Assumptions and Expectations

A typical theatrical trailer lasts 90 seconds to 2 and 1/2 minutes and often contains more than 100 different shots and graphic images. TV Spots for movies (and TV shows) last :10, :15, :30 or occasionally even :60 in length, and are even more tightly packed with visual and aural information. Given the expense of making trailers and tv spots and the cost of distributing and broadcasting them, I assume that every editorial decision, every copy line, every music cue, and every graphic design issue is intentional, purposeful and approved by experienced, motivated and opinionated advertising professionals.

That doesn’t mean that they are all good (or “effective,” which is the same thing, since the goal is commerce, not art), but they are painstakingly produced. In the posts to follow, I will be looking at a selection of trailers and attempting to elucidate their construction and their artistry, their intention and their achievement, with reference to the history of trailers and the films they market and position.

My choices are idiosyncratic and subjective, encompassing trailers that thrill me, confound me, disappoint me and interest me. You will find readings of “classic” and important trailers from the history of the industry, and a range of generic offerings, from blockbusters, to horror to indie/arthouse previews and beyond.

This is not a “fan site,” nor a promotional site for the movie industry, although I suppose you could say that I am interested in publicizing and celebrating the movie trailer business in which I work. Because there are so many variables that effect the box-office success of any given film, it is impossible to attribute responsibility for performance to the trailer alone, despite how tempting it may be to do so. Indeed, since the advent of market research and testing, some creative/content decisions about trailers are being made by John and Jane Q Public in mall-intercepts in Peoria! There are many cooks in the trailer kitchen, and sometimes the broth is burnt despite talent, artistry, intelligence and effort.

If I ever get around to assigning ratings to the trailers about which I write, it will be with the caveat that such a determination is a explicitly subjective and highly unreliable measurement. Partly this is because there’s no way to isolate the trailer watching experience relative to all the other sources of information about a coming attraction. A trailer may be superbly engineered, while the film it advertises is terrible. In that case, word of mouth is going to depress ticket sales and those who attend will feel mislead by the trailers. Or, if a film is a must see “event” and the trailer is just so-so, or perhaps not even skillfully edited or positioned, the box-office results will surround the marketing with a nimbus of glory, perhaps unearned. As with literature, the more you know and the closer you examine, the easier it is to say what is going on rhetorically and literarily–indeed, the more interesting/fascinating the object of inquiry becomes– but the harder it is to say whether it’s any damn good.

And a confession: Sometimes I haven’t seen the film about whose trailer I am writing– there is, after all, only so much time in the day–although I do try to familiarize myself with the genre, the cast/crew and the plot. Indeed, not knowing the film makes the trailer that much more unfamiliar and therefore accessible and meaningful as a film in its own right. When you know the film, it alters your experience of the trailer, which is also, of course, true of the converse.

Well, now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s take our seats. The previews are starting and they’re the best part!

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