Why Christopher Nolan's Release of the First 'Tenet' Trailer Is a Big Deal
The Dark Knight director's latest marketing move is turning watching trailers into an event.
Christopher Nolan has an enviable and virtually unique position in Hollywood filmmaking when it comes to the marketing of his films. They are always treated like events on par with the actual films themselves. He has considerable say in not just how they are presented and in what form, but, now, also when -- and where.
The Hollywood Reporter broke news Thursday night that the first teaser trailer for Nolan's upcoming Tenet is now playing before this weekend's Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw. (Read a breakdown of the trailer here). The 40-second teaser is not online; it's an in-theater only experience so far. And, if you want to see it, it is reportedly (right now) only playing at Regal Cinemas, according to ScreenCrush. The site will update their post if and when reports come in of Tenet's teaser trailer showing up at other theater chains, and we will do the same.
Having our first look at Nolan's top-secret movie starring John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, and Elizabeth Debicki confined to in theaters this weekend isn't surprising, seeing as how the cinema is The Dark Knight director's preferred venue. What is worth paying attention to his the roll out of location. If indeed Tenet's brief teaser is only playing at one theater chain, that represents a unique milestone in the studio-exhibitor relationship, one forged by the sheer will and brand of Nolan as a filmmaker.
Ever since The Dark Knight released its first teaser trailer, Nolan and his fellow filmmakers revealed their mandate and strategy when it comes to marketing their works: Less is more. The famous (if not iconic) teaser started with black as the Bat symbol appeared backlit. As Alfred (Michael Caine) told his story in voiceover about how some men "just want to watch the world burn," the Bat symbol gradually fractured and broke apart before a Joker card appeared along with the villain's infamous laugh.
No footage. Just 59 seconds of keyart, a title card, and a release date. This minimalist approach proved effective because The Dark Knight, is, well, The Dark Knight. (Nolan piloted this approach with his first game-changing teaser for Batman Begins, which gave us some footage and also employed similar voiceover, this time from Christian Bale - though none of Bale's narration made it into the final cut of the film.)
Ever since then, graphical representations that speak to his films' themes and tones have been Nolan's marketing M.O., while also using short bursts of footage that literally interpret the purpose of a teaser as exactly that.
Tenet ups the ante there by making its viewing an event; if you want to see it, then you have to come to the medium it was made for. By limiting its location increases its event status (and, also, garners good will for studio Warner Bros. with exhibitors and vice versa).
The lesson here is -- look, we all want to be at Nolan's level. Both as a creative entity and business partner. On the day when that (or a version of it) happens, while our paths to that end goal will be different from one of the best directors working today, what hopefully will be similar is the means we use to uphold the value of the theatrical experience we worked so hard to put our vision through. Trailers now are basically plot recaps preceded by MPAA green bands; marketing movies has become a lost art -- and it is definitely an art form. The internet is full of discussion about trailers better than the movie (see GoldenEye or Die Another Day's respective teaser trailers, or Alien 3's). Nolan and his team's embrace of the "less is more" approach is a way to bring the art of it all back, while also helping bring audiences right where Nolan -- and you -- want them: At the edge of their seats.
Earn it. Make the viewer feel like they got their money's worth; don't spoil or reveal all of your big set pieces too soon or flood the market with them in TV spots. When you arrive at a place of influence in your career, like Nolan has, the take away here is to both protect and service your film through its marketing. Don't show more than what you want the audience to have; you set the tone.
One hopefully your collaborators at the studio-level will hear loud and clear.
Tenet arrives in theaters (all theaters, mind you) July 17, 2020. Hobbs & Shaw is now playing.
What changes would you help make or want to see made when it comes to the marketing of your work? What approach would you take, or prefer, for how distributors build a marketing plan around your movie or television project? That's your cue to sound off below.