Anticipatory Media and Fan Produced Anticipation

Curator's Note

The last decade has seen a huge rise in the frequency, availability and ubiquity of advance promotional materials such as film posters or trailers. The current prevalence of what my colleagues Jennifer Gillan, Ed Vollans, Fred Greene and I have called ‘anticipatory media’ is closely allied to the speculative screen cultures that develop around such promotional materials – posters and trailers are regularly the site of detailed analysis by fan sites, individual social media posts, and articles written for major media publications. Yet as many scholars have revealed, some fans do much more than simply piece apart the official promotional releases. They also produce their own.

In fact, while the range of blockbuster promotion has expanded, the earliest promotional material for most films comes not from the studios, but from those fans. To use the example of the forthcoming Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Infinity War – Part 1 of which is not due out until 2018 – sites such as DeviantArt already contain a range of different fan posters. Here, fan anticipation of a forthcoming film is allied directly with the techniques found in the anticipatory media for similar films. Most of the first set of posters displayed in the video rely heavily on the group shot of heroes – something Marvel has already utilised in posters for the first two Avengers films, as well as Guardians of the Galaxy. Yet as later posters in the video demonstrate, the more recent trend for character-led posters (particularly around franchises such as the Twilight, Hunger Games or Star Wars series) finds an echo in fan-produced posters that highlight the Marvel villain, Thanos, the main villain of the Infinity Wars storyline, whose role has already been glimpsed through anticipatory appearances in post-film teasers and film appearances. So, while fans are free to create whatever media they want, the choice to closely mimic the style and structure of existing anticipatory media forms suggests both a clear enjoyment of those promotional materials and a desire to anticipate and imagine the eventual design.


The lead-time you observe here in relation to Avengers: Infinity War – Part I (not due for release for 2 years) seems very long. How soon is too soon to start creating such materials? Presumably, fans must exhaust their own enthusiasm at some point! In terms of official posters, the trend for individual, character-led posters seems like a strategy for achieving blanket marketing strategies in the cinema itself (i.e. whole foyers are ‘taken over’ by different images and characters from a single film). The single character posters also seem like an extension of the pressure I mentioned for designers to foreground the star face/body (group posters can’t ‘cash in’ on this fully). Yet the equivalent unofficial posters seem like a perfect way for fans to express preferences for, and identification with, individual characters. I imagine that anticipatory posters are easier to achieve than anticipatory trailers (which generally rely on preview material or footage from earlier films). Anticipatory posters seem to pass for official posters more easily, at least, since achieving the polished look can be easier (provided the poster maker has the required level of technical skill).

I think the idea of creating the polished look is clearly important to the fan poster designer - although there are several good Infinity War trailers out there that look professional - but I wonder about the ultimate purpose of such fan labour. I know of several cases where fan trailer producers have moved into the trailer industry, so those initial fan trailers *could* be seen as calling cards and showreels. as much as expressions of fandom (although clearly this isn't always the case). I'm even more uncertain if that is the function of the fan poster - as you note, acquiring technical skills for poster design might be easier than the full audio-visual expertise of a trailer). This can be about expressing a character preference, simply sharing the excitement, or possibly passing for 'the real'. What is fascinating is that this fan anticipatory mode is - in posters and trailers - expressed through looking back, to what already exists (images, clips, audio)...

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