From the Inside: A Case of Misleading Paranormal Activity 3 Trailers

This evening Paranormal Activity 3 is being released early as part of a late night sneak preview. Some markets are getting the film at 9 PM while other, larger markets will get a 10 PM screening. The one thing both markets will have in common, though, is that as the film lets out, the theater lobby will host a stream of confused audience members — perplexed by just how much of the movie’s trailers and TV spots included footage that was nowhere to be seen in the final version of the film.

I watched Paranormal Activity 3 last month as part of Fantastic Fest. While I shared my thoughts on the film at the time, I hesitated to call what I wrote a review. The directors, Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman of Catfish fame, introduced the film by admitting the version we were about to watch was not the finished product. Sound edits and a few trims were still needed. In my not-a-review, I wrote about my hopes that the film would be worked on a bit more in the next month — as the version I saw (and apparently the same version audiences will see tomorrow) was not very good.

While from early reports, not a lot about the film has been changed in the last few weeks, there was the potential for some serious editing. During filming, enough footage was allegedly shot for the movie that the filmmakers could have actually assembled two completely different versions of Paranormal Activity 3. That’s why, in the trailers and TV spots for the film, so much of the footage shown doesn’t actually appear in the final movie.

I’m not going to go into specifics about which footage will be awaiting you when you go and see the film but I’d put it at 50 percent for the amount of footage used in spots that is not in the final film.

Is this a good thing? Can this deliberate misdirection and decoy footage actually help audiences’ enjoyment of the movie? One of the biggest complaints about trailers is that they give away too much of the movie. By the time you see most comedies and horror films, you already know the best laughs and scares, respectively. By filling a trailer with footage not actually in the movie, perhaps audiences are being treated to the rare experience of seeing a film that they haven’t already experienced piecemeal through advertising.

It’s not a new practice to advertise a film with footage shot specifically for trailers. Several films have utilized this effect for positive results. Heck, the trailer-specific footage for the American remake of Godzilla was much more entertaining than any of the footage actually found in the movie.

Comedies also routinely use footage from outtakes to advertise their film. I remember seeing a TV spot for Bridesmaids weeks after it had come out with footage from a scene nowhere in the film. With the case of Paranormal Activity 3, though, I wonder if the marketing team has gone too far. So much of the trailers are comprised of decoy footage that the whole thing begins to reek of subterfuge.

The trailers give a very different impression of the actual movie than what audiences will discover when they go to see it. They trailer (successfully) compiles the best scares from not one but two different horror films — the Paranormal Activity 3 being released in theaters and the Paranormal Activity 3 destined to be released as a supplemental bonus disc during the movie’s home video release. By doubling up on the amount of scares in the trailer, the marketing material is giving the impression that the film is full of edge-of-your-seat horror from start to finish. Instead, Paranormal Activity 3 is a movie with maybe half a dozen really good scares before a pretty intense finale — in other words, pretty much par on course with the previous two movies. The trailers are promising scary moments in the film that just aren’t there.

Perhaps the better alternative would have been to include footage from the previous two movies. By this point, audiences already know what to expect in a Paranormal Activity film — there will be video cameras, there will be floating objects and there will be people being dragged. The new movie, try as it might, does not introduce any startlingly new concepts and is doomed by just how much it feels like a retread. Why not embrace this by showing audiences footage from the first two films — reminding them that if they found the previous films scary, they’ll probably feel the same way about the new movie.

Instead, Paramount is just opening the company up to a lawsuit like the one being experienced by Film District courtesy of the Michigan woman who is suing the distribution company because she felt the trailer for Drive misrepresented the film.

I’m not making the argument that such a lawsuit would be of merit — just that Paramount is not putting themselves above reproach by employing a decoy footage marketing campaign.

What do you think? Will you be upset by how much of the footage from the trailers is missing from the final movie? Or do you prefer this tactic designed to save you a few surprises in the finished movie? Sound off and let your opinion be heard.

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