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On Trailer Editing

A trailer is a short synopsis presenting information from your film in the most succinct way possible. It is the principal way most movies get exposure and remain in public consciousness. It is arguably the most important marketing tool available to a filmmaker.

They are usually 2:30 secs but exist in other forms like the teaser trailer (60 secs) or spot (30 secs). They help create a buzz for your film and also can help secure distribution. A bad trailer can ruin the chances of your film securing distribution and capturing audience interest. The best way to evaluate your film is to see it first not as a genre but in terms of its fundamental characteristics. Such characteristic include; Does it have arresting dialogue? Great cinematography? Searing performances? Memorable production design?

Before cutting the trailer you need to ask questions such as;

  1. What is this movie about?

  2. Who is this movie for?

  3. What the concept and tone are?

Items you will need to edit the trailer include;

  1. Censors Board rating

  2. Logo Reveal

  3. Title Sequence

  4. Sub-clips of key lines

  5. Sub-clips of key visuals

  6. Sub-clips of key moments (explosions, reactions, fights, chases, funny gags)

  7. Graphic cards or Narration.

The last 30 seconds are a montage thrill-ride with heart-pounding intensity that really tries to get the most visceral reaction from the audience. Here are pointers for what needs to shown in the last 30 seconds for different genres.

  1. Comedy – The funniest joke

  2. Action – The biggest spectacle

  3. Horror – The biggest scare

  4. Drama – The most emotional moment

Editing Techniques

  1. Figure out the first and last moments.

  2. Lay the foundation with audio. Have one music cue for each act of the story/trailer.

  3. Establish main characters and plot.

  4. Create a montage that allows you to use footage from the whole film but leave it unresolved.

  5. End on the best moment.

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, and audio stings etc.

Here are common sound design elements and their impact on the trailer.

  1. Whooshes and Hits –  Can be used for ascents, attack and impact.

  2. Rises – Intensify action.

  3. Suck-back and Power down – Pause momentum and draws attention for character to deliver lines.

  4. Hits – Adds intensity.

Here are two trailers I edited for two very different films which deal with the themes of heaven/hell and God/ The Devil.

Heaven’s Not All That is about a lazy freeloader who loses his life via a clumsy accident. Now in limbo, he is made to work in a cramped, messy office. He is tested to see if he can grasp what really matters in life, and the afterlife.

Devil’s Song is about a young musician who receives a visit from the Devil, who wants to buy his soul and is ready to offer him anything.


  1. Keep the logo short.

  2. Watch the whole movie and then do it again. Take notes on the second viewing.

  3. Create dialogue and footage breakdowns and sub-clips.

  4. Make a paper cut and have a plan before you start your assembly cut.

  5. Increase intensity by using music, sound design and emotionally delivered lines.

  6. Only use the best of the best – From compressing the film from 100 minutes to 2 minute, you have to use the best.

  7. Prioritize the first half of the film – You need to use this part to ease the viewer into your story. This gives the setup and the premise for the remaining film.

  8. Understand the format – Different genres of film require different approaches.

  9. Use multiple music cues – Use these cues to guide the different beats in the film.

  10. Be picky with the music, possibly choose it first.

  11. You can also include review quotes in the trailer to build the hype.

  12. When possible, get a different editor for your trailer other than the film editor. The film editor will be too familiar with the footage and can do an abysmal job because of the mental fatigue that comes with editing a film.

  13. When your film deals with controversial issues, be subtle and focus the trailer on other strengths. You do not want to lose the audience early.

  14. You can use subtitles in foreign language film trailers as far as the dialogue advances the story, sets the mood and emotion.

Got The Picture?

#Filmmaking #distribution #Trailer #Tips #horror #drama #Sound #comedy #sounddesign #editing #SeleGot

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