I love good stories. There is something satisfying in temporarily slipping away from your worries and troubles to be encompassed in a quality tale. Whether that story is in the form of a verbal narrative from a friend, or written and bound between the cover of a book, or projected onto a big motion picture screen, a good story transports you into a different world where all else is forgotten. I expect nothing less of the movie trailers themselves. Trailers should be a gripping, 2-3 minutes of a motion picture masterpiece, which entirely encapsulates me in the brief synopsis of the story it is selling me.
After watching the 8 movies trailers prior to composing this posting, a series of trends emerged for conveying a certain connotation in a movie trailer. I watched trailers consisting of three main genres which included: thriller/action, horror, and comedy. Trailers ranged from 1:29-2:58 minutes long but most tended to be right around 2 minutes. The thrillers (The Dark Knight, The Last Samurai, The Matrix) typically displayed fast pacing exhibited by the short shot length which transitioned by fading quickly to a black screen most often. This pattern occurred rapidly in a fashion I compare to blinking. The comedy trailers (Anchorman, Dumb and Dumber, Crazy Stupid Love) conversely were slower paced and used longer shot length, mediated by a graphic transition such as slides or wipes. These trailers also displayed high audio synchronization probably because they included longer clips allowing for the characters to speak full sentences. The horror trailers (Silence of the Lambs, The Grudge) were unique in combining the two methods, usually starting off slow and then would crescendo into a fast pace finale. The transitions were generally a fast flash to another clip in the faster pace section but used graphic transitions that seemed spookier like dissolving or smoke covering the screen.
The comedy trailers frequently contained a narrator that spoke through the duration of the clip. The voice always displayed a fun, friendly, carefree tone. This directly contrasted the horror trailers whose narrators used a deep, sinister tone. The thrillers usually did not have a narrator in the traditional sense but often had a voice over from one of the characters in the movie speaking as other scenes were shown. This lack of narrator was replaced by a few clips of writing where traditionally, the message was a brief, emotionally rousing statement such as, “one man,” and “in the face of his enemies.” A specific example from The Last Samurai is a series of one word clips including, “courage,” “bravery,” and “honor.” The horror and comedy usually didn’t have typographic messages in the trailers I watched but if there were words, the font was fun and simple for the comedy and stunted and shadowed for the horror.
The most essential component for conveying the genre of the trailer is in the music choice and use of sound effects. The music for the thrillers was always the most epic score of classical music you can imagine. The music is loaded with fast paced screeching violins, bellowing horns, and always gut-punching bass at critical shot transitions. The sound effects mainly emphasized massive explosions, brutal power punches, and screeching tires from the car chase scene (because there is always a car chase). The comedy trailers used an upbeat, lively song that had you involuntarily tapping your toes. Special effects were used to emphasize background sounds like the slamming of car doors, or the collision of two people. The Horror trailers tended to use dark, low pitch, ominous sounding tracks for their clips. The addition of shrieks of terror must have been step one in the creation of a horror trailer guide because they were in every one and unmistakable.
The recut trailers (fedUp, The 40 Year Old Murderer, The Exorcist) reflected many of these genre specific tendencies in order to successfully convey their messages. The original movies were all recreated to a different genre by adopting the genre techniques. The family friendly animated movie, Up, was turned into a thriller by incorporating fast pacing, blinking transitions, and of course an epic soundtrack with an excess of “BOOMs.” Similarly, the original comedy and horror films changed their genres by mimicking the techniques listed above. One essential point to note is that the necessity for a plot conveying device is more apparent in the recut trailers because the majority of the shot types used in the trailers are of conflicting tone. The narrator or the typography is relied on more to carry the burden of plot transmission. This is unlike the other trailers because their scenes reflect the message they are attempting to portray. However, it has become clear that it takes more than visual material to make a good movie trailer.
8 trailers: The Dark Knight, The Last Samurai, The Matrix, Anchorman, Dumb and Dumber, Crazy Stupid Lov, Silence of the Lambs, The Grudge
3 recut: fedUp (family friendly to thriller), The 40 Year Old Murderer (comedy to horror), The Exorcist(horror to family feel good)