Final Paper Topic Thoughts
October 2nd 2008 @ 4:57 pm Final Paper,Uncategorized

Once upon a time …

I say this only because there is a bit of a story behind my current paper topic thought. The day before I was due to come back to Middlebury, I went out and finally made the switch. I got a mac. Bad timing … I got to spend the whole night transferring all my documents and programs onto it from my old pc, instead of packing for the move … but you can’t have it all, right? Anyway, the short of it is that we (me and my computer) never really got a chance to get aquatinted in all that shuffling. So I finally got a chance to explore all the fun stuff on my new computer this past weekend. And in my applications, lo and behold, a program called Front Row.

And this is how I discovered that apple so kindly provides free uploads of current film trailers right to my computer. 

Twenty-some-odd previews and much lost homework-time Iater I was convinced. While trailers are technically a para-text, they do tell a story. But interestingly, they often don’t cause us to construct a fabula that matches with the film’s actual fabula. Many a time I have watched a film searching for the moment from the preview that got left on the cutting-room floor. I’m sure we all constructed a version ofWanted and Hancock (just to pick two summer blockbusters) from the trailers that was vastly different than the actual films.

Trailers seem to operate by introducing character(s), the major situation of the film, a few genre-relevant moments and some sort of theme music before leaving the viewer in suspense. The prominent goal is, obviously, peaking interest to properly fill in the gaps introduced by the trailer … so we’ll all pay our $10.50 to see the picture. For the final paper, I’d like to look at the way a couple trailers go about constructing an incomplete (and, the general idea is, fascinating) storyworld. 

And now the hitch. I’m not quite sure how to narrow it down from here. I realize choosing a genre would do so, but even then there are several interestingly constructed trailers in each. Or should I look at a succession of trailers for a single film, several judged to fail, requiring that they re-cut until the studio found the one that was acceptable? So I appeal to the group: what do you think? How can I make my topic smaller and more manageable? Thanks in advance …

-Leslie Stonebraker
rss 2 comments
  1. Aaron Smith
    October 4th, 2008 | 3:22 pm

    First you might want to take a look at:

    One idea is to map out the various conventions of the movie trailer and then analyze the deviations from the standard format. (ie Cloverfield, I’m sure there are others)

    Another idea is how a trailer shapes our expectations of the movie. Specifically, what happens when a trailer’s tone does not fit with the movie?

    Analyzing the narrator in trailers might be interesting. How do they frame the story: some let the dialogue do the narrating, others have a voice over.

    Seems to me trailers can be edited to fit any genre (as evident by remix videos) You might want to lay out the narrative conventions of a few genres though(maybe horror, romantic comedy, and action) and compare them, since this is a 20 page paper.

    Good luck

  2. October 8th, 2008 | 9:17 am


    As I mentioned, this is a great idea. It ties into general questions about suspense, paratexts, and the balance between film’s economic and creative goals. Definitely need to narrow down – perhaps looking at trailers that “spoil” or a comedy trailers that reveal too many jokes? Or trailers that seem to mislead the audience as to what type of film it will really be?

    This article from some years back in the NYT provides a great overview of how trailers are made. I think I mentioned that I co-wrote an article that might be relevant: Speculations on Spoilers: Lost Fandom, Narrative Consumption and Rethinking Textuality – definitely check the bibliography for some relevant sources. My co-author, Jonathan Gray, is the expert on paratexts & trailers. I’ll invite him to comment here as well…

    Good luck!

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