...anticipation and the movies.
Anticipation and the trailer
Trailers are arguably all about anticipation, the very nature of advertising something in advance of it's availability is to develop anticipation (some may say 'desire', but I find this term too loaded to use here). No where is anticipation or suspense more overt than in the horror movie, and indeed in horror movie promotion where the audience experience is key.
Alexander Svensson’s work into promotion and horror opened up possibilities in considering the promotional horror paratext as an element of affect and performance similar to the film itself. In this respect Svensson echoes the work of Picarelli and of the work of the Trailaurality project on the scream in the horror trailer, exploring how viral and catharsis is used to generate and sustain interest across a campaign. Svensson used an example (amongst many others) of the Devils Due movie marketing campaign and how it plays on the notions of expectations, our delight comes in the form of other’s reactions.
Having perhaps been scared ourselves, we are far more likely to have memory recall, or perhaps to build on this experience by sharing that experience with others, becoming pranksters ourselves or perhaps we will sit in isolation at our computers seeking similar videos to watch other’s experiences.
This kind of experience has long been the case in horror, issues of catharsis, affect and audience reaction remain at the heart of the genre, Last House on the Left for example, famously had the tagline ‘to avoid fainting, keep repeating it’s only a movie, it’s only a movie’, while much earlier William Castle and Hitchcock employed a variety of stunts to promote their work (the subject of which has been extensively covered but may be worth another blog post as I build ideas up).
Yet in capitalising on viral culture, these campaigns have the propensity to take on a life of their own, circulating as part of a series of reaction videos (many of which can still be found on YouTube with recent comments), the campaign video has itself become a cultural artefact for it’s ability to fascinate and/or scare the audience. Indeed this type of promotional video plays very much on anticipation; both anticipation within the short film, but also for the ‘central’ text being promoted.
This form of anticipation is very much part of the cinema industry, an industry that uses anticipatory terminology ‘teasers’, ‘preview’, ‘sneak peak’, ‘exclusive’, all of which are designed to draw the audience into a relationship of exclusivity (you, the fans are special, whereas those other non-audience members aren’t). It is on this note that Erin Hanna gave an analysis of San Diego ComicCon highlighting the competing discourse between drawing fans in to an exclusive event, while keeping elements of it under control (specifically pirate videos of exclusive content). Arguing that ComicCon has value to it’s audience because of it’s exclusivity (Yes, a lot of people can attend, can buy merchandise but a greater number of people cannot attend) Hanna notes, attendees of a specific event (the launch of Star Wars Force Awakens) were invited to another open air performance complete with orchestra and fireworks. Despite being an open space, and thus unavoidably heard and seen from a distance, it is the intangible experience of attendees allowed in the area that is the source exclusivity, yet simultaneously publicising an event yelling ‘here is something special, but you’re not special enough for it’. Taking the Hall H launch of Star Wars; Force Awakens as an example of this exclusivity, Hanna works through the power organisation, and the lines of exclusivity discourse that run throughout ComiCon, forming sights of pleasure anticipation and exclusivity among fans. Both these papers tie in with a much larger discussion colleagues on the Watching the Trailer project are having, you can read Keith M Johnston’s (far more eloquent) work on anticipatory culture here. If anything viral videos and events like ComiCon serve to outline the very notion that the event is always coming soon, as part of a much larger network of texts; posters may feed to trailers, trailers in turn may feed to films (or not in some cases, leaving some audiences forever in an anticipatory twilight zone), films feed into franchises, spin offs, other work by our favourite stars. Are we living now in an anticipatory culture, or is this simply an extension of the media industry which after all is technologically and financially predicate on the next frame? And what about those audience members that anticipate very little, can we theorise a culture of anticipation and still retain audience agency?
The answers I'm sure, are coming soon.
and now the shameless publicity...
Ed Vollans is a researcher for the watching the trailer project, he tweets at @ed_vollans, his work 'So just What is a trailer anyway?' was highly commended in the Emerald Publishing Literati awards, which means you can read it FREE temporarily here.