Would you have enjoyed Sixth Sense more if you knew Bruce Willis was dead all along? Apoorva Dutt asks people if they prefer knowing how a film ends beforehand, and gets a few spoilers in the bargain.
Dharmesh Gandhi finds it easy to sum up his feelings about spoilers: “I absolutely f***king hate them.” A content strategist at an English entertainment channel, Gandhi recently had his Skyfall experience ruined after someone who’d seen the Sam Mendes film before him gave out an important plot detail. “Spoilers are awful, and so are the people who give them out.” Gandhi remembers the worst spoiler he ever saw, incidentally given out in the movie’s trailer itself. “The Avengers’ trailer is the most incompetent thing I have ever seen because they showed a scene where the Hulk catches Iron Man falling from the sky. So when that happens in the climax, there was no surprise.”
Do spoilers matter? If you ask around, most people will say yes. But UC San Diego researchers’ experiment disproved everyone’s feelings. They gave several undergraduates 12 different short stories. The stories were of three different types: ironic twist stories, straight-up mysteries and so-called “literary stories”. Some of the students read without spoilers, others with a spoiler carefully embedded in the actual text, and others were provided with the spoiler in the story’s preface. They found that almost every single story was more pleasurable with the spoiler provided in the preface.
Should the same be true of movies? And if not, what are a movie’s marketers to do when a tweet declaring, for example, that Bruce Willis was dead all along, goes viral? And what are the viewers to do — watch it for the ride, or declare the movie-watching experience wasted?
Shailesh Kapoor is CEO at Ormax Media, a research company that specialises in entertainment. While test-screening a movie, Kapoor doesn’t stop at asking viewers to switch off their cell phones; everything from non-confidentiality agreements to social networking tracking is par for the course. But he has a pragmatic approach if a movie ‘leaks’ anyway. “One reaction is to fuel the leak further and create even more buzz for the film. Second is to lie low and hope that the leak dies a natural death. The third one is the one that’s been used most in recent years — plant lots of dummy leaks and create confusion.” Kapoor remembers Lagaan as being one of the more exceptional marketing campaigns — those going in to watch the film for the first time had no clue there was an elaborate cricket match waiting for them. “It was a brilliant strategy,” says Kapoor.
In Lagaan, the surprise element only heightened the viewing pleasure, but there are films where the twist in the tale is all that matters. Among this year’s big hits was Kahaani, a film that hinges on a revelation that’s best discovered. Director Sujoy Ghosh has a philosophical approach when it comes to dealing with spoilers. “Praying, like most filmmakers, is my solution to most problems, including spoilers. There are a hundred third parties involved in a film, from shooting to editing.”
Kajal Arora, a devoted cinephile, agrees that a movie shouldn’t be ‘spoiled’ so easily. “Most films are self-spoiled,” she points out. “How many people have experienced their favourite movie only once? Its more likely that it’s something they return to again, despite knowing “what happens”. And it doesn’t lessen their enjoyment. In fact, once you know what’s in store, you can enjoy the process of understanding how the filmmaker gets to the ending.”
In our part of the world, dreading spoilers is a new habit. We spent thousands of years telling stories that were entirely predictable — good triumphed over evil, the lovers got together and somebody died. Sukanya Ghosh, a film student in Delhi, says, “The genre is a spoiler in itself. The leads of a romantic comedy never get shot. The action hero never turns out to be gay in the film’s climax.”