What We Can Learn From Movie Trailers

Movie trailers have a notorious reputation for giving everything away. They show you the plot, they show you the high points of drama, and they show you the turning points. We go to the movies to engage with a story, and while it seems as though they’re showing everything in the trailer, people continual to pour into the theaters to see these movies. These trailers are designed to merely show you the events, not the story. We can do the same with our work and our writing: Show the events to reel people in, and then show the story to create a connection.

Because the events aren’t what make a story, and they certainly aren’t what make a movie. The events are like the structure, while the story is in the details. The story is what’s not shown and the viewers have to fill in themselves. The story is in the very specific dialogue of a character. The story is in their tone of voice and delivery. The story is in their eye movements and subtle body language. The story is in how a character is developed. The story is in how you become connected to some characters and not to others. The story has less to do with what events happen and more to do with all of the detail surrounding those events.

Most people have one of these problems:
  1. They’re only putting out movie trailers, as in they’re merely showing the events and not letting people into the actual story
  2. They’re not showing enough in their trailers and they can’t reel people in because they’re afraid that they’re giving away the story
Movie Trailer Syndrome

Let’s tackle the first problem because that one tends to be the most common. Metaphorically speaking, are you solely creating movie trailers? It’s extremely easy to create a movie trailer, something that shows the events and looks like a finished product, but it’s extremely difficult to create an entire movie, something that develops an actual story that’ll resonate and connect with your audience.

Here’s how you know if you’re creating movie trailers: Is there more to what you’re sharing than what’s on the surface? Movie trailers have surface value, but they lack depth. That’s a common occurrence when it comes to the work we create. There’s surface value, but nothing for people to truly connect and engage with. Movie trailers may show you what happens, but the story reveals why it happened. With your work and what you’re sharing, does your audience know why it matters? An even better question is, does it matter?

You should be writing about your work. You should be letting people into the story—the story of why it exists and the story it’s relevance now, where it is, and how it lives. It’s one thing to display the work you’ve created, but it’s another to show how people interact with it, how it makes them feel, how it improved another system, or even how it’s sustaining.

Movie Trailer Phobia

The second problem stems from a fear of sharing too much of the story. This usually results in either a crappy trailer or never creating a trailer at all. It’s understandable to be afraid of sharing too much or potentially sharing the wrong things, but here’s something to consider:

We know the structure of nearly every movie and every story. We know the roles of the protagonists and antagonists. We almost always know the plot. So why do we continually go to see them? Why do we see a movie if we can likely predict the outcome? Because the structure is there solely for the story to exist—the structure gives the story a foundation to craft details upon and to make it unique. Most movies have the same underlying structure, but what matters and the reason why we go to see them is to experience the details of the story.

In order to reel people in, you can apply the same tactics that movie trailers use. You’ve got to show them the events, almost as if you’re giving everything away, but leave enough so they’ll want to see the parts that are missing—that’s where the story is. We recognize the events like the plot and the conclusion, but the parts we remember and enjoy the most are the details. It’s very difficult to give too much away when you have an actual story to tell. It’s not uncommon for movies to produce up to 5 different movie trailers nowadays.

Oh, can you imagine that—it’s the last paragraph of this article. What do you think will happen? You’ve made it this far and you’re still reading. Do you think I’ll use this time to reiterate my points and wrap everything up? Most likely, because like most articles the last paragraph serves as a conclusion that’ll wrap things up or leave you with a call to action. This is no different. This may have a structure to it, but you came for the story—for the details. Now figure out if you’re only creating movie trailers, or if you aren’t giving your audience enough of the events to actually draw them in.