As awards shows go, this one lacked a certain grandeur. The guy accepting the Best Comedy statuette for "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me" merely said, "Wow, thanks." The guy accepting Best Music for "Out of Sight" explained, "I was going to wear a suit, but it rained." No one thanked God, his agent, or his parents.
No matter: The first-ever Golden Trailer Awards bestowed tonight--not for the movies themselves, understand, but for the 2 1/2-minute previews meant to lure audiences into theaters--made history nonetheless. Trailer makers from both coasts, delighted to have their concise and usually anonymous creations recognized, convened at the Directors Guild Theater on 57th Street to cheer the winners in 19 serious and backhanded categories from Best Drama to Trashiest.
"Tonight is the night we drag you creatures out of your dim editing suites, away from your half-empty pizza boxes and into the limelight where you belong," crowed emcee Todd Newton, the toothy cable star who hosts a weekly showcase of previews on E! "You trailer gods and goddesses!"
Celebrating trailers--often at least as entertaining as the movies they promote--is such an obviously swell idea that it's strange no one came up with it before. In fact, the women who've launched this event--Evelyn and Monica Brady and their pal Esther Bell, all in their late twenties--assumed that someone had.
But when they went to Washington to research trademarks, they found that except for a single award given annually by the Hollywood Reporter, no one was paying proper homage to the wonderful world of coming attractions. "We thought, 'We gotta run with this,' " Evelyn Brady said in an interview a few days ago. "Next thing, we're on the phone calling Miramax, and Harvey Weinstein's saying, 'Yeah!' "
Previews are a small industry unto themselves. "Some trailers are just brilliant: Bam! You're in the theater," said Evelyn, the Golden Trailers executive director. "I love trailers; I have a short attention span."
"They're mini-movies," agreed her sister Monica, the executive producer. "And if they're bad, it's even more fun." Take "Bram Stoker's Dracula," luridly directed by Francis Ford Coppola: "The movie was horrible, but the trailer was great! I could've watched the trailer for an hour and a half."
Despite the founders' lofty titles, the first Golden Trailers have a hey-kids-let's-put-on-a-show quality about them. The Bradys have worked in TV commercial production and short films and are running this operation out of Monica's bedroom in exurban Putnam County, N.Y.; Bell's just completing her first feature. They didn't know most of the studio execs, producers and distributors they approached as they lined up a panel of judges. Not wanting to discourage entries from strapped indie filmmakers (there's a category called Best Trailer No Budget), they charged a mere $25 entrance fee, which produced a total operating budget of $7,550. In future years, with corporate sponsorships, the Bradys are thinking this may be a profitable endeavor; for the moment, they've drained their savings accounts. "Don't tell the phone company, but they're not getting paid this month," Monica lamented--and the phone company's probably not the only one.
Nonetheless, the project has picked up steam. The clear Rubbermaid bins in the living room, where the Bradys store the entries, hold 302 submissions. A few film-related firms, an ad agency and a PR firm are making contributions, cash or in-kind. Actual industry pros agreed to serve as judges. "They seemed like credible people with a good idea," says Larry Meistrich, CEO of the indie studio the Shooting Gallery, who is among them. "We're fighting for people's time--against the NFL, the restaurant around the corner, other movies. . . . So the quality of what we do has to improve. One way to do that is to reward the people who do it well."
The day Quentin Tarantino said he'd join the judges, "We were dancing around the house," Evelyn recalled. "Cool! Validity!"
The Golden Trailers are auspiciously timed: With more films vying for attention, the once-lowly preview has become an object of increased scrutiny, as well as a high-stakes investment. Studios commonly order three or four versions from different trailer houses--a dozen or so shops, most in Los Angeles, get the bulk of the work--and test-market them or call in focus groups to gauge their effectiveness. Much-hyped releases may have several trailers in circulation, a la "Austin Powers," or a brief "teaser" shown months in advance, along with a trailer. Budgets have climbed into the $100,000 to $500,000 range. Last spring, the trailer for "Phantom Menace" proved a potent draw in itself, as "Star Wars" fans bought tickets to other movies merely to see the much-anticipated preview, then left before the feature unspooled.
"I remember the day I opened Entertainment Weekly and saw a feature where they rated trailers," says Philip Daccord of Giaronomo Productions, a Manhattan trailer house that picked up several gold-plated film reel statuettes tonight. "There are so many movies being made. . . . People may be seeing half a dozen to a dozen trailers before a movie. You want to be the one they remember. The competition is heightened."
Besides, industry types say, previews have improved. "In the last several years, we've brought more to a trailer than a script and scenes cut to fit," says Craig Murray, whose L.A. shop also won several awards. "There's graphics, music, stills, all these marketing tools--and audiences have responded."
Of course, trailers remain at least as much commerce as art. One Golden Trailer has been dubbed the Golden Fleece Award, which the Bradys describe as "most likely to deceive"--i.e., to successfully fill seats for less-than-scintillating movies. "The highest honor, for a trailer maker," notes Evelyn, who helped shift several submissions into that category. The Nicolas Cage/snuff film thriller "8mm" won. Next year, perhaps Bell and the Bradys (Variety christened the trio the "Golden girls") will add a Shut Up Already category, for trailers that give away essential plot points, or a What's Left Award for those that appropriate the only good lines and scenes in the film.
But for now, the trailer-makers--Hollywood's Rodney Dangerfields, the only people in the biz who never get a screen credit, one pointed out--were still learning how to give and get awards. Richard Picker of Film Rite Entertainment Group, whose trailer for "Buffalo 66" failed to win the Art & Commerce category, was getting the hang of it. "It's an honor," he said humbly, "just to be nominated."
CAPTION: Sisters Monica, left, and Evelyn Brady are two of the "Golden girls" behind the Golden Trailer Awards.