Trailers hold a unique place in a film’s development. Even though they’re usually relegated to the marketing machine, they’re the audience’s first entry point to a film storyworld. As a filmmaker, I find the trailer troublesome. In a perfect world one would want the audience to experience the story for the first time in a dark comfortable theater, with good sound and no distractions, to watch the characters unfold and go along in their journey just as planned in the screenplay. But as an audience member, I’d be hard pressed to go see a movie without first knowing what it’s about. Without first seeing a trailer.
And Hollywood has elevated the trailer to an art form. There are experienced editors who can shine the biggest turds into 2 minute masterpieces that people pay good money to go see. I’ve been duped. I’m sure most people have. “It looked good in the trailer”. But going past Hollywood marketing trickery, the trailer is still a basic requirement for any movie that hopes to gather any considerable audience. But what if a film project decided not to cut a trailer? What would you have to do as a filmmaker to sell your story to an audience without cutting the flashiest scenes together into something a music video could be jealous of?
I think one would have to start with the screenplay itself. Why couldn’t characters begin to be explored outside of the main 90-120 minute film structure? And what if instead of cutting trailers, the marketing was based on moving the narrative along in a significant way, possibly through a series of short web-friendly “free” content? If one went a step further, alternative story-related content could even continue as the “main film event” was in theaters or put out on DVD or VOD. The new content could explore secondary storylines or side characters or even another side of the film’s main protagonists, and possibly lay the groundwork for the next “main film event”. But the new content couldn’t be an afterthought or a marketing gimmick, it would have to be part of the main filmmaking process, right there on the page of the screenplay itself. If done well it could actually elevate the storytelling to another level, something that no trailer, for incredibly good that it may be, could pull off.
I think the writer in me would be partly horrified of this scenario. “So now it’s not enough to write a kick-ass screenplay, but I have to come up with all these other “alternative contents” to go along with the movie? How do you even go about organizing all this? I’m confused.” But who said traditional film structure has to stay the same for another 100 years? The partly horrified writer in me would then shut up and give way to the audience member in me. “Impress me. I dare you.”