Una Mullally

Society, life and culture on the edge

The art of the trailer

Teasers for ‘Gravity’ and ‘The Summit’ are pushing trailers as a genre forward.

Fri, Oct 11, 2013, 13:25


At OneTwoOneTwo last weekend, I saw the trailer for Gravity five or six times. I had watched it online previously, but on the big screen, the sound design and drama was intense. Obviously the film is getting great reviews, but there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to see it just because the trailer is so fantastic.

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I love trailers. I don’t ‘do’ being late for a film, because the trailers are often my favourite part. But recently I’ve increasingly noticed the trend to giving away the whole film in a trailer. A badly cut one feels incongruous and confusing. One that reveals too much discourages you from bothering to see the film. A brilliant one captivates. The trailer for The Summit is another excellent recent piece of editing, and documentaries generally have an edge in the trailer stakes because the whole point is to tell a story and reveal truths. Think of the trailers for Catfish, Grizzly Man, Capturing The Friedmans, The Imposter. Even if you know nothing about the film beforehand, you’re left thinking “I’m DEFINITELY going to see that.”

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My friend Derek O’Connor is a trailer nerd (my term) and does the daily Trailer Park posts on Broadsheet, so I rang him for some words of wisdom on this topic. “The conundrum of the modern trailer, or rather the bane of the modern trailer, is that it gives away too much. These days with American studios, they ask for any script to have seven to ten trailer moments. In some cases they come up with shots that seem strategically designed to be a money shot for trailer.

“Movies are release dates now, it’s this mad dash for the finish line. They announce what movies are coming out and then put them into production. They fucked Ang Lee’s Hulk because they put special effects in that weren’t ready. Trailers are essentially about money shots, but it’s at the expense these days of giving away the film. You want to just give away enough but not all of it.

“Some are incredibly iconic, like the first trailer for Spiderman, or The Social Network – you just think “I have to see this movie.” There are clichés that we don’t want to see again, the Inception music, the tonal disparity. In terms of music, there’s a new trailer for movie called Out of the Furnace. It’s a red neck movie, poverty porn, but there’s a great cover of a Neil Young song. Just a great song can make a trailer.”

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“Although when all of the YouTube comments are ‘who did that song?’ and then it isn’t in the movie, people can get pissed off. ‘Creep’ isn’t in The Social Network.”

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Doc trailers are a different story, says O’Connor, “Documentaries often aren’t selling themselves on stars. They are just selling themselves on convincing you to watch a movie you don’t know anything about. There’s no hook. The best documentary trailers are like mini movies, the slow drip. The Catfish trailer was a great proposition for a movie. Documentary trailers don’t have the teaser effect, but it’s an art form in itself – how do you encapsulate what you’re telling? Documentary trailers are spoiler based as well, you want to save some good stuff.

“Trailers can get really annoying. Sitting through the trailer for the last Fast and Furious film – much as we loved it, it wasn’t as good as the last one – and watching it was like being smacked in the face with a shovel. There’s a shot in the movie with a car flying through a flaming jet plane, that’s just the best shot for the trailer. Don’t put your best shot in the trailer because you’re blowing your load and there’s nothing left.

“Then there’s all the sub-genres as fake trailers. The toher artform is trailers specifically shot for trailers, like the Anchorman ones. The fake trailer in Grindhouse is Machete, and that became a movie. They had a competition to make a fake trailer for the Canadian release of Grindhouse and that ended up turning into Hobo With A Shotgun. There is a certain trend of ‘is this an actual trailer for an actual film?’, or ‘is it a fake trailer?’ The other great ones are recut trailers, like The Shining as a comedy or honest movie trailers, they’re really fun as well.”

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“They can backfire as well. Look at the trailer for Where The Wild Things Are. It’s a great, great trailer that got everyone excited, but then the movie didn’t excite as much. That’s the tease effect. It’s a fine art. It’s contentious these days becuase it’s like: you ruined that movie for me. The art house stuff is more lateral, you just tease it out. You want them to be intrigued.”

Intrigue is the important part. The trailers for The Master were fascinating and exciting. And it’s that art of creating intrigue without spoiling the ultimate film experience that makes a good trailer, and that challenge which makes a good trailer hard to make.

And finally, via Cian Byrne, here’s an article in the New Yorker about sound trends in trailer.