Editorials

Near Impossible Task of Marketing the Unmarketable Movie

Jesus may be sexy, but is he marketable?

Photo: Focus Features

If you had looked at my email Inbox over the past three weeks there is one movie title you would have seen dominating the subject line in many of the emails I received, Hamlet 2 from Focus Features. I have been offered numerous giveaways including movie paraphernalia and tickets to the San Diego Comic Con screening with the RopeofSilicon logo on them. There are clips, pictures and interviews abound. I actually was supposed to interview Steve Coogan on Tuesday, but a cell phone mishap forced me to have to cancel.

Contests, interviews and pictures aside, it wasn't until this past Monday that I realized what all the fuss was about. I was wondering why Focus was pushing this film so much harder than anything else in recent memory. There was a Hamlet 2 party at Comic Con, a screening at Comic Con and they hired a team of folks to walk around as "Sexy Jesus" at Comic Con (a tie into the movie). Why were they doing all of this? Because this is the R-rated School of Rock and they have no idea how to sell it even though it is a pretty good movie.

Imagine you are a publicist or a marketing firm and you are handed School of Rock. You can sell this movie using Jack Black or even Sarah Silverman. You can also sell it on the cute little kids that make up every single demographic under the sun. It's also PG-13 and can be sold to the majority of family audiences. Now, let's do a little switcheroo...

Catherine Keener and David Arquette in Hamlet 2
Photo: Focus Features

Replace Jack Black with Steve Coogan and replace Sarah Silverman with Catherine Keener. Instead of representing all demographics with the class that is being taught make them all Latino except for one white closet homosexual and a sheltered white girl afraid of "those people". Replace Joan Cusack with Marshall Bell and Mike White with David Arquette. Now, instead of PG-13 make the film R-rated and laced with drinking, drugs, man ass and a whole hell of a lot of swearing. Oh, and let's toss in Elisabeth Shue for good measure. What do you have? That's right, an unmarketable film that is better than most comedies, but most audiences will turn a blind eye because they just don't know who any of these people are. Hell, the inclusion of Elisabeth Shue, who is playing herself, is sold on the idea that people don't know who she is. Along with David Arquette, Shue is probably the most bankable name in the cast for American audiences. Although, I will admit Amy Poehler of "Saturday Night Live" fame owns her scenes as a foul-mouthed ACLU representative, she was great!

Sure, there are plenty of films that make it big with no name actors. Last year's highest grossing film that fell under that distinction is probably Bridge to Terabithia, but considering that is a family film I don't really think it counts in this conversation since there is no chance families are heading out to an R-rated film. The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep falls into the same category and we are now looking at films sub $40 million at the box. I would say the only comparison that even remotely compares is The Comebacks, which grossed a measly $13 million last year. Will that number be enough to satisfy Focus?

School of Rock was not a great film, but it was a cute film, and a film that didn't disturb the waters. It simply existed as a piece of mild family entertainment. By comparison Hamlet 2 is built on the same idea of a burn out teacher connecting with his kids and having to go up against the principal and everyone else to prove themselves. However, it mixes in religion, homosexuality and plenty more for narrow-minded folks to get upset about, which means I don't expect it to duplicate the $81 million School of Rock earned at the box-office.

So how does Focus market the unmarketable Hamlet 2?

Sure, the contests are a good start. I have seen several sites running them. Six reviews have already been counted at RottenTomatoes and all six have been positive. That's a good start and I expect a trend that will continue. While I am sure it won't be 100% on RottenTomatoes, I do expect it to hover around 80% because it is a good movie.

Online marketing is going to play a big role. I was just reminded that I need to get to work on the custom header image I need to create for the top of the site as Focus has bought some ad space on RopeofSilicon.com. You will also see several ads for the film running all around the site. However, don't think I am writing this article based on that fact. As a matter of fact I don't know if Focus would look at this article as positive or negative in terms of its little film. Basically, I was not paid to write this.

Hamlet 2 opens on August 22. Two days prior Fox is releasing The Rocker and that same weekend the R-rated crowd will most likely be "wowed" by Death Race. Girls will probably flock to The House Bunny and families will check out Ice Cube's latest flick The Longshots. The R-rated comedy Tropic Thunder will be heading into its second weekend and is sure to dominate while horror fans will have the second weekend of Mirrors to deal with. Is there any room for Hamlet 2 amongst these films? Chances are there isn't based on the simple minds of American moviegoers. I have yet to see Death Race, The Rocker, The House Bunny, The Longshots or Mirrors so I can't judge any of them but based on trailers alone Hamlet 2 looks like the intellectual one of the group and the sure outsider.

The Hollywood Reporter review called Hamlet 2 an "uneven but often hilarious slapstick satire of Middle America." With a description like that how can we not wonder if the people the film satirizes will show up in support? Even their review wonders about how to market it saying, "Marketers will face the challenge of inducing the word-snobs of the smart set to slum with slapstick entertainment." However, they do believe it will find a home in college-city venues. However, when does school start again? I always thought it was early to mid-September. Sorry, it's been a little while since I had to worry about first semester.

Hamlet 2 played well at Sundance back in January 2008, but will that translate to box-office success in August 2008? Without the Diablo Cody dumbed down dialogue it may be hard to get moviegoers in the theaters and I highly doubt the blogosphere is getting ready to crown this film their indie flick of the year. I am also never sure of the limited release tactic. Sure, it worked for Juno, but that film had so much bloggy buzz before it ever hit the screen it was like, "Oh my blog, when will it come to my town?"

Instead, with Hamlet 2 we have "Sexy Jesus" and for a taste of that just watch the Sing-a-Long below and tell me what kind of chance Focus has marketing this flick.


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  • NateDaniels

    I saw Hamelt 2 a couple of months ago. I didn't see it at Sundance, but my friends did and loved it. I remember Focus buying it for 10 million, which I think is the most ever for a Sundance film. They probably had "sundance goggles."

    The screening I went to was specifically to gauge people's reactions and get feedback on how to market the film. Right then it was obvious to me they were kind of clueless. They asked for suggestions, but the only way I think they can sell it is with a bait-and-switch strategy, which usually only works for wide releases with a big first week push.

    I predict they'll start to push Amy's portion of the film in commericals and posters to give the impression she's more involved than she is. As you know she was great, but only in 3 scenes, mostly at the end (probably was on set for 1 or 2 days).