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THE BIG PICTURE / PATRICK GOLDSTEIN

A red sea of online trailers

September 20, 2008|PATRICK GOLDSTEIN

IN THE last couple of years, whenever I've asked studio marketing chiefs to send me trailers to show to my Summer Movie Posse (a group of teenagers who rate the summer flicks after watching their trailers), the smart marketers now say: Can we send you our red-band trailer?

Always the last ones on the block to figure out the amazing viral energy of the Internet, studio marketers have finally realized that there's a huge Web audience for red-band trailers -- i.e. trailers that offer unrestricted content, meaning all the gore, drug references, bare breasts and foul language that have to be edited out of the typical trailers shown in theaters or cut down for 30-second TV spots.

The whole red-band trailer explosion isn't exactly a big secret anymore, with nearly every studio outside of Disney putting up racy red-band versions of their latest film ads. If you want to get up to speed on how the explosion happened, Josh Levin at the online Slate magazine has done perhaps the best piece analyzing the trend, which makes a mockery of MPAA enforcement policy, since it only takes a click of the mouse for anyone on the Web (presumably including my 10-year-old son and all his pals) to find a thousand sites, starting with YouTube, that happily display all the racy trailers.

Levin correctly notes that red-band trailers are anything but deceptive -- in fact, they depict the actual content of a film far more accurately than a restricted green-band trailer. This summer's Judd Apatow comedy "Pineapple Express" was 95 minutes of jokes and gags about pot smoking. But you'd never have known that from the bowdlerized green-band trailer, in which the major concession to the film's subject matter was to show the stars coughing. The red-band trailer began with the line: ". . ., that's good weed."

As Universal Pictures marketing exec Maria Pekurovskaya told Levin, apropos of the Apatow films that Universal has made in recent years, "On the Judd films, they are the juxtaposition of the really raunchy with the very sweet, and when you can only show half of that equation, you're actually misrepresenting his films. You're doing a bit of a disservice to the audience."

I'd take the equation even further. With studios now able to show all their movies' raunchiest moments on the Web -- home to the key under-30 moviegoing audience -- I'm betting that studios will be more willing than ever to bankroll outrageous R-rated comedies.

In the past (meaning last year), Paramount Pictures had trouble marketing the Farrelly brothers' "Heartbreak Kid," in part because the studio couldn't put any of the film's best jokes in its TV spots or green-band trailer. If the studio had a red-band trailer that fans could have passed along to their pals, maybe the movie wouldn't have stiffed quite so badly at the box office.

Don't expect theater owners to take this lying down. They're no dummies -- if their audience can see red-band trailers with one click on the Web, they'll start pushing the envelope in their theaters. The only reason theaters haven't shown red-band trailers in recent years is because the big chains put the kabosh on unrestricted trailers in 2000 after the Federal Trade Commission came down hard on studios for marketing violence to kids.

But the ban was strictly voluntary. And as Levin points out in his piece, Regal Entertainment Group, which operates more movie screens than anyone else in the U.S., recently agreed to put red-band trailers on its screens. (The irony being that Regal is owned by family entertainment czar Phil Anschutz, whose film division wouldn't dream of making an R-rated film.)

But the walls are coming down. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that the popularity of red-band trailers will only encourage studios to make more movies that can take advantage of this renaissance in anything-goes marketing.

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patrick.goldstein@latimes.com

This item and others can be found on the Big Picture blog at latimes.com/thebigpicture.

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