Tuesday, December 07, 2010
Some studio people will tell you (but deny it) that sometimes the trailer is more important than the film.
Nancy Meyers makes trailers and then just pads the remaining 89 minutes with filler.
My writing partner and I were once hired to write some jokes expressly to be inserted into a trailer. It was maybe the greatest and shortest gig we ever had. We asked, if the jokes work, will you put them in the movie itself? No.
When you watch comedy trailers, be aware – these are the funniest moments in the film. These are the big pratfalls (trailer makers LOVE pratfalls), the best zingers, and what they hope will be the most memorable moments. Or, in the case of Nancy Meyers, the only moments.
So if the trailer isn’t funny, if the jokes are forced, if the physical stunts are lame, if the best they could do was a gag about shit on Katherine Heigl’s face, then you can bet the movie will be what’s on Katherine Heigl’s face.
But what if the trailer is funny? Knowing that these are the best jokes, you may wonder if it’s still worth seeing because you know all the highlights? Here’s the amazing thing. The laughs in the trailer get the biggest laughs in the theater, even though most of the audience has been exposed to the jokes already. It's bizarre.
However, the same does not hold true for giving away plot twists in the trailer. Spoiler alerts might not apply for jokes but they sure do for stories. And as a general rule, if you can set up the premise easily and clearly in a trailer, then you don’t need thirty minutes of screen time to do the same thing.
Trailers today have become an art… and a science. The amount of creativity and research that goes into previews is staggering. I can’t imagine J.D. Salinger ever went to his editor with a new book he intended to write and heard the editor say, “What are five good blurbs?” But that’s the current feature world. So when you pitch your comedy, make sure someone gets hit in the nuts, at least two people are humiliated, people dance to a 60s hit, the punchline to a joke is “vagina”, and you feature Betty White. Close your sale, and then go write STALAG 17.