A few months ago, NATO, not the North Atlantic Treaty Organization but the National Association of Theater Owners, generated a handful of new guidelines for marketing films in their theaters. More specifically, they were hoping to cut trailers down to two minutes. Obviously, Hollywood was on board and has since adopted a one minute format for all trailers! Problem solved! Meanwhile, in reality, Hollywood answered with a big LOL, with few studios willing to collaborate on the matter. Realistically, the only thing NATO can do is make recommendations on the length of trailers and see how accommodating studios are. Nothing will likely come from this, as both sides cite filmgoers as being the inspiration for their varying opinions.
Initially, I wasn’t entirely sure where I stood on the issue. In some cases, I enjoy the marathon string of trailers before a film, especially when they’re for films I’ve been waiting to see. And, to a degree, sitting through seven or eight trailers heightens my anticipation for a film I know I’m minutes away from seeing. It’s like the studios are running their variation of Pavlov’s Dog on me. When that green band image hit’s the screen, I salivate excessively, full well knowing my cinematic adventure is drawing closer. For the record, I salivate a lot in the theater. Yet, on one of my recent trips to the cinema, I couldn’t help but feel trailer fatigue, an illness not recognized by the medical community but one that WebMD helped me diagnose. The trailer that infected me was for the upcoming film Prisoners. Perhaps it was its length (over two and half minutes), or Paul Dano’s continuous monopoly on the pedophile looking character market, or maybe it was the fact I felt like I saw the film beat for beat, sans the ending. I’m sure there are more twists than the trailer lets on, but why do we need all this information? Shouldn’t a film drawing on unanswered questions be a bit more opaque?
And then I saw the trailer for the soon to be released Runner, Runner starring Justin Timberlake and
Batman Ben Affleck. Explicit is one way to describe the trailer. Reaching a similar fate to Runner, Runner is Paranoia, a film that overly exposes itself like Anthony Weiner with unlimited texting. Are studios showing too much in trailers? After laboring over this question deep into the night, barely allowing myself an opportunity to relax, I came to one dramatic conclusion: trailers are too fucking long and, because of their Dirk Diggler like length, they’re primed for spoiling a film’s existence. I believe the birth of the long trailer and its bleak openness stems from studios perpetuating our desire for digestible material. Based off the bountiful box office receipts for films like Grown Ups 2, and the meek returns of lesser seen films like Before Midnight and Fruitvale Station, safe and transparent films offer filmgoers an avenue for hedging their cinematic bets. Lengthy, obvious trailers are practically studios telling filmgoers that if they buy a ticket, they’ll come out even. Unless of course you pay for a ticket to a 3D film, then you’re being ripped off.
Being that I’ve declared my annoyance for today’s trailers, you’re probably asking yourself, “What’s a good trailer then?” Easy. A great trailer establishes the stakes, while shrouding the film in some layer of secrecy. Think about it this way: Pretend you’re on a game show. The effervescent host offers you one of two prize packages. One prize sits in front of you…IT’S A BRAND NEW FOUR DOOR CHEVY ACCURA!!! A new car, especially a free one (kind of), is cool, but you already have a car. Its new car smell is its only novelty. But prize package number two merely consists of you drawing from a mystery box. The result is unpredictable, but you know you could win big or you could walk away with nothing. To me, a great trailer is the mystery box, daring you to reach in and see what you get. Based off this preference, I’m also likely the guy who would stupidly die in a horror movie because I needed to see what was making all that noise in the dark, decrepit basement.
Usually, the best trailers are either guided or fashioned by the director of the film itself. One example of this is Paul Thomas Anderson’s efforts in crafting trailers for his film The Master. Here is one of them:
Ostensibly, the trailers revolve around tone and art house musings, attributes likely to scare away the casual moviegoer, but its indirectness begs you to ponder its existence. See also: the trailer for Ben Stiller’s upcoming fantasy dramedy The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Ironically, one of The Master’s trailers is over two and half minutes, but it only offers riddles, not solutions. Outside of alluringly vague trailers, clips masked as trailers are also far more inviting. Take for example the marketing efforts behind Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity. The trailers are minimalistic in nature, featuring only a sliver of a scene, but they tell you everything you need to know without destroying its mystique.
As I circle back to my opening paragraph, I honestly don’t think the length of a trailer is entirely detrimental. More so, if you have to expose the film’s entire plot to fulfill over two minutes of screen time , well, then let’s go ahead and enact new guidelines. Let’s refrain from killing a film’s surprises, scares, and laughs before it even comes out. The internet is already good enough for spoiler shenanigans, we don’t need our movie studios helping out. But then again, I’d rather have an overlong, transparent trailer than seeing the same film trivia question recycled over and over again on the screen before the lights dim. By the way movie theater owners, the answer is A:Matthew Perry, and nobody gives a shit if he was in The Whole Nine Yards with Bruce Willis.