movie trailers

Movie Trailer Editing: How Much Should You Reveal?

“So they’ve basically just shown us the full movie, then.”

It’s a common charge against many movie trailers, particularly in recent years. For whatever reason, it’s becoming common to show so much in the trailer that audiences wonder whether there’s any point in seeing the full cut.

It goes without saying that this is the exact opposite reaction that you want to elicit from your potential audience. Today, we’re going to look at the arguments for and against baring all during your movie trailer.

Warning: potential movie spoilers ahead!

Setting Out the Market Stall

A classic example of this would be the trailer to 2011’s “The Double,” which relies on a central plot twist that Richard Gere is the killer he claims to be hunting…

… something which is completely given away in the theatrical trailer:

Didn’t see the movie? Neither did anybody else. Commercially, it completely tanked (grossing $3m against a $17m budget), and we can’t help but suspect that the tell-all trailer was a deciding factor in the movie’s failure to garner interest.

But there is a case to be made for showing all your cards. Director Robert Zemeckis opines: “We know from studying the marketing of movies, people really want to know exactly everything that they are going to see before they go see the movie. It’s just one of those things. To me, being a movie lover and film student and a film scholar and a director, I don’t. What I relate it to is McDonald’s. The reason McDonald’s is a tremendous success is that you don’t have any surprises. You know exactly what it is going to taste like. Everybody knows the menu.”

Who is Dead?!

A compelling argument for sure, but a counter-point would be that this all applies only to specific types of movies; if you’re dealing in a formulaic genre, it’s generally good to reassure audiences that you’re hitting all the beats they’ve come to expect. Take the “Golden Eye” trailer, for instance — a lot of spoilers in there, but this was a Bond movie. There’s almost an unwritten contract of things a Bond movie needs to deliver, and the trailer is the best opportunity to advertise the fact that all of the boxes are ticked.

The same goes for remakes. The 2013 adaption of the Stephen King classic “Carrie” also had a spoiler-laden trailer, but for good reason; fans of the original needed assurance that all of the iconic scenes (such as the “prom reveal”) would be faithfully featured in the remake.

While Zemeckis makes a good point, unfortunately his movie “What Lies Beneath” probably wasn’t the best type of flick in which to pour every single plot reveal into the theatrical trailer:

It’s okay if you let slip that Tom Cruise will survive a big explosion in a “Mission Impossible” trailer. After all, nobody assumes for one moment that his fictional life is in any real jeopardy, and audiences already know he’ll live to survive for at least another movie for as long as the franchise remains profitable.

But a Hitchcockian-thriller relies heavily on a slow and suspenseful layering of reveals, and is entirely undermined when these reveals are telegraphed ahead of time.

Finding the Balance

Trailer editors working in comedy and horror also need to tread carefully. Viewers are remarkably good at spotting whether you’ve included all of your best gags and jump-scares within the trailer, which can be as much of a turn-off as a “Sixth Sense” trailer that reveals Bruce is already dead.

Ultimately, whether a movie trailer should hold its cards to the chest or bare all really depends on the individual movie itself. Balancing audience expectation and creating intrigue (as well as succinctly communicating what the film is about) is the recipe behind an effective movie trailer.

Gut intuition as an editor will get you most of the way, but consider extensive test screening of your trailer with different audiences to get an indication of whether you’ve struck the right balance.

And we cannot understate how important that balance is. After all, those three minutes of trailer can make or break your 90 minutes of feature.

What are some of your favorite film trailers? Let us know in the comments below!

The 10 Best Movie Trailers Of 2015

kylo ren's light saber

With this year’s bountiful crop of movies behind us and 2015 rapidly drawing to a close, it’s the perfect opportunity to revisit some of the best movie trailers that got us all excited.

Regardless of whether the movies themselves have been released as of yet (or whether they’re any good), here’s ten of the trailers that either generated a huge buzz or that are almost works of art all on their own.

10. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

Okay, let’s just get this one out of the way since we’d probably take fire if we didn’t include it somewhere on this list.

While the criticisms of the official Dawn of Justice trailer have been rife since its release (and have cast further doubt over whether the actual movie will live up to the hype), it’s undeniably the one that got us all talking and is arguably the most discussed trailer of the year, save for… well, we’ll get to that.

9. Hail, Caesar!

With an incredible cast the likes of which only the Coen Brothers could assemble, trailers don’t get much classier and star-studded than this. “Wondering what’s going on?” is the final line of spoken dialogue, and following this 2:32 of typical Coen-flavored absurdity, the answer is in the affirmative.

8. Queen of Earth

Speaking of intrigue, the trailer for Alex Ross Perry’s next flick is like a little ball of curiosity wrapped up in a bow of psychological thrills. The movie is a both a satire of—and tribute to—the genre, and the trailer is no different. If it’s not the best trailer of 2015, it’s certainly got the best voiceover.

7. The Revenant

There have been a slew of horror movies with chilling trailers that could have featured here, but none of them even came close to the savage and relentless suspense seen in the trailer for The Revenant. The cinematography looks divine, the set pieces epic, and the performances (lead by Leo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy) award-worthy.

One thing’s for certain: if the movie that’s released in January is anything as good as the trailer, it could go down as the best film of 2016.

6. Suicide Squad

Another highly anticipated trailer that garnered discussion on a pandemic level, along with the Dawn of Justice trailer and… well, we’re still getting to that.

Let’s face it, just as we flocked to the Batman v. Superman trailer to check out Ben Affleck’s Batman, we all came to this one to catch the first glimpse of Jared Leto’s take on The Joker. What we ended up getting, however, was a whole lot more as the trailer carefully teases other performances that may steal the show when Suicide Squad hits screens next August.

5. The Lobster

How do you make a two-minute trailer that sells the idea of a surreal rom-com in which the main protagonist must fall in love or be turned into an animal?

Exactly like this.

While giving nothing away in terms of its best gags or plot spoilers, the trailer reflects the super-tight editing and unique weirdness of this Palme d’Or Jury Prize winner. Sadly, it’s yet to be released in the U.S. which makes this trailer even more of a tease.

4. Steve Jobs

The cinematography behind Danny Boyle’s many masterpieces is rarely reflected to a justifiable extent in the trailers for his movies, and you wouldn’t think a trailer for a computer nerd biopic would be overly engrossing either. But surprisingly, Boyle’s better-than-the-2013-flop delivered on every level, and had an energetic trailer to match.

3. Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck

The number three spot on our list of 2015’s best trailers is for a nonfiction film which we’ve covered in greater depth over here, but the trailer neatly encapsulates the feel of this excellent documentary (and the tormented nature of Cobain’s soul in general.)

2. Mad Max: Fury Road

Because the only thing more insane and bombastic than this year’s Mad Max trailer was the movie itself. We hope you love the color orange.

1. The Force Awakens

Okay, you probably saw our No. 1 spot coming from six parsecs away but you’d have to travel quite some distance to find someone who didn’t get a tiny bit excited by the official trailer for The Force Awakens.

This was the trailer that put all remaining doubts that J.J. Abrams couldn’t rise to the challenge to rest. And at the time of writing the press embargo has just been lifted, and we’re pleased to report that the official reviews overwhelmingly suggest that the full movie is every bit as good as the trailer promises…

… but over to you. Which of the list have you seen (or are planning to see ipon release)? Any that you’re planning to skip? Let your voice be heard in the comments below!

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