Dear Filmmakers... Invest In A Good First Trailer

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by Tambay A. Obenson
February 22, 2012 7:52 PM
5 Comments
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It's one of those days folks... read my first Dear Filmmakers post from earlier today HERE.

I can't stress enough just how important your film's trailer is - especially that very first trailer you release publicly, which could very well make or break your film. It's THAT important; it's practically your film's initial introduction to the world, and you know what they say about first impressions.

I get emails from time to time from filmmakers alerting me to their projects, and I'm continuously baffled at just how sloppy some of these trailers are. It gets really frustrating folks, because there actually might be a pretty good film being summarized in that 2 1/2-minute clip. BUT because it's so poorly put together, it instantly sours any interest I might have had in finding out any more.

Ya dig?

I don't want to embarass anyone by using their trailer as an example of what NOT to do; believe it or not, I'm actually here to help not hurt. And I know our readers well enough to know just how unforgiving they can be when we do post items that are so obviously not up to par. 

So, instead, I'd just say that, when cutting a trailer, take these things into consideration:

- How well do you know your film? You really should by the time you get to putting a trailer together. What's its center? It's core? What's the thread driving its narrative? Think about that as you nip and tuck.

- Who's your audience? 

- Limit the music. Too often there seems to be this need to mimic Hollywood's approach, with timed swelling soundtracks that sometimes overpower the images. That shouldn't happen; the music certainly shouldn't be at the same sound levels as the dialogue within the scenes; I shouldn't be struggling to understand what's being said. Let your scenes (the actors, dialogue, cinematography, production design, direction) speak for themselves; the music shouldn't do that for you. It's there to compliment. 

- There's no such thing as the perfect trailer. I'm sure you could always find something to critique in any trailer, but if there was one single suggestion I could make for you to take from this, it would be to K.I.S.S.

- Also, less really is more. Less of everything; don't give the entire movie away; keep the music to a minimum; keep the trailer short (I'd say from 1:30 to 2 minutes is ideal). The trailer is meant to intro your film, and, in effect, tease your audience into wanting to see more of it. Then after you've released your first trailer, you can spread out additional teases with more clips, stills, etc.

- Watch trailers for other films, especially films that have already entered the markeplace. Identify those that worked for you, in that they got your attention and made you want to see more.

Obviously, if your original source - your footage (the acting, directing, cinematography, etc) - isn't great, then you really can't expect to be able to cut a great trailer. However, I think you all will agree that there have been times when you've been fooled into watching a film because you were sold on the trailer; meaning, even with weak source material, you can still put together a decent intro to your film in the form of a trailer. 

If you need assistance in putting your trailer together, please don't hesitate to ask. Not that I'm some trailer pro, but I'd be happy to give my own suggestions, and you can do with them as you see fit. But even if you don't ask me, ask others whose opinions you respect - and not just your family, friends, crew or cast mates. 

Invest a good amount of time on it; don't rush; I know the excitement one feels after completing a project and wanting to share glimpses of it with the world soon thereafter. Patience grasshopper. Take your time; to reiterate, your first trailer is your film's first real introduction to the world, and it could impact how your film is viewed from then on, even if you cut a second improved trailer. That initial sourness really does linger on for awhile...

Filmmaking is already hard, time-consuming work; don't ruin your film's potential reach with a weak first trailer.

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5 Comments

  • brace | February 23, 2012 5:04 AMReply

    I really hate trailers. instead of making me wanna see the movie they actually make me feel like I've already seen the movie before. they all look the same with the same voice. it would be great if film makers would put more effort to make a good trailer. so I'm glad you wrote this article.

  • Darkan | February 22, 2012 9:32 PMReply

    Yes! About time this was talked about! I had people ready to burn me in effigy when I speaking on a few posted trailers a couple of months back especially on the trailers that seemed to go on about nothing for at least 3 - 4 mins. Even some of the big studios have dropped the ball on trailers lately. It is definitely an art form. Thank you Tambay for giving out these tips to the up and coming and a few veterans too.

  • Jug | February 22, 2012 8:29 PMReply

    True indeed! Theres a reason studios will spend 10-30 mil on cutting trailers ALONE! There are companies here that literally all they do is cut trailers. Its a new art form, or more to the point a rebranding of one. Mashup of commercial blipverts & moviemaking.

  • Jug | February 22, 2012 8:30 PM

    Wonder if my geek squad will call out Blipverts :-D

  • Xi | February 22, 2012 8:19 PMReply

    Thanks Tambay! Wonderful points to consider. Music is definitely one of my favorite tools, and I've seen how easy it is to go overboard.

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