The Art of the Sell — That Thing You Do trailer

These posts celebrate the movie trailers, movie posters, commercials, print ads, and other promotional material that stand as their own works of art.

For a few weeks in the late summer and early fall of 1996, nothing made me happier in a movie theater than the MPAA’s green band screen giving way to the 20th Century Fox logo with the sound of a screaming audience behind it. I knew I was about to see a quartet of red-suited gents trot up a set of backstage stairs as a familiar voice instructs, “We bow, in unison….”

The theater I frequented put the trailer for That Thing You Do! in front of just about every feature during that stretch. I was only a couple years past my own tenure as a movie theater manager at the time, and I had a strong suspicion as to why the pending directorial debut of Tom Hanks was so pervasively promoted. Whoever was assembling prints for the theater loved this trailer, rightly so. There was another trailer available that took a far more conventional approach to pitching the film, sketching out the rough trajectory of the lead character’s story (“Guy Patterson didn’t have a perfect job…or a perfect social life….”) and generally making it all look like a goofball sitcom. The trailer I saw repeatedly was bolder, smarter, better.

I don’t know for certain, but I like to think the trailer I preferred was assembled according to Hanks’s preferences. It’s a montage built around a performance of the spectacular title song that focuses on scenes of the band playing, sprinkling in a few other telling, characteristically creative moments from the film. Only a few stray lines of dialogue come through, and there’s a beautiful blithe disinterest in spelling out the plot. What the trailer does, as perfectly as any I’ve ever seen, is capture the spirit of the movie it’s promoting.

Other entries in this series can be found by clicking on the “Art of the Sell” tag.

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