Much was made earlier this year of the woman who decided to sue an American film distribution company because of the way it, apparently, misrepresented a film as something it wasn’t. The film was Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive and it just wasn’t enough like Fast and the Furious for her. While one could maybe understand being peeved at the situation, the eventual legal action was a load of rubbish. It did, however, bring about an interesting discussion amongst various online circles about a distributor’s “responsibility” to portray a film accurately against that of the consumer’s “responsibility” to know what the hell they’re paying money to see. Anybody who had read just one of Drive’s 214 amassed reviews at critic assembly website Rotten Tomatoes would know that Refn’s Cannes-winning film was less Fast Five and more stylised homage to pulp genre efforts from the 1970s and ‘80s.
It speaks to the constant debate about how much of a film a trailer should give away. Too much and you risk audiences deciding they’ve already seen the whole thing and not going to the movies; not enough and you’re in trouble of being too vague with audiences who studios feel need to be lead directly to the box office by a film’s director with the cooing assurance that they will get what they pay for. I strongly believe that audiences aren’t as dumb as Hollywood believes, but what would I know? Upcoming Oscar-bound flicks such as The Artist, War Horse and My Week with Marilyn seem to mistake the art of crafting a trailer with that of shouting “CAN I HAZ OSCAR NOW PLZ?” amidst a spoiler-ific display of the film’s biggest moments and I’m sure all will do nicely for their distributors. It’s easier to entice people with vanilla than it is something far more elaborate and foreign.
On the matter of Drive, well that trailer gives away far too much and they still couldn’t get it right! Goes to show how tricky of a tightrope this medium is to succeed at.
One of the more interesting trends amongst film trailers in the last few years, however, is that of the collage method, which aims to do little more than show audiences a slideshow of images. Set to music, usually in an escalating and dramatic fashion, this form of trailer is an inventive and rather sublime way of encapsulating a film that may have otherwise been tricky to sell with traditional methods. You’re not going to find Bad Teacher or X-Men: First Class marketed in such a way – there’s simply too much at stake for such a marketing method that is hardly aimed at blockbuster crowds – but they are often the sorts of trailers that spark intense discussion and admiration amongst film fans. It has been used on foreign language films for decades (this trailer for Wong Kar-Wai’s 2046 is a perfect example), but it’s only in recent years that it has caught on in a broader sense.
Todd Field’s Little Children was probably the first big example and would eventually be hailed as one of the greatest movie trailers of the decade. This 2006 film starring Kate Winslet blended images with the sounds of an ominous oncoming train and ended up as a hypnotic, artful and altogether attention grabbing selling device. Tom Ford’s A Single Man took the same route and succeeded to a lesser degree.
From 2009 came Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are. Set to the music of indie disciples Arcade Fire, I presume the makers of this trailer assumed fans of the book would show up with little provocation and merely set about showing that they hadn’t screwed the much-loved property up. A Twitter pal remarked “that was basically a great Arcade Fire music video”, and he’s probably right, but it was still gorgeous to look at even if non-fans may have been unmoved.
Probably the most recent, and most noteworthy, example of this trend was Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life. Known for his exquisite imagery, Malick’s film is probably the easiest of the lot to be condensed down to a two-minute show reel, but it actually works as a thematic representation of the film, too. The Tree of Life is all about the evocation of memories and, as such, this trailer works beautifully. It suggests and it tantalises without ever giving the game away. There are plenty more gorgeous images where they came from!
Of upcoming movies there are two particularly strong examples. The trailer for Steve McQueen’s sex addiction drama, Shame, starring Michael Fassbender uses this collage effect to paint a picture of this seedy, erotic and dangerous Manhattan. Intercut with text and dialogue though it’s a more traditional leaning piece, yet one that nicely represents the film’s milieu.
For my money, the best of the lot is this claustrophobic, implosive trailer for Andrea Arnold’s thoroughly un-classic adaptation of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. A very un-colourful kaleidoscope of images from the British moors flash by allowing ideas of Arnold’s bold take on the text to be extrapolated as we, the audience, feast on the stunning pictures flashing before us.
Still, you can attempt this method and marketing and still end up spoiling for film. Just look at the trailer for Pedro Almodóvar upcoming The Skin I Live In for an example of that. Or, better yet, don’t. No really, don’t!