BLOOPERS & OUTTAKES: Trailers By Another Name and From Another Angle

THE LION KING (1994) A Case Study

Did you know that the first trailer editors were obliged to work from outtakes? That’s because the negative was too costly/precious, and so the montage editors who got conscripted into movie marketing (circa the 1920’s, within the Unit Man era of National Screen Service dominance) used what was available from dailies, cutting together odds and ends from production, using copy and title cards to conceal the rough edges.

Into the ever expanding category of a/v promotional materials for films, tv and video games– what I generically call trailers, or “commercial films about other films”– I want to place the phenomenon of bloopers and outtakes, these behind-the-scenes, ancillary, purportedly “leaked” but tacitly, often explicitly approved a/v elements of production that are shared with the audience, providing information and awareness alongside engagement and the simulacrum of insider access to the “glamorous” process of making films, tv shows or video games.

This is marketing folks, not “found video” or unauthorized or accidental. These are materials that position the “product,” incite interest in the audience and provide thematic, cast, stylistic (among other qualities) information about it. Most of the time, they are released by the distributor and its marketing department as bonus material, rather than “leaked” to an unconsecrated outsider who then posts them on youtube. Recall, that if the legitimate owner of branded content and IP doesn’t want it posted, it can request the materials be removed, a result I’ve seen too often to doubt. In other words, when you seeing bloopers and outtakes, odds are that what you’re seeing is not an expose or an accident, but intentional and strategic.

Let’s look at an extreme case of bloopers/outtakes released by the Walt Disney Company in support of The Lion King.

I call this an extreme case, because although this video is described as “bloopers and outtakes,” it’s actually a trailer, released by Walt Disney in 2011 to support the Blu-ray release of the film on DVD. How do I know? Well, since we’re talking about an animated film, bloopers aren’t possible: someone had to draw these filmed “mistakes,” which is to say that they aren’t mistakes at all. Secondly, below the video post, Disney offers a compelling synopsis of the film, provides the Amazon url, where you buy the “Diamond Edition” blu-ray dvd, and invites viewers to join its facebook page.

To speak with greater precision, this video is a re-release trailer, exploiting familiarity with the product (a blockbuster film, after all and a favorite for families with kids) while offering materials “never before seen” to update the marketing message and change the positioning from epic, inspiring and heart-wrenching animal kingdom drama to cuddly, goofy laugh-fest.

In this 1:09 second film, four simulated “behind-the-scenes” scenes are presented, introduced by the identical opening shot and music cue from the original trailer, followed by an image of the DVD, with the text “First Time in Disney 3D, Fall 2011.” In the first scene, Mufasa is slated by an offscreen voice as he prepares to roar. Unfortunately, he’s not in “full voice” just yet, so his efforts are laughable. In the second, Timon, the Meekat, after riding Pumbaa the Warthog into a scrum of vultures, shoos away the carrion birds incurring a groin pull, at which he laughs at his own physical misery. (Are groin pulls funny? Apparently for the audience that appreciates Warthog farts, they must be.) Scene three shows two Hyenas, one laughing. She breaks character to note that her laughter “comes in spurts,” at which a voice off- screen–the director, presumably?– says “that’s great.” Lastly, Timon appears again, licking his fingers, then choking on something disgusting he ate, breaking character to say, “I must have got a bad crumb.”

In this blooper/outtake trailer, there is no story presentation, production information, cast run, or explicit appeal, apart from the charm of the animation and the adorableness of the characters. It relies instead on the recognizable quality and established appeal of this Disney favorite, while advertising its availability in a new format. Its chief departure from the original campaign, however, is in positioning, as I mentioned above.

Most bloopers and outtakes are not this calculated, designed and produced. Indeed, part of the charm is their rough, unrendered, un-edited reality.
Like a featurette (see my recent post on the subject), bloopers/outtakes deliver branded content from the position of behind-the-scenes proximity. In their presentation of movie stars breaking character, flubbing lines, missing cues, badly acting, goofing around and having fun on set, they are disarming and ingratiating. They offer the audience access to a world behind what is normally experienced as a seamless, glittering, edited and polished, and in that way they allow connection, identification and investment, especially if the stars/actors are already beloved or esteemed.


Consider this blooper/outtake reel from the 2010 comedy, Date Night, starring Tina Fey and Steve Carell. As a collection of what appear to be (and I have no reason to doubt, really are) bloopers and outtakes, this compilation shows recognizable stars (James Franco, too)in candid, hilarious moments from the filming of the movie. It’s a clip show, of sorts, scenes from the film, that while they won’t be in the actual film, convey style, sensibility, comedy and characterization. We don’t know the premise or the resolution, but we do know that appealing popular comic actors Fey and Carell will be portraying a husband and wife on a misadventure in the big city.

Those who watch bloopers and outtakes are presumed to know what the film is about and this additional material is intended to satisfy their craving for further insight. Typically, unlike in the Lion King example above, the blooper reel is neither slick nor smooth, and that’s precisely its charm. Hollywood, raises the curtain on what filmmaking is “really like” and we, unreconstructed voyeurs that we are, are seduced, delighted, entertained and sold.

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movietrailers101 by Fred Greene is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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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