“This Summer”, “Epic Battle”,”A Love That Will Stand the Test Of Time” etc: the art of the movie trailer

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

L’Oréal Ads banned in UK: “Too Airbrushed”

A LibDem MP, Jo Swinson, succeeded in getting ads featuring Christy Turlington and Julia Roberts banned on the grounds that they didn’t represent how real women look.

Swinson lodged a complaint with the Advertising Standards Authority that the ads represented a “false impression of beauty”.

In response, L’Oréal, which has had ads featuring eyelashes banned in the past,

provided the ASA with pictures of both women “on the red carpet” to show that they were naturally beautiful, admitted that digital post-production techniques had been used on Roberts but maintained that the changes were not “directly relevant” and that the ad was an “aspirational picture”.

Contractual restrictions (i.e. Julia’s people said “no”) meant the ASA were not permitted to see the untouched images used in the ad.

Despite this, Swinson was satisfied with the ban, saying

“Pictures of flawless skin and super-slim bodies are all around, but they don’t reflect reality,” … Excessive airbrushing and digital manipulation techniques have become the norm, but both Christy Turlington and Julia Roberts are naturally beautiful women who don’t need retouching to look great. This ban sends a powerful message to advertisers – let’s get back to reality.”

L’Oréal Julia Roberts Ad banned – Guardian

A Product Placement Guru speaks

Ready for the release of Morgan Spurlock’s Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold tomorrow, Norm Marshall gets a profile in the Los Angeles Times today. He’s the marketing man responsible for pushing as much product placement as possible into Hollywood movies. He makes his job seem straightforward:

Marshall’s biggest business is cars. He keeps a fleet of vehicles from General Motors, a longtime client, on a lot across the street from his office near Burbank’s Bob Hope Airport — they’re cars in working shape that have been deemed unfit for one reason or another for consumer sale. (He has a separate lot outside New York City.) Marshall’s pitch to the transportation managers on a set is simple:

“Someone will come to me and say they need a car for an action scene. I’ll say, ‘I have an Escalade you can blow up. It’ll be a lot cheaper than if you tried to do it with a car from Avis or Hertz.’ ” All he asks in return is that the car is shown prominently, and that the scene doesn’t impugn the car’s safety record.

It’s a scenario in which everybody — at least everybody involved in the transaction — wins. The car is given to the transportation manager, who’s happy he can check an item off his list at no cost. Marshall has satisfied GM and justified his retainer. GM, meanwhile, has gotten a free ad for little more than a car it wasn’t going to sell anyway.

While a seamless blend of selling and storytelling might be every manufacturer’s dream, audiences are still a bit wary of being sold stuff when they’re not officially aware they’re the target of a hard sell. Like it or not, however, advertising has always part-funded mass entertainment, and it looks like product placement is a viable way, at the very least, of keeping production costs down.

Product Placement Guru Explains How It’s Done – LA Times

Pegg & Frost’s “Star Wars”: You big gold plated nancy

We’re used to seeing tangential viral marketing, but the links don’t get more tenuous than this. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are in LA this week, doing the usual round of press and screenings for the US release of Paul. And they made this video. Which is sort of about space-related stuff, but has very little to do with Paul. Longtime Star Wars fans, Pegg and Frost got to put cardboard boxes on and act up in the desert. It’s very funny. But will it make you go see their new movie?

The Black Mamba

The trailers have been generating buzz for weeks. Finally, the Robert Rodriguez-directed Nike spot (spot? it’s almost six minutes long) has been released online to coincide with the NBA All-Star Weekend, and for this week only, could be showing at a movie theatre near you, in support of a range of main features.

As the LA Times points out, it might be more fun than the movie you’ve paid to see. It stars Kobe Bryant, a LOT of explosions, and features Bruce Willis, Danny Trejo, Kanye West, zombie ballers and a cute dog. Shot over just two days on an LA set, it probably wasn’t as expensive as it looks, but Nike still threw a lot of resources at this one. Money well spent – it’s got the internet talking, and makes traditional 30-second TVCs look soooo twentieth century.

Kobe Bryant: coming soon to a theatre near you – LA Times

Rapping All The Way To The Bank…

Although Eminem only took home two of the ten Grammys he was nominated for last night, he still rocked the Staples Center with two blistering performances, including Love The Way You Lie against a flaming backdrop:

He made news headlines last Sunday too, featuring in not one but two promotional spots aired during the Superbowl. With record sales in a permanent nosedive, this is where artists’ revenue streams look to come from in the future. Eminem has signed endorsement deals with both PepsiCo’s LiptonBrisk tea and Chrysler cars, and has creative control (very unusual) over the promotions he will appear in. These are lucrative arrangements that will roll out over of the next few months, as outlined by Adweek, with Chrysler and PepsiCo pumping cash into Em’s upcoming tour. Eminem hasn’t lent his name to any products before, so his endorsement may make audiences sit up and take notice. It also demonstrates that even hiphop superstars have to figure out a way of paying the bills.

Super Bowl just the Start for Eminem – Adweek

YouTube and Fair Use

YouTube Copyright ClaimAny quick scan of YouTube reveals a dizzyingly inconsistent array of movie and TV show clips. In theory, clips should only be uploaded by the copyright holder, but movie studios and media conglomerates have a range of attitudes on what can and can’t be uploaded by fans under the remit of “Fair Use”.

Fair Use is the legal principle that allows others to quote excerpts from copyrighted work for the purposes of “criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.” Given that “scholarship and research” has never been a prime function of YouTube, in the early days of the site, major movie studios were quite aggressive about getting clips taken down.  However, around 2008, studios realised the power of viral videos and interactive marketing (posting clips for people to comment on) and shifted their position. Martin Anderson explores the ramifications in an in-depth feature over at Shadowlocked.

It was the time of Facebook-for-everyone, the time when ‘viral marketing’ transited from the water-cooler to the company policies of PR sites; a time when it began to occur to the major studios that they might consider the harsh object-lesson learnt by the music companies’ eternal take-down war with the MP3 uploaders – particularly since their own product could not be encapsulated in the 10-minute limits of a YouTube upload (recently extended to 15 minutes for many users, though to little practical difference, in these circumstances).

Young people, people far cooler than they were, the very people whose wallets, purses and general esteem the media giants were desperate to invade, were out there doing work and getting product-coverage that their own marketing departments would have killed to achieve by conventional methods. They weren’t getting a dime for all this work, and to boot they could now be completely controlled by the Content ID architecture.

The ContentID software allows the automated tracking of clips. It scans content and matches it back to a database, so that copyright holders can

* Identify user-uploaded videos comprised entirely OR partially of their content, and
* Choose, in advance, what they want to happen when those videos are found. Make money from them. Get stats on them. Or block them from YouTube altogether.

Curious, Anderson tried uploading clips from different properties to see what the reaction would be:

NBC Universal’s North American stake on the excellent 2008 black comedy In Bruges meant that my clip upload was blocked in the US, while Lionsgate decided to monetise my uploaded clip of 2003’s The Grudge by adding commercials. NBC Universal banned my uploaded clip of Jurassic Park: The Lost World all over the world, though they seem able to tolerate a 16-second clip.

Anderson also identifies several YouTube users who only post HQ clips from movies during the promotional period of a DVD or theatrical release. Genuine fans or studio sock puppets?

As audiences become more and more resistant to traditional forms of advertising, it seems that media providers have their eye on “user” generated content as a way of getting their message across. The whole ethos of YouTube is ‘Broadcast Yourself’, and it would be a shame if that spirit was lost in a slurry of marketing videos produced by the media institutions who have a stranglehold on all our other channels of communication in the first place.

US Copyright Office on Fair Use
YouTube and the major film studios – Shadowlocked
YouTube’s Content ID