The last few years have seen the birth of a super annoying phenomenon in terms of online film trailers – the ‘pre-trailer reel’. They are the five-second short snippet of the trailer you’re about to see that play before the trailer itself.
We’ve always been told it’s solely due to social media, namely Facebook and Instagram, which can show only a few seconds loop in a feed. This week a professional trailer editor recently conducted an AMA session on Reddit. Going by the name ‘BauerBourneBond’, he explained his resume which included cutting a teaser for Disney’s “The Lone Ranger” and a proof-of-concept trailer which was instrumental in getting “John Wick” made.
During the session he was asked where does this idea of playing a few second snippet of the trailer, right before the trailer starts, come from and what’s the purpose. His answer – social media but also viewer retention:
“It comes from YouTube, Snapchat, and Instagram viewing behaviors. We had a company meeting on this when it first started to be a thing studios were asking for, and simply is just hard statistical facts. Greencard + Studio Logos? 75% drop off. Flashy three-second intro straight into the trailer? 300% retention. It’s crazy, but the numbers back it up.”
He also had an interesting answer to one of the most common questions about trailers – why are they so ‘spoiler-y’ and why not make them as vague but as intriguing as possible?
“The studios feel that if you want something unspoilery and artsy, that’s what the Teaser is for. The reason that trailers get so clogged with story (and some studios are worse about this than others) is because of what’s called ‘Testing’. This is the process towards the tail end of the editing window where they take your cut, ship it off to The Mall of America and The Vegas Strip and have 10,000 random Americans watch it in a single weekend and give their opinion.
The overwhelming amount of the time, the notes that come back are “Audience confused”, “Viewer unclear about story”, “Audience missed beat”, etc. The answer? In the studios eyes, ADD MORE STORY. SHOW MORE MOVIE.
And to be clear, there is some merit to this. I had a boss that explained it like this: You take the movie Free Willy. The big accomplishment, the END of the movie, is that the whale escapes. But if you cut a trailer for Free Willy that doesn’t have that goddamn whale jumping over the goddamn sea wall…. then what you are selling is a movie about a whale being abused. And no one is going to see that. Sometimes, a movie NEEDS to be revealed to find an audience. But, it is definitely something done far too often.”
Finally, he was also asked about any famous trailer editors he considers an inspiration, and he cites Bill Neil as the “biggest man/myth/legend” who has been cutting trailers since the early 1990s and “literally invented the concept of modern sound design”. He adds Hunt’s work on the montage in the middle of the trailer for the 2003 remake of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” changed “the way trailers were cut forever”.