Coming Attractions: Trailers as Inspiration

Movie trailers are manipulative and I know it. Out of sequence line cuts that appear to say something different than the real movie scene would say. Pop music. Flashes of iconic imagery that have little to do with the plot.  Famous people scantily clad. There is an element of deception at play.

Often a movie’s trailer is more impressive, moving, amusing, exciting, touching and memorable than the movie itself. Hell, as often as not the movie trailer ends up being about a different movie altogether than the one it is advertising. (Sometimes by accident, but sometimes by design.) Point being, a trailer is a commercial for a movie, not a movie itself. So it will play on your senses and emotions without shame in order to get you to see the movie.

It usually doesn’t work on me. The cinema is expensive, and I have to drive there, and strangers are sitting next to me when I go to them. And gross stuff is on the floor. And strangers are sitting next to me…

So I’m highly selective when it comes to movies I will go see in the cinema itself. I have to be almost “dying” to see a film before I will go see it in the cinema. Most movies don’t inspire me to take such action, and even the best made trailers on earth won’t change my mind.

Despite that, I love trailers. Even to movies I have no intention of seeing. Deceptive as they may be, trailers are an art-form unto themselves, and even though I know what they are trying to do, I allow myself to be pulled in by them. Because when done well, two or three minutes of selling a movie I don’t even want to see can replicate in miniature the experience of watching a whole movie.

This experience is of course more potent in the cinema itself, but I can get a lot from watching trailers online as well. Every few months I’ll head over to Hulu or Yahoo Movies and watch trailers for an hour or more at a time. (Sometimes with the light off for the added cinematic effect.) And you know what happens just about every time I have one of these sessions? Aside from discovering a handful of movies I might actually want to watch, I feel inspired to write afterwards. At least sketch out a new idea for a future project. An hour or so of watching trailers for movies that I may not want to see tends to align my mind and heart to creativity. (Especially after a few independent movie trailers…those are the most effective usually.)

Some trailers are garbage. When I encounter one that is doing nothing for me, I click “next”.  But in most cases the accumulative effect of taking in so many trailers at once makes it worth sitting through a few lousy ones.

Writers, let yourself be manipulated by a trailer. Because in a trailer the supposedly most appealing aspects of the story are thrown into your face for two minutes. It doesn’t matter if the story is not really like the trailer. You don’t plan to see all these movies anyway. The real purpose is to enjoy the trailers for what they are, and to receive an injection of inspiration into your own work.

I’m not suggesting you go out and copy the story someone else wrote for a movie, of course. But if you allow yourself to consume enough of someone elses creativity, your own creativity is bound to benefit. Perhaps you will be inspired to write something that captures the same mood as the trailer. Or there will be an image in it that makes you think of another image that you want to write about. Maybe you can write the story you think the trailer should be. There are all kinds of possibilities.

Watching a whole movie or reading an entire novel has this effect too. I realize that. Yet if you need some quick sparks to jump start your imagination, trailers can  provide something when a novel or entire movie won’t fit into your time budget.

Who knows? Watching a trailer may plant the seed of an idea in your head that will at some point evolve into the coming attraction that everyone else wants to read or see.

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