Monday, March 18, 2013

The Art of Movie Marketing: After Earth finds its strengths.

Back in January Moviedozer took a close look at the first trailer for M. Night Shyamalan's new sci-fi film After Earth, starring Will Smith and his son Jaden. It was the first post in the return of Moviedozer's series "Will you pay to see this movie?". Simply put, the columns explore movies that are intriguing in some respects but questionable in others. In these days of home video, Netflix and iTunes downloads, just what does it take to make you decide to pay to see a movie in its first run?

Since that column (found here), Columbia Pictures has released a new trailer and new poster art - revealing a confident marketing campaign that poses a slightly revised version of the question I posed more than two months ago - Now will you pay to see this movie?

As a movie moves toward its release date, particularly major, big budget movies, marketing usually goes in one of two directions.

When things are going right, marketing typically follows a well designed plan of teases, small revelations and plot/set/tone reveals. An escalating effort to convince you to make opening weekend plans but not enough to make seeing the movie a secondary experience. When things don't look so strong, look for marketing to press the strengths and insure the weaknesses that are making the execs cringe don't come anywhere near the trailer editing table.

The mission is simple: get audiences into theater seats on opening weekend hit or miss. By Monday morning word of mouth can render even the best posters and trailers meaningless.

Here's the latest trailer for After Earth. From the looks of things, I think Columbia Pictures' marketing department is following plan - in other words, they think they've got something.

Columbia clearly isn't shying (or to coin a term "Shy-amalaning") away from revealing previously unseen plot cues and more story and character depth. No sense of lurking plot twists and no hype about the director who has far outlasted his best (and first) movie.

Where the original trailer focused on Jaden Smith's character, making it feel as if it were his movie with a cameo by Dad to kick things off, this trailer presents Will Smith's role with greater clarity and an assurance that his character has a continuing presence throughout the plot line. Viewers are also given a sense of greater odds to overcome for Jaden's character and sense that the challenges ahead may be far too overwhelming for him to succeed.

There aren't any real surprises here but the new information certainly helps define what's ahead for a ticket buyer. And there just maybe more of those after this new round of hype. At least the studio appears confident in their product and that's usually a good sign, though not one that is infallible.

Back in that first column I pointed out that Jaden Smith's name preceded Dad's on the early release poster - that's been changed (read corrected) here. Will Smith is a summer box-office staple and to not headline a project with that in mind would be a mistake. I also made note then of a line of dialogue from the first trailer that was a perfect distillation of the tone and plot of the movie: "danger is very real but fear is a choice", that line now appears as the poster tagline.

So what do you think? NOW will you pay to see this movie? I'm betting Columbia Pictures has nailed at least a few of you with some solid marketing. You've got time to decide, After Earth is still building up thrust for its June 7th release date.

Thanks to Sony/Columbia for posters and trailers.

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