This post originally appeared in my Sunday newsletter where I talk about trailers. If you like these posts, please subscribe!
by Mark Woollen & Associates
Little Children has a fantastic, unconventional trailer with great visual cuts; instead of music it uses creative thematically cohesive sound design. The spine of the trailer is the sound of a train; at first you hear a train horn in the distance gradually getting closer, then it climaxes at a train crossing with the sound of warning bells, and the wheels passing over the tracks.
The horns are functionally similar to Inception BRAAAAAAAMs. They're distributed pretty evenly in the trailer, between 9 to 11 seconds apart. Just like big hits in a music cue or Inception BRAAAAAAAMs, they punctuate the dialogue, and stand up as their own moments. The train horns serve a dual purpose of increasing the tension as the train gets closer and closer.
The visuals at the beginning set up the characters in their separate worlds. Kate Winslet with her daughter, and Patrick Wilson with Jennifer Connelly. The fast movement of Wilson doing pushups which breaks up the slow shots, and adds some tension.
The third train horn is noticeably louder because it emphasizes the first time with Wilson and Winslet see each other, catalyzing the story. The shots of Winslet intercut with Connelly and Wilson in bed show the pieces coming together. The toy train visuals are very on-the-nose symbols of events colliding, but they nicely layer with the sound design, and shots of the characters. There's then a nice match cut on motion from the train to a hand trailing up the side the body of someone in bed, which also match cuts to a POV shot of Wilson looking at Winslet in swimwear.
The sound gets even more intense on the shot of Connelly, Winslet and Wilson all at the same table. The toy trains almost collide, which is match cut to Winslet and Wilson about to kiss, then back to the toys which collide. This is a great way to tease the events in the film without actually giving away what happens.
Finally there's a cast lineup as the audio climaxes to the sound of passing trains, and the speed of the cuts during the montage increase. As the train finally passes we end on what looks like a "morning after" shot of Winslet in bed with Wilson, which provides an additional "climax" layer to the trailer.
Some of the montage shots don't really do anything for me. The digital zoom on Jennifer Connelly's ID shot feels kind of flat, the car in the dark is barely visible, and the silhouette walking to the door feels too ambiguous. Those are merely nit-picks for what I think is a phenomenal trailer.
The more I analyze trailers, the more I realize even the stylistically unique ones still follow some basic rules of trailer structure; it's simply the execution that differentiates them in the end. The trailer needs to build up and climax, whether it's a literal rise sound effect or a music cue that gets more exciting, or just dialogue that gets more intense. Then on top of that there needs to be variety, because the audience quickly gets bored with montages of any one thing like visuals, sound effects or some repetitive music.
When I see trailers like this, I get inspired to find opportunities to tie the themes and story of what I'm working on into its trailer. Oftentimes the trailer can feel very separate from the film or game it advertises, but I love it most when the trailer acts like a nice companion piece to the original.