Marketing plans for big blockbuster movies are precisely calculated campaigns. Every image, poster, trailer that trickles out into public eye is part of a studio's grand plan to build buzz and, aside from the occasional paparazzi set photo or bootleg video, rarely are there kinks in the well-oiled hype machine.
Of course, rarely isn't never. With the media spotlight shining brightly on the Trayvon Martin murder case, a Florida legal saga involving the shooting of a teenage boy by a neighborhood watch captain, Fox's early plans to promote this summer's sci-fi comedy Neighborhood Watch have been thrown a curveball. In the wake of the sensitive story, Fox has pulled the film's first trailer, which featured a shot of Jonah Hill (accompanied by co-stars Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Richard pretending to shoot a gun out of a minivan window. The spot was playing on thousands of screens, in front of big hits like 21 Jump Street, but Fox was quick to pull the trailer and it's current teaser poster (on the left) to avoid any negative feedback. One thing that won't change is the July 27 release date.
A studio representative told The Hollywood Reporter, "We are very sensitive to the Trayvon Martin case, but our film is a broad alien-invasion comedy and bears absolutely no relation to the tragic events in Florida. The movie, which is not scheduled for release for several months, was made and these initial marketing materials were released before this incident ever came to light. The teaser materials were part of an early phase of our marketing and were never planned for long-term use. Above all else, our thoughts go out to the families touched by this terrible event."
Here's the trailer:
With movie trailers cut and distributed well before any breaking news can influence their content, the Neighborhood Watch scenario is a matter of wrong place, wrong time — but protocol is never definite. Last October Fox had another tricky situation on their hands: a 62-year-old Ohio man set a zoo's worth of animals free before taking his own life. Suddenly, We Bought a Zoo's November advanced screenings were in question (ultimately, the studio went forward, no release date change). Similarly, after last year's Japanese earthquake, Warner Bros. pulled Hereafter from overseas theaters. And perhaps the biggest Hollywood promotional "whoops" moment came after 9/11; a theater-only trailer for Sony's Spider-Man was quickly pulled from rotation, thanks to a money shot showcasing the web-slinging hero tying up a helicopter between the Twin Towers. Who knows if the sequence would have made its way into the final product, but Sony made the correct (and obvious) move to bury the footage and disassociate it from the 2002 superhero blockbuster. Thanks to Youtube, this odd moment in movie history still exists:
Fox took the right approach with Neighborhood Watch, although there's a cynical question mark lingering in the air: would the movie's trailer have made such a splash, the title be as familiar, without the help of a semi-scandalous headline?