Distribauteurs

Do you notice anything unusual about this trailer for The Insult, Lebanon’s shortlisted entry to this year’s Academy Awards:

I’ve never before seen “from the distributor of” used in an advertisement. And honestly, I’m all for it, mostly because the conventional way to market movies conforms to the auteur theory that doesn’t properly emphasize the collaborative nature of filmmaking. The different members of the creative team that trailers decide to promote, and how often they do so, provide a key into the hierarchy of perceived authorship in Hollywood:

Directors are the most commonly highlighted, because they’re the ones apparently in charge and thus most responsible for the ultimate quality of the work. Denis Villeneuve’s name on its own may not sufficiently entice audiences, but when attached to “the director of Arrival and Sicario” their interest will be most likely immediately piqued.

Same goes for screenwriters; audiences are even less frequently on a name-basis with them, thus they require a list of their previous credits. But since film is more of a director’s medium than a scribe’s, screenwriters often don’t have enough control over the process — especially the finished product (are any granted final cut?) — to make a distinct mark. As such, it’s harder for them to build a singular identity for their body of work that could be succinctly sold to potential ticket-buyers. Even so, though too many writers are simply handed ideas to flesh out, consumers still assume the all-important story starts with them, thus granting them advertisable agency (just not as much as directors).

The “artists” who normally tend to actually conceive of big-budget projects are up next on our list: producers. Everyone’s aware they’re important, but how many truly understand their exact role? Most people probably know they’re somehow involved with funding the project, but that’s about it. Even so, their reputation as individuals who wield godlike power increases their apparent importance in the eyes of trailer-watchers.

A lack of this individuality hurts the validity of boasting about “from the studio of.” Since so many are just corporate conglomerates who churn out multiple movies every year, finding past gems in their libraries to loosely connect a new cinematic proposition to is a tad too transparent for possible customers.

And finally, we come to the newest member of this social ladder: distributors! I guarantee that only the most obsessed of cinephiles are familiar with what function they serve. But maybe that’s because they never receive even close to the level of widespread publicity as a reference in a trailer (if you’re not one of us nerds, distributors are in charge of distributing movies, orchestrating the specifics of their (hopefully) theatrical releases, such as when and where they play. Cohen Media Group, the distributors of The Insult, actually operate New York City’s Quad Cinema, thus the reason it and all their other titles are always distributed to, and thus play at, the theatre).

A passing mention in a trailer may not teach viewers all they should learn, but it at least raises their awareness of other institutional cogs besides the obvious ones in the Hollywood machine. As long as advertisers continue to creatively diversify who deserves enough accolades to achieve their most sacred goal — making moolah  — hopefully casual moviegoers will slowly expand their knowledge regarding where they should direct their hard-earned cash.

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