Authorship in promotional surround: The Shakespearean and the Whedonesque

Curator's Note

Joss Whedon’s Much Ado about Nothing suffers from a bit of a split personality. While Shakespeare’s plays have been adapted in Hollywood countless times, the directors of those adaptations have either come with pre-gained cultural capital from the realm of theatre (such as Laurence Olivier) or else gained their fame by adapting the Bard (such as Kenneth Branagh). Whedon, conversely, came to Much Ado already as an established auteur with a signature style associated with vampire-slaying bildungsromans and with space Westerns.

 The task faced by the film’s promotional surround – its official website, trailer, posters and interviews with its cast and crew – was to demonstrate to the devout fandoms of both auteurs involved that the film was simultaneously Whedonessque and Shakespearean. A main thrust of Much Ado’s promotion is aimed at establishing similarity between the two brands. Viewers are directed to see Whedon’s signature themes in Shakespeare’s plays as though they have been there all along, even prior to any adaptation work. From the film’s tagline (“Shakespeare knew how to throw a party”) to the presentation in the poster and promotional photos of the dramatis personae as quirky, emotional and playful (so to speak), Whedon aligns Shakespeare’s characters with his trademark style of fast-talking, awkward and eccentric ensembles, familiar from Buffy the Vampire Slayer through to The Avengers. Whedon, who reveals a long-term Bardic obsession, characterizes Shakespeare’s plays as “dark” and “strange”, along the lines of the telefantasy fare that he is more widely known for, and describes Much Ado as primarily a team movie, “the same kind of storytelling I’m always doing”.

 No film is an island. The texts released prior to the film itself, from its trailer to behind the scenes footage, tell us how to watch, what kind of experience to prepare ourselves for. They tell us whose fingerprints are to be found in the work, so that when we watch the work at last, we are not disappointed. With creator-based branding fast becoming another prime weapon in the media industries’ arsenal of ways to achieve content distinction and familiarity and gain audience loyalty, successfully balancing Much Ado’s authorial credit is crucial, both to its success, and to the ongoing success of the Joss Whedon brand.



Thanks for the post, Leora! Interesting take on the "Much Ado" promo campaign. I'm curious to hear your thoughts on how the timing of this film in relation to "The Avengers" may have affected the branding strategies that you discuss. It seemed to me that rumblings about the "Much Ado" began as the crazy success of "The Avengers" was really sinking in (please correct me if I have the timing wrong). This film then becomes an important moment in Whedon branding--"Much Ado" attempts to reassure the fandom that Joss has not "sold out," while also addressing a new subset of potential fans. So, a related comment: I wonder how your take on the parallel Whedon/Shakespeare branding might relate to discussions about mainstream (versus cult) success that are becoming more prevalent in mid-Marvel Whedon scholarship.

Thanks for a thoughtful and interesting post, Leora! I wonder, too, as Casey mentions in her comment, how Much Ado's promo campaign was influenced by the success of The Avengers. The promotional material for Much Ado made little mention of Whedon as director of The Avengers, and I think that's hugely telling. The Avengers is the third highest-grossing movie of all time - given the way mainstream movies are marketed these days, it seems crazy that Much Ado's marketing team wouldn't use that to draw in audiences. The choice not to then, seems to support Casey's point that perhaps much of Much Ado's marketing campaign was focused on convincing Whedon fans that he hadn't sold out or lost his underdog, left-of-mainstream cred. In almost every article or review I read about the film leading up to and immediately following its release, it was mentioned that Whedon made the film as a way to "recover" from the experience of making the The Avengers - often these were direct quotes from Whedon himself, perhaps suggesting that Whedon needed to remind himself that he hadn't "sold out"?

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