Movie trailers are supposed to grasp the audience’s attention in order to convince them to watch the movie presented. One might think being unique or different would help the trailer stand out and reach its goal; it is therefore interesting how similar they all are to each other. It is almost as if the trailers follow a specific formula. A formula of success perhaps?
The trailers I watched lasted anywhere from 1:36 min. to 3:26 min., the average being around 2 minutes long. The shots were usually 2-5 seconds long, most of them being 3 seconds long throughout. The shot transitions used were simplistic cuts from scene to scene and occasionally quick fades or fade outs although these were mainly used in the re-cuts. Once I noticed this I realized I had been expecting the transitions to be fancy, or high tech, or anything other than simple cuts really. Then I realized that the simple cuts helped move the trailer along, delivering its fast paced content to its audience before they have the chance to get distracted or uninterested.
The music was one of the biggest factors of conveying the purpose or theme of the movie. I did notice that music was almost always present, even when characters were speaking. When the music rose, became more upbeat, or energetic, important shots were shown or the conflict of the movie was presented. Although music was one of the most influential components of the trailer, the absence of music was also used to create effect. The music was usually stopped for scary movies every once in awhile and the silence was eerier than the creepy song tracks. I found that the music generally helped establish the movie’s genre but so did sound effects. For example, in action movies such as Limitless guns and explosions cut into the music every now and then. Instead, the re-cuts didn’t necessarily emphasize the sound in the original movie but rather they added more sound effects to create a different tone. An example of this can be found in the Mrs. Doubtfire horror re-cut where creepy squeaking door noises are added.
Narration of the trailers was very diverse. Some of the trailers weren’t narrated at all, the shots and character dialogue just told the story. In several others, the main character doubled as the narrator and their voice was summing up the story in the trailer. And finally, others used typography to narrate their story. Once again I was intrigued that most of the trailers preferred simple to complex. When a trailer used typography to narrate, it was usually simple block letters in one solid color. In the trailers I watched, when typography was used, the minimum amount of times that type appeared on screen was four, the maximum was ten. I found that typography functioned well when it appeared around 4 or 5 times, especially in re-cuts. It worked really well in the re-cut of It because the typography helped re-frame the story into a family moviebut I think that 10 instances of type on the screen was a little excessive. As for the other two re-cuts, typography was not used. I noticed that re-cuts relied a lot on dialogue and narrator voice overs to piece together this new version of the trailer. For example, in the re-cut of Mean Girls (in the video below) one of the characters is speaking their original lines but in the re-cut their voice is slowed down and electronically changed to make it sound scary. Most of the time, in re-cuts and in original trailers, the audio doesn’t always synch to the video. It is because of this, in my opinion, that re-cuts are possible. Without the option of selecting audio that doesn’t match the shot, wasn’t there originally, or wasn’t in that order, re-cuts would not work and their creativity would be stunted.
After watching this many movie trailers one after the other I came to realize that there does seem to be a somewhat formulaic approach to creating trailers. Most of the trailers are short and contain short shots. This coupled with the simple cut transition from shot to shot creates a fast paced trailer. The music, sound effects, typology, and music, all seem to build up to the main conflict surrounding the movie and they all seem to work together to keep the audience occupied before they have a chance to get distracted. I still can’t believe that movie trailers get our attention by following a certain pattern instead of being different or unique. But then again, if it works why change it?
Trailers: Bridesmaids, Easy A, Seven Pounds, Seven Psychopaths, 21 Jump Street, Limitless, Hatchi: A Dog’s Tale, 500 Days of Summer.
Re-Cuts: Mean Girls (dramatic comedy converted to horror), It (Scary movie converted to family film), Mrs. Doubtfire (family film converted to horror).