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What Is a Movie Trailer?
A movie trailer is an advertisement for an upcoming feature film meant to entice audiences and build excitement for the film. A trailer provides a preview of a film's story without revealing spoilers, and it introduces the film's creative talent (lead actors along with the director, writers, or producers) and includes the release date.
Why Are Previews Called ‘Trailers’?
Trailers got their name because they were originally screened in movie theaters after films ended. Motion picture studios eventually realized audiences often left the theater without watching the trailers, so they decided to have the trailers precede films in order to ensure that audiences saw them. Today, trailers are also known as “previews” or “coming attractions.”
How Long Is a Movie Trailer?
Film trailers intended for theatrical release are usually between one and a half to two and a half minutes long. Teaser trailers are released early to build up hype for the main trailer and are generally around one minute long; they typically don't reveal much plot information and often lack actual film footage because the movie has not yet completed post-production. Television trailers (also known as TV spots) are even shorter, clocking in at between 15 and 60 seconds long.
How to Make a Movie Trailer
To make your own movie trailer, you need footage from the film and video editing software. Any editing software will do, but there are specialized movie trailer makers available that include genre-specific trailer templates to make the process even easier.
- Organize your trailer using three-act structure. Great trailers tell a riveting story that gets the audience emotionally invested—and one of the best ways to achieve this is to use a three-act story structure. The beginning of your trailer should introduce the main characters, the setting, and the film's premise; the middle should heighten the conflict, and the end should feature a climax. When assembling the structure of your trailer, it's helpful to create storyboards of your scenes to guide you through the edit.
- Show the most unforgettable scenes. A good trailer shows off the most visually dazzling and emotionally captivating scenes without spoiling major plot points. This is one of the more difficult aspects of the movie trailer-making process, but it's important to include any footage that has a strong chance of convincing an audience to see the film. For example, a trailer for a blockbuster action film might highlight the scenes with showstopping special effects; the trailer for a comedy might use some of the funniest jokes that don't affect the plot.
- Use voice-over or text to help tell the story. Since movie trailers are so truncated compared to the complete film, voice-over and on-screen text can be beneficial tools for explaining necessary exposition. You can either write and record new voice-over dialogue for the trailer or take dialogue spoken in the film and repurpose it as voice-over.
- Choose music that sets the tone. The most effective trailers are elevated through the use of well-chosen music. For example, you might choose a suspenseful score for a thriller or a lighthearted pop song for a romantic comedy. For dramas, the third act climax of the trailer often contains a strong orchestral piece over a montage of emotional scenes. You can purchase trailer music from stock music libraries as opposed to composing music specifically for the trailer.
- Use editing techniques to control the pace. Add sound effects to liven up scene transitions, use quick cuts to show action, control the pace by fading in and out of scenes, and sync music cues to specific moments.
- Highlight the film's talent. A cast run is a list of star actors who appear in the film, along with any big-name directors, producers, or writers whose involvement could draw in an audience. The cast run often appears in movie previews during the final act of the trailer as it's reaching its climax.
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