One reoccurring theme I’m seeing in comments from fans thus far, about the amazing trailer, is how happy they are that it doesn’t spoil the movie. Because that’s become a serious problem in recent years. The trailer companies — and if you didn’t know, it’s very often a separate and dedicated company that does nothing but do trailer for films, rather than the director or someone else actually working on the movie — are paid to put butts in seats. Most of them interpret that mandate to spelling out a good portion of the movie’s plot and reveals, step by step. Thus, taking away a lot of the fun that could otherwise be had when you see the movie.
Now, let’s be honest. A ‘surprise’ is really hard to pull off these days. Everyone’s online, including film crews. Those crews number in the hundreds, thousands really once you add all the office people and administrative folks and everyone else who works for all the delivery companies, studio offices, individual contractor offices, the craft services folks, people who deliver things to set or guard it or might just happen to be walking by at the ‘wrong’ moment. For example, as bad as the film otherwise was, having Arnold as a surprise reveal in Terminator Genisys would have been a thrill. But they put it right into the trailer. And, still being honest, getting Arnold on set to shoot that scene without anyone tweeting or texting or snapping photos or commenting on Redditt or gossiping at the bar or any of the tens of thousands of other ways word can spread . . . very tough.
But, that aside, we’re still left with the basic problem of how so many trailers tell you so much that actually seeing the movie is a letdown. A common joke for a long time now has been that all the ‘best’ jokes for a comedy go into the trailer. For action and effects films, the ‘best’ shots go into the trailer. For a romance, the couple’s kiss will usually be there to get hearts pitter-pattering. When you add a full outline of the story atop all that, it starts to be clear why so many fans get disgruntled.
So, hats off to Disney and Lucasfilm and JJ Abrams for keeping a lid on things and giving us just the sort of taster that we want. Whetting and honing our appetites, but not serving any of the courses. The trailer is a great piece of work that is whipping an already fevered frenzy even higher.
A lot of what they’ve done with The Force Awakens trailer can be studied by authors when it comes to handling blurbs. A lot of writers do all the wrong things with their blurbs. They spoil their books. They use the blurb to summarize the plot, giving readers a step-by-step walkthrough of the story. These blurbs are invariably ineffective at the purpose; attracting readers.
Much like a trailer, a blurb is supposed to be a hook. Cover hooks to the title and blurb, which hooks to the first sentence, to the first paragraph, to the first page, and if you’ve got someone still reading at the end of the first page your odds are pretty good you’ll get them wanting to finish the chapter. By the end of that chapter, if they were going to be a buyer they’ll click and receive. And the first piece of writing that delivers them to your sales column is the blurb.
Obviously we haven’t seen Force Awakens yet, so a full-on academic comparison between the finished film and what the trailer did (and didn’t) tell us will have to wait until after the 17th of December. But anyone who studies the trailer now should be able to see what it’s doing. It sets the scene and tone, shows us some looks at our heroes and villain, and promises a lot of action and thrills and drama. Blurbs should do the same, and more or less work the same regardless of genre. A action adventure or political thriller will have explosions and guns and fights and so forth; but a romance or courtroom drama will still have conflict and juicy stuff that fans of those types of stories are looking for.
Loglines, elevator pitches, we’ve talked about them in relation to blurbs before. And I still hold Sixth Sense as a good example. You could describe the story like this:
A child psychologist works with the troubled preteen son of a struggling single mother, while trying to deal with his own relationship issues.
Or you could go more along the lines of what we actually saw used:
A little boy sees ghosts. They talk to him. They have problems and are angry. And they want him to help.
Just off the cuff examples, but they should give a reasonable idea of the look-and-feel that a good blurb should have. One is clinical and dry, the other is more evocative and tone-oriented. You want your blurb to paint emotions and images in your audience, make them think about the story. When it does that, you’re raising interest, you’re hooking people. You’re making them want to know more.
When in doubt, go for evocation and images.
Between now and December, I’ll be watching the new Star Wars trailer about a hundred more times. If you struggle with your blurbs, see if some extra viewings of it don’t spark a little bit of ah-ha for you.