The Ultimate How To Guide to Making Trailers

Source: Ian Wall, Media Magazine, April 2014

The Purpose of Trailers

Trailers have an obvious purpose - to make people want to see a film. The purpose is essentially to give the audience an idea of what the film is like.

To find a film pleasurable, it needs to have something new about it but also it needs to build on the knowledge and experience of the audience. 

Franchise films use this.

Unique selling point

In order to market a film, the distributor needs to decide what sets the film's USP (unique selling point). They need to look at the aspects of the film that set it aside from other films in that genre. They will look at the storyline to see how the film differs from others in the same genre and see what the key parts of the story are. In addition, they will look at the actors that star in the film, the director and any special effects.

The USP of a film will help potential audiences come to an understanding of what they might expect when they go to see the film.

The target audience

When thinking about the USP, they will also be considering who the target audience for the film is.
The target audience is best defined as the specific largest group of people that would be interested in seeing the film.
The target audience will affect the where and how parts of the marketing campaign (where the film is promoted and advertised and how to reach that specific target audience.

Whilst the target audience is important, the distributor will try and attract the widest range of people as possible.

The Trailer

A trailer is almost certainly the most cost effective advertising technique that is available to film distributors.
It can be shown in cinemas, on TV and online. 

Extracts from the film are used because these excite the audience. 

Trailers work by using a combination of moving images, graphics and a voiceover to create a narrative image of the film.

They are shown in cinemas before films that might attract a similar audience.

Looking at trailers

Films have to be positioned by considering the USP against an understanding of age, gender, lifestyles and activities of the audiences.

The target audience can vary from film to film.

It is the distributors job to define who the audience for any one film is, and each film has to be treated as an individual product.

There are points that need to be considered including: How long is each trailer, how many shots are contained in each trailer, how long is each shot approx., what different devices are used in the trailer and others.

Learn from other student trailers

Common errors found in student trailers include:
  • Too long
  • Far too long
  • What is included resembles the opening sequence of the film
  • Shots are too long
  • There isn't a variety of shots
  • Trailers lack pace in editing
  • Sound quality of dialogue is poor
  • No use of captions/intertitles.
  • No voiceover
  • No clear idea of what the story is about

Creating the trailer - the story

The starting point of a trailer is knowing the complete story of the film. A trailer editor will watch the whole film and select scenes, moments and pieces of dialogue which will al contribute to creating the narrative image.

The narrative image that you want to convey must be considered. Things such as what is the idea of the film, the narrative image, that you are trying to get across.

Creative choices

Thought needs to go into the overall feel of the trailer, such as is a voicerover going to be used, are there going to be captions, and will there be - and what is the - background music.

If the answer is yes to any over those, then the words that are going to be used need to help develop the idea of the narrative image. They must tease the viewer into wanting to watch the film.


The most creative part is the edit. Lots of choices of shots are needed in order to make the edit easier, therefore these must be thought about during filming.

How many ways can you film someone doing something.

A variety of shots need to be filmed.


The music must reflect the mood and feel of the film. It must give the audience a feel for the film. The genre of the film should be considered and the music that si chosen should be perfect.

The edit

Adding the music track at the end should be avoid. The music should be laid down before the editing of the images begins. The beat of the music will help the trailer be constrcucted.

The music should be lowered when the voiceovers are added, and when there is dialogue, so that it could be heard.

Things to think about once finished

  • Make sure that there are no shots that are extremely long compared to others
  • Make sure it isn't longer than two minutes.
  • Compare the trailer with the synopsis