Extracting a lot from a Little III: Trailers

Continuing this series of exercises based on the concept of less is more, this month we turn to the movie trailer as a resource for the language classroom

Trailers have become omnipresent in digital media and gain more views on YouTube than almost any other genre, except the music video. They are fascinating to analyse partly because they have undergone radical changes in terms of objectives and content over the years. As concentration spans have diminished, the trailer has become shorter and more dramatic and evolved into the ‘teaser’.

One way of approaching short video sequences like trailers is by using genre analysis. You could kick this off by asking learners what the aim of a trailer is. Provide the list below and ask learners to say which they feel is the best definition:

a       to provide a summary of the film’s content

b       to show the audience what makes this film unique

c      to reveal just enough of a film to make an audience want to go and see it

d      to show the best moments or highlights of a film

e      to raise interest and ask provocative questions about the film

You could then elicit a list of between five and ten features, considering both micro and macro features. For example:

1) there are a large number of fast cuts

2) the most dramatic moments of the film are included

3) There is some kind of unresolved conflict or problem

4) There are key words or phrases which may appear as intertitles, such as prizes that the film has won, quotes from reviews or lines from the movie itself. 5) The name of the film is mentioned at the end

6) there are close-ups of the main actors

Learners then watch a trailer and tick the features which appear, adding other features which may not be on list if necessary. A great trailer to use with learners is The Social Network  because it includes many of the above features but it also subverts a lot of them. The first half of the trailer is experimental, featuring a song and slow-moving visuals which are not included in the film itself while the second sticks to generic conventions, including some great intertitles.

It’s also a nice idea to look at trailers made decades ago and compare them with contemporary trailers or teasers. For example, in the past it was commonplace to have a narrator talking about the stars who appeared in the film, the action was much slower and dramatic music was often foregrounded.

Finally, get learners to bring in their own favourite trailers and ask them to “unpack” them using this genre analysis approach. You could add an element of critique here by asking the class to identify the characteristics of “bad” trailers, e.g. they show too much of the plot and action.

Clearly, this genre analysis approach can work well with other short video sequences such as ads, how-to clips as well as new genres found on You Tube such as “react videos” or “haul videos”.

I hope you’ve found it interesting.

Ben Goldstein

Ben teaches on The New School’s online MATESOL program (New York). He is co-lead-author of the coursebook series ‘Framework’ and ‘The Big Picture’ (both Richmond). He has also published the teachers’ methodology handbook ‘Working with Images’ and co-authored “Language Learning with Digital Video” (due October 2014)

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