Last month we covered the origins of movie trailers in the 1910s and some highlights of their evolution up until the ’60s. Let’s continue from that point, shall we?
Before there were dedicated trailer production companies, almost all theatrical advertising was controlled by the National Screen Service, which had been around since 1920. That’s why most previews followed the exact same format: lots of cheesy copy splashed across mostly still shots from the film, a focus on the biggest cast members, dramatic voiceovers, and sometimes a bit of musical accompaniment. By the mid-’60s, however, Hollywood realized that the same promotional tactics used in TV advertising could be applied to film trailers, and the look of trailers subsequently modernized. Check out this spot for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966) from the trailer production company Utopia, which makes use of a “theme song” and splices together several quick shots from the movie.
A year later, Utopia was faced with a challenge from Embassy Pictures: how to best market a quirky film called The Graduate. The result is the 3.5-minute preview below (now the maximum length for a trailer is a minute less).
Geez, and here I thought trailers nowadays gave away too much! The one above from 40 years ago pretty much showed the entire film and revealed the full plot — PLUS the ending?!? But for the purposes of this post, what’s important to note is that this was one of the first previews to work with a film’s own soundtrack, in addition to cutting clips together to tell a cohesive storyline.
Stay tuned for our next installment of Film 101, where we’ll continue exploring the history of movie trailer evolution and move on to the ’70s, when movie studios had a major “DUH!” moment: Maybe it would make sense if they started heavily promoting their films on TV, and not just in theaters…