In a world where the opening weekend box-office rules and movie trailers shape our expectations of the latest Hollywood offerings, one show is taking a stand and exposing the secrets they don’t want you to know. That show is Coming Sooner: The Art of the Movie Trailer, a part of the Sydney Film Festival Hub. Presented by Nick Hayden, Nick McDougall and That Movie Guy, Marc Fennell, Coming Sooner is an entertaining look at the history, evolution and hallmarks of the film preview. Michael Wayne spoke to Fennell for (what else?) a preview.
Marc, what can we expect from Coming Sooner? It’s a celebration of the modern movie trailer, how it works and how it works on us. It’s kind of like our YouTube series, only bigger, more interactive and more conversational. We’ve got some big live sketches we’ve made that we’ll play, and some live interactive games people will get to be a part of. If you’ve ever wondered how much money goes into making a trailer, or if you’ve ever seen recurring themes across movie trailers, we’ll be pulling them out and having a lot of fun with it.
What are some of those recurring motifs? It varies from film to film. There are certain things you get very used to with certain kinds of trailers, so if you look at the action movie trailer, there’s your big action montage, and then everything stops, and the main guy says some terrible pun. Another favourite is romantic comedy trailers. They’re hilarious because they always show the female lead falling over, because it doesn’t matter how incredibly hot she is, you need to let the audience know she’s ‘just like you’.
Are movie trailers often misleading? We’re doing a bit on that in the show. A classic example is when a trailer hides the fact that a movie is a musical. The trailer for Sweeney Todd contains no music. You hear no music in it whatsoever, so people walked in thinking it would be this gothic Tim Burton movie, and instead were greeted by atonal warbling coming from an off-key Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter.
The trailer’s certainly risen to prominence in the last few years. What was the breakthrough moment? The turning point was with the release of the trailer for Star Wars Episode I, where people would buy tickets to other films just to see the trailer, and then leave straight afterwards.
What do you miss about movie trailers of the past? I miss the big use of advertising language, like ‘Every staggering sight and sound is Real’. I miss that really over the top announcer stuff, too. These days you don’t have a lot of voiceover; it’s kind of died. I think they’re getting so good at editing that they don’t need to spell everything out as much. Filmmakers are also getting so good at putting lines of dialogue in their films that are really just there for the trailer. How many times have you seen a Transformers movie or something like that where someone looks up into the middle distance and says “My God”? I swear, that’s only there for the trailer.
What makes for a bad trailer? A bad trailer is if I don’t remember the name of the film afterwards. It’s a simple advertising thing: if I remember it, good or bad, it’s been effective. There are also times when you see a trailer and walk away feeling like you’ve seen the entire film, and that’s a real problem. If I feel like I’ve seen too much of a film, I feel like I don’t need to go and see it.
Why do we need a closer look at movie trailers? Don’t we see enough of them before the film? Nobody is looking at exactly how these things work. Millions of dollars are spent on movie trailers, they have their own awards – the Golden Trailers – and a lot of time and effort is spent on constructing and releasing these trailers in such a way that they build maximum buzz. What we don’t necessarily have is someone asking “Does this work as a piece of advertising?” I like to think of Coming Sooner as in a weird kind of way a Gruen Transfer for movie trailers. They surround movie culture, we all post them on Facebook, but we don’t ever sit down and think “Does this work?” and “How does it work on us, what are the techniques they use on us?” Once you give people that tool kit for understanding how they work, then you end up with a more ‘advertising literate’ audience, and everybody’s a lot better off.
Marc’s favourite movie trailers
Dr Strangelove (1964)
One of the first attempts at breaking out of the "booming voice-over, whole scenes, over-the-top text' school of trailers. This one features a rapid fire slices of lines, shots and music. It totally captures the chaos of the movie.
Night of the Iguana (1964)
Arguably one of the most important trailers in the history of movies. In 1964, Andrew J Kuehn distributed this independently produced trailer for Night of the Iguana, using stark, high-contrast photography, fast-paced editing and a provocative narration by a young James Earl Jones. Not only did he pinoneer a lot of the structural language of modern trailers, but it also heralded the birth of one of the most seminal trailer making companies.
A trailer that's not a trailer for a movie about about a comedian who's not really a comedian anymore.
Real Life (1979)
Albert Brooks monologuing towards the camera. Decides the spice it up with 3D. Very funny.
Layer Cake (2004)
Speaking of spices, the producers of this trailer literally got a chef Marco Pierre-White to narrate it. Gold.