Ben Stiller in a still from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Remember the days when movie trailers simply teased what might happen in a film? Trailers have been getting longer and longer lately and this increase in length has caused many trailers to give away too much, too soon. With so many movies to choose from these days, they also seem eager to tell you almost everything upfront, an idea that seems predicated on the false hope that more information is more persuasive than mystery. But the opposite affect is happening as more and more people have begun loudly complaining that trailers are turning into mini-movies that leave viewers with little reason to go see the entire film.

That’s why it was surprising last week when the trailer for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty debuted and did something too many recent trailers have not: it shut up.

Coming across like a mini music video, the trailer let Of Monsters and Men’s “Dirty Paws” play over images from the film and allowed the subjective lyrics and catchy rhythm to speak to viewer’s own imaginations as they tried to piece together what may happen n the film.

Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) obviously has a very captivating imagination and that certainly makes it easier for the trailer to be a wordless journey, but the ability to refrain from revealing the entire plot and, instead, simply piquing the audience’s interest is a trait and technique too rarely seen in movie marketing these days.

Entertainment Weekly reported a survey conducted earlier this year by YouGov Omnibus that revealed a staggering  forty-nine percent of the Americans polled think current trailers give too much away with only thirty-two percent disagreeing.

The Hollywood Reporter also revealed that the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) has been trying to limit the length of trailers to two minutes because, as The Boston Globe reported, NATO is also worried trailers are giving away too much and eating into movie runtimes by expanding the time it takes to play a slate of previews.

But beyond numbers and statistics, the point of a movie trailer is to get viewers to feel something which then (hopefully) inspires a connection that makes them want to see more. Music, as proven in the Walter Mitty trailer, helps do just that without having to rely on key scenes or the film’s funniest lines. This may prove trailers really should just be shortened music videos, but they should not become ones that simply lay a current, popular song over images from the film to try and grab audience’s attention. Trailers should feature songs that are carefully selected because the songs themselves reflect the feeling and the mood of the art on display.

Instead of having Walter tell us through a voice over that he was called to go on a “crazy adventure,” Of Monster’s and Men sing, “The dragonfly, it ran away, but it came back with a story to say” which transitions into the crescendo of the song as we see Sean Penn beckoning Walter to come with him. This wordless choice creates a much more powerful and intriguing moment than a narrator-style explanation of exactly what’s on screen. ( Stiller has already been getting Oscar buzz based off the trailer alone.)

Many times a well-placed song will be featured in a trailer, but then appear nowhere in the film or on the film’s soundtrack, and that should not be a bad thing. Even though the disappointment stems from the song in the trailer inspiring a feeling or emotion that isn’t directly reproduced in the film itself, “Dirty Paws” (for example) doesn’t necessarily have to be featured in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty or listed on the film’s soundtrack as long as the intriguing sense of adventure inspired by the trailer is genuinely reflected in the movie. It can play a useful role in the advertising without being a part of the final product.

It’s just one method, but the trailer for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty did something too many trailers have seemed unable to do lately – it teased an idea instead of revealing the entire plot. And by doing so, it actually created a much more interesting and affecting pitch, and marketing departments (and fans) everywhere should take notice.


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