the art of the excellent trailer

I read this article in the Hollywood Reporter about the new Avatar trailer. It was just enough to push me into writing a blog I’ve thought about for some time (yes, I know it’s 3 months later).

I’ve always been a fan of a good movie trailer. When they’re well done they are enticing and fun – sometimes completely independent of the film they’re promoting. Of course I have my favorites. And from them I’ve realized certain ways to do a trailer well.

Don’t explain yourself

The most common mistake is for the trailer to tell too much. Most trailers feel the need to educate the audience about the plot and the characters so they’ll know what they’re getting themselves into and be interested. No.

What you actually end up with is an audience who has essentially seen the movie in the trailer and doesn’t need to pay for the whole thing.

A trailer should create more questions in the audience than it answers. The aforementioned Hollywood Reporter article said it well: “Enhance the mystery by providing viewers with beguiling images they can’t make sense of — and have to come to theaters to decipher.”

My very favorite trailer, Legends of the Fall starring Brad Pitt, is astounding at evoking emotions and questions that entice you into wanting to watch the film just to understand it.

Energy is a trailer’s life blood

A great trailer should should epitomize the hilarity of a comedy – the fervor of an action film – the whimsy and heart of a romantic comedy. It can even be stronger and faster and funnier without showing the audience all the best parts of the film because it’s such a short form medium.

This is where the movement of the trailer comes into play. How the characters move on screen, how the camera moves around them and how the editor takes those pieces and creates a whole new movement in putting them together are a huge part of creating the energy in the trailer.

My second favorite trailer, Ever After starring Drew Barrymore, has a great energy that the film, unfortunately, didn’t live up to.

Rhythm is rules all

Another part of the trailer’s energy (possibly an even more important part) is the music. It draws the passion and life out of the film and creates it within the audience.

Great music is such a key to a good trailer that movies often reuse music that has worked before. The theme from Last of the Mohicans is used often, including in the Legends of the Fall trailer above. A key piece from The Island was used in my third favorite trailer, Elizabeth the Golden Age starring Cate Blanchett, and then again in the second Avatar trailer:

Music can be light and fun or haunting or lovely whatever key emotion lies within the story. Or better yet, two songs that compliment and contrast each other. Ever After, Elizabeth: the Golden Age and my latest awesome trailer for Daybreakers all have great songs in the second half.

These are the things that get me excited about seeing a movie. They create an anticipation that I need to see a film as soon as it’s out. They get my hopes up.

More often than not, those hopes are dashed back to reality. But sometimes I still have a good trailer to enjoy.

February 10, 2010 | Commentary | this post contains affiliate links