The Austin Chronicle

Spoilers, Sweetie

By Richard Whittaker, January 28, 2014, 1:00pm, Picture in Picture

In a world where trailers are longer than the actual film, and they give away every twist, turn, and even surprise characters, one organization is standing up to having the film going experience ruined. That organization is … NATO?

Stand down, Alex Jones. In a statement released Jan. 27, the National Association of Theatre Owners released its latest in-theatre marketing guidelines. Although completely voluntary, they set the standard for what constitutes good marketing practices for movies.

The latest guidelines are:
• Maximum trailer length of two minutes
• Trailers should only be released 150 days prior to release
• Other marketing material (posters, fliers, etc.) should only be 120 days before release
• There will be two exemptions per distributor per year on both trailer length and promotion lead time.

The guidelines come out of a decision by NATO's executive board last April to revamp how the industry reaches out the audiences, and has been shaped by discussions with the seven largest distributors and other distribution agents. They are intended to take effect on Oct. 1, 2014.

There's been an increasing consensus that trailers have gotten so long-winded that they're damaging viewers' interest in watching the actual film. After all, if you've seen everything already, why bother? While a two-minute cutoff won't solve everything, it does seem a lot closer to what audiences will happily endure. Case in point: Does the world really need 2 minutes and 40 seconds of Andrew Garfield and incomplete effects to know that Amazing Spider-Man 2 is coming?

The more complicated issue is spoilers. The argument is, the longer the trailer goes, the more likely it is to give away a key plot point, even if just by accident. Again, the thinking is that decreases the urge for audiences to actually see the film in theatres, instead opting for VOD or just waiting until cable.

Let's do a case study. Compare the original teaser for Prometheus (1:09) with the full trailer (2:30).

OK, ignoring the fact that both make it look like a much better film than it really is, the teaser (which is just a riff on the original 1979 Aliens trailer) sets mood, tone, and an implication of what will happen. The longer version is basically an ADHD edit of the entire film, including massive spoilers such as the ship Prometheus blowing up.

Can shorter trailers really get rid of spoilers? No. Only good editors can do that. And when does something become a spoiler? That's an even blurrier line, and one that not just trailer editors can be accused of crossing. There's recently been a lot of fuss about some critics who have pretty much laid out the final act of the Zellner Brothers' Sundance smash Kumiko the Treasure Hunter, and no one would argue that shorter word counts could stop that from happening in print. But, if nothing else, the new guidelines could make watching the trailer for Grown Ups 2 feel less like sitting through Apocalypse Now Redux.

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