Facebook’s square movie trailers are absurd, idiotic marketing strategy


A screengrab of a Facebook-formatted trailer for "Spiderman: Homecoming"

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I saw my first square trailer March 23, 2017, for a movie I can’t quite remember — it was likely a big blockbuster. I was seriously confused at first, unsure of whether or not the video was just a distorted version of the trailer, its aspect ratio adjusted to a square. Almost instantly after, I started to notice strange moments when it seemed as though the frame was cutting off too much of the view of the action and characters. As those moments continued, my mouth slowly dropped. The trailer had been cropped to a square.

A week later, I saw another square trailer for “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and was blown away by the embarrassing excuse of a marketing tactic. The trailer takes the most blatantly visual, action-filled and large-scaled type of film — the superhero blockbuster — and literally cuts off visual information that was necessary in framing the shot the way the filmmakers intended.

These square trailers seem to be a slight mixture of ratio distortion and simply cut-off visuals, but no version of this mixture would work anyway. The only trailers that could be shown square are those shot on regular 16mm film that have a 1.33:1 aspect ratio — yet films are rarely shot on that format anymore — or those shot on IMAX 70mm that have a 1.43:1 aspect ratio, although the full image of IMAX 70mm has yet to be translated for use in trailers.

The standard aspect ratio that everyone sees in movie theaters or on personal computers is 2.39:1. By pure and simple mathematics, you can likely deduce the problem here: this trailer is taking 2.39:1 visuals and chopping it down to 1:1. That is a ton of visual information missing.

I might be more disappointed, however, in the assumptions of the marketing teams and Facebook themselves than by the actual content. The implementation of this kind of trailer suggests that cutting off visual information doesn’t matter. It suggests that, instead of watching a trailer that actually shows every bit of content possible, people would rather watch one that fills up the entire square of Facebook’s video player, even though that actually offers less. This is Facebook’s problem, and it should be Facebook adjusting how videos are played on its platform, not the films.

Besides, no one was complaining about the way trailers were being shown on Facebook anyway. No one called for this change. There was a button that people could hit to play the trailer in full-screen view, just as it would on YouTube or any other video platform. No one cared about this.

But it’s absolutely hilarious because now, when one presses the full-screen button on a square trailer, there are just black bars on the sides instead of on the top and bottom.

Problem solved, everybody. We did it.

Those awful black bars prove that this is simply a move centered around Facebook’s front-end design and the desire to capitalize on the dimensions of its in-feed video player. And that’s too little of a reason to make such a drastic change. Most people want to feel as if they’re in the theater when watching trailers, so many want to watch on full-screen mode. Yet the side crops are so visually jarring because they impart a nagging sense of missing information. It’s purely idiotic. And it speaks to a larger problem in the film industry.

That problem is digitalization. Although it has immense necessary benefits — cheaper costs of production and projection for almost-as-good quality — providing greater accessibility to filmmakers with fewer resources, the digital revolution does still lead to blind idiocy such as this. On a larger level, it makes the general public essentially unaware of the great things that regular moviegoing and the format of film can offer.

The wide version offers more than the square version does. It’s a simple fact, and square trailers can be universally and objectively denounced by everyone who values this logic. Think about if a square trailer played in a movie theater. The crowd would erupt in boos.

But, in that same theater during a regular screening, visuals actually do often get cut off as well — it’s just not really common knowledge. Standard movie-theater screens are approximately 40 feet by 17 feet. Ultra Panavision 70mm is intended for approximately 75-feet-by-27-feet screens. IMAX digital screens can reach up to approximately 60 feet by 45 feet. And IMAX 70mm screens can reach up to approximately 100 feet by 70 feet.

Comparison of IMAX 70mm and standard digital/35mm presentations of Christopher Nolan's "Interstellar."

Comparison of IMAX 70mm and standard digital/35mm presentations of Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar.” The blue shaded region indicates the area that is cropped for standard showings. Relative screen sizes to scale.

All of these screen sizes are relative to the formats’ aspect ratios and the levels of quality provided by these formats — standard digital is 2K to 4K resolution, 70mm varies but can be equivalent to about 8K resolution, IMAX with laser is dual 4K projection and IMAX 70mm technically can reach the equivalent of 18K but is likely seen in 12K.

And when these films shot on these formats are converted and projected digitally in regular theaters on smaller screen sizes, the act of cutting off visual information is effectively the same as the square trailers. There is literally visual content that was created and is now missing. Granted, not every theater can have an IMAX screen, and film is already an extremely rare form of projection. So the chopping down of visuals in theaters when compared to that of square trailers deviates in regard to intent; it’s not really the theaters’ intent to cut off this information as it is marketing companies’ and Facebook’s in regard to those trailers.

But the point and its principles are the same. Whenever one can maximize the amount of visual information they receive, they should strive to do so. Why would anyone want less?

Contact Kyle Kizu at [email protected]. Tweet him at @kyle_kizu.