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Trailer Talk: Views on Previews…

I love a good film story. Not necessarily a story about the inner workings of Hollywood or who is starring in what, more a story about how the film industry is working, relating to regular folks, engaging with audiences and about how the experience of going to the cinema may or may not change. So things like complaints about popcorn or iPhone movie apps excite me as much as pondering the true meaning of Inception or discussing the ending of Shutter Island. So, a particular story grabbed my attention over the weekend. Apparently a woman in China is suing cinemas for wasting her time with pointless advertisements. It’s certainly a story which grabbed my attention: 

Chen Xiaomei, a lawyer in Shaanxi Province, filed the lawsuit arguing that audiences were given no warning or indication on the ticket that ads before the film would run on for 20 minutes. That’s like almost an entire sitcom episode… of ads. Not only did this waste movie goers’ time, it also “violated their right to know and to choose.” 

I can certainly sympathise. 

Some of these ads can be quite (pop)corn-y...


Of course, the case won’t likely change anything. I can’t see this small case – even if it’s successful – crippling the multi-billion dollar movie advertising industry. Things just don’t work that way. 

It’s not to say that she doesn’t have a point. I’ve always had a bit of a bone with movie advertising. I mean, advertising is everywhere, but cinema advertising is unique in that you pay to be subjected to it. A lot of advertising – on buses, at facilities, on television – pay the costs of that particular service and help keep the costs for punters down or at least under control. Hell, most public service broadcasters internationally, paid for by license fees and taxes, wouldn’t even dare put advertisements on their channels (though, sadly enough, not our own RTE). 

And, truth be told, you can ignore most advertising. You can flick around television channels during the advertisement breaks – or, with services like Sky+ or TiVo in the States, you can fast forward through them. Hell, even synching up commercial breaks doesn’t guarantee the audience is watching your paying advertisers. As for billboards and public advertisements, they are seldom intrusive and can be easily ignored (until we reach the stage that Spielberg postulated in Minority Report at least). 

Cinemas are different. You are literally a captive audience. Sure, you could arrive at a screening twenty minutes past the start time and hope for the best, but you might misjudge it. And, let’s face it, you’ll be pretty screwed if your cinema doesn’t assign seats, but adheres to a first-come first-serve seating policy (as most Irish cinemas do for all but the most anticipated films – and only on opening weekends). Plus, by arriving late, you run the risk of disturbing people already in their seats. Even if the movie hasn’t kicked off, it’s still awkward. 

Perhaps we should screen these better...


However, I’m not a hardline critic of advertisements in cinemas. I’m not suggesting that the lights should go down and the film should start bang on the start time to the second (not that that should be an unreasonable proposition). However, I have a very strong sense of nostalgia for a person my age – perhaps too strong. I discussed the news story with my better half when it broke over the weekend, and we both recalled that it wasn’t always like this. 

I remember a time when advertising in a cinema was a completely different beast. Nowadays you just go in, sit down and are subjected to the most banal advertisements you’d skip away from on the television. It seems wrong somehow, almost sacrilegious. I remember a time when they used to show movie trailers as pretty much the only pre-movie advertisements. And I actually had no problem with it (bar, say, perfectly reasonable problems with trailers spoiling entire films). 

These days, you’re lucky to get two trailers crammed into that advertising space. Assuming that the trailers run for two-and-a-half-minutes, that’s only a quarter of the total advertising space. Instead, you’re subjected to ads for ice creams you don’t really care about or another “women enjoy chocolate” campaign. As my better half so astutely put it, she remembers a time when advertisers were at least aware of the medium in which they were advertising and you’d get a “special” advertisement just for cinemas (with some film jokes thrown in to engage the audience – maybe even tied to the film you were going to see). Right now it seems that all you get is a standard television ad – most of the time the advertisers couldn’t even be bothered to change the aspect ratio of the clip. 

I don’t mind movie trailers. I like them. I sense that most movie-goers, casual or serious, agree with me. I joked that if there were more movie trailers in front of films (and more variety) I’d spend less time making browsing on-line (in fact, most of my movie-related browsing is trailers). We’re at the cinema because we love movies, after all. Teasing us about upcoming movies – especially ones we haven’t heard of yet – is something that I’m sure we all enjoy. I love hearing my brother say, “We have to see that!” or even my better half asking “Can we see that?” after a particularly good trailer. 

While twenty minutes of movie trailers might seem excessive, it would undoubtedly be much more entertaining than the tripe we have to sit through now. Of course, this rant isn’t going to change anything (in fact, I doubt anything will), but it’s just something I thought I’d get off my chest. Consider it my showing of solidarity with Chen Xiaomei, for what it’s worth, but also not a firm rejection of the idea of movie adverting – just a nostalgic appeal for higher standards of quality control.

4 Responses

  1. Interesting. At least, in the US, we don’t see to get as much non-movie related ads. There are ads shown before the movie but they are shown before the trailers when there is basically no one in the movie theater unless they are early. Then once the trailers start, there is no ads whatsoever (at least at the theaters I frequent). I don’t really mind trailers but they can definitely get really repetitive if you go to the movie theater more than once every other week.

    • Yep. Thankfully my better half keeps me honest. Though she admits that, before we started going out, she could have counted her cinema trips (in her whole life) on her digits.

  2. I’m completely fine with 20+ minutes of trailers; it’s those stupid, repetitive cell phone ads, Sobe water ads, Pepsi ads, that become aggravating.

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