“In a World…”*…
Looking back on the evolution of the movie trailer we must consider the evolution of how we watch movies. Unlike the multiplexes we’re accustomed to today, the first movie theaters in the 1910s had only one screen. You would pay the admission, say five cents, and you could sit in the theater for as long as you wanted. Show times weren’t precise – a feature length movie along with a short films and a cartoon would play in a continuous loop and you could watch it as many times as you wanted.
1913 would be what many historians consider year zero for the movie trailer. In New York City, Nils Granlund, advertising manager of Marcus Loew theaters, made a short little promotional film for the Broadway play “Pleasure Seekers” showcasing actual rehearsal footage. The idea of showing ads between films was a hit – at least to the movie theater owners – The practice of creating and splicing in promotional pieces into the screening rotation was quickly implemented by the Loew theater chain as well as others.
Around the same time in Chicago, Col. William Selig, one of film’s earliest pioneers, would engineer another way to get audiences to the movies. Selig noticed the popularity of print serials in newspapers so he approached the Chicago Tribune, a newspaper embattled in a circulation war for who could be the most sensationalist, to adapt a film version of a print serial. The result was a 13 episode serial entitled “The Adventures of Kathlyn”.
This wasn’t the first film serial, it was actually the second; but it introduced a new device to film marketing. You see, each week a new installment would debut along with an article in the Chicago Tribune that continuing the story. What made “The Adventures of Kathlyn” different was at the end of each installment something would happen to put the characters in some sort of peril – a cliffhanger often with a title card inviting patrons to come back the following week to see what happens.
So Thus the idea of the trailer was born – and so too the term – as these promotions for upcoming attractions would play at the end of the film – hence trailer.
Most of these promotions were produced by the theaters themselves but by 1916, the movie studios themselves began officially releasing for upcoming movies. These first film trailers were pretty basic – they generally consist of snippets of film with some text overlay such as the cast of stars…
Learn how gentle enticements like these grew to become the better-and-louder-than-the-actual-film extravaganzas of today in the video at the top of this post and at “The History of the Movie Trailer.”
As we contemplate coming attractions, we might recall that it was on this date in 1927 that the first organizational meeting of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was convened by Louis B. Mayer, the head of MGM. The 230 charter members elected Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. the group’s first president. Mayer’s original intent was to provide a forum for labor mediation and to improve the industry’s image; the first of those goals never got traction, so the second– the burnishing of Hollywood’s star– became the group’s primary focus. By 1929, the AMPAS had established the Academy Awards, and had joined with the University of Southern California to create the first film school.