At 39 million and counting, Uncut Gems is looking like a big win for distributor A24, right? Forgive us at SNTS for being a little too obsessed with this movie (examples here and here) – but it’s become a thing. It’s already surpassed the domestic gross of the exact-same-idea-but-less-black Mark Wahlberg version in 2014 called The Gambler (a generic title sure, but one that made infinitely more sense). And it keeps chugging along with respectable numbers every day.
That’s a big win for an indie film from a smaller distributor like A24. They are celebrating, patting themselves on the back, taking victory laps for every decision made along the way. But here’s the problem…
It should be doing even better.
Why? Well, while I recently praised 1917 for having one of the best marketing campaigns in years – this is the opposite. Have you seen the trailer? Or worse, the TV ads? What the fuck are they selling? Here’s the trailer:
Yes, I guess I get that Adam Sandler is a jeweler with a gambling problem. And he seems to know Kevin Garnett and some other black guys who like jewelry. And his bets seem to have him in trouble. Maybe. It’s hard to tell if he’s really in danger because he just smirks the whole time no matter what. There’s nothing to grab onto here. On top of that it feels artsy just for the fuck of it – but this is a wide release movie (over 2600 theaters), so you’re trying to pull in more than the art crowd. Normal people want some sense of what the fuck is going on in a movie.
But wait – didn’t I praise 1917 here for telling you what it is but leaving all the details to your imagination? Yes I did. The difference is that in the 1917 trailers I understand all the context – in Uncut Gems I understand none of it. Context is everything. It’s the difference between “wow that looks amazing” and “wow what the fuck is that” – the latter being said as you would if your four-year-old showed you a paint splatter that they proudly offered as a family portrait.
It’s even worse in the shorter TV ads. Almost intentionally off-putting to general audiences. Here’s one:
It just feels like A24 is used to selling art films to an arthouse crowd and has no idea how to broaden to more of a general audience. Worse, because the movie is finding some success despite the promo campaign, they think they are geniuses over there. The truth is, with good materials, this movie would be making more money. Maybe a lot more more money.
Think about it. It’s 92 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, and audiences are into it too. It’s benefitting from Adam Sandler buzz, critics, word-of-mouth, all that good stuff – but being held back by the most important thing in driving ticket sales: the trailers and TV ads.
Who is to blame? I don’t know. Maybe the Safdie brothers (filmmakers) were given too much input. David Fincher doesn’t even let studio marketing teams touch his movies. He controls all of the advertising creative (for better and worse). Or maybe the folks at A24 were in over their heads here. Who knows.
And they don’t even realize they failed this movie, but they did – because it could have been even bigger. In fact they think the opposite, and will likely get raises and promotions out of it. Then they’ll scratch their heads when they do this with a movie that really underperforms at the box office. And that will happen. Because the smart ones are few and far between.
That’s just how Hollywood works.