Julia Alexander at Polygon makes an interesting claim surrounding the new Blade Runner Prequel short film Nexus Dawn, proposing that “the cure for trailer culture is informative, explanatory short films”.
It’s not clear that trailer culture needs a cure per se, I tend to be capitalist in these regards and the cottage industry around exclusive teasers and Comic-Con reveals seems to be supplying the geek web with plenty of clicks. However, I personally do find the whole endeavor pretty stale from a marketing standpoint, and don’t find Zapruder film level analysis comparing the Star Wars Trailer #2 vs. the Japanese market trailer a particularly enervating use of anyone’s time. As consumers we should demand better, and while I am biased, I do think short film tie-ins could be the ticket. In doing so this trend could fix two existing weaknesses in current blockbuster marketing.
Short film tie-ins are not new. Disney has been creating short film content around its super-hero and animated content for a while, usually used as sweeteners for Blu-Ray releases, and Universal Pictures and Fox Searchlight both memorably employed Felix & Paul to create VR tie-ins to Jurassic World and Wild respectively. But the most interesting work in this vein has come from Ridley Scott Associates in conjunction with creative marketing outfit 3AM, itself a partnership between RSA and the agency Wild Card.
Blade Runner: Lost Memories is a proposed prequel trilogy of short films of which Nexus Dawn is the first. This comes on the heels of innovative work surrounding Alien: Covenant and The Martian. The common connection is naturally, Scott, who directed those two films as well as the original Blade Runner. Scott is a long time booster of short film, he started his career out of London’s Royal College of Art with the short film Boy and Bicycle, and was a prolific commercial director early in his career. Through RSA, his eponymous commercial production company, he has continually supported the form, creating the second season of BMW’s famous The Hire series, and producing the the Philips short film series that gave us The Gift, a project which elevated Carl Erik Rinsch as a feature level directorial talent. The company’s roster of directors is littered with short film talent now, including S/W alums David Karlak, Mat Kirkby, and Jordan Vogt-Roberts.
Scott believes in the value of short films and the work of RSA and 3AM is putting that belief in action. Luke Scott (who himself made his narrative directorial debut with an ambitious short film) directs this first Blade Runner short, and while it isn’t supremely compelling in its own right, it is far from a misfire either. Moreover the concept of the series interestingly fixes a couple of concerns around current trailer-centric marketing. Trailers increasingly “spoil” movies, littered as they are with too many 3rd act reveals, and basically walking audiences through the entire narrative arc. This kind of handholding may be seen as a feature not a bug by cynical execs, but plenty of fans grumble about it. These short films are shot with entirely new material and sidestep this issue.
Secondly movies increasingly are concerned about the competition posed by our golden-age of TV. Pundits increasingly speak of film’s adoption of TV-aspects, especially in reference to cinematic universes like Marvel’s, where each new film is akin to an episode of the larger show. Studios love the built-in audience awareness of franchises and existing IP for financial reasons, but I think what the TV comparison shows is that audiences love depth. They love to nerd out about minutiae and mythology. Super hero movies have this through their comic book source material. Game of Thrones has this, and Star Wars has been able to build it out through its extended universe over time. It is hard for movie franchises to build this however. We haven’t had a meaningful addition to the Blade Runner universe in 35 years, and films are forced by their format to be too economical in their storytelling to support our appetite for sprawl. The idea of a prequel series that bridges the original film and its sequel doesn’t make sense simply as marketing, but also for world-building, providing connective tissue that makes the franchise’s universe more fleshed out, and thus real.
The logic is there for short film tie-ins for blockbusters, the question is now efficacy. We don’t have access to the sophisticated metrics that studios employ, but this prequel short has about 1.5M YouTube views at the moment across the official account and the premiere partner Collider. The second trailer has 8.5M just on the official Warner Bros. account, which doesn’t take into consideration all the various channels in the trailer view economy. I’m hoping this trend takes root, but as consumers we have to demand it.