When Previews Are the Main Attraction

The theater lights dim and the anticipation builds — not for the feature film but for the slew of movie trailers that roll first, a pre-show pleasure many moviegoers simply can't miss.

As Oscar buzz turns to a roar, the snippets shown before the main attraction prepare for their own award show where statuettes are handed out for categories like "Best Voice Over" and "Trashiest Trailer."

The 4th annual Golden Trailer Awards will be held March 13 in Los Angeles, hosted by comedian Dennis Miller. Nominees are posted on www.goldentrailer.com.

Trailers are “vastly important,” said Evelyn Brady, executive director of Golden Trailer Awards. These awards, she added, celebrate the people who are responsible for convincing viewers that a movie is a must-see in only 2.5 minutes.

Producers and editors of trailers are not credited anywhere, even though they are “the single most important marketing tool and fuel a 9 billion dollar industry,” said Brady.

“We were trying to give them recognition they deserve,” she said. “The economy may be in the tank, but film has had a banner year — biggest year ever at the box office.”

Movie previews are important because they create buzz, said Doug Brod, senior editor of movie features at Entertainment Weekly.

"A teaser trailer [sometimes shown a year before the movie debuts] is enough to get audiences psyched," he said. "Then they see the full trailer a few months later, which is icing on the cake — priming the audience for the movie."

While the Academy voters may gravitate toward serious pictures like Schindler's List and A Beautiful Mind, movies like Malibooty and the sexy flick Secretary (both nominated for Trashiest Trailer) can walk away winners at the Golden Trailers.

And it’s not just the nominees that differ — Golden Trailers hands out 16 awards in just 70 minutes, making the lumbering four-hour Academy Awards seem even more ludicrous.

“We don’t even show the whole trailer,” said Brady. “People have called us the Oscars' Mini Me, and the Academy Awards for the short attention spanned.”

The award's irreverent categories include “Golden Fleece," which is "a great trailer for a movie that’s not so great,” said Brady.

"Trailers are often more entertaining than the movies they represent," Brod agreed.

So what makes a great trailer?

“It’s smart if you can get [an actor] to narrate it in their own voice, which is far more effective than hiring Mr. Voiceover again," said Brady.

For instance, Jack Nicholson, nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for About Schmidt, is also nominated for a Best Voice Over Golden Trailer.

Using iconic images is also important, Brod said. “For The Hulk trailer you want to see a hint of the Hulk, something that will immediately identify the movie to the audience," he said. "Viewers really get off on something that is overwhelming."

And trailers can be manipulated to attract certain demographics: For the upcoming Bringing Down the House starring Steve Martin and Queen Latifah, one version of the trailer focused on Eugene Levy, who is a lesser character, said Brod.

"The fact that it was focused totally on him was an interesting way of the studio trying to grab his fans from American Pie."

Big name actors may attract attention to a film, but ultimately the trailer is the catalyst for a film’s success, Brady said.

"The myth of the $20 million man is just that — a myth," she said. "Nothing guarantees that people will come see a movie like a trailer. If you can tell a story that connects with the audience you will get them to part with their $10 and see it."

And once the money has been shelled out, viewers want all the bang they can get for that buck.

“We hear all the time that the best part of the movie is the trailers,” she said. “It’s part of our culture. It’s like free entertainment.”