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Oscar essential: The movie trailer

People watch a movie at a movie theater.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: Spare a thought now for the trailers that help get people into movie theaters in the first place. For a long time, you knew what was coming even before the lights went down: A deep, almost thundering voice, walking you, the humble viewer, through whatever the storyline happened to be.

The voiceovers are largely gone now, partly out of necessity, and partly because studios think they've found a better way to sell audiences on their product. Ashley Milne-Tyte has more.


Ashley Milne-Tyte: For more than 20 years, one man was the voice of most movie trailers.

Don La Fontaine: Once he was programmed to destroy the future, now his mission is to protect it.

Voiceover king Don La Fontaine narrated thousands of trailers until his death in 2008. Matt Brubaker is head of the theatrical division at creative agency Trailer Park. He says studios saw La Fontaine's rich tones as a key marketing tool.

Matt Brubaker: When I started making trailers, there was a lot of research that people for the most part got so used to Don's voice that they didn't feel it was a big or important movie if his voice wasn't associated with it.

But that was in the '90s. Brubaker says in the last decade, new technology has led to much more sophisticated editing techniques. Most trailers now use super-quick cuts, graphics and actor dialogue to tell the story.

"The Hangover" trailer: We are getting married in five hours! 'Yeah, that's not gonna happen.'

If the narrator's become passe, perhaps I can let the rest of this story tell itself. Here's Matt Brubaker again.

Brubaker: Now the viewer is so much more aware of movie trailers. There are television shows about movie trailers, they're on the Internet, they can see them and they analyze them almost as entertainment content themselves.

Ryan Parsons: My name is Ryan Parsons. I am the owner of TrailerAddict.com.

I really think the voiceover became almost a parody of itself, where it's just so easy to spot it and get distracted by it and see how this voice is trying to control your emotion on the film it's showing. All you need is good editing and a song that kind of like draws people in.

I mean a couple of examples is the first and second trailers for "Where The Wild Things Are," and they used a song called "Wake Up" by Arcade Fire. It worked both ways. You loved the song but at the same time the song fit the movie so well you immediately were kind of attached to what this movie was showing.

Andy Geller: My name is Andy Geller. I've been a voice actor since the early '90s. For years I did Disney stuff, a lot of early Pixar movies: 'There are three billion fish in the ocean, they're looking for one -- "Finding Nemo."'

Special effects has just advanced so far in the last several years. I think they can do things with visuals that cause a narrator at times to be -- I think they feel that it's not necessary.

OK, I can't let the story finish without popping back in. I have to ask, does Andy Geller lament the absence of a narrator?

Geller: No, I don't. I only lament when I do hear a voiceover on a trailer and it's not me.

Still, Geller stays busy and well-paid narrating TV and DVD versions of trailers and many other promos. He even does the occasional favor.

Geller: That was Ashley Milne-Tyte for Marketplace.

About the author

Ashley Milne-Tyte is the host of a podcast about women in the workplace called The Broad Experience.

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