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The Movie Is Not the Trailer (Nor Should It Be)

This may seem counter-intuitive but, the first step to creating a great trailer is divorcing yourself from the full length movie.

This can be difficult to do, especially if you were involved in making the film. It’s easy to become overly precious with your own work, falling in love with the way certain scenes, storylines or characters play out.

“The first step to creating a great trailer is divorcing yourself from the full length movie.”

But the veteran trailer editor doesn’t care about any of that. They are only concerned with one thing:

How do I package the footage in a manner which best entices an audience?

In other words, how do I make people want to see this movie?

Audiences want to know what they’re getting into. They worry about wasting their time. They take comfort in the known. This ties into a philosophy called:

The Illusion of Choice

This is a strategy employed by marketing departments for all kinds of products, not just movies.

Here’s an example:

Why do most car companies offer some version of basically the same six designs?

The coupe, the sedan, the SUV, the truck, the sports car and the station wagon/van. Surely there are innumerable different combinations and variations possible on the motor vehicle. Cars with six wheels or eight doors.

Why is the consumer offered only the same few choices?

The truth is, most people are turned off by the truly unique.

They would not purchase a car with an outlandish design. The risk is too great.

They’re much more comfortable with the familiar. Six or seven options allows consumers the feeling of making decisions without the uncertainty of unlimited choice.

“If no one sees the movie, it doesn’t matter if it’s unique or not.”

Step 1: Pick a Genre

In the movies, this Illusion of Choice begins by picking a genre. Comedy, horror, action, etc.

Now, this may sound distasteful to some, especially filmmakers who see their work as a beautiful and unique snowflake that defies categorization, but remember: the movie is the movie and the trailer is the trailer. The trailer’s job is to get people to watch the film, which can then shine as the rare and special thing that it is.

We’re not saying that choosing a genre is the end-all-be-all of completing a great trailer. But, knowing which category you’re selling will help guide you through the many and varied choices you will have to make during the process.

Definitely, many action movies have dramatic components. Just as a lot of dramas include some comedy. This is ok. The key here is moderation. Don’t throw too many different genre’s at the audience and, thereby, alienate them. Make them feel comfortable that the movie fits into something they know.

Along similar lines, it is important to commit to a story.

Step 2: Commit to a Story

Good trailers only tell a very simplified version of the film’s plot.

One of the biggest problems with trailers made by inexperienced editors is that they often get bogged down by the minutia of the movie. They introduce too many characters. They attempt to cram in too many complicated plot points. They just try to do too much.

Figure out the most compelling and simple story that sums up your movie and stick to it. Strip away the scenes and moments that do not serve that central idea.
This can be gut-wrenching. Sometimes those are your favorite parts of the film. But if they detract from the audience’s ability to understand what the movie is about on a basic level, they’re going to do you more harm than good.

Audiences are very savvy. They assume that the story shown in the trailer is only a taste of what’s to come.

It’s meant to be an appetizer, not a full meal.

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You can learn more about trailer music and sound design editing techniques in this free 3-part video training series.

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