6 minute read
May 30, 2022

Key tips to edit a great trailer

When we think about trailers, we mainly tend to think first about the visuals, the lighting, color correction, and such. However, a nicely done trailer is way more than that, in fact, it’s way more than big shots, clear sound effects, and well-composed music, for as a fact, even when having all of these three, I guarantee your trailer will suck if they aren’t used properly.

Oh, don’t be discouraged, the pros got you covered and are quite enthusiastic about giving you their best tips for industry standards! We’ve also covered other filmmaking topics, such as how to use storyboards, what is CGI, the art of cinematic lighting, and so much more. Browse through our blog and find more interesting topic to read about! 

What is a trailer?

A trailer is a compilation of selected shots of a movie or commercial being advertised. Likely, editors will tend to select the most characteristic and remarkable shots of the raw footage without providing too much information, aka, spoiling the rest of the film.

That right there is the definition, but what you’re actually trying to build in a trailer is solely the attention of your audience. It sounds like child’s play, but there’s a lot to it. Just a disclaimer before we get to the juicy bits: a good movie is irrelevant to its trailer, no matter how bad the argument and the plot are, most of the time, you’ll be able to get away with a brilliant trailer. 

In fact, that’s what’s happening to the vast majority of poorly-rated movies these days. A wonderful trailer sets the bar up high, but the rest of the movie fails to deliver. Trust me, this is happening way too often.

But enough talk, you’re here for the pro tips, and that’s what we’ll provide.

Tips to edit a great trailer

#1 Organize your piece like a 3 part story

Sometimes knowing where to start is one of the hardest and most time-consuming things you’ll get from editing.

However, if you just start keeping the above title in mind, you can spare yourself some time and get your hands straight to the job.

Make sure your trailer is put together like a 3 part story, in the sense that it has an intro, a problem, and a climax.

If you’re getting too lost with all the footage pieces and sound files, just know this is a great tip for when you’re running out of time and an end product must be delivered before a certain deadline.

#2 Stay true to the direction of your focal points

You might have heard this one before, but in case you’re a beginner, it’s worth mentioning. Even though a trailer lasts 3 minutes max, information can be overwhelming, especially visuals.

So let’s take Todd Phillips’ 2019 “Joker” film, protagonist by Joaquin Phoenix. Everyone knows the film, right? Well, take a look at this 4 shot sequence found in the trailer.

As you can see, the sequence goes as follows:

  1. The bully stares at Arthur as he hears his laughter.
  2. One of the bullies proceeds to harass Arthur.
  3. The bully in picture 1 punches Arthur in the face
  4. Arthur’s body slams forcefully against the ground.

If your average Joe takes a look at the sequence, they probably won’t notice anything particularly interesting. But in reality, there is a professional approach behind these shots, and it shows when we take into account the direction of the visuals.

The bully (right) glances at Arthur (left) following the direction line as seen below

Take a look at what happens in the following punch shots if the direction wasn’t even considered:

The punch was thrown from left to right, but Arthur’s body falls from right to left. It doesn’t make any sense, does it?

Now, this is more like it! As a trailer editor, this cannot be ignored, remember, there’s just too much going on in a trailer.

If this method isn’t respected, your audience will be rotating their heads from right to left and up and down, chances are, everyone in the room watching this will get lost. Guaranteed.

Whereas, just follow this key, yet simple tip and your transitions will flow much more smoothly.

#3 Play with shots to provide story depth

A good trailer should be able to convey a story in very little time and get the audience to understand it. Sounds easy, but with all the fast-paced imagery, it’s not hard to get your audience confused.

So how do you slap one shot after the other and give some context? By going from general to particular. This applies to both shots and dialogue, but we’ll give you an example from Ari Aster’s infamous ¨Hereditary¨

If the editors just skipped the previous shots and went straight away into filming the girl, Charlie, the audience would be standing clueless.

Although it is not necessary to understand the story of the narrative itself, a trailer should portray a microstory of a much bigger universe. So take a look at how it’s done:

By providing three shots before the delivery of the dialogue, the audience gets to understand what is going on, without really being able to tell what the narrative is about.

We now understand Annie is speaking to her daughter Charlie, who is about to go to sleep inside her treehouse, without overexposing the narrative of the film.

#4 Consider grouping shots to convey a micro story

Generally speaking, in a typical trailer, you’ll get a sequence usually followed by shots of the same scene. Rinse and repeat, in the sort of fashion below:

In the first scene (magenta) we can see two shots of Laura stealing groceries, right next to it, we get another two-shot scene where Logan gets out of the car and speaks to Xavier (green) lastly, we have another one of these, in which Logan dialogues with Laura (red).

All of these shots belong to the same scene. It’s more than understandable why they are put together.  

However, as long as the sequences narrate a story, you may come up with a scene like the one below. 

Even though the 1st shot of Laura body-slamming a soldier and the 2nd one of Laura pulling out her claws (green) belong to the same scene in the movie, the 3rd shot of Laura tearing a soldier to pieces (red) does not. However, there is no problem with it since the sequence works perfectly fine even though the shot doesn’t organically belong to the previous scene.

#5 Avoid tripping over all of your sound files

Lastly, with number 5, a very common mistake is to mash up your dialogue, sound effects, and music files into one single inaudible piece. As we said before, narrating a story in 2 minutes might sound easy, but it takes more than that for the audience to fully grasp the concept of it.

Try making the music the protagonist of your sound files, and what better place to find the perfect trailer music other than HookSounds. Make sure your dialogue lines and neat sound effects work around it rather than slamming one on top of the other.

With this said, keep any dialogues out of the silence and let the images speak for themselves before the visual and auditory intensity increase abruptly again. A fantastic example of this is the Kong trailer link below.


This will not only help gradually build up the intensity but it will also provide space and time for the audience to process what they are seeing, listening and feeling.