12 March 2009

The Marketing of a Film: On the Trailer

I've just come across this extremely thought-provocative article in the Notebook section of The Criterion Collection's Auteurs website. The piece, written by Daniel Kasman, concisely discusses some of the finer considerations that occur during trailer-making, considerations that include how the cultivation of rich, ripe, and subjectively appropriate musical cues can often work to defer the otherwise overly informative serialization of clips that has recently become a virtual staple of the filmic trailer. In this train of thought, the article meditates on the potential involved in creating such pervasive and recognized marketing pieces (as trailers) and probes the alternatives that would otherwise exist in such a specialized marketing practice. For easy reference, I have reproduced the article here (below) along with the trailer that it uses as prime example, a trailer that I also have discussed in tread of similar theory: that for last year's late release Revolutionary Road.

The trailer for Sam Mendes' Revolutionary Road (2008) is particularly interesting because it utilizes one trend in contemporary trailers—relying on a pop song as a crutch to structure trailer rhythm, connote an aura (and era) from the music, and prompt audience sympathy for the music to carry over to the film—to undermine another trend: long trailers that essentially show every major development in a given movie.

While playing pop music over a trailer may seem an easy and cheap effect (and the use of music in Revolutionary Road is just that), it is the latter habit of contemporary movie trailers that is the most insulting. It is as if producers think all audiences ask from a movie is recognition followed shortly by safety. If you know what kind of movie you are going to see, as well as everything that is sure to happen in the film, paying $12 to see it is not longer a risk for an audience member. This is a scary line of thinking for movie marketing, and forgets a great deal of fantastic publicity campaigns that focused on teases, mystery, and concept over obviousness and constant revelation.

Which brings us back to this trailer for Revolutionary Road, which pretty much shows us the gist of the central relantionship in the film between buttoned down salaryman Leonardo DiCaprio and stifled housewife Kate Winslet. But combining this irritatingly show-it-all attitude with Nina Simone's masterpiece "Wild as the Wind" does something unexpected: it transforms the tone of the montage. Her steady melancholy, rolling slowly, lyrically along its soulful, sombre way, transforms the visuals of the trailer from showing what happens in the movie into what happens in these characters' lives. It is initially a subtle difference, but an important one. Without the song, this trailer shows events, plot points; with the music (and assisted by some clever audio editing and use of dissolves), the trailer shows a mood, a routine—it connotes the film's world but not what happens in it. Thus while seemingly looking like a melodrama whose conventions we all recognize, by the end of the trailer, which shows so much, we realize we actually aren't sure at all what happens in this movie. And that's as it should be. (Kasman, D., "The Art of the Trailer: 'Revolutionary Road,'" 2009)

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