BAD TEACHER: Teaching Moment

I suppose my work as an educator attracted me to this film and its trailer—that and the obscenely clever and cleverly obscene print tagline, “She Doesn’t Give an F,” which incidentally, is the punch line of the trailer copy as well.  Teachers are a perennial subject of Hollywood earnestness, so the film’s unredeeming portrait of a cynical, self-serving educator was refreshing.  To Columbia (the distributor), the recent vogue of teacher-bashing and teacher-blaming in political discourse, must have been sweet vindication of its decision to release “Bad Teacher” this Summer.

As with any movie, there are objectives its trailer must attain and challenges with which it must contend.  The objectives, beyond the general obligations to announce the film, tell its story and sell tickets, include the appealing presentation of Cameron Diaz in an unsympathetic, albeit, comic role.  Coincidentally, that objective is identical with the primary challenge of the trailer and its film:  to make her appeal against type.

The story, as presented in the trailer– a dissatisfied and selfish woman, scheming after ignoble ends– is not obvious big-budget, 4 quadrant-appealing, studio fare. It’s dark, cynical and innuendo laden humor rather than broad, coarse or slapstick comedy.  But, to its advantage, it stars one of Hollywood’s biggest female stars and the material enjoys universal familiarity and evokes strong emotions. The female audience is the most reliable demographic target, but there’s serious cross-over appeal to anyone who has ever had a bad teacher or has been one—which, well, is everybody.

Reading through blog posts, I confirmed my suspicion that Cameron Diaz’ hotness bonafides are under attack; nonetheless the trailer leverages her still impressive physical assets, offering something “sexy” for that negligible percentage of viewers who lack access to more explicitly gratifying materials online.

Co-Stars, Justin Timberlake, whose Q factor has risen via well-tweeted SNL appearances and well-reviewed work in “The Social Network,” and Jason Segal (who can forget “Forgetting Sarah Marshall?”) should incrementally enhance the tween and older female audience, although neither is likely to move the B.O. independently.

TRAILER LAYOUT

0:00 – :06 – MPAA Green Screen

:07 – :19 – establishing Cameron as the bad teacher in conversation with side-kick.

:19 – Graphic card – chalkboard dust- ‘THIS SUMMER’

:20 – :27 – More establishing scenes of Cameron and her rival, Judy Punch (aka Ms. Squirrel).

:28 – Graphic Card ‘ONE TEACHER’

:29- :34 – Continue establishing Cameron as a bad teacher.

:35 – Graphic Card – ‘DOESN’T GIVE AN F”

:36 – :40  Cameron hit on by hapless coach; she’s rudely dismissive.

:41- :49  Cameron looking for a rich husband.

:50- :59  Cameron meets rich substitute teacher Justin.

1:00  Card ‘THIS SUMMER’  (Black font on white background)

1:01  Cameron learn that Justin has family money and likes big-breasted women.

1:10  Cameron decides she needs a boob job

1:15   Cameron learns about the bonus for high-performing teachers.

1:25   Graphic Card:  “FROM COLUMBIA PICTURES”

1:26   Cameron competing for the bonus with her rival

130 – Montage:  “Things are gonna change around here” – Cameron starts teaching.

1:31 – New music cue – (To End)  – Catchy Urban dance tune.

1:35 – Montage:  Car Wash Fundraising, Cameron sexy in wet clothes.

1:50 – Cast Run – Cameron approaching camera, perky. Justin, performing signature dance move; Jason Segal arguing inappropriately with student.

2:02 – Title: white chalk dust on green blackboard. – Red BAD and blue TEACHER lettering.

2:03 – Cameron in gym, posing questions to students. Throwing ball at fat kid who can’t answer.

2:09 – Jason urging student to throw ball back at her; she’s hit in the face.

2:17 – Card – White lettering on blue-green chalk board with dust: “THERE’S MORE BAD @ ARE YOU A BAD TEACHER.COM.”

2:19 – Final scene – risqué joke

2:23 – Credit Block

2:25 RELEASE DATE

EDITING – Very fast for a non-action adventure. Nearly 100 shots in a 2:29 trailer, all straight transitions from one to the next, none that call attention to themselves or slow the rhythm. The editing propels the action, keeping the focus on the questions and answers, the double entendres and the punch lines.

COMMENT

Using dialogue from the film rather than V.O. or copy narration, the official theatrical “Bad Teacher” trailer does what it is designed to do:  introduce characters in interesting or entertaining situations, encountering conflicts or challenges whose likely or probably resolution the film itself will disclose.  Rhetorically, however, as if inspired by its pedagogical subject matter, the “Bad Teacher” trailer deploys questions and answers as its device to convey plot information and educate the audience about character, motivation and tone. The answers, conveyed in dialogue and scenes, are funny, odd or unexpected underscoring the film’s comedy and tone.

(Perhaps the least funny or most cliché’d “payoff” in the trailer is the montage (with intercut reactions) of Cameron’s sexually suggestive behavior at the car wash/fundraiser.)

With respect to copy (Cards, Titles, Copy, etc.), the trailer uses a chalkboard graphic (an obvious, but appropriate visual pun) to deliver the letter-perfect, smugly vulgar tagline (“AT THIS SCHOOL/ONE TEACHER/DOESN’T GIVE AN F”)  as well as release date, cast run, and title, followed by a “homework” question cunningly concealed in the URL for the official website:  www.areyouabadteacher.com.” It’s a compelling “call to action” and clever invitation to identify with our anti-heroine.

Does Cameron still have “it”? Will audiences want to see her as not just a bad teacher but as a bad person?  Oh relax, it’s comedy after all; she’s a selfish, lazy, gold-digging scoundrel, not Casey Anthony. For its part, the trailer makes a convincing case (on the 100th view as well as the first) that Ms. Diaz delivers,  that the material is good and the supporting cast is great.  Whatever the risk, it appears to have been rewarded ($90M domestic currently on a $20M budget).    As “Bad Santa” showed, a mean satire of a sacred subject can sell tickets when the star and the material are right.

About Frederick Greene

Entertainment Copywriter & Visiting Assistant Professor, UCLA Dept. of Theater, Film & Television. I teach a graduate seminar in new movie marketing, which focuses on the history, contemporary practice and likely future of a/v advertising for motion picture entertainment.
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