Thanks to YouTube, movie trailers are no longer ephemera, glimpsed on TV over a couple of weeks then relegated to the Special Features section on the eventual DVD release. Trailers have always been a cornerstone of any movie marketing campaign, but now they’re analysed, angsted over and recut almost as much as the movie they’re promoting. Trailers for a tentpole release start appearing online up to a year before the actual movie appears, and now they stay online, forever a testament to what the studio hoped people would think the movie was about.
The Independent profiles the format today:
The trailer came into being in 1913 when the Loews Cinemas company created one for the musical, The Pleasure Seekers, which was playing on Broadway. But the early days of trailers were usually maladroit and audiences immediately knew they were being sold something. The Bishop’s Wife in 1947 gave a knowing nod to such tactics with a self-referencing trailer staring David Niven and Cary Grant on their way to film a promo for the movie.
Until the 1950s, American trailers were produced by the National Screen Service, although some directors such as Alfred Hitchcock and John Ford liked to produce their own. In the 1960s film directors took a keener interest, leading to more stylish trailers. Plot spoilers in trailers still existed into the 1970s although trailers were less brash than today. “This is Universal’s extraordinary motion picture version of Peter Benchley’s best-selling novel, Jaws,” intoned the gentle voiceover on a trailer for Speilberg’s shark fest which, during its three minutes, showed so much footage and dialogue, it was akin to an abridged version of the film.
By the 1980s, trailers were more vague and teasing. Today, producers of trailers understand they are not selling a narrative but an abstract representation of one. They tend to make films seem like an offering (“the producers of Film X bring you…”) and they stick to strict time limits of two minutes and 30 seconds as laid down by the Motion Picture Association of America.
While a good trailer can make a bad film seem awesome (at least until the first audiences start tweeting their opinions on their way out of the theater), a bad trailer can be an expensive mistake that takes many months to put right in terms of advance word.
And of course, there’s a well-established set of clichés…
The science of the trailer– The Independent