What your brain told us about TIFF 2017

For movie-loving Torontonians, TIFF is the most exciting time of the year. But as it’s still early in the film festival calendar, there’s little known about the films to be screened; audiences don’t have the luxury of widespread critical reception on which to base their film-watching choices. Instead, they must rely more on the film trailers. This places the onus on the films’ creators and marketers to deliver the most compelling, heart-thumping, palm-sweating, pupil-dilating, mind-blowing film ad to drive interest and buzz. Not an easy feat.

So which trailers did so at TIFF 2017?

To answer that question, Brainsights invited its community to watch trailers for six of the most anticipated films of TIFF 2017 while they had their brain activity recorded to track levels of emotional engagement. Although this TIFF season brought us a host of great films, many of which are already generating talks of early Oscar buzz, three of them put together trailers really wowed our hearts and minds.

The first standout trailer was for George Clooney’s upcoming film Suburbicon, starring Matt Damon. Set in post-World War II America, Damon’s character gets caught up with a mob boss who goes after his family. The trailer starts slow, taking its time to show the increasingly violent escalation between Damon’s character and the unsavoury characters he’s gotten himself tangled up with. This was reflected in the audience brainwave data as well, with Attention, Connection and Encoding to memory all hovering at or below an expected average for this type of content for most of the first half of the more than 2-minute trailer.

However, halfway through the trailer, Damon’s character switches from appearing nervous and submissive to unleashing havoc on the mobsters who are coming after his family. As the seemingly picturesque suburban neighbourhood descends into chaos to the beat of DJ Shadow’s “Nobody Speak,” viewer brainwave data skyrockets to more than 150% above average, becoming ever-more engaged by the second until the trailer reaches its climax.

Screenshot:  Suburbicon Official Trailer

Screenshot: Suburbicon Official Trailer

On a less violent end of the spectrum, Steve Carrel and Emma Stone’s upcoming *Battle of the Sexes* trailer was also highly effective at capturing audience engagement. Mixing comedy and drama, this trailer was better paced overall than the Suburbicon trailer, grabbing and sustaining audience Attention much earlier. Though a strong trailer overall, it was Emma Stone’s portrayal of Billie Jean King that really drove emotional resonance, with emotional Connection levels peaking at more than double the average during scenes depicting not only dedication to the sport of tennis and women’s rights, but also her controversial relationship with her hairdresser Marilyn Barnett.

Screenshot:  Battle of the Sexes Official Trailer

Screenshot: Battle of the Sexes Official Trailer

Finally, the most memorable of the three top trailers was for Darkest Hour, featuring Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Winston Churchill as he had to weigh the options of negotiating with Hitler or going to war when the odds were against him.

Screenshot:  Darkest Hour Official Trailer

Screenshot: Darkest Hour Official Trailer

Like Suburbicon, this trailer starts off slow, failing to strongly engage the audience during the first minute as the focus remained primarily on Churchill’s character flaws. However, Oldman’s portrayal of Churchill’s stubbornness and courage really stole the show. For example, one of the top scenes for this trailer was when Churchill, while being pressured to negotiate peace talks with Hitler, proclaims “You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth!” From this point 1:30 into the trailer, the music intensifies and the focus shifts to a courageous speech from Churchill over top of chilling scenes of war, sending memorability soaring by more than 200% above average.

Screenshot:  Darkest Hour Official Trailer

Screenshot: Darkest Hour Official Trailer

While all three of these trailers did a fantastic job of captivating audiences, a great trailer doth not equal a great film. Rather, trailers are marketing tools — a critical component to generating buzz and drawing out crowds when they finally hit theatres. Only time will tell if these films truly crowd-pleasing. But, if their trailers are any indication of what to expect, you’re sure to be in for a treat!