Food for Thought: Are Movie Trailers Spoiling Too Much?
In this new editorial, Food for Thought, we will be taking a popular story in the world of movie news and really analyse it. We'll talk in depth about the pros and cons of the story and really get our hands dirty. Now, these topics will be more than a casting choice or something we can easily write an article about otherwise; these will feature more grey topics and highly opinionated discussions. So, without further adieu, let's get started!
In this installment, we will talk about whether modern trailers are spoiling too much.
Before I really get into the meat of this issue, I feel like I should inform you on something. Everyone has their own sweet-spot for how much about a movie they want to know going in. Some people want to know virtually nothing. Just the title and the actors and maybe a one sentence description of the film, and they're set. Others just don't care about spoilers, and it wouldn't affect their movie-going experience knowing plot point for plot point exactly what goes down. For me, I'm somewhat in the middle. I like to know what I'm getting myself into. I want to know what the plot is. What's going on. I don't need to know exact specifics, but I want an idea so I can tell whether this is a movie I would be interested in seeing. I will see no more than three trailers. The first can be a teaser, but after two full length trailers, I've seen enough. I've gotten a sense of what the movie feels like tonally, and whether the action looks cool, or if these two actors have chemistry, or if it looks funny. After those three trailers, I don't need to see anything else. I don't like to know massive spoilers going in. If a character dies, I'll be upset if you tell me beforehand, because I want to experience the movie for the first time as neutral as possible, while also having seen trailers. It's a fine line for me, but it's gotten me this far.
So now that you know where I'm coming from, let's talk about a major issue in the film industry right now, and that is trailers showing too much of a movie. To define what "too much" is, because some people have different tolerances than others, I'm talking about trailers that reveal either the entire plot of the movie to the point where you can predict how the rest of the film will play out while you are watching it in theaters, or a trailer reveals such a crucial scene or plot point that it ruins the flow of the film because you knew it beforehand. Now, I will be giving examples in this article of different movies, so there will be some spoilers in this article. But I will give a warning in advance before I spoil anything.
My first two examples are of films that I haven't seen yet, but the trailers and marketing have been out for a while. I'm talking about Terminator: Genisys and Southpaw. For the former, the trailer revealed a big plot twist- that Jason Clarke's John Connor was actually a Terminator. That is something I didn't want to know before seeing the film (which I never ended up doing, anyways), but it was virtually impossible not to find out. When the second trailer for the film came out, which is where the spoiler was first revealed, I refused to watch it, because it angered me that the filmmakers would so disregard a viewer's experience of watching a movie. But soon it was in TV spots, subsequent trailers and posters, to the point where there was no way to not know the spoiler. Now, I had to reserve some of my judgment, because maybe the movie played out with this not really being a spoiler. But the director of the film, Alan Taylor, spoke out and said that when he saw the marketing for the film, he got into several arguments with the studio heads, and had shot the film with the intention of this spoiler being a big plot twist in the film. That is what made me angry. The studio completely went against the director's wishes because they thought this spoiler would get the film more publicity. When, in fact, I think the shock of the twist could have worked in their favor. Sure, people still would have walked out of the screenings saying "Yeah, that movie sucked. But damn was that a cool twist", and that could have worked for them, instead of turning fans against the studio.
Another example of this is Southpaw. The first trailer laid out the entire story of the film: Jake Gyllenhaal is a champion boxer with a wife and daughter. His wife is killed and he struggles with keeping custody of his kid. In order to keep his daughter, he must win a fight and become the champ again. Now, unlike Terminator, I don't know how this plays out. Maybe what I just described, explained in the trailer, it set up in the first act and we haven't really seen what the movie is truly about. But the trailer made it look pretty clear-- here is the whole movie in two minutes. Even if it didn't spoil the whole film, there are plot points in that trailer that didn't have to be revealed. And that is a main point I want to get to: trailers need to be edited better. You can have a fantastic trailer for Southpaw, with Gyllenhaal boxing and his wife and daughter behind him. You know something bad happens and he has to redeem himself, but they could have let the fact that his wife is killed be a surprise for the audience.
And if you look at so many other trailers that are coming out nowadays, this spoilerific theme is hugely prevalent. Terminator Salvation, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and The Martian are just some of the films to spoil big plot points or show the entire outline of the film in their trailers. And there are countless examples.
So why does this happen? Why are studios ruining their films for their viewers in the trailers? Because some studios (and noticed I say some) think more about the business side of film than the artistic side. The film industry is a business, and every studio is in the industry to make money. But what makes film so great is that studios entrust their millions into the hands of talented people. These are artists who are making a film. And when you create art, you want it to be experienced the way you intended it to be. If you write a movie and you make this big plot twist in the third of the film, you'd be pretty f*cking pissed if the studio made that twist the center of their marketing for the movie. These studios are seeing these twists and spoilers as opportunities to create more publicity around their film, but are ultimately ruining the viewing experience, which is costing them in the long term.
But why now? Why is this such a big thing now? To be honest, trailers have always done this. The trailer for Cast Away showed Tom Hanks made it off the island. And ultimately, that's just poor marketing But now, more and more trailers are doing this, and I think it's mainly because of the demand. Twenty years ago, you showed a trailer at the movie theaters and made a few posters, and that's how you got your audience for a film. Now, with the internet, people are expecting trailers for films a year in advance. And once you start marketing a film, what do you have to do? You have to continuously up the ante. And what's the best way to do that? Show the big reveal. There is so much demand for constant marketing that we, the fans, are forcing the studios' hands. But it's not all our fault. The studios are the ones greenlighting this. They are the ones choosing to compromise an artist's vision, even though we are the ones pressuring them. I think studios need to take a look at the marketing strategy for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Their marketing has been so great because they know how to pace themselves. They released a teaser a year away from the film. They waited until April to release the next teaser, and have said the next trailer (and probably final) won't come until the fall. Sure, we are constantly demanding footage and whatnot from The Force Awakens, but the studio isn't giving in. We still know virtually nothing about the film because the teasers have been just that-- teasers. They aren't showing any of the big reveals, because the editors are smart.
So how do we fix this? One, let's not pressure the studios as much. Don't force them to start their marketing a year in advance. Don't force them to keep putting out new footage, because pretty soon something is going to slip. We need to stop feeling entitled to constant marketing, because we're not. It's up to the artists to decide what to reveal when they want to reveal it. If we can give the power back to the artists, then we won't be getting these spoiler-filled trailers. The studios won't feel the need to make the major twist in the film the focus point of the marketing. If we can gain some control over our demands, then the studios won't feel forced to constantly feed us with new material.
Next, trailers need to be better edited. No one was marching in the streets demanding the trailer for Southpaw, yet they released that spoiler-filled one anyways. Because some trailer editors just aren't very good, to be honest. They have so much footage they can choose from, yet they put it together poorly. What these editors need to learn to do is assemble footage out of order. If it isn't in context, then it really isn't spoilerific. Let's look at the trailers for Jurassic World. You saw shots of Chris Pratt with the raptors. You saw the pterodactyls attacking people. You saw a lot of things that could be considered spoilers. But the trailer was edited in a way that it didn't feel like you were seeing big reveals, or getting spoon-fed the entire film. It's only once you've seen the film that you understand how the pieces come together. That is what editors need to do. Show us cool scenes out of order. We don't see the entire film, and you can also still make a great trailer that entices viewers.
Lastly, respect the artists who create these wonderful films. Many times, directors don't oversee the marketing of their own films. This is something that has always puzzled me. I think it is because studios see this as more of a business than a showcase of art, and treat it as such. If we, the viewers, give more respect and attention to the people who create what we are spending ten bucks a ticket to see, then the studio will recognize that as well. Maybe they will give more power to their artists when it comes to marketing. If the director intends for something to be a secret, let him control how the marketing revolves around that, so that we don't have incidents like Terminator Genisys.
So to answer the ultimate questions... yes, trailers are spoiling too much. They will spell out the movie plot point by plot point, or will reveal a significant twist in the film. This just hinders the viewing experience of the movie. Imagine walking into The Sixth Sense knowing that Bruce Willis was dead. Imagine walking into The Usual Suspects knowing that Kevin Spacey was Keyser Soze. Knowing these things ahead of time would simply ruin your first experience. Of course, once you know it from your first viewing, subsequent viewings can still be enjoyable. But it's that first experience, being shocked in your seat, seeing something unexpected happen, that embodies what going to the movies is all about. So to have that experience ruined by trailers is upsetting. So if we put less pressure on studios for marketing, have the studios get better editors and pay more respect to the original artists, then we can try to change this issue in the film industry.
What do you think? Do you agree with my points? Do you disagree? Do you think movie trailers are spoiling too much? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
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