Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Heath Holland On...Hype!

by Heath Holland
I love it and I hate it.

This past weekend, London hosted the latest Star Wars Celebration convention, a now-annual event dedicated to the fandom of all things related to the Wars. Thanks to the live stream from, I was able to sit in the comfort of my house for most of the weekend and enjoy the myriad panels and interviews with the people who are shaping the future of this thing that I love so much. But somewhere along the line I was struck at how much I was playing into the Disney-Lucasfilm hype machine. The fact is, there wasn’t that much revealed as far as news and hard facts are concerned. What we seemed to get more than anything were some tidbits and a few spoilery rumors that were quickly picked up on by various new media outlets and spread around social media. There was a new trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story that Lucasfilm-head Kathleen Kennedy promised would not be released to the internet, a three minute sizzle reel of behind-the-scenes footage, but outside of this and the Rogue One panel, it was a three day event consisting mostly of a bunch of like-minded people sharing their love of something.
And yet the hype was huge. The three-minute sizzle reel had millions of views within a matter of hours. Minor details for Star Wars Rebels, a show I didn’t think anyone else was watching, seem to be the major discussion on social media. The hype, man! They hype is huge! And as I write this, we’re days away from this year’s San Diego Comic-con, which will mean that my social media feed is going to be the equivalent of that guy whose face melts off at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. There will be joy and tears of gladness, no doubt, but there is bound to be tons and tons of nerd rage. May God have mercy on us all.

With all this happening, I’ve been thinking a lot about hype and how it plays such a huge part of how we experience movies these days. Hype is nothing new. I remember using dial-up internet and downloading the trailer for Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, a process that took all night long in the early days of the internet, years before YouTube. That’s right, kids, get off my lawn! My point is that I had to have that trailer on my computer so I could watch it over and over and dissect each image. I needed to study that trailer. There’s been a natural progression from those early days of promotion as studios learned how to target their audience and speak directly to them. Hype is a good thing. Without hype, how would we know what movies were headed to the theater? How would we get excited about them? It’s a necessary part of our entertainment, and the people that do it have gotten so good at it that we now live in a golden age of publicity and promotion.
But then on the flipside, hype can really suck the joy out of things. When you’re promoting something that’s a full year or more away, you’re opening a huge window of expectation, speculation, and discussion (which the film studios love). When you draw in fans of something and try to pander to them, you’re building anticipation to a fever pitch. What happens when something that has been heavily hyped ends up sucking donkey dong? Or what about when the hype itself is so bad and misleading that it turns people off of a movie that isn’t nearly as bad as the promo material surrounding it? What happens when the movie is neither the best nor the worst ever (most movies are this)? Before we could all go see the new Ghostbusters movie, everyone had a pretty solid opinion based on hype. They say no publicity is bad publicity, but I’m not so sure. Then again, I’m not sure if bad publicity really affects box office the way that good publicity can. It’s just a weird place that we find our current publicity in. We have TV shows that exist to talk about TV shows. This is a strange, circular dance (doing the bull dance, feeling the flow…working it), and sometimes I feel like the hype around the movies we watch ends up overshadowing the movies themselves. I’m not even saying it’s a bad thing because I honestly don’t know. I do know that hype has definitely changed in the last couple of years, though.

San Diego Comic-Con used to be about—get this—comic books. Now it’s media central for genre movie and TV show news, which is undeniably awesome. My generation of geek took a ton of crap for liking the stuff that makes major headlines these days, so OF COURSE I think it’s awesome that this is all so widely accepted (I’m not being sarcastic). Anyone who complains about the mainstream nature of modern genre properties is just bitter about how rough we had it back then. Sure, if I’m being honest, having geek culture in our faces all the time takes a little getting used to because it’s so different from how things used to be, but this is a wonderful time to be a fan of superheroes, comic books, science fiction, and fantasy. There has NEVER been hype for all of these things like there is now. When a Captain America comic book makes national news because of a storyline cliffhanger (and causes mass outrage), you know the way we consume entertainment news has seriously changed. Part of that’s on us for being so reactionary, but part of it is due to hype and the way things are presented to us for the biggest reaction possible. They know how to get a rise out of us.
I had a weird experience over this past weekend. I went to the grocery store with my wife and was wearing a Millennium Falcon t-shirt (jealous?). This guy spotted my shirt and immediately starting asking me questions about Rogue One. Had I seen the sizzle reel? What did I think? Was I excited for the movie? He then launched into a bunch of questions/spoilers about Marvel Comics and the recent major death that occurred in the pages of Civil War II. I was more than happy to talk to him and share my thoughts on all of these things with someone whose name I don’t even know. This is directly caused by hype. This is because it is major news when a sizzle reel drops and we get to see behind-the-scenes footage of a movie that is currently still in production but that everyone wants to see. This is because it is SO EXCITING to be included in the creation of something, even in a passive way, and it’s awesome that the people who are making these movies are now speaking directly to us. When hype is bad, it really sucks. But when it’s good, OMG is it the best ever.

So rather than me sit here and type 5,000 words about hype, I’m really curious to see how YOU feel about it. This is the golden age of hype. There’s a classic film from 1957 called The Sweet Smell of Success which is basically about a very powerful newspaper columnist and his ability to shape public opinion with his writing. I think it’s time for a new version of this story that focuses on how a single movie trailer made by one guy at an editing station can now break the internet in half and incite riot in the streets. This is the double-edged nature of HYPE, gang. The floor is yours.


  1. The experience of actually watching a movie on average is only around 2 hours. Hype is basically the foreplay. It's how we can take something that is such a finite experience and expand the enjoyment out to weeks, months, or sometimes years before the movie's release. Inevitably sometimes we're in for a major letdown but then there's almost always something else on the horizon.

    I think the real negative side to hype isn't when it precedes what ends up being a terrible movie; it's how little surprise is left when a movie releases. I really liked Captain America: Civil War but I think I ended up hearing just about every major story beat before seeing the movie, without really even seeking most of it out. I know a lot of us here see a lot of movies in the theater and might end up seeing as many as four different trailers for a single movie by the time it releases, not to mention various TV spots. This marketing fuels a lot of hype but sometimes to the point where you could almost splice together a copy of the movie with all the footage that's been shown.

  2. I think if hype is done right, it can be great. It makes me think of the first trailer I saw for Cloverfield. It revealed so little yet caused so much intrigue. Though, that marketing ploy could fail terribly, I still find it to be the best way to go.

  3. It seems pre-release hype will be crucial for as long as opening weekend is The Thing. That's why adapting existing properties is so great - all the selling is done already.

    Honestly, moviemaking is such a crapshoot that I don't blame studios for focusing their energy on something that works. The most interesting thing right now is watching Hollywood work out its relationship with the internet, which is essentially a rehash of the problems presented by television and baby boomers in the past. How do you get people back to theaters? How do you feed this voracious internet monster that never stops complaining? How do you keep fan boys satisfied while also letting artists make films that reflect their visions? It's a very strange time.

    As for a personal hype story: The Matrix Reloaded trailer. Man, I watched that thing over and over.

  4. As much as I try to stay away from hype, and I really do have to make an effort, it's almost impossible. I manage to pull it off most of the time by avoiding trailers for movies I am anticipating e.g. The Witch (somehow got to see that knowing very little about it except for the "buzz" around it.) But when I hear something like Lynch is doing a new season of Twin Peaks, how can I NOT be overly hyped and excited?! It's one of my favorite shows of all time from my favorite director of all time so even if I'm able to avoid trailers, cast news,'s impossible to internally not be hyped. Back to the "buzz" thing real quick - would you consider that the same as hype? I don't know. I'll read small things about genre films that played at festivals and immediately put those movies in my watchlist without reading much about them. Most of the time I know the director or a star in the film but other than that, no trailers and no plot details. So does a movie having Buzz still count as a movie being hyped? Not sure. The new Wingard film "The Woods" has a great summary - "Involve a group of college students on a camping trip who discover they are not alone." besides it being Wingard (which again, internally gets me hyped) this is all I know about the film (which is great cause it says nothing!). So, I guess really hype is unavoidable. Or maybe I'm talking about expectations more than hype.

    Great topic for though and discussion, Heath!

  5. This is a good jumping off point for a discussion - my mind immediately goes madly off in all directions because while I understand the whys and hows of it all, I'm not entirely sure if I think it's a great thing, a terrible thing or an indifferent thing. I generally love to see people loving things - I'm happy enough catching the condensed version of "what we learned" at the Star Wars Celebration but if you want to spend the whole weekend watching it, good for you! Or, it actually good for you? This is a deep, dark psycho-sociological (and maybe even spiritual) rabbit-hole to start going down because on the one hand, hey, if immersing yourself for hours in the hype surrounding a fictional universe makes you happy, you should do that, but is it really making you happy? Or is it filling some void you're repressing your true feelings about? Is society AT LARGE in this Golden Age of Hype avoiding some kind of reality we should be confronting? Or is it bringing people together? But even if so, is it bringing people together in a genuinely positive and valuable way, or a shallow and vacuous way? I'll go a year without seeing an old friend and after the initial catching up the conversation will often end up revolving around movies and TV shows, both ongoing and upcoming, and it's fun and engaging in a way, but I'll find myself wondering if it's really meaningful? Maybe having fun together in this world where we're all just going to die anyway all the meaning we really need? lighten things up a bit...Man of Steel was probably the most recent thing that got me really hyped up - one of the last trailers just about me cry - and well, we saw how that turned out. I was moderately hyped for 10 Cloverfield Lane and that turned out great! I think the fact that the hype started relatively close to when the movie was coming out was a plus for that one?

    1. Yeah, Sol! I was totally gonna mention Cloverfield Lane. How great was it in modern times to have that movie just come out of nowhere?!

  6. Part of my problem with the hype machine is that the gears start turning years in advance, so we wind up with teasers for teaser trailers and TV spots, and full trailers that reveal major plot points and twists for the sake of milking that last drop of excitement out of you. At some point, it just becomes fatiguing and the actual product can't possibly live up to the build up. It's a sad state when I just want the movie to release so I can stop seeing trailers and posters for it.

    The other part of it is that there's so much access to the moviemaking industry and process now that it's really difficult to keep that hype built up. The occasional issue of Starlog would be your in to what movies were being worked on, but now we have daily updates, rumors, leaks, etc that lead to all-day dissections and discussions that can, over time, suck the excitement right out of the movie. I often feel like I've seen the movie before it hits the screen and have already analyzed it before I've bought my ticket.

    For building anticipation, showing a little leg is a lot more enticing than someone just showing up naked.

  7. My brother came to visit this week and as usual he spent a while looking at all my blurays and Dvds, When he picked up The Witch he got really excited, "Wow, I heard this is the scariest movie ever, I cant wait"


    I calmed him down, tried to explain Please Please Please don't watch this film thinking that beforehand, the expectations are too high, it is not fair to the film, I tried to give spoiler free tips on how I thought he should watch the film, Late at night, in a dark room, turn off the phone, allow yourself to be immersed, the film needs and deserves your attention, ect, then and only then might this film work its magic, hopefully he might like it now without those original preconceived notions? we will see?

    One the phone issue I brought up Brit Critic Mark Kermode says in a conversation
    Mark... Playing with your phone in a cinema is disrespectful to the Audience, causing light pollution and also being very distracting ruining the film for others

    Critic ... But does this mean that playing with your phone at home while watching a film is ok then?

    Mark ... NO its not!

    Critic... But you are not disrespecting anyone ?

    Mark... You are being Disrespectful to the Film!

    I LOVE this, sorry for the slight diversion in topic

    1. This is actually great to hear cause I played with my phone during The Purge 3 so I feel vindicated that I was somehow able to disrespect the film back.

    2. Damn, I've still not seen that one yet, I will keep my phone ready,

      SMM quote for Chaybee

      The Purge 3. Playing on Facebook throughout cured the boredom

    3. It's woeful, Dennis. It's not a Horror movie unless "scary masks" or "Politics" scare you. The latter I can understand.

    4. Speaking as a Brit the second one terrifies me, its a joke right? Donald trump as President of the most powerful country in the world!
      Its like a joke everyone is laughing at but I'm not in on the gag

  8. And then there is inverse hype, which can actually be a lot of fun. No anticipation, sure it's not going to be good, but at the end of the day, you get a pleasant surprise.

    I watched Alien vs Predator 2:Requiem this evening, and boy did I have fun! That was certainly in part because I was expecting it to be a big turd. (I know, I know, there are problems galore but it exceeded my expectations, and truthfully I enjoyed it.....there goes my street cred!)

    1. Also, thanks for the thoughtful article, Heath!