Notes From the Dream Factory - Clip Tease

Category: 300 News | Posted by: admin
Article Date: December 21, 2006 | Publication: Premiere Magazine | Author: Tom Roston
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Does a movie trailer really have to show it all to seduce an audience? Or can less actually be more?

You ever get the feeling you’re being ignored I do, every time I watch a movie trailer that gives too much away.

Case in point: There I was, scarfing down a smuggled bag of Smartfood with my wife before a rare parents-night-out to watch Miami Vice, when a glorious vision arose before me – a glum, disheveled Clive Owen in a dystopian world, ruminating on how women could no longer give birth. It was the Children of Men trailer, and I had not heard anything about the movie. I’m a sucker for world-gone-mad tales, so I was riveted as a crescendo of violins played an inspired rendition of the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” while Clive moped around.

And then the trailer went on … and on … and on, from the discovery of a pregnant woman to Clive’s mission to bring her to safety to his telling her, “We’re almost there … We’re almost there,” replete with elegiac music. I don’t want to know they’re almost there. The trailer went well into what must be the third act, so that be the end of the two minutes and 22 seconds, I felt like I had already seen the entire movie. I was spent. And I no longer cared.

“The reason sometimes that there’s too much story in trailers is that as much as there’s a big part of the audience that doesn’t want to see that, there’s a large part that does,” says Mark Woollen of movie trailer production house Mark Woollen & Associates, which has done trailers for Crash and Little Children, among others, but had no hand in the Children of Men trailer. “The reason that those things are there is because they find that it works.”

When I question Woollen on whether the market testing he’s referring to could be inaccurate, he’s incredulous. “It’s a very well-researched business that goes through a lot to find out what audiences respond to,” he says. “People really want to know before they decide to spend $50 to go out for the night – to get a babysitter or parking or whatever it is – that it’s going to be worth it.”

Me? I decide which movies I want to see based on story line, pedigree (e.g., I’ll see anything with Daniel Day-Lewis), and recommendations (whether it’s from peers, friends, film critics, or the occasional blog). And then, just to fill out the visuals, I look to those tasty little teases: move trailers.

But, according to everyone in the industry with whom I spoke, a significant portion of the audience relies on the trailer to serve up the whole moviegoing experience. “The average consumer does not know all the details, and does not read Premiere,” says Phil Daccord, vice-president and senior editor of Giaronomo Productions, a company that made trailers for The Departed and Children of Men (but not the one that I saw). “I know people who hadn’t seen anything on The Departed, but they said, ‘Hey, it’s Nicholson, DiCaprio, and Scorsese. All the trailer’s going to do is ruin it for me.’ Well, that’s a certain type of person.”

I suggest to Daccord that he and his ilk could cut back on revealing so much, but he compares himself to a defense attorney. “I’m obligated to defend my client,” he says. “and I’m going to use everything I can to do that.”

As much as they can tick me off, I’ve always loved watching trailers – going to a movie isn’t the same without the preshow. They’re like short films. And there’s also the promise of what’s to come. They’re formulaic, but that’s part of their charm (within reason), like and old friend who always gives you the same salutation. There’s the cheesy man-narration (once mostly voiced by Don LaFontaine, but less so now that he’s reached the point of parody), which is usually delivered in a series of threes (“a discovery will be made … a conspiracy will begin …and a secret will be uncovered”) and limited to conjugations of the verb “to be.” Cliched phrases such as “In a world …” can reach obsolescence, but even the trailer for high-brow Pan’s Labyrinth opens with “In a dark time …”

Music is key, and yes, trailers use the same songs (both Children of Men and The Departed use “Gimme Shelter”) and similar chord arrangements intentionally. “Music is a powerful trigger to the brain,” says Monica Brady, executive producer of the Golden Trailer awards. “It’s supposed to say, ‘You liked the movie that we used this music for before, and you’ll like it again.’”

“I think the best trailer reminds you of the potential of cinema,” says Zack Snyder, director of this spring’s 300. “The mystery and the magic and all the unknowns that you have yet to experience in the movie itself.”

I bring Synder into the picture because the trailer for 300 rocks. I’ve watched it more than a dozen times, and each time, I get a chill down my spine. The movie, which Snyder call “an action, sword-and-sandals comic-book freak-out” is based on the Frank Miller graphic novel, a retelling of the story of the 300 Spartans who fought a battle against thousands of Persians. It particularly lends itself to a good trailer because it’s a visceral, CGI-laden film, and can be pretty much summed up in one wonderfully grandiose moment a big, bearded guy yelling “This is Sparta!” while hi kicks a Persian dude into a bottomless pit.

The trailer is pitch-perfect: The painterly imagery of a snarling wolf, the rhythmic pounding of a Nine Inch Nails bass guitar, and the rise and fall of soldiers galloping on horseback. “The thousand nations of the Persian Empire descend upon you,” says a fat man with bad facial hair. “Our arrows will blot out the sun.” To which, a gallant Spartan with soulful eyes replies, “Then we will fight in the shade.” Awesome.

Wouldn’t you know it, Snyder says that studio Warner Bros. didn’t test this trailer. That’s because it’s a teaser (teasers are the first trailers for a movie, often shorter in length and released as much as a year ahead of the film, and don’t do the heavy lifting of the actual trailer, which reveals more of a movie’s plot, characters, etc.) “This trailer was really just to say, ‘We’re going to kick your ass,’” Snyder says.

300 is Snyder’s second movie, after his remade of Dawn of the Dead, which also had a compelling trailer; it ends with the celluloid seemingly burning, the implication being that the zombies are in the projector booth. Snyder, who says he had a good experience with the previous studio, Universal, sums it up like this: “When you’re a first-time director, they’re like, ‘Here, you made a movie, that’s nice. Now we’ll show you how to sell a movie.’ I don’t mean this in a bad way, but they almost look at the movie as a liability.”

Typically, here’s how a trailer gets put together: A studio commissions several independent boutique houses to make a trailer for its movie. Each house submits its best cuts, and then there’s a back-and-forth process, after which the studio takes what it likes. The studio may then refashion the material – that’s when the market research often comes into the picture – in its own internal trailer department, a process called “frankensteining.” (This is how Daccord can disclaim ownership of the Children of Men trailer I saw.)

The involvement of the movies’ directors can vary. Sometimes they give a few notes, or, as in the case of Robert Rodriguez, a director can actually cut his entire trailer. Scorsese’s main note for The Departed trailer was simply to not give away too much of the story. Snyder says that his primary role in the making of the second 300 trailer, which will be tested for market research, will be the same – to make sure it doesn’t have too many reveals. (So at least I’m in good company.)

For the 300 teaser, Snyder says he came up with its initial, rapid fade-in, fade-out structure, something that, actually, is pretty standard. But it works.

I’m happy to say that I saw 300 and it delivers on the promise of the trailer, but I know there isn’t a reliable cause-and-effect relationship there.
If anything, trailers are more effective at telling me what not to see – if a trailer makes a movie look bad, then you know it’s a must to avoid. The Good German comes to mind; an estimation confirmed by our critic, Glenn Kenny, on page 44. So when Woollen contends that “you can make two minutes of anything look good,” I just can’t agree. And that’s why – unless strong word of mouth changes my mind – I plan to skip Children of Men.