Wednesday, May 2, 2012

In a spoiler culture, the biggest offenders are the studios.

If there is one 'trend' in film marketing this year that has raised the ire of pundits and bloggers around the web, it is the practice of studios cutting what amounts to a 'teaser for a trailer'.  Summit has done this for the last couple Twilight films, but the would-be trend reached an apex with two major science-fiction summer tentpoles.  First, Fox has been cutting teasers for nearly all of its 7,000 trailers for Ridley Scott's Prometheus.  Second of all, Sony cut a 30-second teaser for its first trailer of the Total Recall remake which was to debut during a Sunday afternoon basketball game at the beginning of last month.  Everyone complains about it, but pretty much all of the movie news sits post the embeds of these 'trailer-teasers' as quickly as they are released. This week Warner Bros. unleashed an online viral game of some kind which apparently unlocked specific shots of the new Dark Knight Rises trailer.  By mid-day, someone had combined all of the shots into a video file and basically was able to present what amounted to the first half of the trailer.  Thus Warner Bros. ended up releasing the whole thing online Monday night rather than (as I presume was intended) waiting to premiere the 140-second preview in theaters attached to The Avengers on Friday.   We've now reached the point where Lionsgate released this Terry Crews-hosted 'teaser' for the upcoming Expendables 2 trailer where Crews openly admits that 'trailer-teasers' are now a mandatory marketing tool (from JoBlo).

But this is not just a place to whine about a rather silly practice of unleashing 10-30 second snippets of a trailer prior to releasing the full trailer.  As dumb as that is on its face ('it's a trailer... for a trailer!'), marketing is marketing and studios can release their official marketing materials as they see fit.  I would argue that in a less spoiler-obsessed culture that these trailer-teasers would actually be preferable to the full thrill-spilling trailers, but I digress.  What this trend represents is a discomforting emphasis on what amounts to basically giving away the store before the movie even comes out.  I'm talking about releasing countless trailers which combined reveal enough of the movie to render most of its plot twists either laid bare or easily guessable.  I'm talking about, yes, releasing teasers for trailers.  I'm talking about filmmakers giving spoiler-filled interviews (often with unavoidable spoiler-filled headlines) which discuss the sequel and who does or doesn't return for that sequel before the newest film even opens in theaters.  And I'm damn-well talking about studios releasing oodles of full-blown clips from the finished film in advance of opening weekend.  I applauded Warner Bros. several weeks ago for not feeling the need to go hardcore saturation with their Dark Shadows promotions months-ahead of its May 11th release.  The first trailer didn't even drop until mid-March and since then Warner had only been sending out various TV spots and character posters.  But this Sunday, just under two weeks before opening day, Warner Bros. released nine (9!) clips from the film totaling around eleven-minutes. Considering that the film runs 113 minutes with credits, which means about 105-minutes of actual film content, Warner Bros just up and gave away 10% of the film for no plausible reason.

I have not watched these clips, because I can wait to see the movie (this Tuesday, natch).  If you want to see them, go here.  I suppose I draw an arbitrary line between other kinds of marketing materials and clips.  Trailers are stand-alone pieces of art, edited, scored, and constructed into something that at their best can be stand-alone entertainment in their own right.  Same with television spots (which I generally don't watch because there are too many to keep track of) and character posters.  But simply dropping an out-of-context clip from the finished film online for no other reason than to spoil an action beat or a character moment...?  That serves absolutely no purpose other than to spoil.  And I would argue that, since it became a 'thing' in 2003 (I first remember Fox doing it with Daredevil), it has created no more or less excitement for a given film that otherwise would exist.  Disney released the first ten-minutes of John Carter a week prior to release just a couple weeks after releasing the one genuinely impressive action sequence online as well. This spoiling did nothing to save that film from box office catastrophe.  The Avengers would be flirting with a record Fri-Sun opening weekend even if Marvel hadn't released several clips from the film, culminating with the above snippet which offers filmmaker commentary for one of the bigger action moments in the picture.  I can surely see the value of listening to Joss Whedon discuss what is basically the first-act climax of the picture, but surely whatever wisdom is offered could have waited until Monday morning?  What you have is a Hollywood that thinks nothing of giving away the game before the first pitch is thrown, all so these clips can be tossed onto movie news sites which cater to the very people who are guaranteed to show up on opening weekend anyway.

Ten years ago, Robert Zemeckis famously defended the thrill-spilling trailers for What Lies Beneath and Cast Away by basically saying that audiences want to know exactly what they are getting before they sit down in the dark theater.  Evidence surely bares that out, from the massive success of both 2000 Zemeckis pictures to the constant tales of audiences appalled by even the slightest bit of misdirection in a given marketing campaign (for example, I thought the trailers for Observe and Report and Drive were quite honest if you were paying attention).  But this is more than just truth in advertising.  This is catering to a culture, arguably specifically to the niche geek culture, that allegedly demands to know every single detail about a forthcoming film before they buy that ticket for the movie that they damn-sure were going to see anyway.  So, if anyone at any level of importance at any major studio happens to read this, I issue a challenge. Don't give us what we allegedly want.  Don't saturate us with trailer-after-trailer that goes from thrilling mystery to spoiler-filled synopsis (I'm looking at you, Prometheus trailer that I intentionally didn't post).  Don't release an extended 'red-band' trailer online for the sole purpose of spoiling all of the best R-rated jokes.  Don't release complete clips of the finished film online, even if it means less breathless movie blog posts about the latest 30-second clip of Snow White flirting with the Huntsman.  Don't tell us what characters are going to be in Iron Man 4 or Thor 3 before The Avengers 2 is released, thus giving us a pretty good idea of who does or does not survive The Avengers 2.  Oh, and here's one:  If movie sites publish paparazzi photos and bootleg set-video that spoil major sequences from a movie, don't give that same site the same press access as the ones that didn't release the ill-gotten gains!

That last 'challenge' is in reference to one film that's arguably doing it right.  That viral trailer-reveal snafu aside, Warner Bros. has done its best to keep a tight lid on the film. With 2.5 months to go before July 20th, despite the best attempts of Internet gossip and shamefully leaked on-set photos/videos galore, we know next-to-nothing about the plot or the blow-by-blow story beats of The Dark Knight Rises.  We can speculate and guess based on the few official photos, the teaser, and the three cryptic trailers released thus far, but really we don't know much at this point.  I hope Warner Bros. sticks to what worked four years ago.  I hope they don't feel the need to cut another trailer in late-June.  I hope they don't start releasing finished clips of the film in the weeks running up to its release.  And I hope The Dark Knight Rises still makes a bloody fortune despite not playing along with the current trend of 'give them what they want even if they shouldn't have it'.  And frankly if Paramount and J.J. Abrams stick to their guns and can keep the majority of their upcoming Star Trek sequel shrouded in mystery, I hope they enjoy a financial windfall as well.  Obviously free will and personal responsibility play a role in terms of walking into a film unspoiled, and I'll admit that I take a certain pride when I successfully walk into a film knowing almost nothing about it (re - Cabin in the Woods).  But if spoilers are a drug, then the biggest pusher on the block shouldn't be the very filmmakers and studios convincing you to buy a ticket.

Scott Mendelson


Dave Atteberry said...

Thanks for talking about this. I've been wondering just how much of The Avengers has been put out there before the movie even opens. I have been actively avoiding all footage outside of the official trailers. Avoiding spoilers for the movies I am most excited about is becoming a major hassle. My best friend and I were just discussing the "good old days" of going into a movie based solely on a movie poster and a prayer for a good time. Makes for a love/hate relationship with the inter-webs.

J.D. Stutts said...

Robert Zemeckis is a major tool, on par with George Lucas and Harvey Weinstein...

Dezorzf said...

nice analyse. but i dont quite agree with your view at prometheustrailer. i think film will be different, all this trailer is about audience expectations. their want another alien so they got it in the trailer. vital temp, gradating music. it serves the purpose, let people remain what is all the fuzz about, an alien sequel.

Scott Mendelson said...

I would disagree. My issues with Weinstein aside (he's a bully and a hypocrite), all three of them have done important work with advancing the medium of film, whether by growing the independent film market or making huge advances in audio/visual presentation. I wish Zemeckis would make a live-action film again, but I'm a big fan of his motion-capture work in theory and mostly in practice (Beowulf is pretty awesome and The Polar Express in IMAX 3D is still one of the great 'didn't see that coming' theatrical experiences of my adult life).

Scott Mendelson said...

I may write about this later this summer, but I distinctly remember the glee-filled shock at seeing a poster for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze in a theater lobby back in Christmas 1990. I didn't even know the film was complete, had no idea it was coming out so soon, and was beyond thrilled by the silhouettes which I erroneously thought were Beebop and Rocksteady. It's a singular moment that encapsulates 'the good old days'


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