Movie Trailer History

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If anyone knows the history of the modern movie trailer, then it’s Don LaFontaine. His writing and narration have been used in over 5,000 films from 1963 to 2008; from Terminator and Dr. Strangelove to Batman Returns and Fatal Attraction. “We are often asked to make silk purses out of sow’s ears, but it’s our job,” he explains. “And even the worst movie in the world is going to be somebody’s favorite movie.” Over the years, these little trailers clips began as a mere after-thought intended to encourage people to leave their seats following a film as much as return to the theater to see another movie. Yet they quickly progressed to an art form that generates hype and revenue for filmmakers more than any other form of advertising.

Some people wonder why we call it a movie “trailer,” if it’s shown before the movie. In the past, mini-films were shown before new movies to keep audiences entertained and trailers were shown at the conclusion of a film to encourage viewers to leave. Over time, movie trailers became an independent art form that began to attract viewers as much as the movies themselves. Theater owners then began showcasing previews first to entice audiences to come back for more. Many motion picture preview innovators surfaced over the years. Alfred Hitchcock previews were known for their wit and suspense, while Andrew J. Kuehn previews began a new standard of quick editing and thought-provoking narration.

Andrew J. Kuehn was an innovator in modern movie trailers production. In 1964, he released independently-produced trailer for Night of the Iguana that used fast-paced editing, high-contrast photography and suspenseful narration. When he realized the potential for this format, he partnered with Dan Davis to manufacture trailers for some of the biggest names and top movies — including Stanley Kubricks’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, James Cameron’s Aliens and George Lucas’s Star Wars. ”He came into the world of previews when they were done very conventionally, and he reinvented them,” said Bob Harper, vice chairman of Fox Filmed Entertainment. ”He pioneered the idea of previews as a stand-alone piece of entertainment.”

Film historian Frank Thompson explains, “I think the trailer’s becoming more and more powerful … because it has to do a job today that movie trailers didn’t have to do 20 years ago before the big advent of the blockbuster where every movie has to be a big moneymaking machine.” People will continue to watch movies no matter what, but they’re becoming more and more selective about the movies they see in theaters and the decision to buy movies is even harder to make, which is why so much emphasis is placed on the power of the trailers. They must hide a film’s flaws, bring out the good parts without telling the whole story and create an emotional reaction in audiences.

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