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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Trailers or previews are film advertisements for feature films that will be exhibited in the future at a cinema, on whose screen they are shown. The term "trailer" comes from their having originally been shown at the end of a feature film screening.[1] That practice did not last long, because patrons tended to leave the theater after the films ended, but the name has stuck. Trailers are now shown before the film (or the A movie in a double feature program) begins.

Movie trailers have now become extremely popular on the Internet. Of some 10-billion videos watched online annually, movie trailers rank #3, after news and user-created video.[2]



The first trailer shown in a U.S. movie theater was in November 1913, when Nils Granlund, the advertising manager for the Marcus Loew theater chain, produced a short promotional film for the musical The Pleasure Seekers, opening at the Winter Garden Theatre on Broadway. Loew adopted the practice, which was reported in a wire service story carried by the Lincoln (NE) Daily Star, describing it as "an entirely new and unique stunt," and that "moving pictures of the rehearsals and other incidents connected with the production will be sent out in advance of the show, to be presented to the Loew’s picture houses and will take the place of much of the bill board advertising."[3] Granlund was also first to introduce trailer material for an upcoming motion picture, using a slide technique to promote an upcoming film featuring Charlie Chaplin at Loew's Seventh Avenue Theatre in Harlem in 1914.[4] Up until the late 1950s, trailers were mostly created by National Screen Service and consisted of various key scenes from the film being advertised, often augmented with large, descriptive text describing the story, and an underscore generally pulled from studio music libraries. Most trailers had some form of narration and those that did featured stentorian voices.

In the early 1960s, the face of motion picture trailers changed. Textless, montage trailers and quick-editing became popular, largely due to the arrival of the "new Hollywood" and techniques that were becoming increasingly popular in television. Among the trend setters were Stanley Kubrick with his montage trailers for Lolita, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Kubrick's main inspiration for the Dr. Strangelove trailer was the short film "Very Nice, Very Nice" by Canadian film visionary Arthur Lipsett. In 1964, Andrew J. Kuehn distributed his independently-produced trailer for Night of the Iguana, using stark, high-contrast photography, fast-paced editing and a provocative narration by a young James Earl Jones. His format was so successful, he began producing this new form of trailer with partner Dan Davis.

Kuehn opened the west coast office of Kaleidoscope Films in 1968 and Kuehn and his company became a major player in the trailer industry for the next three decades. As Hollywood began to produce bigger blockbuster films and invest more money in marketing them, directors like Steven Spielberg, Oliver Stone and Barbra Streisand began to depend on Kuehn and Kaleidoscope for their ability to create the best trailers theater-goers could see. Kuehn alumni include leading trailer makers and marketing creatives. Top trailer companies have all been run by former Kaleidoscope creatives, like The Cimarron Group (Chris Arnold), Ant Farm, Aspect Ratio (Mark Trugman), Trailer Park (Benedict Coulter) and Motor Entertainment, run by Greg McClatchy, who previously headed up the film marketing division at 20th Century Fox. Michael Camp headed the trailer department at Paramount Pictures, Tom Kennedy at MGM, Jeff Werner and Vince Arcaro all started their own successful trailer companies and Bob Harper began his career as a messenger at Kaleidoscope before becoming a producer and quickly Vice-Chairman of Fox Filmed Entertainment and, in 2007, Chairman of Regency Entertainment. Top industry trailer composer John Beal credits his career success to the thirty-year collaboration with Kuehn and their revolutionary approach of creating original scores using a whole new musical template.[5]

In earlier decades of cinema, trailers were only one part of the entertainment which included cartoon shorts and serial adventure episodes. These earlier trailers were much shorter and often consisted of little more than title cards and stock footage. Today, longer, more elaborate trailers and commercial advertisements have replaced other forms of pre-feature entertainment and in major multiplex chains, about the first twenty minutes after the posted showtime is devoted to trailers.


Trailers consist of a series of selected shots from the film being advertised. Since the purpose of the trailer is to attract an audience to the film, these excerpts are usually drawn from the most exciting, funny, or otherwise noteworthy parts of the film but in abbreviated form and usually without producing spoilers. For this purpose the scenes are not necessarily in the order in which they appear in the film. A trailer has to achieve that in less than two and a half minutes, the maximum length allowed by theaters. Each studio or distributor is allowed to exceed this time limit once a year, if they feel it is necessary for a particular film.[6]

Some trailers use "special shoot" footage, which is material that has been created specifically for advertising purposes and does not appear in the actual film. The most notable film to use this technique was Terminator 2: Judgment Day, whose trailer featured elaborate special effects scenes that were never intended to be in the film itself. Dimension Films also shot extra scenes for their 2006 horror remake, Black Christmas - these scenes were used in promotional footage for the film, but are similarly absent from the theatrical release. A trailer for the 2002 blockbuster Spider-Man had an entire action sequence especially constructed that involved escaping bank robbers in a helicopter getting caught in a giant web between the World Trade Center's two towers. However, after the September 11, 2001 attacks the studio pulled it from theaters.

One of the most famous "special shoot" trailers is that used for the 1960s thriller Psycho, which featured director Alfred Hitchcock giving viewers a guided tour of the Bates Motel, eventually arriving at the infamous shower. At this point, the soft-spoken Hitchcock suddenly throws the shower curtain back to reveal Vera Miles with a blood-curdling scream. As the trailer, in fact, was made after completion of the film when Janet Leigh was no longer available for filming, Hitchcock had Miles don a blonde wig for the fleeting sequence. Since the title, "Psycho," instantly covers most of the screen, the switch went unnoticed by audiences for years until freeze-frame analysis clearly revealed that it was Vera Miles and not Janet Leigh in the shower during the trailer.

There are dozens of companies that specialize in the creation of movie trailers in Los Angeles and New York. The trailer may be created at agencies (such as The Cimarron Group, MOJO, The Ant Farm, Aspect Ratio, Flyer Entertainment, Trailer Park) while the movie itself is being cut together at the studio. Since the edited movie does not exist at this point, the trailer editors work from rushes or dailies. Thus, the trailer may contain footage that is not in the final movie, or the trailer editor and the movie editor may use different takes of a particular shot. Another common technique is including music on the trailer which does not appear on the movie's soundtrack. This is nearly always a requirement, as trailers and teasers are created long before the composer has even been hired for the film score — sometimes as much as a year ahead of the movie's release date — while composers are usually the last creative people to work on the film. (see Music, below)

Some trailers that incorporate material not in the movie are particularly coveted by collectors, especially trailers for classic films. For example, in a trailer for Casablanca the character Rick Blaine says, "OK, you asked for it!" before shooting Major Strasser, an event that does not occur in the final film.

Parts of a trailer

Trailers tell the story of a movie in a highly condensed fashion that must have maximum appeal. In the decades since movie marketing has become a large industry, trailers have become highly polished pieces of advertising, able to present even poor movies in an attractive light. Some of the elements common to many trailers are listed below. Trailers are typically made up of scenes from the film they are promoting, but sometimes contain deleted scenes from the film.


Plot summary

Most trailers have a three-act structure similar to a feature-length film. They start with a beginning (act 1) that lays out the premise of the story. The middle (act 2) drives the story further and usually ends with a dramatic climax. Act 3 usually features a strong piece of "signature music" (either a recognizable song or a powerful, sweeping orchestral piece). This last act often consists of a visual montage of powerful and emotional moments of the film and may also contain a cast run if there are noteworthy stars that could help sell the movie.


Voice-over narration is used to briefly set up the premise of the movie and provide explanation when necessary ("In a world..."). Since the trailer is a highly condensed format, voice-over is a useful tool to enhance the audience's understanding of the plot. Some of the best-known, modern-day trailer voice-over artists are the late Don LaFontaine, Hal Douglas, Mark Elliot, Corey Burton, George DelHoyo, Peter Cullen, Ashton Smith, Jim Cummings, Ben Patrick Johnson, and Brian Cummings. Classic voice-over artists in movie trailers of the 1950s and 1960s included Art Gilmore, Knox Manning, Reed Hadley, Fred Foy, Karl Weber, and Bob Marcato. Hollywood trailers of the classic film era were renowned for clichés such as "Colossal!", "Stupendous!", etc. Some trailers have used voice over clichés for satirical effect. This can be seen in trailers for films such as Jerry Seinfeld's Comedian and Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny.[7][8]


Music helps set the tone and mood of the trailer. Usually the music used in the trailer is not from the film itself (the film score may not have been composed yet). The music used in the trailer may be:

Cast, crew, and studio information

  • A cast run is a list of the stars that appear in the movie. If the director or producer is well-known or has made other popular movies, they often warrant a mention as well. Most trailers conclude with a billing block, which is a list of the principal cast and crew. It is the same list that appears on posters and print publicity materials, and also usually appears on-screen at the beginning (or end) of the movie.
  • Studio production logos are usually featured near the beginning of the trailer. Until the late 1970s, they were put only at the end of the trailer. Often there will be logos for both the production company and distributor of the film.

Technical elements

  • Sound mix: many movie trailers are presented in Dolby Digital or any other multichannel sound mix. Scenes including sound effects and music that are enhanced by stereophonic sound are therefore the focus point of many modern trailers.
  • Video resolution: movie trailers preceding feature films are generally presented in the same format as the feature, being in general terms 35mm film or a digital format. High bandwidth internet connections allow for trailers to be distributed at any resolution up to 1080p.

United States MPAA rating cards

These rating cards appear at the head of movie trailers in the United States. For information about the MPAA ratings, see Motion Picture Association of America film rating system. The MPAA mandates that theatrical trailers not exceed two minutes and thirty seconds in length, and each major studio is given one exception to this rule per year. There are no time restrictions concerning internet and home video trailers.

The red band trailer title card for the film Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

A green band is an all-green graphic at the beginning of the trailer. Until April 2009, these cards read: "The following PREVIEW has been approved for ALL AUDIENCES by the Motion Picture Association of America," and often include the movie's MPAA rating G,PG,PG-13. This signifies that the trailer adheres to the standards for motion picture advertising outlined by the MPAA, which includes limitations on foul language and violent, sexual, or otherwise objectionable imagery. In April 2009, the MPAA began to permit the green band language to say that the trailer is approved for "appropriate" audiences. (for example, the trailers of 2012, Iron Man 2, Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant, Zombieland and Where the Wild Things Are). This means that the material in the trailer will be appropriate for audiences in theaters, based on the content of the movie they have come to see.

A yellow band is a yellow graphic that reads "The following PREVIEW has been approved ONLY for AGE-APPROPRIATE internet users by the Motion Picture Association of America" (for example, the trailers for Halloween, Burn After Reading and The Strangers).

Trailers that do not adhere to these guidelines may be issued a red band, which reads "The following PREVIEW has been approved for RESTRICTED AUDIENCES ONLY by the Motion Picture Association of America" or "The following PREVIEW has been approved for MATURE AUDIENCES ONLY by the Motion Picture Association of America," and may only be shown before an R-rated, NC-17-rated, or unrated movie. These trailers include nudity, profanity and other material deemed inappropriate for children.[10] The Amityville Horror, Saw, Pineapple Express, Superbad, My Best Friend's Girl, Bruno, Kick-Ass (film), Inglorious Basterds, Tropic Thunder, Not Another Teen Movie, Falling, MacGruber, Adventureland, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Jackass: The Movie, Legion, Black Dynamite, Jennifer's Body and Cop Out carry this banner.[11] Due in part to the rising popularity of red band trailers, Regal Entertainment Group announced on March 2008 that they would begin allowing red band trailers to play in their theaters.[12] With the demand for restricted trailers on the rise, the MPAA had to quickly decide how to control red band trailers that appeared online. The MPAA requires that all red band trailers open to an Age gate, which theoretically prevents underage users from watching, however not regulated.

Awards for trailers

Every year there are two main events that give awards to outstanding movie trailers: The Key Art Awards, presented by the Hollywood Reporter, and The Golden Trailer Awards. While the Golden Trailer Awards allow only trailers to be entered in the competition, the Key Art Awards pick winners in all creative parts of movie advertising, from trailers and TV spots to posters and print ads. The yearly Key Art Awards ceremony is often held at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood.

See also


  1. ^ Gfactor (2007-11-06). "Why are they called "trailers" if they're shown before the movie?". The Straight Dope. 
  2. ^ "AWFJ Opinion Poll: All About Movie Trailers". AWFJ. 2008-05-09. 
  3. ^ “Movies Score on Legit in New York;” Lincoln (NE) Daily Star; November 9, 1913; Page 25
  4. ^ Blondes, Brunettes, and Bullets, Granlund, N.T.; Van Rees Press, NY, 1957, Page 53
  5. ^ Andrew J. Kuehn, Jr. biography
  6. ^ "Trailer music." SoundtrackNet, LLC. 30 April 2009. <>
  7. ^ Comedian trailer
  8. ^ YouTube: Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny trailer
  9. ^ a b [1]
  10. ^ "Cat-and-Mouse for a Trashy Trailer". New York Times. February 23, 2010. Retrieved 2010-02-24. "Movie marketers in recent years have increasingly relied on raunchy ads known as “red-band” trailers to stir interest in their films. While most trailers are approved for broad audiences by the Motion Picture Association of America, the red-labeled variety usually include nudity, profanity and other material deemed inappropriate for children. Many theaters refuse to run these trailers, but they are widely distributed online — and that is at the root of the current dust-up." 
  11. ^ Amityville trailer
  12. ^ "Regal to Allow Red Band Trailers". CanMag. Retrieved 2008-03-17. 

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