Never judge a book by its cover. Something you’ve been told by parents and teachers alike, but we all do it. The cover has to intrigue us, has to catch our eye and draw us in towards it, I’m not gonna pick up the book with a crying child or a woman in a nice sunflower dress, but the one with a dragon and spaceship will be on my shelf soon enough.
Films have their own way of drawing our eyes, and the modern marketing teams have two big arrows in their quiver, the poster and the trailer. Film Posters deserve a whole lot of time to dissect them, and their time will come. But now, we need to have a look at an art form that is up at the wrong end of a firing range. And right now, before I get into it I should mention that I am a video editor by trade, and trailers are judged 70% on the way they cut different parts of the film together. I have the utmost respect for a well done trailer the same way I do for the actual Film Editor.
So, what do I feel a trailer should be? It should be 3 minutes or footage that gives us an idea of the films genre, what characters will be like and give us a hint of a set piece/key moment to draw the audience in to that film, as opposed to the others that would be at box office that weekend. With this definition in mind what do I find wrong with trailers? Just about everything.
The biggest problem with trailers these days is spoilers, and I really can’t believe this is even something that has to be brought up. It’s like the poster for Soylent Green showing people going into a meat grinder, or the trailer for Empire Strikes Back starting with Luke and Vaders special talk. I’ve had people argue that we shouldn’t focus so much on the big plot turns and just enjoy different aspects of the film. I think of those people when I watch Evil Dead now.
The less of the film you show me, the better. The trailer should be a TEASE, Check out old man Arnie jumping out of a plane, you wanna know why? Come and see. The cinema is the champagne room in this club, and the third act, the giant set pieces and plot twists are the star dancers, don’t give them up cheap. Have some self-respect for the art you have created film maker. I don’t think I could dumb this down enough and I don’t have the energy to, so I’m gonna go the other way.
Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds was advertised as a straight up Tarantino fest in WW2, instead, we got a tense spy thriller that was way more interesting than the trailer suggested. Want something more recent? Star Wars VII didn’t give us a hint of what the story was and even managed to hide an entire character from us. Carrying on with JJ properties, Cloverfield was perfectly advertised, I was obsessed with it because I had no clue what it was about.
Carrying on the theme, I have more choice in trailers for a given film these days than I do clean socks. At one point we had a teaser, and maybe two trailers and it was great. A new trailer was excited for a chance at even 10 seconds of new footage. Now, it’s more exciting to avoid them trailers altogether cause otherwise, there isn’t much left to see on the big screen, and you run the risk of spoilers. Plus, now, half of them don’t even have a reason to be. The Hollywood machine churns out trailers like reminders that a film is coming. Remember how great Jaws is? The mystery of the shark, and then how great it was, the excitement it brought with us. Make your trailers Bruce. Make your trailers matter. Teaser. Trailer. Trailer. That’s all you need. Don’t need Teaser Teaser. Teaser. Trailer. Trailer. Trailer. TV Spot. TV Spot. TV Spot. Trailer. TV Spot…
The final thing that isn’t covered is actually the opposite of the first. When you want to advertise your film, advertise your film, don’t go putting in footage that doesn’t actual exist in your final cut. Imagine picking up an Adele CD and the entire album is just a two-year old with a pan and an unhealthy toast obsession. This might seem like something as simple as a throwaway line, but a single line can change an entire scene, completely changing the beat. And how a character comes across in a trailer, can be defined to a single line.
Slight SPOILERS ahead for Jurassic World. In the trailer, Chris Pratt’s Owen looks like he comes up with the idea of using raptors to chase the iRex. ‘If we are doing this, we are doing it my way.‘ Here’s the issue, this paints Owen as the complete opposite of what his character is. I am all for to a trailer fooling us into the content of the film and what we expect, but using a line that isn’t in the final cut. That just lying.
Hollywood, 50% of why my bum is in a seat is based on a trailer. Make it count.