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The Batman Trailer (Or How Not to Write a Pitch)

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Just after the latest Batman movie came out, a friend asked me if I wanted to see it.  I wasn’t sure, so I opened up my web browser and pulled up the trailer.  There were explosions.  Chases.  Fights.  And a few more explosions.  The trailer was over two minutes long, but by the end I still had no idea what the movie was about.
Batsignal at Highmark building

I didn’t want the entire story of course—then there’d be no point in seeing the movie–but I did want to know a few basic things.  Like, what does Bruce Wayne want?  What’s standing in his way?  Basically, I wanted to know that there WAS a story.  Because explosions, as cool as they look, do not equal conflict.

It got me thinking about pitches–those 1-2 paragraph blurbs we put in our query letters or on the back cover of our books to entice editors, agents, or readers to start the actual manuscript.  It’s not a whole lot of real estate, but if you use it wisely, it’s enough to hook the reader.  Agent Kristin Nelson suggests looking at the first 50 pages of your manuscript to zero in on the catalyst that starts the story, and using that to form your pitch.  I also find it helpful to start with something like Holly Bodger’s logline template.

Of course, there are some people who don’t have to bother writing pitches.  That NY Times Bestselling author you love might have a picture of herself on the back cover of her book rather than a blurb.  Why?  Because people will buy her book even if it’s about a sentient plant who falls in love with a shape shifting guinea hog.  Maybe that’s what the Batman crew was thinking when they put together the trailer I hated—that people would see the movie no matter what it was about once they saw that bat sign.  Or maybe they were appealing to that portion of the population, like my friend, who was more interested in explosions and fighting than Bruce’s internal conflict.

And, in the interest of full disclosure, the trailer did get me to the theater—I was sold as soon as I saw Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Okay, Hollywood.  Maybe you know what you’re doing after all.

What sells you on a book or a movie?  Anything in particular you like to see in your back cover blurbs or movie trailers?

25 Responses to “The Batman Trailer (Or How Not to Write a Pitch)”

  1. Tamara Hogan says:

    The Batman movie’s in the Netflix queue – I find going to movie theatres kind of excruciating, and rarely subject myself to the experience these days – but I, too, LOVE LOVE LOVE Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Little Tommy Solomon, all grown up! His stint hosting Saturday Night Live a couple of years ago was a revelation. That monologue! He sang, and danced the original choreography, from the “Make ‘Em Laugh” number in “Singing In The Rain” – complete with the back flips.

    Book-wise, back cover copy is really important. I want to know who the main characters are, and, like you, Shoshana, get some concrete hints about what THE STORY is about. Characters and story. They matter – a lot.

  2. Great post, Shoshana. In the last decade, I’ve become really annoyed with Hollywood for making special effects more important in films than the actual story and character development.

    But I suppose money talks, and that’s what teens and young adults (the largest segment of theatergoers) wants to see and are willing to pay for. If they didn’t, Hollywood wouldn’t keep making movies focused around car chases and explosions.

    I’m hoping The Dark Knight Rises will be one of the exceptions that offers a great plot with all the flash.

    I’m currently agonizing over the cover and blurb for my next release, so I’m dreaming of a day when I can simply slap my name on the cover of a book and readers will run out to buy it. :)

    • I don’t know about a great plot, but I did like the ending.

      Good luck with the blurb for your next release. I’m sure it won’t be long now before the Laurie Kellogg name is all you need. :)

  3. Vivi Andrews says:

    My biggest pet peeve in a movie trailer is when they give away the ending. Like when I saw the Castaway trailer and I KNEW that he would be getting off the island because the trailer showed a conversation with Helen Hunt when she had a different haircut. Or even the Batman movie where the trailer shows the football field falling – which is a scene over and hour and a half into the film! If you have to show me something two hours into your movie to get me into the theatre, maybe you should look at where you’re starting your film.

    And taking that to a bookish place – if you have to tell me about your super cool ending twist to make me buy your book, maybe you should look at your opening/structure/something to see if you’ve misplaced your hook.

    (And yeah, Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes my lil heart go pitter pat. Love that man.)

    • >>And taking that to a bookish place – if you have to tell me about your super cool ending twist to make me buy your book, maybe you should look at your opening/structure/something to see if you’ve misplaced your hook.

      Good point, Vivi. And, yet another one of those things that I, of course, had to learn the hard way. :)

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      –> And yeah, Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes my lil heart go pitter pat. Love that man.

      Now that he has some actual age lines on his face, I don’t feel quite so much like a dirty old lady. ;-)

  4. I like the idea of forming a pitch around your book’s hook, that element that makes it stand out about the crowd of books. That, of course, requires knowing your audience. As you so cleverly pointed out, for those NYT best sellers and tentpole movies like Batman, the hook IS the author/star. But for most of us, and for most movies, we have to try to predict what our audience (whether that be agents or readers) will find intriguing about our book–intriguing enough to get out their wallets. It’s a tricky tightrope to walk, but it feels so good when you know you’ve got a killer hook.

    Great post, Shoshana!

  5. My understanding is that the confusion remains even after you’ve watched the movie. I think it’s a muddled mess of “boom!” and “pow!” The people making the trailer were probably pretty irritated by the lack of coherence to the story.

    Now I’m wondering who makes movie trailers…

    • I wouldn’t say the plot is confusing so much as just not there.

      Just googled “who makes movie trailers” and it sounds like sometimes it’s the studio’s marketing dpt, and other times it gets farmed out to an outside agency.

      • Gwyn says:

        One of the things I loved about the movie The Holiday is Cameron Diaz (who makes movie trailer’s for a living) framing many of her life encounters like a movie trailer. Funny stuff.

      • Amanda Brice says:

        My friend’s dad makes movie trailers, among other video projects. (The bulk of his business is making commercials, and trailers are a form of commercial.)

        Gwyn, I loved Cameron Diaz’s character in The Holiday!

  6. Great post! I agree about Hollywood and trailers- for me they usually show too much or not enough (I hate it when all of the best parts were shown in the trailer!).

    I like the idea of thinking of the pitch like a GOOD movie trailer though- you may have just helped nudge me towards better pitches! :)

    • >>I hate it when all of the best parts were shown in the trailer

      Yes. I’ve had several experiences where I’ve gone to see a comedy because I was laughing hysterically through the trailer. And then, yep, the only five places I laughed through the entire movie were those snippets they showed in the trailer. Not cool.

    • Amanda Brice says:

      I absolutely hate when all the best parts of a movie are in the trailer. That’s the worst. And several TV shows have been like that lately, too. There’s like 3 great lines and they’re all in the commercial.

      Sucks.

  7. I’m actually sad to hear that the plot is a little lacking in the latest Batman movie. I loved the first two because they *were* so chock full of internal conflict. I’ll probably still watch it–I won’t be able to resist!

    I saw The Bourne Legacy yesterday and was actually surprised at the internal conflict. I totally think they could have done more with it, but when we finally got to the heart of what drove Aaron Cross, I was like, wow, that’s really cool.

    You make a great comparison between movie trailers and book blurbs, though. Love it! Totally has me thinking of writing better blurbs and pitches.

  8. I definitely look at movie trailers before I rent/go to the movies. It’s the same with books. I read the summary and if it gets me interested, I buy. If not, I’ll look at several others before I make an ultimate decision. When I came home from conference with lots of freebies, I sat on my bed with all of them around me and read blurbs until one appealed to my mood. Then I devoured it. :)

    • Yes–it’s nice to have options. The good (or, perhaps, bad) thing about having a kindle is that I can find a book to fit any mood I happen to be in and then download it immediately. Not necessarily good for my writing productivity, but….

  9. Oh I love Joseph!!!! That little cutie. And I’m a huge Tom Hardy fan, so that was the second draw for me. What sells me is definitely an intriguing plot or fresh twist on an old story. Like I couldn’t wait to see Gone because the plot was just way cool. And I really liked the movie. The trailer didn’t reveal too much or take anything away from seeing the real thing.

    My biggest pet peeve is when the ONLY good parts of a movie are what was in the trailer.

    OH! And I was quite disappointed in One for the Money. They actually edited the trailer to make those parts funny. Those same parts, that are hilarious in the trailer, aren’t nearly as funny in the actual movie. It was super weird. But Joe and Ranger were still hot. So there’s that.

    • I think One for the Money was probably a hard one to make into a movie, because so much of what was hilarious about the book was that you’re in Stephanie’s head…and how do you do that in a movie except via voice over?

      But, yeah–editing a trailer to make a movie look funnier than it actually is? Not cool. I’ve had similar issues with books, where the back cover blurb was really misleading in terms of what the book was about. I always wonder if whoever wrote it did it on purpose because they thought the misleading copy would be more appealing, or if they were just going off a synopsis without having read the manuscript, and really didn’t understand what the book was about. Either way, not so good.

  10. Gwyn says:

    I have no desire to see this movie. Hubble, on the other hand, will want it. *sigh*

    As for blurbs, tell me the conflict. You don’t have to give the game away, just leave me wondering how they can possibly reach their HEA like he’s a Hatfield. She’s a McCoy. Taught from the cradle to hate each other, one selfless act alters their perceptions—but not their reality type of thing.

    • >>You don’t have to give the game away, just leave me wondering how they can possibly reach their HEA…

      Yes–great way of putting it.

      And yeah, those men do have different taste in movies, don’t they. :)

  11. Elisa Beatty says:

    Explosions do not equal conflict!!!!

    And thanks for the Kristen Nelson link–very valuable way to think of it!

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