Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Movie Marketing II: Trailers

Continuing our conversation of how movies are marketing, we turn now to what people have the most contact with: movie trailers. A trailer is the truest form of visual adaptation. Where a product has a poster or albums have singles, motion pictures have theatrical trailers. Trailers, from original teasers to final TV spots, serve as tools of information for the majority of movie goers who do not research films themselves, giving trailers the power to make or break how audiences perceive a movie when they make that decision to buy the ticket. As a case study for this power, I'm going to examine the progression of trailers for the upcoming release Green Lantern.

There are three types of trailers: teasers run around a minute and often feature very little actual footage, serving more to set the tone of something that may not release until a year later. As Inception would put it, they plant the seed of an idea. Then comes the theatrical trailer, which runs two and a half minutes and is meant to introduce audiences to the characters and story. Trailers are meant to give us the premise, show us that we will enjoy what happens, and also tell us what type of movie it is. Is it a comedy? The trailer will give us some punchlines. Is it action? Expect explosions. Trailer music factors a lot when it comes to the tone, and usually the music isn't actually from the film, it's just generic trailer scores. Most trailers, no matter the film, follow a fairly standard formula based on the genre. For example, check out the video below parodying "every Oscar-winning movie ever."

Finally, usually around a month before the film releases, the studio will start buying air time for TV spots, running around thirty seconds, basically act as abridged versions of the full trailer. If you follow movies, finding trailers online is pretty easy, but if you don't the only way to see them is by going to the theater. TV spots solve this problem by bring them to viewers in the home, especially during highly rated programs - a good quarter of Superbowl commercials are spots for summer blockbusters. This widespread availability of advertising is the purpose trailers are made. When a studio fails to buy time on the right channels or during the right programs, a movie may release in theaters without people knowing it's there at all. Sometimes this is because of budget reasons, but it can also be due to a failure in the marketing department.

A trailer determines the perspective through which audiences see the film. It tells us the genre, pace, tone, rating, among other qualities. After seeing a trailer, a person is able to tell you if the film will be funny or sad, high-paced action or slow, steady character development. The power of how a trailer is cut together is not determined by the film, though, but by the marketing department. To examine this, I'd like to look to two trailers for the June 17 release Green Lantern from Warner Bros. The first full trailer for the highly anticipated comic book adaptation is below:

And here is an extended trailer shown at Wondercon that was released to the public because of the poor reaction to the first trailer:

The difference between these two trailers is remarkable, yet both are for the exact same film. When the first released, the fan and online community derided it. This is the first major film adaptation of Green Lantern, and what Warner Bros. presented looked like a rom-com with a lot of CGI. Simply put, it was a trailer for a Ryan Reynolds movie. It had a lot of silly situational comedy as is his style, and it probably struck well with his female base. The problem was that Green Lantern is NOT a Ryan Reynolds movie. It is a superhero movie with Reynolds.

Enter the Wondercon footage, which has served as the base for all following theatrical trailers and TV spots. Reynolds isn't even shown until almost a quarter of the way through, and even then his antics are only backdrop to the vast landscapes of Oa, headquarters of the Lantern Corps. that was only shown in a half second spot in the original trailer. This is a superhero trailer, filled with all of the action, adventure, and CGI that people expect yet still hinting at enough comedy to keep people happy. Of course, one has to keep in mind that all the footage from the original trailer is still in the film, but then you're reminded that it's followed by the awesomeness of the Oa scenes.

One movie, two completely different trailers. The scores, pace of the cutting, and footage shown different decisions to give audiences two different perspectives of what to expect when they go the theater. For me, the second trailer got me pumped for a movie that the first trailer made seem like another cookie cutter popcorn flick. This is the power of movie trailers in marketing. This is how these short advertisements can affect a person's decision to see a movie. It goes to show that film is an art form from start to finish: from writing the screenplay to cutting the trailer. All in an effort to make the product successful.

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