Movie trailers are some of the most talked about things both on and offline. Entire websites are dedicated to finding the latest blockbuster release and breaking it down frame by frame to discover hidden information about the film.
With that in mind, here are 9 trailer buzzwords that will instantly have you talking like a Creative Executive.
1. TV Spot
Before we get too far into what trailers are, let’s first clarify what they are not. If you saw a commercial for a movie on your television, that’s not a trailer, that’s a tv spot. If you were in a movie theatre and you saw a bunch of advertisements for upcoming films that are 90-150 seconds long, those are trailers. TV Spots come in a variety of lengths but mostly 30 and 15 seconds which is how they’re referred to in the industry.
2. Creative Executive
Full title: Senior Vice President of Creative Advertising, shortened to SVP Creative. This is the person who is in charge of making the trailers and tv spots (and sometimes the one sheet). They do a ton more than just that but I’m simplifying for the sake of brevity. By “making a trailer” I mean they have the feature footage delivered on a secure hard drive to an agency who staffs a team of editors, graphic designers, sound designers and more, and all together they work on distilling 2-20 hours worth of film footage down to 90-120 seconds that succinctly and effectively delivers the main themes of the film, and gets viewers excited about buying a ticket to see the feature in a movie theatre.
3. Teaser Trailer
These can be a variety of things, but generally it’s a long build up to a single iconic visual element that takes anywhere from 30-90 seconds. An example could be voice over that leads to the reveal of a superhero cape or mask, a monster reveal, or in the comedy world a single moment of a character saying a catchphrase “I’m baaaack!” You get the idea, it’s a tease, that’s why they call it that.
Here’s what a teaser trailer is not — if I can tell what a good chunk of the plot of the film is from a teaser, that’s not a teaser. Teasers exist for two reasons: either because you want to give an air of mystery to an unknown title or you want to let audiences know that a highly anticipated title is going to reveal more in the near future. The rule of thumb here is you tease something that audiences are very excited for or will be very excited for because of the uniqueness of the content. The second part of that is tricky, because how do you know if audiences will be excited for your film? The answer to that question can be a gut check for a filmmaker because of course they’re excited, they spent time, money and an incredible amount of energy to make it a reality. As a studio then, you have to ask yourself, are there some incredible visuals that will blow audiences away? Are you doing something in special effects that nobody has seen before? Is there a set piece stunt that will be something that people will talk about? If yes, then maybe your film should get a teaser, if not, save it all for trailer #1 which is essentially the elevator pitch for your film.
4. Trailer #1
A ton of movies just have one 90-150 second trailer. This is in large part due to the fact that trailers cost a couple hundred thousand dollars to make. Can you get your nephew’s friend who’s really great at iMovie to make you one for ten grand? Sure! You know who will go see the movie based off your nephew’s friend’s trailer? ZERO PEOPLE. And here’s where the internet will come up with “this trailer cost 10 cents, you’re so dumb” examples, and that’s fine, if zinging me is how you want to fill your time on earth, thanks, I’m flattered.
But to return to the vocabulary: Trailer #1 spells out the essentials of your plot, enough so that a viewer can get a sense of what your film is about and who the characters are who populate your story. Do audiences what to see a trailer that crams every plot point of the movie into a single trailer? Absolutely not. In fact, these days, less is definitely more. Your audience’s time is at a premium so afford them the respect of getting them informed and excited in the shortest amount of time possible.
5. Trailer #2
Films get a second trailer for a bunch of reasons. The studio wants to reveal a new secret character or element that wasn’t in trailer #1, or to reinvigorate the conversation around that film so momentum isn’t lost between the first trailer and the film’s release. Sometimes a studio wants to have a trailer that appeals to a wide number of people in trailer #1, but goes after a specific demographic with a second trailer. Sometimes this will accompany a dramatic change in music, a hip hop track, or an iconic rock song. This can backfire on you however. If you’re juicing a film up with some mismatched music to make it seem way more exciting or epic than what you’re delivering in the theatre then you’re being lazy and lame. As a moviegoer, be wary if trailer #2 looks completely different than trailer #1, if critical and online response to trailer #1 was tepid or negative, you can almost always expect a follow up trailer that tries to correct the sins of the first one. Hell sometimes there are really pragmatic reasons for a trailer #2, maybe a rival studio is releasing their tent pole film two months before yours, why not do a second trailer and get it placed on that film so you can grab all your competitor’s eyeballs. Like I said, bunch of reasons for a trailer #2.
6. Trailer #3
No film needs more than a teaser, a trailer, and a trailer #2. If audiences weren’t excited by the preceding three pieces of marketing, then they’re just not interested in your film and you’ll just confuse audiences if they keep seeing the same film repackaged multiple times. If you’re considering altering the messaging of the film for a fourth time, do everybody a favor and don’t.
7. Red Band Trailer
This is usually a version of a Trailer 1 except way funnier/grosser/scarier/swearwordier. Be careful with red band trailers, if you’ve got The Rock doing full frontal, and he’ll agree to it being in an age gated red band trailer, yea, people will generally buzz about that. If your idea of a red band trailer is a bunch of jokes that have the word “fuck” in them, don’t bother, nobody’s hair gets blown back by profanity any more. Sometimes studios will employ the gimmick of dropping a green band and a red band trailer at the same time so you can see the tame one and the boundary pushing one, but I tend to disagree with that thinking because all it really means is everybody will ignore the green and watch the red. Who wants chips and cheese when you can have nachos!
8. Green vs. Red Band
I feel like people know this but there’s a shitload of stuff I don’t know about this business so I’ll explain briefly for those of you who don’t know the difference. The MPAA puts “Restricted” as a warning that a particular trailer will that contain excessive content, whether that’s profanity, nudity, violence, etc. That warning is the first 3 seconds of a trailer and it’s on a big red background that precedes any film footage, it is quite literally a band of red. Green band is the same thing except green, also on this graphic is information that indicates the rating and the general content, “Rated PG13 for language and adult situations”, that’s the stuff that goes in that little green box with the rating, it’s called the…
9. Rating Reason
Ok last one for now. On that box tells us the film’s rating PG, PG13, R, etc etc, you’ll see some general description of why the particular film is rated the way it is. R for excessive nudity and profanity, stuff like that. The only reason I bother to point this out is, filmmakers and studios fight with the MPAA like crazy on this language. They do this because, quite naturally, they don’t want some 3rd party who doesn’t care about the success or failure of a particular film to have the right to tell audiences what content the film contains. If I have a horror film and I’m trying to attract a horror audience, I don’t want the MPAA to put in the rating reason that it’s rated R because of scenes of grisly torture. It shouldn’t take a genius to know that the grisly torture crowd is a heck of a lot smaller than the supernatural terror crowd. In the past films have released a “trailer with this film is not yet rated” card on them rather than accept the MPAA’s rating reason.