Trailers play a vital part in the success of any independent ﬁlm. Not only because they help to generate buzz for the ﬁlm once it’s ready to be released, but also because they can help secure a release (or distribution) in the ﬁrst place.
It’s not uncommon for a distributor to commit to a ﬁlm without actually seeing it in its entirety. At ﬁlm markets, distributors, sales agents, and other industry pros don’t always have the time to watch ﬁlms in their entirety before making an offer or securing a deal.
Naturally, they have to rely on the trailer as a means to represent what the ﬁlm is capable of. But regardless of whether you want to
cut a great trailer as a means to lock in a distributor, or simply to promote the ﬁlm’s release – it’s critical that the trailer you cut is impeccable. A bad trailer can absolutely ruin the success of a ﬁlm and there is really no excuse not to be able to cut a strong trailer from a feature ﬁlm. All it takes is a little practice and some attention to detail.
On Hollywood-level feature ﬁlms, the editor of the ﬁlm obviously isn’t cutting the trailer. It’s going to a dedicated editor, usually working at a post-company that only focuses on trailers and promos. The reason being that trailer editing calls for its own distinctive approach. On your indie ﬁlm, you may need to edit the ﬁlm and the trailer yourself based on budgetary limitations, and that’s perfectly ﬁne. You just need to treat those two parts of the process as independent projects and tap into different skill sets to get the job done. That can be done in a straightforward way by following these ﬁve ﬁlm trailer editing tips:
- Only Use the Best of the Best
If you are cutting down a 100 minute ﬁlm into a 2-minute trailer, you have no reason to use anything but the absolute best footage. This may sound like a no-brainer, but many indie ﬁlmmakers are afraid to use their best material in the trailer, as they don’t want to give anything away. You don’t need to give away major plot points or the twist at the end of your ﬁlm, but don’t be too precious with your material.
Remember that the best footage will draw the biggest audience, so make sure that every last shot and scene that you show represents the best the ﬁlm has to offer.
- Prioritize the First Half of the Film
Although you can certainly get away with using scenes from any part of your ﬁlm, focus primarily on the ﬁrst half. In most ﬁlms, Act 1 and Act 2 contain the best trailer moments. Act 1 is the setup, so naturally you are going to want to include enough scenes from there to help ease the viewer into your story.
And the beginning of Act 2 typically focuses heavily on the premise of your ﬁlm – or the hook that’s going to sell tickets. You want to give away enough of your ﬁlm that it accurately represents the story, but not so much that the viewer feels like they’ve seen it all. That’s why focusing on the ﬁrst half is usually a good rule of thumb.
- Understand the Format
Not all trailers are created equal. There’s certainly some room for creative ﬂexibility in the cutting room. You can always break the rules or use a less-traditional method for getting your vision across.
One example of this might be to take a single moment or scene from your ﬁlm and let it play out. Rather than showing the whole picture of what the ﬁlm is about, this strategy is all about creating a mood or texture that teases the audience without giving away many story details. The infamous ﬁrst Cloverﬁeld trailer is a perfect example of this technique.
There’s really no one speciﬁc format or formula that works best for trailer editing, but you do need to identify which approach you want to take before you start cutting. If you go in blindly, it would be like shooting your ﬁlm with no script. Know which format works best for your trailer, and choose your scenes and moments wisely so that they ﬁt within those parameters.
- Use Multiple Music Cues
Two and a half minutes might not seem like a lot of time, but in the context of a trailer — it can be a lifetime. Assuming you have cut together a wide variety of material and your trailer has some sort of arc to it, it’s going to need more than one music cue to bridge together each beat.
Think of your trailer as a miniature ﬁlm. Would you use the same music cue for your entire feature ﬁlm? Probably not. So why use a single cue for your trailer, which is essentially a short ﬁlm in itself? You don’t need to go overboard, but using two or three cues tastefully to help guide the different beats in your trailer can be very helpful.
- Keep the Logo Short
This is a small but important point. Always keep the production company logo up front as short as possible – or don’t have it at all. Having 15 seconds of a logo up front (from a company that no one has ever heard of) can come across as unprofessional. If you want to include your logo, that’s completely ﬁne. But limit the screen time to a couple of seconds at the most so you can get into the meat of your trailer.
Did we leave anything out? Tell us about it in the comments below.
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