Trailer culture is one that’s become pervasive in modern cinema. Fans clamor for every second of footage they can get from the most anticipated of coming releases. Even quick 30-second teasers are enough to get people excited, often leading only to more teasers and trailers a year or more in advance of the actual premiere date. That’s why now, more than ever, studios are pouring tons of energy into making their trailers perfect. They should show audiences what’s to come, but not give away too much. It should wet the appetite, but not provide the full-course meal. Fans should feel satiated until the next tidbit of footage, but not disappointed that a brief two minutes is all they have for now.
Not every film’s promotion team follows this time-honored formula, though. In the fervor of trying to build hype, sometimes they give away too much. In turn, they remove almost all incentive for audiences to see the movie when people can save their time and money by watching a three-minute trailer. This year especially has provided us with examples of this getting out of hand, and the promotion run for Terminator: Genisys was a prime example.
Things started out innocent enough, showing us the bare-bones of the newest installment attempting to reboot the franchise. But then the second full-length trailer debuted, giving away the biggest plot twist of the entire film: That John Connor had been turned into a full-fledged next-gen Terminator. It seemed an odd choice to allow that reveal to make its way into a trailer that appeared three months in advance of the premiere. Why would a director allow his or her movie to be spoiled so profoundly in the lead-up to its release? The answer: That decision is often taken out of the director’s hands.
Of course, we all know how things ended up for Genisys. It disappointed in its opening weekend, overshadowed by superior offerings. Even so, it wasn’t the only potential blockbuster of this year that had issues with its trailers. Colin Trevorrow, director of Jurassic World, candidly stated in an interview, “(Universal) have shown far more of this movie than I would ever have wanted.” Of course it didn’t end up hurting the release at all, given its record-breaking opening weekend. But that doesn’t change the fact that the gap between what directors and studios want their audiences to see in the promotion stage is ever-widening.
You can see examples of this trend cropping up everywhere. Most recently, we saw J.J. Abrams tangle with Lucasfilm and Disney over the first teaser for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. In fact, he even petitioned for no footage at all to be released in advance of the release later this year. But even Abrams, a director who plays his cards notoriously close to the vest, was forced to give in to the studio’s demands. In the end, it’s not up to the people most responsible for creating the final product when it comes to cutting together the trailer.
It’s a divide that in some ways makes sense. The creative folks are responsible for making the movie, and the suits are responsible for selling it. When there’s little to no crossover between the two factions for trailers though, someone will inevitably end up unhappy. In the end, the goal for any studio is to sell tickets, and if that means giving away major plot points, it’s a sacrifice they’re willing to make.
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