The following trailer for the Stepfather remake is a perfect example of how not to cut a preview if you had any intention of getting viewers into theatres to watch your movie.
A movie trailer should be just enough of the film’s flavor to wet your appetite to see it. You should not be giving away the entire movie from beginning to end. There should be enough footage to establish the style of the movie, the genre and maybe some other info to hook you, actors, director and a hook. The other way is the highly desirable teaser that gives nothing away and yet is so enigmatic, people can’t help themselves but go see what it’s about. The Matrix is a perfect example of the latter. The green numbers falling down the screen or on the posters that show the code of the Matrix was a brilliant iconic marketing tool and hyped the movie significantly.
Every movie has the same arc as a book. Like we learned in high school, there are four main parts;
This will set up our lead character coming back home to find that his mother has remarried and he may or may not get along with his new stepfather. This a good start to hook you, it sets up the film, the actors and what the movie is about.
Our hero starts to become suspicious of his stepfather’s past and whether or not he’s dangerous. Is he just being paranoid? We’ve now raised the stakes and heightened the drama.
This is a good place for the trailer to end. We have our set up and we want to know if his paranoia is justified or if he’s wrongly accusing an innocent man. Maybe there is some other plot that could twist near the end and really throw us for a loop and complicate the entire story.
This should never be in a preview for a movie. Sure, you could snag a bit of a car chase or explosion for effect, but the audience shouldn’t see the context for this action. You’re simply giving away the ending and taking away any need to go see this movie that there could be! So we can see the stepfather confessing to being the crazy guy our hero suspected he was and now the family is definitely in jeopardy and there is this final battle to deal with.
This is the only part of the movie not given away in the trailer, but it doesn’t matter anymore. We all know how the movie will end. The step dad will die or be arrested and the family will survive. We’ve already seen too much of this cookie cutter plot to care anymore what might happen between these major scenes ruined in the three minute preview.
What ends up happening, is that we all feel like we’ve already watched this movie. Now never mind the fact that it’s a remake or that this is almost the limp wristed John Travolta movie from a couple years ago; Domestic Disturbance. We already know what kind of movie we’re going to to see with only the tone and the pitch given to us. But shouldn’t some things remain secret? Or at least hold onto a promise that it may be worth watching or different from our expectations, even if it isn’t?
These trailers can craft our impression of what the feature will be before we watch it. They can create images and moments that crystallized together into a short sampler will be enough for us to cough up the money to see it or at the very least spend our time at the water cooler blabbing about it. This doesn’t happen when you give the cow away with the milk. We know that Keanu is going to save the people from the bomb on the bus, but we don’t want to see them all get to safety and Keanu kiss the girl in trailer! What we go to see then?
Check out the trailer for the Stepfather and see what I’m griping about: