5 Tricks Hollywood Uses To Make Good Trailers And Bad Movies
I've complained about movies once or twice before, but it turns out there's just no end to the madness. The people who own movie studios aren't content to just create art that we want to enjoy; they want to pin us down with their knee on our throats, slice out our corneas, and pour boiling hot cinema directly into our optical nerve. We scream and claw and writhe, but they're too strong. In the end, we're left blind and broken, wandering the Earth like Denzel Washington in Book Of Eli, which is a great reference to make because it was nowhere near as good as the trailers promised.
But the worst part is that movie ad campaigns don't just hurt us, they hurt the movies themselves. How? In five very specific ways, which is super fortuitous, because I have a lot of trouble writing when I can't divide my points into lists.
New Marketing Techniques Encourage Shitty Movies
If you're a fan of horror movies, you know how slim our pickin's are and how rare it is for a good scary movie to get any press: For every It Follows (which succeeds primarily through word-of-mouth, on account of how it's fucking great) we get a Last Exorcism, a Devil's Due, and even a Ouija. So what gives? Why do studios keep throwing money behind shitty scary movies? When will they learn to stop angering the Fear Gods?
Well, it turns out that they have learned their lessons, since as those links will show you, each one of those movies had a fraction of the budget of a normal blockbuster but still made big money: Last Exorcism cost $1.8 million and made $67 million, while the comparatively pricey Ouija cost $5 million and made 18 times that.
The problem is that "viral marketing" is all the rage, but "viral marketing" doesn't have to have anything to do with the actual movie. There was neat Ouija marketing that involved a fake psychic pulling pranks, and by "neat" I mean "significantly more entertaining than the movie." Yes, I saw Ouija. I am not proud.
Why are those so much more successful? It's because even though these cheap, shitty horror movies that no one cares about get a fraction of the production budget, their marketing budget is on par with most other blockbusters. It's the clickbait approach to cinema: They put all their effort into getting butts into seats and ignore the quality of what those butts end up watching. Then, when the aforementioned It Follows (so goddamn good, you guys) ends up being a success because everyone who sees it tells everyone else how great it is, they keep looking for the "trick." The "secret" that garnered so much success for a movie that was made so cheaply. Gosh, what ever could that secret be?
I guess it's just a mystery.
"Marketing Tracking" Ruins Everything
Right now, the way we measure how much money a movie makes is stupid and wrong, and it's keeping us from getting good movies. How? Be patient and allow me to explain, my pretties.
The most important detail in determining if a movie does well isn't, ya know, how much money it makes -- it's how much money people anticipate it will make, based on how well their marketing is doing. And these numbers are always hilariously wrong: Guardians Of The Galaxy was projected to open at $70 million, but it ended up snagging $94.3 million. The Expendables 3 was anticipated to pull in over $20 million, and it ended up grabbing $15.8 million. Sin City: A Dame To Kill For was projected at up to $19 million, and it ended up with just over $6 million.
I know what you're thinking: "Oh, well, at least they're in the ballpark." But that's not the point; those predictions are how they decide if a movie is a success. The Wolverine was projected to open at $65 million, but it ended up pulling in only $53 million, so it was immediately labeled a flop. Never mind that the movie ended up grossing $414 million and is the third-highest-grossing X-Men movie; it's a flop because these notoriously unreliable marketing projections were off. Again. Like they always were. And because of that, we almost didn't get a goddamn Pacific Rim sequel. Which would've been a national tragedy on par with me falling back into StarCraft II's Gold League.
Pacific Rim was practically written off before it even came out, and you don't have to be a marketing guru to understand why "What A Piece Of Shit This Movie Is" in headlines is going to be bad for word-of-mouth. In fact, when the movie ended up making a decent profit, it still took the movie studio a long time to double-check their numbers and realize that, yes, they were in fact significantly richer. The point is these people are making all their decisions based on made-up nonsense because they might as well live in fucking space.
Movie Marketing Copies Other Movies Even When It Doesn't Make Sense
Look, I know you're busy. You're smart and ambitious, which means you spend most of your day making sure all your work gets done, you take proper care of yourself and your family, and in your free time you probably try to exercise or enrich yourself in some way. My only concern about you is that since you work so hard at taking care of all those things, you're missing the really important stuff going on in the world, like the fact that every Marvel movie poster is exactly the same poster.
Everyone is grumpy, looking just to the side of the camera, and standing in front of a bunch of flying evil things. Every hero except Iron Man is flanked by his friends, but that's just because Iron Man gets to be flanked by everybody in both Avengers posters, so it balances out. It's particularly weird because the first phase of Marvel movies actually showed a lot more diversity ...
... but then Avengers redefined what "crushing the box office" looked like, and from then on, they all copied that style. Never mind that Avengers was a success because it was the collision of several different movies, each with their own clear style -- all movies have to have at least one thing in common with The Avengers now!
Movie marketing is painfully transparent in how it just copies what works, with no thought whatsoever given to why that worked. Which is why every single movie has character posters:
What the shit is that? Coyote Tango and Nova Prime are barely even in their movies. Ori is clearly drunk. That Breaking Dawn poster might be a parody; I honestly can't tell. Is "Creepy Pedophile Who's Too Clean And Smells Like Cheap Gin" an important character in that franchise?
Turns out that character posters are just easy and cheap. That's it. That's why everyone does it -- the design can be done in a designer's sleep (Nick Nolte didn't even know his picture was being taken) and you don't even have to pay to print them, because you can just throw them up online and call it good.
You'll also notice that all those posters are super dark, despite Guardians Of The Galaxy being a comedy and The Hobbit being an actual cartoon. That's because some movies were successful with their dark marketing, so now every movie pretends to be about gothic bats in a dark cave at midnight in space with the lights off wearing a blindfold and also it's very very dark.
Do you understand what I am telling you?
People who work in movie marketing are basically fish: When they see something shiny, they're going to try to bite it, even if it obviously has a hook hanging out its butthole.
Studios Are Obsessed With Opening Weekend (Which Doesn't Matter)
On par with the industry's weird obsession with marketing tracking is their neurotic, kinky, and deeply co-dependent relationship with the opening weekend. See, despite the fact that opening weekend is all you hear about in regard to a movie's success, and though it's what all the studios focus on, it's actually meaningless when it comes to how much money a movie can make.
See, movie studios are owned by huge corporations, and the profits from those movies -- even the biggest hits in the world -- are tiny. What is valuable is the prestige. Rich people in their towers made out of platinum-coated human bones just love being part of "Top 50" lists. You know, every magazine's got the 10 most beautiful, the 10 richest. The prestige is good for the company's image, and in some ways more valuable than the movie's success.
Gotta get that coveted "waiting in line at the grocery store" demo.
So what that naturally means is word-of-mouth (also known as people actually liking the movie, caring about it, and wanting to talk about it) has become almost valueless, because word-of-mouth doesn't affect the opening weekend. TV ads, on the other hand, are super valuable. Basically, it's freaking Backwards Town, suburb of Bonkersville. In the Republic of Batshitopia.
Music Is Super Important (And Also The First Thing They Skimp On)
One of the most important but least appreciated parts of filmmaking is the music. You rarely notice a bad score in a movie, but every truly iconic movie also has an iconic score: Jaws, Star Wars, Psycho, and of course Pacific Rim.
So naturally you'd want to put music front-and-center in any movie trailer, to excite your audience and no of course that's not how they do it. Not only do movie trailers skimp on sound, they specifically go for successful scores that are already tied to other movies, like the Two Towers trailer that used the Requiem For A Dream soundtrack, because of course when we're watching an epic fantasy trilogy about hope and good triumphing over evil, I wanna be thinking about Jared Leto cutting his arm off and David Keith's horrible rapist character.
I mean Keith David.
Then there's the theme from the end of Aliens, which has appeared in every single movie trailer ever made, even ones that were made before Aliens, because I am going all-in with this hyperbole. You see it in Minority Report, From Dusk Till Dawn, and even freaking The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, for no reason other than it being ... ya know, freaking awesome.
The obvious way to get around this is with licensing, like when Clash Of The Titans used The Used's "The Bird And The Worm" in its trailer and it was freaking awesome.
The problem, of course, is that that is super expensive and involves a lot of complicated paperwork that can be really hard to figure out and a lot of troubling phone calls and emails -- trust me, it's just not worth it.
So, basically, the point is that Big Hollywood is an artistically bankrupt and naive community of money-grubbing morons who will squeeze every iota of art out of the industry before they'll sacrifice a single fucking penny, and they all have to burn. They all have to burn.
They all have to burn.
JF Sargent is an editor and columnist for Cracked. Follow him on Twitter and Like him on Facebook so he can advertise himself to you in all the horrible ways he just spent 2,000 words complaining about.
For more from Sarge, check out 5 Ways Our Generation Has Ruined "Being Offended" and 6 Urban Legends We Need To Teach Kids (For Their Own Good).
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