Q & A with an Argentinian Film Student

A couple of months ago, I received a request to respond to an online interview. Having reflected, responded and revised, I’m posting my answers to my interlocutor’s questions, hoping that they might prove salutary to other readers. Thanks to Mr. Andreas Aucterlonie, of Córdoba Argentina, who’s getting a Degree in Film and Tv production at the National University of Córdoba and a Degree in Marketing at Siglo 21 University, and writing a thesis on Film and TV production titled “The Movie Trailer as an entertainment marketing strategy.”

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1 Why do you think movie trailers are so important?

Movie trailers are “so important” for a number of reasons, both formal and phenomenological. Although a trailer isn’t precisely a “free sample,” of a film, since it is actually a very different film than its feature both in structure, editing and length, it does offer excerpts of the film, ideally presented in a similar tone and style to the feature. But the very fact of a film being advertised with another film constitutes an advantage over a physical product–say, a box of laundry detergent, a car, or a can of beer– advertised by a commercial. Only if that commercial were offering to wash a viewer’s clothes, provide him/her a test drive or a deliver a sip of beer to taste, would the experience be an analogous marketing/advertising approach. With the trailer, you’re talking to a likely ticket buyer in the medium that he/she has already shown an interest in. (In a movie theater, you know that audience member buys movie tickets; online, you know your audience has chosen to watch your trailer/tv spot.) This is probably so obvious as not to need saying, but there you have it, nonetheless.

Secondly, film products are exciting and appealing and have been ever since the very first experimental and short films were made. Presumably, this is a result of the way that human’s are formatted to receive information. Sight and sound are two of our 5 senses and we’re consuming the ad in the same way we’d consume the product. The way a trailer communicates is by means of the same channels of visual and auditory stimulation–generally experienced as pleasurable–that characterizes the feature film (or TV, Video) it advertises.

Thirdly, trailers have a 100 year history. They are the conventional means by which feature films (and now TV) create awareness and position themselves in the marketplace. They are successful, because they have been successful–we have been raised with them and immediately understand them (even if we don’t quite appreciate them in all their subtlety and complication).

A PROPAGANDA FILM Produced by the CPI or Creel Commission

A PROPAGANDA FILM Produced by the CPI or Creel Commission

Fourthly, they benefit from compression and brevity. They are not obliged to be coherent and complete; they can lie and never be held to account even if their promises are false and the product they promote (the feature) is a terrible, failed film. Indeed, trailer’s independence is visible in the often noted fact that they are often more accomplished pieces of artistry than the feature that summoned them into existence and from which they borrow scenes and style.

2. As a researcher, which subject of movie trailers are you most interested in?

I’m fascinated by what audiences know about trailers, without necessarily, knowing that they know it. I recently published an article in Frames Cinema Journal about the link between early trailers and 20th century propaganda; exploring the ability of a/v media to inform/misinform, engage emotionally, persuade and compel action fascinates me. And yet, for all their potency as ad/mktg tools, audiences understand that trailers aren’t to be trusted. If only American’s realized that same truth about the Nightly News–or documentaries.

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3. Why do you say “trailers are (and still can be) an overwhelming audio-visual experience”?

I mean overwhelming in the sense that on first viewing, much of the content of a trailer is not consciously assimilable. Although as citizens of the 21st century world, we’ve become better at processing visual and auditory content, trailers are incredibly dense. Editing allows for a presentation of information –sound, movement, dialogue, text, shape, color, both intra and extra-diegetic data– that exceeds the ability of a viewer to process. They shock and awe, if I may borrow that meme. I’m reminded of how Walter Benjamin described the encounter with the modern world by the urban citizen, in the early 20th (or late 19th?), a confrontation defined by speed and noise and movement. There is something shocking and cognitively challenging about trailers today (especially–given the speed of editing and the effects available to trailer makers), but which has long been remarked and criticized by critics. Trailers bully and batter the senses, addressing viewers on a somatic and emotional level as well as on an aesthetic, intellectual or informational level. The experience of noise and visual stimulation can be unpleasant for a viewer not familiar with the genre or not quite in the right mood for this kind of entertainment.

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4. With the development of new technologies such as tablets and smartphones, do you think that the movie trailer has been transformed into a mobile format? Why?

Trailers have not been transformed into a mobile format. However, they have adapted (or been adapted) to a mobile format in the interest of reaching audiences on the screens they use most often. It has been a rapid adaptation, but not yet an especially skillful one. Editors, trailer makers and movie marketers are still trying to figure out how to recut/reformat trailers for maximum exhibition on a 3×5 (or 2-x 4) inch screen. It’s not just a mini movie screen and given the different place, time and attention components of the viewing experience, best practices are as yet uncodified and applied.

5. How should movie trailers, as crucial elements of an entertainment marketing campaign, adapt to new habits of consumption?

Considering that more than 50% (probably much more) of trailer views take place on mobile devices, the industry would be foolish not to edit its trailers for the smaller screen of the personal phone or tablet. In 2009, when I first looked into this, it seemed that smart-phone/mobile device consumption was being served by “cut down” versions of theatrical trailers, which everyone knew was inadequate to the media and to the sophistication and engagement of the audience. On the “small screen,” certain visual elements of a film are not adequately presented. In particular, long and establishing shots do not translate well to a 3×5 inch screen. Nor do action montages. Dialogue and closeups fare much better, where the verbiage of a scene, rather than its filmic qualities, can explain, develop, engage and sell an audience. In the past 5 years, trailer boutiques, those production houses that specialize in trailers, teasers, tv spots and featurettes, have learned to edit the “official” trailer for presentation and consumption in an ever growing variety of media.

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6. Very little scholarly attention has been paid to movie trailers: Why do you think this happens?

This situation is changing. In 2013, the first film journal exclusively devoted to film marketing was published. (Frames Cinema Journal, from the Univ. of St. Andrews, Scotland, edited by my friend Dr. Keith Johnston.) The first book-length examinations of movie trailers came out in the first decade of the 21st century, building upon many article-length studies of various aspects of marketing/advertising for audio-visual entertainments and the research conducted on those industries.

My friends, Lisa Kernan (deceased, 2006) was one of the first to map the terrain, publishing “Coming Attractions” that year (from Univ. of Texas Press) in which she examined the rhetoric of movie trailers. The Documentary that I researched, wrote and co-produced, also called Coming Attractions, premiered at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences in 2006, as well. Vinzenz Hediger, a professor of media at the Frankfurt School in Germany, who knows more about trailers than anyone I know, published his book soon after, in German, although an English language test has long been promised from an important academic publisher. Dr. Keith Johnston, at UEA in England, published his book on trailer technology in 2008/9. All of these are seminal texts and have provoked scores of other shorter inquiries and explorations.

My course at UCLA is not the only one in the US (although I wish I knew of more so that I could propose myself for guest lectureship opportunities.) I’ve spoken repeatedly at Pasadena’s Art Center and also lectured at the Tisch School at NYU on the history, aesthetics and formal perversity of these wonderfully dense, hybrid films. There is growing interest from students and scholars. A field is emerging, albeit slower than I anticipated.

Scholars in Business Schools and Communications departments routinely examine the business of the box office and the market research among movie audiences. Indeed, I’ve been working with Keith Johnston and Ed Vollans, a PHD in media studies with special interest in qualitative research, on just such an study of Trailer Audience opinion and decision making.

Indeed, I think there is a Renaissance, or perhaps, an efflorescence, of interest in and scholarship about movie marketing, as a reasonable and marketable response to the popularity of trailers and tv spots and featurettes and clips on the internet.

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7. What have you learned about trailers when you finished making the documentary Coming attractions: a history of the movie trailer?

The industry is rapidly changing, largely in response to the transformations in media subsequent to the 1990’s internet revolution. Mobile is driving much of this change, but also the way people consume and engage with movie marketing on screens large and small. We no longer watch a trailer once and forget it by the time we watch the film it promotes. Now, trailers have become a source of entertainment and a subject of dedicated shows on any of a variety of internet channels. Because editing software proliferates, accessible to ever greater numbers of film makers and film enthusiasts, we are seeing a burst of user-generated trailers developing the “fan-cultural” side of promotion and marketing. No longer are the distributors and trailer boutiques completely in control. They are now reacting to UGC and inviting that kind of passionate fan response. Certainly, the industry has begun to appreciate the taste communities that consume, publicize and disseminate film and film marketing products. And don’t get me started on Red Band, internet only and foreign language versions of trailers!

I am beginning to think that a sequel to our documentary may be necessary before long to memorialize and examine the changes that have occurred since 2005 when our research, principal photography and interviews concluded.

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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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