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Using film trailers

Genre and narrative structure

Film trailers are also an engaging means to teaching fiction genres and narrative structure.  It is important that genre is established in a trailer as it grabs the attention of audiences that studios know will want to see the film.  If it’s a fantasy then fans of that genre will want to see your films more than the very different audience demographic who will be more interested in then latest romantic comedy.  The trailer’s voiceover or text on screen will sometimes quite overtly compare a new film to a previous, successful film that the studio released in the same genre (e.g. "From the people who bought you…").   Of course, when choosing moments from the film the film studio will often choose a range of sequences (action, romance, comedy) to show that their film has ‘something for everyone’.

Typical narrative structure is often broken down in this way:

  1. Opening: establishes setting and introduces character
  2. Build up: Relationships established. Development of characters and their world
  3. Problem: a dilemma or series of complications.  Characters are faced with an obstacle to overcome a mystery to solve, or often more than one
  4. Events: a series of events/action as characters try to overcome obstacle, solve problem, discover truth and so on.  Further complications may arise in the process
  5. Resolution: the protagonists are victorious, problems are solved, truth revealed
  6. Ending: characters reflect on events, reinstate relationships and look forward.

The narrative structure of a film trailer could be simply shortened to this:

  • Opening
  • Build Up
  • Problem
  • Events

Occasionally people complain that film trailers give far too much away.  An effective trailer avoids any suggestion of resolution and ending, perhaps just a hint that the protagonist is going to learn an important lesson.  The intention is to leave audiences wanting more, not feeling they have seen all the ‘best bits’ already.  The key events are often put in non-chronological order so the actual film will not be too predictable.