It’s the magical time of year when awards films are out in theaters. If you’re like me, then that means you’re going to see more movies in the next two months than you will during any other two-month period of the year. The theater trips are great, and so are most of the films. However, one particular aspect of the theater experience is giving me burnout. Trailers have become trash.
Every movie I see is preceded by four or five trailers, meaning the theater is adding approximately 15 minutes to my theater trip by showing ads for upcoming movies. If you want to take up an extra 15 minutes of my time, you’d better make it worth my while. Unfortunately, that happens less and less frequently with every trip. At least one trailer out of the four will make me roll my eyes. Frequently, more than one and occasionally all will make me roll my eyes.
First and foremost, trailers are wildly predictable. The second you hear the first three notes of the trailer’s music, you can tell precisely what kind of film it will be. A lone, mournful piano? It’s going to be an indie film, and probably be presented as some sort of “triumph of the spirit”. A prime example is the trailer for The Impossible, for instance. A loud, blaring Hans Zimmer-inspired couple of musical notes clearly denote an action movie where people will talk tough and stuff will explode. Gangster Squad is the offender du jour. A lone, eerie piano tips you off that a horror film is coming. Someone’s family is going to be disturbed in some way, shape, or form, and you’re probably going to see a little kid acting weird. In the case of horror, if it’s not an aural cue, then it’s a visual cue almost instantly in the trailer that lets you know what’s coming. You could perform this exercise with almost every single trailer out there, and the clichés cut a wide swath across every genre imaginable.
The problem isn’t the films themselves. And it’s not really the music. It’s that the people who market movies have seemingly developed the same small handful of stock trailer formulas, especially designed to appeal to very specific segments of the market. As an audience member, your exact tastes have been whittled down to the same visual and musical cues, the same cadence of the types of clips used, all designed to elicit the same types of emotions every time you see a trailer for specific genres. It’s pandering, and it’s insulting.
The second gigantic problem with trailers is that they give almost the entire film away. Filmmakers dread this because it saps their film of effectiveness and the element of surprise. The irony is that all of this came to a head when I saw The Impossible trailer for the 10th time in a month, before Hitchcock. The film I was about to see was about Alfred Hitchcock’s efforts to get Psycho made. Part of his campaign involved keeping a lid on the ending. And after the barrage of clichéd trailers, I couldn’t help but think that there’s no way Hitchcock could pull that off today. There are so many films that are appealing to all of us. Unfortunately, by the time we get to the theater, we’ve seen almost 20 minutes of footage via the various teasers and trailers that come out in advance. Or worse yet, we’ve seen three minutes that just happen to include key footage with what should be surprising, memorable lines.
What really slays me about all of this is that I don’t want to have negative emotions about a lot of these films, especially before I’ve actually seen them. To stick with The Impossible, I’m honestly quite intrigued by the film. I really want to see it. But every time I see that same damned trailer, I roll my eyes and think “Ugh, it’s that stupid feel-good crap again.” Or I’ll start interpreting who the studios are targeting. The next thing you know, I’m imagining myself sitting next to some Axe body spray meathead at the theater to see Gangster Squad.
If there are any studio people reading this, or any movie marketing people scrolling through, I beg of you- please put a little more time into your trailers. Put a little bit more thought and originality into what you’re creating. Find better ways to reach your target audience. What you’re doing now is turning me off, making me dread your message. It’s having the exact opposite of the intended purpose. Fix it, because I know you’re capable.