Script Coverage Chronicles – August 2015: Should You Write The Trailer For Your Screenplay?

I recently took on a small but very interesting assignment for a production company I’d worked with before.  The assignment was to write the trailer for a movie BEFORE the screenplay was written.  The idea was to produce the trailer in order to convince a particular studio to make the whole film. 

Producing a trailer as a sales tool is not a new idea; it’s been done before, but I think usually AFTER a script has been completed.  It got me thinking that, even if you have no plans to produce it, writing a trailer first -- before the screenplay -- might be a great way to test every idea a writer has. 

Here are a few reasons why that may be true:

Trailers Crystalize Story

We’ve all seen lots of trailers.  They’re short -- usually not more than two and a half minutes.  That’s not much time.  And within that time limit, a trailer has to explain what the story is about AND demonstrate why that story is worth watching.  Due to these serous time constraints, just about every good trailer manages to give its audience a clear sense of the storyline very quickly, so it can move on to selling that story to the viewing public. 

If you have an overly complex premise that you can’t squish into trailer format, you might not have a viable movie idea.  Does that mean you should abandon the project?  Not necessarily.  If you choose to write a trailer before tackling your script and you realize your story isn’t coming across easily, you’ll get the chance to simplify your concept prior to wasting a lot of time and effort. 

Trailers Highlight Key Characters

Trailers need to focus on the main characters of a film.  There isn’t time to delve into the lives of minor players.  For that reason, writing a trailer can help you figure out which few characters really matter. 

It also helps you figure out which role each character is playing, because if your characters aren’t playing clearly defined roles in your trailer, they’re probably going to be murky in your script.

Trailers Establish Tone

Trailers are usually crystal clear about tone.  You can often tell from the first few notes of music what the general tone of the film is going to be. 

If you’re having trouble zeroing in on the right tone for your screenplay, try writing the trailer and then imagining what songs would accompany it.  The trailer and its soundtrack can then serve as a reminder throughout the scripting process of the consistent tone you want to keep.

Trailers Are Excellent Litmus Tests

The thing about trailers is that they’re highlight reels.  They’re meant to show some of the best moments and lines of dialogue in a movie.  Writing a trailer first forces you as a writer to ask yourself: What are the truly entertaining elements of this story that make it worth writing (and watching)?

And you can get feedback on your trailer script.  If you have the money to produce it, that’s great.  But you don’t have to produce it.  You can ask trusted sources to give you an opinion on your very brief trailer script.  If it’s not a movie people would want to see, isn’t it good to know that BEFORE you write the whole thing?

So after that great new movie idea pops into your head, why not spend some time scripting the trailer?  It just might help you figure out what your idea really is and point you in all the right directions.