Coming (not so) soon: Why trailers tease films a year ahead of time

TORONTO -- The anti-hero adventure film "Suicide Squad" isn't due out until August 2016, but fans already have a taste, thanks to a teaser trailer that debuted in July -- while shooting was still underway.

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The recently released "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" also had a teaser trailer out over a year in advance, as does the J. K. Rowling-written "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them," due out next November.

Distributors have been posting teaser trailers well ahead of a film's release for over a decade, with 2003's "The Da Vinci Code" cited as a trailblazer. But experts say it's now become more commonplace, and in some cases, the teasers now have their own teasers.

It's a way of creating early awareness in the increasingly congested entertainment world, making the trailer more important than ever.

"When you're up against Marvel movies and Disney movies and these movies with the Happy Meals in your face, it's harder for independent films to dance between the raindrop and find those eyeballs," says Elevation Pictures co-president Laurie May.

"So the more you can start to create the awareness, I think the better."

Traditional marketing of a big film used to be based on a tightly controlled strategy that included on-set media junkets and trailers to get the word out.

Now, actors, directors and on-set photographers can post their own material on social media in real-time during production, easily and relatively cheaply.

"The social media strategy is now an inherent part of virtually every single film that gets made," says Piers Handling, director and CEO of the Toronto International Film Festival.

But for all the buzz social media can provide in the promotion of a film, the trailer still remains tops.

"In terms of marketing materials or any sort of interaction with the marketing of a movie or a TV show, the trailer is still the No. 1 most effective piece of content that goes out," says D'nae Kingsley, chief strategy officer for Trailer Park, a Hollywood-based entertainment and content marketing agency.

"It's very, very, very important, and what's interesting, too, is it's across all ages."

Smaller Canadian films don't often get teaser trailers, but Elevation made it happen for writer-director Paul Gross's "Hyena Road." A teaser for the Afghan war drama came out nearly a year before it hit theatres in October, followed by a second trailer closer to theatrical release.

"This one we needed to breed the awareness of it early and just keep it in everyone's mind," says Gross, noting its release date coincided with the busy Thanksgiving weekend.

"The problem with a lot of small films is there isn't really much of a chance that it's going to take off, just the way that the market is right now, it's really tough out there for smaller, independent cinema."

Those who make trailers say the standard is still about two-and-a-half minutes in length, and the basic approach remains the same: they have to be compelling and leave an impression.

But the creative touches in them are ever-evolving.

"This is true about any medium, especially film and TV, (they) are always evolving," says Nati Braunstein, co-president and executive creative director at Aspect, a trailer shop in Los Angeles with credits including the "Black Mass" and "Batman v Superman" teasers.

"But it seems to me that trailers are evolving on a faster pace because it has to always surprise and excite."

The big trend in trailers used to be voiceovers, which aren't used as much anymore. Then when 2010's "Inception" came out with an ominous horn sound, that started a new trend.

"The big kind of 'bwah' sound that started in 'Inception,' if you look at that trailer, that was one of the first times that it was used," says Braunstein.

"That was definitely a big moment for trailers and then since then, it's been imitated and reiterated and now it's completely passe."

These days, there are less action trailers that "go on and on with a monologue from the bad guys," he adds.

"If you look at previous years, that was kind of the standard. It was: monologue from bad guy, big exploding shots. And that became a parody."

Making teasers for a trailer have added a new challenge for the industry.

"Usually you don't want to show stuff that's not going to show up in your trailer, because then people will notice that it's missing," says Braunstein. "But on the flip side, you don't want to spill the beans, you don't want to give away anything that's super exciting about the trailer itself.

"So it's a fine line of creating advertising for advertising, and that's something we're still developing on how to do that just quite right."

Trailer houses have to be particularly judicious in an era of websites that dissect every shot of a trailer to look for clues.

"I think studios have become smart over the years and have been really carefully strategizing on what to show, when to show and how much to show," says Braunstein.

"The biggest complaint I used to hear when people knew what I did for a living was, 'You guys gave away the best parts of the movie,' and I honestly think that that isn't happening quite as much anymore."


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