Essay: Film Release in 2009

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Film Campaign

Nora Ephron's Julie & Julia: A Successful Film with a Successful Advertising and Marketing Campaign

One of the summer's most successful films among critics and viewers was Julie & Julia, a film by Nora Ephron based on the book the Julie/Julia Project by Julie Powell -- which was in turn based on the author's previous blog of the same title -- and on Julia Childs' memoir My Life in France. The film weaves a double narrative between the stories of the two women at similar periods in their lives; Childs as she is learning to master French cooking (a difficult prospect for an American woman in Paris) in the 1950s, and the near-modern-day Powell as she and her husband move to Queens, where Powell struggles to earn the title of "writer" by cooking her way through Childs' Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The film moves back and forth between the two narratives, interweaving them at key pot points to draw comparisons between the two women and their separate struggles to develop and assert an identity.

The film itself also needed to develop a definite identity in order to be successful, and the marketing campaign revealed an acute awareness of this fact from the earliest television spots promoting the film. With two separate stories and a somewhat nebulous and yet cliche larger meaning at work, Julie & Julia could easily have been marketed from a multi-faceted perspective -- it is part romantic comedy, largely a biopic on Julia Childs, partially a coming-of-middle-age story of Julie Powell's; it is a date movie for twenty-something couples and a piece of nostalgia for older generations that grew up when Julia Childs was a household name and often a memorable presence inside the home. A marketing campaign that attempted to tackle even a handful of these different angles would not have been successful in promoting the film.

Instead of spreading themselves thin and muddling the movie's appeal by attempting to promote it from all of the above angles, the campaign surrounding Julie & Julia focused on the film's main attraction: Meryl Streep. In her turn as Julia Childs, the fourteen-time Academy Award nominated actress managed to completely emulate the essence of Childs unique personality, voice, and mannerisms. This was essential to the success of the film; Powell's character is neither as interesting as Childs' nor as recognizable; it is largely the fact that this is a Julia Childs story that made the original Julie/Julia Project blog and book successful, and the same is true of the film (Chang 2009). Advertising emphasized the portions of the film dealing with Childs and downplayed Powell's role other than as someone somehow "channeling" the gourmet home chef, showing the awareness of this fact ("Figure it Out" 2009).

It is not that Powell's role both within the film and in the film itself is unimportant; her modern narrative makes up at least half of the film, and indeed comprises the main dramatic arc. But when it came to devising an effective and focused campaign, Julia Childs' story is the obvious winner with audiences who have never heard of let alone read Julie Powell's blog, but many of whom are undoubtedly familiar with Julia Childs -- and many more of whom would recognize Childs' name at the very least. This is, in fact, what drew Powell to Childs in the first place, and television advertisements clearly hoped to capitalize on the same magnetism as the showed various moments of triumph for Childs with Powell calling out for guidance, assistance, or...well, butter ("Calling" 2009). Those in charge of the marketing campaign for this film used the same qualities that attracted Powell to Childs to attract audiences to Streep.

The emphasis on Julia Childs in the campaign for Julie & Julia necessarily meant an emphasis on Streep, as well, and this is no accident. There is an inherent danger to portraying a figure as unique, vital, and real as Julia Childs was and still is in millions of people's memories (Chang 2009). If Nora Ephron had somehow "gotten it wrong" when it came to Childs character, whether it in the form of a significant physical difference (though digital technology can greatly help in achieving Childs somewhat inhibiting stature, the voice depended far more on pure human talent), the greatest strength of the movie from a marketing perspective would have quickly become its greatest liability. If the Childs story is the one that audiences will care about, the Childs character has to be a believable substitute for Childs to be effective in marketing.

Meryl Streep's performance is, as noted above, beyond merely believable, and is further evidence of why this actress is considered one of the most talented working in films today (Chang 2009). By highlighting the story of Julia Childs that comprises only half (or less) of the film in marketing ventures, the campaign designers were also highlighting one of America's most well-known and loved film stars in a role that lets her show off her talent in truly fun ways ("Figure it Out" 2009; "Calling" 2009). Both Julia Childs and Meryl Streep share a natural charisma, and those in charge of the marketing campaign for this film wished not only to capitalize on Julia Childs' celebrity and persona, but on Meryl Streep's as well. Much of this comes down to the casting, of course, but a less talented performance would have required a different marketing emphasis. Meryl Streep's performance allowed the campaign designers to use the film's two greatest strengths simultaneously, and they capitalized on that.

Aside form simply being an excellent choice for the part, Meryl Streep's mere name in one of the title roles lends the film legitimacy, and the continued invocation of Streep as Childs in the advertising strengthens this effect (Chang 2009). As an oft-nominated (as well as a two-time winning) Academy Award attendee, as well as the nature of the roles she has chosen to play/been consistently cast in, Streep has earned the respect of filmgoers and those in the industry in a way that few celebrities have managed. There is always a sense that puts her craft and herself above the glitz and the politics of her chosen profession, and this allows audiences to trust that her portrayal of Childs will not be merely an amusing imitation but will reflect a heartfelt understanding and connection. The fact that she actually achieves this is immaterial to the marketing (though it certainly doesn't hurt); Streep's simple presence in the advertising effects the purpose.

A definite dichotomy in importance and essential vitality between the two separate stories of Julia Childs and Julie Powell has been noted and is arguably one of the film's greatest flaws (Chang 2009). The film's marketing campaign dealt with this in two ways. The first was in the afore-mentioned emphasis of the Julia Childs side of the movie. Hers was a decade-long struggle to not only make a place for herself but to publish a book that would change the world; Powell's own work stemmed from an impending thirtieth birthday and a year-long struggle to actually complete a project for once (Chang 2009). Though the movie attempts to equate the two stories, the marketers knew that this simply wouldn't work for their purposes.

The second way that marketers overcame this inherent and rather obvious imbalance in the film was by intimately tying every snippet of Powell's life in the film that actually makes it into the television spots with a parallel occurrence in Childs' unfolding story. The voice over, like the montage of scenes, focuses on Childs for the first full fifteen seconds and ten seconds of the second and third spots released in the marketing drive, respectively, and both finally introduce Powell as being "exactly the same" or "in the same place" as Childs fifty years later ("Figuring it Out" 2009; "Calling" 2009). Powell's importance, the viewer of these television spots is constantly being told, is wholly subservient to Julia Childs. This approach invites the audience to become enraptured with, to learn from, and perhaps to become a little obsessed with Julia Childs as Julia Powell does. Rather than asking movie goers to split their attention between two different (albeit related) stories, the creators of these spots deftly shift the presented focus and perspective of the film to something audiences are more likely to align with quickly.

It is largely the speed with which these advertisements are able to render their effect that makes them successful. The spots manage to convey enough of the basic idea behind the plot while still skewing the apparent focus of the movie in favor of Julia Childs (and thus Meryl Streep) and leaving enough intrigue to entice audience members into seeing the film. The marketers knew that they had only a short time in which they had to not only to develop an interest in their potential audience members, but also to convince them that the film would do justice and pay reverence to its… [END OF PREVIEW]

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