Trailer (movie)

From Academic Kids

Theatrical trailers are film advertisements for films that will be exhibited in the future at a cinema, on whose screen they are shown; they are commonly known as previews of coming attractions. The term "trailer" comes from their having originally been shown at the end of a film programme. Although that practice did not last long, due to patrons tending to leave the theater after the films proper were finished, the name has stuck. Trailers have for many decades actually been shown before the film (or the a-film in a double-bill programme) begins.

Trailers normally consist of a series of selected shots from the film being advertised. Since the purpose of the trailer is to attract an audience to the film being advertised, they usually drawn from the most exciting, funny, or otherwise noteworthy parts of the film but in abbreviated form and without producing spoilers.

Some trailers use "special shoot" footage, which is material that has been created specifically for advertising purposes and which does not appear in the actual film. The most notable film to use this technique was Terminator 2, whose trailer featured elaborate special effects scenes that were never intended to be in the film itself. One of the most famous "special shoot" trailers is that used for the 1960s thriller Psycho which featured director Alfred Hitchcock giving viewers a guided tour of the Bates Motel, eventually arriving at the infamous shower. At this point, the soft-spoken Hitchcock suddenly throws the shower curtain back to reveal the only scene from the movie included in the trailer -- Janet Leigh's blood-curdling scream.

The people who create trailers often begin their work while the movie is still being shot. Since the edited movie does not exist at this point, the trailer editors work from rushes. The trailer may be created at the agency while the movie itself is being cut together at the studio. Thus, the trailer may contain footage that is not in the final movie, or the trailer editor and the movie editor may use different takes of a particular shot.

Some trailers that incorporate material that is not in the movie are particularly coveted by collectors, especially in the case of trailers for classic films. For example, in a trailer for Casablanca the character Rick Blaine says "OK, you asked for it!" before shooting Major Strasser, an event which does not occur in the final film.


Parts of a trailer

Trailers tell the story of a movie in a highly condensed, maximally appealing fashion. In the decades since movie marketing has become a large industry, trailers have become highly polished pieces of advertising, able to present even poor movies in an attractive light. Some of the elements common to many trailers are listed below.

  • A green band is an all-green graphic at the beginning of the trailer, usually reading "The following PREVIEW has been approved for ALL AUDIENCES by the Motion Picture Association of America," and sometimes including the movie's MPAA rating. This signifies that the trailer adheres to the standards for motion picture advertising outlined by the MPAA, which includes limitations on foul language and violent, sexual, or otherwise objectionable imagery. Trailers that do not adhere to these guidelines may be issued a red band, which reads "The following PREVIEW has been approved for RESTRICTED AUDIENCES by the Motion Picture Association of America," and may only be shown before an R-rated, NC-17-rated, or unrated movie. The MPAA also mandates that trailers not exceed two minutes and thirty seconds in length, and each major studio is given one exception to this rule per year.
  • Music helps set the tone and mood of the trailer. Usually the music used in the trailer is not from the film itself (the film score may not have been composed yet). The music used in the trailer may be:
Music from the score of other movies
Popular or well-known music, often chosen for its tone, appropriateness of a lyric, or recognizability
"Library" music previously composed specifically to be used in advertising by an independent composer
Specially composed music, which may include knock-offs of recognizable (but expensive to license) songs
  • A cast run is a list of the stars that appear in the movie. If the director or producer is well-known or has made other popular movies, they often warrant a mention as well.
  • Most trailers conclude with a billing block, which is a list of the principal cast and crew. It is the same list that appears on posters and print publicity materials, and is the same list that usually appears on-screen at the beginning of the movie.

Creation of a trailer

Studios may create trailers in-house or may "farm out" creation to one or more advertising agencies. Agencies that specialize in creating trailers are known as trailer houses. Depending on the amount of influence the filmmakers have with the studio, they may or may not be involved in the creation of the trailer for their film. Many choose to closely supervise the process, when possible.

The producers and editors of a trailer will be given material from the studio to work with, which may include the movie itself (if it has been edited together yet), rushes, and/or computer graphics shots (as they are created during the film editing process).

The trailers that are seen in theaters have been through an extensive process of revisions and approvals by a variety of studio marketing executives. The revision process often includes information from market research conducted at locations all around the country.

Commercial considerations

Studios can usually attach a trailer to the print of another of their films, so that the theater will show their trailer directly before the film. (Usually, exhibitors choose the other trailers that show before a given film.) To maximize the audience for certain trailers, studios often work to attach highly-anticipated trailers to films that they expect will draw a large crowd.

This practice can also affect when films are released. An extreme example of this is Miramax's decision to delay the North American release of Hero by two years, mostly so that they could widely advertise the film before Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill.

This advertising is especially valuable as it can be carefully targeted. Movies appealing to one age group or demographic will have trailers for films targeting that same group.

Trailers have spread to other media as well. Trailers for computer games have especially become popular.

Criticism of trailers

"In a world..."

Movie marketing copy is often accused of being cliché. The creation of trailers has been honed over decades to a very precise art, and certain clichés are useful because in a very short space, they are the most efficient way to communicate a given idea. Record scratches that stop the music to deliver the punch-line to a joke are a very common feature of trailers, but they are continually used because they remain effective.

Trailers are also criticized when they incorporate shots that do not exist in the actual movie. When the trailer is edited from rushes this is practically unavoidable. In extreme cases, scenes may have been shot that were later cut from the release version of the movie, but may still exist in the trailer. Usually these scenes are similar in tone or content to material that does exist in the movie.

In other cases, trailers may use stock footage to convey, in shorthand, a concept that takes longer to explain (or is less visually dynamic) in the movie. In still other cases, shots or dialogue may be rearranged to create situations or exchanges that do not exist as such in the movie. Often this is done to mask a perceived shortcoming in the movie while maximizing the potential of the footage.

How much to give away in a trailer is a controversial question. Filmmaker Robert Zemeckis argues that a trailer should tell everything about a film, since, he claims, audiences will not want to pay to see films unless they know exactly what they are paying for. Many filmmakers disagree and believe that a trailer should show no more than is needed to convince the audience to see a film. From a studio marketing perspective, the most interesting, funny, arresting parts of the movie should be in the film -- the theory being, showing only less interesting material will attract less of an audience.

Notable trailers

  • Adaptation (
  • American Beauty (

Trailers that break form

Comedian (
The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (
  • The Minus Man trailer is a "special shoot" that features no actual movie footage. It consists of two unnamed characters discussing the movie.
The Minus Man (
  • The Strange Days trailer consists of Lenny Nero (the main character played by Ralph Fiennes) speaking directly to the audience, advertising his "business", which is the selling of experiences, and memorably dubbing himself "the Santa Claus of the subconscious".
Strange Days (
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (

See also

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