Unmoving Movie Trailers


The last forty times my wife and I watched movie trailers at a theater, she whispered to me, “They’re showing too much.”


I like to watch movie trailers because I don’t like most movies. Watching movie trailers confirms to me why I don’t want to see them. Is this the purpose of movie trailers--to turn away viewers from movies?


If I had spent two-hundred million dollars on a movie and then saw a trailer for it that drove people away, I would be spitting furious. Yet, this appears to be the norm for the movie industry today.


Worse yet, movie theaters are now showing adds between movie trailers. Showing a car commercial between trailers washes away any remaining pretense of movie magic.


I sense that you don’t believe me.


“It’s your opinion against theirs,” you say, “and they’re the experts, not you.”


Lest you think me unfair, I have found for you a video for you to watch. It appears to be a joke, but it’s not a joke because it's precisely accurate. After you see it, you will see its point demonstrated in the next dozen or so movie trailers you’ll see:


How to Make a Blockbuster Movie Trailer


What’s wrong with such an exciting way of presenting a movie? Nothing, except this approach has become a hardened cliché. Cliché destroys fiction. Instead of taking viewers (and readers) to a new place, clichés remind fans they’re watching (or reading) the latest copied story.


“Ladies and gentlemen!” the movie announcer says. “Come see some upcoming fake stuff on the screen!”


So, what makes a good move trailer?

What does a good movie trailer do? A good movie trailer gives viewers sufficient reason to see the movie. By “sufficient reason,” I mean a good trailer,

  • Introduces the story’s setting and theme

  • Introduces main characters

  • Provides the story hook


That’s all!


Here is what I consider to be a great trailer: Blade Runner 2049. The trailer introduces the main characters, introduces the world within the story, and provides only a vague notion of what will happen.


Scenes in lieu of trailers

For something really different, why don't movie makers just show a scene or two from their movies instead of create expensive trailers? Are their movies not good enough? "Movie scenes" are to "movie trailers" as "show" is to "tell."


if I were to make a $200 million movie, I would make at least one scene from the movie good enough to serve as my movie trailer. Then, I would use the money saved from not having to produce a trailer as bonuses to my writers, who should be paid the most, anyway!


The following two scenes from movies stand on their own like mini-movies. Why couldn't these scenes be used as movie trailers?

These scenes would make good movie trailers because they give the audience a taste of the story setting and a sampling of characters without banal, mind-dulling narration, and without giving away the entire story.


What makes a bad movie trailer?

By contrast, a bad trailer tells the entire story of the movie. See examples here:


I like each of these movies. But, had I seen these trailers before seeing their movies, I would never have watched them!


In the case of Evolution, I saw the movie cold. We were planning on seeing another movie. I had no idea whether Evolution was going to be a comedy, a documentary, or a lecture on the evils of religious thought. I enjoyed the movie because every scene was a discovery: I had no idea what was about to happen. I had the same experience with The Long Kiss Goodnight.


In fact, regarding The Long Kiss Goodnight, the entire point of the story is the heroine's discovery of her past. Wouldn't the viewers like to take that ride with her? But the trailer comes out and outright announces her past. What slobbering idiots!


The Dreamhouse trailer is infamous for being one of the worst ever made because it does worse than tell the audience the entire story of the movie. Spoiler warning! It misleads the audience into thinking the father is the killer (but he isn't!). Why would anyone want to see the movie after the ending was given away? (except it wasn't--but viewers didn't know this) The movie trailer makers tried to be clever by misleading the audience, but all they did was keep people away.


Do you still think I'm wrong about this?


Are moviemakers really this stupid?

When I complain about moviemakers to my friends, I usually get the response, “They make money—so they don’t care if their movie trailers turn people off.” This like the athlete who smokes and says, “I’m a fine athlete! Smoking don’t hurt me none.”


If I told my supervisor that I wanted to make only some money for the company, I would soon find myself looking for anther job. Apparently, not so with movie trailer makers.


What does this have to do with writing fiction?

The first page of your novel is its trailer! Just like a good movie trailer, the first page of a novel should introduce the story’s,

  • setting and theme

  • main characters (at least one)

  • story hook


Let’s do a better job than the movie-trailer-makers. Let's write first pages in our novels that actually attract our future readers.

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