Title, trailer, artwork. The holy trinity of film marketing. Get them right and you can make a spectacular first impression and leave us hungry for more. Get it wrong and your film might end up languishing unseen in film limbo. How do you make a great movie trailer?

Your trailer is your bait to land a sales agent and distributors, get finance onboard or kick start a crowd-funding campaign. It’s a marketing tool. Think of it as a visual synopsis for your film.

Make a pitch to a sales agent and they’ll ask to see a trailer. Why? It’s a fast and easy way to judge your film, storytelling and production value. When I say fast, I mean fast. When I was scouting for acquisitions, I could make a judgement call on a film within the first ten seconds of the trailer.

I was looking for strong directing, cinematography, cast and acting, sound, locations, production design, and narrative. Where’s the money on the screen? How commercial is it?

Distributors are the same. They go to film markets and have back-to-back meetings with sales agents and sit through “death by trailer” watching trailer after trailer to decide if they want to take a screener and see more. They can see over a hundred trailers in one day. You need to make an impact to stand out. Grab us from the start.

So, what makes a good movie trailer?

A trailer should be the pumped up version of your film on steroids. It’s a sales tool.

You’ve got two minutes to tell us why we should watch, buy, distribute or crowd-fund your film. Make it count.

Really great trailers transcend the technical and create an emotional moment. Your trailer is not your film. It’s more than the edited highlights. They stand on their own as storytelling, complete with three-act structure and story line.

Trailers are usually best done by someone outside the production. As the filmmaker, you can be too close to your film. For you, every scene has a wider context that your audience doesn’t have. You can cut a trailer you think has fantastic emotional resonance, but leaves the rest of us cold and confused.

Get some help. A great trailer doesn’t have to cost a fortune from a film marketing company. There are some fantastic freelance trailer editors out there. Alternatively, crowd-sourcing sites like Videopixie and Viedit offer a platform to connect you with editors. Some will be better than others, but it’s an option if you’re on a tight budget.

Here are some guidelines for a kickass trailer.

Tell a story

Great trailers follow a storyline, with a beginning, middle and end, building to a crescendo. They convey genre, tone, and premise. What’s the theme for your trailer? How do you want people to feel? Who’s your audience? Tease us. Make us want more.

Keep it tight

Open strong and keep it moving and build the story. Keep the long lingering shots for your film. You don’t need to include every character and plot thread. Drill down to the main story line. You don’t need to follow chronological order. Use whatever scene works.

Hit your genre beats

Comedy needs to give us laughs. Horror needs to give us scares. Action needs to blow us away with set pieces, fights and explosions. Romance should set our hearts pounding with meet cutes and kisses. Drama, well, BriTANick covered that one in their Trailer For Every Oscar Winning Movie Ever.

Invest in sound and music

Sound, music and effects are the most important elements in a trailer. They drive the rhythm and feel of the trailer. Make sure your music is cleared. Check out music libraries. Effects can be a great punctuation for a scene. Invest time in getting your sound mix right, making sure the music doesn’t overpower the dialogue. ADR your actors if their dialogue is unclear.

Be inventive with graphics, text and titles

Graphics, text and title cards can contribute to the feel of a trailer. A lot of low budget films suffer from when it comes to text and graphics, which often feel like a cheap afterthought. White Times New Roman on a black background isn’t serving your film well. Connect with someone good with After Effect skills to elevate your trailer above the pack. Each genre has its own conventions. Watch trailers to pick up the nuance and style.

Agree, disagree, questions, thoughts? Hit me up in the comments.

Picture Credit: Godzilla

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