We all know what a trailer is, don’t we? After all, we probably are confronted with trailers on a daily basis, whether it’s a voluntary action or it comes under the form of a random ad. However, if you go about and ask people what they think a trailer is, and what it should ideally contain, you’re going to be left with a lot of diverging answers, none of which is going to be objectively right or wrong.
That doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t good trailers and bad trailers. I’ve seen my share of horrendous trailers, but I’ve also watched a lot of trailers which were, by all means, flawlessly put together, all while failing the vary basics of trailer making. And yes, it’s really subjective what the Trailer Making 101 manual should say, but what concept in this world isn’t subjective, after all? Therefore, I’ve decided to break down two trailers, one which I like and one which I dislike. Just to be clear, I think both movies in question are very good, but today I’m merely analysing the trailer. So here’s what I expect from a quality trailer:
- It doesn’t outline the story and gives away key progression elements, plot points and spoilers, but instead creates intrigue. It gives you just enough to make you interested, but not enough so as to already structure the story in your mind.
- It should ideally be focused around one, two or three characters, or a group, which are recurring elements throughout the trailer. Too many characters will make it lose focus.
- It doesn’t need entire scenes from the actual film. Making a trailer is an editing art of its own – putting together various snippets from the film which lead to a different result. A great trailer might even lead you astray with the same material that will be found in the full movie.
- It shouldn’t only contain the funniest bits (comedy), scaries bits (horror) or most action-packed bits (action) – if it feels like it’s a summation of ‘best of’ bits thrown together, it should perhaps raise a few eyebrows.
- It creates a specific visual and tone-of-voice style, and sticks to it throughout the trailer. Again, ideally it tells some sort of story with its combination of scenes, while keeping visual matters coherent.
- It avoids being too direct and explanatory, and instead achieves the same results in a subtler, more visual manner.
Bad Trailer: Jojo Rabbit
The trailer for Jojo Rabbit breaks many of my cardinal rules listed above. First of all, it does successfully establish the film’s unique style and substance, through its combination of lighthearted humour, body language of the characters, music and use of Hitler. It successfully establishes itself as a parody, and sticks to the visual style it has chosen. However, there’s a point somewhere in the second half of the trailer where, despite the slight tonal shift, it fails to make any progress, and achieves nothing more. The only good point is the use of David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’, which is perfectly in sync with the trailer’s latter part. It puts too much emphasis on its quirky nature, which we had already learned about previously. It collects comic relief moments and alternates them with one or two dramatic ones, but the distinction remains clear. It doesn’t seamlessly juxtapose the two, such as for instance the trailer for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri does. Jojo Rabbit’s trailer asks few questions, and the ones it does ask, it almost immediately answers.
Worse still, it spells out the ENTIRE story, save one or two major plot points. It establishes Jojo and his imaginary Hitler friend as the main characters, goes quickly through the ‘bootcamp’ episode, and Jojo’s incident. It showcases Jojo’s blind admiration of the Nazi government, and then essentially describes his transformation. In the next minute, we learn that he is highly suspicious of Jews, and is visibly distraught when he finds a Jewish girl hidden by his mother in the attic. He is shown trying to negotiate, and we even get Elsa’s direct and succint characterisation of Jojo, which we should have deduced by ourselves. This acts as a transition towards the next phase, during which he befriends Elsa, which is again clearly shown. Other main plot points are likewise spelled out, such as Rosie’s attitude serving as a counterpoint to Jojo’s, and a key point involving Captain Klenzendorf, which spoils a major surprise when watching the film.
Good Trailer: Locke
I’ve rarely seen a trailer better executed than the one for Locke. In case you haven’t watched it, please do. I’ll just give you a little hint – almost the entire movie takes place in a car, and Tom Hardy’s character is the only one which we both see and hear. The trailer for Locke is proof that operating under constraints increases creativity, and often leads to surprising results. What is fantastic about this trailer (and also the other trailer for the film) is that it creates a sense of intrigue, without actually disclosing anything about the story. We are given one character, Ivan Locke, who is going somewhere by car. The trailer gradually reveals the fact that he’s not going home (he tells that to his wife, Katrina), and that it most likely isn’t a work errand either (judging by the tense conversations with his boss and colleague). The lines chosen to be in the trailer are perfect, beacuse they immediately contextualise Ivan within the framework of the other characters, without explaining anything else.
With this start, the audience immediately forms questions, which have no direct answers in the trailer. Where is Ivan going, what has happened, and what is he trying to acheive? His calm plea of ‘I’ll fix it, it will all go back to normal’ creates a sharp contrast with the ever-increasing intensity and drama of the conersation montage which follows. It doesn’t outline Ivan’s specific aim, but insteads more closely relates to his general worldview – ‘No matter what the situation is, you can make it good’. Also, the trailer leads audiences astray – by repeated use of police car noises and sounds in the vicinity of Ivan’s moving car, we immediately assume that the trouble he keeps alluding to also explains the involvement of the police. However, minor spoiler, this is completely false, but it’s masterfully used as a sort of spoiler polar opposite. Finally, the trailer builds its selection of lines almost in close resemblence with the structure of a poem – think about the ‘cracks’ he mentions and how that idea later develops. This perfectly complements the trailer’s editing, which creates a sense of speed, urgency and inevitability. Locke is a true masterclass of trailer making.