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Are Movie Trailer Voice Overs Becoming Extinct?

By Lin Parkin

May 23, 2014

Comments (10)

Retro Man illsHave you noticed a decline in movie trailer voice-overs?

Yesterday, The Globe and Mail published an interesting article written by Stuart A.Thompson which takes an in-depth look at the decline of narrated movie trailers over the past 23 years. The results are staggering.

In 2013, only one of all 10 top box-office hit movies used a voice-over artist to narrate their movie trailer. That film was Disney's "Frozen," which used a classic booming voice to introduce the story-line to movie-goers. However, not one of the anticipated 2014 summer blockbusters have used a narrated movie trailer.

From 2006 to 2013, with the exception of "The Pursuit of Happiness" (2006), "Harry Potter and the Half Blood" (2009) and Seth McFarlane's slapstick comedy "Ted" (2012), only two or three of the top 10 blockbusters had a narrated movie trailer, and those that did were animated films. That seems logical as animated films tend toward more traditional forms of movie magic.

What is the purpose of a narrated movie trailer?

To sell films. A movie trailer tells a films story in a highly condensed way with the maximum amount of emotional appeal to the intended audience.

While use of voice-overs in movie trailers has changed, the basic structure of movie trailers hasn't. Most follow the same three-act structure.

  1. Introduction
  2. In-depth look at the story, ending with a dramatic climax
  3. Signature music, usually either orchestra or strong recognizable music

Some believe that the popularity of the movie trailer voice-overs declined with the passing of Don LaFontaine who,we all know coined the phrase "In a world..." which was a popular tagline throughout the 1990's. Hal Douglas, who sadly passed away earlier this year, was also at the height of popularity during that era.

These two kings of movie trailer voices also took part in parodies of their work with Hal Douglas doing a hilarious trailer for Seinfeld's documentary "Comedian" (2000) and later with Don La Fontaine doing a hugely popular Geico commercial (2007).

While the actual use of narrated movie trailers declined, voice-over parodies were becoming popular with viewing audiences across YouTube, spurring Don and others to do more parody videos, such as 5 Men in a Limo and Frank TV Movie Trailer Guys.

There have always been clichés with movie trailers that eventually become subject to some form of satire. Though usually in good taste and with a lighthearted sense of humour. Looking back at the Hollywood classic film era, movie trailer narrators were renowned for using words like; "Colossal!" and "Stupendous!" - a kind of satire in and of itself really.

It always comes back to the bottom line, doesn't it?

Perhaps the decline of narrated movie trailers can be attributed to nothing more than the studio's bottom line. Even film studios would feel the pinch in a recession. With the astronomical cost of making a feature length film, it's probable that studios would want to cut costs wherever possible.

These days most major motion pictures piece together movie trailers using the movie's own dialogue to strategically set up the story and make use of dramatic music throughout the trailer to elicit the emotional response that the voice-over once did.

Now, having said that, we've only been talking about top 10 box-office hits. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) mandates that movie trailers are not allowed to be any longer than two minutes and thirty seconds. With that kind of time constraint, voice-over is the most effective way to set up the premise of a film and provide an explanation of its story-line. Certainly, there are smaller production studios that continue to use narrators for their movie trailers.

At Voices.com, movie trailers make up a small portion of the total job postings, maybe around 2 or 3%, but that's still a few hundred a year. There is a market for it. It's still out there, especially with independent and foreign films.

Regardless of why major production studios have changed their marketing tactics, one thing is for sure, a narrated movie trailer taps into human elements that create an emotional connection with the audience. Unnarrated movie trailers just can't quite match that.

Will we see more of a mainstream comeback in the years ahead?

What do you think?

Have you been hired for a movie trailer recently? Was it for an independent or foreign film? We'd like to hear your thoughts on this too.

All the best,
Lin

© iStockphoto.com/bortonia

Related Topics: Announcers, Blockbusters, Don LaFontaine, Frozen, Hal Douglas, Movie Trailers, Narrators, The Globe and Mail, Top 10 Box-office Hits, Videos, Voice Overs


Comments


    I don't think it has anything to do with cost. Paying a voice over artist for a movie trailer is a drop in the ocean compared to the budget of the film itself.

    It is all about fashion; there has been a steady decline in the last few years and this will continue until someone says 'hey I've got a great idea - let's add a voice to this'. Then we will have come full circle.

    Posted by:

      Thanks for the article and info, Lin. I get a good amount of Trailer-type and other "Big Voice" jobs through Voices.com. I find that many clients still want that type of delivery for a variety of projects. Despite what the major movie studios opt to use in their trailers, we are a generation who grew up with the Big Trailer Voice and I think it has become a part of our psyche. The moment you hear it, you know what it is! No matter who is voicing it, you KNOW that guy! You recognize that character. Whether it's done seriously or as a spoof of that type of delivery, it grabs the listeners' attention and makes them take notice. I find that the trailer voice is a "personality" unto itself that still is very useful and relevant when used correctly.

      Posted by:

        I have noticed this decline in requests, but I have also noticed something else, and I've even asked Voices.com for some help on it not three months ago. What I was seeing is that when people were asking for that :movie-trailer" type of voiceover, the examples they provided were anything but what those of us in the "VO bis" would have called movie-trailer examples. Maybe the client is confused when they ask for it, and equally confused on what to ask for, period!

        Posted by:
        • Dan Hill
        • May 24, 2014 9:06 PM

          Hi Lin,

          I actually do about half a dozen movie trailers a month, but it's not what you might imagine. The local radio station I have a contract with has the big studios as clients, so they get advance screening of 1st run movies and blue ray giveaways for their listeners all the time. I take the 2 minute trailers, carefully edit out Mr. Big Voice and put in my own scripted set ups and local contesting information. It's great work, hugely entertaining and the end products are very convincing (if I don't say so myself). And, no, it doesn't pay like the original but ... last week was Godzilla, I can't wait to see what this week brings.

          Posted by:

            Hi Cal, that's interesting. It sounds like fantastic work! And a whole lot of fun too. :)

            Posted by:

              Hi Dan,

              Thanks for commenting. Artistic direction can be difficult to decipher, and can be a point of contention for any actor, especially if the client or director isn't 100% sure how to describe what it is they're looking for. In situations where there is a discrepancy between the "type" of voice and the examples, I would say it is best to go with a read based on the examples they provide.

              I hope that helps.

              Lin

              Posted by:

                Hi Alan, I agree: "the trailer voice is a "personality" unto itself." It adds a whole lot of character to the trailers and sets the tone of a movie so well.

                Posted by:

                  Hi Gary,

                  Thanks for adding your two cents! That's true, most trends eventually repeat themselves. If it is just the style of the times, I hope to see it come full circle.

                  Best wishes,
                  Lin

                  Posted by:

                    I don't presume to know the movie business, but I am a movie fan. It seems to me that many big movies now are remakes of movies from 20 years ago, or based on stories from popular books. Movie-goers are already familiar with the story, so the movie studios just edit 2.5 minutes of fast cuts with explosions, special effects, and alluring sound bytes from the film. Sometimes it's the best 2.5 minutes of the film and the rest of the movie is, um... well... not so good. This being said, I'm not surprised that the old, familiar movie trailer has changed. After all, the only thing we can count on is change.

                    Posted by:

                      the best ever voiceover narrator has to be Morgan freeman he's rumbly crumbly voice puts goose bumps on my arms :)

                      Posted by:

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