Marketing has always been a taboo subject in the moviemaking industry. It's often seen as a tool of the inauthentic, the spreader of boring information, the waster of time. But something has spread this repulsion to us, the moviegoers. When we watch trailers, don't we find ourselves fearful of spoilers? Aren't we fatigued by the same equation playing out, only with different variables?
In the past, movie #trailers were often half the fun of the film experience. We'd dissect the pieces to get a closer look, share them with our friends, and smash the replay button. So where did all go wrong? Admission time: Marketing kills good movies, but so do we. The recent slump in movie trailer quality has been coming for a while. Sure, the film studios might be failing us, but our part to play in this story can't be ignored.
So What's The Problem With Trailers?
Objectively, there is no problem. There have been some great trailers dropping for the 2017 season, from the adaptation of Stephen King's The Dark Tower series, to the highly anticipated #WonderWoman movie starring Gal Gadot. But when you look closer, most trailers fall into the same trap. They come prepackaged with flaws and gimmicks that we, as moviegoers, are too quick to ignore.
Here's What I Mean
- Oversharing: When's the last time you saw a trailer that hooked you without giving too much away? Think about it. Oversharing and spoiling has always been a problem with trailers, but it's only recently that the trend has become commonplace. Everyone has more fun when we don't know what comes next, so why are you showing off your spoilers, trailers? We don't want to see them!
- Stylish editing: This isn't necessarily a fault. Film editing is an art. However, it stops being an art and becomes a gimmick when trailers perform the same tricks. You know the quick cut, high noise, psychedelic strobe effect that pops up when trailers reach maximum intensity? How many times have we seen that?
- Slow rendition of a pop song: Again, slow pop songs aren't necessarily a fault, but when we've heard it a hundred times before, why not try something new? Sure, everyone loved Beyoncé's dark version of "Crazy in Love" for Fifty Shades of Grey, but some things are best if they're used sparingly. And that goes for all kinds of songs.
- Formula: By nature, trailers are formulaic. They're required to show a satisfying amount of iconic imagery, hook the audience, sell a ticket. But trailers don't have to follow a template. Each story is unique, and stories can't always be placed in preformed boxes. A little variety never hurt anyone. Uniformity, on the other hand, isn't exactly working magic for movie trailers.
Do some of these problems ring a bell? We've been watching them for a while, but the cause isn't just the studios. What have we done to feed this change?
The Problem With Us
Hold up. If studios produce trailers and we watch them, how is the trailer quality slump on us?
Step back for a moment and consider the life cycle of a movie trailer. First, the trailer must be produced from a collection of film segments. Most people assume the studio responsible for the film also leads the marketing campaign, but third-party companies that specialize in trailer production are often given the job. Once the trailer is produced, it's attached to new releases and dropped on the internet.
This is where things change. Movie trailers have evolved from a piece of marketing to a cinematic event of their own, and we're the ones who made it that way. Is there anything wrong with making a big deal about trailers? Hell, no! Is there a possible consequence? Unfortunately, yes.
By giving so much devotion to trailers, we've told the studios that we want more. We want bigger, more emotional, more complete trailers so we can do more with them. Have we created a feedback loop that falsely tells studios what we like? In this case, the spoilers, the overused editing gimmicks, the musical tropes and the formulas. Our involvement shows that we respond to the common trailer tricks. In turn, we're receiving more of the same.
But the problem is this: Not everyone is responding well. We complain about spoilers, we roll our eyes when that damn distorted bass note is played for emphasis, and we tune out for the boring parts. Is there an answer to this problem?
There's Something To Be Learned From The Best Trailers
Let's stick with recent examples that have succeeded in both breaking out of the trailer rut and creating a positive audience buzz. First, Christopher Nolan's upcoming war movie #Dunkirk has a trailer worth noticing.
From this teaser alone, Dunkirk is a mystery. That's part of the appeal, part of the style, and part of the sales pitch. By setting up basic story elements within the first few seconds — war, trapped soldiers, danger — Dunkirk gives the aesthetic enough room to grow, and in turn gives audiences a hefty load of questions. Unique? Check. Must be talked about? Another check!
Next, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 stomped onto the scene with a trailer completely different than Dunkirk, but equally good. #GuardiansoftheGalaxy isn't about plot or action as much as it is about good vibes. Humor, wild characterization, and ridiculous situations are on full display, and that's exactly what the trailer needed to do. It follows a formula, sure, but works beautifully.
Now for one of the best trailers of 2016.
This one hurts its so good. Already Logan is being named one of the greatest superhero movies ever made, so it makes sense that the trailer set a gold standard for the actual film. Logan is the best example of having a plot-driven trailer that doesn't give much away. How does it hook us? By using an emotionally charged Johnny Cash cover, Logan added a new dimension to the glimpses of plot cut from the film.
It created a feeling that told us how the plot would run instead of giving away details. #Logan's trailer is built from the same action movie formula, of course, but Logan took the extra step to ensure the trailer was an event of its own without taking away from the movie itself.
How Can We Respond?
In the entertainment industry, we've set up a tight system of produce and consume. It seems impossible to send a message to the people who make trailers. Think about it. If we don't like the spoilers, the gimmicks, and the same template with the same timing, how do we say something?
The answer is in our flawed feedback loop. Earlier, we looked at how our obsession with dissecting trailers can give a greenlight to studios, but can our obsession also give a red light? If we break down a trailer with an unnatural amount of spoilers, let's say something about it. When we come across an excellent trailer, let's make a note. Lift it high. Show it off. Because trailers are now cinematic events, let's not be afraid to show disappointment when we're let down by lazy production. Trailers are often as much fun as the movies themselves. Let's do our part to help them stay that way.
Are trailers headed in a bad direction, or do you like the way they're being made? Sound off in the comments section below.