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How the horror satire 'Get Out' became an unlikely Oscar darling

Ryan Faughnder, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

"It became very clear that the narrative of the movie had evolved beyond a very satisfying genre film to a piece of cinema," Langley said. "We were able to pivot our marketing to do just that."

Whereas Universal's initial marketing focused on the movie's scary scenes, the Oscar campaign emphasized the reviews that praised its timely themes. Campaign billboards prominently featured a famous close-up up of the tear-streaked face of Daniel Kaluuya, who earned a best lead actor nomination for playing the main character Chris, with quotes from major publications about the film's relevance.

As part of the campaign, the studio made a coffee-table book featuring dozens of pieces of artwork that fans of the movie sent to Peele on social media. Audience members created art inspired by the film's imagery such as the deer antlers, the hypnotic teacup and Chris sinking into the floor.

To keep the buzz going, Universal in January created a special Twitter hashtag with a promotional emoji for "the sunken place," the film's best-known metaphor for the marginalization of black people.

"It's become a way for people to express that their voices are being suppressed," said "Get Out" producer Sean McKittrick.

It was never a sure thing that "Get Out" would be a success, financially or critically. When Peele gave McKittrick his 30-minute pitch over coffee at Fratelli Cafe on Melrose Avenue in 2013, he was known only for doing sketch comedy on "Mad TV" and Comedy Central's "Key and Peele." Nonetheless, McKittrick quickly agreed to make the film and have Peele write the script.

 

McKittrick saw "Get Out" as a chance to make a movie that had never been put on the big screen before, with its unusual mixture of scares, comedy and social commentary. The danger was that there were so many ways the project could go awry, given the sensitive subject matter. (The first scene is a "Halloween"-style suburban horror movie opening meant to echo the killing of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin). So when Peele said he wanted to direct, McKittrick agreed.

"The tone was so tricky," McKittrick said. "It was such a delicate story that could veer too far into comedy, too far into horror, or too far into satire."

They shopped the movie to a handful of distributors, all of whom passed. When they were scouting locations and zeroing in on cast members, an assistant from Blum's production company Blumhouse heard Peele talking about the project in a radio interview. Blumhouse Productions, known for highly profitable microbudget horror hits such as "Sinister" and "The Purge," joined McKittrick's company QC Entertainment as producers in January 2015. Blumhouse has a distribution deal with Universal Pictures, which signed on to give "Get Out" a wide release.

The studio and filmmakers made key marketing decisions early on, preserving elements of mystery to intrigue moviegoers. For example, Peele objected to an early cut of the trailer that revealed a climactic twist involving a set of car keys, despite the studio's desire to showcase as many intense moments as possible. The studio relented, and the trailer, released in October 2016 at the tail end of a divisive election season, drew 29 million views in its first 24 hours. Keeping plot points under wraps helped ensure that people could watch the movie multiple times and have different experiences, Peele said.

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