MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING TRAILER: Marketing a Joss Whedon-Shakespeare Adaptation

Assuming that revered filmmaker Joss Whedon approved the trailer for his latest challenge and achievement– adapting the Bard’s

    Much Ado About Nothing

to a contemporary setting and medium– I was interested to examine the marketing decisions he authorized. That the trailer made at least one critics “best of” list for 2013 further cemented my interest.

At 1:43, the trailer (in black and white, like its feature) is a dense little film that utilizes a variety of formulae and appeals in order to deliver information and elicit interest. While it is in no wise “experimental” nor cutting edge in style or content, it does skillfully tease audience interest by satisfying certain expectations while deferring others, indicating further filmic pleasures and storylines to be enjoyed apart from those explicitly disclosed.

Let’s begin with structure. The trailer uses one music cue, St. Germain‘s acid-jazzy, house jam, Rose Rouge, with which hipsters and chill-out enthusiasts will be familiar. Playing beneath the entire trailer, its emotional and tonal ambivalence parallels that in Shakespeare’s Comedy, with its urban sophistication giving edge to the suburban idyll of Whedon’s adaptation.

Moreover, the vocal line, “I want you to get together,” which concludes the trailer, and is repeated, hypnotically, describes the P.O.V. of Leonato (Governor of Messina, in the original–merely a rich bastard in the adaptation), host of the festivities, relative to the sparring Beatrice and Benedick, whose romance the play explores.

A driving beat emerges from the insinuatingly cool vibe toward the end of the trailer to punctuate the 3 blasts of copy, 12 words appearing one by one- in groups of four– on screen to distill and convey the subjects and the stakes underlying the vexed frenzy of matchmaking:
Obsession/ Hatred/ Friendship/ Love;
Loyalty/ Power / Deceit / Truth;
Sex/ Dishonesty/ Devotion / Deception.
The subject matters of the play and its cinematic adaptation are mostly there, with Love, Truth and Deception, the terminal words of each cadence, carrying the burden of the film’s thematic.

Beyond music cue and graphic cards, the trailer–after cards from distributor Lionsgate and producer Roadside Attractions— employs a line from the play, “the course of true love never did run smooth” to herald the conflict and tragic-comic detours en route to the marriage that concludes the action. If you must have a epigram for your trailer, Shakespeare is as good as any, and in this instance, it’s doubly relevant.

After expository shots of a maid placing flowers and setting table, dialogue follows the epigram, in which Leonato expresses his desire to see Beatrice “one day fitted with a husband.” She retorts, “not until God makes men of some other metal than earth,” delineating the situation the movie will develop. Immediately upon that initiating information, the trailer presents what is, perhaps, its strongest advertisement: “A film by Joss Whedon.” He is the only creative talent identified, a nod to his fan mobilizing reputation.

Next, the Toronto Film Festival laurels appear, to reassure viewers of the film’s aesthetic aspirations and quality. Then, between further plot developing dialogue from the film, blurbs from two online film critics make varying cases for the film. “Whedon has created a Shakespeare adaptation / That will please just about everyone,” opines Christopher Schobert of Indiewire, dampening the anxiety that Shakespeare adaptations may not appeal to all four quadrants of the movie-going audience. As praise go, “pleasing” is tepid; so is “just about everyone.” It’s hard to believe that better lines weren’t available at Whedon’s command. Tom Clift, of Moviedex, does shows what it possible with, “Joss Whedon and Shakespeare are a match made in heaven,” which, though cliched, is at effusive.

It’s interesting to note that neither reviewer nor publication is what you might call mainstream, “name brand” or traditional, yet another indication that Whedon’s core audience is online, socially networked and unimpressed by marquee “old media” outlets and their familiar film reviewers (Travers, Scott, Turan, Morganstern etc. etc.)

The shots selected for the trailer, are, almost without exception medium and kinetic, the black and white cinematography warmed by sunspots, bubbles and flares of light (sunlight or otherwise), that in a home movie we would contemn as amateurish, but here seem intentional, constituents of a dazzling, blinding leitmotif (no pun intended). All the cards, in fact, use out-of-focus, kaleidoscopic-like shots as backdrops, the blurred effects of light on film providing a gorgeous alternative to the black card and its film grammatical operation as ending and separation.

The trailer concludes on the words, “I want you to get together,” sung over the sound of what is, I think, diegetically, a watermelon being sliced open, an effect, which also, and darkly, is equally evocative of a knife to the gut or an axe to the head. Given the shot of a cocked handgun and house guests entering a bedroom, intent on violence, this final sound cue develops the sense of danger, if not menace, conveyed in the music and increasingly kinetic visuals. As I was reminded by the synopsis, Much Ado has murderous and tragic subtexts, qualities that emerge, suggestively, in the trailer.

All in all, or there seems to be much ado about something in the preview of Joss Whedon’s latest coming attraction.

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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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One Response to MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING TRAILER: Marketing a Joss Whedon-Shakespeare Adaptation

  1. Leslie says:

    Hi! I just wanted to submit a minor correction: “The course of true love never did run smooth” is actually from MSND, not Much Ado (Act 1, Scene 1). Thanks!

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