Editorial: 3 Ways to Improve Movie Trailers That Would Better The Theater Going Experience

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A story in The Hollywood Reporter this week revealed that the National Association of Theater Owners are currently working on a new set of guidelines for the exhibition of movie trailers in cinemas across the country. The changes come as a response to complaints theater owners have received from patrons claiming current standards allow trailers to be both too long and often far too revealing.

In order to improve the theater going experience for audiences nationwide, NATO is currently proposing a plan that will limit the length trailers are allowed to be from two-and-a-half minutes to only two minutes. Additionally, no movie trailers will be screened more than five months in advance of a film’s release and no posters or lobby standees will be allowed more than four months from release. If implemented, these changes would take place in October.

There are exceptions, of course. Each year every theater chain would be allowed to make two exceptions to the rules in order to further promote what they believe to be ‘major releases.’ In 2015, for example, this would likely mean Star Wars Episode VII and The Avengers: Age Of Ultron would be cleared for year-long promo.

I agree wholeheartedly with the majority of moviegoers that the current way trailers are created and served to the public needs an overhaul, but I think there is more that can be done than what NATO is currently proposing:


1. Make them even shorter.

The new guidelines laid out by the National Associations of Theater Owners shorten the time limit on trailers from two-and-a-half minutes to two minutes, but I think ninety seconds would be even better. Stricter time constraints require studios to be more selective with editing and make it far less likely viewers will walk away feeling as if the entire story has been revealed. The current time limit allows for you to not only learn a film’s plot, but to become bored with the concept before the release date flashes across the screen. For example, here’s the full length trailer for We’re The Millers:

You could carry a conversation with someone about this film whether or not you ever sit down to enjoy it’s near two-hour runtime. The trailer sets up the story, reveals several major gags, and all but ensure you they will overcome their ‘foe’ (in this case Ed Helms) by the final credits. Oh, and at some point Jennifer Anniston will strip for no real reason other than a reason to prove she’s still ‘got it.’

By comparison, here is a trailer for another 2013 comedy, The Kings Of Summer:

In the above clip you still get a thorough setup like We’re The Millers, but the final glimpses of footage fade away before you feel like you know where the story is headed. There is an element of mystery to the whole affair, in addition to the promise of comedy (and Nick Offerman).


2. Place a ban on footage from the final twenty minutes of the film.

There is no feeling worse in the cinematic experience than walking out of a movie theater feeling like every major reveal was spoiled by the trailer. You question why you should ever consider shelling out another $10-12 per person in order to watch an extended version of what was, at best, a promising sizzle reel, and to be honest I cannot provide a proper response.

If studios were forced to work with the first two acts of their films for promotional purposes they would need to rely on the strength of their story over eye-popping visuals. Those are always welcome, of course, but what audiences really want are stories they can sink their teeth into. We want to long for Friday night so we can take our significant other out for dinner and movie. Not just any movie mind you, but the movie that has been teased to us for months. Capturing our imaginations, but never ruining the fun of wondering what surprises the feature length adventure will hold.

For a recent example of a film hooking you with story and effects without giving away its final act, check out the trailer for Take Shelter from 2011:

You see a lot here, and you begin to piece together a few pieces of the puzzle laid out by filmmaker Jeff Nichols, but you definitely do not see enough to predict the final moments of the tale. You know something isn’t what it seems, but you’re cut off just before you’re fulfilled.


3. Ban the encouragement of immediate social media engagement.

This one may anger a few marketing heads, but if theater owners really want to improve the movie-going experience they will do whatever they can to keep phones in pockets/purses/handbags/etc. There are few things that fuel the rage of cinephiles like rectangular screens illuminating an otherwise dark theater, but as social media becomes an increasingly important part of each marketing effort more studios are encouraging curious minds to further engage the film online.

This is my hell

This is my hell

Here’s the thing: Everyone knows you have a Twitter. Social media is not a trendy new idea that has yet to catch on. There is nothing you can do in the time between the trailer and the beginning of the feature to further sell movie audiences on your film than projecting a sizzle reel (up to 2-minutes in length) on a screen larger than anything anyone has at home. Use the time allotted wisely and grip them with story in such a way that they take it upon themselves to seek you out. Make them want to know more, but don’t encourage them to disrespect the feature they’re about to see by pulling out their mobile devices.

Written by: James Shotwell

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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  • Brian Lion

    I’m the guy that shows up at the movie 40 minutes early and has to wait till they finish cleaning to sit for 30 minutes and watch every second of trailers. The more the merrier and the longer the better. This one theater I go to plays 10 or 11 trailers before every movie and I can’t get enough. Limiting trailers to me is a bummer, it’s part of the experience to me.

  • HaulixJames

    I love trailers as well, and I think they are a vital part of the moviegoing experience. In recent years however, Hollywood has taken to revealing more and more important moments in these promotions. To me, that stunts the moviegoing experience for the films themselves.

    Jack Ryan, as a recent example, shows you the biggest scene/climax in the trailer. When it happens in the film there is no impact on the viewer because it’s already overly familiar.

    The last Die Hard movie used the very last moments of the film for every trailer they released. It’s frustrating.

  • Brian Lion

    Well based on those two examples, I guess I just instinctively never watch the movies that get ruined haha.