Editing a Successful Film Trailer

When it comes to creating a successful film trailer, many new producers and editors will settle for a quick overview of the entire movie. Come to think of it, many big films are guilty of this too, and then the audience wonders why they had to pay to see the flick in the first place, since they learned the entire plot in the minute spot they saw on TV! Here are a few concise tidbits you can follow as you create a tight and entertaining trailer that will draw people to want to see your film.

  1. Establish! Three elements should be established.
    – the setting/story. Is it 18th Century England? New York in 2110? Find some shots in your film that really help to build location and time.
    – the characters. Introduce big name actors, if any, no matter how small their roles, for your film’s credibility and to reel in their followers; likewise, introduce the main characters so the audience knows who to expect to see.
    – the premise. Essentially, what is the overview, plot, or primary action of the film. Try to leave this a bit mysterious, as too much detail obviously eliminates a need to watch the film.
  2. Build! Okay, you have the Lamborghini Aventador pulling up to the front of a hillside mansion where an elaborately dressed Laura Long (promoting a friend in LA) or other young actress makes her way up the stairs to the door, only to be quickly pulled inside the door by an unknown, but beastly set of arms. This establishes the setting, two characters, and the premise. Now, it’s time to give a quick look at the action. At this point, be sure to mix it up. Be careful not to merely put all of the scenes in order. Don’t linger; leave just enough time for people to see the shots and to get the essence, then move forward.
    – Think of this as a musical score (and use music to help!). Generally, this will be either an up-tempo or increasing tempo.
    – Allow for a crescendo of the music score, building in intensity or volume.
  3. Brand!  Include one last shot, statement, or action that leaves a lasting impression on the audience’s mind.
  4. Identify! At the end, provide pertinent information, such as the movie’s title, release dates, etc.
That’s it in a nutshell. There are many ways to do this. Along with the steps, here are a few other notes to consider:
  • Pick a tone to convey. Generally, this is within the genre of the film, but not necessarily. Be true to the film, though.
  • Use your best shots. You paid for the 50′ crane and the helicopter crashing – get it in there! Maximize its potential. Blurred shots don’t belong here.
  • Creative text is essential. Refrain from Arial and Times New Roman, please. Move the text; make it come alive.
  • Provide reviews from prior viewers, film festivals, or pre-release events.
  • A rating is a good idea to include. Don’t forget it if you are showing in theaters.
  • Website. Don’t forget a website and/or social networking opportunities. This is relatively new, but this is a great way to build a fan base quickly. Sony’s Affirm Films was pretty successful at building viewers through social networking on their Soul Surfer movie.
Below is a trailer I built for a ten minute short that we shot for the 168 Film Festival in 2011, implementing the major principles mentioned. Don’t forget: Establish, Build, Brand, Identify!

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Video Producer, Director, Writer, Editor.

3 thoughts on “Editing a Successful Film Trailer

  1. This post is great Don, I’d really love for you to provide your thoughts on some trailers recently produced for a client of mine! Would you be able send me a quick email so I have your email address please? Thanks H


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