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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Deceitful Movie Trailers or Good Advertising?

Jessica Silliman

Larry Cook began working in Hollywood just after graduating in communication from Santa Clara University. As a recent graduate, he didn't have his pick of jobs and started with what the industry considered a "bottom-feeder" production company. This company produced trailers for films that were often not very good and big economic risks. Though this wasn't the rosy picture Larry had imagined of Hollywood, he knew he had to start somewhere.

Larry was immediately put in charge of advertising for a recently acquired movie. The movie had terrible action, horrible writing and the directing and cinematography left a lot to be desired. But Larry couldn't dwell on the poor quality. Instead, he had to focus on putting together a trailer to entice distribution companies at the Cannes Film Festival to pick it up and put it in their theatres.

"My job was to show how the movie would appeal to mass audiences," said Larry. "And I had to do it all alone."

Ted Brown, Larry's superior and the producer of the trailer, only worked on extremely low-budget projects. Instead of building a creative collaboration with Larry, Brown simply told Larry what to do with the trailer.

"I was forced to find something good in the movie to cut together to make an enticing trailer," said Larry.

But Larry struggled to see any good qualities to advertise in the dull and formulaic movie. "It strangled my creative passion for producing," said Larry. "It made me question my motives for working on the project."

Disheartened with what he had to work with and the cynical assistance he received from his boss, Larry was forced to do the best with what he had to work with. In the end, he created a somewhat enticing trailer for a movie he hated.

"People say there is no truth in advertising and that trailers lie," said Larry, "I would agree with that statement."

Larry used this first experience as a stepping stone to other options within the production industry. While his first job was quite possibly the worst, he has encountered similar issues, to a lesser degree, in each subsequent job.

"In this industry I'm forced to bend the truth to make the product look more appealing. But the general public should realize what I'm doing," he said.

Discussion Questions:

  • Do you agree with Larry's statement that "there is no truth in advertising and that trailers lie"?
  • Is it important that a trailer "tell the truth" about a movie?
  • Do you agree with Larry's choice? Would you have handled it differently?
  • What harm, if any, can a trailer do to potential customers of a movie?
  • Given Larry's convictions, should he have been working at a bottom-feeder production company?

Jessica Silliman was a 2006-07 Hackworth Fellow at The Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.

June 2007

Jun 1, 2007