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iMovie ’11 and its Critique of the Movie Trailer

Have you ever thought that most movie trailers, with their portentous title cards and triumphant musical scores, could have been stamped out by a computer? Well, Steve Jobs and his software designers at Apple certainly did. But rather than whine about Hollywood’s formulaic marketing techniques, they monetized their critique. Brand new today is iMovie ’11 with a clever and soon to be supremely irritating new feature: movie trailers. Check out this iMovie demo to see what it’s all about.

So, get ready for every holiday card to now feel like a Jerry Bruckheimer promo, with your friends’ sons and daughters racing around their holiday campgrounds like pint-size Indiana Jones and Jonesettes — and scored, in a very clever move by Apple, to pre-cleared music recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra.

UPDATE: When it came time to write this week’s newsletter, I decided to extend this post with some thoughts that occurred after I wrote it. Here’s my revised take in the form of my weekly “Letter from the Editor.”

Clad in his customary black turtleneck and jeans, Steve Jobs took the stage yesterday in Cupertino, California for a new product demo that Apple dubbed “Back to the Mac.” The title worked on two levels. First, after so much attention paid to the iPhone and iPad, Apple was finally announcing some new developments related to its once core business of computers. But, more cleverly, the title referred to Apple’s taking features from its iOS mobile operating system and devices and putting them back into the desktop line. There was a new app store for computers (continuing what theorist Jonathan Zittrain has criticized as a move away from the open internet towards closed systems) and, most impressively, a new line of Macbook Airs with the flash memory and “instant on” qualities of the iPad.

But amongst all the new announcements, one relatively goofy one has gotten a lot of buzz. Apple announced a new version of its video editing software, iMovie ’11, and it’s got a new function — making movie trailers. You know how most trailers, with their portentous title cards and triumphant musical scores, could have been stamped out by a computer? Well, Jobs and his software designers at Apple certainly did. But rather than whine about Hollywood’s formulaic marketing techniques, they monetized their critique. They came up with 14 or so pre-cut trailer templates, with title cards already written and underlying scores played by the London Symphony Orchestra laid in. All you need to do is select your clips, stick them into the readymade “drop zones” and output your trailer. It’s so fast that moments after the product was announced I found one guy’s trailer up on YouTube. To see iMovie ’11 and its trailer function in action, check out the demo video.

When I first heard of this new feature, I thought it was kind of ridiculous. Who would cut a trailer this way? Then I watched the demo, and I realized that this has been designed as something of a toy. Apple’s taken the worst of movie marketing, acknowledged its cheesy qualities and turned it into something for people to have fun with. Movie trailers in iMovie are not about promoting movies, they are about pretending that your life, or yours kids’ lives, are movies. Now, I think this is going to get old pretty fast — I can already count all the holiday cards and party invites I’m going to get in the form of these things. And we can debate the deep psychology of all of this, and what it says about us as a culture. But I’m sure at the outset for many people it’s simply going to be a lot of fun.

But here’s what I think is going to be interesting. What happens when, a year from now, an audience full of people who have auto-trailered their last trip to the beach sit in a theater and watch a generically cut promo for the latest swords-and-sandals epic? Or couples who gave themselves silly Valentine’s Day trailer cards with the “Romance” template see a similarly cut spot for the latest Katherine Heigl flick? There will be snickers and, later at home, mash-ups. Movie marketers will notice and realize they are being laughed at. The clichés that Apple is cleverly making money with will be put out to pasture and maybe trailers will start getting creative again.

I like this new product of Apple’s and hope they do more like it. I’d like to see their “Indie Movie” iMovie program with “coming of age,” “conquering the psychological backstory,” and “ensemble comedy secretly modeled after Friends” templates. Then once the mechanical qualities of some of our less illustrious films are similarly exposed, these too can be put out to pasture in favor of movies that could never be evoked by a computer program.

See you next week.

 

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