Theaters And Studios Squabble Over Shortening Movie Trailers

May 30, 2013
Originally published on May 31, 2013 1:18 am

Here's a question: If you go to the movies and the scheduled showtime is, say, 7:30, when do you actually expect the movie to start? If you said 7:30, you go to very unusual screenings. If you said 7:45, you're closer to what many experience. If you said 7:50, you're still in range: There's often some advertising other than trailers, the limit for trailer length is 2 1/2 minutes, and theaters sometimes run seven or eight trailers. Eight would add up to 20 minutes.

Theater owners are antsy about the long delays and the complaints they get from patrons, and they're asking for a change, writer Pamela McClintock tells NPR's Renee Montagne on Thursday's Morning Edition.

McClintock recently wrote a piece in The Hollywood Reporter about the disagreement, in which theater owners have asked movie studios to shorten the length of trailers from 2 1/2 minutes down to two. The reason? In their current form, theater owners argue, they both take up too much time and give away too much plot.

McClintock says the dispute could end in a couple of ways. The guidelines are voluntary anyway (and imposed by the Motion Picture Association of America, not theater owners), but certainly, the studios could choose to go along with the change, or with some change.

But studios are nervous that if there's no agreement, theater owners might just start refusing to play trailers at all unless they comply with the two-minute guideline. And even with the power of YouTube and other online outlets where trailers are seen, putting a trailer in a theater is still considered an enormously important part of marketing a film.

This entire area tends to be one of delicate negotiation, since theaters, after all, have their own reasons for wanting to help market films — especially in ways that make them look like great theater experiences. At the same time, going to the movies is expensive, and blockbusters seem to be getting longer all the time (even Star Trek into Darkness is well over two hours long, and The Avengers was almost 2 1/2). Theater owners understandably want to make the experience more pleasant, and if that means fewer trailers, they just might be willing.

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Movie trailers can be a lot of fun and they can also seem to go on forever. This summer's expected blockbuster "Man of Steel" has a trailer that is three minutes long.



KEVIN COSTNER: (as Jonathan Kent) You're the answer, son. You're the answer to are we alone in the universe.

DYLAN SPRAYBERRY: (as Clark Kent at 13) Can I just keep pretending on your son?

COSTNER: (as Jonathan Kent) You are my son. And I have to believe that you were sent here for a reason.


Renee, I think I'm ready for that to be over already.

MONTAGNE: Two minutes and 45 seconds to go though, David. And multiply that trailer by the seven or eight trailers commonly shown before a movie and we're talking 20-something minutes of just trailers.

Now the Hollywood Reporter is reporting that the National Association of Theatre Owners is pushing back against movie studios. It wants trailers to be shorter, limited to just two minutes each max.

Hollywood Reporter's Pamela McClintock wrote that story.

PAMELA MCCLINTOCK: Basically, the theater owners are saying these are our theaters and we want more control over how movies are marketed. And I think they don't like it that trailers eat up - like you said - up to 20 minutes of time before the movie starts showing.

MONTAGNE: How did trailers get so long?

MCCLINTOCK: I think they've always been this long. However, because now there's more and more trailers before movie, it seems longer. And currently, the trailer guideline is set up by the Motion Picture Association of America, not by the theater owners. Their rule is please don't make it longer than 2.5 minutes and we'll give you one exception a year. So in the case of "Man of Steel," Warner Brothers has one theatrical trailer that's three minutes.

MONTAGNE: And they play the trailers, even if they think they're too long, because?

MCCLINTOCK: I mean, studios actually have to pay for a lot of the trailers, so but they're still...

MONTAGNE: It's sort of like the trailers are ads.

MCCLINTOCK: Right. Exactly. But they're still saying, in this case, look, we feel like there's a problem and what can we do to solve it?

MONTAGNE: Well, what can they do? I mean I understand that these are voluntary guidelines...


MONTAGNE: ...that everybody's been going along with for a long time. And are the studios saying, you know, forget it, we need those two and a half minutes?

MCCLINTOCK: Yeah. I mean these are proposed rules, and last week people from the National Association of Theatre Owners briefed each of the studios. And I'm being told that, you know, several studios are saying flat out, we want except this and others are also opposing it. But the problem comes if what if the theater owner does say look, we won't play your trailer if it's more than two minutes. Even if the rules are voluntary they could feasibly say that and that's what's upsetting studios.

MONTAGNE: So movie theaters are rebelling and the studios don't like it but in a way they need the theaters, obviously, to get the trailers out there. Do you think this could lead to a change in what we theater goers see when we, you know, sit ourselves down, looking forward to maybe a few trailers and then the movie?


MCCLINTOCK: You know, I think it's possible. I mean it's going to be interesting to see how it plays out and, you know, ultimately happens. But again, you know, I do know that studios are willing to change the way they market movies and the length of a trailer time, but it is going to be an interesting discussion. And, you know, even with the Internet, seeing the trailer inside of the theater is still considered probably the best way to reach a moviegoer outside of television advertising.

MONTAGNE: Pamela McClintock, is a senior film writer at The Hollywood Reporter. Thanks for joining us.

MCCLINTOCK: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.