Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Trailing behind

Anyone who's ever been to the cinema with me will have heard me moan vociferously about the standard of modern trailers, so it's always nice to be able to point to an example of film trailing done right.

So what makes a good trailer? This is a very difficult question to answer, because it depends on the type of film being advertised. In order to be memorable, it needs to do three things:

It needs to show what makes it original or special. It sounds harsh, but there are a huge number of films out there telling very similar stories. The viewer needs to know as soon as possible that there is something about this particular story that is worth seeing.

It needs to leave you wanting more. There is no point in making a trailer that leaves the viewer entertained, but with a feeling that they could pretty easily guess the plot of the film.

It needs to get something stuck in your head. The best thing a trailer can do is make you go and see the film, and so it needs you to remember the film in two or three weeks or however long it takes for it to be released. It can cement this memory by providing a memorable image or line of dialogue that will reappear in the viewer's mind when they see a poster or a reference to the film and immediately revitalise their excitement about the film.

Trailers that do it right: Sin City, Night Watch, Cloverfield.

And, on the flip side, what makes a poor trailer? Please, if you ever have to make a trailer:

Don't put all of your special effects shots into the trailer. Yes, I know you're very proud of that shot of a car crashing into a helicopter in mid air, but showing it to me in slow motion in the trailer means that I know it's going to happen in the film. Which, in turn, means that when the scene starts to build up (when I'm watching the movie itself), I'm going to think 'oh, I bet he gets out of this by flinging a car into the helicopter'. All surprise and tension disappears from the scene, and what should have been a great climactic moment turns into just another explosion.

Don't give away any of the film's twists or revelations. Should be an obvious one, really, but if you show me a shot of the good guy and bad guy facing off together on a rooftop, then I know that they will face off on a rooftop, and up until that moment, I will never fear for either of their lives, no matter what life-and-death situations they are put into. Even if you only show it for a second, after seeing the trailer two or three times, I'm going to start to pick out what is happening, in even the shorter-cut sections.

Don't give away your one-liners. If your film is a comedy, then clearly there should be some jokes in the trailer to indicate this, but putting a genuinely witty bit of dialogue in the trailer means that the audience won't be laughing at that bit in the film, and so putting your funniest moments in the trailer will leave you with a disappointed audience after the film.

Trailers that do it wrong: Die Hard 4.0, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Spiderman 3

Making a trailer is a difficult job, and no doubt there are films that do not suit this form of advertising, but I definitely believe that a good trailer can enhance anticipation and enjoyment of a film, whereas a poor one can destroy it.

Most major modern films also seem to produce multiple trailers, and in general I find the longer the trailer the worse the trailer. I can't think of a situation where seeing a longer trailer has made me more likely to see a film, but I can think of a number of situations where seeing the longer trailer has decreased my anticipation and enjoyment of the film significantly (usually due to one of the three "don't" points above).

The films I have mentioned as specifics are not necessarily the worst or the best out there, but they are the ones that provoked the biggest reaction in me when I saw them. This whole post was triggered by my viewing of the Cloverfield trailer, which satisfied, I think, all of the three good points, and (as far as I know) none of the bad. Naturally, I won't know for certain until I've seen the film.

The other thing that seeing this trailer has made me think about is how much I try to avoid all other information once I spot a film I know I want to see. I know I want to see Cloverfield, and I knew this from about halfway through the trailer, but I know that I want to see it with as clear a mind as possible. So no reviews, no spoilers, no other trailers, no interviews, no tv spots, nothing. I don't want to have any aspect of the plot spoiled or even hinted at, as I want the experience to be as compelling as possible. I have found the films for which I have managed to stay in the dark in this way very rewarding in the past, and so I generally try and do it for any film where my first impression is favourable enough.

Hence I have to get through the next month or so avoiding all media references to Cloverfield, Sweeny Todd, There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men, four films I am very much looking forward to seeing.

Apologies if that was kind of unfocused. I wasn't really sure what I was trying to say, and didn't have any real common theme or conclusions. On a film-related note, however, I am going to try and do a review (quick or otherwise) of any film I see this year, whether at the cinema or on DVD. I hope this will be interesting for anyone reading, but if you think this is a tremendously bad idea, do let me know.


Andy J. Wotherspoon said...


this covers pretty much all of your don'ts in some form.

stupid action film trailers. I'll still probably go see this though.

I much prefer enigmatic trailers that make you have to go see the film to understand.

kinda like this, ironically

not a prefect example, but still.

Cloverfield looks good, hopefully wont be another monster disaster film.

TheTelf said...

Even if it is another monster disaster film, I really like the way it's being done, with the handheld camera style.

Andy J. Wotherspoon said...

humm I have mild issues with films like that, the whole blair witch project thing, but I'll try not to box it with such twaddle before actually seeing it.

I do wonder if they'll do the old fantastic battery life and infinate tape capacity, although I suppose they could be using a HDD camera, but who knows.