If the Audience Were Fish, the Trailer Would Be a Hook

There are more movies produced each year than ever before; certainly more than anyone has time to see. Trailers provide a way of catching the interest of an audience and introducing them to the film. I some ways, trailers do their job a little bit too well. There are many movies that aren’t able to match the expectations set by the trailer. Trailers typically include a buildup to a climax of sorts, that is followed by a rapid increase in the pace of the audio and video. After the introduction of the movie plot, the audio tends to be overwhelmed by the music, which continues until the end of the trailer. This is the common trailer template for any film. There is often little variation among different film genres except for the tempo at the end. Action and horror films usually have a much faster pace throughout the trailer than romances or comedies. However, there are some examples of films that do not match this generalization, like Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby.

The Great Gatsby seems to fit into the romance and drama genres, yet it’s trailer matches the typical pacing of an action film. This is essential to the audience’s interpretation of the film, and it was certainly done on purpose. The transition pacing of trailers increases throughout the trailer to increase the feelings of tension and suspense. Typically the beginning of the trailer goes much more slowly and includes more dialogue from the actual film in order to introduce the plot. The trailer for Skyfall, directed by Sam Mendes, is a perfect example of how transitions speed increase as the trailer progresses, until they are literally snapshots of motions in the film. Skyfall is practically a hyper-transitioned trailer with it’s half a minute of rapidly transitioning action shots. It is also typical of all action movies in it’s overt buildup of the music.

The music of trailers is another way of changing the pace in a trailer. It typically matches the pace of video transitions. The music choice has one of the greatest impacts on the portrayal of films through their trailers. It can completely change the entire feeling of a movie, as shown in the recut trailers. The recut trailer of Mrs. Doubtfire, turns a comedy into a suspense thriller practically by the music alone. The trailer is successful because it includes a buildup in the music typified by action and horror films, giving the audience a sense of dread not attributed to comedy films. While Skyfall incorporates classic Bond music, giving the audience a sense of added tension, The Great Gatsby trailer also adds tension with it’s choice of music. It incorporates hip-hop and new, alternative rock to give it a sense of added tension that it otherwise would not have. In this instance, the audio replaces some of the need for constant transitioning  to give the audience a better sense of drama and action. 

The scenes in trailers always include constant motion to better describe the movie through visual text. The audio will typically overlap different video scenes, as exemplified in Anna Karenina, directed by Joe Wright. In this way the audience is able to hear some of the central themes of the movie while also seeing visual themes to provide more insight into what the film is all about. Movie trailers typically include some of the best quotes from the film in the end of a trailer, either before the fast transitioning accompanied by music found in action and horror trailers, or before the dramatic last scene of romantic trailers, like Anna Karenina. 

All of the trailers I viewed were between 1 minute and 36 seconds and 2 minutes and 33 seconds. The vast majority of them were in a ten second set amount of time between 2 minutes and 20-30 seconds. From my own perspective, this amount of time seems ideal because it is long enough to hook the interest of the audience and introduce the plot of the movie without losing their attention. Trailers have the heavy burden of catching the attention of an already overwhelmed audience, so every technique employed in the trailer makes a difference. The music and the transition pacing of trailers is important to identifying the type of film it is, whether it is romantic, like Anna Karenina, or action-packed, like Skyfall. The contrast in audio and visual text also helps shape the perception of the film by the audience as well as get the plot of the movie across more thoroughly. If a trailer is done right, it can help catapult a film into popularity, but if it is done wrong, it can turn off a vast majority of the audience, which can be dire to a contemporary movie.

Trailers: The Hobbit, Wreck It Ralph, Skyfall, Anna Karenina, The Great Gatsby, Paranormal Activity 4, The Dark Knight Rises, Looper

Recut Trailers: Mrs. Doubtfire, Top Gun, Lion King

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