Do movie trailers turn you on — or off? When the lights dim in those brand new expensive movie palaces with stadium seating, surround sound and crystal clear screen projection — are you happy with what you see?
I’m not asking you about the feature film for which you paid $11 a ticket. You can talk about that later — after you’ve seen the movie that brought you into the theater in the first place.
Are you pleased with the seemingly-endless unspooling of coming attractions — trailers? Do they entice you to come back again? That’s the subject of “Coming Attractions,” the untold story of the world’s favorite advertising: the movie trailer.
The two hours-eight minutes-long docu was screened at the James Bridges Theater as part of UCLA’s Theater Film and Television Angels. It was in tribute to the Andrew J. Kuehn Jr. Foundation, donor of more than $750,000 to the UCLA School of Theater Film and Television and the University’s Film and TV Archive.
The late Andrew Kuehn Jr. was the grand daddy of film trailer production, tabbed “The King of Coming Attractions,” succeeding the National Screen Services.
Mike Shapiro, who directed the docu, devoted over two years assembling the historical footage of movie trailers dating back to 1912’s “Something’s Happened to Mary” up to present day including “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”
Shapiro’s trailers include “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “China Syndrome.” “Die Hard,” etc. His other works include 14 years as Oscar show segment producer. This year he created Oscar’s opening number, “Oscar City,” “a computer-generated fantasy the way Hollywood would want the world to look at us..”
He also produced-directed the “Great American Song Book” for Warner Home Video and PBS. “But,” he says, “I spent my life in the world of movie trailers and thought I knew all there was to know about them until I started making this film.”
The importance of a movie trailer to the studio or the film’s producer is the realization that “you only get to say ‘hello’ once to your audience,” said Shapiro.
The trailers’ modus operandi in the past was basically to tease the audience. Now, a full salvo is aimed at potential ticket buyers, “firing all guns. Vintage trailer clips and their modern counterparts illustrated the change in trailers’ pitchmen.
Today, studios study audience reaction to trailers with even more attention than they do to the feature itself.
When I complained about the plethora of violent scenes in trailers today, Shapiro reminded me that films are made mostly for youth and date audiences. And that audiences in general are shrinking thus those coming attractions have to be specifically aimed at the demographics of the ticket buyers.
The panel on hand to illustrate from their own experiences included: Joe Dante, who pointed out that working on trailers “was an unusual path to directing.”
Other participants included Rob Friedman, Greg McClatchy, UCLA’s Dean of the School of Theater, Film and Television, Robert Rosen, and head of the Producers Program, Denise Mann, who moderated. The DVD was narrated by Robert Osborne.
Another in-theater annoyance I brought up to Shapiro was the showing of commercials for which we are the captive audience. But Shapiro observed, “When they first were shown in theaters, audiences ‘booooo’d them. Now they are accepted as part of the movie theater experience.”
Just pass the popcorn, please.