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.