Director Of "National Treasure" Weighs In On Misleading Trailers

After David Pogue’s public complaint last week that some movie trailers go too far in misleading consumers about the movie, he was contacted by the director of both “National Treasure” flicks, Jon Turteltaub, who offered his opinion on the practice: “What’s funny is that the filmmakers do exactly what you do. I was watching the final trailer for my movie, saying what you said: ‘Ummm….that’s not in the movie, that’s not in the movie, THAT’S not in the movie.'”

He more or less washes his hands of the practice, which isn’t surprising since he has nothing to do with what goes into a trailer—it’s all marketing drones and studio fat cats assembling it, using dailies that are sent in during shooting, writes Turteltaub.

But he also offers the industry a good business reason for not lying to consumers—it won’t help move your product in the long run.

For me, the biggest problem that comes up is when the trailers and TV spots don’t reflect the essence of the movie they are selling… The studio often feels that the movie they made isn’t a movie they can sell… so they sell it as a different movie. What happens is that the wrong audience sees the movie on opening weekend, and the word of mouth is all wrong. Great movies can get lost because of this.

“Movie Trailers: The Final Cut” [New York Times]

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(Photo: Kuckuck)

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  1. b01000100 says:

    “What happens is that the wrong audience sees the movie on opening weekend, and the word of mouth is all wrong. Great movies can get lost because of this.”

    That’s what happened to Gigli…

  2. stanfrombrooklyn says:

    No what happened to Gigli is that it was ever made in the first place.

  3. mdkiff says:

    Can you say “Pearl Harbor”?

  4. econobiker says:

    @stanfrombrooklyn:

    Maybe they’ll have a Gigli / Istar revival a few years from now…

    Maybe not.

  5. B says:

    That is what happened to “Bridge to Terebethia” though. People went in expecting a fantasy adventure, and ended up getting a very poignant story about what happens when a child’s best friend dies.

  6. 44 in a Row says:

    Lost in Translation, too, which took a while to catch on if I remember correctly. The original marketing made it seem like a typical Bill Murray wacky comedy, when in reality the dramatic elements were as important as the comedic ones. But someone who went in expecting to see something “hilarious” probably wouldn’t have like dit.

  7. 44 in a Row says:

    *liked it.

  8. @B: OMG, I saw that movie this weekend, and except for the presence of Zoey Deschanel, I felt like I was watching a train wreck, and couldn;t look away.

  9. forgottenpassword says:

    Its the new marketing! Blatently TRICK the consumer into spending their money.

  10. vitaminmax says:

    Donnie Darko was originally marketed as a horror movie. That’s why it failed so miserably in theaters. I was kinda pissed when I saw it and realized it was not a horror movie at all.

  11. Coelacanth says:

    Heh, well, in the case of Bridge to Terebethia, grade-schoolers who may have read it would have immediately known that it was anything but a “feel-good” movie. That said, I enjoyed it.

  12. John says:

    *liked it, too.

  13. glassdevaney says:

    @B:

    I understand why they couldnt give that plot element away in the trailer… but my problem is that it’s not mentioned in the rating for the film, which simply says “Some material may not be suitable for children. Thematic elements including bullying, some peril, and mild language.”

    Would dying be classified under “some peril”?

  14. barty says:

    Ok….honestly, who cares?

    It wouldn’t be the first time, nor the last, that there are a couple of scenes in a trailer that don’t make it into the film.

    Hey, I liked the new National Treasure. I guess some people just don’t feel like their day is complete until they’ve complained about something that doesn’t mean a damn thing in the grand scheme of things.

  15. glassdevaney says:

    @44 in a Row: Luckily for me, I head about that movie through word of mouth. I love Bill Murray’s new direction. Dramedy? Haha that’s quite possibly the silliest term ever.

  16. Propaniac says:

    While there are a lot of things a trailer can do wrong, they can still be awesome and enjoyable when done right, and I stand by them in general. (But in the “wrong” department: one of my pet peeves is when you see a character deliver a line where they’re clearly about to say “ass” or something else that’s supposed to be shocking, and the trailer cuts to characters’ horrified reaction in what is obviously a completely different scene. It’s like the episode of The Simpsons where they try to re-edit the Radioactive Man movie after Milhouse quits as Fallout Boy.)

    Also, I’ve noticed when I watch a trailer for an old movie on DVD, like “The Graduate,” they seem to be even worse about using plot-revealing footage from the last third of the movie than today’s trailers. I stopped watching them before old movies I haven’t seen before.

  17. 44 in a Row says:

    It wouldn’t be the first time, nor the last, that there are a couple of scenes in a trailer that don’t make it into the film.

    I think there’s two different points here. One is that it’s “misleading” and thus unfair, about which I mostly agree with you. Scenes get added and taken out all the time, and I’m not going to blame a studio for trying to make a bad movie look good by making it seem more exciting or funnier than it actually is. That’s advertising, and that’s how it works.

    The other one, which is what Turteltaub is talking about, is where a movie is presented in its trailers as being different — not necessarily better or worse, but just a different type of film — than it actually is. This is a problem because if people go to a movie expecting one thing, and they wind up with an entirely different film, that’ll color their impressions of it, and bad word-of-mouth can seriously reduce viewership. A movie might have been geared towards a particular audience, and if it’s mis-marketed, it can have a negative impact on a writer, a director, a movie studio, or even a genre in general. It’s less of a consumer issue than an art and commerce issue, but it’s definitely something to consider.

  18. TechnoDestructo says:

    Iron Giant.

  19. girly says:

    I guess since the entertainment industry isn’t so critical maybe it’s not as important.

    But could you imagine a commercial for software that showed features from an early demo that ended up being left out from the final version?

    Sounds like Hollywood needs version control, if they cared, or if it annoyed people enough to warrant.

  20. dancemonkey says:

    I think this is exactly what happened to Three Kings. The trailers looked stupid, sort of a hip-hop pretty-boy heist movie set in the desert. WTF? Turned out to be a brilliant movie, still one of my personal favorites of all time.

  21. Bay State Darren says:

    I personally have to hesitate before being upset by movie advertising tactics. Several summers ago, I “protested” a movie whose unavoidable, omnipresent ads told us nothing about the movies, just kept telling us [literally] we’d have to see it for ourselves. I decided, “Screw them! They’re not getting my money for a movie they don’t want to tell me about!” and never went to see it in theaters.

    However, despite my best efforts, The Matrix turned quite a profit anyways and I kinda like it now.

  22. polyeaster says:

    I really enjoyed Bridge to Terabithia, but the 8 year old I was with was a tad upset about the plot.

  23. Mary says:

    I know I personally have felt cheated by movies that pretended to be one thing but were another.

    The Village is my favorite example, because I actually was working at a small circulation newspaper at the time. My review was very critical partially for the same reasons as the article here, I felt cheated. I went wanting to see a horror film, I got a bulky overdrawn something (still not sure how to classify that movie). While I had other bones to pick with it, if the trailers had been more representative then I probably wouldn’t have been so cranky.

    That said, I think the trailers for National Treasure 2 actually completely represented the film. Okay, the scenes weren’t in there, fine. But they still showed a fun, silly action movie steeped in American history.

    Guess what National Treasure 2 was?

  24. sleze69 says:

    I felt the same way when I went to see the movie Shining with Jack Nicholson. I thought it was about a man bonding with his son as per the movie trailer.

    Boy was I suprised.

  25. dcndn says:

    Is this allegory for the long, national nightmare we’ve been living in for the last seven years?

    But to stay on topic, I thought Pan’s Labyrinth was going to be a little girl’s fantasy ride to deal with the war going on around her. I wasn’t expecting multiple torture scenes. Good movie anyway.

  26. weggles90 says:

    That happened to me with Bicentennial man. Oh god,the commercials portrayed it as some family comedy, but when me and my sister when to see it, it seemed more like the depressing story of a robot who spends 200 years trying to become human so he can kill him self, while everyone he loved dies. WOW, nice afternoon for a 9 year old.

  27. Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ゜-゜ノ) says:

    I felt decieved by the trailers from Dan in Real Life, too.

    I wonder if there’s a list of the studios that are most sleazy in this regard?

  28. krunk4ever says:

    If you recall, the Ratatouille Teaser also had nothing to do with the actual movie:

    [www.apple.com]

    And I believe none of the scenes used in the trailer are actually in the movie.

  29. warf0x0r says:

    I’m thinking of Idiocracy. One of the funniest movies I’ve seen this year and it was on cable because Fox didn’t think it was good enough and basically tanked it. But they didn’t just stop it from being released they just like… pardon the phrase, went retarded with it. Giving it less than half the effort someone would put into CG, advertising, and securing release outlets across the country. But at the same time they continued to finish it and distribute it. WTH!!!

  30. warf0x0r says:

    @forgottenpassword: That is exactly why Hollywood is making less and less money and DVDs sell less and less. Nobody trusts that anything is good anymore so people are forking over less and less money for good movies and bad alike.

    On a side note Cloverfield is looking like its going to be awesome from the reviews!

  31. kevinhall says:

    I may being the minority here, but I hate previews in general since they give away the good parts of the movie for me (I watch a lot of movies and TV and a few seconds can give away a ton of surprises). I strongly prefer teaser style ads and previews that contain no actual footage from the film but convey the overall tone (action, comedy, drama, etc.) and perhaps, but not necessarily, who is in it. Using deleted scenes is actually preferable to me.

    Of course misleading previews are a problem. I’ve seen a few previews that portray a film as a comedy when it is a drama and vice versa. This leads to wrong expectations and disappointment for people who are not in the mood to see that type of film. It’s like biting into chicken that is actually fish. You don’t think “good fish” you think “bad chicken”. Expectations are important.

  32. Witera33it says:

    The only thing I really trust with movie trailers is the look of the movie. That is the main deciding factor as to whether I will go through the trouble of seeing it in the theatre. I have never minded spoilers, since I feel that a movie is the sum of its parts in the experience, and not merely the plot points.
    Though trailers tricked my boyfriend into thinking that Pans Labyrinth was a fun fantasy. He played it when I was really sick and realized his mistake after a guy got his nose bashed in with a bottle. Bridge of Terebithia was another one. I barely remember reading it when I was a kid and had totally forgotten about it’s ending.

  33. clank-o-tron says:

    @kevinhall: “It’s like biting into chicken that is actually fish. You don’t think “good fish” you think “bad chicken”. Expectations are important.”

    ^ This is an excellent phrase and I’m totally stealing it. Apologies in advance.

  34. vincedotcom says:

    Stardust was hurt by this practice

  35. pestie says:

    @B: Don’t even get me started on that. My girlfriend made me spend a whole $3.95 to see that on pay-per-view, telling me it was a fantasy movie and it “wasn’t some Disney movie or anything.” Opening credits: “Walt Disney Pictures presents…” Dammit!

  36. A.I. was presented as a family feel-good movie. Annnnd…that’s why I don’t go to the pictures anymore.

    /half-joking

  37. alhypo says:

    It is certainly annoying when they misrepresent the movie. But what’s equally annoying is revealing too much in the damn trailer. I pretty much don’t even watch movies anymore unless one of my friends whose opinion I respect tells me it is good. I hadn’t even noticed how jaded and averse I am towards film trailers until reading this. They have pretty much lost all credibility.

  38. Ariah says:

    “What happens is that the wrong audience sees the movie on opening weekend, and the word of mouth is all wrong. Great movies can get lost because of this.”

    I think the best example of this is Office Space. The advertisements really pushed “from the makers of Beavis & Butthead”, while the movie had a completely different type of humor. The movie did poorly in theaters, but word of mouth lead to great DVD sales.

  39. BuriedCaesar says:

    Silly studio heads listening to silly marketers who all think they know, but don’t.

  40. galactus5000 says:

    You can’t blame the studios for wanting to make you think that something with Larry The cable Guy is going to be funny, when we all know it’ll be painful and horrific.

  41. MARTHA__JONES says:

    @barty: I would agree with you for National Treasure, however Bridge to Terebithia is a different story. I was angry when I first saw the trailers for this movie. I believe it was not just misleading, but irresponsible. Too many parents take their children to see movies they are not old enough to handle anyway, with those trailers what parents would expect the mature heart-wrenching story it is unless they were familiar with the book?

  42. @galactus5000: no, but you CAN blame the studios for wanting to make you think Larry the Cable Guy is a James Bond-style action thriller when it’s slapstick. Honestly, I was too young to watch A.I. as it actually was, and my parents never would have taken me if the advertisements had mentioned Gigalo Joe. It was not a family film, but the advertisements made you think it was the next Bridges of Madison County or whatever.

  43. @MARTHA__JONES: I agree. I haven’t seen the movie, but I read the book, and Terabithia is a tiny, tiny part of the actual narrative, especially compared to the issues around the girl’s death.

    I do think it is incumbent upon parents to make sure they either read the book with their kids before they see the movie, or have their kids read the book. Movies should be seen as a Cliff’s Notes…a helpful supplement, but only as reference after you’ve read the real thing..

  44. Matt says:

    The Kite Runner trailers are ridiculous….it looks like a feel good Disney movie!

  45. The Cynical Librarian says:

    Did anyone catch “Man of the Year” with Robin Williams? You went in for a comedy and got 30 minutes of comedy with an hour of thriller/drama/romantic crap.

    Biggest mess I’ve ever seen. and one of the worst uses of misleading trailers I can think of. Reason 2 (other than it was just plain horrible) that this movie failed, mis-placed marketing.

    Sadly I did stay for the whole thing.

  46. banmojo says:

    Personally, I like almost everything Nick Cage has been in, even the rubbish, because he’s such an interesting actor. But the first Natl treasure was way better than the 2nd. But they both got my moolah.

    Here’s the prob with this practice: Intelligent people soon realize that they can’t rely on previews to tell them squat all about a movie, so this gives them more impetus to d/l movies. If they like it they’ll buy the DVD, if they hated it they’ll delete it off their HDD and tell their friends not to waste their valuable time.

    The government should EMBRACE this practice of d/l’ing, and REQUIRE it, as this would give MAJOR impetus to Hollywood and its ilk to start making quality films once more (like 3:10 To Yuma – holy crap, I’m gonna buy that on DVD, Blue Ray, AND HD DVD!!! jk, but it’s definitely ending up in my legitimate DVD collection; then I’ll probably buy it a 2nd time when it’s available on Blue Ray at Walmart in the 5.50$ bin in 10 years :^)

  47. alienorgy69 says:

    Personally, I think that the only movies that are true to their trailers tend to be over the top action movies. Grindhouse, Beawulf and 300 all come to mind. I walked into those movies knowing what I’d be in for and walked away feeling that they earned my money.

    Dan in Real Life looked fun from the trailer. Sadly, I was bored after 15 minutes.

  48. In more recent times… War.

  49. jerimiahf says:

    The same thing happened with the new Mr. Bean movie… there is a scene where his tie gets stuck in the vending machine in the trailers for the movie. However in finally watching the movie with my kids that scene was no-where in the film. Turns out it was a deleted scene…

  50. jerimiahf says:

    oh and add to that list – “Bridge to Terabithia” – you think the entire movie is about two kids going into a forrest fairytale land and all it is some minor pieces of “imagination” and mostly a story. Don’t get me wrong the movie was ok – but the trailers made it look like another Narnia type film whereas the kids are going into this huge land of fantasy and it was only at the end that they see the film abeit for a minute or two at the most.

  51. Demonbird says:

    This reminds me of The village. I was expecting a monster movie, I got, well, not a monster movie and I disliked it for that.

  52. Dasuta says:

    A short list of movies that performed poorly due to mis-billing, or being in that bizarre “new comedy” area that is developing:

    Little Miss Sunshine
    The Life Aquatic
    Lost in Transation
    Solaris (Was billed as a sci-fi horror, but was a slow, brooding film.)

    Had these reached the proper audience, they would have performed.