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Why Are Movie Previews Called 'Trailers'?

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There is no part of a film's marketing that's more important than its trailer. An entire film's financial success—and a studio's very future—can be determined by a mere two-and-a-half minute preview released months in advance of a movie's premiere. Case in point: More than 13 million people watched Warner Bros.' first Wonder Woman trailer on YouTube within 48 hours of its release—giving the movie the type of buzz that executives can only dream of. Even if the movie isn't well received by critics, the good will from a successful trailer can still carry it toward a healthy profit.

But amid all the hype attached to trailers, there's one big question that we don't really think about: Why are these previews even called trailers when they're shown before films? 

Well that's just the thing, they weren't always played before movies—and the very first trailer on record wasn't even for a film. It was actually for a 1913 play called The Pleasure Seekers.

As pointed out in the above video by FilmmakerIQ, the moviegoing experience was much different in 1913. You would pay your admission—usually just a couple of cents—and you could basically sit inside a movie house all day and watch whatever was playing, often a combination of feature-length movies, short films, and cartoons. To take advantage of the audience members sitting and waiting for the next movie to play, Broadway producer—and movie theater advertising manager—Nils Granlund came up with the profitable idea of advertising upcoming plays in between screening rotations at Marcus Loew's East Coast theater chain. By using rehearsal footage from The Pleasure Seekers, Granlund put together a short promotional film for the play, creating buzz and bolstering publicity for the production. He also, unknowingly, revolutionized film marketing. 

In the spirit of cramming advertising into every nook and cranny of our lives, the idea quickly evolved. That same year, producer William Selig brought the popular serial format from the newspapers to the big screen—producing short action-adventure story installments that always ended with some type of thrilling cliffhanger that implored people to come back next week to find out if the hero escaped certain death. Well, how else do you get an audience back for more? Selig figured the best way to do this was to have a brief teaser for the following episode play after the main feature, so the audience would leave the theater wanting more. This was the first step toward a traditional movie trailer. 

These initial trailers for Selig's first serial, The Adventures of Kathlyn, were usually nothing more than a brief bit of footage accompanied by text that screamed questions at the audience, like "Does she escape the lion's pit? See next week's thrilling chapter!" This idea worked so well that studios were soon cutting their own trailers, as opposed to the individual theaters doing it for them. After that, trailer production was outsourced by studios to the National Screen Service, which held onto a trailer monopoly for more than four decades. 

Trailers soon became big business, eventually moving to the familiar position we know today, before a movie begins. This ensures more eyes on the product, and probably made more sense once the serial storytelling model was phased out. So while the term "trailer" might not make sense anymore—especially since these previews are mainly viewed on YouTube nowadays anyway—we're too set in our ways to change it now.

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Big Questions
Why Don't We Eat Turkey Tails?
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Turkey sandwiches. Turkey soup. Roasted turkey. This year, Americans will consume roughly 245 million birds, with 46 million being prepared and presented on Thanksgiving. What we don’t eat will be repurposed into leftovers.

But there’s one part of the turkey that virtually no family will have on their table: the tail.

Despite our country’s obsession with fattening, dissecting, and searing turkeys, we almost inevitably pass up the fat-infused rear portion. According to Michael Carolan, professor of sociology and associate dean for research at the College for Liberal Arts at Colorado State University, that may have something to do with how Americans have traditionally perceived turkeys. Consumption was rare prior to World War II. When the birds were readily available, there was no demand for the tail because it had never been offered in the first place.

"Tails did and do not fit into what has become our culinary fascination with white meat," Carolan tells Mental Floss. "But also from a marketing [and] processor standpoint, if the consumer was just going to throw the tail away, or will not miss it if it was omitted, [suppliers] saw an opportunity to make additional money."

Indeed, the fact that Americans didn't have a taste for tail didn't prevent the poultry industry from moving on. Tails were being routed to Pacific Island consumers in the 1950s. Rich in protein and fat—a turkey tail is really a gland that produces oil used for grooming—suppliers were able to make use of the unwanted portion. And once consumers were exposed to it, they couldn't get enough.

“By 2007,” according to Carolan, “the average Samoan was consuming more than 44 pounds of turkey tails every year.” Perhaps not coincidentally, Samoans also have alarmingly high obesity rates of 75 percent. In an effort to stave off contributing factors, importing tails to the Islands was banned from 2007 until 2013, when it was argued that doing so violated World Trade Organization rules.

With tradition going hand-in-hand with commerce, poultry suppliers don’t really have a reason to try and change domestic consumer appetites for the tails. In preparing his research into the missing treat, Carolan says he had to search high and low before finally finding a source of tails at a Whole Foods that was about to discard them. "[You] can't expect the food to be accepted if people can't even find the piece!"

Unless the meat industry mounts a major campaign to shift American tastes, Thanksgiving will once again be filled with turkeys missing one of their juicier body parts.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Why Do We Dive With Sharks But Not Crocodiles?
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Why do we dive with sharks but not crocodiles?

Eli Rosenberg:

The issue is the assumption that sharks' instincts are stronger and more basic.

There are a couple of reasons swimming with sharks is safer:

1. Most sharks do not like the way people taste. They expect their prey to taste a certain way, like fish/seal, and we do not taste like that. Sharks also do not like the sensation of eating people. Bigger sharks like great whites enjoy prey with a high fat-bone ratio like seals. Smaller sharks enjoy eating fish, which they can gobble in one bite. So, while they might bite us, they pretty quickly decide “That’s not for me” and swim away. There is only one shark that doesn’t really care about humans tasting icky: that shark is our good friend the tiger shark. He is one of the most dangerous species because of his nondiscriminatory taste (he’s called the garbage can of the sea)!

2. Sharks are not animals that enjoy a fight. Our big friend the great white enjoys ambushing seals. This sneak attack is why it sometimes mistakes people for seals or sea turtles. Sharks do not need to fight for food. The vast majority of sharks species are not territorial (some are, like the blacktip and bull). The ones that are territorial tend to be the more aggressive species that are more dangerous to dive with.

3. Sharks attacked about 81 people in 2016, according to the University of Florida. Only four were fatal. Most were surfers.

4. Meanwhile, this is the saltwater crocodile. The saltwater crocodile is not a big, fishy friend, like the shark. He is an opportunistic, aggressive, giant beast.


5. Crocodiles attack hundreds to thousands of people every single year. Depending on the species, one-third to one-half are fatal. You have a better chance of survival if you played Russian roulette.

6. The Death Roll. When a crocodile wants to kill something big, the crocodile grabs it and rolls. This drowns and disorients the victim (you). Here is a PG video of the death roll. (There is also a video on YouTube in which a man stuck his arm into an alligator’s mouth and he death rolled. You don’t want to see what happened.)

7. Remember how the shark doesn’t want to eat you or fight you? This primordial beast will eat you and enjoy it. There is a crocodile dubbed Gustave, who has allegedly killed around 300 people. (I personally believe 300 is a hyped number and the true number might be around 100, but yikes, that’s a lot). Gustave has reportedly killed people for funsies. He’s killed them and gone back to his business. So maybe they won’t even eat you.


8. Sharks are mostly predictable. Crocodiles are completely unpredictable.

9. Are you in the water or by the edge of the water? You are fair game to a crocodile.

10. Crocodiles have been known to hang out together. The friend group that murders together eats together. Basks of crocodiles have even murdered hippopotamuses, the murder river horse. Do you think you don't look like an appetizer?

11. Wow, look at this. This blacktip swims among the beautiful coral, surrounded by crystal clear waters and staggering biodiversity. I want to swim there!

Oh wow, such mud. I can’t say I feel the urge to take a dip. (Thanks to all who pointed this out!)

12. This is not swimming with the crocodiles. More like a 3D aquarium.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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