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The modern-day movie trailer: Taking a look at what film marketing has spawned

Posted on January 30th, 2009

Source: The Leader

Matthew Balz

Filmmakers and production companies want theatres packed with paying audiences, but they can’t achieve this without proper marketing and crafty advertisement. Their strategy involves grabbing the most amount of attention without giving away too much of the movie. With one line of the wrong dialogue or five seconds of the climactic scene in a movie preview, audiences might very well be treated to the one twist, the big truth, the grand ending, or just a very good trailer for a very bad movie.

Many people who watch television commercials, visit online videos, or catch a movie at the theatre can safely say that their first judgment of a single film arrives along with the first trailer. The pace of a trailer may not fit the plot, or the actors may not appear truthfully to their counterparts, but one sees this brief set-up and makes the psychological decision of whether or not to be interested.

Early movie trailers were simple and effective; requiring nothing more than a handful of shots on the screen along with adjectives flashing in the foreground to assure the audience that the picture was “stunning” or “unbelievable.” Since then movie trailers have expanded into many styles and formats, searching for what has not yet been attempted.

Alfred Hitchcock created a promotional video for The Birds (1963) in which he depicted the relationship between humans and birds with a display of a delicious-looking roast bird and a feathered hat– just before his leading lady ran onscreen screaming about an animal attack.

Stanley Kubrick had fun with his movie trailers too. He edited a montage of clips each fewer than one second long to develop an advertisement for A Clockwork Orange (1971), and provided one single sequence of blood flowing out of an elevator to market The Shining (1980).

With advancements in technology it has become easier for technicians and computer geniuses to manipulate their footage. The best shots are compiled, incomprehensible music is churned out, and a slow barrage of narrated text is thrown into the mix to create a format for wide variety of genres.

Music and editing are a big part of the allure when reeling in eyes and ears. With quick cuts and fast music, a slow movie can be turned into a thrilling trailer. Clint Mansell’s “Lux Aeterna,” the main theme from Requiem for a Dream (2000), has appeared in a variety of movie trailers, from Sunshine (2007) to Babylon A.D. (2008), both of which conveyed the same amount of power as the music.

The same can be said for a film in any genre. With the addition of resources and techniques outside of the movie itself, any modern production crew is able to portray a cold drama as a family adventure. Examples of this wizardry can be seen online today on public domains such as Youtube, where an everyday person can filter out the shots and sounds of the horror flick Jaws (1975) into a trailer that conveys comedic adventure.

Despite the evolution and development of movie trailers, one can always rely on the teaser trailer– the always short, always incomplete footage which only commits the crime of containing too little. Perhaps the trailer doesn’t provide an audience with any visuals as the actors do nothing but speak their most exciting lines. Or perhaps one is only allowed only the sight of some incredible feat performed by an unseen beast parked off screen.

Consequently, it seems as if movie trailers are not to be trusted. If the music is not to their liking or the images are not appealing, how is an audience to decide if the material is enjoyable?

The truth is clear. There will always be movies, and there will always be people paid to cut them, show them, or veil them only to pass idealized synopses of the movies to the nearest crowd. In a world that is increasingly embracing entertainment one needs to choose their words cautiously after viewing a movie’s trailer for the first time. Praise just might find the next great flop.

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