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'Up in the Air' gives Paramount a marketing challenge

George Clooney stars as a man who doles out corporate layoffs; the movie doesn't fit neatly into a single genre; and the story is hard to fit into a TV commercial. How do you sell that?

November 30, 2009|By Claudia Eller

Clooney, who called Reitman's choice to use laid-off employees "inspired," believes the movie will click with filmgoers precisely because it is so topical.

"I have a sense that it's perfectly timed," said the actor, noting that when he was growing up in Kentucky, his father, a television news anchor, was continually being fired.

"I can't imagine the pressure my parents felt when they ran out of money," Clooney said. "That's an experience our country is going through again in a big way."

But the marketing doesn't dwell on the pain of layoffs. The theatrical trailer includes only a few quick glimpses of job-loss scenes. And the teaser trailer and two clips on the movie's website include no references to unemployment whatsoever.

Instead, in selling the movie, Paramount is emphasizing Bingham's journey of self-discovery, his existential isolation as a corporate consultant who lives out of his suitcase and off an expense account.

"At its heart, the movie is about making human connections," said Josh Greenstein, Paramount's co-president of marketing. "That's so relevant in the world we live in today, where, with Twitter and e-mail, people communicate without being face-to-face."

To make that point, the poster for the movie features Clooney standing at an airport terminal staring out the window, with the tag line: "The story of a man ready to make a connection."

The movie's somewhat intangible subject of emotional displacement even prompted Paramount to buyone-minute TV spots over the Thanksgiving weekend to outline the story, twice the length of typical commercials that kick off a campaign.

"We wanted to give audiences a chance to understand the complex characters and story lines," Greenstein said. "We are not trying to cheat the audience and sell this film as a broad comedy, a romance or some other easily definable genre, because it does not fit neatly into a single category."

Times staff writer Rachel Abramowitz contributed to this report.

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