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Using Teasers & Trailers to Build your Audience

Zach Goodman
April 8, 2013 by Zach Goodman Alum

This is it: your debut full-length masterpiece, Retrospectives: A Retrospective, is finished. Nothing left to do but sit back and let the money roll in!

Is the money rolling in? No? It may be because no one knows your movie exists or what it’s about. Now with Vimeo On Demand for PRO members you have complete control over of your film's distribution and part of that involves promoting your work. So we’re going to help you master that promotional art form that drives moviegoers to arrive early at the theater: bribery. No, we mean teasers and trailers.

What are teasers and trailers?

In a nutshell, they’re short videos designed to build interest for your longer work. A teaser is typically vague, establishing tone and imagery but revealing scant (if any) details about characters and plot. A trailer is more descriptive, bringing in the plot and character introductions that teasers leave out, while preserving the curiosity that can only be satisfied by paying for the whole enchilada. Trailers typically adhere to the chronology of the film, while teasers can be more freeform.

What are the goals of teasers and trailers?

A good introduction to your work should do some or all of the following:

• Establish tone and pace (Is it serious? Funny? Inspiring? Romantic docudramedy? Western thriller, in outer space?)
• Establish setting (“It’s 1862, and space pirates are raiding the galaxy.”)
• Set up conflict (“But there’s a new sheriff in space.”)
• Introduce the main characters (“Him? That’s Chet Chetson, alleged pirate and richest man in space.”)
• Create intrigue (“Hand over the amulet, sheriff, or space is going to explode.”)

What are some popular techniques for achieving those goals?

Some common ones include:

• Mood-setting music
• Excerpts from the film, cut at key moments so as not to explain too much
• Shots that aren’t in the film — such as blackouts, typography, or short shots that work for introducing characters in the context of a trailer
• Voiceover
• Montage, and/or lots of cuts
• Cliffhangers and unanswered questions

Now let’s take a look at some teasers and trailers to see it all in practice:

There’s a lot to like in this one. The funky, Shaft-like soundtrack make us expect to see a ‘70s-era super cop, and then we’re appropriately thrown into a high-speed car chase through what looks like animated California. We meet our hero and learn what makes him special: his prehensile beard, which he uses to drive and thwart a mustachioed (more ‘70s vibe) gunman. But even more important than what this teaser does say is what it doesn’t: Who is the man with golden beard? Why is he being chased? How did he come to master his beardly power? And what kind of adventures will we see? The only way to find out is to watch the series.

This teaser builds anticipation without divulging anything about the plot, or even showing any shots from the film. Instead we’re slowing panning through a montage of still or barely-moving images of the characters, mostly in battle-ready poses. The eerily calm, foreboding music provides a stark juxtaposition to what we know is superhuman fighting. Be we don’t see any fighting, only the moments just before or after. Long, slow-moving pans are interspersed with quick cuts to build tension and suspense. After two minutes, we know pretty much nothing about the movie (other than our familiar hero and some fighting ladies, one of whom stands on a sword), but we know it looks cool and is filled with action.

This trailer uses a lot of our common trailer themes, to great effect. We begin with an introduction of setting and characters: a voiceover describing poor people who settled in an Indian slum. But there’s something unique about these people: they all seem to have incredible and diverse artistic talents, which we learn in a montage that cuts quickly from one astonishing person to the next. The eerie music that lured us in now gives way to a foreboding rumbling and a title card that introduces the conflict: the slum has been sold to developers and will be bulldozed. We cut to our antagonists talking about the construction, then back to our protagonists discussing their fight to keep their homes. But the true magic of the trailer comes in its last minute, when the uplifting music swells and a montage introduces us to more of the community and how they live their lives. By the end, we’re rooting for them, and we want to see what happens.

Watching and studying effective trailers is a great way to get your cinematic juices flowing freely. For another great resource, look to the in-depth writing and painstaking analyses that trailers also inspire. The New York Times looked at trailers from Oscar-nominated films and mapped them beat-by-beat. Check it out right here. The big takeaway: there’s more than one way to make a great trailer. Silver Linings Playbook roughly follows the timeline of the film. Lincoln is more of a teaser, setting the tone of the film while chronologically jumping around. The Amour trailer ends with a 20-second shot of a man sitting in silence. Check them all out, read what the pros have to say, then try out some trailer editing yourself!

Now you’re all set to build the anticipation that your work deserves. Because in a world where thousands of videos battle for scarce attention, one trailer holds the key.

28 Comments

GRIP TV

great information. i feel i can do more with teasers and trailers now.

Marcio Bales

ai se eu pudece fala eim!!!quem sabe bales!!!!!!!!!!!

Josh Luck

“or space is going to explode.”

Jimmy Goldblum PRO

Ah, I didn't see this before! Thanks so much for the kind words about "Tomorrow We Disaappear." You guys are the best.

ICU Balling

Please help. How and where do I add a trailer to my VOD videos?? I do not see a link or button to select or upload my trailer to.

Amanda Miles PRO

Do I have to have a trailer to publish my video? How do I get past this as I don't need it and don't have the editing ability to do it.

Vofee Kromah

THANKS FOR ALL OPPORTUNITY AND SUCCESSES.

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