There is a lot of choices out there when it comes to spending time and money to watch a movie. Every week a multitude of studios try to gain your attention at the local cinema, measuring their success by your bums in seats. That’s not even speaking to SVOD and the ability to stay in and enjoy something new without leaving your home. Marketing blitzes do everything in their power to draw you in. Everything from top-billed talent to eye-popping visuals all the way to mentioning that the studio also brought you an old favourite – no exploitation is too much. But are the studios giving us too much in doing so? Are the previews giving us a movie before we even decide to buy a ticket? Is it all necessary?
Oversharing Is Nothing New
Oversharing in previews is far from a new phenomenon. In fact, it had a period when it was far worse. Movies like the classic horror Carrie walk you through the entire plot roughly in the order it all happens. Other examples like Soylent Green show the twist, and in turn, ruins the central mystery created by the same marketing campaign. Don’t make the ingredients of Soylent Green a significant plot point and then show everyone immediately. Was the trailer edited by a four-year-old? “I’m gonna make this coin disappear, but don’t look at my left hand, okay? Abracadabra!” This isn’t “how’d you get the caramel into a Caramilk bar.” Wait…those ads did it better apparently.
This trend continued on and still keeps chugging along. One can forgive, at times, when a featured money-shot may be part of the third act. When done correctly though, the inclusion doesn’t detract from the fun of seeing it in context. For example, it was nobody’s surprise when the Titanic ripped in half, and that spectacle was a large part of what drove ticket sales. Anything less would have left potential viewers lukewarm. In a four-minute trailer, we spend the first minute just on the overarching reason to even tell the story. It’s the very beginning of the film, and likely a key to the original pitch. Good start. Then the following minute introduces Rose’s dilemma. It works well. Then we go a little too far into the drama and chaos. They could drop a good minute of footage, and the overall impact of the trailer would remain. Why not leave the audience to wonder why Rose is separated from the upper-class instead of telegraphing it? Don’t you want them to go through the emotional beats with her?
Apparently, this opinion doesn’t always amount to financial loss, as Titanic is a top-grossing movie of all time. It didn’t dissuade audiences then, so why would it now?
Anticipation > Comfort
The thing is, not everything is Titanic. People were going to see that for a million reasons, about 500,000 of which were likely somewhere on DiCaprio’s face. That’s not an excuse though. Another movie that also did gangbusters without giving everything away was Infinity War. Even with approximately 250 individual previews and snippets, the movie still managed to leave main beats out. A bunch of the footage was even faked, just in the interest of maintaining an air of mystery. Audiences don’t need to be coddled to enter the theatre.
Movie studios should stop treating the promotional material as if it’s a roller-coaster. There’s no need to see the entire ride before people decide to get on.
Creature Comforts > Spending Money
The blame can’t all be on Hollywood though. To repeat a point from the beginning, people only have so much money to give. Perhaps people want to know that Willy gets ‘s free at the end of the movie, by trailer or Michael Jackson music video before they pony-up cash. Maybe being told that John Conner turned heel was the only hope for another Terminator movie to possible succeed (It didn’t work). Still, maybe potential audiences didn’t need to know the entire plot and probable resolution to Love, Simon before getting a chance to see it all play out.
To see it done the right way, check out the preview of Hereditary and then see the movie. The footage in the preview sets up everything anyone needs to know going in, yet truly says nothing. It won’t be in the billion-dollar club, but it should definitely be in the award-season-conversation in six months. All the information about what to expect is there, and yet almost everything is still a (terrifying) surprise. That’s effective marketing.
More Like Christmas, Less Like Easter
There’s no reason the same keep-it-under-wraps tactics can’t be applied to every movie. Previews should do exactly that – an anticipation of a final product. Sure, copious amounts of chocolate on Easter is great, but you knew that was coming for months. The excitement at Christmas as a child was having a vague idea of what you’re receiving. You kind of know, but you don’t really know. You have to wait for the 25th to find out. The box is the right size and shape, but anything could be inside.
There’s no way to convince the other side to change. Studios aren’t about to market their major releases less, and people won’t see stuff with less push more. Perhaps, as an audience, everyone has to just avoid clicking on every preview link. If you want to watch Ant-Man and The Wasp already, maybe don’t watch your fourth International trailer for it.
What do you think? Are movies giving too much away, or do you want to know as much as possible to inform your ticket purchase? Chime off on Facebook or in the comments below.