A pair of articles on Screen Crush has me thinking about trailers. We just looked at one yesterday. Trailers are how movie studios prepare hype for a new movie and sometimes even TV show. They are an important part of marketing a new production. The problem is trailers can also ruin a movie not by being bad but by showing ALL the good parts. Showing only good parts makes sense but when you show all of them it kills the experience for the moviegoers, and while I understand where marketing is coming from, I don’t think they understand how things work nowadays.
The first article I saw was a comment by David Lynch about how he doesn’t like modern-day trailers and made sure his trailers for the new Twin Peaks series contained not only no spoilers but no information whatsoever. I’ll come back to this, but it’s David Lynch AND a continuation (or reboot, I haven’t followed it because I don’t care) of Twin Peaks. Both of them come with their own hype by themselves, never mind together. The article linked to a commentary elsewhere on Screen Crush by Britt Hayes about the lack of information in trailers for The Dark Tower, based on a book series by Stephen King, and why that’s a good thing. The same rule applies there however. The Dark Tower is a popular book series and Stephen King is Stephen King. You have the hype pretty much built-in. But what about productions who need that hype? While they have a point about trailers, you can’t just rule them out.
Here’s the quote they use from Lynch’s interview with Rolling Stone:
These days, movie trailers practically tell the whole story. I think it’s really harmful. For me, personally, I don’t want to know anything when I go into a theater. I like to discover it, get into that world, try to get as good of picture and sound as possible, no interruptions – so you can have an experience. And anything that putrefies that is not good.
I kind of agree and kind of don’t. Yes, movie trailers tell too much of a story, and some idiots in marketing don’t realize that ruining the twist or telling all the good jokes kills that experience. It’s not new; more like it’s made a comeback. If you watch old movie trailers on TCM or just online they had trailers that told at least most of the first half of the story, although there were still others that knew to keep it brief despite trailers lasting longer than even some of today’s theatrical trailers. The ending was all that was missing, and it comes off like modern video reviewers. At some point the trailers shifted gears, only giving us the briefest of plot details and creating the atmosphere. That’s what a good movie trailer should do.
While I understand what marketing is after, that doesn’t make it right. They want to get people into the theater, buying the home video, or turning on their television. That’s their job. Where they fail, and always fail, is an inability to understand the art of storytelling, or that they’re interested in their own narrative. If the trailer ruins all the good scenes then the best you can hope for is to see how those scenes connect. In comedies it doesn’t matter because the best jokes are already ruined. This ruins the actual experience, which means opening weekend (the only weekend studios care about to decide if a movie succeeded or failed…there’s a commentary for another time) will be filled with people complaining over social media and making sure that one weekend is the ONLY successful weekend, and if you didn’t make your money back then (again, the only weekend studios decide it made its money back) you quite possibly never will.
And I could see if all the movies were that bad, and some are. Far too many are. But that kind of makes it worse because it’s those good scenes and jokes that might have saved the movie. Then again, since we know marketing is only showing the best jokes we’ll know from how bad the jokes are if the movie is something we want to avoid. Also, if the trailer “lies” to us and makes a movie out to be something it isn’t (“hey, this isn’t a horror movie, it’s a crime drama!”) people will know on Friday and won’t see it on Saturday. Steel didn’t even finish the opening weekend around me and I never got to see it in theaters. (Although that does help my claim that it feels more like a TV or direct to video movie than something that should have been released theatrically. I saw it on home video.)
That leads to Lynch’s, and Hayes’, other problem with trailers. There are so many different trailers and teasers, sometimes a year or more before it’s finally edited and released to theaters, that it causes too much hype, and fans start worrying that lack of exposure means the studio doesn’t have enough faith to support the movie. This is backed up by movies the studio didn’t seem to support instead of what they expected to be a big hit, and some movies would have benefited by more people knowing about it. One of my favorite movies, Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow, which boasted a new greenscreen technique that’s still used today as well as “retro tech” out of the 1930s (the movie was released in 2004) that was amazing visually with a fun story for fans of old sci-fi and old science predictions like myself, was a victim of little to no hype. The recent American Godzilla movie took forever to tell anybody anything about it, and there was no promotion for the limited US release of Shin Godzilla both in the theater and the home video release. (I still say they should have kept the Godzilla: Resurrection international name but Funimation only cares about promoting to fans of Japanese cinema, and not the wider culture of Godzilla movie fans in America. That makes sense for most of their product, but Godzilla is a different story.) Fans of the John Carter movie blamed little promotion for that movie’s failure.
It is essential in this day and age to promote your movie so that people will know it’s out there and want to see it. With the economy going further downhill and the theater experience marred by rising prices, jerks who don’t care about their fellow moviegoers, or the occasional theater shooting scaring people away, the general public and even movie buffs are more careful what movies they spend their dwindling money on. While a good trailer shouldn’t ruin the movie, which far too many modern trailers do, it does need to convince you that this is the movie you should spend those dollars on, but with marketing out of touch with both the audience and the storytelling experience (they think the former is stupid and couldn’t care less about the latter except for their own) that becomes a challenge. It can be done. I’ve seen fan edits to prove it.
On the other hand, Hayes made a comment that I don’t think is quite right, either.
There’s a favorite saying among certain addiction recovery groups: “Expectations are resentments in the making.” It sounds like fortune cookie wisdom, but common sense doesn’t necessarily imply common practice. By the time a major film hits theaters, an average member of its target audience has already seen at least three trailers and a couple of teasers, fast-forwarded through numerous TV spots on their DVR, read zealous breakdowns of footage and casting, and clicked through dozens of articles touting wacky rumors — all of which contributes to an environment where movies are now judged before they even hit theaters. They either exceed or fall short of our expectations, but they rarely meet them.
. . . . .
You may still be wondering what recovery groups and their favorite sayings have to do with any of this. But an addict bears just as much responsibility for their addiction as the drug-pusher, but only the addict is responsible for the consequences of their addiction. Studios may have created this cycle, but it wouldn’t work without your continued and active participation. That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t buy a ticket to see these movies or even that you shouldn’t be excited for them. Still, a little practical awareness of what’s happening here could benefit your moviegoing experience.
It’s impossible to avoid marketing entirely, or to avoid forming an opinion based on that marketing (that is its purpose, after all). But the more you allow studios to dictate your thoughts, the more disappointed you’re likely to be. What if The Dark Tower isn’t a very good movie? At least Sony didn’t spend an entire year making sure a bad movie feels like the worst, most soul-crushing movie ever made. And if it’s good? The best surprises are the ones you never expect.
Hayes’s point, if you didn’t read the second article, is that we buy into the hype experience. We speculate and dissect every trailer, teaser, and comment. Look how much speculating for Star Wars: The Force Awakens was dedicated to why C-3PO’s arm is red long before the movie itself ever came out! (By the way I still haven’t seen the movie because 2016 was a nightmare and I’m still without financial income, so if that actually is of any importance, keep your trap shut!) An arm color was the source of major speculation! And those blogs and film theory videos got a lot of hits from people who wanted to guess why C-3PO had a red arm like it could be a major clue. I do understand what Hayes is saying. The more popular and geek-targeted a movie, or the franchise it comes from, is the more speculation happens. It’s really hard to disagree with him.
I rarely post a trailer speculation beyond the barest of ideas. I don’t worry about dissecting every detail, not even for easter eggs of adaptations like comic book movies. (“Hey, it’s Lex Luthor’s barber shop!” Who cares? Also…what?) However, once the final trailer is out, or at least something beyond a teaser, I do try to get some idea as to whether or not I’ll like something. Could I be surprised both positively and negatively by the final results? Sure. But I also know what Hollywood has done to my favorite genres and things I’ve grown up with. Look what they did to CHiPs for crying out loud! I’m pretty sure that’s why ME-TV dropped the show, because the movie ruined any interest in the far superior and fun TV series. So I don’t go blind into a movie just from the trailer, although a good or bad trailer will convince me one way or the other on whether or not I want to see it.
And it isn’t even necessarily the quality of the trailer. A good trailer may still convince me this isn’t what I want to see, like most horror movies, while a trailer that turns other people off may find itself in my wheelhouse and I’ll be looking to check it out. I’m not a slave to dissection, but I do use trailers to gauge whether or not I want to waste time and money on a movie or TV show. Marketing needs to do their job better, but they’re not the whole problem. And maybe fans should just relax and not lunge after every scrap of information like a hungry stray dog, but if marketing could find a way to use that to their advantage and not ruin the movie before you see it, to keep hype at a decent enough level like a DJ working a crowd at a bar to keep the drinks going and getting people on the dance floor to give the barkeeps a break (saw this on an episode of Bar Rescue) there may be a proper cohesion between official and unofficial hype, which may actually improve the experience if we can keep spoilers in check. Plus word of mouth costs nothing.
I can dream, can’t I? Marketing is too in love with their gimmicks and controlling their own narrative to care about what happens when the show starts, just as long as they get us watching. But that can ruin the movie too. Marketing needs to find a new way, but I think they’re more stuck in the past than the movie studios when it comes to making and promoting a good story.