BSA306: What Makes a Trailer ‘Good’? The Beginnings of a Project

What does make a trailer ‘good’? And what exactly does that mean? Is there a formula to editing a trailer that makes it particularly engaging? Would one formula work for every genre of film? And how does dialogue fit in? These are the questions that plague me as I embark on creating my hypothetical trailer.

“In trailers, images are selected and combined in ways that privilege attracting the spectator’s attention over sustaining narrative coherence. ”

(Kernan, 2004, p. 7)

This is a practical and opinion based study, aiming to discover what conventions would make the trailer for Bent more engaging for audiences. It is my opinion that a trailer is more engaging when there is a strong soundtrack driving the trailer that evokes appropriate emotions. I also believe that disclosing only a little detail of the plot encourages the viewer to see the full feature far more than if the audience feels they already know the story after viewing the trailer.

This post will be the beginning of my research on how I can make my own trailer good. I will aim to discover how I can use the styles and conventions of existing, successful trailers to create my own unique, yet still successful, trailer that will fit in with current trailers.


Part 1: Is there too much information in trailers?

Audiences and critics are constantly arguing whether or not trailer give away too much of the story.  Dan Asma from Buddha Jones, a trailer production company, found during test screenings that audiences prefer to be shown more of the story. However, he prefers to be more mysterious with his trailers.

Mark Woollen, who cut trailers for The Social Network, Boyhood and The Revenant tested an unreleased trailer on audiences and found that the older audience preferred for more of the story to be revealed, whereas the younger audience preferred less.  Perhaps my own attraction to having less information given to me in a trailer is because I am part of the younger audience. It has been suggested that the younger audience don’t like much of the story to be given away in the trailer because they feel they have wasted their money at the cinema if they discover they’ve already been shown most of the story in the trailer. Since movies are more available to the audience nowadays and it’s easier and cheaper to access them online, when the younger audience pays to go to a film at the cinema they expect to get a good deal and see something new. [2]

Though there are many people, myself included, that prefer to see less of the story in a trailer and wait to see the actual movie to know what happens, one cannot deny that trailers that give away more information are the more successful, as Matt Brubaker suggests;

As much as people complain that trailers give away too much, nine times out of 10, the more plot you give away, the more interest you garner from the audiences. Audiences respond to trailers with more of the movies.”

(McGovern, 2015, para. 5)

This seems like a strange thing to say, but I actually have a favourite trailer. it is one that I have talked about a lot this year in my studies as it has been a huge influence on my major project. This trailer is for the first season of Broadchurch (2013-). There is very little dialogue in this trailer so very little information is given away. The trailer relies heavily on creating an emotional connection with the audience through the visuals and the strong soundtrack. I enjoy this trailer because it creates a strong interest in the story that unfolds in the series in a simple, but effective way.



  2. McGovern, J. (2015, July 27). Why do trailers spoil their movies? Because you want them to [Web log post]. Retrieved from


Split (2016) – James McAvoy

James McAvoy plays about eight characters in the this film and delivers about seven of them beautifully, but the final character he plays is another story. This  last character is called “The Beast” and is everything you’d expect from a character with this name. he’s angry, full of himself, supernaturally strong, and, most of all, too dramatic. This isn’t all down to the performance, it’s also down to the writing. M. Night Shyamalan wrote and directed this film and actually did rather well (surprisingly) for most of it. Most of the characters (specifically those played by McAvoy) are well thought out and cleverly written, but “The Beast” feels like a stock character that Shyamalan resorted to when he realised the rest of the story was good. The poor writing of this character, and perhaps poor direction on how to portray him, resulted in what I consider to be a terrible performance that brought the whole film down.


Les Miserables (2012) – Anne Hathaway

When this film came out, there was a lot of talk about Anne Hathaway’s performance as Fantine, especially in regards to her performance of I Dreamed a Dream. Most of the comments were in mockery, laughing about her dirty, snotty face and shaky voice. When I finally got around to watching this last year, I was very interested to see her performance and make my own judgement. I really enjoyed it. I thought it was full of raw emotion, as it should have been, and was incredibly compelling. Tom Hooper’s decision to have live singing paid off, I feel, as it helped show the emotion more effectively.


Bent is the title of the film I will be making a trailer for. The name refers to the saying “bent not broken”, and I chose to use this because I feel this is very relevant to the characters in this story.

I did my best to write in 5 speaking characters, as required for this project, and partially succeeded. I have five characters in the trailer, as it currently stands, but only two speaking roles. Over the next week or so I am going to write out one or two more scenes from the full story to see if I can work in more dialogue for other characters.

The last couple of weeks I have been working on the pre-production for this project where I developed a director’s manifesto. During this process I have realised that the trailer, and in fact the whole first season, of Broadchurch has become a key source of inspiration. Not only am I taking inspiration from this show for the visual style, but also some of the characters. The two characters in particular that I find very relevant to my own project are Beth and Mark Latimer (played by Jodie Whittaker and Andrew Buchan, respectively) who are a couple who’s relationship is challenged after they discover their 11-year-old son has been murdered. What I am drawing on from these characters is how their relationship is affected by this tragedy. The event that causes strains on the relationship between my characters is less tragic, but causes emotional breakdowns regardless. Understandably, the roles of the Latimers require very emotional performances and I think Whittaker and Buchan do an excellent job of this. For this reason, I will be suggesting to the actors who play my characters to look at these roles and draw inspiration from them also.

Teaser Trailer

I am not trying to write a script or develop a concept that has less than 5 characters in order to spite those who have stipulated those rules, I am trying to write less than 5 characters because I am aware of the resources available to me. Yes, I am sure I could work around that and find 5 talented actors, but that would be a very time consuming process when time is one thing I do not have right now. I am trying to write an effective story with few characters. It’s been done, and done successfully. For example, Lars von Trier’s Anitchrist. There were only 3 characters, and one of those was a small child who was on screen for maybe 5 minutes. The rest of the film is carried by 2 actors and I think it’s done brilliantly. I am not saying that I am as skilled as Lars von Trier and am able to create something as successful as he has, certainly not at this stage in my life, but what I am saying is that I would like to try. If I am not given the chance to try, I will never know. Now is the perfect time to try, because I have people around me who can assess my work from a professional and experienced viewpoint and give me feedback on what worked and what didn’t. Perhaps it will fail completely, but at least I will have gained some experience and knowledge.

We have been told that in our third year we will be able to make what it is we’ve been dreaming of making (or something to that effect). I have been dreaming of making something visually stunning, that challenges me and gives me a chance to experiment.

I find that structured films and trailers frustrate me. I like to see creativity that breaks the rules. For this reason, I thoroughly enjoy teaser trailers. More often than not, there is limited dialogue, a great soundtrack, and stunning cinematography. This combination stirs up far more of an interest than a generic or traditional theatrical trailer ever could. It leaves more to the imagination and encourages viewers to find out more or see the final production through gently teasing the story, and I find this to be far more effective. For this reason, this is the kind of trailer that I have set my heart on making. Yes, it will be very challenging, especially as I will be working backwards (making a trailer before a full production… or even writing the full script), but that’s how I am going to learn!

In light of this, I have been finding teaser trailers made in the style I have just mentioned. Some of my favourites are below:

Broadchurch – Season 1

I love this series. I think it is beautifully shot, has strong characters, and creates a powerful connection with the audience. The themes explored in this series, and this season specifically, are very relevant and allows for just about anyone to relate to it in some personal manner. In terms of this trailer, I think it cleverly sets the mood, simply addresses the overall storyline, and generates interest. I also feel that it caters well to its target audience, which I would imagine is around 25+.

La La Land – Offical Teaser Trailer – ‘Audition (The Fools Who Dream)’

This is the trailer that really sparked my ideas for my own project and made me realise how much I enjoy trailers like this. The first time I saw it, it stood out because it was so very different from any other trailers that were playing and I think that makes for a strong promotion. It caught my attention because there’s no dialogue – it’s all beautiful shots set to a song from the film (performed by the cast). I guess it read a little more like a music video, but clearly promotes a film. The production values are incredible, and I certainly do not think I can achieve that for this project, but I have taken a lot of inspiration from this teaser.

Logan – Offical Trailer

This example isn’t a teaser trailer, but it reminded me of the La La Land  teaser when I saw it because of the way the song is champion. I think this trailer is very compelling, and it caught my interest, which is very unusual for an X-Men film, because I’m not normally interested in them.

Antichrist – Official Trailer

I was very interested in this film last year, because I noticed there were only three characters, which is highly unusual for a feature film. It was for this reason that I watched it (also, it’s directed by Lars von Trier and he’s a genius), paying close attention to how the characters were used, especially the locations in which they were placed. Most of the film is set at remote cabin in the middle of a forest, but there are a few scenes in a hospital where one would expect to see a lot of people, but the lead characters (who are never named) are the only two characters we see. What I find particularly clever about this film is that, even though there are only three characters (the third is a child), it isn’t boring, in fact, it is quite gripping.

The Handmaiden

I’ve not yet scene this film, but I do want to. I think this trailer, which, like Logan, is an offical trailer, is cut really interestingly, especially at the start. What I like about this is the way it cuts every second or so alternating shots from the same scene with shots from others. This style of cutting, combined with the soundtrack, creates tension resulting in a very compelling trailer. I think the fact that there is no dialogue adds to the build up of tension, because we’re always waiting for someone to say something, but they don’t. This is purposeful, because it seems like the characters are in a situation where they can’t speak up even though they want to. We do have little hints of vocalisation with a few gasps here and there, but nothing more. I also enjoyed the use of reaction shots, and there were a lot of them, as they create a sense of mystery, urging us to find out why these characters are behaving like this so often. The other thing I noticed with this trailer was the use of titles. I often feel that titles look really tacky in a trailer, but these didn’t. The large, bold font fitted with the genre and made simple, easy to read statements without being cheesy. They were statements rather than the classic “in a world…” titles that Hollywood films often have.

Looking at these trailers, I feel there is hope for success in what I would like to make this year. I love the way some of these trailers build tension and mystery with their absence of dialogue, and, with that, suggest some themes in the story, such as not being able to speak up, or the way suspecting your neighbours makes you shut yourself off to them. This is the kind of feeling I want to create with my trailer. I hope it works.