Tag Archives: art of the trailer

A Detailed, In-depth Analysis of the New Black Panther Trailer

“They looked for it in South America
…but it was in Africa the whole time.”

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Let’s talk about Ticking Clocks

Today the new trailer arrived for Christopher Nolan’s upcoming war historical film, DUNKIRK, and it gives us an excellent opportunity to talk about the use of the ticking clock motif in trailers.  Check out the video below and then keep scrolling for the analysis.

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How to Sell me a Third Helping when I’m Already Full

Below you will find an example of how a single teaser, done well, can revitalize a very dead franchise.  Check out the teaser for Cars 3 and join me after the jump for a breakdown of how this trailer works.

Right off the bat, the trailer takes a HUGE gamble.  The first 15 seconds of the teaser consist of quick shots intercut with ominous silence of cars going around the track.  Simply put, the images are not that engaging – invoking a scenario we have already seen in Cars 1.  During their first viewing, unless one is eagle-eyed, the viewer might miss the radically different visual tone of this trailer as compared to the cartoony aesthetic of the previous two films (cf- Cars, Cars 2). Before anything has a chance to happen, the teaser gives people an opportunity to eject.

Where the teaser shines is in its aural rhythm.  The pace accelerates and draws you in, commanding your attention despite potential preconceived notions about the franchise.  As the trailer hits that 0:18-second mark, an audible cue hints that things are about to kick off as the engine noise modulates into another key.  Our first real visual character is introduced: the new black racecar.  Its design is nothing like the staple Nascar vehicle the franchise has employed, so instinctually we begin asking questions and developing curiosity – exactly what the teaser wants.

Immediately following this destabilizing of our initial disinterest, the trailer connects us to the franchise, announcing “McQueen is fading! Fading fast!” while we see glances of the racecar’s frame.  By avoiding the car’s face – the most identifying image of the Cars franchise – the teaser maintains its darker tone (avoiding the cartoony expressions of the characters) and audience attention by constantly withholding the one thing we are now anxious to see.

With the swerve out of frame and the foreboding first note of the crash, we are left with 5 full seconds of blackness and 7 seconds of silence before we come to the climactic final shot of carnage.  And what Carnage!  We never even see Lightning hit the ground – just the viscera of metallic parts and sparks suspended in mid-air.  Such a departure from the goofy visuals and humor of the first two entries, this teaser demands the viewer take note of a radical stylistic departure that perhaps foretells a story worth waiting for.

Ultimately that is what makes this teaser great:  that it takes on a hostile audience and shifts their “hell no” to a “who knows, maybe”.  Simply by creating enough intrigue for the audience to at least wait and see, the trailer succeeds in its most primary function.  Regardless of whether the film turns out to be good or not, its viewership potential has certainly skyrocketed from the outset with this great start to its marketing campaign.

Tell me what you think of this teaser!  I, for one, love the first movie but was seriously turned off by the sequel.  For good or ill, I’m totally on board for Cars 3.  Thanks for reading and come back for more examination of the Art of the Trailer.

Brief postscript – note the current trend with teasers not bothering to show the actual title of the film they are teasing. Notable recent examples:  Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales and Guardians of the Galaxy vol.2.


Thanks for the Early Warning

For all the bad rap M. Night Shyamalan has gotten over the past few years, at one point he was a very exciting director to watch.  His movies were tense, had great atmosphere, and played on simple fears that haunt us all.  However, recently he has gone a little bit…weird.  Most of his recent work is not worth examining, but this TV spot for his new film The Visit has one moment that I think prepares all of us for what is in store.  Watch until the end for the best moment in a trailer thus far this year. 🙂

PS – I apologize for any liquid propelled nostral-ly onto your screen.


Super-Preemptive Strike

CBS just released their first trailer for their new DC product, Supergirl.  I have some brief thoughts:

1.  This trailer is SIX minutes long.

2.  WOW that was a harsh strike for Feminism there!  “If you don’t like it, you are sexist and wrong and evil. Want to watch our show now?”  I understand what they are trying to do – get ahead of the genuine sexist nonsense guaranteed to come in wake of this release – but swinging this strongly this early compromises the trailer’s ability to market the show.  I don’t really want to watch this, for numerous reasons…and I should feel bad because of that?

3.  They kept the “it’s not an S” thing….

4.  Is this from Hallmark?  The emotional journey they try to take us on!  I’m all for a trailer being its own work of art, and for trailers telling their own stories.   But this?  This is too much – it feels pandery, trying to appeal to a presumed “Female Market” while showcasing enough action to keep male viewers interested.  It undercuts its effectiveness to all markets and further complicates the gender politics they are navigating.

5.  Despite all of my snark, I really do hope this succeeds.  I don’t care if the show lasts 20 seasons and spawns two movies, but I do want it to show Hollywood that people are willing to support content with female leads.  Happy for once to say DC is beating Marvel to the punch.

6.  THIS IS SIX MINUTES LONG!!!!!!!


How to Sell Something we already Want

Yes, it is indeed that time.  It’s finally time to delve into the incredible marketing being done for the upcoming cultural phenomenon – Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  I’m sorry I missed the first trailer, but I think what needs to be said about that can really be explored in how it set up this second trailer.  Check out the most recent teaser below (links to the first one in text) and join me after the jump for analysis.

First, if you want to understand the emotions people have when watching these trailers – the nostalgia it taps into – just check out Matthew McConaughey in Interstellar watching it.  It’s a good illustration.

The First Teaser

Before we delve into the second trailer, let me briefly look at how the first trailer set this one up.  The joint marketing team of LucasFilms and Disney is serving up a deliciously paced scheme of buzz-building.  The first trailer, released last November, blasted onto the scene and took the world by storm.  One could hardly find a news organization on the internet that wasn’t talking about it.  But what did it do to earn such a great response?  Of course, Star Wars is a cultural phenomenon; the precedent was set by the releases of the Prequels that people would flock to anything published by the LucasFilm team.  However, the question is whether the first trailer did anything in and of itself to draw attention to the new movie or if it was purely the milieu of hype.

To that end, the first Force Awakens trailer acted as a testing ground for what I call Newness.  Like I spoke about in my Batman v Superman trailer review, smart marketing teams are realizing the potential of a feedback system where they show off changes to a pre-existing property with their trailers, and then let audience criticisms give filmmakers feedback, while also developing hype (think Bane’s voice from the Dark Knight Rises teaser).  Thus, while they can rely on a level of assumed cultural appreciation simply because of the brand, this trailer provides a test for the new directions JJ Abrams is taking the franchise, and therefore elevates itself beyond a passable first glimpse.

For the first 45 seconds, the teaser opens with New elements.  By this I mean it takes things that are familiar visually but tweaks them in way’s we’ve not seen before (a black stormtrooper, new speeder, etc).  Even after the first 45 when we get our first shot of something intimately familiar (the X-Wing), it’s in a setting in which we’ve never really seen it before. Except for the sounds and general environments, everything is fresh and very JJ Abrams-y – SPECIFICALLY so that you will know this won’t be the same kind of thing as you’ve gotten before.

Say what you will about the weird Ball Droid, the Black Stormtrooper, or the Lightsaber cross-guard – they are there precisely because you will be talking about them the next day.  This is the juicy stuff the trailer-makers know will get the buzz-mill going, with controversies and quandaries abounding.  By leading off their marketing campaign with these elements, they set the tone both that: 1) this is not going to be your father’s Star Wars (and that’s okay) and 2) that this is going to be new and exciting for all of us.  By intentionally separating their work from the previous entries in the franchise, they prime audiences for the new experience they are about to enjoy.

And to cap off their masterful work, at the minute mark they give us a glorious nostalgia trip to assure us that things are going to be good again.  The flight of the Millennium Falcon coupled with John Williams’ score and some masterful (VFX) camerawork makes for that lasting memorable moment we walk away dreaming about.  It is a wonderful “cherry on top” to a great work that grounds our expectations in the joys we’ve all experience with the original franchise, and promises a return to those glorious days.

One final note before I get to the second trailer:  notice that, during the title card, there is a three second buffer from the time “Star Wars” appears to when it opens up to reveal the new subtitle “The Force Awakens”.  Compare this to the almost instantaneous reveal of the subtitle in the second trailer.  Just an interesting bit of cutting to debut the new moniker.

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The Second Teaser

A long five months passed with only small tidbits of news before finally (note the demand) we received the second teaser for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  First, I’m so glad they’ve stuck with teasers – it makes the experience all the more tantalizing.  Second, and in a fun coincidence, the second trailer dropped on my birthday!  Thanks for the gift, JJ.  I love it!

What the second trailer did is pick up where the first trailer left off.  The first teaser hit us with a baseball bat of Newness, but left us with a nice taste of nostalgia to keep the franchise connection alive.  Now with this second trailer, the marketers envelop us in a tightly wound blanket of nostalgia that subtly reminds us of the Newness.

We open on the nostalgic LucasFilm logo (not in first trailer), and fade up on a shot both alien and remarkably familiar. Many others have commented on the similarities of this shot to the one in A New Hope when Luke races his speeder across the desert to discover the remains of his home.  Couple that with the hero’s theme swelling in the background and you’ve got an opener guaranteed to grab us by the heartstrings and raise goose-flesh.  However, this great nostalgia trip comes with new elements (the downed Star Destroyer and X-wing), quietly hinting that, again, this will be New.

That’s the first 30 seconds of the teaser.  After that bomb of good-feelings, we get an interesting sequence.  Watching it the first time, it takes a moment to recognize the speaker and even then one asks “is it really him?”.  The editor of the trailer does a great job choosing shots that connect either with what Luke is saying or with what we know of him (a smart choice to trust the audience’s imagination and memory to make the connections).  Vader’s broken mask, the robotic right hand (yes this does match from Empire Strikes Back), handling a lightsaber – all these build strong visual connections to powerfully emotional moments from the original series.  The monologue takes the viewer on a journey through the entire franchise in 30 seconds, and provides a teasing last line – “you have that power too”.  Here again we find an intentional design to trigger our emotional memories through carefully planned shots and music, all the while introducing us to new and unfamiliar elements.

Going beyond the first minute, notice that as the music reaches it’s highest point, we get a soaring shot and a mighty “WooHoo!” (do you see what they are doing here?).  This is to help shift the tone and get us from happy-crying back to pure excitement.

The next 30 seconds (notice how neatly subdivided this trailer is, but how it doesn’t feel like it) gives us a fast-paced, action-packed montage of intensity that is mostly familiar things in New situations.  The Stormtroopers, TIE-Fighters, and Sith all make immediate affiliation with our knowledge of the Star Wars lore, but each is presented with some element we’ve never seen before (major firefight on the desert, space-fight inside a star destroyer, Chrome-armored TIE-Fighter Pilot).  It continues to build on our nostalgia while constantly presenting something New to us.  Capping off this section is yet another Millennium Falcon fight but this one specifically mimics the Death Star sequence from Return of the Jedi, flying through cramped corridors trying to shake a tail.  It is a powerful visual and encapsulates the tone the marketers want you to feel about this upcoming flick.

Finally, the moment you’ve all heard about, the biggest nostalgia bomb they could have possibly dropped  – the return of Han and Chewie.  This is exactly the kind of reveal we’ve come to expect and love from a good trailer (thanks mostly to Marvel).  It works well because they’ve built up the connections to the older films throughout so that this arrives not out of the blue, but as a logical endpoint of what the trailer-makers are doing here.  Personally, I hope this line is only used for the trailer – I cannot really imagine it working well in the film now that the surprise has been ruined (though I admit we do not know where “home” is yet).  Either way, it works beautifully and leaves us all on a high as we go into the title card.

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Wrap-Up

The marketing teams at LucasFilm and Disney are doing a magnificent job building buzz and excitement around the upcoming seventh installment of the Star Wars saga.  Accomplishing the goal of building on nostalgia while easing us into the idea that this movie will be new and different is no easy task (cf – Jurassic World, Terminator: Genisys, Batman v Superman), but somehow this team is making all the right moves.

Who knows when the next trailer will be released?  Until it does, fans and film buffs will be pouring through these two trailers, looking for any minute detail they can use to get an idea of what the new film will be like.  Most are optimistic that this will not be another Prequel situation, but that is yet to be seen.  However, if marketing can be any indicator (and I think it can), then it would seem we are headed for something wonderfully fun and exciting this holiday season.  Thanks for reading and tune in again soon for another posting on the Art of the Trailer.


RedLetterMedia gets it!

Hey!  I’m currently hard at work finishing the Star Wars: The Force Awakens teaser breakdown (coming very soon), but until then I thought I’d share this great work done by the guys at RedLetterMedia.  They put together a great video showing how basically all recent trailers for Action, Sci-fi, and Thriller films follow the same format.  It’s a really good breakdown of how the simple formula goes and it’s funny to boot.  Enjoy and tune in again soon for the Star Wars review!