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Red-band trailers: Why parents should know what they are, and how easy they are to access

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The system is a deterrent at best. Any little kid could easily enter in their parents’ name and birthday for full access. – Peter Sciretta, slashfilm.com

When Maple Mountain High School theater and film teacher Bradley Moss suggested a student watch the "Evil Dead" online movie trailer to provide clarity for a film assignment, he was surprised when the student returned a little shaken up.

"That was the worst thing ever,” Moss was told.

Rather than the traditional "green-band" trailer that's approved for appropriate audiences and that moviegoers might see before the feature presentation at their local theater, Moss' student watched what's called a red-band trailer, not knowing that the preview for the 2013 horror film would be extremely graphic.

Yes, the color that precedes the trailer makes a big difference.

Such scenarios are not uncommon, thanks to the popularity and ubiquitous nature of online trailers, which are key marketing tools for films. But do parents know such trailers exist, and could their kids be accessing them with an easy swipe of an iPad screen?

Red-band trailers are advertisements for upcoming films that display a red background (in place of the usual green background) signaling that the upcoming two and a half minutes contain content featuring sex, violence and profanity.

Essentially, it's a movie trailer that depicts R-rated content. Red-band trailers, or Restricted Audience Advertising, are shown almost exclusively online.

Green-band trailers are the ones most widely shown in theaters prior to a film and are supposed to be edited of content that parents may consider offensive.

These trailers are either marketed for "all audiences" or "appropriate audiences." The difference between the two? Trailers made for "appropriate audiences" show to audiences made primarily of adults.

The MPAA mandates that red-band trailers be reserved only for websites that require an age-gate, which verifies that visitors are 17 or older, according to a 2009 report from the Federal Trade Commission. Sites that do not require patrons to verify their age should have a majority of adult traffic.

But the trailers are easily accessed. For example, Yahoo Movies simply asks visitors to confirm that they are at least 17 by clicking a box. A link to "Red Band Trailers" is featured prominently on the site's menu.

YouTube requires users to sign in to confirm their age.

"The system is a deterrent at best," writes entertainment blogger Peter Sciretta on his blog, slashfilm.com. "Any little kid could easily enter in their parents' name and birthday for full access."

Some websites, such as Cinemovie, don’t require any age verification.

And this marketing method is growing. According to a New York Times article, film studios released only 30 red-band trailers from 2000 to 2006. In 2009, that number jumped to 76.

The MPAA was unable to confirm how many red-band trailers were produced last year.

The recently released comedy “We’re the Millers” promoted a red-band trailer that gave a slice of the R-rated film truer to form than the trailer released for general audiences.

“The new red-band trailer … lives up to the rating with lots of crude sexual content and pervasive language coming out of Jason Sudeikis and Jennifer Aniston’s mouths,” according to the entertainment news website Cinemovie.

But despite the ability to be more liberal with explicit content from films, anything doesn't go.

"While it contains some stronger content … Restricted Audience Advertising may not contain all of the scenes of sex, violence and/or language that may be contained in an R, NC-17 … film," according to the MPAA’s advertising administration.

The advertising administration specifically outlines what cannot be included in a red-band trailer, most specifically regarding sex and violence.

For example, as stated in the advertising administration rules, a red-band trailer may not contain extreme violence including graphic decapitation or dismemberment ,or extreme gore or torture.

Many filmmakers argue that red-band trailers show a more accurate slice of the film than one that's marketed to all audiences.

"The only truly representative way to market (these trailers) was to reveal some of the dirty jokes they had in store," wrote Variety senior film critic Peter Debruge. "Universal went all out with 'Ted' last summer, fully embracing the film's irreverent sense of humor by creating reams of red-band trailers."

And the MPAA agrees, according to Marilyn Gordon, senior vice president of the advertising administration at the MPAA.

“Red-band trailers can be useful to distributors as an alternative avenue of previewing their film for adults,” Gordon said.

But some parents, like Moss, may disagree with the practicality of such trailers.

"I don't know that the red-band trailers are needed," Moss said. "Especially since (the MPAA) is switching their rating material and trying to be more transparent."

Moss referred to the MPAA's new “Check the Box” campaign, announced earlier this year. Movie audiences now see additional information in the green-band trailer notification. Inside the ratings box, there is a listing of content advisories explaining the film's rating, with labels such as "thematic elements," "sexual content" and "violence."

"I think the job of a trailer is to communicate a genre," Moss said. "They communicate the elements of a story that makes the movie different. I think it's to be most often through green-band trailers. I get the feeling the red-band trailer is to drum up conversation about the film."

Originally, red-band trailers were shown exclusively in theaters prior to an R-rated film, but now, thanks to the accessibility of the Internet, many theaters have stopped showing them.

In Salt Lake City, Cinemark theaters do not show red-band trailers. AMC will occasionally show one before an R or NC-17 film.

But when it comes to the Internet, the onus is on parents.

Moss said he's not too concerned about his own children watching red-band trailers online because of the good judgement they have already shown when it comes to selecting movies.

"I just know that right now you have to know exactly what you’re looking for in order to find (a red-band trailer)," Moss said. "They are not things that my kids are going to go look for."

Moss, who also teaches as an adjunct professor in BYU's theater and media department, said his children are conscientious when it comes to movies.

"We are very transparent about the sites we go to to find out about these films," he said.

Sites such as OK.com or Common Sense media have become staples in the Moss home, with Moss' children sometimes visiting the site themselves to determine if the movie is what they want to view.

And while some parents may feel secure in their children's online activities, the key to Internet safety, according to Stephen Balkam, CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute, is all about communication.

"We believe that (online safety) is a conversation that needs to be had with kids," Balkam said. "An age appropriate conversation needs to be had every year."

Emmilie Buchanan is an intern for the Deseret News with Mormon Times. She recently graduated from Brigham Young University-Idaho. Contact her by email: ebuchanan@deseretnews.com or on Twitter: emmiliebuchanan