Everyone loves a great movie trailer. They help create a buzz about your project and lead to successful financing. But creating a great trailer that explains your project and excited the viewer is no easy task.
In this post, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know to make a movie trailer for your project, even if you haven’t shot it yet.
Table of Contents
Everything you need to know about making Movie Trailers
- Movie Trailer Essentials
- Scripted Project Trailer
- Unscripted Project Trailer
- Cutting Your Trailer
THE BASICS OF MARKETING YOUR PROJECT
1.1 TRAILER ESSENTIALS
It’s important to make a movie trailer
If you’re like most indie filmmakers, your goal is to get financing for your movie. It used to be that a simple log line in an email with a copy of the screenplay was the way to get funding.
But in the current media-saturated world, a video trailer is much more effective than a log line. If potential film financiers like your trailer, odds are much higher they will read your script and call you in for a meeting.
Another popular way to raise money for a film is via crowdfunding. For these fundraising campaigns, trailers are indispensable. So now that you know you need to make your own movie trailer, how do you start?
MOVIE TRAILER DEFINITION
What is a movie trailer?A movie trailer is a marketing tool originally used by major motion picture studios to show the coming attractions. They’re called “trailers” because they were commonly shown at the end of a film, but theatres and studios realized people were more likely to see them if they played before the film rather than making the viewer wait until after the credits.
What makes a good movie trailer?
- They build excitement for a particular project.
- They entertain viewers as their own standalone piece.
- They inform a focused group about coming attractions.
1.2 TRAILER ESSENTIALS
How to make a movie trailer
Big movie trailers have tons of amazing shots from many different scenes.
Trailers get made after the film is shot, and they are built by specialized trailer editors who have a sort of industry template they follow.
Here is a great trailer that understood how images and music can take place of expository dialogue, or the dreaded “mini-movie”.
For a fundraising trailer, you won’t have access to that sort of footage. Instead, you’ll have to choose one or two key scenes to shoot. After that, you'll need some editorial creativity to make your concept shine.
But first, let’s cover the basics of how to make a trailer.
1.3 TRAILER ESSENTIALS
Use a shot list to organize your trailer
When professionals cut trailers they often have the entire feature film to pull footage from. This won’t be the case for many filmmakers, which means they will want to get bite sized pieces of footage that speaks to the tone and story of their project.
That means a bunch of separate, seemingly unconnected imagery that needs to be captured. This is where your shot list comes into play.
If you’re using shot listing and storyboarding software like StudioBinder, you can not only keep everything organized, but see how separate imagery will look back to back. You can also send ideas and collaborate with crew.
Specific camera movements and placement matter as well. Will you go handheld or can this be done on sticks? Whose POV shot is it, and will we be eye level or closer to the ground?
You want to capture all these crucial details in your shot list. With StudioBinder, these details are already listed as options, so you only need to check their boxes. This allows you to create creative combinations that make your movie trailer come to life.
Collaboration is fast and efficient. Send your shot list to the DP with the click of a button. The best part? We let you start shot listing for free. This gives you more time to think about the intangibles. For example, can your movie trailer shoot be a test shoot too?
Scripted Project Trailer
MARKETING YOUR SCRIPTED PROJECT
2.1 SCRIPTED PROJECT TRAILER
Start with your script
The first step in “how to make a movie trailer” is to choose a scene that highlights the most compelling things about your film. Many people think they need to shoot the best scene in the movie and often that best scene is near the end.
If you’re using script breakdown software like StudioBinder, you can label key elements that need to be seen in your trailer, and more accurately budget for your abridged film shoot.
Imagine organizing props for an entire story but needed them all in a span of two days during your trailer shoot.
But for a good pitch trailer, you’re going to want to choose a scene that offers the “setup” of your story, not the “payoff.”
In practical terms, this means that you don’t need forty-million dollars worth of dailies to make your own trailer.
2.2 SCRIPTED PROJECT TRAILER
Shoot your setup scene
Typically you’re going to choose a scene that happens in the first act of your movie if it’s a feature film. In fact, you’ll probably choose a scene that happens in the first 10 pages.
This scene is often called the “inciting incident” and it’s the jumping off point for the rest of the story. Why should you shoot the inciting incident?
Because your trailer needs to do a lot of heavy lifting. Character, tone, setting, genre, and originality are all required for a good trailer.
So you need material that makes us want to watch the rest of the movie. If your script is solid, somewhere in the first ten minutes of your film you'll find a scene that does all the above.
2.3 SCRIPTED PROJECT TRAILER
Shoot a second scene
If your budget allows, we highly recommend shooting two scenes. The first scene is the inciting incident scene that we already discussed. The second scene is for some added flavor.
If it’s a comedy, this needs to be a scene that’s hilarious. If it’s a thriller, it must be intriguing. If it’s an action movie, it needs to be a fight or a chase.
Another thing for movie trailer makers to keep in mind for the second scene: try to get some visual variety. if your setup scene is inside a classroom, then perhaps your second scene can be outdoors.
2.4 SCRIPTED PROJECT TRAILER
Add key dialogue and visuals
Have you seen the trailer for Steve Jobs? Like many trailers, it uses the dialogue to push our comprehension forward, while using imagery to enhance the suspense, and entice the audience.
So to flesh out your trailer, make some audio-only recordings of great lines from your script that go beyond the two scenes you plan to shoot.
You can record these lines at the end of your shoot days, especially if they’re lines from a more expensive scene in your project.
For visuals, you can use establishing shots, aerials, title cards, shots ripped from other movies, and stock footage to cover these “wild” lines.
You don’t need to worry too much about the visuals now, you’ll end up dealing with them during your edit.
Unscripted Project Trailer
MARKETING YOUR UNSCRIPTED PROJECT
3.1 UNSCRIPTED PROJECT TRAILER
How to make a trailer for unscripted
Pitch reels for unscripted projects seem very different than scripted trailers. But the basics of how to make a trailer are the same: you still need a setup and some flavor.
The main difference is that these elements aren’t likely to occur in a single scene. Instead, you’ll use a combination of interviews, documentary-style scenes, and archival footage.
3.2 UNSCRIPTED PROJECT TRAILER
Pre-interview your main characters
Interviews are cheap and easy to shoot. For a long-format project, you will end up interviewing your main subject many times. You might as well start now.
Get them to sit for a solid two hour interview that covers all the basics on your topic. Schedule at least a half day with them and use the remaining time to shoot something active and more visual.
For example, if it’s a true crime series, get them to do a walkthrough of a key event in the location where it happened. Be sure to pick up some cutaways and establishing shots while you are there.
3.3 UNSCRIPTED PROJECT TRAILER
Setup at least one key scene to shoot
Most unscripted projects use interviews or voice-over to drive the narrative, but scenes are still important. Using your pre-interviews as research, setup a scene where natural tension will occur.If your project is about a family dynamic, come up with a plan that will highlight the relationships.
A mother and two daughters in a bridal shop fitting room may turn into an unexpectedly revealing or intimate moment. The same three people at a big bridal shower will probably reveal nothing at all.
You’ll end up with a bunch of b-roll and no scene.
Restrict the number of people in the scene to 2 or 3. More than that is hard to follow and hard to separate audio later on.
3.4 UNSCRIPTED PROJECT TRAILER
Acquire any other footage you need
If your goal is to make your own movie trailer for a documentary, it’s never too early to start tracking down important footage sources for your film.
Common elements include news clips, film clips, interviews, historical footage, even audio tapes. Government agencies like NASA and the U.S. Library of Congress have tons of material that is available to the public.
For most doc trailers, you’ll be ripping video from the internet. Licensing footage is time-consuming and expensive. Most movie trailer makers will save this step for later, after they have funding in place.
This stuff will have to be replaced for the “real” project.
Cutting Your Trailer
ALL THE DIFFERENT WAYS TO EDIT YOUR TRAILER
4.1 CUTTING YOUR TRAILER
How to cut your movie trailer
Once you’re done shooting your trailer, it’s time to edit.
Editing is where your trailer can really blossom, because there are so many different ways to cut it together, and the beauty is that there is no wrong way to do it. In fact, the more eye catching, the better.
Keep in mind that just because you only shot two scenes doesn’t mean you should make a linear edit of two scenes chunked together. It also doesn’t mean that you need to let each scene play out in its entirety.
Instead, experiment with creative editing techniques, such as bookending and intercutting your trailer.
4.2 CUTTING YOUR TRAILER
Oh well… now I don’t have to see that.
Have you ever been watched a trailer and thought, “They just showed us the entire movie!”. So have I, and most of the time I’m happy because I save the $11 that I would have spent to see the movie in a theatre. Great customer service when you think about it, but terrible marketing.
That’d be like if the sample dude at Costco came over to your house and made your family a nice big dinner.
Remember the Dragon Tattoo trailer from earlier? Watch this one…
Everyone has seen those long, boring trailers that feel like a mini-movie.
If you have your entire story already recorded, don’t give over every piece of information. This isn’t the film, it is an advertisement for the film.
Find the places in your story that generate questions:
Who is that?
Why are they doing that?
What does that mean?
How does that work out?
Your goal is to tease the viewers and leave them wanting more. The best trailers get viewers thinking “I have to see the rest of this!” Or, “I can’t wait to see what happens next!”
4.3 CUTTING YOUR TRAILER
Graphics and voice-over
In movie trailers, there are often two or three levels of storytelling happening at once. There’s the stuff that’s happening in the footage.
Then there’s a layer of story that gets told via voice-over, on-screen graphics or both.
For example, your trailer might start with a traditional Don LaFontaine voice-over line: “In a world where nothing is certain…” Then we’ll see a stock footage aerial shot of a giant outdoor market.
A title card will come up that says “Egypt, 1968.” At this point, you cut inside to a scene on a set in Los Angeles and no one will know.
You can see how to make a trailer with several post-production elements working together to draw the audience into the trailer.
Voice-over and titles are very useful tools, especially when you don’t have a lot of footage to choice from.
4.4 CUTTING YOUR TRAILER
Music and sound effects
You can get very creative with music in your trailer. Music tells people how they should feel, so it’s a very important way to set the tone.
Here is a video all about how to master the fim score. Apply the lessons from this video onto your own projects.
If you are building an original trailer for marketing, you’ll want to find a composer to work with. They are literally everywhere, and many of them are really good - plus you want to get in the habit of building these relationships and becoming familiar with the process.
If you’re using your trailer for simple fundraising, you won’t need to license the music for your trailer. That means you can use Cardi B or Frank Sinatra because you don’t have to pay for the rights.
4.5 CUTTING YOUR TRAILER
Getting your movie trailer seen
Believe it or not, one of the most important ways to get someone to watch your movie trailer is old-fashioned email.
Busy execs don’t like to click on links. So be sure to export a highly compressed MP4 version of your final cut that’s less than 10MB. Your 10M or less MP4 will also serve you well when posting to social media.
Below is a video that is part of our Free TV Writing & Development Master Class which includes seven episodes that take you through the entire television show development process.
If you’re hoping your trailer goes viral, YouTube is the best bet. Vimeo is also an option but less well-known outside the filmmaking community.
If you have a website, you’ll want to get the embed code so that it plays on your site. Last but not least, your trailer is a great way to launch a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter or IndieGoGo.
TV Writing & Development Master Class
Now you know how to build your own movie trailer, and create buzz around your project or idea. Don’t stop there. You’ve got your selling hat on now, so you might as well work on more of your ideas.
StudioBinder has put together a totally FREE TV Writing & Development Master Class that will help you build your show idea. This is a fantastic resource that will keep you on track, and help organize your idea.