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Using film trailers

Trailer techniques

Once key moments from a film have been chosen the editors who cut the trailer refer to editing conventions (some might say clichés) that can provoke the intended emotions and begin to tell the story. The following are some examples that can be seen in horror, action and fantasy:

  1. Long shots to establish character, setting and the 'dilemma'
  2. Fades to black that suggest shifts in time
  3. Transitions accompanied by booming SFX, building tension and placing significance on the text on screen – often white on black
  4. Short shots and quick cuts of some of the most exciting moments from the film, the ‘events’ that lead to resolution but not necessarily in chronological order
  5. Quiet music to establish story, menacing music to highlight villains, build to a crescendo
  6. Sudden moments of quiet and silence between and after music and SFX, which have equal impact on mood and pace.

Trailers for a comedy are very different.  Editors can play fast and loose with transitions to create a lighter touch.  The use of split screens, wipes and sound effects become acceptable as the film is not to be taken seriously.

The voiceover and text on screen will most likely feature the film’s USP, its unique selling point.  This will be something that can be communicated on a poster.  If lots of the chosen moments of the film feature character dialogue then these phrases may appear on screen to read instead.  Here is a selection of commonly used techniques:

  • 'This Season'… (creates a sense of anticipation)
  • 'From the people who brought you…' (refers to established audience)
  • 'Based on the unbelievable true story…'
  • 'Based on the bestselling book…'
  • Star names (actors or director)
  • The title (often heard and seen at the same time to cement it in viewers' minds)
  • Official website so audiences can find out more

Aside from these persuasive features however, the language on screen and in the voiceover can also establish the narrative.  Words chosen can suggest key themes and summarise the plot in a grand way to suggest the plot is timeless and universal.  Some clichéd examples are:

…They will find hope where they least expect it
One man's destiny…
…She will face her biggest challenge
...It will change their lives forever!
...Experience a new kind of fear