What Is a Trailer?


A trailer is a wheeled vehicle that can’t move on its own, but needs to be pulled by a motorized vehicle, like a car or truck. It may also refer to a furnished vehicle used for travel or as an apartment or home (like the kind that some parents use to tow their children).

The term is sometimes confused with a “trailer park,” which is a community of trailer homes located in close proximity and run by a management company. The community is typically managed by a separate corporation, and renters pay for a monthly fee that includes maintenance of the common areas and amenities.

Whether you’re creating a video to promote your book or film, or just want to create a short teaser for your project, there are some timeless best practices that can help ensure your trailer captivates audiences, doesn’t give away too much, and keeps viewers eager to see the full-length product.

As movie marketing has evolved into a huge industry, trailers have become highly condensed pieces of cinematic advertising, able to present even the floppiest films in an attractive light. They follow a basic three-act structure, with a beginning that lays out the premise of the story, a middle section that drives the plot forward, and a dramatic climax — often accompanied by a powerful piece of “signature music,” such as a recognizable song or sweeping orchestral score.

Many trailers feature a cast run, which lists the principal actors appearing in the movie. This is especially true for big-budget blockbusters, which need to sell themselves to distributors and theater chains. The credits are usually followed by a logo for the movie’s studio and production company.

If you have a strong social media presence, you can use trailers to tease out new content and build anticipation for its release. You can also distribute them via online channels, using video platforms like YouTube to reach larger audiences, and by running them as sponsored social ads.

For a documentary, trailers often focus on key scenes from the film, but they may also highlight an important message or theme of the work. They may also include interviews with the director or prominent members of the cast and crew, or a “making-of” segment that provides insight into the film’s production process.

As an example of how effective a good trailer can be, the first one for Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960s psychological thriller Psycho was essentially a guided tour of the Bates Motel, culminating in Vera Miles’ iconic shower scene. It left the audience with a major cliffhanger and the desire to watch the full movie to find out what happens next. This is a form of “sneak preview” that was popular in the days before movie ratings were established. It is now considered a violation of copyright laws to create and show a movie trailer without the permission of the film’s owner. In January 2014, the National Association of Theatre Owners issued an industry guideline limiting trailer running time to two minutes.