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Trailers, Teasers & Promos: Lengths, Formats & Tips

The world of trailer and promo editing doesn’t get much time in the spotlight compared to its longer-form cousin, feature editing.

In this short Edit Tip, we’ll be taking a look a few common structures you can use when cutting your next trailer or promo.

Trailer & Promo Editing

While promo pieces come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, there are 3 primary archetypes to understand.

1 – The Trailer
2 – The Teaser
3 – The Spot

The Trailer

The trailer is the longest type of promo you might cut and it typically contains the most story information.

A common trailer structure

Length: Trailers can stretch up to 2 min 30 sec in length and typically contain 3 acts.

Act Structure: Act 1 introduces the world and the main characters. It’s important to get to an engaging and interesting moment as early as possible in the piece so the viewer stays on for the ride over the next couple minutes.

In action trailers, it’s a big moment (which might be a great way to cold open the piece.)

In suspense and horror trailers, you’ll want to begin in normality and build to your first scare and the reveal that something is amiss.

In comedy, do your best to setup your story using jokes. Structure your exposition-heavy open in a way that naturally leads into moments of levity to prevent boredom and establish a comedic tone from the start.

And, in drama trailers, do your best to present the viewer with likable and relatable characters. Easier said than done in the first :30 of a trailer.

Across all genres, acts 2 and 3 serve as vehicles to introduce complications, top moments from the film and ultimately build to your act 3 climax, which should be the biggest, funniest, scariest, coolest moment of your film.

Trailer Tip: Your trailer climax isn’t necessarily going to be the same as the climax of your movie. In fact, it almost always isn’t.

Last impressions are almost as important as first ones. Many times, the ending is the only part of the trailer your audience will remember.

The Teaser

Alright, moving down the list we’ve got the teaser.

Similar to the trailer, but the teaser is almost always a shorter piece. After all, its function is, well…to tease.

Much of the story information is withheld and the goal is to simply entice the viewer with 1 or 2 of the best moments in the film and a general understanding of the central conceit or premise.

A common teaser structure

Length: Teasers typically end up between :60 and :90 seconds in length.

Act Structure: Most teasers fall into a 2-act structure. Act 1 will provide a bit of context and character setup and act 2 will transition directly into a set-piece moment from the film – whether it’s a scare, a stunt, a line or a joke.

Teaser Tip: Be careful not to get sucked into telling too much story in a teaser.

It’s tempting to start adding all the great dialogue lines from your various characters to flesh out the story. This will almost always lead you down a rabbit hole that will turn your :90 teaser into a 2:30 trailer. If that’s not your goal, go sparingly with the story elements.

The Spot

Last, we’ve got the spot.

A common spot structure

Length: Spots can vary in length but are typically the shortest of the 3 types of promos. Some spots are as short as :05 with others getting as long as :90. Most you’ll see on TV on the internet are :15 or :30.

Act Structure: A spot has the difficult task of providing a full meal that represents the movie in a very compressed time-frame. Despite their short length, spots will typically have 3 full acts, similar to a trailer. They’re just much shorter.

One of the biggest challenges when cutting a spot is custom editing your music cue to fit the shorter length. You’ll need to get pretty skilled at up-cutting and modifying the cue to go from beginning to middle to end in a short timespan like 30 seconds.

A good rule of thumb is to start your spot with the beginning of the music, end it with the climax of the music and then custom edit the middle to connect the two sections.

NOTE: custom music editing does not mean putting a 100-frame dissolve between two sections of music.

Spot Tip: Viewers of spots are VERY impatient.

Unlike trailers and teaser, spots are often playing to a much more distracted audience. Most people are viewing a spot in the form of a TV or web-based ad while they’re trying to do something else. For that reason, a spot has to open strong.

Use attention-grabbing sound design to kick it off and get to an interesting moment within the first 5-7 seconds. Otherwise, there’s a high degree of certainty that your viewer won’t make it to the end.

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