Apr 29, 2014

Handling Controversial Material: BRICK MANSIONS and Its Careful Marketing Plan, by Roger Mancusi

Going off of last week’s discussion of “controversial” material, I wanted to point to a recent example of how a distributor was able to avoid controversy while publicizing a film that could potentially be upsetting to its target audience. While promoting Brick Mansions, Relativity Media had to find a way to release a completed film following the death of its star, Paul Walker, without offending the family and fans of the popular actor. Release the film too early, and the audiences are still in shock from the star’s passing and will not attend. Too late, and the film opens up wounds that have already begun to heal. However, by pushing the release back just two months and correctly handling the marketing plan leading up to opening weekend, Relativity found the right balance of respectful silence and cinematic celebration that navigated the potentially controversial situation Brick Mansions presented.
            If you look at the marketing material for Brick Mansions leading up to its release on April 26th 2014, you will notice that Relativity respectfully left out any mention that this was Paul Walker’s first cinematic appearance since his passing on November 30th, and rightfully so. Had the marketing plan utilized the film’s biggest talking point—that Walker’s tragic and untimely passing occurred between the finishing and the releasing of the film—fans might feel as if their emotions were being monetized and taken advantage of by the distributor. Instead, by pushing the film’s release from February to April, it allowed audiences a necessary grieving period and opening them to the possibility of seeing Walker again on screen. Additional, the Walker family was consulted on any material released using Walker’s image, an ‘in memoriam’ section was added to the credits, the money intended for a glitzy film premiere was donated to Walker’s charity Reach Out Worldwide, and fan club advanced screenings replaced a city-to-city promotional tour. These intelligent moves positioned the distributor against any allegations that they were unfairly benefiting from Walker’s passing.
When reviews of the film hit newsstands, nearly every critic lauded the film, despite its other shortcomings, as an unintended memorial to Paul Walker and his love of acting. In spite of what could have been a disastrous calamity to the film’s release, Relativity was able to handle the tragedy in such a manner that the release did not seem insensitive to Paul Walker’s estate or legacy. Instead, it paid him homage and even earned a reasonably successful opening weekend, bowing to 9.6M in a crowded box office field. With the foreign box office reports still rolling in, and with Walker’s strong international profile likely to draw in those audiences, the film looks to be on track to recoup its costs over the next few months. However much the star’s passing will remain the unintended footnote for how this otherwise B-rate action flick will be remembered, Relativity Studios should nonetheless be commended in how they went about contributing to this memory without offended or abusing the Paul Walker image.

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