Trailers are and Trailers do…..Insights from Scholars rather than trailermakers

The Production of a film includes the making of its “consumable” identity. Certain filmic elements are developed into a premeditated network of advertising and promotion that will enter the social sphere of reception. Such an intricate relation between film and promotion has been intensified historically: every new invention in the media, from radio to TV, to cable tv, videocassettes has provided new forums for advertising.
–-Barbara Klinger, “Digressions at the Cinema: Reception & Mass Culture,” Cinema Journal, Vol. 28, No. 4, Summer 1989

Adopted as an early cross-media text, the trailer now sits across cinema, television, home video, the internet, game consoles, mobile phones and iPods…. Exploring these texts, and their technological display, reveals how modern distribution techniques have created a shifting and interactive relationship between film studio and audience.
–Keith Johnston, “The coolest way to watch movies in the world: Trailers in the Digital Age,” Convergence, May 2008

Twenty years separates these two comments about trailers and their technological context, and yet they are remarkably alike in their assessment and prediction. Writing in 1989, Klinger’s list of transformational media inventions could be updated without any loss of sense or emphasis by adding “P.C.’s, the internet, iPods, smartphones and tablets,” as interim innovations that have “provided new forums for advertising.” Klinger uses the film-theoretical terminology of reception, Johnston prefers the plainer “audience” to name that crucial participant in the dynamic relationship mediated by movie advertising.

But whereas Klinger sees technology as historically intensifying the relationship between film and promotion, Johnston sees technology as a constituent of it. Perhaps their difference can be understood as the difference between adding new “fora” for advertisement vs. transforming the very nature of that promotional/advertising relationship.

No doubt Klinger, having experienced technological change and the advent of “new-media” in the past two decades, would want to restate her seminal observation about trailers (it’s one of the most widely cited in the academic literature.) With trailer viewing having undergone a fundamental change from being a singular, collective experience, coordinated with and prior to the film’s release, to one that is more often individual, repeated and a stand-alone entertainment, I’m inclined to credit Johnston’s correction.

But what I most appreciate about both pronouncements is what they suggest about trailers and their industry, viz., that the future is dynamic and developing AND that careers in entertainment A/V marketing (advertising, promotion, publicity) are not going away any time soon. Indeed, such specialized filmmaking skills will be in demand so long as audio-visual entertainment needs advertising and so long as the proliferation of content and of platforms continues.

Lastly, Johnston’s “cross-media” and Klinger’s “premeditated network” strike me as harbingers of and synonyms for the defnitionally-controvsersial new-media buzz-word, transmedia. If Transmedia is about telling a story across multiple platforms, than trailers should certainly qualify, insofar as the official trailer presented in theaters and online tells the same or similar version of that cut-down version broadcast as a TV spot, or the specially cut and reformatted one designed to exploit the small screens of iPods and smartphones. In the event of a 3D version, subtle changes in editing will exist between the 2D theatrical version and the one destined for 3 dimensional and/or Imax screens. While most of the transmedia talk is of traditional content, for content rich marketing materials, e.g. trailers in all their variety, the same dynamic appears to be at work.

Agree? Disagree? Do let me know.

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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