The evolution of the film trailer

Posted on Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015 by

I remember when I was a child, film trailers used to be the disposable part of the movie-going experience. The ten minutes or so you skip before the film so you can arrive late, nip off for one last bathroom break or open all the noisy sweets you’d bought seconds before.

Now I see it completely differently. That two-minute slot will be what makes or breaks entire productions. It’s the difference between audiences saying, ‘I can’t wait to see that!’ and ‘Eh, I’ll just wait for the DVD.’

The power of trailers

A trailer is a carefully crafted miniature, condensing all the action, tension and drama of the feature film into a montage. It is designed to convey the mood you’ll experience when watching, but leave you with questions that can only be answered by the main event. It’s a hook used to create hype.

After all, a terrible film can perform well commercially because it had amazing advertising that brought everyone in to the cinema – which means the trailer has done its job!

Often when you’re walking down the cinema stairs and the credits are rolling, the sounds of, ‘The best bits were in the trailer!’ can be heard from all angles. But isn’t that the entire point of the trailer itself? To wow, advertise and convince your audience that your film is the one they should spend their hard-earned money on.

With the growth of YouTube, Vimeo and even Facebook, trailers are now accessible anywhere. They are easily searchable and often the first web result if you type any film title into Google. The second trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens attracted 30.65 million views in 24 hours. This record is proof that a good trailer can reach millions of potential movie-goers before they step into a cinema.

Promo campaign

The revealing of a film’s trailer has become an event that will last until you can view the real thing. But the trailer itself is not the only important factor in film promotion. There needs to be an entire campaign. A website with a countdown to the release of the first glimpse, fan reaction videos and countless blogs picking apart the mise en scène of every shot and what it could mean in relation to the film’s source material.

Even smaller trailers advertising the trailer itself! See the quick-witted promo below for the upcoming Deadpool trailer. 

The Hollywood formula

With the role of the trailer now becoming more crucial, has Hollywood reduced the success of its blockbusters to a well-executed formula? Have they taken away from the art of it all?

Once you’ve watched a few summer film promos in a row, the well-timed explosions, musical crescendos and dramatic yet vague dialogue will make it clear you may need a ‘recipe’ for the successful marketing of your film. Red Letter Media demonstrates this beautifully in this video.

So next time you’re sat with an overpriced bucket of popcorn and a drink big enough to make you wish films still had intervals, remember that for every minute of a feature film, a trailer has a single second to entice audiences into buying a ticket.

Every decision made is crucial because trailers have the ability to let you imagine the best version of a film. One that inspires, intrigues and motivates! Even if the finished feature – much like the recent Fantastic Four reboot – is not so fantastic after all.