Make a movie trailer that entices audiences.

Movie trailers can fill audiences with expectation and awe. The best ones reveal just enough to leave the audience wanting more.

A person sitting at a desk creating a movie trailer in Adobe Premiere Pro

What is a movie trailer?

Movie trailers are more than just commercials for upcoming films. A good trailer is also a miniature movie in and of itself, introducing audiences to key characters, scenes, themes, or ideas in the upcoming film. Although the movie trailer's ultimate goal is to get more people to buy tickets and watch the movie, they're also compelling media in their own right. Audiences sometimes enjoy them just as much, if not more, than full-length films. Trailer-making is all about distilling a movie down to its essence and leaving the emotional story unresolved just enough that the audience will want to see more.

What to put in a movie trailer.

A good trailer gives the audience a little taste of how the whole movie will make them feel. Choose scenes that represent the film and show off what kind of movie it is. A moody art-house film should have a heady, atmospheric trailer. A preview for a romantic comedy should be as funny and charming as the movie itself. A trailer for a horror movie needs to be scary. Action movie teasers should show off stunts and explosions.

     

It doesn’t take a lot to make a trailer. “You can take one particular moment in a film and make that your trailer,” says cinematographer Joshua Martin. A few moments of a car chase, a romantic couple encountering each other at a park, or a single conversation between a hero and a villain can be enough to give a trailer an emotional throughline that gets viewers invested.

     

As compelling as some elements of a film might be, it’s also important to know what not to put into a trailer. “Don’t ever reveal your twist in the trailer,” says Martin. Let the audience discover for themselves that the main character was a ghost the whole time or that the villain is the protagonist’s father.

     

Like feature films, trailers are the result of careful planning. Simply throwing together a few video clips from the film isn’t enough. A storyboard can be a useful way to establish an arc for the trailer and when to add titles and on-screen information, such as release dates.

 

How to make a simple movie trailer.

You don’t need to know how to film a movie to make a trailer.  If you haven't made a feature film of your own yet, you can practice on a favorite movie or even use videos taken on your phone and let your creativity guide you.

 

  • Start by taking a look at your genre. Understand what conventions different trailers in your genre use, and decide when to follow them and when to go your own way. 
     

  • Make a plan. Sketch or write out ideas for how you want your trailer to come across to viewers. Create a storyboard with stills from your film and any dialogue you want to feature.
     

  • Choose the right clips. Pick the most exciting, emotional, and engaging scenes. Look for visually stunning moments to help capture the story you're telling.
     

  • Build a story arc. For a simple movie trailer, make sure you have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Set the scene with the main characters and ideas in your film, highlight the conflict, and make sure to build up to a climax — but without giving away the plot.
     

  • Edit your trailer to a tight 15 - 60 seconds. If you’re not sure where you can make a movie trailer, start with a reliable film editing app like Adobe Premiere Pro to edit the clips, dialogue, and sound into the trailer you envision. Try to keep the length to less than two minutes — 60 seconds or less is even better. When in doubt, trim from your trailer. You can always go back and add clips if you decide you need them. 

     

One thing that can help you make the best movie trailer possible is to watch as many of them as you can. Really study them. Note which ones you like best and try to find out why. The more you expose yourself to the ins and outs of making trailers, the more confident you’ll be when you make your own. 

 

Read on to go even deeper with movie trailers. 

Top image: A dramatic photo of a person walking down an airport hallway with luggage; Bottom image: A dramatic photo of a person sitting on top of a motorcycle at night

Teasers, trailers, and previews.

The length of a trailer depends on where it’s going to live online or be shown to audiences, and also when in the cycle of a movie’s marketing campaign it will be released. Earlier previews are shorter and only a few seconds long, and later previews are longer, with narrative arcs of their own.

 

Teasers

Teasers are very short, usually about 30 seconds to one minute long. Teasers are usually released early in a movie’s marketing campaign, and they give the audience just a small hint of what the movie will look like.

     

Trailer teasers

A trailer teaser is a new kind of teaser, meant to arouse interest in the release of an upcoming, longer trailer. It’s an ad for a future ad, essentially. Marketing campaigns for big-budget movies often put out a short clip to drum up excitement for a trailer prior to the release of a longer piece of video content.

     

These especially short trailers can be repurposed — and reoriented — for social media sites such as Instagram or Twitter, where audiences will see a single scene as they scroll through their feed. If the longer trailer has been released, a teaser trailer can be accompanied by a call to action (CTA) to view it. “Use a short trailer to drive traffic to a longer one,” says Martin.

     

Trailers

Trailers are the most familiar kind of movie preview, usually 2 to 2.5 minutes long. They typically run prior to feature films, though they used to come after the feature, hence the name. Trailers contain the most information about a movie. They usually show moments from several scenes in the film and run the gamut in terms of emotion or mood. Full trailers also show off the cast more than other previews. A longer movie trailer often shows most or all of the film’s main cast, names the director, and mentions other relevant details, like if the movie is based on a popular book.

 

Editing, genre, and sound effects.

How you edit a trailer depends on what kind of movie it is. A slow-paced period drama uses slow transitions and dissolves, but trailers for action movies can smash cut to an explosion or other burst of activity. The intro of a horror trailer might start slow with more gradual edits to build tension, but then amp up the pace with a series of quick cuts featuring brief glimpses of the enticing frights to come.

Editing a video and audio in Adobe Premiere Pro

Image by Joshua Martin 

Sound effects can also go a long way in conveying information to the audience about what type of film the trailer is for and how they are supposed to feel. The distant sounds of battle can let the audience know that this is a trailer for a war movie, and ambient futuristic noises can subtly suggest science fiction. “Sound effects are your best friend,” says Martin. “It’s another layer of storytelling.” Editing with sound effects or editing on beats can make transitions more natural and compelling — and better allow unrelated scenes to flow into each other.

 

There’s no single trailer template for shots or sound effects, but regardless of genre, trailers tend to start slow and have low stakes, yet end with greater energy and high stakes. Build up to an emotional or tense moment. The moment when a bit of the narrative might resolve is when the title should pop up instead. Make it clear to the audience that the trailer is only the setup, and the payoff can only be found in the feature film.  

 

To voiceover or not to voiceover.

Voiceovers used to be an omnipresent part of movie trailers, with a deep-voiced narrator intoning what you’d see if you bought a ticket to an upcoming blockbuster. The narrator also announced who was in the movie, who directed it, and the release date.

 

For the most part, movie trailers have moved on from voiceovers. Part of the reason is that Hollywood’s most prominent voiceover narrator, Don LaFontaine, died in 2008. It’s also because many trailers today tell their story just by using audio from the film they’re promoting. Trailers without narrators seem different and more contemporary. If modern trailers do have narration, the voiceover usually just provides narration at the end of the trailer with basic info like "Now in theaters, rated PG-13," and not much else.

     

If you do decide to include a voiceover in a movie trailer, it will sound and feel like something from before 2000. If you’re deliberately trying to make a retro-seeming trailer, narration can go a long way to making it feel like it’s from another era. If you want a contemporary feel, a voiceover probably won’t help with that.

A person holding their phone and watching a movie trailer

Movie magic, two minutes at a time.

Trailers are popular, powerful, and memorable. So much so that recently they’ve moved beyond movies and into other media. Book trailers promote literary works, YouTube channel trailers show off vlogs and other content, and trailers for video games are just as strong and dynamic as trailers for major blockbusters.

     

Regardless of the movie or other media you’re promoting, the most important thing to do in a trailer is to tell a story, but not all the way. Get the audience invested with the action, plot, and characters, but leave them wanting more. 

Contributor

Joshua Martin

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