Talking Trash on Trailers


Caitlin on Nov. 29, 2021

Is there a word for when you go to see a movie because of a great trailer but the film itself is mind-bogglingly boring? Trailers are great – they mash together the most exciting bits of a film to try entice to pay your money to see the whole thing. And that works!

We sometimes get to classify trailers at the office, so I talked to Senior Advisor Kirsten about how that works…

Are trailers easier to classify than feature length films?

It depends on the genre. For something like a rom-com absolutely! The most you might get is a couple of swear words, maybe people in bed or kissing or something like that.

For your R16 teen comedies they can be easy because you know what to expect. You get a little bit of sexual innuendo, some swearing, maybe even a bit of drinking or drug use – and that is probably all you are going to get.

Horror is definitely the hardest genre for the trailer examinations and classifications.

Why is horror the hardest?

The purpose of a trailer is to advertise the product and get people wanting to come and see it. So you’re going to take some of the strongest bits out of your film to give the sense of the build of tension. You might not see the actual killings perhaps, but you will get the build-up. You might get the sense of graphic violence in a trailer. What you are seeing are the parts of the film that the makers think are going to draw people to come and see it, usually with ominous music over the top of it.

Sometimes the makers include things that aren’t actually in the film, which is really cheeky. You go, ‘man that looks like an amazing scene’ and you go along and it’s not there. That happens in the comedy trailers too. You go, ‘oh that is a really great joke I wonder what the context for that is?’ You might find it later though, in the Blu-ray extras.

Because the content has been chopped up into snack-sized pieces you don’t have the context for the depictions, especially when you’re sitting in the dark cinema or you’re at home looking at a DVD and you’re not expecting it.  You’re just getting a series of high impact shots that can give the trailer a stronger effect than the film it advertises and can also result in a higher classification too.

If a trailer is restricted can it play before any film?

Cinemas can only play a restricted trailer before a film with the same age restriction, or higher. You couldn’t play an R16 trailer before an R13 film, or an R18 before an R16.

And does genre matter to cinemas screening trailers?

It doesn’t seem to. You might be going to see a light teen comedy and there’s the trailer for a horror like Candyman before it, or trailers for genres other than the film you’ve actually gone to see.

Do we ever get complaints about that?

We have had a couple. There was a classic one when a restricted trailer played before a PG film. And that’s something that generally you would complain to the cinema about. And the FVLB do send out information to cinemas advising against playing restricted trailers before unrestricted films’.

What about horror trailers that are classified as M?

The FVLB advise cinemas that they shouldn’t play strong M trailers before G, PG or M rated films, particularly M rated trailers for restricted films. I think there is a lot of common sense around it. If you are looking at the genre, well it’s a trailer for an M rated horror film so I’m not going to play this before Toy Story. Why would you play a trailer for a horror film before a children’s film if you want bums on seats?

Can you talk about why the Good Boys trailer was rated higher than the film itself?

That’s the trailer that begins with the boys sitting in front of Seth Rogan and he’s telling them they can’t see the trailer because it’s got strong content and they’re too young. Then there’s a whole lot of f-bombs from the boys with scenes from the film. The way that they’ve cut it together makes it look like they’re bad boys which is kind of interesting that they chose that approach for the trailer. It makes them look like they’re committing crimes, doing dangerous things, playing with sex toys, looking at porn and swearing constantly. This is a classic example of not having the context. The trailer was not borne out by the content of the film.

So we made the trailer R16 but when we examined the film and got the context we went ‘oh they’re not bad boys, they’re good boys doing things they’re not comfortable with for good reasons’ so the film was classified R13. Even the sexual material in the trailer make it seem like they understood a lot about sex but in the film they were really innocent of sexual matters.

We had one complaint about the trailer and several complaints about the film, which went to the Board of Review – who also made it R13. It was an unusual film. I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it before. It dealt with adult things like sex, drugs and risky behaviour but the intended audience was clearly younger teenagers – and ultimately it’s about them being good and learning life-lessons. Part of the complainants’ concern was the impact on younger people from the sexual content but they were assuming that young viewers would share their level of understanding. Adults know what the sex toys are, but unless younger viewers do too, it’s not going to have much of an impact on them. It’s not going to increase their understanding of adult sexual behaviour because of the way the toys are used in the context of the film. The likelihood of harm to them is strongly reduced.

But totally different for the trailer.

Anything else you want to add?

We don’t classify trailers very often because they are generally rated by the FVLB. There are very few that do require an age restriction.

Two interesting examples are the trailers we classified for the horror film The Gallows. The first trailer was incredibly intense, bathed in red with an unseen person pulling terrified people screaming into the darkness – it was really high impact. We made that R16. The other trailer for the film had slightly less impact but again had tense horror elements and we made that one R13. When the film came into New Zealand it was cross-rated M from Australia by the FVLB.

There is also the issue of the descriptive notes we attach to trailers, which I don’t think appear anywhere so there’s no way to warn people about their content. It highlights the risk of trailers really – someone might carefully choose a film to watch avoiding certain themes and then get hit with them in a trailer.

Has there ever been a trailer that was classified R18?

We have had a few R18 trailers. The last one was back in 2013 for the film, Filth that featured strong sex, violence and drug use.

We used to get DVDs from a particular distributor that had 40 plus trailers on a disc and the combined running time of the trailers was greater than that of the feature it accompanied. The effect of that was that the impact of the condensed strong content was so high that those discs had to be made R18 even though none of the films the trailers advertised were R18.

Lastly, when you go to see a film are you excited to see the trailers or hoping to miss them?

I always watch the trailers!

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