Simon Brew

Jul 14, 2017

The trailers we sit through at the cinema have been just a little bit different this year, in one or two cases…

We’re all pretty well schooled on the drill now. For every big movie, there are likely to be three trailers. The first is a teaser trailer, the second is the full trailer, the third is something akin to the ‘payoff’ trailer, a phrase that’s been creeping in over the last year. But with at least 20-25 big movies every year, and lots and lots of not so big ones, that’s a lot of trailers to wade through. Just getting people to click and take notice is a job that movie studios are not able to take for granted.

But it’s in the cinema itself that a few little things are being tried out. The preamble before a film starts is, charitably, getting exhausting. Whereas the trade off used to be that a fifth of people arrive late, and thus 15 minutes of ads and trailers offer a settling in period, by the time you get to a BBFC certificate now, there’s a good chance that nearly half an hour has gone. One cinema chain we frequent has a habit of playing four adverts for itself and its various services, even while you’re sat there taking advantage of them. It’s like those old ITV adverts promoting the very electricity you were using to watch ITV (back when you couldn’t switch provider).

How, then, can studios make people notice trailers more? Well, one or two refurbished wheezes have come to the fore this year.

In the run up to the release of King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword earlier this year, Warner Bros put out a final trailer for the film to try and recruit a few more bums on seats. Nothing radical there. But it also employed a tactic that seems to be slowly, quietly getting a little more commonplace, having originally been tried online.

Thus, the trailer in question was introduced by Charlie Hunnam and Guy Ritchie. They did a little preamble, priming us all for the promo that was to follow. “I hope you enjoy it”, signed off Guy Ritchie, wearing a fetching checked shirt, after Charlie had forewarned the audience as to what was about to follow (the trailer, not Guy Ritchie’s shirt).

Ritchie, of course, was the director of King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword, and Charlie Hunnam was its star. But with due respect to both of them, I’d contend that the majority of people wouldn’t recognise Ritchie if they walked past him in the street, even if he had a title card under his name. As for Hunnam, his profile is more prominent, but also, unless you were a fan of Sons Of Anarchy, it’d be hard to place his modern look. He certainly looks very different from his breakthrough role in Queer As Folk, over two decades ago. He also spent a good chunk of Pacific Rim in a giant machine.

Movie trailers, and the new gimmicks of the studios

It was only after I’d sat through this trailer a few times that it hit me: very few people recognise these people. It hit me primarily because a woman behind me said what I suspect many were thinking: “Who are they?”. I get that if you have Brad Pitt or Jennifer Lawrence introducing a trailer, that people may sit up. But I’m not sure the double bill at the front of King Arthur helped recognition enormously.

It didn’t help that Warner Bros didn’t put a card on introducing the pair at the start of their little piece, nor that Hunnam’s name was hardly plastered all over the King Arthur posters. I’d suggest that to 80-90% of the moviegoing audience, they had no idea why these two fine-looking chaps were introducing a movie trailer at all, yet alone that they were looking at the star and director of the film whose trailer they were about to watch.

But this does seem to be a thing. Ridley Scott recorded an intro for at least one piece of Alien: Covenant promotion I watched. And definitely playing in multiplexes around the UK ahead of the release of Wonder Woman was a trailer that had a bolted-on introduction from Gal Gadot and Chris Pine.

Both Gadot and Pine are extremely good value in the Wonder Woman movie. The recorded intro to the trailer? Less comfortable, I’d say. At least Gadot and Pine were recognisable, so there was some logic there, but there was a discernible reason, I’d suggest, why they came across as two people ask to sit there and introduce a trailer by reading some waffle.

I do question, though: does having an introduction make people pay more attention to the trailer? Does it result in more people buying a ticket for the film that’s being promoted? I suggest, in the case of both questions, the answer is no, but I’m genuinely interested if people feel differently.

These introductions, as noted earlier, aren’t a new thing, as they’ve existed online for a little while. Take a look at Ben Affleck, for instance, enthusing about this particular promotion for Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice

What’s changed is studios – primarily Warner Bros – looking to try a few things with the trailer that a cinema audience specifically gets to see.

I think what’s been more successful is something that Warner Bros has tried with the promotion for Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. Before screenings of Wonder Woman, it played three or four short bursts of a trailer throughout the promos before the movie, before ending with the full thing. It may be the novelty of it – it’s a technique that’s been used successfully in radio advertising for a good decade or two – but this really caught me. It helps, of course, that Dunkirk looks rather special. But still, splitting the 150 seconds or so of trailers into little chunks worked for me in this instance.

It’s a tough task that studios face, and they’re not helped by the arduous commercials that play before the trailers anyway (my favourites: ones for toys, that feature clips you’ve not seen before of the movie you’re about to see). Odeon is one of the many chains who try to big them up when you actually get to the movie trailers, with friendly voiceover man – let’s call him Brian – telling you that he loves the trailers with his particularly charming lilt. Unfortunately, though, the modern cinema environment still regards trailers as a safe space where you can use a mobile phone without at least being glared at.

I’d guess then that at least 1000 movie trailers a year are produced, if not more, for films that arrive in British cinemas. I think most of us are weary of the formula that’s clearly used to put them together too. Perhaps a studio may be inclined to do something really leftfield, such as this promo for Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedian, to get our attention again?

Failing that, at a stage where many blockbuster movies are falling into a three star pool of sludge, how about taking one of the three trailers a big movie gets (not withstanding international variants, of course), and actually experiment with the formula?

With more and more big films struggling to earn expected cash at the box office, it’s got to be worth a try, right?