How to "read" a trailer

On the first day of my graduate seminar on trailers, I hand out a one page document entitled, “How to Read A Trailer.”

I’ve reprinted it here, for you. Basically, it’s a catechism, directing you to analyze (breakdown) a dense, noisy, seductive, exciting trailer into its component parts. Not all of the questions are relevant to every trailer, but were you to watch a trailer (and watch and re-watch and re-watch it) and formulate answers to the questions below, you would have generated a quantity of data upon which to base an interpretation, assert a claim or offer a judgment. I’m not saying that learning how to “read a trailer” will make you want to see the films they promote, but the technique should help you appreciate how much thought and labor and creativity goes into the manufacture of its preview and “sample.”



(Directions: Watch the trailer repeatedly, noting what you see, hear and understand. Use the worksheet to capture “data.” Use the data to articulate an interpretation or a reading of it.)

Name _____________Year_______________Length _________

Exhibition Medium__________

1. Formal Properties:

# of acts/parts? ___________ # of Music Cues? _____________ Describe?

Editing speed (cuts/second) ___________

Shot types (close, med, long, pan, still, motion, zoom in/out, etc.) ________________

Transition types (wipe, dissolve, fade, smash, etc.) ____________

Use of graphic elements?_________ If yes, describe.

Use of words on screen?________ If yes, describe and transcribe.

Use of voice over?_______If yes, describe and transcribe. (Diegetic or extra-diegetic?)

Is there an onscreen host? __________ If so, describe.

Is there a cast run? _________________(Is there mention of Producer, Director, Writer?)

Describe the title sequence or design.___________

What KIND of trailer is it? ___________(Featurette? TV Spot, Internet? Mobile Phone; Long Trailer; re-release; DVD, Standard theatrical; teaser, sequel; special shoot, etc?)

Story Presentation: _____________ (Linear? Non-Linear?)

2. By content:

What is the story? (as far as you can tell).

What diegetic appeals does it make?_______(Stars? Spectacle? Genre? Story? Technology?)

3. What extra diegetic appeals does it make to an audience?_________

(Provenance, Critical Reception, Audience response/box office figures, technology)

4. What film craft/specialized skills are most salient?

Editing___________________ Copywriting_________ Music Librarian__________Graphic design__________ Market Research_________Sound design____________ Acting/Directing/Cinematography/FX (of film itself)_________

5. Marketing Issues:

Who ARE the audiences presumed by the trailer makers?__________

What is the relationship of the trailer to the film it markets? (Descriptive? Impressionistic? Accurate? Deceptive? Concealing? Tell All? Etc.) ____________

What appears to be the “marketing brief” that produced this trailer? ___________

Is this trailer effective? If so, why? __________________

In what ways does this trailer miss the mark?_____________

6. Exhibition Technology:

Aspect ratio and destined exhibition venue_______ (wide screen? Letterbox? & Mobile/Ipod? Ipad? TV, Screen?) ________

7. Music and Sound Design

What are the music cues? How do they help structure the trailer?

What information do they convey? (Rhythm, mood, lyrical content?)

Consider the sound design and sound effects. What do they tell you about structure and mood?

8. Emotion/Persuasion/Argument

What claims does the trailer make?

What psychological qualities does the trailer engage? What emotional triggers does it pull? ____________

Is the argument of the trailer logical? emotional? rhetorical? Coherent? ________________

9. Miscellaneous:

What do you know about the film’s reception? (B.O.? Context? Critical response?)

What is the tone or attitude of the trailer? ______________

What do you like (or dislike) about this trailer? _________ Why?________________

Creative Commons License
movietrailers101 by Fred Greene is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *