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Studios tailor the movie trailer

Online, bigscreen ads keep buzz in high gear

According to Summit Entertainment, the “Twilight” trailer generated an astounding 55 million views on its website and other outlets such as MySpace, Yahoo, iTunes and YouTube.

Given those numbers, it would seem like trailers in movie theaters might be losing their potency. In fact, it’s just the opposite. With box office up 11% this year, Hollywood distribs are hoping that the climb in attendance will be self-perpetuating — and in-theater trailers are the key. So the focus of both exhibs and distribs is gaining in intensity.

“Moviegoing begets moviegoing and one of the best ways to do that is through trailers,” notes Universal marketing and distribution topper Adam Fogelson. “So we’ve struck gold with the increased attendance this year.”

Studios usually attach at least one trailer to the first reel of their film, guaranteeing that one of their upcoming offerings will get primo attention from the audience. To bolster that, studios marketers set “trailer targets” — films before which it would be appropriate to play their ad materials — then start negotiating, with exhibitors and other studios.

Admittedly, studios can’t have reps in every single theater, so there’s not much they can do if a projectionist in Oklahoma City decides to put a “Milk” teaser in front of “Beverly Hills Chihuahua.”

But exhibs know the rules of the game and tend to honor the distribs’ wishes, and pair up appropriate matchings (action trailers with action films, comedies with comedy, etc.).

Typically, theater chains unspool four to six trailers before the feature and usually limit the amount of time they run to 11 minutes.

Despite the prevalence of bigscreen advertisements for products, audiences don’t object to trailers because they don’t consider them as ads.

“It’s a tremendous luxury for us to have advertising that’s not really perceived as advertising but as short-form entertainment,” Fogelson notes.

Execs agree that short “teaser” trailers need to be ready six months in advance, with the regular trailer set at least three months out from the release date.

Sony distribution chief Rory Bruer says the success of “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” has helped spread the word about the studio’s “Year One,” the Jack Black-Michael Cera comedy produced by Judd Apatow and directed by Harold Ramis, which opens in June.

“People who are seeing ‘Paul Blart’ are exactly who you want to target,” Bruer says. ” ‘Year One’ has turned out to be a marketer’s dream.”

MPAA rules permit a maximum running time of 2½ minutes per trailer, though each studio is allowed to exceed the time limit once a year. Some trailers run shorter.

“A shorter trailer sometimes has a better chance of getting in,” one exec says. “The shorter ones are usually for action movies. The exhibitors are mindful of wearing out an audience.”

While studios are usually competitive, trailers can sometimes make strange bedfellows. When Summit opened “Twilight” last November, attached to the first reel was a trailer for “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” — a Warner Bros. film.

And the studios are capitalizing on the web, with alternative ways of marketing. For example, distribs and exhibs alike are limited by the ability to show “red-band” trailers, with material that is too risque or violent for younger viewers.

That limits in-theater possibilities, but the Internet provides a welcome home for the red-bands, which can show the raunchiest humor or scariest moments of some films, says Fogelson.

Bloggers and preview sites such as traileraddict.com post trailers the moment they’re released. On March 25, for example, Warner Bros. released to the Web the first trailer for Spike Jonze’s long-delayed “Where the Wild Things Are,” which was was also attached to DreamWorks’ “Monsters vs. Aliens.

Initial reaction was overwhelmingly positive. Bloggers praised the trailer, featuring furry creatures and the bouncy pop tune, Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up,” for capturing the oddball tone of Maurice Sendak’s picturebook.

The quick response, with a million views on Traileraddict alone, and a spot atop the Twitter trends of the day, assured that viewers will remember the title by its October release.

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