Coming Attractions: An Essay on Movie Trailers and Preliminary Statements

26 Pages Posted: 6 Feb 2020

Date Written: September 24, 2013


In two and a half minutes, a trailer has to convey to the audience enough information about a movie so that the audience will be convinced that it wants to see the coming attraction. From a typical trailer, we can learn the movie’s genre, the central characters, the location both in time and space, and the essence of the plot. More importantly, we can get a “feel” for the movie – and know if it is likely to be a movie we want to see. A good movie trailer is itself a mini-story, designed to sell the much bigger story of the movie.

In this essay, I look to see what legal writers might learn from movie trailers about persuasion. Specifically, I explore the strategies trailers use to create a positive first impression about an upcoming movie. First impressions also play a significant role in legal persuasion. The question this essay explores is whether the strategies for creating first impressions in movie trailers can transfer to court documents, specifically appellate briefs.

We are, of course, not yet to the point where we write separate “previews” of persuasive legal documents to send out in advance of our briefs. Nonetheless, a lawyer can establish a good first impression of her Argument in the Introduction or Preliminary Statement of a brief at either the trial or appellate level. This paper discusses how one might use the techniques of successful movie trailers to create a Preliminary Statement that sets the stage for the featured presentation of the brief’s Argument Section. Doing so can create a persuasive advantage by priming the audience to be more receptive to the Argument. Just like a good movie trailer, a well-written Preliminary Statement can establish a theme that takes the critical first step of creating a positive frame of the legal dispute. Establishing that frame is essential to convincing the audience of the soundness of what will follow.

Suggested Citation

Johansen, Steven J., Coming Attractions: An Essay on Movie Trailers and Preliminary Statements (September 24, 2013). Legal Communication & Rhetoric: JALWD, Vol. 10, Fall 2013, Available at SSRN:

Steven J. Johansen (Contact Author)

Lewis & Clark Law School ( email )

10015 SW Terwilliger Blvd.
Portland, OR 97219
United States
503-768-6637 (Phone)

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