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Movie trailer mechanics: GODZILLA 2014 = good, INTERSTELLAR = bad

Posted on December 20th, 2013
Posted on December 20th, 2013

by Coop Cooper

Trailers, or ‘sneak previews’ as they used to be called, are effective for advertising an upcoming film. Ranging from thirty seconds all the way up into four minutes, trailers edit together key parts of the film in order to give the prospective audience a sample of what they will be seeing if they decide to (hopefully) pay to see the whole feature. Everyone is familiar with them but there are a few things about trailers many people don’t know about unless they are intimately linked to the business (or read a bunch of movie blogs)…

One of the biggest complaints about trailers is that they show too much and spoil the best parts of movies. Younger movie-goers might be shocked to learn that trailers of the past used to show and spoil nearly everything in an entire movie. As recent as the 1980’s, trailers routinely showed every important moment in the film since spoilers weren’t a major concern. It wasn’t until the 1990’s that Hollywood started being more careful about showing spoilers, mostly due to twisty-films like M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense” which relied on keeping its twists secret in order to be effective. Since then, Hollywood has been more careful especially with comedy films because they eventually learned if the funny parts aren’t ruined, people are more likely to recommend it to others. For an example of how previews used to spoil films, look up the trailer for “The Abominable Dr. Phibes” on YouTube and you’ll see that every major moment in the film is shown except for the very end, which thankfully is far too good to spoil.

Hollywood also uses shorter ‘teaser trailers’ to generate early excitement for films that are several months or even a year from being released. A fantastic example is the teaser trailer for the new “Godzilla” remake which releases in May but shows only a few extremely tense moments, a lot of destructive aftermath and a brief-yet-chilling reveal of the monster at the end. With the release of the film only five months away, the timing is perfect and effective. Better yet, YouTube the “Alien” (1979) or “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (1991) teaser trailers and you’ll see how effective they can be without showing any of the actual film at all… A lost art I wish Hollywood would bring back.

Some teasers completely miss the mark by showing uninteresting footage and airing it too late or too early before the film’s release. An example of a teaser done wrong is the newly released short trailer for Christopher Nolan’s scifi film “Interstellar” which shows nearly two minutes of old stock footage of the NASA program and a few seconds of Matthew McConaughey driving a truck as he voices over a dull speech about how capable humans are of surpassing our limitations. Given Nolan’s record, I have little doubt it will be an excellent film but it is a whole year away from releasing, making the underwhelming teaser seem premature and pointless.

Thanks to the internet, the ‘red band’ trailer has made a comeback after becoming nearly extinct at the end of the Drive-In era. Red band trailers are signified by the red (instead of green) introductory preview screen, warning that explicit, R-rated content will appear in the actual trailer. These no longer screen before films in modern theater chains but with the internet being the Wild West of media distribution, studios can easily release a red band trailer online to advertise to those who want to see how the newest horror or raunchy comedy film will be pushing limits. The internet also allows for the release of extras and additional footage as well as spoilers reported by people who have read the script or seen the full movie already. In the age of the internet, movie secrets don’t exist.

Making trailers have become such a routine in Hollywood that most follow a very exact formula to edit them. Why? Because it works time and time again and hardly anyone notices the similarities. Pair that with a familiar narrator voice (such as Hal Douglas, Morgan Freeman or the late Don “Thunder Throat” LaFontaine who narrated over 5000 trailers) and show all the usual cliches appropriate for the film genre, a catch phrase or two, a few explosions, romantic moments or scares hinting at how it might conclude and you have a stereotypical Hollywood trailer.

That’s not to say they are all tired and familiar. I still run across some that get my blood pumping from time to time. The good ones present an expected story in an unexpected way but the best channel raw emotion. Take a look at the teaser trailer for DreamWorks “How to Train Your Dragon 2” for another fantastic example of an exciting trailer that shows nothing but a single exciting scene from the movie.

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Trailer for the award-winning short PRISMA…


A corporate promotional VHS tape from 1984 conceals a brain-altering signal which is said to grant increased health, longevity and psychic powers to those who watch it. View at your own risk...

WINNER: SPECIAL JURY PRIZE, 2017 Oxford Film Festival

WINNER: BEST EXPERIMENTAL FILM, 2017 FantaSci Short Film Festival

SEMI-FINALIST: 2017 NanoCon International Science-Fiction Film Festival

NOMINEE: BEST ANIMATION, 2017 End of Days Film Festival

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OFFICIAL SELECTION:
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2017 Oxford Film Festival
2017 Crossroads Film Festival
2017 Clarksdale Film Festival
2017 Twisted Dreams Film Festival
2017 Tupelo Film Festival
2017 NanoCon International Sci-Fi Film Festival
2017 FantaSci Short Film Festival
2017 End of Days Film Festival
2017 Grenada Afterglow Film Festival
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Trailer for the lost short GOD MAKER…


Northern Mississippi 1932:
In a cabin in the woods, a blind blues guitarist will discover his destiny from a lovesick goddess who seeks to corrupt his soul.

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Told in reverse, this experimental made-in-48-hours film begins with a shocking murder then backtracks (like a viewer rewinding a VHS tape) to reveal the chilling origins of this tragedy.

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NOMINATED: BEST DIRECTING by the 2012 48hr. Guerrilla Film Challenge (international contest)...
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Crossroads Film Festival

Watch Coop’s award-winning short film THE BEST DAY…


WINNER: 2012 MAGNOLIA FILM FESTIVAL "Best Homegrown Film"
WINNER: 2012 SEATTLE TRUE INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL "Best Scream"

OFFICIAL SELECTION:
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2012 CLARKSDALE FILM FESTIVAL
2012 CROSSROADS FILM FESTIVAL
2012 NORTHEAST MISSISSIPPI FILM FESTIVAL
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Morgan Freeman asks Coop a question at THE BEST DAY premiere! Video below…


My short film THE BEST DAY premiered in October 2011 at the Delta Cinema in Clarksdale, Mississippi.

Little did I know I had a special guest in the audience who was about to ask me a question during the Q&A. Yep, I got a little flustered when I saw who it was.

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