Note: The deadline for submitting to get a free trailer created for your project is 11:59 pm Sunday December 15. Submission instructions can be found below in the "Send Me Your Film" section of the original article.
Making a good trailer can be just as daunting as making a good film. In some ways it’s even tougher because you only have two to three minutes to sell your audience. A trailer should be an intriguing, eye-caching promotional piece designed to get people to watch your film. Every shot, sound bite, graphic card, and musical choice must be deliberate. Nothing should be a throw away. It all has to make sense not only to you, but to the audience you are targeting.
One of the biggest mistakes many filmmakers make when it comes to creating their own trailers, is producing something that only makes sense to them. Yes, nobody knows your movie like you do. But therein lies the problem. You’re way too close to your work, which makes it hard for you to be objective. You think every scene is crucial. Every “big moment” has to be in the trailer. As a result, I see a lot of trailers that are essentially “highlight reels.” No story. No structure. Just a series of random scenes strung together that only make sense to the filmmaker.
Here’s a trailer I oversaw for the BET Original Movie "Being Mary Jane." It encompasses all the elements of an effective trailer. I consider it successful because the ratings for "Being Mary Jane" nearly doubled expectations.
For the most part, professionals that create trailers use smoke and mirrors. They’re not saying the movie is this good; they’re just trying to make you THINK it is.
These are the elements that go into making the magic happen:
Start With A Script
Too often filmmakers try and jump right in to cutting before they’ve laid the foundation for the story they’re trying to tell. The script is the blueprint for where you’re going. It should contain your shot selections, sound bites, VO, title cards, and even sound effects. Your script should lay out the story you’re telling in the most provocative and compelling way. A good script is the basis for a good trailer.
Set Up the Story
A good trailer sets up the story then takes you inside. It should capture a range of emotions that keeps the viewer on edge. Trailers should not be one pace. There should be twists and turns building to some kind of crescendo. There should be dramatic pulse points, highs and lows. By the time the screen cuts to black, the viewer should be totally invested.
Show Me Don’t Tell Me
A good trailer uses minimal copy and uses voice-over only when necessary. Tell the story through pictures and dialogue. No need to hold the audience’s hand. Let the movie sell itself. Something I learned during my HBO days.
A good trailer should feature interesting characters and memorable sound bites. One of my favorite lines in a trailer comes from “Captain Phillips.” I love when the Somali says, “Look at me…. I’m your captain now.” After hearing that bite I was sold. Sometimes all it takes is one memorable line to sell a ticket.
Strong Music Track
A trailer cut to the right music is sometimes enough to bounce the audience right into those seats. Music adds another dimension, a layer of emotion that dictates the way the audience should feel at a given moment. There should be multiple music changes throughout a trailer so you take the audience on a ride. The right music track can really drive a trailer. Take the trailer for Leonardo DiCaprio’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” for instance. One version of the trailer features Kanye’s song “Black Skinheads” prominently. The other doesn’t use Kanye’s track at all. Here’s a look at both trailers. Which movie do YOU want to see? Music can change the entire tone of your film.
The Wolf of Wall Street Kanye Version
The Wolf of Wall Street Version 2
Send Me Your Film
Now that you have the basics, put your film into the hands of a professional. To demonstrate the tenets outlined in this post, I volunteer to cut a FREE TRAILER for one lucky reader who has a recently completed feature, documentary or short. If you need a hot trailer, send me your film. I will send you back a top-notch theatrical trailer for FREE.
Please email your viewing link along with a synopsis and any loglines you have including your contact information to: DOUBLEWIDETRAILERS@VERIZON.NET. All submissions must be received no later than 11:59 pm EST, SUNDAY, DECEMBER 15.
Double Wide Trailers is committed to helping emerging filmmakers raise the marketability of their films with a professional movie trailer that is eye-catching, inventive and most of all memorable. We look forward to taking your project to the next level.
About CJ Harris
CJ Harris has been creating award-winning promotional campaigns for over 10 years. As Senior Writer/Producer at HBO, CJ’s groundbreaking promos for Def Poetry have become legendary in the industry. While at HBO, CJ worked on a number of high-profile campaigns including Jill Scott’s No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, HBO Documentary Films, and Chris Rock Kill the Messenger. Her most recent work as Creative Director at BET Networks includes launching the BET Original Movie Being Mary Jane, overseeing the promotional campaigns for The Game, Black Girls Rock and Scandal on BET as well as dozens of other network series, tentpoles and movies. CJ holds a B.S. in Broadcasting and Film from Boston University. When CJ’s not shaping dope creative she spends her time watching sports and yelling at the TV.
To sample CJ’s work, go to: http://vimeo.com/cjharris