Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Joy of Fan-Made Trailers

Fans of the "A Series of Unfortunate Events" book series cheered the arrival of a new teaser trailer for the new Netflix series last week.  It was chock full of easter eggs, references, and fun little macabre touches.  And it turns out that it was also a fake.  The polished, professional looking video that was uploaded to Youtube, with its high quality special effects and prominent Netflix logo in the last shot, didn't come from Netflix. Nobody has come forward to claim the credit yet, but there's rampant speculation going on as to who is responsible.

This is just the latest of a series of fake trailers and teasers that have popped up online for highly anticipated media.  Though they technically fall into a copyright gray area, fan trailers are rarely in any danger of being squashed by studios, because they're free marketing and almost always highly complimentary.  "American Horror Story" has had some impressive ones, following the style of the eerie third season teasers that went viral back in 2013.  Fake teasers for "Star Wars VII" and "Batman v. Superman" preceded the official ones.  It's rare to find fake promos that are good enough to fool most viewers, the way the "Unfortunate Events" teaser did, but that doesn't mean that there's not still a lot of effort and ingenuity that goes into them.

Fake promos tend to fall into a few broad categories.  The first are the "gotcha" videos, the ones that are trying to be mistaken for the genuine article.  These are the teasers and trailers created for properties that are already in the works, that people are aware of and waiting to see.  These are fairly rare, since there aren't many creators out there with the resources to turn out professional-level work, especially for the genre media that attract the most attention.  There's no mystery why people create these promos, though.  Teasers and trailers attract a huge amount of buzz, and can be some of the most talked about content on the internet.  Look at the scrum around the release of the last "Star Wars" trailer.  Heck, a few tweeted set pictures can be enough to attract a storm of media attention.  The downside to the gotcha trailer is that they often aren't as fun or interesting as some of the others, because they have to toe the line of believability.

Next come the fan-made trailers for projects that don't exist yet, often for movies based on popular video games or comic book characters.  Some are humorous and tongue-in-cheek, satirizing trailer tropes - SNL and College Humor regularly turn out some doozies.  Others are very earnest, meant to drum up interest in a particular project or just o do something creative with a beloved piece of media.  Viewers usually know these are fake from the get-go, such as last year's fan-made trailer for "Akira" with Osric Chau as Kaneda, or all the different takes on a potential "Legend of Zelda" movie we've seen over the years.  My favorites have always been the rougher looking trailers put together by amateurs from the early days of the internet, the ones where you could feel the passion of everyone involved coming through, in spite of the cheap production values.  While the bigger-budget  entries featuring recognizable stars and professional-grade CGI effects certainly look more impressive, often they're not as much fun to watch as something like the gloriously cheesy "Grayson," which takes place in a version of the DC Universe where Robin takes matters into his own hands.

And that brings us to the last category, which is fan-made trailers for existing media, created by re-editing or recontextualizing existing footage.  These are the simplest and easiest to make, but can produce great content.  Some fans have fun creating crossovers between different properties, swapping genres around, or just paying homage to their favorite movies.   Since the film or television show in question already exists, these are usually created by fans of the specific media itself, rather than their properties.  This isn't always the case though.  You might remember a fan-made trailer for "John Carter" that came from a frustrated editor who was underwhelmed by Disney's marketing campaign for the film.  He cut the trailer together from all the footage that Disney had already released, and touched off a heated debate over the "John Carter" marketing strategy.

I expect that being fooled by more of these high-quality fakes will be a common occurrence in the future, as more talented creators join in the fun.  There have already been several cases where creators of fan trailers got work in the industry thanks to their creations.  The most recent iteration of the opening sequence of "Doctor Who," for instance, was deliberately patterned on one created by a fan - a professional graphics designer, but still a fan.


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