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Comic-Con makes everyone a pirate: The 'problem' of leaked trailers

Susana Polo is an entertainment editor at Polygon, specializing in pop culture and genre fare, with a primary expertise in comic books. Previously, she founded The Mary Sue.

Studio reps at Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox are very peeved that the footage they brought to San Diego Comic-Con, for Suicide Squad, Deadpool and X-Men: Apocalypse, was leaked online shortly after premiering to private Comic-Con crowds, reports Deadline.

"It will be incumbent on Comic-Con organizers to improve the security measures to catch pirates, or there will be fewer special presentations going forward," studio insiders told the outlet, and Sue Kroll, President of Worldwide Marketing and International Distribution for Warner Bros. gave them this statement:

"We have no plans currently to release the Suicide Squad footage that leaked from Hall H on Saturday. It's unfortunate and ultimately damaging that one individual broke a long-standing trust we have enjoyed with our fans at the convention by posting early material, which, at this point, was not intended for a wider audience. We are still in production on Suicide Squad, and will have a big campaign launch in the future. Our presentation yesterday was designed to be experienced in that room, on those big screens!"

Update: Shortly after the publication of this post, Warner Bros. released an official HD version of the Suicide Squad reel shown at Comic-Con.

Kroll is one of the folks who puts together Warner Bros.'s sizzle reels, and this isn't the first time she's spoken out against Hall H leaks (you'll note that Warner Bros. still brought SDCC "exclusive" footage this year).  I can sympathize heartily with anybody who works hard on something only to see it used in ways they didn't intend. However, saying that these trailers were intended only for the six thousand camera-phone-laden people in Hall H is a vast misunderstanding of the role of Comic-Con in our modern media landscape — and to pretend that those reels are anything other than marketing is simply ... I don't even know what it is. It's not true. A sizzle reel, a trailer, a teaser: It's marketing. And you can't pirate something when its purpose is to be seen and disseminated.

It's worth saying that this would be an entirely different story if the fan reaction to the leaked footage was negative. Then we'd be having a reasoned discussion about how we should remember that things will probably look much more polished when the special effects are done and the real marketing push comes around, and isn't it nice of studios to offer us a look at unfinished footage because they know we're so ravenous for it.

jared leto joker

But the reaction to Suicide Squadwith mere seconds of revealing footage of Jared Leto's highly anticipated Joker, has been explosive, in a good way, based simply on blurry cell video. The Deadpool footage received a standing ovation and immediate encore.

I spent Saturday night's 20th Century Fox panel assuming that I'd heard wrong: of course they'd immediately release high-res trailers through official channels after the end of the panel. They'd have to be insane not to. The star of Deadpool won't shut up about how fan attention is what made the movie possible. Specifically, the fan attention galvanized by the leak of an explosive proof-of-concept reel never intended to see the light of day. Why on earth would Fox and Warner Bros. leave themselves open to the possibility (no, let's be clear: the reality) that the conversation on their movies would be dominated by blurry, off-center, fuzzy sounding cellphone footage?

From the wreckage of Comic-Con Monday, it's indisputable that Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice made the biggest splashes at the event. The folks behind Star Wars invited everyone in Hall H out to a free concert with fireworks and lightsabers, after showing off a montage of joy-filled behind-the-scenes footage that made grown men and women cry. Perhaps with less Hall H spectacle, Warner Bros. debuted the second trailer for Batman v Superman, featuring a lot more backstory on a rebooted Batman and the first footage of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman.

What do both of these splashes have in common? They both featured video footage that was released online immediately after the panels were over. You'd think Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox would see the correlation here. Instead, studio insiders are cheesed to the max that folks in Hall H violated the "honor code" of not recording and releasing their Comic-Con reels; that San Diego Comic-Con couldn't find six thousand beatifically honest people to cram into a room simply by hosting the biggest comic convention of the year.

There's also the chance this is just cynical marketing; a way to get people to watch something once when leaked, another time when official, and get an extra pass through the news cycle. Leaked trailers get buzzed, and are passed around like trading cards. Everyone wants to see what they're not supposed to. But surely such a puerile game of hard-to-get would be unbecoming of studios as big, established, historically rooted as Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox.

I digress, and so I'm going to repeat this quote to emphasize how ridiculous it is: "It will be incumbent on Comic-Con organizers to improve the security measures to catch pirates."

You can't pirate something when its purpose is to be seen and disseminated

Sure, you could confiscate everybody's electronics at the door, but then you're responsible for holding and handing them back without misplacing a single one, a massive undertaking. You could partner with an emerging startup to lock everybody's devices in bags before they go in. Either way, prepare to lose all the attention that electronically-enabled moment-to-moment reporting on those panels gets your project, and probably be dragged through the mud by angry entertainment press as you do it.

And even then: We live in a world with pocket-sized devices that fool nearby phones into thinking they're a cell tower and then record all the information they send and receive. People will find a way around your security measure. And they will put that footage on the internet, because millions of people want to see it. It's not a question of whether that behavior is right or ethical, it's the hard fact that the demand for the footage is so great, and technology is so integral to our lives and so quickly evolving, that preventing leaks from Hall H is the very definition of a Sisyphean task.

A Sisyphean task accompanied by a simple truth: The way to 100 percent guarantee that nobody will leak your exclusive San Diego Comic-Con trailer is to post it online yourself.