Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Heath Holland On...The Trouble with Trailers


The following is an actual conversation that occurred between me and my wife recently. The song “Dirty Paws” by the Icelandic folk-pop band Of Monsters and Men had just come on the radio in the car. Join us now as we go back to that fateful conversation…

HOLLYWOOD HEATH HOLLAND: I used to like this song, but now every time I hear it all I can think of is Ben Stiller running around doing crazy stuff.


HHH: You know, it was in the trailer for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. I saw that trailer over and over last year and now I think it’s ruined this song for me.

MRS. H: Oh. That’s why I hate trailers.

HHH (stunned): You hate trailers?

MRS. H: Yes. I just try to ignore them when we go to the movies. I don’t pay attention to them and think of other things.

HHH (upset): WHY?

MRS. H: Because they show WAY too much and they usually don’t represent the final movie. They’re usually awful.
HHH: So if you never watched trailers, how would you ever get excited about anything? How would you even know what’s coming out?

MRS. H: I don’t mind TV commercials for movies because they’re short and they usually show me just enough to let me know if I’m interested or not. If movie trailers in the theater were a minute or less, and only showed enough to let me know something was coming out soon, then I would feel differently about them. But as it is now, they last FOREVER and they show things I don’t want to see. They try to be little movies on their own, but I just want them to show me what’s coming soon. I hate them.

HHH: *remains silent, deep in thought. Tears and diarrhea follow*

Dear reader, I ask you: have movie trailers ever been more hit or miss than they are right now? For example, I’m burned out on Amazing Spider-Man 2 because of the marketing decision to show as much of the movies as possible. For someone like me, that strategy is a failure because I feel like I’ve already seen the movie. Like, A LOT. It seems like every movie I’ve seen since last year’s holiday season has featured a trailer for Amazing Spider-Man 2 and every commercial break on television features a spot for the movie. Am I less intrigued because I know a lot about Spider-Man as a character and I recognize a lot of things that they’re throwing at me? Therefore I’m like “well, here we go with THIS thing?” That’s very possible.

Meanwhile, advertisements for a movie that I wasn’t excited about at all, Godzilla, have slowly worked me up into a froth and now I get excited and hyper every time I see marketing for that film. Each time I’ve seen a commercial featuring that movie, I’ve run into the kitchen and starting smashing dinner plates onto the floor from excitement (we need more plates). I’ve seen the trailer a bunch of times now, but it’s done nothing to diminish my excitement. Quite the opposite has happened, actually -- hence all the broken glass.
So what’s the difference? I mean, I’ve been a Spider-Man fan in some form since I was a kid watching Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends in the early ‘80s. I should be an easy sell for anything featuring my friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. Yet Godzilla is a character that I never had much interest in, historically speaking. I saw the 1998 Matthew Broderick film when it hit theaters back in the day, but I’m not even sure if that counts as Godzilla. Puff Daddy’s song made more of an impression on me than the monster did. My point is, not a Godzilla fan.

I think they key is in how the movies are being marketed within those trailers. Amazing Spider-Man 2 has taken a “kitchen sink” approach, showing both the major and minor villains, revealing much of the plot, revealing the spectacle, detailing Peter Parker’s skin care routine, etc. Godzilla, on the other hand, has showed the establishing details of the movie but very little of the actual story. I don’t really know what it’s about, other than…Godzilla. Even more wisely, in my opinion, is that the initial marketing showed almost nothing of Godzilla himself; especially now, just a few weeks from release, the trailers and TV spots are still only offering brief glimpses of the creature.

But Mrs. H’s comments make a lot of sense to me. I get trailer fatigue. Hey, maybe we can add Trailer Fatigue to the F This Movie! Glossary:

Trailer Fatigue: the sinking feeling that occurs when you sit down in the theater seat and realize you’re about to see THAT trailer AGAIN.
Another of Mrs. H’s points: movie trailers are LONG. 120 seconds, sometimes 150 seconds, doesn’t really seem like that long of a time for a single trailer, but when you’re seeing 7 or 8 trailers every time you go to the movies, on top of the commercials for Coca-Cola, Fandango, popcorn, candy, life insurance, and stocks you should consider purchasing, that’s a LONG TIME. We’re talking upwards of thirty minutes of promotion before the movie even starts.

I don’t feel like things have always been this way. Trailers used to be my favorite part of going to the movies, often even more than the movie itself. Trailer length wasn’t THAT much shorter in the past, but I do think trailer content was significantly less spoiler-rific. I mean, I know the original Carrie trailer showed just as much as the new Carrie trailer, but there seems to be a trend in recent years to make trailers as much like little movies as possible.

There’s a three-act arc to most trailers. It’s so obvious and blatant that it’s been parodied countless times by our hip, self-aware culture. The first act establishes a status quo. The second act introduces the conflict and builds to a climax. The third act is almost always a montage of quickly cut scenes set to dramatic or emotional music. Then…TITLE. By this point we’ve usually seen the overall trajectory that the story takes and been on an abridged and cheapened version of the cinematic experience. It’s like we’ve just seen the whole movie, only a CliffsNotes of the CliffsNotes version. Or, even worse, they show absolutely none of what the movie is actually about in favor of stupid humor that isn’t representative of the movie. I’m looking at you, Frozen.
Theater owners and movie fans are rebelling against the trend of bloated trailers and the way that studios are marketing their products, but it’s going to take a long time for any real change to occur. Currently, the MPAA restricts trailers to 150 seconds, though they do grant one exception per studio each year. Last year Warner Brothers used their one exception for a three minute trailer for Man of Steel. A group called the National Association of Theater Owners (abbreviated as NATO…but a different one? Maybe? Hopefully?) is pushing hard to have trailer lengths reduced and to place more guidelines on studios. This could ultimately mean fewer, shorter trailers at the multiplex and could prevent trailers from advertising a film until the product is four months from release, potentially meaning no more of those “coming next summer” previews that run a year in advance.

Look, I still like movie trailers. They still have the potential to get me very excited about a movie I didn’t think I was interested in. But I do have a much lower threshold for trailers than I did a few years ago, and I get particularly tired of the trend of making trailers into mini-movies. If I could have things my way (Darth Vader’s famous last words) here’s what I’d do:

1) I’d limit trailers to two minutes. If you can’t get me excited about a movie in under two minutes, you’ve got a big problem and I probably don’t want to see your movie anyway. And you’re a stupid head.
2) I’d reduce the spoiler content and overall plot details found in trailers. Remember, you’re trying to get me excited about seeing the movie, not giving the entire cinematic experience in a tiny little nugget. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve seen a trailer and then thought or said “well, I don’t need to see that movie because they just showed it to me” then I’d have, like, A BUNCH of dolla dolla bills, y’all.

3) Reduce the number of trailers shown before movies from seven/eight to the less-fatiguing four/five. Look, I have ADD. By the time a sixth trailer starts to roll, I’m thinking about flying kites and how cool it would be to have a pet monkey.

But I’m really interested in how you feel about trailers these days. Are you perfectly happy with a half hour of trailers before a movie? Do you like the way modern trailers are marketing movies? Do you think things are getting out of hand and need to be wrangled back into a tight 15 minutes before the film starts? Let me know in the comments below and we’ll DO THIS.

But first, the following preview has been approved for ALL AUDIENCES…


  1. Yeah, trailerz are the worst.

    1. He didn't mean it Doug - pwease come back and show us more trailerz (though mostly I just enjoyed your thoughts on them) - I don't think I've watched a single trailer online since you've been gone. :(

    2. I don't think I have either!

    3. Me Either. #CouldntDoDougsJobForHim

    4. Oh, Doug, no. You made trailers worth watching with your effervescent wit and commentary (not to mention dashing good looks..which don't really factor into the written word, BUT STILL). Magic, sir. Magic. Come back soon.

  2. Heath when you started referring to yourself as HHH, I was just picturing you as "Triple H" having the conversation with your wife.

    But yeah, trailers are a funny old thing, a true art unto themselves. What to show, what to hold back etc. But like your wife I tend to tune out at the theater. When my wife and I went to see The Winter Soldier we sat through 35 minutes of trailers and ads. This after the house lights went down and we already endured the pre-ad-ads.

    1. 35 mintutes?! That's a LOT of time to fill up on popcorn and soda (POP) and end up having to go to the bathroom during the opening credits.

      Also, regarding HHH: it's all about the game. And how you play it. I am the game, and I came to play. *spits water onto the screen and electrocutes self*

  3. I think there is an art to trailer-making that for the most part, has been dead for years. TCM shows a lot of vintage movie trailers in between movies that sometimes run 4-5 minutes or longer, but somehow are less spoilery and annoying than a lot of modern trailers.

    Maybe I'm nuts, but I think instead of a ton of trailers and ads, theaters should show more shorts that go with the genre of the feature presentation. It would be a great way to promote independent filmmaking and at least make the $10+ tickets somewhat worth the price.

    1. I think that's a great idea. A night at the movies used to take hours and hours because of the shorts, news reels, intermission, etc. I'd LOVE to see some short subjects and the like at the movies.

  4. I'm with you Heath - I do like trailers in principle, but when it comes to both content and deployment, they have been pissing me off a lot lately. I seem to have it a bit better where I'm at insofar as there really only tend to be about 10 minutes of them before the feature starts, but yeah, I'm down with all of your rules, especially re content. I blame the internet - especially internet porn. We used to be a culture that valued leaving a bit to the imagination and appreciated the enticement of a tease. Now it's all dinosaur double-penetration this and endoscopic vaginal exploration that. It used to be, "Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?" Now it's, "You better give me some fucking free milk or I won't even consider buying your stupid cow." We've become so adverse to delayed gratification that we're demanding a good chunk of the experience RIGHT NOW - I love that the marketing department behind Godzilla said fuck you to all those people because you're right - those are some trailers that got me going.

    I still love that 3-minute Man of Steel trailer though even if it didn't fairly represent what we ended up with - if only the actual movie had the same ratio of punching to story.

    1. yeah, we've become a culture that expects/demands gratification. We hype movies for months and months, follow the casting of them on the internet, follow the behind-the-scenes decisions, watch 4 different theatrical trailers, 8 TV spots, critique them on the internet, and then FINALLY see the movie. And say "that was good, when's the next one coming out?"

      Also, I believe Dinosaur Double-Penetration is touring with Orgy of Destruction this summer.

  5. I second your thoughts Heath. It is truly a conundrum. Long-form Trailers mainly suck and are lazy/spoilery. Gotta love the "teaser" though. Especially ones that contain footage not designed for the actual movie (for some reason only Dirty Rotten Scoundrels comes to mind, but that's a perfect example).

  6. I'm on both sides as well. Some trailers have had the same effect on my such as you had with the Godzilla trailer where I had no interest and then did a 180 because of the trailer. Unfortunately this is usually not the case though. What I am starting to absolutely loathe are these 10 minute "featurette" trailers. The one for "Les Miserables" was painful to get through the first time, and seemed like it was playing before every movie I was going to see at the time. The lowest of the low however was recently. When I went to see "Occulus" they had one of these for "A Haunted House 2". Yes, a freaking featurette for A Haunted House 2. It was embarrassing.

  7. I sort of liked the Frozen trailer just because of what we're talking about. It misrepresented the movie and was entirely too cutesy, but it was the only Frozen trailer I saw, so I got to enjoy every twist and turn in the movie for the first time. That felt great! I don't think every movie can do trailers like that, but Disney/Pixar sure can. The How to Train Your Dragon 2 trailer drives me nuts because it gives away a major plot point, when all Dreamworks really had to do was show us a dragon flying for twenty seconds and then show us the title. I guarantee that sales would still be good for them. Remember Pixar's old teasers that were tight little scenes that never made it into the movie? Watching Mr. Incredible try to squeeze into his old outfit did more to intrigue me than a three minute trailer that gave away the whole movie, and it still represented what we saw.

    I hate trailers nowadays because most of them rob me of that experience of seeing a movie for the first time. I think Patrick mentioned on the Avengers podcast how the moment when Hulk saves Iron Man would have brought the house down had it not been featured in every trailer in every other movie leading up to it. I saw Spider-man deflecting missiles with a manhole while flying through the air last weekend, and I thought to myself "that would have been awesome to see in the movie." Now I'm just expecting it, and a good percentage of the thrill is gone. Lately I hate trailers and avoid them at all costs, but I will agree with everyone else that the Godzilla marketing is great.

    1. Did you check out the teaser for How To Train Your Dragon 2?
      That literally was a dragon flying around for a bit, then the big reveal of grown up Hiccup. It was awesome and got me so psyched for the movie.... then I saw the full trailer and it totally deflated my movie boner. Animated movies should definitely stick to teasers.

    2. Yeah, that teaser was perfect for the movie.