'Honest Trailers' YouTube star offers advice for Hollywood

After poking fun at Hollywood movie trailers for five years, voiceover actor Jon Bailey has noticed some patterns in the previews. Here's his advice on how to intrigue moviegoers without giving away the whole film.

Courtesy of Jon Bailey

After poking fun at Hollywood movie trailers for five years now for Screen Junkies on YouTube, voice actor Jon Bailey has noticed some trends that may be shaping moviegoing habits. “There tend to be two kinds of trailers,” he explains. “Some don’t show you anything at all, and then there are trailers that show you way too much. I don’t know what it is, but half of them these days [also] fade to black – pitch black – as a visual effect and the only thing they show you are the huge action scenes, so you hardly get any of the story.

“Other trailers show you all the best parts to try to get you to want to see the film, which can lead to a disappointing experience since there are no surprises in that case – everyone’s already seen everything,” Mr. Bailey adds. “There’s also a type of trailer that emphasizes the ‘dark moment’ toward the end – where you don’t know whether the hero is going to make it – and with those [trailers], you often feel like you’ve already seen the whole movie.”

Studio marketing departments are of course incentivized to generate a significant turnout during the first weekend to get each film to open well financially. As a result, studios will sometimes take a kitchen-sink approach, including the best jokes or special effects in the clip. And while this can sometimes help put more people in seats, many believe it spoils the actual moviegoing experience, as audiences are less likely to be wowed by a show-stopping sequence they’ve already seen several times in an ad.

“Very often there is a lot of sleight-of-hand that goes into making your standard movie trailer,” Bailey explains. “It’s a recurring thing to make a film look better somehow or different than it actually is. Then people get to the theater and they say, ‘Aw, come on!’"

While a studio marketing department might not make a weepy Nicholas Sparks film seem like a laugh riot in a trailer, they might position a film like the recent release "Arrival," starring Amy Adams, as a science fiction thriller rather than as a thoughtful meditation on humanity’s place in the universe. Of course, if they're satisfied by the film, audiences will likely be pleasantly surprised and not annoyed by the marketing effort. But if they find a film that they've been convinced to see to be disappointing, audiences can feel burned and turn to Twitter and Facebook to vent, which could lead to steep drops in attendance during the second weekend as word gets out.

"...I think people may stop going to the movies in theaters if they feel they’ve been fooled once too often or if Hollywood keeps making the same kind of trailer," Bailey says. "I mean, how often do we hear that foghorn sound from [director Christopher Nolan’s movie] 'Inception'? ... They use that during those fade-to-black moments in between the visuals, but it’s a little overused by now.”

So who’s doing it right these days? “The trailer for [Marvel movie] 'Doctor Strange' shows just enough to intrigue the viewer without giving the story, the ending, or the big moments away,” Bailey says. “[Upcoming 'Star Wars' movie] 'Rogue One' has made great trailers that show just the right amount to get people in theaters. [The 2015 'Star Wars' movie] 'The Force Awakens' was also a good example of a solid trailer. They showed some really cool elements without showing anything at all. We didn’t know what the plot was at the time, because they did a masterful job of editing. There was that shot of the Millennium Falcon doing that loop above the desert floor – it looked amazing, but we had no idea from the trailer if they were running from something or chasing after something. So that gives me hope for the future of movie trailers.”

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