a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Shouldn't Coming Attractions Actually Attract?

See, I spend a weekend catching up on a couple of movies, and all I really wind up with is rant material.

Who the hell makes these really awful coming attractions? And don't they understand that, if you give the whole movie away, I don't want to see it?

I mean, correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't coming attractions (or previews, or trailers, whatever you want to call them) and TV commercials supposed to convince me that I should part with my hard-earned money and choose their movie out of the 16 playing at the multiplex? Instead of playing 2 minutes of plot points that cause me to look at the person next to me and say "Well, I've just seen that entire movie, so I don't need to see that"?

This has been a problem for a long time, don't get me wrong, but the longer that something is a problem, the sillier it gets that no one is fixing it.

The current worst offender is the coming attraction for "Prime", starring Meryl Streep and Uma Thurman. It literally shows you the set-up, and then the act one complication, and then the fall-out from the complication, and then the angst from the fallout from the complication, and then an elevator scene that really seems like a major third act plot point. Worse, it doesn't do any of this well; the movie just comes across as shrill and dumb. The really crazy thing is that I've seen a few very good reviews for it, and I probably would have gone to see it, but the trailer effectively talked me out of it. That's a bad coming attraction.

There should be rules. Why aren't there rules? Here are some good rules --

-- Don't show anything that gives away the plot after the first 20 minutes of the movie. Don't show any scenes that tip off what's going to happen, and don't have characters (as in the Prime trailer) uttering complete lines of plot point dialogue.

-- If it's a comedy, you are only allowed to show 10% of the jokes, and not all the good ones either. If there are only 10 laughs points in your movie, you are only allowed to show one of them. It's called truth in advertising, and someone should be regulating it. Because again, if all the laughs are in the trailer, then you've just shown me the movie. (And if you have less than ten laughs in your movie, you aren't allowed to advertise it as a comedy).

-- If you are going to show scenes from the last 90 minutes of the movie, keep them out of context. James Bond trailers do this really well; they show James doing this, and doing that, but there is no real sense it what order it happened, so none of it really sticks in your brain.

-- Be interesting. The best trailer I saw over this weekend was for a movie called Match Point, which looks like a sexy thriller and then turns out to have been directed by Woody Allen. Woody Allen directed a sexy movie? I want to see that. Plus all I really came out of it knowing was that Scarlet Johanssen has sex with someone. Trailer gets a ten.

I think that's the key here. I want to see a coming attraction that is going to make me say "Wow, I want to see that", without making me feel like it has already blown a chunk of the movie. The "Jarhead" trailer does this well; it shows me enough that I want to see more.

The coming attraction for "A History of Violence" wasn't as good, because they give away so much of the first half hour in the trailer, that when I was went to see the actual movie I was waiting for the movie to get to the part where I didn't know what was going to happen.

And that's the saddest thing. It is a rare, rare experience that I can go to a movie without already having a lot of plot expectations. And there's really no way to avoid it; you're trapped in the theater, watching this string of trailers unfold. Which is fine, I love coming attractions, as long as they don't give too much away. But unless I'm seeing a foreign film or an art house film, that hasn't been advertised to death, there's always the sense that I've already seen big chunks of it. I've even gotten to the point where, if a commercial comes on TV for a movie I know that I'm going to see that weekend, I'll stick my fingers in my ears and go "la la la la".

Childish, but effective.

It's one more reason why you should start your screenplay as late in the story as possible. Because the audience will probably know what your premise is going in, and just want you to get to it. That's one positive of screenwriting; when I pick up a script, I have no idea of the experience I'm about to have. It could be anything. It's refreshing.

Anyway, in closing, let me mention the worst trailer I ever saw, back in the days when I was a theater manager. It was so bad, that we used to make fun of it. Loudly. Not something I think they were striving for.

Over scenes from the movie, an incredibly wooden narrator intoned "He. Taught. Her. How. To Dance. She. Taught. Him. How. To. Love."

We thought the movie would be a huge bomb, but it turned out to be "Dirty Dancing". So you can't always tell from the trailer.


At 11:06 AM, Blogger Danny Stack said...

I read Prime when Sandra Bullock was attached. T'was a good script.

At 11:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent points re: trailers. I even encounter other non-biz consumers to say the same thing. For the trailers that basically give the movie away--wondering which trailer houses are doing this?

At 11:21 AM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

The funny thing too is that Prime is a dull-seeming title; it suggests math, and movies like "Proof" or "Primer". But it actually refers to the fact that Uma Thurman and her much-younger boyfriend are in their sexual prime, something which automatically makes the movie more enticing.

They should have put THAT into the trailer.

At 12:38 PM, Anonymous Joshua said...

A good friend of mine is in Prime - he plays the doorman who bars access to any and all who wish to court Uma -

The Director is Ben Younger, who directed The Boiler Room, a film I enjoyed very much.

But I have been screaming about previews for ages now - they wonder why no one went to see THE ISLAND, the reason was we saw all the major plot points in the trailer, why pay to see the rest? Same happened with STEALTH - we saw the movie in the preview.

Plus, it tells us that they think audiences are DUMB.

The film that made me most angry about this was THE TRUMAN SHOW, the trailer showed Ed Harris communicating with Truman - which, as we know, is the climax of the film. I felt so ripped off.

Best trailer in my memory was the one for THE MATRIX - it gave hints of something, but really told us nothing.

At 12:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Best reaction I ever heard to a trailer:

From the back of the theater as the credits flashed past: "Whatever."

Now I think that with almost every trailer. When I was in film school a couple of guys came in who ran a company that makes trailers. We all had the same complaint. Why give away the show? Answer: "Audiences like it." We stared at them.


At 1:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I hate firing up a DVD for a movie I haven't seen and suddenly being bombarded with sounds and images from the film. And with DVD menus, they don't shy away from using anything and everything - including clips of the climax of the of the movie.

Why do they do this? I have started the DVD, you don't need to sell me on how exciting the movie is.

You can make nice, interesting menus without spoiling the movie.

(A good example is the LOST DVD set. They take care on the menus not to reveal anything that hasn't already happened.)

At 2:16 PM, Blogger Scoopy said...

I hate how trailers try to sell you experiences instead of stories. Don't tell me how I'm going to feel, attract me with the story.

I saw the BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN trailer last night. It was disappointing -- they told you basically what was going to happen (not like we all don't kind of know, tee hee, but the how of it, too), then told us the third act conflict.

It's like they just plugged "bi cowboys" into the unrequited-romance formula. They should have brought us into the unusual relationship, instead of showing how these guys have to fight against the world. They should have shown us what a interesting interaction these guys have -- remember the joy of Butch and Sundance just shooting the shit?

They chickened out. My God, you've made a movie about bi cowboys. You've already taken the jump!! Don't try to soft market it as a Hallmark romance.


At 2:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of the worst examples of this ever was for "What Lies Beneath".

The trailers complete give away the fact that the movie is about woman being haunted and spoils several of the details of who she is (the former lover of the hubby).

However, almost the entire first hour of the movie is given over to a neo-Hitchcockian plot in which Michelle Pfieffer thinks that maybe her neighbor killed his wife or something.

I was bored out of my mind during this first hour, knowing, of course, that what was really going on was Michelle was being haunted and I kept waiting for the "real" plot to kick in.

Conversely, I enjoyed the hell out of "The Italian Job", a movie for which I had seen no previews whatsoever.

After the film, my friend commented that, "yeah, it was pretty good", but he felt bored and frustrated during the second act, having seen that the movie would end in a glorious and prolonged chase sequence. As a result, he knew that all the earlier plans by the team (the ones NOT involving Mini's cruising through L.A.) would fail.

How about those ads for the first "Mission Impossible" which showed about 90% of the movie's most spectacular, climactic moment, - namely Cruise being blown from the helicopter onto the moving train.

I assumed (wrongly) from the trailer that this would simply be one of many such moments, not the absolute climax of the film...sigh.


At 1:05 AM, Anonymous Norm said...

What I hate is when the trailer is awesome and it gets me into the movie...only to discover that the really cool scene I wanted to see is a hodge-podge of two or more scenes edited together better than the actual film uses them.

As an example, The Bourne Supremacy, when they're all, "Where is he?" and Damon's all on a phone with a sniper rifle, and he's all, "Right beside you." And its intense and it rules.

It didn't happen like that. Not like that at all.

At 5:49 AM, Anonymous Jacob Sager Weinstein said...

Peter brings up What Lies Beneath, which is a somewhat famous instance of this. Roger Ebert was so annoyed by the trailer that he asked Robert Zemeckis how he could have permitted it--and Zemeckis said he approved the trailer because research shows that people go to movies for the same reason they go to McDonald's--to have exactly the experience they expect they'll have. (I'm paraphrasing from memory here.) Ebert said he expected that attitude from a hack director but not from an extremely talented filmmaer like Zemeckis...

At 9:37 AM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

Of course, the problem with the McDonalds argument is that, for the audience, movies all cost the same. So why would I want a Big Mac, when the other coming attraction is telling me that I can have what is promised to be a mouth-watering meal (a glimpse of steak, the sense that there might be lobster) for the same price?

At 7:02 PM, Blogger Maura said...

One of the worst examples of this at the moment is Flightplan. I have not seen the movie because I don't see the point. The trailer gives away everything except the end. (Plus, I think that movie will just annoy me.)

At 10:04 PM, Anonymous kristen said...

uh oh. you invoked the holiest of all movies in this post...

i think back in the 80s, it didn't matter what kind of trailer Dirty Dancing had. i was in, i think, 5th grade when it came out. all that mattered to me & my cousin was the title.

At 1:59 PM, Blogger Fun Joel said...

I too read Prime a few years ago, before anyone was attached. And I actually know Younger a bit (we have mutual friends from growing up, so we've met a couple of times, though I don't know him well, and he probably has no idea who I am). However, I gotta say that I actually have the opposite reaction to the commercial I saw.

In fact, I liked the way the script took what a poorer script would have left for the end of the second act, and pushed it to the end of the first act instead, allowing the story to progress more fully. The commercial, however, makes it seem as if the story progress of the 1st Act is actually the entire film, which it certainly is not (unless the script changed vastly from the draft I read).


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