Captions and Trailer Length… Less is More

By watching eight movie trailers and four recut trailers, I learned that shot length for both is short—most shots transition within a matter of seconds. This is especially true for action, horror, and thriller movies and the recuts of Mary Poppins, The Notebook, and Mrs. Doubtfire, which attempt to convey frantic, fearful emotions. The quick transitions in each film leads to an overall fast-paced visual experience, which allows viewers to get a good idea for what the film is about without becoming bored or uninterested.

I also noticed that the shot length and overall length of the trailers for recent films is shorter than that of older films—the longest trailer I found was that of West Side Story (1961), at 3:54. Following closely behind were My Fair Lady’s (1964) trailer at 3:54, and Romeo and Juliet’s (1968) trailer at 3:44. Modern movie trailers are rarely, if ever that long. The average length of the trailers that I watched was around two minutes, while the average recut trailer length was around a minute and thirty seconds.

Music and sound effects also played a big role in determining the genre of the film. In the Dumb and Dumber recut, a singer/songwriter guitar song played softly in the background, setting a warm, romantic tone. This was the main factor that changed the movie from a slapstick comedy to a romantic drama. In Scary Mary, the ominous sounding bells and the minor lullaby song are the primary factors that make the film appear to be a horror film. Music also saved the recut filmmakers the trouble of synching audio with dialogue, which can be a difficult process. Of the trailers that I did see with audio/dialogue synchronization, the lips moved slightly slower than the audio.

While the film trailers were usually narrated by a smooth, bass-voiced man, the recut trailers were normally narrated by captions. The recuts would often show a few shots from the film, and then transition to a black screen with white letters. The best recut trailers refrained from doing this too often. The largest amount of captions that I found was five, in a mediocre recut trailer of the film Psycho. I also found that the longer the captions were, the less interested I became in the film. The Psycho recut told the story primarily through captions, which was not very effective. When used in moderation, however, captions seemed to be an effective way of narrating that which could not be narrated with film clips. The best recuts, such as those of Mary Poppins and The Notebook used short captions in a way that did not distract from the story, and made the trailers appear to be real rather than fan-made.

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