It is virtually impossible to escape seeing trailers for an upcoming studio movie online, on television and often in theatres before the main feature. In fact, a few decades ago, advertising slots on Thursday night television were considered a premium spots for trailers since films often opened in cinemas on a Friday. As important as trailers are when it comes to promoting big budget films, they can also be useful to have on hand to promote an independent film.
Whether you are gearing up for a festival run or theatrical exhibition, a trailer can be used to showcase the talent of your cast and crew, show off your locations and sometimes even the scale of your production. They can also spotlight any original music composed for the film. They can be used with posters, tag lines, synopses, cast and crew bios, production stills and behind the scenes videos in an EPK or Electronic Press Kit that accompanies festival submissions. As a festival programmer I can say that I really appreciate filmmakers who take the time to gather elements that help promote their films. It makes for a lot less work for festival volunteers and also facilitates more media coverage for the films.
If you are new to making films, how do you approach putting together a trailer for your film? How do you select which parts of your film to showcase? I would suggest starting with a little research. Check out some trailers and see what about them works, given the type of film they are representing. When I was putting together trailers for my first films, I found it helpful to organize trailers I like into different categories.
I call the first category Summary Trailers. They serve as a “Coles Notes” or summary of the basic plot of the film. You should be careful, however, to avoid showing major plot-points or spoilers. Fight the tendency to show off that amazing trick shot or biggest reveal. Give your audience enough to get the gist of the genre and story. You want audiences to watch the entire film, after all. One example of of this type of trailer is the one I put together for the short film “A Clean Slate”, a comedy about a once promising pop singer who struggles to overcome her debilitating stage fright. I threw in a little twist at the end inspired by post credit scenes that kept propping up at the cinema at the time.
Opening Scene Trailer
Another approach a trailer is to re-purpose the opening of your film. This is often the scene of set of scenes that set up the story so you aren’t giving away any major information. Doing this allows you to set the scene and leave the audience wanting to know how things pan out. Two good examples of this approach are the trailers for the short films May Flowers and Social Mediation.
A misunderstanding occurs when Jimmy goes to pick up an order for his boss at May Flowers. Little did he expect how the tables would turn.
Social Mediation follows the legal process as a couple negotiates elements of a carefully curated version of their lives on social media as a result of a break-up.
Here the trailer serves to set the scene for the film with a side-plot or with elements of a story that happen before the film or away from the main action but inform the story or motivation of the characters. Trailers like this showcase the style of the film and the genre. A good example is the trailer for the film The Order of Things to Come. The film is about a petty criminal who decides to reconcile with his old boss on his release from prison. What you see in the trailer are scenes that occur just prior to the events in the film.
This is a risky strategy that can be used if your story lends itself to it and it may or may not work in all cases. It involves cutting the trailer in a way that is ambiguous or in a way that creates a controversial twist that may or may not exist in the film. Depending on how it is received, it could create massive amounts engagement and buzz. But on the flip side, it may also turn off potential audience members who won’t see the film as a result of the misdirection. An example that comes to mind is the trailer for the locally produced feature film Thirteen Downs. It is a feature film about a broken family’s fallen past. When an estranged son shows up at his missing father’s home only to find a young girl there, a mad rush to put all the pieces together ensues. It has been over a decade since it premiered but it isn’t readily available online so I have put a tiny spoiler in below the trailer.
Spoiler – click to expand
There is nothing untoward going on. He turns out to be her grandfather.
Those were a few tips to get you started when it comes to how to craft a trailer to promote your film. There are many other strategies and examples that you can readily find online. If you are looking for examples to inspire you, OCanFilmFest maintains a page with details of all films screened at the festival since its inception. Click through to get at more information about each films. You’ll find that many have links to trailers.
While it is good to include some of your favourite shots or clips I strongly advise being selective and giving an audience just enough to make an informed decision as to whether your movie is something they would be interested in seeing. It is often a fine balance that comes with experience and exposure to different types and styles of trailers.
Web Designer, Editor, Film Reviewer
Jith Paul is an independent filmmaker based in Ottawa. While pursuing a career as a software engineer, he decided to take a detour to follow his passion for film and filmmaking, establishing Treepot Media in 2010.
He is a co-founder of the Ottawa Canadian Film Festival, and editor of the film613 blog.
When he is not busy fighting crime, he coordinates the efforts of an international team of software developers and service providers as the Team Lead for Digital Development at CPAC, the Cable Public Affairs Channel.