What We Learned This Week: Post-Super Bowl Challenge

Primo movie teasers have become an annual tradition connected to the Super Bowl.  The championship game is typically the most-watched global television event of the calendar year and movie studios, just like other brands and companies, target maximum eyes on their valuable offerings.  Back in the days before YouTube replays numbering the tens of millions in less than 24 hours, those coveted 30-second Super Bowl ads were shown ONCE.  That was it.  If you didn’t see it, POOF, it was gone.  Back then, the hype generated was real and the trailer-making marketers knew all it took to grab an audience was the right juicy single morsel.  Less was more and we were hooked on a mere 30 seconds.

Today, three trends have whittled away the effect of a good Super Bowl teaser.  First, in this marketing culture of #f1rst and scooping the competition, too many of these ads are available before the Big Game, sapping much of the surprise factor.  Second, we’ve reached a day and age where trailers regularly give away far too much of film.  As awesome as that Mission: Impossible Fallout teaser was last night, it showed too much (and the full trailer was even worse).  Film directors like Rian Johnson shouldn’t have to tweet a spoiler warning on his own film’s trailer.  Wolverine’s appearance should have been a well-kept surprise in X-Men: Apocalypse and not a stinger reveal in a trailer.  The same goes for Darth Vader in Rogue One, Hulk in Thor: Ragnarok, and, heck, even Michelle Monaghan for Mission: Impossible Fallout, among many others.  Third and finally, there isn’t the dazzle of the one-time viewing anymore and any hype is beaten to death by the buzzy over-saturation of click bait editorials that overanalyze every second of the teasers of teasers let along the real teasers or full trailers themselves.  Personally, I find it nauseatingly too much.

This all adds to unrealistic, messy, or improperly-fueled expectations that hang on a film all year.  The Super Bowl spots are the peak springboard of turning the calendar over to a new year of movies.  As soon as January hit, the flood of those “most anticipated films of 2018” lists and think pieces arrived and cropped up eager conversations over in the Feelin’ Film Discussion Group.  The wild use of the word “expectations” is another soapbox for a different day (and soon), but I long for a day when the repetitive spoiler blathering could go away, allowing patience to create real hype, not the over-marketed variety we have now, to create a higher form of anticipation.  A great example was this past holiday season.

I made it well known in the Feelin’ Film circles that I didn’t watch the final Star Wars: The Last Jedi trailer that dropped last October.  I avoided it like the plague, especially with the spoiler suspicions attached.  I wanted the mystery.  More importantly, I didn’t need to see a thing to be excited or sold on the film.  The existence of it from the moment Star Wars: The Force Awakens ended two years ago was all it took.  I didn’t need a synopsis.  I didn’t even need a title.  They had money.  An occupational perk/hazard for me as a press-credentialed critic is that my screenings don’t have trailers.  They’ve been easier for me to avoid to the point that I don’t watch them at all anymore for 90% of the films I see and review (and that’s over 150 films a year).  Such willpower can be done.

The resulting enjoyment of avoiding the Star Wars: The Last Jedi trailer made for an incredible viewing experience.  No silly hype tipped off any details or trained me to watch for certain anticipated moments.  The moments came to me.  Every twist and development was a surprise and the connections made were richer than ones that would have been pre-built for me because of marketing hype.

With that example and hope in mind, I have a challenge for all of you Feelers.

THE CHALLENGE

Pick ONE film on your “most anticipated list” for 2018 and avoid the marketing for it from now until its release. 

Don’t say Black Panther with only two weeks to go.  Don’t say Avengers: Infinity War coming in May because that’s an easy automatic.  Dig deep.  Pick a real long-term challenge for 2018.  Turn off the noise.  Don’t watch the trailers.  Don’t read the click bait and certainly don’t read reviews before finally seeing the film.  Go to the hallway and refill your napkins and popcorn butter at the multiplex.

My rationale is that if the film you pick is on your official or unofficial “most anticipated list” you already know enough about it and want to see it where you don’t need any more marketing.  You’re already hooked.  Knowing anymore about it only chips away at the final result.  I’m tired of hearing and reading the whining of supposedly ruined “expectations” by films that don’t turn out the way people were sold by from the trailers.  Remove that whining potential by removing the problem of over-selling marketing.

The challenge is to let the film speak for itself and not speak for the marketing.  Feel a different buildup.  Feel the patience of old school hype.  Leave something to the imagination.  Let the Super Bowl be the last peek.

Try it for one film and help out your peers.  Share your pick in the comments or in the Facebook discussion.  We’re a support group as much as we are a discussion spot.  Afterwards, evaluate that experience.  Was the anticipation better or worse?  Was the culminating film experience better or worse?

Call me confident, but I don’t think I’m going to get many “worse” admissions if you give this an honest try.

What We Learned this Week: New Year’s Resolutions for the Movie Industry in 2018

Plenty of regular everyday people make New Year’s Resolutions, but I think bigger entities, namely movie makers and movie moguls, need to make them too.  Annually, including this seventh edition, this is my absolute favorite editorial to write every year.  I have fun taking the movie industry to task for things they need to change.

Since last year, I feel like I’ve been writing a little bit of this every week all year over on the “What We Learned This Week” column contribution here on the Feelin’ Film Podcast website.  Readers and followers of that podcast and column will get my cadence.  I’m sarcastic, but I’m not the guy to take it to the false internet courage level of some Twitter troll.  This will be as forward as I get all year.

Some resolutions come true (a great deal of last year’s list is still relevant), while others get mentioned and reiterated every year. You would hope Hollywood would learn from those lessons going forward.  Alas, here we go again!  Enjoy!

1. Clean out your closets for good.

Without question, the most enormous and egregious issue to cross this industry this past year was the avalanche of sexual misconduct allegations leveled against big names, small names, and studio executives.  I know I’ve preached patience in a recent Feelin’ Film “soapbox” to plead with folks to be in the camp of “innocent until proven guilty” and not the other way around, in terms of letting these claims play out to proven guilt before burning careers to the ground.  That said, let these exposures continue to be moral napalm to clean out a dirty Hollywood.  Purge the skeletons from the closets in a string of ugly years, if that’s what it takes, to advance equality and fairness going forward.  Pass the matches.

2. Continue the “Year of the Woman” into the “Era of Women.”

Last year on this column, I celebrated female protagonists.  Despite the ugly headlines, 2017 was an incredible year for women going ever further to lead the charge in film behind the scenes as well.  If voters were vigilant enough, you could fill the upcoming Best Director Oscar field with 80% women, Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman), Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird), Dee Rees (Mudbound), Sofia Coppola (The Beguiled), and the category wouldn’t lose an ounce of talent or respectability.  Much like #OscarsSoWhite sticking around through Moonlight last year, Hollywood has to do better than a one-year surge or knee-jerk olive branch.  Turn this banner year into a string of them worthy of being called an era.  These ladies and others have earned it.  Reward them as such with opportunity.

3. There is room for objective to go with the subjective.

I might be gunning fairly high-brow with this one where I might be wearing too much of my film critic hat to go with my movie fan t-shirt.  I get the general foundation where loving and enjoying movies will always be greatly subjective.  Too each their own, all day.  I get that.  However, maybe it’s the capacity of the school teacher in me, but if I’ve learned anything doing this film critic thing is that there is room for objective to go with the subjective when it comes to reacting to a film.  I’ve seen movies this year like A Ghost Story, mother!, and Call Me By Your Name that I do not find entertaining, per se, or contain content I don’t condone or agree with from the seat of my personal values.  When that occurs, I’ve learned to take a step back and recognize the goals those films and filmmakers were going for and find ways to respect them, and even commend them, even when I don’t like the finished products.  I think general audiences could try a form of this reflection on for size too.  I think if people took a breath, stepped back, and looked at something other than their own expectations for a film, they might see purposes other than some self-serving ones and we would have a whole bunch fewer rants and raves of negative hyperbole.

4. Make smarter trailers and less of them.

Stop giving away too much in a trailer.  There are films from this past year where the trailer gave away 80% of storylines.  Where’s the mystery?  Less is more.  Take Star Wars: The Last Jedi.  After Star Wars: The Force Awakens made over $900 million domestically two years ago, the sequel didn’t need the help of a lengthy trailer and could have sold itself on principle alone rather than a second trailer that even director Rian Johnson had to give a minor spoiler warning to.  Trailers like that aren’t worth it or necessary.  Between Star Wars: The Last Jedi and all the people who fussed about not getting an Avengers: Infinity War trailer until December, find some patience.  Trailer-makers, leave the audience wanting.  Make them wait.  Imagine the anticipation if there wasn’t a trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi or Avengers: Infinity War.  Imagine the frenzy and the payoff, not just on the screen, but on the bottom line of box office receipts.

5. Drown out the click bait with creativity.

One of my satisfactions from Star Wars: The Last Jedi was that it shook off two years worth of superfluous noise and the endless conjecture of silly fan theories and think pieces to surprise just about everyone by sticking to its creative guns to blaze its own trail, not one caving to unreasonable expectations.  How I know it worked is watching the butthurt backlash from the two weeks of people trying to disown the movie because it wasn’t what they thought it was going to be.  To the click bait crowd, Rian Johnson and company made THEIR movie, not YOUR movie.  That was the objective goal and it’s a shame people can’t respect that or the differences, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi was just one example of many.  Pushing anything else is entitlement and not anticipation.

6. Don’t let Disney’s head (or portfolio) get too big.

Last year on this annual editorial, one of my items read “Disney/Marvel, please pay Fox and Sony whatever they want to bring your universe under one roof.”  By golly, I didn’t think Disney was going to go even further that that to entirely buy 21st Century Fox.  Disney is playing Monopoly with more money and property than anyone else with a token on the game board.  Be wary and mindful of that power beyond the wish fulfillment of X-Men and Fantastic Four possibilities in the MCU.  Disney hasn’t been a saint this year with the blackout of critics from certain publications, shuffling and firing directors, price hikes for theater dividends, taking their ball to their own convention, pulling their content from Netflix (while buying controlling stake in Hulu Plus), arranging their own streaming service, and more.  Maintain healthy competition and watch out for that bullseye on your back, Sony.

7. While we’re talking about superheroes, scale them down a touch.

Superhero films are the hottest tickets in town.  You don’t have to necessarily have studios slow down the pace of the film releases, just the size of the films and stories.  The best superhero film this past year was Logan, which striped all the spectacle away and told essentially a modern western to become of the best-ever entries to the genre and further proof that R-rated options were viable as well.  Until the big swirling finale of special effects, Wonder Woman was nearly the same for leanness and importance.  The counterexamples are Justice League this year and X-Men: Apocalypse two years ago, where the storylines are becoming overstuffed and piling on in an effort to constantly top themselves.  Logan is proof you don’t need to do that.  Tell a single good story.  Lead up from small to big, instead of from big to bigger.  Build from small for a few films and then get to the massive Infinity War level events.  That rumored Matt Reeves Batman detective story can’t come soon enough instead of the next intergalactic throwdown.

8. Put more depth of heart and less dumb antics in family films.

I’m bringing this resolution back verbatim as a repeat from last year.  I hear people (one of them sounds like me) all the time saying how annoying and unintelligent the movie options are for kids and families, particularly in the live-action department.   In 2016, Pete’s Dragon and Queen of Katwe showed audiences that not everything had to be 90 minutes of animated noise, but neither took off as big hits.  This year, Beauty and the Beast was a ready-made blockbuster and Wonder is doing great this holiday season.  They give me hope.  I just wish more folks could have seen and discovered the heart of Wonderstruck this year like I did.  Keep the efforts coming.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  He is a proud member and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on FacebookTwitterMedium, and Creators Media.