Remember the good ol' days when you'd go to a movie, see a trailer for an upcoming film you knew nothing about and think, "Hey, that looks good. I might check it out when it comes to a theater near me!"?
Yeah, that doesn't happen too much anymore, does it?
In this age of 24-hours news channels and constantly updated blogs, trailers aren't our first peeks at movies anymore. It seems like no sooner has a project been announced than we're analyzing potential casting choices, predicting box office tallies and fretting about how studio executives are going to destroy the director's vision. Sometimes, by the time a trailer appears, we're already sick of a movie we haven't even seen yet.
The role of the trailer seems to have shifted -- from letting us know that a movie exists to delivering that first ray of hope that it's going to be worth all the buzz. But the best trailers can still convert the most cynical moviegoers into true believers. I know that I personally hadn't given much thought to Iron Man until seeing hints of Robert Downey Jr.'s snarky performance in the trailer. Now I'll probably be buying a ticket to watch the rest of that performance. Here are the rules that every movie trailer should follow to hook potential audiences and satisfy the fans that have been following the movie since before filming even started:
1. Don't condense the entire plot:
A few months ago, this trailer for Sex and The City popped up in theaters, causing fans to clap and squeal with delight as they waited for Definitely, Maybe to begin. Carrie in a wedding dress! A big-band remake of the theme music! The ladies strolling through Manhattan in $400 shoes! Mr. Big!!! The trailer swept us up into the fabulous, romantic world of SATC without giving away any of the plot. We were all dying to see what would happen. But then this other trailer came out and, in the spirit of Sex and The City, bared it all. Carrie gets left at the altar? Steve cheats on Miranda? They even gave away Mr. Big's last name! Suddenly, fans started wondering if it might be better to let Carrie and her gal pals rest in peace in the happy ending the show gave them rather than watch them all get hurt again. I predict the movie will still be huge, but thanks to this bloated trailer, it might not be as fun to watch.
2. Show us the villain first:
Check out this trailer for The Dark Knight. Did you notice how Christian Bale barely appears in it? And did you also notice how you didn't care, because you were too busy fighting off the chills that Heath Ledger's Joker was giving you? A hero is only interesting when he's in trouble. We want to know that the stakes are going to be high if we're going to invest our time in a hero's story, and this trailer gives us a terrifying glimpse of the depraved lunacy that our favorite pointy-eared hero will be facing. Save the heroics for the movie. The villainy is the hook.
3. Music. Music. Music.
There's no quicker way to get to the emotional center of a movie than by putting its score front and center. Notice how this trailer for Speed Racer picks up whenever we're listening to those techno beats blaring instead of Emile Hirsch talking? The music will give the audience a sense of how they're going to connect to a movie on an emotional level -- and last time I checked, the need to connect to something on an emotional level was kind of why we go to movies in the first place.