Never Coming to a Theatre near You: Recut Film Trailers

Kathleen Williams

Abstract


Introduction

Recut trailers typically mix footage from one or more films to create a preview for a feature that will never exist. Challenging the trailer’s assumed function as existing merely to gain an audience for a main attraction, the recut trailer suggests that the trailer can exist separately from a film. This paper will ask if recut trailers are evidence of fan enthusiasm and question precisely where this enthusiasm is directed. Do recut trailers demonstrate there are fans for the feature film that is recut, or does this enthusiasm extend beyond an appreciation and anticipation for a feature film? It will be ascertained if the recut trailer – as a site for homage, parody and fandom – transcends the advertising imperatives of box office success. This paper will demonstrate how fan-made trailers are symptomatic of the need for a new critical approach to trailers, one that does not situate the trailer as the low advertisement to the high cultural text of the film. It will be proposed that trailers form a network, of which the feature films and other trailers that are invoked form only a part.

Recut trailers, while challenging the norms of what is considered an advertisement, function within a strict frame of reference: in their length, use of credits, text, voiceover in direct address to the audience, and editing techniques. Consequently, the recut trailer parodies and challenges the tools of promotion by utilising the very methods that sell to a prospective audience, to create an advertisement that is stripped of its traditional function by promoting a film that cannot exist and cannot be consumed. The promotion seems to end at the site of the advertisement, while still calling upon a complex series of interconnected references and collective knowledge in order for the parody to be effective. This paper will examine the network of Brokeback Mountain parodies, which were created before, during and after the feature film’s release, suggesting that the temporal imperative usually present in trailers is irrelevant for their appreciation. A playlist of the trailers discussed is available here.

The Shift from Public to Private

The limited scholarship available situates the trailer as a promotional tool and a “brief film text” (Kernan 1), which is a “limited sample of the product” of the feature film (Kerr and Flynn 103), one that directly markets to demographics in order to draw an audience to see the feature. The traditional distribution methods for the trailer – as pre-packaged coming attractions in a cinema, and as television advertisements – work by building a desire to see a film in the future. For the trailer to be commercially successful within this framework, there is an imperative to differentiate itself from other trailers through creating an appeal to stars, genre or narrative (Kernan 14), or to be recognised as a trailer in amongst the stream of other advertisements on television.

As new media forms have emerged, the trailer’s spatial and temporal bounds have shifted: the trailer is now included as a special feature on DVD packages, is sent to mobile devices on demand, and is viewed on video-sharing websites such as YouTube. In this move from the communal, collective and directed consumption of the trailer in the public sphere to the individualised, domesticated and on-demand consumption in the private sphere – the trailer has shown itself to be a successful “cross-media text” (Johnston 145). While choosing to watch a trailer – potentially long after the theatrical release of the film it promotes – suggests a growing “interactive relationship between film studio and audience” (Johnston 145), it also marks the beginning of increasing interactivity between the trailer and the audience, a relationship that has altered the function and purpose of the trailer beyond the studio’s control. Yet, the form of the trailer as it was traditionally distributed has been retained for recut trailers in order to parody and strip the trailer of its original meaning and purpose, and removes any commercial capital attached to it. Rather than simply being released at the control of a studio, the trailer is now actively shared, appropriated and altered. Demand for the trailer has not diminished since the introduction of new media, suggesting that there is an enthusiasm not only for coming feature films, but also for the act of watching, producing and altering trailers that may not translate into box office takings. This calls into question the role of the trailer in new media sites, in which the recut trailers form a significant part by embodying the larger changes to the consumption and distribution of trailers.

TrailerTube

This study analyses recut trailers released on YouTube only. This is, arguably, the most common way that these trailers are watched and newly created trailers are shared and interacted with, with some clips reaching several million views. The purpose of this paper is to analyse the network that is created surrounding the recut trailer through addressing its specific qualities. YouTube is the only site consulted in this study for the release for fan-made trailers as YouTube forms a formidable part of the network of recut trailers and studio released trailers, and currently, serves as a common way for Internet users to search for videos.

YouTube was launched in December 2005, and in the following 1-2 years, the majority of popular recut trailers emerged. The correlation between these two dates is not arbitrary; the technology and culture promoted and fostered by the unique specificities of YouTube has in turn developed the recut trailer as “one of the most popular forms of fan subversion in the age of digital video” (Hilderband 52). It is also the role of audiences and producers that has ensured that the trailer has moved beyond its original spatial and temporal bounds – to be consumed in the home or on mobile devices, and at any stage past any promotional urgency. The Brokeback Mountain parodies, to be later discussed, surfaced mainly in 2006, demonstrative of an early acceptance of the possibilities that YouTube and mass broadcasting presented, and the possibilities that the trailer could offer to YouTube’s “clip” culture (Hilderbrand 49).

The specificities of YouTube as a channel for dissemination have allowed for fan-made trailers to exist alongside trailers released by studios. Rather than the trailer being consumed and then becoming irretrievable, perpetually tied to the feature film it promotes, the online distribution and storing of trailers allows a constant revisiting of the advertisement – this act alone demonstrating an enthusiasm for the form of the trailer. Hilderbrand argues that YouTube “offers[s] new and remediating relationships to texts that indicate changes and acceleration of spectatorial consumption” (49). Specifically, Hilderbrand proposes that YouTube functions as a collection of memories, which in turn present a “portal of cultural memory” (54) – amplified by the ability to create playlists and channels. The tagging of trailers to the films from which they drive, the official trailers released for a film referenced, or other recut trailers ensures that there is a physical trace of the network the trailer creates.

Recut trailers demand for knowledge and capital to be shared amongst viewers, the technical attributes of YouTube allow for much of this knowledge to be available on demand, and to be hyperlinked or suggested to the viewer. In order for the parody present in recut trailers to function at the level intended, the films that are drawn upon would presumably need to be identified and some basic elements of the plot understood in order for the capital imbued in the trailer to be completely realised. If the user is unaware of the film, however, clips of the film or the original trailer can be reached either through the “related videos” menu which populates according to the didactic information for the clip watched, or by searching. As the majority of recut trailers seek to displace the original genre of the film parodied – such as, for example, Ten Things I Hate about Commandments which presents the story of The Ten Commandments as a teen film in which Moses will both part the sea and get the girl – the original genre of the film must be known by the viewer in order to acknowledge the site for parody in the fan-made trailer. Further to this, the network deployed suggests that there must be some knowledge of the conventions of the genre that is being applied to the original film’s promotional qualities. The parody functions by effectively sharing the knowledge between two genres, in conjunction with an awareness of the role and capital of the trailer. Tagging, playlists and channels facilitate the sharing of knowledge and dispersing of capital. As the recut trailer tends to derive from more than one source, the network alters the viewer’s relationship to the original feature film and cultivates a series of clips and knowledge. However, this also indicates that intimate fan knowledge can be bypassed – which places this particular relationship to the trailer and the invoked films as existing outside the realms of the archetypal cult fan. This challenges prior conceptions of fan culture by resisting a prolonged engagement normally attributed to cultivating fan status (Hills), as typically only one trailer will be made, rather than exhibiting a concentrated adulation of one text.

The recut trailer is placed as the nexus in a series of links, in which the studio system is subverted while also being directly engaged with and utilised. The tools that have traditionally been used to sell to an audience through pre-packaged coming attractions are now used to promote a film that cannot be consumed that holds no commercial significance for film studios. These tools also work to reinforce the aesthetic and cinematic norms in the trailer, which provide a contract of audience expectations – such as the use of the approval by the American Motion Picture Association screen and classification at the beginning of the majority of recut trailers. The recut trailer assimilates to the nature of video sharing on YouTube in which the trailer is part of a network of narratives all of which are accessible on demand, can be fast-forwarded, replayed, and embedded on numerous social networking sites for further dissemination and accompanying editorial comment. The trailer thus becomes a social text that involves a community and is wide-reaching in its aims and consumption, despite being physically consumed in the private sphere.

The feature which enables the user to “favourite” a video, add it to their playlist and embed it in another site, demonstrates that the trailer is considered as its own cohesive form, subject to scrutiny and favoured or dismissed. Constant statistics reflecting its popularity reinforce the success of a recut trailer, and popularity will generally lead to the trailer becoming more accessible. Hilderbrand argues that YouTube has nutured a “new temporality of immediate gratification for audiences” which has in turn contributed to the “culture of the clip” (49), which the trailer seems to exemplify – and in the absence of feature films being legally readily accessible on sites such as YouTube, the trailer seeks to fill the void for immediate gratification.

Brokeback Mountains

While fan-made trailers can generate enthusiasm about the release of an upcoming film they may be linked to – as was recently the case with fan-made trailers for teen vampire film, Twilight – there is also a general enthusiasm to play with the form of the trailer and all that it signifies, while in the process, stripping the trailer of its traditional function. Following the release of the trailer for feature film Brokeback Mountain, numerous recut trailers emerged on YouTube which took the romantic and sexual relationship of the two male leads in the film, and applied this narrative to films depicting two male leads in a non-romantic friendship. In effect, new films were created that used the basis of Brokeback Mountain to shift plots in existing films, creating a new narrative in the process. The many Brokeback… parodies vary in popularity, and have been uploaded to YouTube continuously since 2006. The titles include Brokeback to the Future, Saved by the Bell: Brokeback Style, Brokeback of the Ring, The Brokeback Redemption, Broke Trek, Harry Potter and Brokeback Goblet and Star Wars: The Emperor Brokeback. The trailers use footage from a variety of film and television sources that show a friendship between two men and introduce it to the “style” of Brokeback Mountain.

There are several techniques which are used uniformly across all of the trailers in order to convey this new plot: the original score used in the Brokeback Mountain trailer begins each recut trailer; the use of typically white text on a black screen based on the original trailer’s text, or a slight variant of it which is specific to the film which is being recut; and the pace of shots altered to focus on lingering looks, or to splice scenes together in order to imply sexual contact. Consequently, there is a consciousness of the effects used in the original trailer to sell a particular narrative to the audience as something that an audience would want to view. The narrative is constructed as being universal, as any story with two men as the leads and their friendship can be altered to show an underlying homoerotic story, and the form of the trailer allows these storylines to be promoted and shared. The insider knowledge of the fan that has noticed these interactions is able to make their knowledge communal.

Hills argues that “fans participate in communal activities” (ix), which here takes the form of creating a network of collective stories which form Brokeback – it is a story extended to several sites, and a story which is promoted and sold. Through the use of tagging, playlists and suggested videos, once one recut trailer is viewed, several others are made instantly available. The availability of the original Brokeback Mountain trailer then serves to reinforce the authenticity and professionalism of the clips, by providing a template in which existing footage from other films is moulded to fit within.

The instant identifier of a Brokeback… trailer is the music that was used in the original trailer. This signals that the trailer for Brokeback Mountain was itself so iconic that the use of its soundtrack would be instantly recognisable, and the re-use of music and text suggests that the recut trailers reinforce this iconography and its capital by visually reinforcing what signifies Brokeback Mountain. The network these trailers create includes the film Brokeback Mountain itself, but the recut trailer begins to open a new trajectory for the narrative to mould and shift, identifiable by techniques present in the trailer but not the feature film itself.

The fan appreciation is evident in several ways: namely, there is an enthusiasm to conflate a feature film into Brokeback Mountain’s general narrative; that there has been enough of an engagement with a feature in order to retrieve clips to be edited into a new montage, and consequently, a condensed narrative with a direct mode of address; and also the eagerness to see a feature film in trailer form, employing trailer-specific cinematic techniques to enhance parody and displacement. Recut trailers are also subject to commenting, which generally reflect on either the insider fan knowledge of the text that is being initiated to the world of Brokeback Mountain, or take the place of comments that reflect on the success of the editing. In this respect, critique is a part of the communal fan interaction with the creator and uploader in the recut trailer’s network. As such, there is a focus on quality for the creator of the fan video, and rating occurs in order to rank the recut trailers. This focus on quality and professionalism elevates the creator of the recut trailer to the status of a director, despite not having filmed the scenes themselves. Demonstrating the enthusiasm for the role of the trailer, the internal promotion on YouTube of the most successful trailers – designated as such by the YouTube community – signals an active engagement with the role of the trailer, and its social properties, even though it is consumed individually.

Conclusion

While the recut trailer extends the fan gaze toward one object or more, it is typically presented as a parody, and consequently, could also be seen as rejecting elements of a genre or feature film. However, the parody typically occurs at the site of displacement: such as the relationship between the two male leads in Brokeback to the Future having a romantic relationship whilst coming to terms with time-travel; the burning bush in Ten Things I Hate about Commandments being played by Samuel L. Jackson as “Principal Firebush”, complete with audio from Pulp Fiction; or recutting romantic comedy Sleepless in Seattle to become a horror film. The parody relies on knowledge that can be found easily, aided by YouTube’s features, while requiring the creator to intimately engage with a feature film. The role of the trailer in this network is to provide the tools and the boundaries for the new narrative to exist within, and create a system of referents for the fan to identify, through parodies of star appeal, genre, or narrative, as Kernan proposes are the three ways in which a trailer often relies upon to sell itself to an audience (14).

As this paper has argued toward, the recut trailer can also be released from the feature films it invokes by being considered as its own coherent form, which draws upon numerous sites of knowledge and capital in order to form a network. While traditionally trailers have worked to gain an audience for an impending feature release, the recut trailer only seeks to create an audience for itself. Through the use of cult texts or a particularly successful form of parody, as demonstrated in Scary Mary Poppins, the recut trailer is widely consumed and shared across multiple avenues. The recut trailer then seeks to promote only itself through providing a condensed narrative, speaking directly to audiences, and cleverly engaging with the use of editing to leave traces of authorship. Fan culture may be seen as the adoration of one creator to the film they recut, but the network that the recut trailer creates demonstrates that there is an enthusiasm in both creators and viewers for the form of the trailer itself, to exist beyond the feature film and advertising imperatives.

References

Brokeback of the Ring. 27 Feb. 2006. YouTube. Video. 2 March 2009 ‹http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tgt-BiFiBek›.

Brokeback to the Future. 1 Feb. 2006. YouTube. Video. 2 March 2009 ‹http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8uwuLxrv8jY›.

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The Brokeback Redemption Trailer. 28 Feb. 2006. YouTube. Video. 2 March 2009 ‹http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FtRi42DEdTE›.

Broke Trek – A Star Trek Brokeback Mountain Parody. 27 May 2007. YouTube. Video. 2 March 2009 ‹http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7xSOuLky3n0›.

Harry Potter and the Brokeback Goblet. 8 March 2006. YouTube. Video. 2 March 2009 ‹http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e9D0veHTxh0›.

Hilderbrand, Lucas. "Youtube: Where Cultural Memory and Copyright Converge." Film Quarterly 61 (2007): 48-57.

Hills, Matthew. Fan Cultures. New York: Routledge, 2002.

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Kerr, Aphra, and Roddy Flynn. "Rethinking Globalisation through the Movie and Games Industries." Convergence: The International Journal of Research Into New Media Technologies 9 (2003): 91-113.

The Original Scary ‘Mary Poppins’ Recut Trailer. 8 Oct. 2006. YouTube. Video. 2 March 2009 ‹http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2T5_0AGdFic›.

Saved by the Bell: Brokeback Style. 4 April 2006. YouTube. Video. 2 March 2009 ‹http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yHLr5AYl5f4›.

Sleepless in Seattle. Dir. Nora Ephron. Film. Tristar Pictures, 1993.

Sleepless in Seattle: Recut as a Horror Movie. 30 Jan. 2006. YouTube. Video. 2 March 2009 ‹http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=frUPnZMxr08›.

Star Wars: The Emperor Brokeback. 14 Feb. 2006. YouTube. Video. 2 March 2009 ‹http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omB18oRsBYg›.

The Ten Commandments. Dir. Cecil B. DeMille. Film. Paramount Pictures, 1956.

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Keywords


trailers; YouTube; film promotion



Copyright (c) 2009 Kathleen Williams

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