Sunday, December 16, 2018 1:00 am
What a tease: Trailers take on whole new life
Travis M. Andrews | Washington Post
If you're a die-hard fan of the Netflix smash “Stranger Things,” you might have ridden a roller coaster of emotions Monday.
It probably went like this: You saw there was a YouTube clip going around about the third season of the show, so you excitedly clicked on it. Rather than see any footage – or even learn the season's release date – you instead watched several phrases such as “Suzie, Do You Copy?” and “The Battle of Starcourt” appear over the show's title page while its theme music played. These are likely episode titles, which might excite some fans. But overall, this was no trailer.
No, it was a teaser trailer – a method of getting fans hyped for the trailer, an ad for the ad for the movie. Teasers – generally in video clip or poster form – have become far more popular in social media age, and they're changing how fans consume media.
Nowadays, being interested in an upcoming television show or movie can be a multiyear investment. With the rise of teaser trailers, teaser posters and teaser tweets, a project can enter our lives years before we see one second of actual footage.
Arriving on the same day as the “Stranger Things” teaser trailer was, for example, a teaser poster for an upcoming film centered around the old Sega video game character Sonic the Hedgehog.
The purpose, of course, is to keep the project in an audience's mind as a means of building anticipation. Whenever these teasers are released, publicists breathlessly email pop culture journalists who often write pieces about said teasers. Those get shared on social media and the whole thing perpetuates itself endlessly. (We are deeply aware of the irony of this piece.)
Things have reached the point that the trailer for every massive project is preceded by a lengthy, drawn-out teaser campaign.
Take “Game of Thrones,” for example. The show's final season will air in April. So, naturally, we already have a teaser trailer that simply shows ... a dragon, some fire and some ice. Meanwhile, promotional posters for the new season just show notable scenes from the program's seven-season run.
“We live in a trailer economy,” cultural critic Andy Greenwald said on a recent episode “The Watch” podcast. “The fact that they are releasing this much non-footage now speaks to how much HBO is aware of how culture works in 2018, going into 2019.”
“This is the biggest show on television,” he added. “They don't need to be blanketing major metropolis of the United States with very expensive billboards reminding us of moments that happened on 'Game of Thrones' in other years, as they are doing right now. They don't need any of it, but they understand that it's not just what you've done before. You have to stay at the forefront of people's minds. You have to get people excited. You have to be fueling the conversation, and that conversation cannot begin in April, when the final season begins.”
That's just how things work these days. And sometimes, when crafted with specific intention, they work exceedingly well.
Take Disney's live-action remake of “The Lion King” that's coming out at the end of September. The company dropped a teaser trailer showing a nearly shot-for-shot remake of the iconic opening from the original, animated film.
Twitter was alight with excitement, and some users immediately began comparing the new film to the old one. The ability to make the comparisons, using stills from both, so quickly – not to mention the ability to disseminate it immediately – did not exist when the original film came out. And it shows just how powerful teasers have become.
Of course, that ability also means a poorly-made teaser has equal opportunity to go viral. And, boy, have they.
Probably the most recent example was the first look at “Venom,” the superhero movie featuring Tom Hardy's bizarre accent. While the short clip included plenty of Hardy, it didn't include the actual character of Venom. Fans quickly picked up on this fact.
“If it's too early to even show a single shot of the title character in your trailer ... maybe just don't release a trailer?” tweeted one user.
Make no mistake: Teaser trailers aren't new. Some of film's most iconic moments were first captured in quick teasers shown on television or before the movies.
One of the most famous teaser trailers belongs to “The Shining,” Stanley Kubrick's 1980 imagining of the Stephen King classic. Credits languidly scroll over a pair of red hotel elevators. The moment the words “Directed by Stanley Kubrick” disappear from the screen, a tidal wave of blood gushes through the cracks in the doors. It remains a masterpiece of the form, a brief clip that perfectly explains the tone and vibe of the film.
But while teasers have always existed, it wasn't possible – at least, it wasn't easy – to watch them on repeat in a desperate search for clues, for some bit of foreshadowing. Now, spending absurd amounts of time with teasers has become as much a part of the normal fan experience as actually watching the movie or the show – one that's not going anywhere.
Whether this trend is exciting or distressing depends on your personal constitution (and on how much you like arguing about movies on Twitter, Facebook and Reddit). It's also merely another example of how pop culture permeates our lives in the digital era.