The Art of the Movie Trailer: Ben Andron on The Matrix

How storytelling gave context to the special effects

For as long as there have been movies, there have been movie trailers. 

Film trailers originated in the silent era and "trailed" the film after it was over, teasing coming attraction. Then, in 1927, The Jazz Singer marketed in its seven-minute trailer the emerging technology that all should see—talkies. 

Throughout the different eras of cinema—classic, new Hollywood, blockbusters, indies—trailers have evolved and become a cinematic event unto themselves. Like a little white rabbit escaping into a dark hole, trailers are there to guide audiences to the core of a film. A good trailer can make you laugh, cry, surge with adrenaline, or fill with hope. The goal is to feel something. 

In a little over two minutes, movie marketers have to construct an entire world, explain the rules, and let viewers take a peek inside. So, in 1999, when the trailer for The Matrix was released, audiences around the globe found themselves enamored by visuals effects like they'd never seen before. 

The Matrix wasn't an easy film to sell; many studios turned down the project. When Warner Bros. finally gave the green light to Lilly and Lana Wachowski, who in 1999 weren't household names, the studio was tasked with selling not just a sci-fi fantasy film but one with a VR element. Warner Bros. decided to place its bets on the film's fantastical visuals, marketing them as a must-see. The trailer, which was edited by Giaronomo Productions, did that and more. 

This week, Muse chatted with Ben Andron—creative director and head of AV at Bond, and winner of multiple Clios for his trailer editing—about The Matrix trailer and how the innovative use of special effects and its famous monologue gave audiences a perfect peek into The Matrix. 

Muse: What about the trailer stood out to you most?
Ben Andron: The pairing of the never-before-seen visuals with Laurence Fishburne's dialogue from the film. The challenge of visual-effects movies isn't about showing effects; it's about giving us context for them. The visuals in the Matrix were unlike anything we'd seen before at that time, which can either be exciting or off-putting. But pairing it with Fishburne's VO—"Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream…?"—was intriguing and inviting, and gave context to the crazy visuals in a very relatable way.

How did this work move the needle on entertainment marketing?
That piece was eye-opening to me in terms of storytelling in trailers. Pairing the right visuals with the right lines to create an emotional bond with the viewer, how much story is just right to establish context; I'm constantly referring back to that teaser to this day. 

What elements of the trailer still inspire your work?
I love looking to the film for that one special line that can draw people in. Sometimes it's obvious, sometimes you have to dig deep—or occasionally invent—but when you can find it, it's gold.

Generally speaking, what makes a great movie trailer? 
I think a great trailer captures the feeling and tone of what the film wants to be. The best ones connect with you on an emotional level and make you feel something, giving just enough information to establish a context for the story without giving excessive plot. 

Fun Facts

Q: The Matrix pays homage to what literary classic?
A: Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

Q: What was the first documented trailer?
A: The first trailer shown in an American film theater was in 1913, when Nils Granlund, the advertising manager for the Marcus Loew theater chain, produced a short promotional film for the musical The Pleasure Seekers.

Q: What was the first film series to show a trailer at the end of the film?
A: The Adventures of Kathlyn in 1913, creating what we know as the cliffhanger.

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