So you’re an independent filmmaker and want to make a movie trailer, but you’ve never made one before. You’ve shot your film and now you want to give everyone a taste of what is to come.

The first thing you can do is watch other trailers! You will learn a lot just by watching what people have already done. Each one may be different but many of them follow the same basic formula.

You’ll want to make sure your trailer is unique. It should stand out from the rest, and if a professional looking trailer is what you’re looking for then the following are some key points helpful to accomplish such a task.

Use a voiceover.

You don’t want to tell the complete story but you still want to create a mini story fit for the trailer. This can be accomplished by using a monologue of a character or a conversation between two characters from the movie itself.

The purpose of this is to explain an interesting aspect of the story and introduce a theme without giving away the ending or revealing key plot points.

The style of movie trailers has evolved throughout the years. The ‘In A World…’ voice over motif has become obsolete.

Trailers these days often use dialogue from characters themselves in a specific scene underlying various shots relating to (or ironically showing the opposite to) the dialogue.

Use irony.

Irony in film is commonplace. Using irony in a trailer will draw your audience in.

As I mentioned before, one way to accomplish this is by using a shot completely opposite to what you hear in the dialogue. Your audience will be simultaneously confused and intrigued.

Utilise interesting shots.

You want to showcase the production value of your movie. However, don’t just throw together all the best looking shots without them having any relation to each other.

The shots should still hold some context so make sure they actually play a part in telling the story you want to tell through the trailer.

Fade ins and fade outs.

In a film, it’s rare to see fade ins or fade outs unless it shows passing of time. However, trailers are almost their own genre of film.

Where a fade is rarely used in a feature length movie, it’s much more common in trailers. They often show passing of time more prominently and the mini-trailer-story is often not in complete chronological order.

Trailers are often separated into sections consisting of roughly 2 to 6 shots each. (This technique isn’t set in stone but it’s still commonly used.) Each section begins with the first shot having a fade in from black, and the last, naturally, fading to black again.

Normally this is done during the first half of the trailer.

As you can see the trailer for Logan does exactly this. You won’t count any more than 6 continuous shots before they use a fade.

Use Instrumental music.

The style of music you use is entirely up to you, but it should fit the feel and mood of the story you tell in the trailer.

The music doesn’t have to be instrumental but if you’re hoping to use music with lyrics it depends on a couple of different things:

  • If you have money to get the rights to a song you think is fitting.
  • If you have talented songwriters who can write and record a song for the trailer.
  • If you have time to make said song.

Keep in mind the lyrics will still need to relate to the story. If it’s a song you’re writing then the lyrics and music will need to fit the edit. A song you bought the rights to will also need to fit with the edit of the trailer. This is also another opportunity to use irony.

Once you have a track you think will work, then it’s still possible the edit may need to change again in order for the song lyrics and trailer dialogue to fit well together. If they overlap, it can sound off (unless it’s intentional).

The easiest way to utilise music in a trailer is to just use an instrumental track. It’s much easier to edit around, especially when you’re intention is to time the shots to the beat of the music (I would recommend this).

In the new Guardians of the Galaxy trailer, the video editing and the timing of the chosen music fit perfectly with each other. Not only is it dramatic, it’s also witty and entertaining. Logan is also a great example of this.

If you don’t have the skills or resources to write your own piece then the cheapest option is to find royalty free music online. Many tracks are free, but it usually won’t cost much more than $20 to find a well fitting ‘trailer-esque’ piece.

It’s very rare for a trailer not to include music as it contributes to the overall feeling. However, if you can create a trailer without the need for music then go for it. Just make sure the lack-of music also contributes to the story.

Ask questions. Don’t give answers.

Try not to make a 2 minute, compacted version of the film. You don’t want to give away the whole story.

Instead, show your main character and their ordinary world crumbling after they’ve been thrust into a new circumstance, then leave the audience with a question.

Eg. “Who is this girl? Will she use her power and abilities for good like Logan did or will she become a villain?”

Much like a film itself, a trailer should have a beginning, middle and end. However, the climax and resolution parts of the trailer should hint at what may or may not happen, leaving your audience with a question.

Don’t show the climax.

I hinted at this earlier but I will say it again, DON’T GIVE AWAY THE ENDING. It may seem like common sense but sometimes it’s tempting to show too much because we’re afraid people won’t understand what we’re trying to tell them.

That’s the beautiful thing about it though, we don’t want our audience to know everything, we just want to give them a glimpse of what could be.

Unless you’re sure you can sneak in some interesting shots from the most pivotal moments in the story without actually giving away important plot points then my advice is to avoid it.

Title card.

Spend a good amount of time working on the title card. Don’t just write down the title of the film and slap it on the end of the trailer.

It may not seem important, but this is a key aspect of making your trailer look professional.

The end titles will usually include a main title card with the film name as well as a secondary title card with a mini version of the credits.

The sort of font you want to use should be plain and simple. Sometimes it’s also good to use a font that’s tall and thin so you can fit a large amount of names on each line. ‘Oracle’ and ‘Montserrat’ are examples of appropriate fonts.

Use all CAPS, with the size of the names being larger than the size of the descriptive words.

Make it unique.

The most important part is to make it your own. The preceding steps are merely guidelines, but ultimately you’ll want to create something unique.

Making a trailer is a perfect opportunity to be creative and innovative so don’t be afraid to experiment and try something different.


  • Jay Evans


    Jay Evans has spent the last 8 years working as a film editor, 4 of which have been with The Initiative Production Company. In his spare time he enjoys music, comedy, experimental cooking and getting lost in the woods.


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