“In a world”. A phrase made famous by voice talent Dan LaFontaine that rings through the minds of generations of people whenever the topic of movie trailers arises. What is a trailer though? Where did they come from and how did they become what they are now? To put it simply, a trailer is a preview of an upcoming movie, an advertisement for a product you will hopefully consume when the time comes. No matter what changes the product and subsequent advertising scheme has undergone in the last century, it’s purpose has and shall always remain the same. To understand the modern trailer and how it’s evolved we must first know it’s history.
The first trailer took form in 1913 when advertising manager for the Marcus Loew theater chain created a promotional film for the upcoming Broadway show “The Pleasure Seekers”. The idea took hold over the entire industry and trailers infected the motion picture landscape which even then was still a relatively new medium. With the innovation of sound in motion pictures by the 30’s came the iconic “voice over” that we’ve come to associate with the medium. The 40’s introduced the founding of the National Screen Service which controlled the distribution of theatrical trailers all the way up to the 80’s. Even before the 80’s we saw many artistic liberties being taken with the formatting of trailers in such movies as Kubricks Dr.Strangelove or William Friedkins The Exorcist. These directors were not responsible for the direction of the trailers that would go on to market their movies but the men behind it, such as graphic designer Pablo Ferro, revolutionized how we came to look at previews. Gone were the days of a simple marketing tool for a movie. Now trailers, in a very miniaturized way, set out to evoke the emotion the advertised movie would have on you, whether that emotion be joy, excitement or even fear. The 80’s would introduce a refinement in trailers with the voice of Dan LaFontaine who would throw us into the universe of movies within the span of 2 minutes or less with the 3 simple words, “In a World”.
The true renaissance came in the 2000’s when trailers began telling the stories of the film and eliciting emotion all in a condensed package. These new techniques began working almost too well when movies such as Cast Away would reveal essential moments and important story beats in the trailer itself, now regarded formally as a “spoiler”. With the evolution of the internet, trailers became subject to viral spread and mass dissemination as thousands of people could now dissect trailers frame by frame, looking for clues as to what an upcoming movie would have to offer. Going into the 2010’s after iconic trailers such as that of Inception or Prometheus would reach the grubby hands of youtubers who now had entire channels with millions of followers, entire communities, dedicated to taking a marketing tool and extracting every bit of information relevant to the script before the movie was even close to release.
The attention span of the movie goer grows shorter and shorter with the endless crawl of time along with the lengths of trailers. We have entered a hilarious age where, while prowling through our social media we find 5 second trailers for 90 second trailers for 120 minute motion pictures that had their entire plot spoiled 4 months prior to release. Trailers come in all time frames now whether it’s 5 seconds before your youtube video, a 20 second “TV spot” that can’t afford to stay on longer, or the 3 minute “red band trailer” that people have been waiting months for. There are few secrets left in Hollywood as our attention spans continue to shorten and we demand to see leaked pictures of the entire cast as they film the movie or scrounge garbage cans outside of studios for early drafts of a script so that we can leak it to online communities.
Movies no longer contain the surprise or thrill they used to have and I suppose we have to make our peace with that and thank our lucky stars we have artistic innovation in things as simple as our movie advertisements. They can thrill, shock, and elate us just as easily as a movie can these days, more effectively so oftentimes. I have no doubt the industry of trailer making will continue to evolve and maybe deliberately obfuscate or mislead audiences for the sake of keeping us engaged and spoiler free. It has become a difficult task to hold the attention of the casual movie goer but it’s a task worth taking on if we are to keep the art alive. The only thing I ask of my readers is to keep your minds open to the wacky universes movies and movie trailers hook us with and always be ready to find yourselves, as the legendary Dan LaFontaine would put it, “In a World”.