We are the YouWorld. We live in iCities. We lead FaceLives. The words ‘trending’ and ‘likes’ and ‘views’ are all at the forefront of our vocabularies. This is a time where dancing Asian K-pop stars, kittens and fail compilations make up the grand majority of the video content viewed by the hundreds of millions of people who make the internet their business.
The time for patience has long since passed and now we want it all and we want it now. According to recent reports a third of people nowadays will ruthlessly exit an online video after just thirty seconds if they aren’t satisfied. The public expect to be entertained. They need to be hooked. Their senses must be challenged so picture quality, variety and pace are essential parts to this particular cocktail. The terms 3D, HD and 1080p are as necessary to the human being now as nutrition, water and air. How have trailers managed to survive in this competitive online environment?
The trailer has had to keep up with this ever-growing demand, constantly improving and evolving by and in doing so has stood the test of time with style. It is true to say that each trailer is a simple advertisement at its most basic definition, like the blurb at the back of a book. However its success is in its chameleonic ability not just to try and sell the film as a consumer product but to best represent and summarise the director’s artistic vision and intended tone. It is here where the trailer can surpass the everyday garden-variety advert to become a standalone short film of its own.
So first off let us address the question, how did the little trailer get its title? It began as a commercial shown exclusively at cinemas at the very end of a feature film, ‘trailing’ the headline act. Hence the name. However, due to general poor quality and the fact that they came on at the end of an already long screening, many people left early. Soon after production companies realised this, they made cinemas screen these little gems at the beginning of the showing. They also began making drastic improvements to the quality and uniqueness of each trailer. The earlier trailers from the 1950s right through the 60s were simply extended scenes from the film with a loud booming voiceover or a series of subtitled text explaining the plot.
Sometimes the director may decide to take a totally different angle like in Alfred Hitchcock’s promotional teaser for his 1960 classic Psycho where Hitchcock himself took the viewer on a personal guided tour of the set of the film, through the infamous house and motel and finally ending up in the bathroom of cabin no.1 only to reveal Vera Miles screaming in a nod to the recognisable shower stabbing scene. However this all changed as time went on and technology evolved. There was a change towards quicker cuts and montages and on-screen text was soon obsolete. As the years go by one can see the need for these trailers to be little featurettes or short movies built to entertain and summarise, not to advertise and annoy.
Like a feature film, a well thought trailer also follows a three act structure. The first act generally lays out the premise of the film; the second presents the problem that drives on the plot. Finally the third act generally acts as an opportunity to list out the cast laden with heroic side-profile shots of the most famous actors and, depending on the genre, a little taster of what the ending might have in store. Another feature of the trailer is the musical score which must be appropriate to the theme and especially the tone of the film and must appeal to the viewer and sufficiently grab all available attention.
There have been entire careers forged on scoring movie trailers like that of Hans Zimmer, Clint Mansell and John Beal who has made original music for exclusive use in over 2,000 trailers including Star Wars andTitanic. One of the most memorable features of the trailer for David Fincher’s remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the intimidating and pulsating version of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song’ by Trent Reznor playing throughout.
It is surely true that the cinema experience now would be significantly different and almost uncomfortable if there were no longer any trailers to watch through. The Super Bowl commercial breaks and half-time entertainment each year display a whole host of trailers of next summer’s biggest blockbusters and big budget eye-gasms. No doubt they will aim to impress jostling for the best position in the minds of the millions of viewers the event boasts each year. Amongst the films rumoured to be included in this year’s festivities are Star Trek Into Darkness, Tom Cruise’s Oblivion, Ironman 3 and Oz, the Great and Powerful. There is no room for upcoming indie flicks or even Oscar-hunters here. This is all big names, CGI, explosions and space ships.
Aside from the Super Bowl, the 85th Academy Awards ceremony will take place at the end of February. In the Best Picture category for example we see a varied range of movies from war, slavery, terrorism and politics top of the agenda with the likes of Argo, Zero Dark Thirty andLincoln, ultra-violent modern Western Django Unchained and even the beautiful to the heart-breaking with Beasts of the Southern Wild and Life of Pi. Each of these films all has the same goal in mind: that little golden bald statuette.
From the very beginning, the trailer permeates this award-hungry mentality. ForArgo, Ben Affleck and Bryan Cranston’s most powerful and witty lines from the movie are given centre stage in the two and a half minutes or so available. The trailer for Lincoln must be jam packed with Daniel Day-Lewis yelling the word ‘slavery’ and repeatedly banging his fists on tables. In Tarantino’s Django Unchained, Jamie Foxx is shown heroic, topless and shiny brandishing a gun and sprayed with blood and several hilarious scenes are present of Christoph Waltz’ comedic turn as a dentist-turned-bounty-hunter. Each trailer must accurately represent the intended tone of the finished product and to play on clichés and stereotypes.
In the same way that a hurricane begins with a leaf twirling in the wind, a truly great film can find its roots in a quality trailer. They play such a key role in the progression of the film industry and inspire entire Youtube channels, blogs and magazines dedicated to showcasing and reviewing each individual trailer. In recent years, there has even been the establishment of award ceremonies in honour of trailers and film promotions alone. Annual ceremonies like The Film Informant Awards, the Hollywood Reporter’s Key Art Awards and the Golden Trailer Awards all recognise excellence and genius in the two-and-a-half-minute format. These miniature pieces of artwork are no longer just tiny spoiler alerts. Their shelf-lives may end on the opening night of the film. However, these little leaves will continue to hold their own against a gust of online videos for some time to come.