Skip to main content

How To Make A Movie Trailer

They're perhaps the most important part of a marketing campaign.

Forget the posters, the image releases and all the talent blathering on about how fun it was to make the damned thing.

The trailer for a new movie is the first time that we as audience members and dutiful film fans get to make an informed decision for ourselves on whether or not a new film will appeal to our sensibilities.

Would you have seen Star Wars if it hadn't been for that brilliantly foreboding first teaser? How about This Is England or, um, Titanic ?

Here's our guide for how to replicate that all for yourself...

Recruit Voice-Over Bloke

The Cliché: All trailers need the dry and dulcet tones of a scholarly narrator.

Appears In: Star Wars , (500) Days Of Summer , everything else ever...

How To Make It Real: In lieu of actually hiring one of the professional blokes who lend their craggy tones to the moving images of movie trailers, you’ll want to find somebody with an amazing set of pipes to give your trailer an air of menace and authority.

If you’re strapped for cash, you could get the same guy who provided your film’s quirky narration to do the trailer, as well. Just like in (500) Days of Summer .

And if money’s really, really tight, record the voice-over yourself, pop it into your computer and use a special filter to warp it until you sound all deep-throated and luscious. Easy.

Next: Show All The Best Bits [page-break]

Show All The Best Bits

The Cliché: Trailers shouldn’t hold back on the good stuff.

Appears In: X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

How To Make It Real: So you went through a horrible production, everything went wrong, and you’re left with an absolute stinker of a film.

Still, you need to make a living, so you'll be needing as many people to come and see this as possible. Here, a little trickery is required.

Take all of the best bits from your film (anything with explosions, people yelling, or, like, massive trucks smashing into each other) and chuck them all into the trailer.

Trust us, you’ll be thanking your lucky stars when people show up in their droves to pay good money to see your rubbish.

Just prepare yourself for some scathing reviews. But you knew the film was rubbish to begin with anyway, didn’t you?

Next: Use Some Clint Mansell Music [page-break]

Use Some Clint Mansell Music

The Cliché: Composer Mansell’s ‘Lux Aeterna’, written for Requiem For A Dream , is used to score many a dramatic movie trailer.

Appears In: Sunshine, The Da Vinci Code.

How To Make It Real: The list of trailers that have utilised Mansell’s singularly breathtaking slice of musical nirvana are numerous: I Am Legend , Sunshine , The Da Vinci Code , even Avatar turned to Mansell for a bit of dramatic audio-love.

Easy enough to translate into your own trailer. Hop onto iTunes, download the track, and tinker to your heart’s content until your images fit the soaring scoring.

Adds layers of class and gravitas to anything it’s paired up with. Heck, it even made us want to see King Arthur .

Next: Don't Worry About Spoilers [page-break]

Don’t Worry About Spoilers

The Cliché: Trailers don’t mess about worrying that audiences might get spoiled, they shove it all unapologetically up there on the screen.

Appears In: Iron Man.

How To Make It Real: In this age of internet information overload, you’ll be lucky to pull off a Chris Nolan and sustain secrecy about your flick for longer than the time it takes for a match to burn out.

(Even Nolan hasn’t managed to stop the web spies from revealing a fair few of upcoming Inception ’s tricks.)

So beat the web geeks to it and chuck whatever you want into the trailer. Somebody dies? Make it a feature. Got a massive scrap as the film’s centrepiece? You better not leave that bad boy out!

In the world of trailers, quantity really does overrule quality.

Next: Write Some Funky Inserts [page-break]

Write Some Funky Inserts

The Cliché: Trailers are nothing without their wordy insert cards, which act as shorthand for the film’s plot beats.

Appears In: Scream 3, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

How To Make It Real: One of the main things that has survived the silent film era is the use of wordy inserts. Forget the adage that one picture is worth a million words; sometimes a few select sentences will help you get to the meat of your trailer sooner.

It’s all about the word selection here, as well. Scream 3 played around with the trilogy rules, handily setting up the premise of the new sequel while giving us the impression that this was the franchise’s endgame.

Other trailers use the inserts to add emotion and context. Superlatives are an absolute must – your movie is now awesome , unbelievable , groundbreaking , inspiring . Grab a thesaurus and throw a couple of darts at it.

Next: Get Some Media Quotes [page-break]

Get Some Media Quotes

The Cliché: A trailer needs to be backed up with some sensational review quotes urging you to watch 'the best film of the year'.

Appears In: A Single Man.

How To Make It Real: A survey of 2,000 moviegoers back in 2004 revealed that just 33% of people take reviews into account when they go to see a movie (welcome to the age of free-thinking!). Meanwhile, the IMDb was found to influence about 28% of film fans.

That said, 70% of those surveyed said that television ads were the main influence for their decision to go take in the latest cinematic delight.

So, when all’s said and done, it’s the ads that do the work. Of course, a major part of any TV spot is the soundbites snipped from various outlets. So make sure you chase up publications and scour the mags for the best quotes out there.

Bribing critics with Starbucks vouchers goes a long way, too. Just so you know.

Next: Link To A Viral Website [page-break]

Link To A Viral Website

The Cliché: Trailers always have to end with the address to a viral website.

Appears In: The Blair Witch Project , Tron Legacy , The Matrix.

How To Make It Real: These days, your marketing campaign is only as good as your viral strategy.

Tron Legacy is currently leading the pack with its convoluted and intricate campaign, which includes the Flynn Lives website , while Disney have been mailing website owners secret codes, and revealing bits and bobs all over the internet. There was even a conference of the fictional Encom company from the movie.

If you want your flick to have even a fighting chance in the market, you’ll need the trailer to capitalise on all this information-dripping paraphernalia.

Next: In Lieu Of Mansell, Get A Cool Track [page-break]

In Lieu Of Mansell, Get A Cool Track

The Cliché: If you decide not to go with the Mansell score, a killer track will make any trailer feel ultra-slick.

Appears In: Reservoir Dogs .

How To Make It Real: If Mansell is too predictable a soundtrack for your trailer, why not use an awesome-sounding track to flesh out your aural landscape?

Best thing about it is the songs have already been recorded, all you need to do is have a play about with the sound gauges and make sure the song beats hit the plot beats just right.

Have a browse on iTunes, flick through your favourite CDs (anything by Jacko, Daft Punk or Filter works quite well), then let rip.

Next: Tell Us Some Names [page-break]

Tell Us Some Names

The Cliché: Names and their associated past works hold almost as much weight as Academy Award nominations, something that trailers should capitalise on.

Appears In: Avatar.

How To Make It Real: Unless your uncle’s Francis Ford Coppola, or Steven Spielberg once threw a birthday party for you when you were nine, you may be a little limited in the name dropping here.

Nobody particularly wants to see the film ‘From the goddaughter of the son of the husband of the mistress of the pet of James Cameron’, so try to ground it a bit in your own exaggerated reality.

Those superlatives will come in handy again here. You are now a ‘visionary’ director, or the writer of the ‘groundbreaking, moving’ drama about a woman who once lost a balloon to the elements.

Next: Show Off Your SFX [page-break]

Show Off Your SFX

The Cliché: Trailers should always capitalise on the groundbreaking visual effects that are on offer.

Appears In: The Matrix.

How To Make It Real: Simples; make sure you shoot a special effect scene, for a start.

All films should feature special effects (according to the Hollywood Bible), so you need at least one scene with some fancy CGI showing off. If you’re feeling the pinch, blow up a microwave in the back garden, or drive your Gran’s old Ford into a brick wall.

Squibs are fun, too. Set a load up in your living room (attach them to anything that looks cool exploding: some of mum’s crockery, the sofa etc), and let rip. Shove all that in the trailer, and you’ve got yourself some sure-fire eye-candy.

Next: If It's Foreign, Don't Tell Us [page-break]

If It’s Foreign, Don’t Tell Us

The Cliché: Trailers shouldn’t necessarily advertise a film as non-English speaking, as this could alienate a wider mainstream audience.

Appears In: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

How To Make It Real: Easy enough: cut out all dialogue, use those funky text inserts, and let Voice-Over Bloke do all the talking.

Or just don’t make a film in something like Na’Vi to begin with.

Next: Release A Red Band Version [page-break]

Release A Red Band Version

The Cliché: Trailers released with a Red Band rating contain juicier material (sex, filthy language), and can give a more realistic impression of what the film's like.

Appears In: Get Him To The Greek.

How To Make It Real: Green band trailers are for losers – talk about filmic castration.

What you want is a meaty, bloody, warts-and-all red band tease that slips off the censor shackles for a right good jamboree.

With red band, pretty much anything goes. Nudity? Go for it. Swearing? Feel free. Violence? Let rip! If your film is particularly stuffed with any of those three things, it's a red band you'll be after. So really go to town.

What's your favourite trailer? Tell us below!