How to Sell Something we already Want

Yes, it is indeed that time.  It’s finally time to delve into the incredible marketing being done for the upcoming cultural phenomenon – Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  I’m sorry I missed the first trailer, but I think what needs to be said about that can really be explored in how it set up this second trailer.  Check out the most recent teaser below (links to the first one in text) and join me after the jump for analysis.

First, if you want to understand the emotions people have when watching these trailers – the nostalgia it taps into – just check out Matthew McConaughey in Interstellar watching it.  It’s a good illustration.

The First Teaser

Before we delve into the second trailer, let me briefly look at how the first trailer set this one up.  The joint marketing team of LucasFilms and Disney is serving up a deliciously paced scheme of buzz-building.  The first trailer, released last November, blasted onto the scene and took the world by storm.  One could hardly find a news organization on the internet that wasn’t talking about it.  But what did it do to earn such a great response?  Of course, Star Wars is a cultural phenomenon; the precedent was set by the releases of the Prequels that people would flock to anything published by the LucasFilm team.  However, the question is whether the first trailer did anything in and of itself to draw attention to the new movie or if it was purely the milieu of hype.

To that end, the first Force Awakens trailer acted as a testing ground for what I call Newness.  Like I spoke about in my Batman v Superman trailer review, smart marketing teams are realizing the potential of a feedback system where they show off changes to a pre-existing property with their trailers, and then let audience criticisms give filmmakers feedback, while also developing hype (think Bane’s voice from the Dark Knight Rises teaser).  Thus, while they can rely on a level of assumed cultural appreciation simply because of the brand, this trailer provides a test for the new directions JJ Abrams is taking the franchise, and therefore elevates itself beyond a passable first glimpse.

For the first 45 seconds, the teaser opens with New elements.  By this I mean it takes things that are familiar visually but tweaks them in way’s we’ve not seen before (a black stormtrooper, new speeder, etc).  Even after the first 45 when we get our first shot of something intimately familiar (the X-Wing), it’s in a setting in which we’ve never really seen it before. Except for the sounds and general environments, everything is fresh and very JJ Abrams-y – SPECIFICALLY so that you will know this won’t be the same kind of thing as you’ve gotten before.

Say what you will about the weird Ball Droid, the Black Stormtrooper, or the Lightsaber cross-guard – they are there precisely because you will be talking about them the next day.  This is the juicy stuff the trailer-makers know will get the buzz-mill going, with controversies and quandaries abounding.  By leading off their marketing campaign with these elements, they set the tone both that: 1) this is not going to be your father’s Star Wars (and that’s okay) and 2) that this is going to be new and exciting for all of us.  By intentionally separating their work from the previous entries in the franchise, they prime audiences for the new experience they are about to enjoy.

And to cap off their masterful work, at the minute mark they give us a glorious nostalgia trip to assure us that things are going to be good again.  The flight of the Millennium Falcon coupled with John Williams’ score and some masterful (VFX) camerawork makes for that lasting memorable moment we walk away dreaming about.  It is a wonderful “cherry on top” to a great work that grounds our expectations in the joys we’ve all experience with the original franchise, and promises a return to those glorious days.

One final note before I get to the second trailer:  notice that, during the title card, there is a three second buffer from the time “Star Wars” appears to when it opens up to reveal the new subtitle “The Force Awakens”.  Compare this to the almost instantaneous reveal of the subtitle in the second trailer.  Just an interesting bit of cutting to debut the new moniker.

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The Second Teaser

A long five months passed with only small tidbits of news before finally (note the demand) we received the second teaser for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  First, I’m so glad they’ve stuck with teasers – it makes the experience all the more tantalizing.  Second, and in a fun coincidence, the second trailer dropped on my birthday!  Thanks for the gift, JJ.  I love it!

What the second trailer did is pick up where the first trailer left off.  The first teaser hit us with a baseball bat of Newness, but left us with a nice taste of nostalgia to keep the franchise connection alive.  Now with this second trailer, the marketers envelop us in a tightly wound blanket of nostalgia that subtly reminds us of the Newness.

We open on the nostalgic LucasFilm logo (not in first trailer), and fade up on a shot both alien and remarkably familiar. Many others have commented on the similarities of this shot to the one in A New Hope when Luke races his speeder across the desert to discover the remains of his home.  Couple that with the hero’s theme swelling in the background and you’ve got an opener guaranteed to grab us by the heartstrings and raise goose-flesh.  However, this great nostalgia trip comes with new elements (the downed Star Destroyer and X-wing), quietly hinting that, again, this will be New.

That’s the first 30 seconds of the teaser.  After that bomb of good-feelings, we get an interesting sequence.  Watching it the first time, it takes a moment to recognize the speaker and even then one asks “is it really him?”.  The editor of the trailer does a great job choosing shots that connect either with what Luke is saying or with what we know of him (a smart choice to trust the audience’s imagination and memory to make the connections).  Vader’s broken mask, the robotic right hand (yes this does match from Empire Strikes Back), handling a lightsaber – all these build strong visual connections to powerfully emotional moments from the original series.  The monologue takes the viewer on a journey through the entire franchise in 30 seconds, and provides a teasing last line – “you have that power too”.  Here again we find an intentional design to trigger our emotional memories through carefully planned shots and music, all the while introducing us to new and unfamiliar elements.

Going beyond the first minute, notice that as the music reaches it’s highest point, we get a soaring shot and a mighty “WooHoo!” (do you see what they are doing here?).  This is to help shift the tone and get us from happy-crying back to pure excitement.

The next 30 seconds (notice how neatly subdivided this trailer is, but how it doesn’t feel like it) gives us a fast-paced, action-packed montage of intensity that is mostly familiar things in New situations.  The Stormtroopers, TIE-Fighters, and Sith all make immediate affiliation with our knowledge of the Star Wars lore, but each is presented with some element we’ve never seen before (major firefight on the desert, space-fight inside a star destroyer, Chrome-armored TIE-Fighter Pilot).  It continues to build on our nostalgia while constantly presenting something New to us.  Capping off this section is yet another Millennium Falcon fight but this one specifically mimics the Death Star sequence from Return of the Jedi, flying through cramped corridors trying to shake a tail.  It is a powerful visual and encapsulates the tone the marketers want you to feel about this upcoming flick.

Finally, the moment you’ve all heard about, the biggest nostalgia bomb they could have possibly dropped  – the return of Han and Chewie.  This is exactly the kind of reveal we’ve come to expect and love from a good trailer (thanks mostly to Marvel).  It works well because they’ve built up the connections to the older films throughout so that this arrives not out of the blue, but as a logical endpoint of what the trailer-makers are doing here.  Personally, I hope this line is only used for the trailer – I cannot really imagine it working well in the film now that the surprise has been ruined (though I admit we do not know where “home” is yet).  Either way, it works beautifully and leaves us all on a high as we go into the title card.

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Wrap-Up

The marketing teams at LucasFilm and Disney are doing a magnificent job building buzz and excitement around the upcoming seventh installment of the Star Wars saga.  Accomplishing the goal of building on nostalgia while easing us into the idea that this movie will be new and different is no easy task (cf – Jurassic World, Terminator: Genisys, Batman v Superman), but somehow this team is making all the right moves.

Who knows when the next trailer will be released?  Until it does, fans and film buffs will be pouring through these two trailers, looking for any minute detail they can use to get an idea of what the new film will be like.  Most are optimistic that this will not be another Prequel situation, but that is yet to be seen.  However, if marketing can be any indicator (and I think it can), then it would seem we are headed for something wonderfully fun and exciting this holiday season.  Thanks for reading and tune in again soon for another posting on the Art of the Trailer.


RedLetterMedia gets it!

Hey!  I’m currently hard at work finishing the Star Wars: The Force Awakens teaser breakdown (coming very soon), but until then I thought I’d share this great work done by the guys at RedLetterMedia.  They put together a great video showing how basically all recent trailers for Action, Sci-fi, and Thriller films follow the same format.  It’s a really good breakdown of how the simple formula goes and it’s funny to boot.  Enjoy and tune in again soon for the Star Wars review!


Real Batman vs Superman Trailer Review

Now that my snarky first thoughts are out there and done, let’s take a look at this first trailer for the upcoming DC Justice League tentpole flick.  The trailer is already drawing some ire, but is that for the trailer itself or because of its association with the attached comic book properties?  Check out the trailer below and let’s really delve in after the jump.

It’s SO ANGSTY!!  This movie makes Romeo + Juliet look like a pair of rational adults discussing fourth quarter earnings around the watercooler.  It’s so dark and gritty – almost like that ought to be the two-word moniker for the tone of the DC movies in general, particularly the ones they are doing again.  #DGR

Serious breakdown time.  We start with the normal BWAM BWAM we’ve come to know and love from the Dark Knight and Man of Steel’s composer.  Starting at 0:10, we get seven seconds of monologue over a perfectly black screen.  It has become a pretty standard way of starting at trailer and it helps set the serious tone the film.

Let’s cut to the chase.  What makes this trailer interesting is the sound editing.  Snippets from several different conversations are cut together in a way that makes it flow like one consecutive monologue.  Particularly interesting is the overlaying of words at key moments to demonstrate the varied opinions on the otherworldly superhero.  A very neat effect, it definitely lends itself to a Youtube screening rather than one in a theater seat.  It seems to necessitate multiple consecutive viewings in order to understand what is being said, rather than a one-time experience in a theater shown before the content you really came to see.  Only by watching it several times can you get a good grasp on the interplay of the language, which seeing it in a cineplex just doesn’t allow for.  I feel like this might quietly prove to be the amongst the final straws for the death of the Cinema viewing of the trailer, and the rise to prominence of our culturally watching trailers online.  We will have to wait and see.

Back to the sound editing, it gives a very nice Spoken word feel – adding cadence to an otherwise boring set of shots.  The team did a great job building in the negation of the expected outcome of each sentence – “We are talking about a being/alien…” – that works to great effect.   It’s an interesting concept I haven’t seen executed before and I think it works rather well here.

Two more brief thoughts before we talk about the split.  The left/right mixing of the monologue is very cool.  Particularly towards the end (around 0:40), they split up lines from Luther (Eisenberg) which creates an audiotory shift, again giving movement to an otherwise simple shot.  Second, more of a potshot, the “False God” CG statue looks like its from Bioshock 1, and not a good way.

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Now let’s look at the second trailer.  This happens a lot in the modern trailer: the first minute is its own separate thing with goals and rhythms, and then there is a clear break into the second trailer for the latter minute and a half.  The deliniating moment for the BvS trailer is our man Zimmer’s plinking piano score (a concept pulled from the third Dark Knight Rises trailer).  The first half was a genuine teaser; the second is more of a trailer proper.

The main difference between the two halves is that the first focuses on an interesting audio mix, whereas the second relies more on the editing of footage (which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t).  Suddenly we are seeing many more shots and particularly some interesting juxtapositions of them creating new “third” scenes just for the trailer.  I’ll get to that in a second.

We start on a very long shot (nine seconds) of our first look at the new Bruce Wayne.  Admittedly, I’m not much of an Affleck fan, so to me this shot is held on way too long.  His eyes just look dead and he barely seems conscious, let alone engaged.  Yet, I can see what the trailer-makers are doing – they clearly focus on revealing the new Batman they have been teasing for months.  In that sense, fan-boys and girls I’m sure loved pouring over the new caped crusader in what might be his new Batcave.

And to this end, they then follow up with a great shot of the new suit – holding just about as long on it as they did on Clooney-fied Batfleck (six seconds).  Say what you will about the design, this was a smart choice by the marketing team to put up this new iteration of the iconic outfit for your visual perusal.

From there we get into some shots that telegraph the film’s visual tone (Batman in the Destroyed museum), some new Bat-tech (which is remarkably explodey in this new universe), and a couple of nice pandering shots of our dearly beloved Dark Knight.  Then we get into the final act of the trailer which again shows some very smart decisions from the Trailer team.

We start with the reveal of Iron Monger Batman, in a “scene” which I believe is chopped up from other scenes, or at the very least is not the climatic moment before the big battle.  It looks like they took a sequence where the two talk things out, add over the lines about “Do you bleed?”, and made it seem like the ultimate showdown moment.  I love recontextualized moments like this, ones that after you see the movie and come back to the trailer, realize they gave you some important information but still kept some elements from you so the scene would still be surprising and new in the theaters.  Maybe I’m wrong, but I cannot wait to see where those shots actually feature in the final product.

Next we get the new Batvoice and, before you or I make any comment about how silly it is, let’s look at the function served by putting it in this trailer.  Of course the composers of this trailer knew it would stir up controversy, of course Zack Snyder knew he was taking a risk making the new voice similar to but different from the Nolan/Bale creation, but that is exactly why it debuts here.  Remember Bane from the Dark Knight Rises teaser?  They put it out early to get feedback on it and thus make changes before the final product is put out.  The masses spoke and declared Bane’s voice hard to make out, so Nolan and Co. went back to the mixing room and tweaked it to make it a bit more palatable.  JJ Abrams is doing the same thing with the cross-guard lightsaber in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (trailer review pending, I promise).  Smart marketers and filmmakers use trailers for these big properties to test out new ideas and bounce them against the audience to make changes before release day.  It’s a smart move and one you should be on the look out for; I expect it will happen more and more in the future.

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And thus we end on the logo, with the Superman symbol getting overshadowed by the Bat-signal (metaphor for cultural popularity and public opinion, mayhaps?) and the title screen.  Overall, this is a very effective first trailer.  Yes, we all have a lot of thoughts about the dark, gritty tone, the silly new voice, and Ben Affleck’s acting abilities.

But ultimately that is exactly what this trailer is about – it is meant to drum up as much buzz about the film as it can, while trying to garner some genuine feedback for the production team to make last minute adjustments before release.  Imagine if the first trailer for the Phantom Menace had highlighted how big a role Jar Jar would have, and if there had been the system and culture of social media feedback.  Think about how different the prequels might have been.  I am loving the wonderful development occurring where feedback on a trailer can affect how a movie ultimately ends up.  It means people are finally beginning to recognize and appreciate what a trailer can be and how to recognize good ones from bad ones.

Whether the film will be any good remains to be seen.  But for me, it will be seen because this trailer is making all the right moves to get people talking about the film and drum up some buzz for the DC Cineverse.  If nothing else, I’m glad it doesn’t use music from freaking Pinocchio.  Seriously Marvel.  So dumb.


Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: Master and Commander: Far Side of the World: Colon

First trailer for BvS was released……

Three thoughts:

1.  DC’s serious tone doesn’t seem to be going anywhere but into a darker corner of the hole it has dug itself into.

2.  Bat-fleck looks like they’ve tried to Clooney-fy him…but not the cool Oceans or even OG Batman Clooney.  No, he looks like Descendants Clooney.  And the suit….it looks like he had a bad wiff of a fart right when they did the face-mask casting.  #BatWrinkledNose.

3.  New gritty Bat-voice.  Joy.


How to make me HATE your Movie in less than 5 Seconds

….I seriously wish this wasn’t a real thing.  #WhyReboot
Watch the thing, then read the thing.

Why? Why!?  Why can we not go two years without some production company thinking “you know, people kinda liked that superhero movie we made.  Let’s make it again!!!  But this time, let’s make it dark and gritty!”

Despite my bias against the thought of this film, all it took was the first note to sing this trailer.  The melancholy minor sustained note arrives before the 20th Century Fox logo, instantly painting a picture of what we were in for.  Go back and watch the first trailer for the Dark Knight Rises or the one for Man of Steel.  This trailer, before it had ever shown me any footage, had let me know that it was ripping off that former piece, but with the noted difference that people were not falling all over themselves to see it.  The moody narration over a minor composition works well when the demand is very high (it plays off of the rabid fervor leading up to the trailer, and the hush that falls as it starts).  It does not work for something for which mass audiences are not clammoring.

Looking beyond the disappointing first 5 seconds, the following twenty showcase filler.  Not pretty filler like the Tree of Life trailer; just boring, mismatched shots of the world they want me to believe in.  The problem here is juxtaposition – they show us metropolis followed by wilderness, the heavens of space followed by the earthiness of a cornfield.  It’s the visual equivalent of stuttering around your logline: “Well it’s kinda ethereal, but it’s very down-to-earth! It’s about life in the city, and about the joys of rural life!”  This leaves the audience with nothing; you’ve covered all of the bases so I have no clue what to expect.  The Tree of Life trailer at least opens with fascinating shots of space/colors that tell me that I’m in for something heady and artsy.

Without clear established direction, the trailer rambles on through the tropes of a modern, moody hero piece.  The first pertinent shot comes at 0:25 of the boy running an experiment (clearly laying out a theme throughout the movie).  We are introduced to our protagonists through slowed walking shots or approach shots.  Hard audio and editing cuts on visual cues (the hatches closing).  The visual color scheme changes as the narration turns to talk about “risk”.  We get a shot stolen from Dark Knight Rises.  The music beats swell and the cutting gets faster as we draw to the end.  Cut off of action to the title card.  The end.  Fox thinks I care already and builds their trailer on that assumption.  I don’t.

Two major gripes with this package.  First, WHO CARES!?!?!!??!?!  Last I checked, the Fantastic Four were not at the top of culture’s list of heroes we love and want to see more of.  Moreover, this marks the fourth reboot of a major comicbook cinematic property in recent years (Batman, Superman, Spiderman, Fantastic Four).  It’s like Marvel is specifically trying to oversaturate its own market FASTER!  This is an uncalled-for trailer for an uncalled-for movie.

Second, this isn’t Interstellar, despite how hard it tries to sell itself like that film.  The dark, moody tone is now a joke to society – it’s as if the producers just now saw the Dark Knight, read up on the hype it created, and then decided to try and capitalize in today’s market.  The trailer sells us on a more serious undertaking of the plot (which I can get in CW’s The Flash currently) and on hokey casting.  Unless Richard Reed whips out some drumsticks and launches into a solo in the middle of fight, or Sue Storm writes a scathing political article for a magazine, I doubt I will care about these de-aged heroes.

And I focus on those two because the trailer does.  Clearly the makers of the trailer wanted a stunning reveal that one of the four has been recast as black (according to IMDB, he’s the Human Torch), but that falls flat when the trailer itself doesn’t focus on him for the remainder of its runtime.  The two star-power white heroes hog all the screentime in which they aren’t wearing their helmets.  Just an observation.

Ultimately, “What is coming?”.  Well, we are in for another superhero flick that is just like the rest.  Marvel thinks it can expect us to throw our money at because NOSTALGIA!!!  Please don’t watch this.  Go watch the original films.  Yeah they were cartoon-y and a bit ridiculous, but so are the Fantastic Four.  In the world of dark, gritty characters in the superhero genre, the Four do not make the grade.  They preserve the campy joy of the silver age, and that’s where I’d prefer to leave them.


The Fault NEAR our Stars

Check out this trailer for the upcoming Disaster flick San Andreas and then join me after the jump for some commentary:

Really I just wanted to get that title pun out there.  🙂

More seriously, this trailer actually has a good sense of pacing – it sets out to do one thing and does it well, and that makes for a great teaser.  Already I know exactly what I’m in for without the trailer expositing a melodramatic plot, which usually mars movies in this genre.  It shows me actors I like, crazy effects, and an epic scope which is sure to please audiences beyond the California border.

The one misstep is the obnoxious SSC musical score of “California Dreamin’ “.  Though I am thankful to them for proving the trend universally applicable, it adds that hint of pretentiousness to the film that you never want for a Disaster flick (cf – The Day After Tomorrow, 2014).  Some people in California are overly obsessed with an ever-looming “The Big One”, but most people know that the world will move on despite a catastrophic event on the Americans’ west coast.  Disaster flicks take on a bad taste which ruins their marketability when they forgo Michael Bay stupid fun  in favor of Michael Moore sermonizing.  The trick is to entertain us and scare us just a little, while making some observations about how some earth science works (in this case tectonic activity), and then leave it there.  We all remember the laughably idiotic Climate Change plotline in 2014which didn’t match up with the laughably idiotic Mayan Calendar apocalypse story they were supposed to be telling.

In brief, when you make a disaster film, make it about one of two things:  the human element of trying to take care of the ones you love (even Sharknado did that right)
-or-
let loose, make a fun little flick, and don’t tell the audience that their discarded popcorn tubs and candy wrappers are slowly destroying the planet.  We came for an Implausible Adventure, not an Inconvenient Truth.


Jurassic Smashup

Alright! lets do this one already.  First teaser for the upcoming fourth film in Spielberg’s resurrection machine, and it fits into the modern style with ease.  Check out the trailer below and then catch the commentary after the break:

First, I think we can all acknowledge that this trailer succeeds in getting us excited.  It shows a very respectful modernizing of the classic dino-flick that I, for one, cannot wait to see.

Breaking it down, let’s look at “Trailer One”.  Yes, this is yet another trailer getting the mashup treatment – a run-on three minute extravaganza that dilutes its direction.  Which is tragic because the first minute is spectacular!  The music swells wonderfully, the reveal of the park is great; everything is teased beautifully without going overboard.  I couldn’t have more love for that first minute. 🙂

At 1:03, things take a turn.  The music abruptly cuts as we get our taste of the feeding sequence.  This is interesting, as it breaks up the tone rather unfortunately but it also acts as a sharp reminder of the dangers in store for Park patrons. It could have been worked in more smoothly with a softer transition, but at least it fits in with the overall tone the trailer is building.

Thus ends “Trailer One” and begins “Trailer Two”.  Whereas the first trailer is beautifully subtle, pairing good reveals with an honest bit of teasing, this second trailer was created as the modern “explain everything” portion.  Bluntly laying out the plot and focusing on the popular action hero casting, it cuts to black between all but two shots.  Its structure is straight out of the Avengers 2 fashion, artificially instilling tension rather than letting the film speak for itself.

AND speaking of the Avengers trailer, I’m copyrighting the term “Slowed Down / Set in minor key / Creepified” [or SSC] to describe trailer music.   I do like how minimal they go with it, but its still an obnoxious way of trying to jam suspense into a film’s trailer.  Make it stop.  Please.

Finally, at 1:51 we arrive at the Third and final “Trailer”.  As much as I like the source material, the current trend to try and recreate the original Alien trailer is growing very old.  The bwammbwamm noise, the dramatic pacing of cuts, the ratcheting up of action – these work perfectly for the Jurassic Park material but, having seen this scheme so often, it works against it.  Again, they used a structure that is getting old fast but it does provide effective teasing.  I particularly love the shot of Bryce Dallas Howard holding the flair a la Ripley, proving my judgement of its inspiration correct.

This last “Trailer” does end on a high note with a great final shot and a good musical cue over the title screen, but that does only so much to salvage the pileup of multiple parts.  Had they done either the first or last minutes on their own as a teaser trailer, I would call it nearly a masterpiece of marketing.  Instead, they slap-dashed three different trailer ideas together into a rough consortium that distracts from its content.  Luckily, the excellent film work behind it shines through its poorly cut trailer and manages to shine despite its ill-conceived medium.

Welp there you go!  This film looks like such a thrill ride and I cannot wait to see it!  I hope the marketing distills down as we get closer to release.  But until then, just remember: “if something chases you, run.” 🙂  Happy Thanksgiving!

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http://www.jurassicworldmovie.com