Trailers: The Driving Force Behind Movie Watching? I Think Not.

Published May 28, 2012 by jrm17

Okay, we are going to talk about something I’ve been reading about far too much lately: movie advertising.  Well, I haven’t really been reading about it so much as I have been reading about movies and about advertising and making the connection on my own because there aren’t many books I have found that actually cover both.  Most specifically, we are going to talk about movie trailers.

The book I’m currently reading, Coming Attractions: Reading the American Movie Trailer by Lisa Kernan, is all about trailers.  Now, I am only a little over 50 pages in (Don’t judge me.  I was tired and it isn’t making so much sense right now) but I’m not really seeing where there is much that I couldn’t have figured out on my own (I guess the fact that she is supposed to be an expert is a good thing.  I mean, I can actually use it in my paper and that’s a good thing).  She’s talking a lot about how trailer get us to go to movies and how they are like free samples of the movie–the history of trailers part was very helpful, however.  Well, she’s not finding anything groundbreaking as far as I can tell.

One of her points is that we pick movies that we can relate to from the trailer.  Um, yeah, duh.  I’m certainly not going to pick a movie that doesn’t interest me and it really helps if I can find someway to identify with the character or story.  A movie without a character that everyone can relate to is going to fail.  We learned that in my screen writing class and, trust me, we were not the greatest group of screenwriters but we did that part really well.  It’s easy to write a character people can identify with.  Even Darth Vader is possible to identify with.  He’s just a guy who got a little power hungry and mad.  Who of us hasn’t loved the idea of being in total control of other people and been mad enough to make that take an evil turn (No one?  Just me?  Oh, well).

We don’t even exactly have to identify with a part of the story so long as we like the idea behind the plot.  Let’s take a look at Paranormal Activity.  No, I didn’t really like the execution of the story but the concept behind it is enough to keep me coming back over and over.  I certainly can’t identify with either Katie or Micah.  I’m not the significant other of someone who is filming our every move because there is some freaky stuff going on in my house, only to become possessed and kill my boyfriend (Though, as much as I really liked Micah, I probably would have killed him, too, given the whole annoying camera thing).  I’m not an obsessive videographer, who tries to invoke a demon and ultimately gets killed because he’s kind of annoying.  Nope, can’t say I can really relate to anything that the characters are experiencing.   Can’t say that I even relate to the plot.  However, I wanted to see it because I love scary stuff and ghost stuff.  That’s my only reasoning behind it.  I wanted to be scared.  I’m not sure science can really do anything with my reasoning but that’s it.

To be completely honest, the trailer had nothing to do with me wanting to see the movie (Even though the only trailer I found on YouTube was not the one I was looking for but it gives you the idea).  The trailers were mostly reaction shots from people who saw it during the limited screenings.  What made me want to see it was the fact it was a low-budget horror movie shot from POV (mostly) on a handheld.  Of course, there was some research and article reading that encouraged my desire as well.  In fact, that’s really how I choose most of my movies.  I read a lot of articles and reviews to see what it’s about so I can figure out if the plot is going to keep my interests for the entire length of the film–I get really worried with long movies.  We don’t get along.

Nevertheless, I will buy into one of her ideas (one that has it’s roots in advertising psychology): brand loyalty.  We have a difference here, though.  She thinks that the brand loyalty is to the studio.  I think that the brand loyalty that gets people to see movies has to do with the actors, the writer, or the director or producer.  Mostly, I think it has to do with the actors or directors.  For example, I will see anything with Taylor Kitsch in it.  I am a fan of his (for more than one reason even though his looks are number one on that list) and I have enjoyed every movie (plus, Friday Night Lights) that I have ever seen him in.  Therefore, if his name is in the billing, it’s got my money.  Or there are many people who will see anything Quentin Tarantino or M. Night Shyamalan  are involved in.  The loyalty is not to Lionsgate or Paramount (Though I think you could definitely argue that Disney and Pixar have created their own brand loyalty).  They only give the green light and distribute it.  The loyalty is to those who make the movie the greatness that it is (or failure in some cases).

Of course, the loyalty seems to stem from a completely different place, these days.  It comes from the original creation of the story–the books, the original film, the television show.  Twi-hards, for the most part, did not join the insanity (and stupidity) of loving Edward Cullen because of the movies.  No, their obsession (no matter how misguided it is) came from Stephenie Meyer’s series.  Those who are debating all over Pinterest about who should play Christian Grey are not freaking out about the movie because they are really excited simply due to it.  They are excited because they like the Shades of Grey series.  I will say, that I think many of the remakes and ones based on television shows actually lose audience because they do not stick to the original plot and the ones who loved the originals refuse to see the poorly done remakes, however.  As far as I know, 21 Jump Street looked stupid and no one I know who liked the show saw the movie.  Dark Shadows was played off as too much of a comedy to fit the show (thought I heard that it is more like the show and less like the dumb comedy the previews insinuated).

I guess what I’m saying is that even though trailers so light the fire to see a lot of movies, they aren’t the only contributing factor.  The content of that must be carefully chosen in order to get people to want to see it.  There has to be interest in the plot, the people involved, or the original work that will add gas to the fire.  There’s a lot to make people turned off to movies and trailers can either create that failure or have the exact opposite effect.

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