Is Hollywood Depressed?

This weekend the Tao Treasurer and I went to the movies (yes, we still go to actual live movie theaters). As usual the previews were 20 minutes long and since we hadn’t been to a theater in a few months, the previews were all new to us.

I noticed, that almost all the trailers had the same feel to them

Except for Tomorrowland and Hitman, they all had this dull drab unhappy feel. By the time the movie started I couldn’t help but wonder if my peers in Hollywood are all depressed? I sure as heck felt that way when the feature presentation started.

For your entertainment, here’s a roundup of the trailers we saw (that I can remember) plus my thoughts on their color corrections. At the end of this article I’ll wrap with some final thoughts about color grading trailers and clue you in to the feature film that this (mostly) depressing lot of trailers preceded. Enjoy (if you can):

Maggie

This trailer features a cold and lifeless color scheme. Skin tones are pallid. The world is a light cyan. An utterly depressing dystopian feel. But I guess after that long in politics, it’ll take Arnie a few movies to wash it off… The best thing going for it? Not a remake.

Hitman: Agent 47

A grade any colorist would like to execute. Fun. Primary. Of course, inspired by the video game of the same name—but this is my kind of Summer movie… when you’re in the mood for mindless action that provides a rush, Hitman seems to fit the bill. If only the rest of the trailers in this rundown followed suit.

Mad Max: Fury Road

Another dystopian future view with a decidedly teal and orange look… the twist in this trailer? Teal and Orange never show up at the same time! Still, I can’t say I really want to go see this movie—not in an unaltered state of mind.

Jurassic World

Bold vibrant colors… without skin tones. By the time this trailer ends it looked like Spielberg meets Clive Barker. And if the YouTube views on this trailer are any indication… this is the 2015 Summer Blockbuster to beat.

Terminator Genisys

The rebootvideogamesummerblockbuster look. With a Star Trek reset. ‘Nuff said.

Poltergeist

I love the original film. And I seriously doubt anyone can do the Zelda Rubinstein clairvoyant role like she did… so kudos to them for not trying. The grade in this trailer is much more straightforward with some really nice looks. Oh: the Hero Shot images of hands on the inside of the TV are really well done. I remember this trailer felt like a breath of fresh air… but uplifting? No. As the trailer reminds us—the story is built upon a cemetery gateway to hell.

Tommorowland

This wasn’t the trailer I saw but the color grade matched. Lots of different looks, from washed out to very punchy and lively. Looks like a fun color grade to execute (it helps when you get Disney quality art direction). My big takeaway from this trailer? You don’t see it here but in the theater it started with a short Steamboat Willy line drawing resolving into a Disney Animation logo (or something similar)… it keeps that Mickey Mouse trademark in play! (see, I told you—this series of trailers had me quite cynical by the time I saw this trailer)

At this point, you’ve got to be saying… MORE Trailers??? Yes indeedy, yet another…

Southpaw

A modern color grade. Primary and punchy when it needed to be. Classy and almost nostalgic, when necessary. And then raw, gritty. I liked it. At least Southpaw is not a reboot, sequel or video game (or is it? Who knows?). But I couldn’t help thinking the logline on this must read: Kramer vs Kramer meets Rocky IV. Oh, joy.

Some closing thoughts on trailers and their color correction

I edited promos for NYC-based HBO Studios for 3 years so I’m well aware that trailers have one purpose—to get people in seats (or in my case, to watch movies you’d otherwise skip). The color grade is just another aspect of setting the emotional tone that will inspire an audience to see a movie before it hits Netflix. It’s not supposed to be representative of the final color grade of the actual feature film.

But tell me… if you’ve watched this series of trailers how are you NOT wondering what’s wrong with Hollywood?

Looking at 70% of these trailers… The Studios are not feeling good about themselves.

You may be wondering: What was the film the Tao Treasurer and I were there to see?

It turned out to be a film that had one of the most drab color grades I’ve seen in ages (very much like the Maggie trailer grade). Except for one intense scene at the start of Act 3, skin tones were utterly drained. This movie’s talk’y drabness put the Treasurer to sleep and seemed to inspire the slate of Previews that preceded it.

Personally, I liked the film but felt it was executed for the director, not the audience. Still, I agree with the premise of this genre of science fiction. Here’s its trailer (I think it visually represents what the final film looked like):

Ex Machina

Either you and I need to go forth and set an appointment with our therapists

Or Hollywood does.

As usual… it’s almost impossible to separate the two.

2 Comments

  1. Michael April 28, 2015 at 2:24 PM #

    Hi, Patrick,

    A few years ago there was a little film shown in Cannes as part of the market attached to the festival, called “The Making of Plus One.” Funny as hell. It was a takeoff on a producer trying to put together financing for a film in Cannes. Desperate, he started using a description of his film that seemed mockable even back then: “It’s dark and edgy.” But that phrase still seems to rule in Hollywood. It has to be dark and edgy to be perceived as creative.

    I can see a couple of places where that comes from. First, advertising has stolen all our good days to sell us what we know are lies. Second, compared to real emotion and human complexity, dark is easy to write. And nasty is easy to act.

    So we have fabulous directors making excellent films that are just depressing. Irony’s easy, too, so here’s some: What do you have to be to direct any movie in this very tough business? Wildly optimistic. So you have these wonderful, enthusiastic, talented optimists hammering themselves into the box of dark and edgy.

    I mean, creativity has to be free to explore every shade of life, darkness included. I just wish it wasn’t a fad. As you show here, even the colours are getting boring.

    By the way, I really like the way you teach.

    Cheers,

    Mike

  2. Andrew Webb June 2, 2015 at 8:47 PM #

    Great comment, Mike.

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