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Do trailers have to tell the truth?

Written by Film

The acoustic version of a popular pop song. The swelling music. The sudden silence, filled by an epic closing line.

Although most trailers can be pretty formulaic, their effectiveness varies drastically. In fact, while their main job is to sell tickets, a bad trailer can ruin a movie experience, hurting its revenue in the long run. Ideally a perfect trailer would accomplish three things: sell tickets; present the tone; and introduce the plot without giving away the story beats.

You can understand why the team behind Avengers: Endgame would fabricate fake footage specifically for the trailers

Maybe the most frustrating aspect of some trailers is when they give away the entire movie. Not only does it ruin the experience, but it makes the marketing team seem desperate to sell the movie and shock the audience. A recent example of this is Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, whose trailer gave away every single beat presented in the movie. Even when trailers do not intentionally spoil the movie, it has become increasingly difficult in the internet era to maintain the mystery. Numerous YouTube channels are dedicated to analysing every frame of a trailer, deducing the entire plot before even seeing the movie. With this trend striking comic book movies in particular, it becomes understandable why the team behind Avengers: Endgame would go to the length of fabricating fake footage specifically for the trailers. This can be an effective technique to sell the overall concept of the movie, without giving away all the best scenes.

“Sometimes the best movies are difficult to sell without manipulating the presentation of the movie”

However, this strategy must be employed with caution; representing a movie correctly is equally important. An inaccurate representation of the type of movie marketed might cause mixed reactions in an audience. However, sometimes the best movies are difficult to sell effectively without manipulating the presentation of the movie. For example, Hereditary, a revolutionary film deserving of a passionate following, does not fall into the common beats of a horror movie. Marketing it like one might have hurt its reception. In fact, although critical praise was high, it scored a mere D+ on Cinema Score, which largely measures audiences’ expectations against what is actually presented in the movie. At this point, it becomes clear why the rating was so low: for someone expecting a standard horror movie, filled with jump-scares and focused on a thrilling communal experience, Hereditary might not have lived up to the hype, playing off as more of a slow burn instead. A24 knowingly crafted a trailer which misrepresented the movie it was selling; even though it set the movie up for mixed reviews, it still drew a large enough crowd to ensure that the movie found its audience.

The Hereditary trailer follows many horror movie conventions
Image: A24 on YouTube

In today’s industry, with every movie feeling the pressure of standing out in a sea of content, trailers should stay true to the film as much as possible, while not give away too much information. But most importantly, they should not be afraid to be innovative, by breaking the standard formula, and employing innovative techniques to adapt to the changing industry.

Last modified: 22nd November 2019

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