Film Industry

How To Make A Movie Trailer For Beginners: Our Guide

Photograph of the blog post author, Max Burt

Max Burt

7.6.2021

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Finally finished all the post-production for your movie? All those gruelling hours editing, cutting, audio engineering. Perhaps you’re just about ready to kick your feet up for a while. Well, we hate to do this to you, but buddy, you’re not finished just yet. You’ve got a trailer to create! Worry not, for in this article, we’re going to cover how to make a movie trailer, and guide you through this last piece of post-production before you send your art out into the world. 

making a movie trailer

Maybe you’re looking for how to make a blockbuster movie trailer. Or perhaps a more DIY movie trailer, let’s walk through the process and study some core tips and tricks to making your trailer shine.  

Be sure to stay until the very end so you don’t miss out on any key information. Let’s get started!

What Is A Movie Trailer?

film stock photo movie trailer

A movie trailer is typically a one to three-minute-long compilation of scenes from a feature film, edited together. They are designed to introduce the viewer to the movie and entice them to watch the full thing.

Almost always, trailers are the first version of a film that any of us see. It’s thus immensely important for movie trailers to be of fantastic quality. They carry a lot of weight, considering how much first impressions mean to us humans. The more engaging the trailer is, the more people will pay to see your movie.

Put succinctly, trailers are made to heighten our emotions. When watching one for an action movie, it generates excitement; horror trailers generate tension and intrigue; comedy trailers generate happiness. They act as the assurance that, when we visit the cinema to see the full movie, we’ll experience bucketloads of those emotions. 

What Makes A Good Movie Trailer?

As an end goal, a good movie trailer is one that gets butts in cinema seats. How, though, is this achieved?

Keep It Brief

how long is the average movie trailer

As aforementioned, good movie trailers are always roughly one to three minutes in length. Nowadays though, you should also be prepared to create even shorter cuts; around 30 seconds long.

While a three-minute trailer is great for YouTube, it doesn’t fit so well with modern advertisements, both on TV and the internet. 

While it may seem daunting to condense your two-hour-long film down to at most three minutes, there is one prevailing rule on how to make a good movie trailer. The good news is that, as a filmmaker, you’ve got a lot of practice doing it.

Setup, To Incident, To Resolution.

whiplash fletcher and andrew drumming

That’s right – just like you’ve been doing with your full film, great movie trailers must also tell a three-part story. In this typical act structure, they introduce the main characters at the start, alongside the setting and general premise.

Then, an incident occurs – this is usually the turning point in the film. It’s the primary event that sends the characters along their journey. Think the confrontation on the train in Joker, or when J. K. Simmons hurls that chair in Whiplash.

Lastly, the story’s resolution takes place. Whether sweet, bittersweet, or just bitter, every story needs an ending. Good movie trailers will contain a resolution, but are extremely careful not to spoil the film’s plot in doing so.

Usually these trailers will simply hint at the movie’s resolution, without overstating it. What’s the point in seeing a movie if its entire story is contained in the trailer?  

Matching The Tone

when harry met sally

Another vital factor of good movie trailers is the tone of the edit itself. It’s crucial to make sure to cut your trailer to match the vibe of the full movie. Otherwise, cinema-goers will simply be left confused and bewildered.

Imagine if the trailer for When Harry Met Sally was backed by the Inception soundtrack. Yeah, not sure about that one!

If the tone of your trailer doesn’t match the tone of your movie, then your target audience will give the whole thing a miss. And that doesn’t lead to any bums in any seats!

Don’t Tease!

elder scrolls vi teaser trailer

The last overarching factor of a great movie trailer is to ensure that it doesn’t take form as a teaser trailer. Especially if you have already released a teaser trailer beforehand.

A teaser trailer is what it says on the tin – a tease. Usually only one to two minutes long, teasers are often the very first trailer released for a movie.

They function largely as an announcement and early preview. In fact, many teaser trailers are produced and released before production on the full movie even finishes.

Unlike full movie trailers, teaser trailers only include a very broad release period for the film, such as ‘Coming 2022’. Nowadays, teaser trailers may lack even that, eschewing a release date altogether. 

The video game industry has also adopted this practice, with Bethesda Game Studios releasing arguably the biggest tease of all time in 2018 for The Elder Scrolls VI. This was a 37-second landscape shot accompanied by swelling orchestral music and a title card, with radio silence ever since. 

This is exactly the reason why full movie trailers must avoid acting like teaser trailers, especially if you’ve previously released a teaser. If Bethesda Game Studios were to release another cryptic, coy, secretive teaser for The Elder Scrolls IV, three years after the first with no new information, people would get rightfully annoyed.

So, we’ve covered four primary factors in what makes a good movie trailer; length, story, tone, and avoiding the tease. Let’s now delve into our step-by-step guide on how to make a movie trailer. 

How To Make A Movie Trailer

Now we have established what makes a good film trailer, let’s take a look at how you can make your own.

Let’s dive in!

Film/Retrieve The Footage You Need

film producer editing a movie trailer

It goes without saying that the crux of a movie trailer is its visual content. Before you start creating your trailer, the vital first step is to have all the footage you need from your movie in one place, ready for your perusal. 

If you are a larger movie production company, the likelihood is that all the filming for your movie is complete, and you are now finishing up the post-production.

This means that your task is easy but long. You have all the footage you could dream of choosing from. But, that means it could take a while to find the most suitable shots. 

If you are a lower-budget production company or an independent filmmaker, you may not have completed the filming of your movie yet. Instead, create a trailer as a pitch to receive further funding for your project. 

In contrast to large-budget productions, your job may be harder, but quicker. You will need to have one or two scenes already filmed that will work effectively as the basis for your movie trailer. 

Either way, collecting and sorting your footage is the vital first step to creating a good movie trailer. It’s time to get to work!

Find Suitable Music

sync agent  producer in the studio

While the footage is the crux of your movie trailer’s visual content, a fantastic backing track is integral to its pacing. You should always try to edit your footage to the music, not the other way around. 

Neither footage nor music are more important than each other. So after you’re done collating your filmed scenes, it’s time to find an impactful song.

Like with the previous section, there are two ways in which you can go about finding music. 

The first is to simply visit one of many websites which offer royalty-free tracks, such as Artlist or Pond5, which offer high-quality ease-of-use music for relatively low budgets.

The second – and more lucrative – option is to work directly with a composer, who will write a backing track specifically for your trailer. While this may seem intimidating, especially for independent filmmakers just starting out in the industry, here at Music Gateway we specialise in sync licensing

Music Gateway

music gateway logo

Our platform specifically caters to creatives who wish to collaborate on finding the perfect music for their project. Here, you will find a plethora of musicians looking to feature their tracks in your trailer.

Licensing music for your films can be a legal minefield. Our experts can streamline this process for you – plus, our creative search and licensing services are completely free.

If you are an independent filmmaker or are in movie production, be sure to check out our services to source the perfect track for your trailer.

Storyboarding

movie trailer storyboard stock photo

That’s right – just like you (probably) did with your full movie, it’s time to storyboard your trailer. 

I’m sure we don’t need to tell any filmmakers this, whether they be novice or master. Without storyboarding, you’re going to make life much harder for yourself. Even though it’s only three minutes long, trailers usually have a lot to cram in such a small space of time. 

Carefully plan out each shot, each cut, and each transition while listening to your chosen backing track. Most importantly, take your time – you’ll thank yourself later!

Deconstruct Your Footage With Surgical Precision

starbucks cup in game of thrones

It doesn’t matter if you’re a new independent filmmaker or a big-budget production company; fact is, your trailer is going to be scrutinised with surgical precision.

Whether by picky sponsors or ravenous franchise fans. Every single frame will be pored over, and any small hiccups will be brought to light.

Remember when someone left their Starbucks cup in that one Game Of Thrones scene? Safe to say, you don’t want that kind of uproar in your movie trailer. 

Moreover, approaching your trailer edit with surgical precision will help to disconnect you from the full movie, and aid in its deconstruction.

This may prove difficult, especially if you, the trailer editor, was closely involved with the movie’s writing, filming, and post-production. It is understandably hard to chop up a project that you’re so emotionally invested in. 

Nevertheless, it’s vital to do so. Deconstructing your film will help to emotionally disconnect, and thus make it easier to chop and change it. And avoid leaking spoilers into the trailer.

The more nonconsecutive your trailer footage is (within that three-part story structure), the less likely it is that viewers will be able to determine the big twists and turns of the film’s plot before they watch the full thing.

Also, ask someone else to help you with this! Their fresh perspective will do wonders for the trailer’s effectiveness. A vital part of disconnecting is relinquishing autonomous control over your creative project.

Edit

film producer editing movie trailer

After you’ve collated your footage, found a backing track, storyboarded, and whipped out your surgical knife, it’s finally time to edit. 

Generally speaking, editors tend to ramp up the speed of their cuts and transitions throughout the length of the trailer. This corresponds with that story structure we previously covered: setup, to incident, to resolution. The setup features slower pacing, allowing the actors to shine and introduce us to their characters and setting

Then, the incident occurs – the edits begin to speed up as the plot’s turning point is previewed. This finally crescendos to faster cuts towards the (hinted) resolution.

How rapidly this ramping-up occurs totally depends on the tone you are trying to convey. A horror film may be a little slower overall, enabling tension to build; your typical action film will likely build much faster, filled to the brim with Michael Bay-esque chaos. This serves to build excitement for your film in a tense, yet satisfying way.

Once you’re done with all your footage and music edits, you’ve completed the bulk of your movie trailer – congratulations! All that’s left now is the finishing post-production touches. 

Make sure to add a title card for the film, as well as the necessary small print credits at the end: the production companies involved, the publishers, actors, directors, producers, etc. Study trailers of movies similar to yours to get an idea of what you should include. 

If tone-appropriate, a voiceover for your trailer can be extremely effective in enticing viewership. This entirely comes down to the style of trailer and movie you are producing. So again, it’s important to study trailers for movies of the same genre. 

If you’re operating on a low budget, you don’t have to hire a professional voiceover artist. Getting one of your actors to record a few extra lines can be both cost-effective, and hugely engaging for your audience. 

Now You Know How To Make A Movie Trailer

cinema stock photo

There you have it, you’ve created your film trailer! We believe you’re on your way to a blockbuster! 

Perhaps the most important tip we can give is to watch a great trailer or two, or as many as you can handle. More than any individual trick, the most productive way of improving your trailer-editing skill is to simply get that distinct feel for them. 

Once you’ve got some examples to work with, you can truly utilise this guide on how to make a good movie trailer. Remember to follow that three-part story structure, and edit your footage following the same fashion.

Start with an amazing backing track, and build on top of it; plan out how you’ll sync up the visuals with the audio for a vivid impact, and don’t be afraid to chop and change your beautiful scenes where necessary. 

The resulting product will be a one- to three-minute rollercoaster of excitement, tragedy, love, loss, calm, and tension. And the viewers – they’ll be filling up the cinema with their bums in seats! 

Have you made a trailer for your film? We’d like to hear your experiences in the comment section below! Also be sure to share this article with your filmmaker friends on social media. Make sure you tag us @musicgateway!

If you enjoyed this article why not check out another on our blog. Here are articles on How To Submit Your Film To A Film Festival, How To Make A Movie Poster and How To Make A Short Film to get you started.

Are You A Filmmaker?

Need financial backing to support your project? Our film investment can back projects of all sizes from independent short films to major releases covering all corners of the globe. If that wasn’t enough, promote your work, list your upcoming films and allow fans to pre-order or buy them with your very own Showcase site. Finally, with our concierge and service and extensive music library, allow us to help you find music for your film. Check out our Music Licensing service to get started.

         

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