In theory, both distributors and exhibitors would prefer that trailers are played before films that share a similar target demographic. But whether it’s through carelessness on the part of theater managers or an error in judgment at the studio, it doesn’t always work out that way.
At matinees of Fox’s “The Empire Strikes Back” in March, for instance, parents shielded their toddlers eyes from fist-fights and steamy sexuality depicted in the studio’s “Inventing the Abbots” trailer.
Last fall, Sony preceded its family film “Fly Away Home” with a trailer for the adult drama “The Mirror Has Two Faces,” again much to the dismay of the moms and dads in the audience.
It should be noted, both trailers were rated suitable for general audiences by the MPAA.
“We made a mistake, and we learned,” acknowledged Sony Pictures Releasing president Jeff Blake. “With ‘Mirror,’ we were looking for the female audience that would also go to ‘Fly Away Home.’ But when we get that volume of complaints, we listen.
“That’s not effective selling,” Blake added. “It’s turning off a potential audience.” For that reason, Sony hasn’t attached a trailer to its sole summer kidpic, “Buddy.”
But exhibitors say they are the ones most likely to take the heat for showing inappropriate trailers.
“Suitability is my No. 1 manifesto,” said Cineplex’s Fischer, who has experienced first-hand the ire of morally indignant parents. “The MPAA does a great job rating movies and trailers, but studios need to keep in mind that sensibilities are different outside of Los Angeles.”
Geography is also a factor in the number of trailers audiences will put up with. While patrons in big cities tend to be frequent moviegoers who may be willing to slog through five or more coming attractions, small-town folk want to “cut to the chase,” as one exhibitor puts it. Many theater chains adjust their programs accordingly.
“We look at about a 10-minute trailer program, though at times it’s gone to 11 minutes,” says Richie Fay, president of AMC. “We honestly feel that at that point, the audience begins to lose interest.”