More than one person, and more than two, confessed to me that when they saw the image of a bulk with long black hair embracing a thin white-faced woman of whom we barely see the hairdo (blond, done up) felt they should go and see the film behind the poster. Its title is Toni Erdmann. Apart from being one of the most awarded movies of the season, this story about an eccentric father trying at all costs to make his daughter recover her illusion and humour was accompanied by an image, on the above-mentioned poster, that generated a certain degree of curiosity. There were no actors and actresses faces face-on, and the hairy bodies looked even as mere colour strokes in dark brown and shiny yellow. We could say that it was an image as suggesting as conceptual. It was, as well, a challenge to those posters, so frequent in our cinemas, in which faces and photomontages are the norm. Somehow, more than a poster, the sign for Toni Erdmann looks like a teaser, that early image created when the film project is barely starting its long way and needs to be talked about for the first time.
The teaser is the story of a suggestion. A bandaged hand, a gun, the shirt inside the trousers, grey and brown clothes and an abstract background. On top of this image, one can read: “Tarde para la ira [Afternoon for the Wrath] a film by Raúl Arévalo”. That’s all. Later on, when the film has landed in commercial cinemas, when TV, radio and written media start talking about Arévalo’s talent behind, as before, the camera, of the actor turned director, of the dry violence, of the silent presence of Antonio de la Torre, the image will change: at the centre, the face of the actor, and around it a lot of information.
The teaser is the shape of a bat surrounded by broken glass (The Dark Knight Rises), or the silhouette of a white chain over a red background (Django Unchained), or a woman hugging a baby (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button). Or a thin red vertical line crossing a black libretto (There Will Be Blood). It’s often an image and a word (“Beware”, said the poster anticipating Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula). Or, in the case of horror films, we merely need the sign of identity of the psychopath: for instance, Jason’s hockey mask in the different Friday the 13th films; Freddy’s claw in A Nightmare on Elm Street. Or the Joker’s painted and smiling lips. The same happens with the hero: 007’s bow tie is more important than Daniel Craig’s face. We have Jason Bourne’s gun, or Wolverine’s claws. We can have both at the same time: hero and villain on the same image. It’s the case of Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace, in which we see little Anakin in the desert, while his shadow is cast over a wall reflecting Darth Vader’s silhouette. We only need a small detail for a project, or concept, to spread in the net.
Someone was proposing the following hypothesis: the teaser of Albert Serra’s film La mort de Louis XIV should only show the kings infamous wig, since he wears it until his last hours, even in bed. The poster, however, couldn’t avoid showing the face of Jean-Pierre Léaud, symbol of the nouvelle vague, turned agonising monarch by a genius like Serra.
Teasers are more conceptual. They don’t need to include details and compromises, names of actors or director, credits, logos. They don’t need to exhibit the face of the star, exposing George Clooney head-on. Or Jean-Pierre Léaud. Or Kristen Stewart. Or Antonio de la Torre. Nothing can go wrong.
The poster has to highlight the film’s qualities for the audience. It’s usually created by the distributor, who tries to apply the stylebook of the country in which the film is being premiered, whereas the teaser is made by the production company, and it’s usually destined to international sales. Sometimes it can be another promotional element, as in the case of big films for which there’s a teaser and a poster and a teaser trailer. Nothing is enough in these times of cybernetic bulimics in which we gobble up new images non-stop.
The teaser is created at a time where there’s barely any material of the film available. In fact, there might not be a film yet. That’s why it is, above all, a conceptual piece, with a provisional life. And that’s why it often has more to do with design than with mere informative marketing.
A long time ago, an irrefutable maxim imposed itself in the world of film, the one saying that sometimes it’s better not to show, that the really powerful thing is suggesting, that magic rests in intuition and mystery. The teaser follows this precept. It proposes, invites us to enter a story, letting the beholder’s imagination run wild.