March 16, 2015

Tips on How to Cut a Badass Trailer for Your Upcoming Film

Film Riot Trailer Editing Premiere Pro
Nothing makes or breaks an audience's expectation for a film like a trailer.

On one hand, a well-cut and expertly crafted trailer can stoke an audience's imagination, giving subtle, yet alluring hints of the film's plot, style, and overall tone. If the trailer audience likes what they see, they're a hell of a lot more likely to follow through and watch the film. On the other hand, if the trailer disappoints in some way, if it's awkwardly cut, includes too much or too little plot, if it confuses audiences or leaves them feeling underwhelmed, well, then you've done the marketing equivalent of shooting yourself in the foot.

Luckily, just about anything can be learned on the internet these days, including the art of cutting a trailer for your upcoming film. So without any further ado, here's Ryan Connolly and the Film Riot crew to offer some helpful tips on crafting a trailer:

Now, we might not all be cutting super high-octane action trailers like Losses, so the process that he's using here isn't necessarily applicable to, say, a romantic comedy, drama, or documentary. In cases like those, the trailer needs to rely more on making the audience aware of and invested in the emotional stakes in the finished film, and it needs to do that in a relatively short period of time. Although there's certainly no exact formula for making that happen, trailers are usually structured in a way similar to the finished film, just in a highly condensed form.

First, you've got to introduce the main characters. You've got to do more than just introduce them, however; you've got to get the audience invested in them, preferably with a touching, charming, or funny moment, a moment that humanizes and builds an inherent sense of empathy into the audience's expectations. Then comes the turning point, or the inciting incident as it's referred to in scriptwriting. This is the moment that launches your character into action, that starts them on their journey. If you can convey the inciting incident in a way that is brief, yet dramatic (or hilarious if you're cutting a trailer for a comedy), then you will capture your audience's attention. The rest of your trailer should be spent making the audience aware of just how much is at stake in your film. What does your main character gain if he or she is successful in their journey? What will they lose if they're unsuccessful? The higher the stakes, the more involved the audience will be.

Of course, the above formula, if you want to call it that, is pretty generic and doesn't apply to every film genre. However, with traditionally-structured narrative films, it's an excellent place to start with your trailer cutting journey. As with any other aspect of filmmaking, your best bet for learning the craft is to watch a shit-ton of trailers and to take note of what's working, what's not working, and why. Then you've got to practice, practice, practice. If you've got old footage sitting on a hard drive somewhere, cut a few trailers in a few different styles.

What are some of your tips for cutting an effective trailer?     

Your Comment

15 Comments

Why is it that many trailers do not follow the storyline of the film? I have seen many that are out of sequence in order to make the trailer very exciting, many times using sound to emphasize actions in staccato rhythm....

March 16, 2015 at 3:21AM

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rickg55
160

Because adrenaline and higher heartbeat rates make people say 'yes' quicker.
You will sell more if you let yor target audience run a little bit first.
According to statistics, your first date or second date will be more successfull with a rollercoaster or horrormovie than when eating icecream.
For the same reason they try to excite people with the edit.

March 16, 2015 at 3:54AM

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WalterBrokx
Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer
8999

"According to statistics, your first date or second date will be more successfull with a rollercoaster or horrormovie than when eating icecream."

If I'd known that 20 years ago I might have made some drastically different life choices.

March 19, 2015 at 10:17PM, Edited March 19, 10:17PM

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I thinks trailers are like music videos! There are no rules!!! Just be super creative and do what u do!

March 17, 2015 at 11:55AM

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Kyle Lamar
Director Producer DP
1034

playing around with fcpx in the past days, this seems like an example that's much easier to edit in premiere pro. any thoughts?

March 16, 2015 at 10:38AM

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Paul-Louis Pietz Pröve
director / dop / editor
541

Disagree. FCPX is far better for sound design and mixing with better filters built-in and much easier/faster levels control (not saying that you can't achieve great results in Premiere). Sound design is probably the weakest part of the lesson above. For trailers and teasers you really want hyper-reality for your sound design - for the teaser in the lesson I would compress the heck out of all the hits, clicks, punches etc. and then I will always use a bigger gun - for instance use a shotgun blast for a hand gun to ad impact - otherwise cool lesson.

March 16, 2015 at 11:54AM

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Lance Bachelder
Writer/Director/Editor
330

thanks for the feedback Lance.

I was't even thinking about the sound design, but since you mentioned it: pp and fcp both seem to offer quite a bunch of sound effects and tools. however only premiere has a powerful companion with Audition on its side, don't you think?

What I originally meant was any kind of edit with black sections in between or edits where you simply don't find a magnetic timeline useful. This seemed to be the case here, but maybe I'm not into the fcp-way of thinking yet.

March 16, 2015 at 2:45PM

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Paul-Louis Pietz Pröve
director / dop / editor
541

I love fcpx way more! Just take the time to learn it and your good. Check out lynda for good tutorials!

March 17, 2015 at 11:53AM

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Kyle Lamar
Director Producer DP
1034

Love Love Love Film Riot. =)

March 16, 2015 at 1:37PM

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Film Riot is bad ass with tips! Thanks guys!!!

March 17, 2015 at 11:52AM

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Kyle Lamar
Director Producer DP
1034

Good stuff! I directed a feature last year, and we recently released our first teaser. We'll have another two to come, before the main trailer - and there's definitely some things I'll take from this for our next teaser!

See what you think (we've also been posting a load of 'making of a low budget feature' blogs on our site): http://bit.ly/dsrteaser1

March 17, 2015 at 1:26PM

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Alex Richardson
Director
3437

That guy speaks so fast I cant understand a word he said.
Hopefully there are other tutorials on the web for making a trailer that arent full of bangbang ooh-aah-uh.

March 18, 2015 at 7:10AM

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devtank
photographer
74

I consider his staccato rhythm to be a blessing. With all the extraneous bunk he throws in can you imagine how long his videos would be if he spoke at a reasonable pace? ; )

March 19, 2015 at 10:21PM

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Since I have been more influenced with Asian flicks, my trailers are all cut to a similar Asian styled lol And most of my movie trailers are also have some sort of Asian theme in it. My latest is a Doctor Who Fan Film, there are a lot of 'inside clues' for Doctor Who fans while the general public would appreciate an indie no-budget film webseries :) https://youtu.be/WYnm2ZVKYrw

May 23, 2015 at 5:38PM

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Johnny Wu
Director, Producer, Editor
362

Trailers used to be such splendid pieces of film in their own right. Their job? To pose the dramatic premise of the film. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EJvlGh_FgcI did as compelling a job for Casablanca as https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5fE0HXkmyo did for Brief Encounter. Those girls and boys knew their stuff; their work trained audiences about high standards.

Before the decline of story, a greater proportion of actual films had an actual dramatic premise to pose in the first place. As action, terror and effects have waxed so productions have arguably waned to mimicry. The result of dual pressure from studio accountants and audiences who get their critical sensibilities from theme park rides. Well, that along with cheap accessible kit and very little in the way of on the job training. I'm off to snort a couple of lines of 'things go better with coke' and then watch Gravity...

It does occur to me that the trailer, for a film in which a film trailer maker goes on holiday, worked well. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KhKXjJQ-ixQ

May 27, 2015 at 10:17AM, Edited May 27, 10:19AM

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Simon Morice
Director
88