Trailer destruction: The lost art of keeping a secret

It’s a tough thing to remember sometimes, but films are a business. As a rule, they’ll toss out any old crap as long as they can con enough people into paying for it. Artistry and quality usually come second. Whilst films have always been marketed widely, it’s safe to say that marketing strategies have become more aggressive and pervasive in the last decade or so. We’re at a point now where half the film’s budget is spent again on marketing the sodding thing. It’s hard to gauge how much a flop like The Lone Ranger has lost in total due to the extra $100 million or so that’s gone on various campaigns.  Like many people, I love trailers. I’m pissed off if I arrive late to the cinema and miss the previews beforehand. It’s part of the experience to me. It’s a fun thing to turn to your friends or the empty seats beside you and decide together whether you want to go and see the film you’ve just been pitched. I’m also the type of person to frantically click on a link to a highly anticipated film and starting geeking my little heart out over this particular detail, that line or whatever. That’s also fun, but not the sort of fun I want people to see me having.

The problem is that trailers give away too much. There’s a real knack for trailer making that’s been lost for the most part. Nowadays, studios seem to have an attitude of “shove all the money shots into 3 minutes and hope it sells our film.” I don’t need to tell you that this attitude sucks. I hate seeing a trailer and feeling like there are no surprises left when it comes time to see the actual film. Man of Steel is a recent example of this. Multiple teaser trailers, several full-length theatrical trailers, a corporate tie-in exclusive trailer plus several film clips were all posted to try and convince people to part with their hard-earned cash. It’s getting ridiculous. Looking back on Man of Steel, I kept thinking about how cool the reveal of Supes’ new suit would have been if I hadn’t seen it plastered over every bus stop, magazine and poster for the several weeks leading up to the film’s release. The superhuman smackdowns  may have had more bite if I hadn’t seen half of them already thanks to the advertising chokehold the film had. OK, maybe that’s pie-in-the-sky thinking, but it would have been nice.

Going back to last year, Prometheus had the same sort of carpet bomb approach, releasing trailers and clips like they were going out of style. So much so,that before seeing the film, some people managed to construct what they thought was the entire film’s narrative purely from the materials released: (Spoilers if you haven’t seen Prometheus yet) . It’s pretty damn accurate with only a few key details wrong, the creators of the picture being restrained by both logic and coherency, something which the film’s writers weren’t. We’re even at the point where there are teaser trailers for other trailers. Check out Ender’s Game and its “trailer announcements” or 4 second teases.  I understand they want to sell a film they’ve clearly pumped a lot of cash into, but there’s got to be better ways to do it.

So, OK. What constitutes a good trailer? To be honest, I don’t really know. I guess one that gives you enough information to work with, but makes promises that bigger and better things are to come. My best recent example of this is the trailer for Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity:

I had no real inclination to see Gravity before the trailer hit, but it’s rocketed up my must-see list since. The whole tone of the film is captured in the trailer and it gives fuck all away. It’s brilliant.

It seems counter-intuitive to release a trailer that spoils the whole film for people. You’d think these days, where studios are more desperate for your cash than ever there’d be more of a coy, coquettish approach to selling their films. Sort of like prostitutes in the Old West giving a flash of thigh. If you want the good stuff, big boy, you’re going to have to pony up some coins. That’s what trailers should be like. Just don’t quote me on that.

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