Transformers: the Last Knight

The first poster for Michael Bay‘s fifth Transformers movie Transformers: The Last Knight has been released. While that may not sound unusual, it is — the sequel is still in the middle of principal photography. Hit the jump to see the Transformers: The Last Knight poster and let’s explore the escalation of movie marketing.

In recent years we’ve seen a lot of concept trailers released even before principal photography. Probably the most notable are when Disney used a visual effects test they created when exploring the idea of a Tron sequel and employed it as a surprise announcement for Tron: Legacy during a presentation at 2008 San Diego Comic-Con International. That’s the first time I can recall that a movie studio released a trailer almost a year before the film went into actual filming.

Other studios, notably Legendary Pictures, later employed the same strategy with surprise announcements at the convention, showing computer animated trailers for Godzilla, Warcraft, and Skull Island, before any of the films began shooting.

Gareth Edwards created his Godzilla teaser trailer completely in CG to showcase the scale, destruction and tone of his vision for the monster movie.

Skull Island more specifically didn’t even have a filmmaker attached. The project had a treatment, but it wasn’t until director Jordan Vogt-Roberts met with the studio that the story took form as the filmmaker pitched a completely different take on the property. So that Comic-Con announcement trailer was created for an entirely different movie. The footage was never released online.

haunted mansion comic con poster

Tron: Legacy is not the only time that Disney released pre-production marketing at Comic Con.

At the 2010 Comic-Con, Guillermo del Toro took to the stage to announce that he would be making a movie based on the classic Disneyland attraction Haunted Mansion. Those in attendance were given tickets that could be redeemed for a limited edition teaser poster created by artist Brandon Ragnar Johnson. The movie has yet to be made and only 999 copies of that poster print exist in the wild (I have one hanging on my bedroom wall). The print may go down as the first and only publicly released movie poster for an unmade film in Disney’s history.

Typically movie marketing begins after a film has completed principal photography so that a studio can see an assembly of the movie and figure out how to sell it. Of course, some movie studios have come to Comic-Con to present early footage while the movie was still in production.

In 2010, Captain America: The First Avenger showed a scene that they shot the week prior as the film has only been in production for five days.

Also that year, Jon Favreau showcased footage from Cowboys & Aliens after the movie had only been shooting for four weeks.

And Marvel has shown footage from in production films many times at Comic Con in the years that have followed. At Comic Con 2013, Marvel premiered a trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy, which at the time was just three weeks into filming.

Outside of conventions and special events, movie marketing has had mostly a traditional approach. Even a huge event film like Star Wars: The Force Awakens didn’t release a poster or trailer before principal photography was completed.

It’s not typical, but some films have let fans into the behind-the-scenes process of the movie while the film is in production. Peter Jackson’s King Kong is probably the most famous example of this, providing fans with weekly videos from the set. But most of these type of things focus on the filmmaking process and don’t reveal completed marketing materials.

Transformers: the Last Knight poster

Here is a look at the first Transformers: the Last Knight poster, which was published earlier today on the film’s Twitter account. The sequel is only two months into filming, which is probably about half way through their shooting schedule. Isn’t that unusual? And if you look at the last few months you’ll see further examples of how Transformers: the Last Knight has pushed their marketing earlier in the usual timeline, to span the filming of the movie.

Weeks before production was set to begin, the film’s title was announced in the form or a teaser trailer released on Instagram. Even the casting has been announced through movie’s social media accounts. It’s worth noting, although I’m not sure I know the reason for it.

In the past films like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull posted photos of their main stars online to combat potential paparazzi while shooting in open areas. Even the Transformers films have a history of doing this by releasing pictures of the car modes of their Autobots and Decepticons before they are snapped on the open road. But as I mentioned, these kind of statements are less to do with marketing and more to do with trying to keep control of the story. By capturing the photos themselves and releasing them online, the filmmakers and studios can control that first image that goes viral.

But Transformers: The Last Knight seems to be escalating the movie marketing process to a degree we haven’t seen before outside of fan conventions.

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