Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Preview for the Teaser for the Trailer

It seems that movie marketing has taken an interesting turn in these last few months. The Rian Johnson science fiction thriller "Looper" is coming out in September and a trailer for it was released this week. To promote the trailer, a teaser for the trailer - not the film itself, but the trailer - was released a few days earlier. It follows in the footsteps of other films like "Prometheus," "Breaking Dawn Part 2" and "Total Recall" that used similar previewing tactics. I'd throw in the Superbowl commercials for films like "The Avengers" and "John Carter," which had longer, expanded versions online, making the broadcast versions essentially expensive promos for more substantive promos.

This new trend is not without precedent. Ever since trailers started becoming newsworthy in and of themselves, often enjoying exclusive premieres on television or with certain theatrical releases, the studios have teased the promos themselves with a few seconds of footage here, or a flash of a logo there. Last year's MTV Video Music Awards brought us our first glimpse of the "Hunger Games," which only ran 45 seconds and featured a brief single shot of Katniss in motion. That didn't keep MTV from previewing the preview in advance with a few miserly frames of the footage. The new "trailer trailers" are just formalizing the existing marketing tactic. However, I think it's telling that all the movies that have employed them this year are the ones that have been breathlessly feeding hype machines for months. I swear Rian Johnson hasn't passed up a chance to sell "Looper" to the fanboy crowd in the last year.

Not that I blame him. As we saw with "John Carter," the marketing campaigns for many of these movies are more important to their financial success than ever. Everything film has to be an event, and so marketing campaigns have become more elaborate and marketers have to keep coming up with more things for the reporters and movie bloggers and the anxious fans to talk about. These days it's not rare to see reporting on posters, promotional stills and clips, TV spots, tie-in merchandise, and even fan-made items. The teasers and trailers are the centerpieces of the campaign, often highly anticipated in their own right. It makes sense that the studios would want to take advantage of this, drawing more attention by building up that anticipation. And the best way to do this, of course, is to give viewers a glimpse of what they're waiting for.

There's a downside, of course, as there is with all overkill marketing. Too much hype and information can wreck the actual moviegoing experience. I've yet to see a frame of "Looper," but thanks to stumbling across multiple write-ups about the movie, I feel I already know too much about the plot. And if the advertising for a film is poor, like it was for "John Carter," the pervasiveness of the previews can do more harm than good. I also worry about the big marketing campaigns taking up so much of their creative talents' time and attention. I'd rather Joss Whedon be working on his next film rather than shilling "The Avengers" for the next few weeks. And then there's the growing divide between films that can afford this kind of marathon promotion and the ones that can't.

I've been moving away from watching all but the earliest teasers for a film. I find it much too easy to get engulfed in the hysteria of a promotional campaign, and some movies are put in the awkward position of trying to live up to hype and expectations that are far too big for them. I'm worried about "Prometheus," which is one of the most buzzed about upcoming summer films thanks to a pair of excellent trailers, but the degree of dissection and speculation about the content of the various promotional materials, spurred on by the information-hungry internet, makes me wonder if some of the film's most ardent early supporters are setting themselves up for a fall.

Of course, in some cases the marketing is better than the movie it's selling, and the promos turn out to be the high point of the whole experience. Last year's "Sucker Punch" and "Cowboys & Aliens" had some great, promising trailers and came out complete duds. So why not place more emphasis on the only parts of those films that were actually entertaining - the trailers? More money is spent promoting some of these movies than actually making them, so it makes sense that the marketing itself should become the main event. If Hollywood is having trouble selling movies these days, at least it can sell the hype.

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