From teaser clips to tweets: How social media killed the art of the movie trailer

Because a joke just isn't funny when you already know the punchline

Jess Denham
Friday 10 July 2015 17:10 BST
Chris Pratt riding a motorbike flanked by velociraptors was one of the key scenes from Jurassic World, but cinema-goers had already seen it
Chris Pratt riding a motorbike flanked by velociraptors was one of the key scenes from Jurassic World, but cinema-goers had already seen it

The curse of the teaser trailer is well and truly upon us. So much so that today, a 16-second example dropped for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, solely to tell us when the actual trailer will be released (FYI, it’s 15 December, next Tuesday).

Trailers in the social media age already take away much of the enjoyment of the cinematic experience - we often know the punchlines to jokes before they’re told and all the biggest explosions are old hat by the time our bums our actually in their seats. But is it really necessary to go one step further and ruin the surprise of the trailer too?

Obviously, film studios want to maximise publicity for their movies. They know that pretty much no matter what they share online will be clicked on and re-posted hundreds of thousands, and even millions, of times on social media. Whether they’re going the right way about it if they care about the element of suspense is another thing altogether.

Take the recent Mockingjay Part 2. One teaser that sparked a Twitter meltdown showed Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, standing defiantly on a stone symbol of rebellion, cape flowing, bow and arrow in hand…for forty seconds. Granted there was some dramatic music, but nothing else happened.

Welcome to the modern age of Hollywood marketing departments, which either drop so many spoilers in multiple trailers that directors start kicking off, as with Jurassic World and Terminator: Genisys, or share so little they really need not have bothered.

One new trend rearing its unwelcome head is that of ‘unlocking’. This might sound exciting, mysterious and a range of other joyous emotions, but what it really involves is tweeting about a film until enough people do so to ‘win’ the trailer. Please, for love of the movie gods, just show it to us if you have to. This happened with Goosebumps in July and it took the Twittersphere a whole day to unlock it.

Twitter opens up a world of possibility for communication between film crews and fans but while some may eagerly await every new picture, casting announcement and plot hint, not everyone wants to see key elements of the movie before they reach the cinema, popcorn in hand and anticipation rife.

Paul Feig, we’re looking at you. The Ghostbusters director has been tweeting pictures of his all-female cast’s new uniforms, car, you name it. He even meticulously labelled a photo of the proton packs with a caption reading, “the more you know”. Yes, Paul, the more we know the more we’re over the film before it reaches the editing room.

Of course, all these posters, teasers and trailers exist to whet our appetites to actually buy tickets and we’re not going to do that if the film doesn’t look pretty special. But in the days prior to YouTube, the trailers before a screening would be one of the best parts of a cinema trip and they’d leave us wanting more, not feeling like we’ve seen everything already.

The first trailer for X-Men: Apocalypse, complete with a bald Professor X, will be playing before the biggest film of the year, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, when it finally arrives in cinemas next Thursday. But could the studio save it as a treat? No. It posted it a week early on YouTube this afternoon and, quelle surprise, #XMenApocalypse has been the top Twitter trend all day.

The art of the movie trailer has yet to be completely lost. There have been some great ones, from Gone Girl, which conveyed the thriller’s dark, chilling tone while keeping the mystery, to the calmly intense Creed with its clever, heart-racing soundtrack and minimal dialogue.

Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire from 2008 is just one example of a clever teaser, using brief snippets of footage, overlay text and wonderfully vivid colours to stir emotion without ruining the whole plot for us.

Does Jamal Malik’s story end happily? We already really want it to, but we don’t know whether it does, and we need to find out. That’s what it’s all about.

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