Trailers Don't Have To Suck
Trailers are an art. Everyday brings us the latest superhero promo, jamming in 11 characters and 23 plot-lines. In an age where videos are more accessible than ever, studios seem convinced that their approach to trailers should be: 1. reveal as much as possible in two and a half minutes and 2. rinse and repeat by releasing multiple trailers over the course of the marketing campaign.
And while superhero movies might be the biggest culprit, prestige films are just as guilty. The trailer for The Danish Girl (a film with far worse problems than its trailer) was packed with the best shots, lines and plot elements from the entire movie. After seeing it, I remember re-watching the trailer and realizing there were literally no storylines left out.
That said, I get it. If you are a marketer, your job is to get people to spend the fifteen bucks (or more) to see your movie, and the best way to do that is to show them the best parts. If it's an action movie, show them the explosions that took six months to execute. If it is a drama, show them the powerful monologue that shifts the narrative. If it is a comedy, show them the joke they will repeat to their friends in the lead-up to the movie. However, I would suggest doing none of that.
Tone, music, performances, look, feel. These are the things I actually want from the trailer. Note that that list does not include plot, the best punchlines or pieces of the best scenes. That second list is things I never want in a trailer. If I saw the best part of your movie on YouTube three months before it was released, you did it wrong.
10 Cloverfield Lane's marketing campaign seems to have awoken some people to the idea that sparse campaigns can be just as effective and generate just as much interest as ones that leave nothing untold. Let's look at some of the trailers that have worked best over the years.
The Social Network
For me, the first 30 or so seconds of this trailer are masterful. They create a mood and give you the feelings the filmmakers want you to have. They want you to think about how universal and impactful Facebook is and it works. The rest of the trailer falls into some of the pitfalls I've discussed (e.g., revealing punchlines), but honestly, when you're dealing with an Aaron Sorkin script, the whole thing is punchlines, so they get a pass.
The Blair Witch Project
It's possible found footage horror lends itself well to a minimalist trailer, but kudos to them for not trying to do too many things. You are supposed to know this movie is scary, you are supposed to know that it is 'found footage' and a 'true story,' and then you are supposed to go see it. Mission: Accomplished.
This one's inclusion in the list should signal a couple of things. First, perhaps it actually is easier to cut an effective trailer from 'found footage.' Second, JJ Abrams knows what he is doing. This precursor in the 10 Cloverfield Lane lineage checks a lot of boxes. It sets a tone without revealing much of anything about what is going on. Instead, iconic Manhattan scenery is used to illustrate the terror. The Brooklyn Bridge, the Statute of Liberty and even an abandoned horse-drawn carriage, show the scale of the terror without showing its face.
The music from Hans Zimmer is the real star here, and while other trailers were made for this film, this is the best. No dialogue, no exposition. Only compelling images, and just a taste of the mind-boggling mystery that is the film itself.
Please, Hollywood, learn from your best. No more trailers with forced dialogue hastily summarizing the plot. Do you think the people going to see Captain America: Civil War even care? They almost certainly do not. Hearing the sound that comes with Iron Man putting on his suit is much more important than understanding what the tiff between Iron Man and Captain America is all about. Make me feel like I want to see your movie; not like I already have.
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