Everybody knows the Golden Globes and the Oscars. But last week was an entertainment awards show you likely don’t know: the Golden Trailer Awards.
Since 1999, the Golden Trailer Awards are given out each year to honor the best movie trailers. This year’s ceremony was on May 31st, and the big winner was Black Panther, winning Best in Show, Best Action, Best Action TV Spot, and Best Music TV Spot.
Whether that particular trailer blew you away, we’ve all seen movie trailers that “wowed” us, whether it’s something action-packed or a sentimental tear-jerker. And we see a lot more trailers than actual movies—since for every movie you see, you get multiple trailers alongside!
When you think about it, what is a movie trailer, really? It’s a brief pitch to get you to go see a movie, whether it’s a 30-second television ad, a 2-minute full trailer, or a 5-second mobile spot. Each of those trailers you see is trying to stand out from the crowd of films and get you to pay (a lot of) money to sit in a theater and watch the full movie. They have a limited amount of time to make the strongest case possible, and if you see a lot of movie trailers it’s impressive just how creative people have gotten at it.
For comparison, go watch an old movie trailer. Here’s Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, for example:
Admittedly this isn’t necessarily representative, but the trailer is more than 6 minutes long, and the whole thing is Alfred Hitchcock himself walking around the set making these cryptic statements, while jaunty, lilting music accompanies him from room to room. This is an all-time horror-suspense film, and the trailer is completely alien to what you’re expecting as a modern movie-watcher (right up until the last 30 seconds).
Compare that to any trailer coming out today, and it will be much shorter, composed entirely (or almost) of images and clips from the film, cut together in a dramatic way, with an appropriate musical backing that tells you what kind of movie this is. The trailer is a piece of art all unto itself, just like the actual film. The creators are trying to leave you with a memorable image, a lasting impression of what the movie is and why you should see it.
Modern filmmakers are dealing with a lot of challenges: shorter attention spans, new media channels, etc. But those are also challenges you face in any business. So there are a few key takeaways for you to consider from thinking about movie trailers.
Be Where Your Audience Is
If you go see an action-adventure movie, you’re going to mostly see trailers for other action-adventure movies. Go see a comedy, you’ll see trailers for other comedies. It’s similar for new media. If you’re watching a funny clip online, you’re more likely to get an ad for a comedy. Looking at something serious, you’re more likely to get an ad for a serious drama.
The point is, when you’re going to make a pitch to someone, it has to be in an appropriate setting, where their mind is in the right place. You can have a great pitch, but if you’re making it to someone who is in a completely different mental state, focused on very different things, you’re going to have a tougher time connecting than making that same pitch in a setting where the person you’re talking to is focused on you and is already thinking about the kinds of things you’re talking about.
Deliver on the Pitch
What you can deliver has to match what you’re pitching. One of the categories at the Golden Trailer Awards show is the “Golden Fleece,” which the show’s website describes this way:
“It honors a GREAT trailer for a not so great film.”
This year’s winner was The Meg:
Put less delicately, it honors the best trailer for a bad movie, where the people producing the trailer were able to make people want to see something even though the actual end product was terrible. And, creatively, kudos to those producers and editors for making lemonade out of lemons, but if you’re an actual audience member, that leaves you really disappointed. Whenever you see the next movie in that series coming out, or the next film by that director, you’re suddenly a lot more skeptical, no matter how good the trailer is.
Or from another angle, maybe you’ve seen videos where people produce new trailers for old movies, but they’ve used modern editing techniques to make the movie appear to be in a completely different genre. Change up the lighting and colors, speed up the cuts and transitions, add some dark music and sound effects, and bam, Mary Poppins is a horror movie now!
Except, of course, it isn’t, when you actually watch the real movie. Those recut trailers can be really funny, but in the real world, don’t be dishonest about what you’re selling, either by misrepresenting what you’re pitching or by overselling and making promises you can’t possibly deliver on. That’ll hurt you in the long run.
Tailor You Pitch to the Situation
A movie trailer in the theater might be two minutes long, but the television ad is just 30 seconds. And the online and mobile ads can be even shorter! The length of the trailer is connected to the medium. Limiting to 30 seconds in a theater wouldn’t be enough, and a 2-minute trailer in a mobile app is going to be too much and drive people crazy! So a movie can’t just have one trailer, it has to have different ones, of different lengths, for different situations.
That’s how you have to approach your pitches, too. Sometimes you have more time and you can give the person you’re talking to a long, full pitch. Sometimes you’ve got just a quick minute and have to give an abbreviated pitch. And sometimes you have just a few seconds to state what you do. You have to be prepared for each situation, with messages that effectively communicate you and your business.