October 24, 2019

Making Amazing Movie Trailers

A movie trailer, when it effectively boils a full-length feature film down to its two-minute essence, can be a studio’s greatest marketing tool.

Fewer people may be heading to the cinema, but, thanks to the Internet, more are watching movie trailers than ever before. A great one strikes the delicate balance of revealing just enough to entice an audience without giving too much of the story away. These are the trailers that get it right.

Five Fingers for Marseilles (2018)

In 2019, when audiences are constantly bombarded with content, a movie trailer’s most valuable asset is originality. That’s exactly what Five Fingers for Marseilles, a genre-bending, gun-slinging South African western, brought to the table.

The trailer could easily have belonged to any Hollywood blockbuster, and its editorial language is especially sophisticated: instead of starting slow and ending with a bang, silent moments are offset by explosions of action in an effortless balancing act.

Ultimately, the trailer’s strength is in its sense of quietude that ebbs and flows with a building sense of tension. It’s perfect as a standalone mini-story – and it’s one that sticks with you long after seeing it.

Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Endgame (2019)

 Avengers: Endgame recently unseated 2009’s Avatar as the highest-grossing movie of all time, and the trailer almost certainly had something to do with it. With over 125-million views on YouTube, the Endgame trailer was as hotly anticipated as the movie itself.

The enormous, star-studded cast could easily overwhelm a two-minute trailer; but, by focussing its attention on just a few characters, the trailer keeps the storytelling tight.

As the final chapter in the Avengers series, Endgame’s trailer had the difficult job of living up to its own hype, while being vague enough to keep its devoted audience guessing. From the intense voiceovers to the ever-building score, the trailer starts slow and theatrically builds to the action-packed crescendo fans have come to expect from Marvel movies – just enough to whet the appetite.

Ellen: The Ellen Pakkies Story (2018)

 It’s the tragic true story of the Cape Flats mother and her drug-addicted son, and all South Africans know how it ends. That knowledge makes the film’s trailer even more ominous.

This is a textbook example of a classic trailer – from the initial voiceover to the conventional three-act setup – which establishes the premise, complicates the story in the second act, and finishes with a dramatic montage. In this instance, the standard structure is the smartest choice. Because the film is a familiar story, the trailer doesn’t need to be too vague or too shocking. It just needs to create the right mood; and that’s exactly what it does, with its use of foreboding music that escalates along with the action.

John Wick: Chapter 3 (2019)

The “Best in Show” winner at the 2019 Golden Trailer Awards, this blockbuster’s trailer does an excellent film justice. Its accomplishment is partly owed to cinematography, lighting, and storytelling – but mostly, it’s effective because of its shrewd use of sound.

Towards the end of the trailer, every beat of a song that seems eerily out of place – Frank Sinatra’s “The Impossible Dream” – is punctuated by a punch, a kick, or a gunshot. But, pay closer attention to the song’s lyrics, and you’ll realise “to fight the unbeatable foe” and “to run where the brave dare not go” are a perfect proverb for any action hero. Sinatra’s soothing voice and Wick’s daring stunts are an operatic pairing that proves ironic tension can leave a big mark on memory.

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