Friday, May 21, 2010

The Trailer as Mini-Movie

The other day on Facebook I put up a self-made trailer for Citizen Kane with the idea of making it a spoiler trailer of the kind that does everything but show you the climax of the film, frame for frame. As such, Rosebud is quite obviously hinted at throughout, effectively spoiling the mystery for anyone who hasn't seen it. It seems like a modern dilemma but actually trailers have been doing it for decades. Neil Sarver mentioned the trailer for The Searchers as among the worst offenders and he's right, it does play like a mini-version of the film itself leaving little surprise for the viewer in the theatrical setting. Another mini-movie is the original trailer for Jaws.

But for me, it's not just the spoiler quality of modern trailers that makes them so awful but the by-rote editing style everyone is now familiar with as exemplified in this now famous and widely seen parody of modern day trailers, found here. But it's this trailer for Avatar that I had in mind more when making mine as it has the same old action/thriller trailer editing schtick down pat: Intro to characters, slow build to story followed by short montage with quick cuts and music building towards crescendo. Then title and sometimes, as in mine, a short post-title scene before credits. And this method of trailer making is, to me, an anti-sell of the movie. I was no big fan of Avatar (see my lukewarm review) but it was better than the trailer would lead one to believe. The trailer looks like a bad sell of one of the worst video games ever conceived.

I don't watch trailers much for this very reason. They never quite sell me on a movie and make movies I might otherwise find enjoyable seem really bad. And in some cases, as mentioned earlier, Pleasantville and What Lies Beneath being two notable examples, they practically show the viewer a condensed version of the entire narrative making seeing the actual film virtually pointless (which, in the case of What Lies Beneath was probably a good thing).

Because of this "tell all" nature of the theatrical trailer I much prefer the teaser trailer, the one that gives but a hint of the movie and actually makes you want to see it. My favorite of recent years is probably Inglourious Basterds. It's entertaining and fun and most of all, once you see the film, you realize it gave away virtually nothing. But teasers don't have much of that quality anymore and seem as bad as the full trailers that often follow. And somehow, in a kind of perverse celebration of this, I plan on making more trailers for classic movies, in part to keep my editing skills up to task and in part just to see how to best make a bad trailer for the purely creative aspect of it. I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoy making them. Probably not but what the hell, I'm going to make them anyway.

Here's the Citizen Kane trailer for those who didn't see it on Facebook. The sound quality's not as good as I'd like (my narration is a little too echo-chamber sounding) but that should, hopefully, improve with time. Enjoy.

20 comments:

Jason Bellamy said...

Love it! Amazing how that last shot, in its new context, has an almost Young Frankenstein vibe, as if Kane realizes his gaffe, which is of course totally different from the way the scene actually plays.

Keep 'em going!

Jason Bellamy said...

BTW ... A somewhat recent trailer that was awful in this respect that no one ever calls out is Children of Men. The whole narrative of the trailer is about getting the girl to the boat, and then before the trailer is over it shows them in the fucking boat!! I remember seeing that and thinking, I hope this trailer is screwing with me and the boat shot that looks to be the climax of the film is actually something from the first third. Alas, I was wrong.

Granted, at least with that film there's some depth beyond the narrative. But still ...

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Hysterical. Thanks for making me laugh, Greg.

Greg said...

Jason, the last shot of Kane clapping has that effect for me too. At the end of this trailer it suddenly plays like comedy.

I haven't seen Children of Men yet but will make sure not to watch the trailer first. Thanks for the heads up.

Greg said...

Ivan, glad to be of service, and very glad you liked it.

Roderick Heath said...

That's some high-class pastiche there Greg - the rhythm, the pretension, the pushy instant-o-drama modern trailers try to sell, all exactly transcribed. One thing I like about this sort of experiment is how much it reveals about editing. It reminds me of one of my favorite other stunts in trailer-mash tomfoolery, which turns "The Shining" into a family comedy. Here's a link for anyone who hasn't seen it:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gf7h6o3I8yw

Greg said...

Thanks, Rod. I love that Shining trailer, which was, in many ways, the one that started it all, as far as mash-ups go.

I haven't decided if I want to go that route in the future or not, that is, turn something like Brief Encounter into a rom-com, or simply do more of what I did here, which is take the alright present drama and artificially heighten it. Although certainly, turning Brief Encounter into a rom-com would be quite a challenge that I might want to take on.

Jason Bellamy said...

I haven't seen Children of Men yet ...

Uh-oh! I should have said "spoiler warning." How ironic. Sorry.

Greg said...

Jason, seeing a few brief descriptive words and scenes from the movie in a trailer are two very different things. Don't worry about it.

Tony Dayoub said...

In the same vein of THE SHINING trailer, the corollary to the spoiler or mini-movie trailer is the bait-and-switch trailer. The most recent example I can remember is the one for BURN AFTER READING which seemed to be marketed as the Coens' return to RAISING ARIZONA-type hijinks. While the film had its slapstick element in Brad Pitt's character, the overall tone is quite different. I'm sure it would have found much more success had it not been marketed as the funniest comedy since A NIGHT AT THE OPERA.

Greg said...

Tony, yes, the bait and switch trailer has a long history as well. In fact, Inglourious Basterds, of which the teaser I even say I like a lot, is a kind of bait and switch too. It plays up the basterds so much and then you see it and watch this brilliantly formalist slow build until the stunning climax, a feeling and mood that doesn't come from the trailer at all!

Pat said...

Greg,

As I told you on Facebook, I do love your Kane trailer. I showed it to my boyfriend, who apparently was a little too tired to pick up on irony that day - he said "That was really good, except that it gave away the whole story with Rosebud."


In the same vein, I hate the trailers that show you all the best comedy gags in a movie. By the time you see the actual movie, they seem old hat.

Greg said...

Ha, I love your boyfriend's reaction, it means I succeeded.

I too hate most comedy trailers because even if there are plenty of other good jokes in the movie, the big ones have usually been spoiled and that has an effect on how you view the film.

Christopher said...

great trailer..I did see it on FB..
I hate trailers nowdays..they are so annoying!
start!the fucking! Movie!
theres been several films I'm glad I took a chance on seeing IN SPITE of the trailer..

Greg said...

It's true. Many trailers today make me NOT want to see the movie. If I do see it I'm often surprised at how wrong the trailer was.

bill r. said...

I have an old gag about CITIZEN KANE that I sometimes haul out for people I think will enjoy it, but its completely visual, so forget I said anything.

Greg said...

Ha, ha, hilarious Bill! Good one.

bill r. said...

I knew you'd like that one, because you like CITIZEN KANE so much and everything.

Greg said...

It's funny because it's true. Hey, you know, maybe I should update or something. As always, the goddamned "Land Before CGI" is taking forever! I should write something up in the meantime.

bill r. said...

Yeah, I'm "scheduled" to post something tonight, but...eh. I think my most recent post should be linked to by every other film site on the internet, so it should probably stay at the top of the page for one more day.