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How To Build Anticipation In Your Next Trailer

It’s a very simple idea that will govern almost every single aspect of your trailer: nothing should fully resolve.

How many trailers have you seen where the main character jumps off of a building or a cliff and, while they’re hanging in midair, we cut to the main title?

This is an in-your-face use of unresolution. We never see the hero land. We don’t know how the moment ends. And, when you think about it, that’s the essence of what a trailer is.

But the concept can be carried further than just the final moment. It can be used every step of the way.

Mini Scenes

Trailers are made up of many small sequences. These are like mini scenes (sometimes only 2 or 3 shots in length) that tell a quick “story” before moving on to another mini scene.

The key here is to keep each short sequence unresolved. If the hero is fighting a bunch of bad guys, you might show a rapid exchange of blows and then cut to an explosion from a different area of the movie.

In a horror film, the scary monster approaches from the shadows behind our protagonist.

Our hair stands on end as the creature creeps closer and closer. With a SCREECH it suddenly LUNGES forward and we– cut to a graphic card that says “This Halloween” and move on to a different part of the story.

You can see how using unresolved moments throughout a trailer will keep the audience engaged and interested. It is a natural human need to find out how something ends. To seek closure.

TrailerEditing_7Jump

Un-resolution at work: “Maybe he’s got a parachute hidden beneath those medieval robes?”

Making Promises

Trailers are, in many ways, a series of promises made to the audience.

If it’s a comedy, we promise this movie will make you laugh. If it’s action, we promise it will be exciting. Dramas assure the viewer that they will feel the emotion.

But there are other guarantees to be made as well.

The audience wants to know how the fight with the bad guys will end, if the monster will be defeated or how the hero survives that incredibly long drop.

It is the trailer’s job to make the promises but it is the film’s job keep those commitments. If you want closure, if you want to see how it ends, you have to go see the movie.

This is also a good way to think about what each shot, each line of dialogue and each mini scene in your trailer is accomplishing. For every moment, you can ask the question: what is this promising to the audience?

So, how does this tie-in with unresolution?

It is the trailer’s job to make the promises but it is the film’s job keep those commitments. If you want closure, if you want to see how it ends, you have to go see the movie.

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