A FILMMAKERS TOOLBOX:
MAKING A GREAT PROMOTIONAL TRAILER
By Elizabeth English
Do you want to have a really good 2-3-minute trailer to send to producers, studios, film festival competitions, for your website & in social media ?
Haven’t quite finished post on your film yet, but want to promote it now?
Great trailers are in a special class of their own; little polished gems that showcase your film, and make people want to see more!
But film trailers can be more difficult to make really well than the entire film, itself. It can be more time-consuming, judicious editing must be a main concern, you have to tell the main story, theme & concept quickly, harder scene decisions need to be made, and you need to sell
your film in less than three minutes.
Can you tell the main story, introduce the lead characters, show the main conflict, and give the viewer a visual, memorable impression in under three minutes? And, remember, you need to hook the viewer in the first few seconds! You probably don’t even have a full 3 minutes to do the job, unless the first 30-60 seconds are fantastic.
virYou need to know how to turn your great story into a great 2-3-minute (or less) trailer. There is and always has been only one real secret to success in the entertainment industry. Tell a great story. Period. And you need to figure out how to tell that fabulous story in only two to three minutes or less!
Can you say “logline”? The screenplay for your film probably has one. Use that 25-word or 3-line mini-synopsis as the script for your trailer. When scripting your trailer, use a clear 3-act structure. Here’s an example of a feature animation logline that could easily be edited from film footage for a trailer: Orion, a rare green dolphin, grows up to save the world of sea creatures and their habitats through a series of fabulous adventures, conflicts and mystical occurrences. An epic saga of a larger-than-life hero dolphin, LEGEND OF THE GREEN DOLPHIN creates an undersea realm of incredible sea creatures and their beautiful watery habitats in the world’s seas and oceans. Orion seeks his purpose in life, and, along with his silvery dolphin companion, a wise old whale, the compassionate human he encounters, and a delightful Mermaid, he finds his way to his spiritual vision, and his reason for being.
You need to know how to get your film enthusiastically viewed by an agent and then a financial sponsor, producer, director, film festival judges, and even actors. Learn what they’re looking for. In order to raise money to make a film, it is essential to produce a high-quality trailer that will capture the imagination and confidence
of grant-makers and investors. Your first impression to these movers and shakers is all about the fine art of pitching your film, your TV series concept or story idea, via your eye-catching trailer, which should be a dynamic collection of its greatest elements.
“SELL THE SIZZLE; NOT JUST THE STEAK!”
A great title for your film is the first (and maybe only) introduction to a sponsor, an agent, a producer, director, film distributor, or studio. “You’ve got 3 minutes; pitch me what you’ve got,” is what you’ll hear from the entertainment industry movers & shakers who might buy your project. But you probably won’t even get that meeting, or a reply to your query letter, if you don’t have an interesting title and trailer that catches their eye. Know how to “dress” your film for success, make it stand out from all the others, and get it noticed in the first round.
You’ve got to cram a lot into a short, three-minute trailer: genre, conflict, character, action, location, time, any crisis to be resolved, hint at the potential transformation of the main character, marketability, and it needs to sizzle!
The trailer is the key that opens the door to getting your full film considered. The same amount of thought that a filmmaker takes in directing the film should also be taken in creating the trailer. A trailer is not a mini-version of your film! It’s much, much harder to direct and edit a good two- or three-minute trailer than it is to shoot the short or feature film.
A great trailer can mean getting a million hits on YouTube and maybe going viral. For indie filmmakers, it’s a chance to have their low- or no-budget movies seen on iTunes and rented from Netflix. A movie trailer is the principal way most movies get exposure, these days, and is one of the most important marketing and promotional tools that is affordable and available to any filmmaker.
A viewer should be able get the full story concept of the film from these one to three minutes. He or she should know immediately what the whole movie is about and get excited about the story-line and idea, and can visualize the finished film. The trailer must propel the viewer through the experience of the film, itself, and build up excitement and anticipation.
Always consider who your target audience is. What’s the demographic for your story? Who’s going to be viewing your trailer? If your film has several different points to make, or could be of interest to different age-groups or a variety of audiences, film festivals, competitions, or distributors, you might even want to consider making several different trailers in order to attract them. It’s like going fishing; you need to have the right lure, the right bait!
Film festival programmers and promotions staff absolutely need fabulous trailers for the films they’ve selected for screening, to show at media screenings prior to the event, get good media reviews for the festival’s films, and in order to entice audiences to buy movie tickets to see those films.
Watch this good example of an exciting 1 ½-minute trailer of
“Red Tails” by George Lucas on YouTube:
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Do emphasize the unique elements of your film that will enable viewers to connect with the situation and to identify with the protagonist. Use “buzz-word” scenes, showing love, death, sex, adventure, mystery, romance, action that the viewer can identify with.
- The viewer should know immediately what the whole movie is about and get excited about the story-line and idea, and can visualize the finished film.
- Consider adding a high-concept line at the beginning or end, to make your story instantly recognizable to anyone, such as “Shakespeare in Love” with “The Witches of Eastwick”, if, say, your film is about a writer who falls for a mysterious woman. Or if your story is about zombie vampires, perhaps “The Walking Dead” at “Twilight”!, Golfing comedy, anyone? “Dumb and Dumber” in the “Caddy Shack”?
- Be more inventive than other filmmakers. For example, assemble fake news footage into a montage, or show the biggest action first, even if it doesn’t happen right away in the film, or a comedy routine & leaving out the punch-line, or fade quickly from black & white into living color.
- While introducing the movie’s story and its characters, a trailer most often follows the order of the film’s story and plot, but it doesn’t have to!
- Don’t give away too much. Offer only brief glimpses of your most impressive scenes, accompanied by a quick fade-out & segue from one to the next.
- Teasers: While trailers often focus on plot or character descriptions, teasers establish the mood and tone of a film. A good trailer will artfully combine all of those powerful elements.
- Single words written across the screen have more impact than whole sentences; break your taglines up into its component parts and sprinkle them throughout the trailer. “MURDER” – “IN THE CAVE OF” – “THE RED DRAGON” keeps your viewer watching to see what’s next!
- Don’t forget, the title is the thing you want viewers to remember. Save at least 10 seconds at the end of the trailer for a slow reveal.
- If you have name talent as a director or known stars as leads, name them and show them in their roles first, to catch people’s attention (specially if any of them are half-naked or in mortal danger).
- Has your film been an official selection or an award-winner at Sundance, Cannes, or anywhere well-known? Got a great film review in The New York Times? Quote it! Let it be known right away. Nobody wants to be the first one out on the dance-floor, but they’ll often “like” something someone else approves of, recommends, and likes, first.
- You haven’t got much time to introduce your lead characters, so sum each one up with a few brief scenes that reveals who they are and what they do in the film. Yet do this in a way that coherently tells the story at the same time!
- Trailers for thrillers and comedies have a much faster cutting and editing style, and with louder music, than do dramas, romantic comedies, or documentaries. It’s a good way of ratcheting up attention and excitement for the film.
Watch the official trailer for “Beasts of the Southern Wild”:
Quote from a FILMMAKER Magazine article by Stephen Garrett:
There are also many familiar editing tropes in trailers: dissolves, fades from black, fades to black, white flashes with the metal-door slams, fast-paced flutter-cuts, double exposures, speed adjustments, audio rises, audio drones, audio stings. These effects are like the images from the film itself: they are tools in a toolbox.