on the subject who has performed countless such rituals in his own unique way. But as they investigate the latest case things take a turn for the worst and both men have their beliefs challenged.

The Posters

The first poster for the film takes a pretty standard and largely predictable approach to its design. The overall image is that of a cross, though one that appears to be on a wall that has suffered some fire damage, through which Hopkins’ face is peering out of, with his blue eyes being the only thing in color on his face. The whole idea here is to literally put the fear of God in the audience while presenting the movie as being largely a known quantity that may have a couple of genuine scares contained in it.

The copy toward the bottom strikes a tone similar to what we’ll see in the trailer by saying “You can only defeat it when you believe.”

It’s not bad, but the use of the cross is exactly the same route most every other exorcism movie, every drama set at a Catholic school or monastery or with any over over-arching religious theme takes so there aren’t any points for creativity being handed out here.

A second poster took the cross and turned it upside down, because that way it’s more edgy and no one actually cares, apparently, about how it’s portrayed. Hopkins gets billing at the top all to himself and he appears to the side of the image looking very creepy with his face half-obscured by shadows. The other images along the outside of the poster are similarly creepy: nails, someone writhing in agony and so on. It’s not as good as the first one, I don’t think, but this look and feel will be carried over into other elements of the campaign, primarily the website.

The Trailers

The trailer starts off with lots of Latin text, meant to immediately put us in mind of the Catholic church, and then some historic paranoia, with intonations of how the Catholic church denied (meant to be interpreted as covered up) a report about it dispatching thousands of exorcists around the world.

After that it’s a mix of scenes that show Hopkins and O’Donoghue going up against various possessed individuals or talking about how they’re going to go up against various possessed individuals, with a couple looks at a couple of the creepies that they are trying to rid of the demons, folks who are decked out in spooky makeup that’s meant to hopefully appeal to fans of more hard-core horror. There are also a couple looks that make it seem as if Hopkins’ character is at one point chained up himself but that’s never explored in favor of some more thrills and quick cuts.

The second trailer still spends a good amount of time on setup, showing how the American priest played by O’Donoghue winds up in Rome and winds up meeting Hopkins’ older exorcism expert. They clash over whether these people are simply sick or if they are, in fact, possessed. But then we see what the twist is going to be, which is that Hopkins’ priest seems to be coming under the devil’s influence himself, meaning that the believer and most powerful hunter is out of commission and the skeptic overcome his doubt and take over. So this one is a little more insightful but it still comes off as a pretty standard horror flick with little actual terror but lots of smash-cuts that will make the audience jump because they’re timed with dramatic music cues.


Of course the official website opens by playing the movie’s trailer. The first section of content after that, though, is “About the Movie.” There you’ll find a Synopsis that spends two sentences on the plot and two paragraphs on the credits block. There are also Cast and Filmmaker biographies and backgrounds as well as Production Notes that are available in PDF form for you to download.

“Videos” just has the two trailers while “Photos” has, by my count, over 30 stills. “Downloads” has both posters, Wallpapers, Buddy Icons and a Screensaver.

There’s a section here for the “Soundtrack” that lets you preview the songs there as well as buy the album from Amazon and one that lists all the sites that had a “Sweepstakes” going.

Finally there’s a section called “Exorcism Class” that has pictures from exorcisms (whether they’re real or not I’m unsure of – they might be an extension of the scene from the movie that’s shown in the trailers) and one called “True Events” that has links to stories about exorcisms, including the 2010 event that supposedly inspired this movie.

There are also links at the bottom of the page to the Warner Bros. Twitter profile and the Facebook Page for the movie, which has photos, videos and other updates, including more exorcism-related news stories.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The TV spots for the movie were split along the same lines as the two trailers, with some presenting a general exorcism movie and others making it more explicit that something demonic is going to take control of Hopkins’ character. The spots are just about as good as those trailers, with lots of smash cuts and dark hallways and all that.

Media and Publicity

If there’s been a massive amount of publicity I’ve completely missed it. The lack of press that has been of any sort of high profile says to me that this is one of those movies that’s getting sent to theaters on a wing and prayer in January without much support behind it.


Yeah, “January dump” pretty much sums up what I think about this campaign. The posters, trailers and website are alright, as are the TV spots that were run. It’s obvious that the studio isn’t completely abandoning the movie but it’s all so half-hearted that it’s hard to feel that there was any real belief the movie would break out and succeed at the box-office. So while there’s nothing wrong with the campaign – it may find some appeal among fans of more adult-oriented horror fare – there’s also no spark behind it that’s going to help propel it.


  • 01/28/11: Catholics seemed to be fairly unsure as to whether the movie was good or bad for that particular domination, though the marketing certainly played up the religion more than the horror.

Social Sundance

As if you weren’t already aware, the 2011 Sundance Film Festival kicks off today and continues on for the next week or so with plenty of screenings, panel discussions and schmoozing going on. If you, like me, aren’t there in person – or even if you are and can’t get to everything – Search Engine Land has a good rundown of some of the ways you can keep up with the goings-on through social media.

You can also check-out the YouTube Screening Room for select shorts from this and past year’s festivals and learn how some of the movies making their premiere at Sundance will be available through various VOD platforms so those at home can enjoy them. Same goes for those appearing at Slamdance, which is also kicking off in Park City.

Where the distribution industry stands

2011 is still relatively new and a number of interesting stories have come out in the last few days that show where the movie industry stands in terms of adapting (or not) to the way consumer behavior is impacting the entire distribution picture.

First up is the Los Angeles Times, which has an omnibus story (1/18/11) on the rough year that was for the entertainment industry, which was down almost across the board. For studios, the picture is rough because DVD sales were down 13% last year as people stopped buying and continued renting, either from Netflix or Redbox (and others). So while more people are seeing the movies, each transaction brings in less revenue. Those with money aren’t building their home video libraries but instead are buying mobile gadgets on which they can watch streaming video or their latest rentals.

To bolster that point, a new study from the NPD Group shows that movie rental kiosks like the ones operated by Redbox and Blockbuster surpassed traditional store-based rentals last year and now account for 31% of rentals, second only to Netflix’s 41% share of the market.

Netflix continues to be the apple of absolutely no-one’s eye in Hollywood, with many executives complaining openly (Hollywood Reporter, 1/14/11) about how the prices that company pays for content is significantly below what they’ve traditionally gotten from cable networks. The one bright spot for Netflix continues to be catalog titles and canceled TV shows, which it seems to be the only buyer for and which helps bring in some money to the studios. But Netflix is going to have some rough going in the near future as it tries to offer more streaming titles, which cost more to license but don’t have the mailing costs that mount up rather quickly.

Older movies are also bringing in more revenue as a result of custom DVD-burning operations a number of studios have introduced recently. These made-to-order services allow customers to choose from hundreds of movies in a studio’s library that haven’t yet been released to DVD because they lack the necessary level of mass popularity and have the movie burned to DVD n a one-off order. While the money might not be huge on each title, the volume has begun adding up to be a significant income generator for the studios that have opened their archives in this manner.

One move Netflix made recently as part of that transition to a streaming focus caused some upset among customers. The company announced that devices that were used for streaming (mobile devices, game consoles) would no longer allow people to add a movie to their DVD queue from that device. Netflix says it wasn’t a widely used feature anyway but the outrage about that removal of functionality has been notable.

That streaming is the future is also the logic behind the $10 million in financing just secured by SnagFilms, which is looking to spend that money to expand beyond the documentaries that it started with into fiction feature films. With the credibility SnagFilms already has as well as its ownership of IndieWire, the site could become a major distribution player for independent films if it’s willing to pay filmmakers at a decent level, which is what I’d suspect some of that money is going to be used for, especially if the site is already profitable as reported.

How these things continue to develop in 2011 is going to be fun to watch.

Line in the sand

I had planned on publishing a Movie Marketing Madness review of the Natalie Portman/Ashton Kutcher sex comedy No Strings Attached today but have been wrestling with that decision, ultimately deciding to scrap it. Not only that but I’ll be passing on other upcoming movies that I might otherwise have covered, notably Hall Pass, Just Go With It and Friends With Benefits.

The reason I’m punting on these is that I just can’t get over my feeling that these movies have some morally reprehensible thematic material. All seem to treat the institution of marriage as a joke, either by portraying it as some sort of burdensome partnership that stifles a guy’s perfectly natural impulses or as being wholly unnecessary since sex is all about physical pleasure and has no connection to marriage or the creation of children.

To be sure there are countless movies that take this attitude as part of their story but the movies I’ve listed above are extreme examples of it, so extreme that I just can’t get over my problems with their subject matter and am unwilling to give them any extra attention by showcasing them here.


What I hope happens this year

My latest AdAge column covers a handful of points that I hope come to fruition in 2011 when it comes to movie marketing. As I state at the outset, I really shied away from making predictions since they’re not all the useful and instead just put together a wish list of what I’d like to see happen. We’ll see whether any of these actually come to fruition or if things just continue to get bigger, more fragmented and so on. More than likely if any of these points are going to be ignored it will be by the biggest of the big tent-pole movies coming out since all tools will be used that can be used in their service regardless of whether or not they *should* be used.

If you’re looking for more traditional predictions, some of the AdAge staff put together a couple of ideas they think we’re likely to see this year, including the continued shrinking of release windows and the de-emphasis on 3D to some extent.