More about theatre trailers: finding alternative influences

When I wrote that post about trailers in the theatre I searched around to find any discussion on the topic elsewhere. I couldn’t find much and what I could see was concerned with how bad they are.

I also had a search around some theatres’ YouTube accounts and it occurred to me that there might be a more fundamental problem here. In fact Rachel Coldicutt preempted this post in a good comment on that previous one, saying:

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why theatre isn’t very good at being cinema. And it’s because, I think, cinema is already amazing at being cinema and the theatre is pretty damn good at being the theatre.

What happens

I’m going to generalise a bit here, but bear with me because (give or take a few exceptions) I think this holds broadly true:

  • Cinematic trailers are made to be shown on TV and in the cinema. They’re then also put online.
  • Theatre trailers often mimic cinematic trailers. However, they aren’t shown on TV or in the cinema (nor in the theatre, for that matter). They just go online where, for the most part, nobody sees them.

An alternative approach

These videos are going to be shown almost exclusively online – on YouTube, on the company or venue’s main website’s event info page and maybe (hopefully) on some blogs. The key thing is that audience here isn’t captive – it’s prone to clicking away within fractions of a second.

As such, it would surely be better to take inspiration from successful YouTube videos, rather than going toe-to-toe with the cinematic trailers that have been made for very different viewing conditions. I’m not necessarily saying that adorable kittens should feature in every video (although…) but, depending on what you’re looking to achieve (and that’s the most important thing to bear in mind), there are ways to play to the strengths/mitigate the weaknesses of the medium:

  • be brief and try to get the key information in early – remember you’re losing viewers with each passing second
  • make use of clickable annotations, adding links to further info/tickets
  • in fact, just watch this video (NB: some of it’s outdated and I really wouldn’t endorse everything the guy says)

Something I would endorse is the point about making an effort to nurture your online audience. As Maya Gabrielle (National Theatre) says in this talk:

If you’ve made a beautiful piece of content but not created an audience for it, you’ve wasted your money

It’s not quite as easy as all that though, is it?

Of course, there are things that a respectable arts organisation won’t be able to get away with and that may well prove to be a hinderance. For instance, yesterday I was mighty amused to read a post by Kingsley Jayasekera from Sadler’s Wells.

He pointed out that a month ago, one of their videos was downloaded and then reposted to someone else’s YouTube account. It has since racked up four times as many views as the official video in a fraction of the time.

It’s exactly the same video, so why has this one scored so many views? Well, it can be hard to tell exactly how/why these things come to be spread around more widely, but looking at the differences between the two:

  • The official video has a descriptive title, is tagged and contains a short description – all of which will help it to be more easily discoverable by people who know what they’re searching for. However, it’s also age-restricted (over 18s only)
  • The cheeky re-up has none of these attributes. What it does have is a snappier, more amusing title which may well have helped its chances of being posted around websites, blogs and forums. (Screenshot).

Of course, Sadler’s are unlikely to be able to describe a trailer in those kinds of terms. The brand perception that serves them so well in other areas would preclude it.

Still, there are other ways for an organisation to play the YouTube game. ENO deliberately courted an online audience with their ‘Can I be your friend?‘ video for Two Boys (which I notice includes a link to a more traditional trailer) and I helped Birmingham Hippodrome to score an accidental hit with this video.

You could also argue that Sadler’s Wells’ succeeded by putting out a video deemed worthy of reposting (with ident and end card intact). How many others can claim that? After all, if Tim O’Reilly is right then:

Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy

Published by Chris Unitt

I work at One Further, doing digital projects with cultural organisations. Follow @ChrisUnitt or find me on LinkedIn.

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