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The Torch: In The Crux – Trailers

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It is a strange thing with trailers, is it not? They are unavoidable, and yet, what’s the point exactly in having them? Don’t we all tend to ignore these, pass them over without paying much attention and hardly ever remembering anything about the last one for more than the instant it takes until the next is up on screen?

The TorchWho cares for snippets of as yet unedited films or bases their decision on whether to watch on such spurious previews?

I always revisit the trailer showcase included in most DVDs after seeing the film proper. Do so, and you will be surprised to find just how far a cry these cinematic exclamations often are in comparison to the actual product they are meant to sell. This can be quite an eye-opening experience: we are being tricked most of the time! At some point truly everyone has had to endure the ordeal of sitting through some film which soon has you wondering about how on earth you ever got to thinking that this could be something you might like.

As a consequence, nearly all seasoned movie-goers I know have long since stopped caring about trailers altogether, to say nothing of the art-house clientele. And true, it is frustrating, whenever such conman-like marketing has you asking out loud “Hey, is this a bazaar or what?”

To remedy such ills and to raise the overall level of business ethics in film marketing, I hereby demand that the trailer to your film shall not deceive an audience! If it does, you will probably harvest a good first weekend showing at the box office – but one consisting of the “wrong” people and consequently breed disquiet among them, leading to widespread discontent and negative word-of-mouth advertising; and don’t you come complaining about second week’s sinking: there is actually justice in consumers’ qualified choices, don’t you think? So just be honest, plain and simple, and show us what you got!

Trailers – they work for a mass audience and target these, I understand. We know that in the lead-up to any theatrical release, the best slot for placing advertisements is within three to two weeks prior to the actual premiere screenings. So you better do your best to put your film’s strongest images right inside the heads of those you want to watch the complete thing. Having said that, wouldn’t you think that the focus in so doing should be with the visuals, first and foremost? You start off giving an emotionally strong first take, quickly introduce what the story is in broadest terms, then throw in all your stars and outstanding cast to finish with a stunning twist to drive home the tag-line – there you have your standard Hollywood-framed trailer.

Initially a trailer was just that: a reel that came trailing after the main screening of a feature or show, some quirky little extra to keep people entertained; not necessarily to get them interested in another movie to come. But since professionals are good at exploiting whatever opportunity they see for furthering their own, soon enough the very polite appreciation of an audience by complimenting them on top of their ordered main course got reversed. Now it’s become the sometimes very bothersome routine of commercial gunfire that you find yourself exposed to before the meal is finally being served.

At times you have differently edited material included in a trailer and that can be quite interesting in itself – as was the case with Wong Kar Wai’s “Happy Together”, which thereby acquired a look just a little less sinister or moody, and decidedly less glum. There was considerably more colour acceded in those first pictures and the single-serving appetizer wasn’t ruined for the fact; check for yourself. Besides, who would dare to be disappointed by a WKW film anyway? Also, you may see scenes not included in the final cut of the theatrical release, as happens when promotion (mostly studio powered) starts ahead of post-production completion of a film (see “Troy” for instance, or many other big productions of that kind).

But generally speaking, trailers can indeed spoil it all, and not just because of giving away the story outcome and killing suspense necessarily, but by simply not getting it right on many other levels. It isn’t so easy to capture, package and sell what quality there is in a movie. The essence of our fascination with the good ones is a delicate, an almost ephemeral thing and more often lost in calculation than it can be factually accounted for (that’s why some might be tempted to call this “magic”). Since you are independent from big studio marketing schemes, test screenings, projected audience assessments and such scrutinizing methods, then (if you have the chance for it) why would you leave the editing of a trailer to your distributor or some agency alone?

Truth is, that many a director thinks it beneath them to cover that mundane aspect of selling their film; but there are opportunities being missed by that kind of unreason, I guess. Given the generally low level of quality we have in trailers, when every other average music video clip shows more refinement and coherence, there should be ample room for improving the situation. Let your inventiveness create some unprecedented artistry here, and soon it will turn your three minute announcement or 60-second teaser into a fly-fish lure, happily self-serving and indulging in its capacity to tickle our fancy.

When you can convince us with your trailer by giving your best in making an extra effort that shows, and that acknowledges our appetite for something fresh (instead of just scattering the crumbs of it all roundabout and rather carelessly in our direction), then we might be really hooked on seeing your movie. Meet your target audience on their own terms and where they are: truly social, in our favourite surroundings, at those places where we really like to meet up and exchange views with our friends and peers, in the real world or on the internet all the same. Make it something in its own right, if possible not a work of art but artful in its persuasiveness. Don’t make it conclusive but inciting to watch!

Film deals with emotions and with passion, and so it is the seemingly little details of a film’s design and artwork, which even in its trailer packaging can tell us quite a lot about just how real an effort of love there has been invested in the making of each and every single one of them. Some of us are actually looking out for such signs of true dedication and like to reciprocate where we find them by giving the thing our vote, that is, by buying the ticket and watching that particular film. The gobble-happy fish that we all are: hungry for what bait is put before us – make it tasteful but not overly spicy. There still has to remain enough to sate the appetite we bring with us when entering the cinema to watch a feature (possibly yours), right?

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