Don't give too much away!

As a writer, you want to lead the audience forward with rising tension, using cliffhangers, suspense and foreshadowing. But you can't give away too much too soon, it's a balancing act. What are some of the ways you build the tension?

I'm starting this thread off as a writing discussion, but it stems from recently seeing the latest Batman Versus Superman trailer -- I strongly suspected when the movie was announced that Supes and Bats would rumble and then unite against a common foe, and I predicted Brainiac was manipulating Lex Luthor, because Luthor alone wouldn't cause the Justice League to come together, he's just not a big enough physical threat.

Well, in a move so dumb it makes my brain hurt, the latest trailer shows that Luthor makes Doomsday using Zod's remains. That's so dumb dumb dumb to show in a trailer -- because you've just removed the conflict between Superman and Batman that should drive the movie's tension. Knowing how they'll unite makes all their fighting lame. It would have been better to keep the unifying enemy a secret until people actually saw the movie. That way, the two of them fighting would make you root for an actual winner, and the conflict would mean something, and so would its resolution. Now, from watching two trailers, I know the plot of the whole damn movie.

For shame, Warner Brothers, DC and Zach Snyder. For shame. I'm bored, and I was so excited following Man of Steel for the follow up.

I've heard plenty of directors rail against that as well - not sure Snyder had any control over it. The people who make movie trailers are an entirely separate entity from the people making the movie in most organizations.

Trailers ruined one of the better twists that nowadays we don't realize was supposed to be a twist.

In Terminator 2, we aren't led to believe that Ahnuld is going to be the good guy/helper. But the spoiler is so pervasive that we don't recognize the ambiguity in the scenes leading up to it.

The following idea is not mine. I'm trying to remember where I heard it but can't for the life of me call it. I think it might very well be Nostalgia Critic or someone on Channel Awesome. Most likely the Critic/Doug Walker though. Not mine regardless, just a piece for the discussion.


I personally agree that keeping things secret is good. But I watch these movies more in the role of a critic than as a fan. I don't have a strong connection with comics or bats or supes or any other superheroe. Most of the time I don't watch movies like these (popcorn cinema that is) for years until after the fact. When they run free and wild in the internet and TV.

But: If I'd pay 10 Dollars just for the ticket, 10 more for popcorn, maybe another 5 for stupid gimmicks, length and actually good seats...that movie better be good.

That movie better sell himself to me pretty darn good before, else I wait when I dont have to work half a day to see a stupid guy in a cape beat another stupid guy in a cape.

Imagine the opposite: Imagine you sitting in the cinema, waiting for Supes and Bat to duke it out, smash each other into pieces. The final showdown, only one winner. You've waited months just for that. You have watched half an hour of mounting aggressions. This is it. The movie to end all playground discussions of your childhood.

And after about an hour some schmock comes along and decides to be a new super big threat. Someone you probably never heard of because you didn't grow up in America or not on Comics or couldn't recognize Doomsday without the spikes.

I sure as hell would be furious. I wanted to see Bats beat stupid Supes into a bloody, green goo. Do not know Doomsday, nor do I care. Looks like a lost Ninja Turtle that guy. And who the hell is that scantily clad Ms.Fanservice? This is not what I paid for.

So they show most of the story through the trailer. To set actually fitting expectations.

Since the Shyamalan-Twist-Desasters - IIRC - they do that. For one simple reason: They don't want people expecting a completely different movie and getting angry about false expectations. So they tell you exactly what you can expect for your 25 Bucks so you can only be pissed if the movie is actually bad - not if they "lied" to you or made "false claims" or "cheated" or something.

Personally I can live with that. It's a bit harsh or cynical or even lazy maybe but I don't have the money to blow on something that I might not enjoy.

I agree with Tintenteufel on this one. I want to know what I'm going to watch, otherwise I won't bother. For this specific trailer, it told me what I already knew: that this movie is probably going to be an overloaded hodgepodge of characters and ideas without any room to breathe, setting up a Justice League movie. Of course Superman and Batman weren't going to murder each other. That was my read of it before I ever saw Doomsday, but I digress.

There is definitely a happy middle ground between telling us the whole damn movie and almost nothing at all, Alien style, but I tend to lean towards the former, to have a very good idea if I'll like the movie I'll shell out 10 bucks for or not. And the real reason I watch anyways is to see how they do it, to see if they off a character or level a city or whatever.

I basically knew from word one that Superman and Batman wouldn't be fighting the whole movie. Something has to get in the way because DC has Marvel ambitions and there's already a Justice League movie announcement. So Bat and Supes were always going to make nice. However, I would be disappointed to know the *exact* nature of the threat. Showing full-on doomsday and lex luthor and whatnot in a trailer is silly to me. You can hint that something is amiss and hint at the true nature of the movie without throwing everything at the screen.

Trailers like that seem like the result of an overzealous marketing team that's probably trying desperately to generate hype since they know they probably won't be as big as the Marvel hits. So if the idea of Batman versus Superman is not playing as hot with the audience as they would like, they throw a lex and doomsday and see if it sticks.

Third in that camp. I'd rather a story be upfront about itself than hiding behind smoke and mirrors. Unless it's a "smoke and mirrors" type plot to begin with... you don't blow the end to Citizen Kane, for example.

This clearly is not that kind of movie. Maybe they gave away a bit too much, but whatever. I mean, it's not like I'm expecting DC's desperate attempts to copy Marvel's recent movie formula to produce anything *good*.

The spoilers are done on purpose by studios because testing has revealed that audiences actually like being spoiled. When they watch something that was spoiled happen they feel satisfaction and are like "Ha, I knew that was coming". This apparently makes them like the movie more. Stupid, but true.

I'm probably somewhere in the middle on this. I'm not particularly invested in the Justice League movies (Man of Steel was terrible in so many ways and the trailer for BvS doesn't give me hope that the writing is going to be any better, so I'm emotionally detaching myself from them before the disappointment crushes me).

I agree with the importance of setting expectations. Calling a movie 'Batman vs Superman' and then turning it into a buddy team-up movie at the end? Woah, don't do that. I can feel the rage steaming off the internet already. So I think throwing in the common enemy to give the audience a heads-up about the change in direction was a reasonable move to fend that off.

However, I think they went overboard with the reveal. All we needed to know was that there was a common enemy - a glimpse would have been enough, a few frames and some explosions, we get the message. But revealing the Zod connection? And that Lex is responsible? Was that really necessary?

It really does feel like we've seen the whole movie already. The only outstanding question I have is why Diana feels it necessary to turn up to fight a man-made monster. (Okay, 2 questions, the second being 'will Aquaman get to be awesome or just turn up and look hot and splash off again?')

Trailers are supposed to be like the blurb on the back of the book: tease us, give us hints of what to expect so we know what we're in for, and make us want to experience it. They're not supposed to be flashy synopses. Raise more questions than you answer!

"Raise more questions than you answer" is probably the most succinct way to make the point I was suggesting about raising the stakes in a plot. Denouement can answer that stuff, and in a serial there's a constant tide ebbing and flowing between questions and resolutions.

@Wildbow - I don't think I saw trailers for T2 until after I watched it, and that worked better. Sarah Connor's worries for John were more palpable. So now I tend to avoid trailers after the first teaser. I immediately regretted watching the Batman vs Superman new trailer, the first intrigued me and the second disappointed on almost every level.

As a comic book fan I knew they'd buddy up. As a writer, the threat they team up against shouldn't be given away because it lowers the stakes in their fight first.

I like trailers that are intentionally misleading, but still provide a good first impression of the movie.

Those are pretty rare, though. I can only remember M. Night Shyamalan's the village, whose trailer said 'spooky horror mystery' - but the movie was something different altogether. There was a big uproar about it, but I enjoyed being misled! - The Highrise Teaser

This, to me, is an effective window into a movie. Mood conveyed, tone conveyed, you can see the -art- of it (that set design!), there are hints, but nothing substantial is given away.

I usually enjoy knowing what I'm going to see beforehand, even though what "knowing what I'm going to see" differs from movie to movie. In some cases, the general tone and concept is enough, like with Deadpool. As for Batman V. Superman, we already knew generally how that was going to turn out. Still kinda dumb to just give away as nice a twist as Doomsday, though. They should have saved that up for the Holy Shit Quotient. I mean, the movie still has to impress some people on its own merits, too, and it can't always do that if certain details are given away.

As wishy-washy as that was, it probably wasn't too helpful. At least some of the over-explanation makes sense with movies based on slightly more obscure comics/books/characters.

Also, proper use of music can really help.

Some semi-recent trailers I like, some of which are NSFW:


Suicide Squad:

Independence Day: Resurgence

And let's throw some wrestling promos in there (because, that's why) in which the spoilers aren't even filmed:

The Rock Vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin, Wrestlemania X7, "My Way"

Daniel Bryan Vs. Triple H, Wrestlemania 30, "Monster"

Shawn Michaels Vs. The Undertaker