Viacom’s Creative Renaissance Ignites With “Jersey Shore Family Vacation” and “A Quiet Place”

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

In the last week, Paramount Pictures’ A Quiet Place won the domestic box office and MTV’s Jersey Shore Family Vacation rolled to the strongest unscripted cable debut in six years. The efforts provide commercial evidence of Viacom’s ongoing transformation – fueled by wide-ranging creative investments in talent, programming, and marketing.

The chart-topping numbers are especially encouraging in a media environment of ever-more-elusive audiences. The divergent paths to success of these two properties – A Quiet Place delivering something novel by elevating a horror story to a genre-busting blockbuster that appeals to all audiences, Jersey Shore Family Vacation building on MTV’s deep well of intellectual property to connect with its core demographic – underscore the way in which a creative renaissance is driving Viacom’s growth.

Marketing a near-silent film in an era of loud

Making a bet on the film’s potential playability, Paramount unveiled A Quiet Place at SXSW to great response. The highly original film immediately started compiling incredibly strong reviews. A clever marketing campaign then helped launch A Quiet Place to a $50.3 million opening weekend, good for the second-best domestic opening of 2018 (behind Black Panther). With a $17 million budget, the Platinum Dunes-produced and John Krasinski-directed film is a validation of Paramount’s reoriented slate and refreshed marketing approach under CEO Jim Gianopulos, who joined the studio last year.

“An innovative concept, with great talent both behind the camera and in front, and a savvy distribution and marketing plan led to Paramount’s biggest opening since 2016,” wrote Viacom CEO Bob Bakish in a staff memo about the film’s success.

Building strong relationships with talent has become a particular focus for Viacom under Bakish, and Krasinski, who will produce and star in the Paramount Television-produced Jack Ryan for Amazon and co-created Paramount Network’s hit show Lip Sync Battle, demonstrates the enormous cross-brand potential that forming such deep relationships can yield.  

A Quiet Place’s unique storyline – featuring a family tiptoeing through a post-apocalyptic world infested with insectoid monsters that will devour anyone who makes a sound – created an opportunity for Paramount to execute an equally original pre-release marketing plan. They delivered: moviegoers in nearly 100 theater chains caught the sonically attuned monsters devouring noisy spectators in pre-show spots, with the stern warning that “the movie theater should be A Quiet Place.” A pre-Super Bowl ad, a launch of the second trailer on Ellen, and a kick-off spot and accompanying stunts at the SXSW Film Festival primed diverse audiences for the film’s release.

“Paramount’s reconstituted management team is focused on allowing great filmmakers to make great movies, and then doing everything we can to support those movies,” said Paramount Pictures Chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos. “In A Quiet Place, we did exactly that: We gave a talented young director license to put together something unlike anything else out there, and then threw our marketing and distribution expertise behind the project.”

Tapping an iconic property to connect with a core audience

Jersey Shore Family Vacation had less work to do in the name-recognition department, as its iconic predecessor, Jersey Shore, had long ago etched its cast into the cultural conversation. The unknown was whether this fist-pumping bunch, six years older and reunited in the beaches and bars of Miami, would still connect with audiences.

It did. The show’s nearly 10 million total viewers and 4.2 average rating in the core 18-34 demo on live-plus-three-days metrics made Jersey Shore Family Vacation the most-watched unscripted debut on U.S. cable since 2012. The original Jersey Shore had ignited a global franchise – with spin-offs in the UK, Spain, Poland and Mexico, plus the recently launched hit Floribama Shore in the U.S – and the cast’s return resonated globally, with the premiere airing in nearly 180 countries and territories.

The strong ratings complemented a seven-hour trending run on Twitter and acted as an emphatic endorsement of MTV’s revamped creative direction under President Chris McCarthy. Under his leadership, the network has grown ratings for three consecutive quarters for the first time in seven years behind a blend of revitalized franchises, returning classics and original programs.  

“MTV is about celebrating youth culture and music where talent and creativity unite to produce content that resonates across generations,” said McCarthy, who also oversees VH1 and Logo. “Jersey Shore Family Vacation and the new Floribama Shore demonstrate how MTV can harness our heritage to create programming that appeals to a mass audience while serving as a great launching pad for our new series.”

“Nothing Could Have Prepared Us For How Good This Film Is” – Critics Love Paramount’s A Quiet Place

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

When Paramount Pictures’ A Quiet Place opened the SXSW Film Festival last month, the reviews were deafeningly loud – and positive.

“Critics in attendance for the Austin, Texas-based film festival called Krasinski’s third feature film ‘a tight thrill ride,’ ‘a kick-ass horror flick,’ a ‘crowdpleaser,’ and a ‘technically sleek’ and ‘terrifying thriller,’” Entertainment Weekly’s Nick Romano wrote at the time.

They may want to quiet down. Set in a post-apocalyptic America overrun by sonically super-powered insectoid predators that will feast on any human who makes the slightest sound, A Quiet Place’s tiptoeing world of caution and fear is no place for raving critics.

That hasn’t slowed them down. With the film opening in theaters today, the stream of enthralled reviews has turned into a deluge, most of which go something like this take by Cinemablend’s Conner Schwerdtfeger:

“… even in the face of heightened anticipation, nothing could’ve prepared us for how good this film is. Using its simple concept for maximum effectiveness, A Quiet Place blends horror with drama, and the result is a near-perfect horror film that isn’t just the best scary movie of 2018 so far; it is one of the best films of the year, period.”

The film stars Emily Blunt, John Krasinski (who also co-wrote and directed), Noah Jupe and Millicent Simmonds. They survive by wit and prudence and patience, with sign language and with poured sand trails to walk on and within a padded living space designed to mute every sound. Hanging over their bunkered but secure-for-the-moment existence is the fact of Blunt’s pregnancy, promising the inexorable arrival of a screaming baby into a world of omnipresent sound-hungry monsters.

It’s an intriguing meta concept, and one that is masterfully executed in multiple dimensions. Here’s a closer look at the elements that A Quiet Place’s critics are shouting about:

It transcends horror

From its opening scenes, it is clear that A Quiet Place has a larger purpose than scaring audiences out of their seats (though “Every second of A Quiet Place is filled with oppressive dread…” notes GQ’s Tom Philip). In its insistent focus on Mom and Dad Abbott working together to keep their kids alive under horrific circumstances, the film is as much about the overwhelming responsibility and challenges of family life as about anything else.

“The question Krasinski tackles is what defines a family and what’s needed to preserve it?” asks Peter Travers in Rolling Stone. “’Who are we,’ asks Mom, ‘if we can’t protect our children?’ The answers are worked out with satisfying complexity and genuine feeling, proving indeed that home is where family is.”

Left to right: Noah Jupe plays Marcus Abbott, Millicent Simmonds plays Regan Abbott and John Krasinski plays Lee Abbott in A QUIET PLACE, from Paramount Pictures.

At least part of the reason this resonates so deeply is that the survivalist couple is married in real life. “… the success of the film hinges almost entirely on the way in which real-life couple and parents Blunt and Krasinski pour their fears about raising children into their performances here,” writes Joanna Robinson in Vanity Fair. “As is the case with most successful, spare horror films of late, A Quiet Place has much more to say about its humans than its monsters and is especially invested in the ways families fail to communicate even their most basic needs to each other.”

Krasinski is a great director…

Krasinski the actor is familiar to a non-monster-infested America, which has been laughing along with him since the mid-2000’s heyday of The Office. Here, in his debut helming a film for a major studio, we meet Krasinski the director. We are impressed.

“Directed with first-rate visual flair by John Krasinski (who knew?), this riveting near-silent thriller exudes the despair of a broken world with the concision of a Cormac McCarthy novel folded into a simplistic B-movie premise,” writes Eric Kohn in Indiewire. “… the director’s capacity to mine suspense out of inventive scenarios (sinking in a sea of corn, or grasping for a mattress to stifle a baby’s cry) means that every new showdown comes with a few unexpected tricks.”

… supported by an outstanding cast

That one of the Abbott’s children is deaf – meaning the family can all sign fluent sign language – perhaps contributed to their survival in a world where sound is poison. That Krasinski cast a deaf actress in that role most certainly helped transform a surreal world into a believable one.

“Simmonds, a deaf actress, is as commanding here as she was in her astonishing breakthrough turn last year in Todd Haynes’ Wonderstruck,” writes the Los Angeles TimesJustin Chang.

The rest of the cast is just as strong. “… Blunt, Krasinski, and Jupe all contribute credible intensity to their scenes with a degree of sophistication rare for this type of material,” writes Indiewire’s Kohn.

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If They Can’t Hear You, They Can’t Hunt You – Paramount’s Terrifying “A Quiet Place”

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

They survive by speaking in signs, by padding their footsteps with painted and powdered trails, by rolling dice on folded blankets. They survive by never making a sound.

In the floodlit dystopia of A Quiet Place, John Krasinski and Emily Blunt cautiously guide their family through a terrifying landscape where something vicious stalks them. And everything will be OK – if they can just keep quiet.

Directed by Krasinski, the film also stars Noah Jupe and Millicent Simmonds. A Quiet Place will be in theaters April 6, 2018.

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