In this article, we would like to discuss some important components that make an effective trailer. We have compiled several examples of trailers that are powerful and have been effective in enticing the audience. There is no exact formula that makes a trailer work, but you can get some ideas of what strong trailers are made of.
Theatrical Trailer vs Pitch Trailer
What some filmmakers don’t realize is that there is a difference between a theatrical trailer and a pitch trailer. According to Robin Smith, one of the programmers of Hot Docs, pitch trailers are typically longer than theatrical trailers. Pitch trailers are mostly watched by potential financiers, potential collaborators, and people who want to judge whether the film is worth investing. Therefore, in a pitch trailer, you would want to give more information and connect people who want to delve deep in the full story. You’re catering to an entirely different audience who understands more about the world of Documentary and knows what they want in a film that they will fund.
More than marketing: Presenting mood, key message, and main characters
In a DOC NYC Marketing Boot camp, Jeremy Workmana, a Wheelhouse CreativeDoc Filmmaker talks about how trailers are more than a tool for marketing. It’s a key tool that can give your audience the message that you want to tell in the story. You create the characters in the trailer, find the best moment to represent them within a short amount of time.
Our first example is Soil Without Land by Nontawat Numbenchapol. The film participated in Docs By The Sea 2017 and pitched at Pitching du Réel and Docs Port Incheon 2017, winning Best Asian Project.
We chose to share this trailer as it paints the important scene in the life of the characters that best describes the struggle that the soldiers go through in the military training that gives the audience a good sense of what the character is going through. Apart from that, this trailer shows the young soldiers as humans so the audience can connect with them and the audience wants to get to know the soldiers more.
“For over 50 years, a civil war has waged between the Shan, Burma’s largest ethnic minority group, and the Burmese military. As a small child, Jai Sang Lod, his family, and many other Shan families fled to a Shan State Army (SSA) governed village sitting between the borders of Burma and Northern Thailand. Living in a disputed land, undefined as a state, Sang Lod and his family were stuck in the village without any lD or passport.
As the village authority, the SSA ordered a mandatory military training for all young men. Leaving his family behind, Jai Sang Lod is to become a soldier with a lifetime duty to fight for Shan sovereignty and liberation from the Burmese military.
Under the burning sun, the training officer lectures 100 young men on manhood and patriotism. Sang Lod trains alongside his comrades, with each command slowly molding these boys into uniformed men.”
Christine Armstrong, an editor from CharmyEDIT, talked in a 2019 Hot Docs masterclass on Trailers, about what makes a good trailer;
“Really good pacing and being enticing off the bat. Pacing is key. Making it stick and keeping you wanting more, I think, entice and don’t give too much away. Just give enough that you want to continue watching the movie.”
Soil Without Land’s trailer is also very well paced and it paints a great picture of the director’s ability in obtaining multi-layered shots.
The second example we’ll be using is Aswang (2019) by Alyx Ayn Arumpac. This film participated in Docs By The Sea in 2017. The film was pitched and funded by many institutions such as the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program, Berlinale World Cinema Fund, Tan Ean Kim Foundation SGIFF Documentary Grant, IDFA Bertha Fund and more.
We would like to highlight this trailer as it presents clearly the premise of the story from the strong visual imagery, the mood and pacing that we can expect from the film, and a glimpse of characters that would be familiar to us in the film and how they feel about the situation.
“When Rodrigo Duterte is voted president of the Philippines, he sets in motion a machinery of death to execute suspected drug peddlers, users, and small-time criminals. ASWANG follows people whose lives entwine with the growing violence.”
The More the Merrier: get feedbacks, different perspectives, and an editor
Mila Aung-Thwin, a filmmaker who pitches at Hot Docs explained the importance of working with editors on your trailer. It is often too easy for filmmakers to be too engrossed in the project to not realize what the audience will see. Directors often come into the editing room already with a set of scenes that they are attached to and because of that, at times, are unable to see whether it would still be fitting to the bigger picture or not. Therefore, having an outside perspective is key in creating an effective trailer as a storytelling tool.
Another example of a powerful trailer is from a film by Pailin Wedel named “Hope Frozen” . The film was pitched and funded by organizations such as DMZ Docs Fund, Tokyo Docs and Asian Side of the Docs and was the International Documentary Winner in Hot Docs 2019.
In this film, Director Pailin Wedel works with editor Nina Ijäs and several editing consultants in the making of the film, all with different working and cultural backgrounds, which gives the Director new perspectives. Whether you are working on the Trailer or the actual film, it is always good to have an editor or a consultant that can help you give a fresh perspective.
“A two-year-old girl from Bangkok — nicknamed “Einz” — becomes the youngest person in the world to undergo cryo-preservation. After her death from brain cancer, her family sends the girl’s body to an American lab. Her head and brain now rest in a cryonic tank in Arizona.Hope Frozen follows the family who made this life-changing decision.The film weaves personal footage of Einz’s life with observational scenes of the family following her death. It explores the technology that promises to preserve the human mind — and the emotional struggle of a family devoted to reviving their daughter at all costs.”
What to do if there aren’t enough Footages?
However, in the development stage, there are cases where filmmakers haven’t had the budget to start filming. What do you do in this case?
There are cases where filmmakers have created mood reels to show how the film will feel. Some have used archival footage which requires a lot of research but becomes effective to tell the flow of the story and style that the audience can expect the film to be at. This is usually accompanied with a lookbook to showcase the filmmaker’s vision of the film even when nothing has been shot.
However, it is still important for filmmakers to continue making a trailer for the film, especially once they are accepted to participate in a lab/project development program. It is required by Docs By The Sea and IF/Then Southeast Asia for filmmakers to have a pitching trailer ready once the program starts.
In the end, what makes a good and effective trailer truly depends on what individual projects need. However, what we must remember is our trailer, especially in the pitching stage, becomes a promise to the potential funders into what the film that they would fund will become once it is completed. It is essential that the visual material you provide tells the truth about the project and how it will be told by you as a filmmaker.
Sources: Armstrong, Christine, et al. “Kickstart: Let’s Work on Your Trailer.” Hot Docs 2019. Kickstart: Let’s Work on Your Trailer, 2019, Canada, Canada.
Schalk, Jennifer. “SPECIAL TOPIC: DOC NYC PRO Marketing Boot Camp.” The D-Word, DocNYC, 13 Apr. 2017, www.d-word.com/topics/250-SPECIAL-TOPIC-DOC-NYC-PRO-Marketing-Boot-Camp?post=348621&show_context=true&ss=good+trailer#post_348621.