"The key ambition in trailer-making is to impart an intriguing story that gets film audiences emotionally involved."
Movie Trailers consist of a series of selected shots from the film being advertised. Since the purpose of the trailer is to attract an audience to the film, these excerpts are usually drawn from the most exciting, funny, or otherwise noteworthy parts of the film but in abbreviated form and usually without producing spoilers. For this purpose the scenes are not necessarily in the order in which they appear in the film.
How long should the trailer be?
A trailer has to achieve that in less than 2 minutes and 30 seconds, the maximum length allowed by the MPAA. Each studio or distributor is allowed to exceed this time limit once a year, if they feel it is necessary for a particular film.
In January 2014, the movie theater trade group National Association of Theatre Owners issued an industry guideline asking that film distributors supply trailers that run no longer than two minutes, which is 30 seconds shorter than the prior norm. The guideline is not mandatory, and also allows for limited exceptions of a select few movies having longer trailers. Film distributors reacted coolly to the announcement. There had been no visible disputes on trailer running time prior to the guideline, which surprised many.
I’ve recently been suggesting that filmmakers pitch non-traditional funding sources by preparing the following length cuts:
- The 6-Minute Extended Fundraising Trailer – for peeking the interest of non-traditional film partners, such as businesses, foundations and NGO’s;
- The 15-minute Cut – for sealing the deal when booking conference screenings or receiving funding from non-film agency donors;
- The 45-minute Community Screening Reel – ideal for gatherings (and classrooms) that include a Q&A or discussion.
Here is a few of our trailers that you might like, as you will notice not one of them are over 2 minutes, just long enough to get your attention.
Special Shoots for Trailers
Some trailers use “special shoot” footage, which is material that has been created specifically for advertising purposes and does not appear in the actual film. The most notable film to use this technique was Terminator 2: Judgment Day, whose trailer featured an elaborate special effect scene of a T-800 Terminator being assembled in a factory that was never intended to be in the film itself.
Some trailers that incorporate material not in the film are particularly coveted by collectors, especially trailers for classic films.
For example, in a trailer for Casablanca the character Rick Blaine says, “Ok, you asked for it!” before shooting Major Strasser; this line of dialogue is not spoken in the final film.
Since the edited film does not exist at this point, the trailer editors work from rushes or dailies. Thus, the trailer may contain footage that is not in the final movie, or the trailer editor and the film editor may use different takes of a particular shot. Another common technique is including music on the trailer which does not appear on the movie’s soundtrack. This is nearly always a requirement, as trailers and teasers are created long before the composer has even been hired for the film score—sometimes as much as a year ahead of the movie’s release date—while composers are usually the last creative people to work on the film.
Most trailers have a three-act structure similar to a feature-length film.
- (Act 1) They start with a beginning that lays out the premise of the story.
- (Act 2) The middle drives the story further and usually ends with a dramatic climax.
- (Act 3) usually features a strong piece of “signature music” (either a recognizable song or a powerful, sweeping orchestral piece).
This last act often consists of a visual montage of powerful and emotional moments of the film and may also contain a cast run if there are noteworthy stars that could help sell the movie.
Voice-over narration is sometimes used to briefly set up the premise of the film and provide explanation when necessary. Since the trailer is a highly condensed format, voice-over is a useful tool to enhance the audience’s understanding of the plot. War of the Worlds (2005) is a great example.
Music helps set the tone and mood of the trailer. Usually the music used in the trailer is not from the film itself (the film score may not have been composed yet). The music used in the trailer may be:
- Music from the score of other movies.
- Popular or well-known music, often chosen for its tone, appropriateness of a lyric or lack thereof, or recognizability. Popular music may be selected for its tone (i.e. hard rock for an action film, lighter pop for a romantic comedy), or to establish context (e.g. the trailer for a film set in the 1940s might use big band swing).
- “Library” music previously composed specifically to be used in advertising by an independent composer.
- Specially composed music.
Cast Run & Logos
A cast run is a list of the stars that appear in the movie. If the director or producer is well-known or has made other popular movies, they often warrant a mention as well.
Most trailers conclude with a billing block, which is a list of the principal cast and crew. It is the same list that appears on posters and print publicity materials, and also usually appears on-screen at the beginning (or end) of the movie.
Studio production logos are usually featured near the beginning of the trailer. Until the late 1970s, they were put only at the end of the trailer or not used at all; however, Paramount Pictures was the first studio to use its actual studio logo at the beginning of its trailers in the 1940s. Often there will be logos for both the production company and distributor of the film.
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