When the lights in the theater start to dim, that’s how you know… it’s time for the trailers.
But these days, trailers don’t just exist in movies. they are ubiquitous among all kinds of art projects, from festivals to competitions, and even teasers for companies launching new products.
so what exactly is a movie trailer? The trailer is an integral part of marketing your video. it’s a first impression, an introduction, not just to the specific project the trailer focuses on, but to the filmmakers or creators themselves. Sure, it’s an ad, but there’s an art to making a trailer that often goes unnoticed.
Still, there are some common trailer pitfalls to avoid at all costs, and some best practices (the core elements of a good movie trailer, so to speak) so you can put your next project’s trailer together with confidence.
here are seven timeless best practices on how to make a trailer that captivates the audience and doesn’t give away too much.
lean on the experts
When you’re working on your first short film or video project, it can be easy to feel like you’re out at sea without a paddle, a stranger in a strange land. Fortunately, one of the beautiful things about the video industry is that there are so many creatives that you can draw inspiration from.
Even if you’re flying solo making your trailer, you’re not really alone. you have the wisdom and insights of other filmmakers, writers, directors, and creators who have been there before.
Watch our fireside chat with filmmakers and creatives as they trace their own short film journeys to their current success in the world of television. discover the point of view of experts like:
- aisha harris, host/reporter, npr pop culture happy hour
- john wilson, filmmaker, how to with john wilson (hbo)
- julia pott, entertainer and show creator, summer camp island (hbo max)
- morgan cooper, writer/director, bel-aire (peacock)
leave the public hanging
We’ve all seen trailers that reveal pretty much the entire movie.
(pro tip? don’t do that).
The best trailers introduce you to the main characters, establish the central conflict of the film, and end on a major cliffhanger, leaving the conflict unresolved. if you do it successfully, you’ll build empathy for your character and viewers will be dying to see how you overcome the conflict.
Even better, some trailers effectively zigzag where the movie zigzags, making the actual plot of the movie even more of a mystery.
For documentaries, the approach is similar, but you can focus on a particular topic rather than a main character. If you’re promoting an educational video, your trailer might look a little different; rather, the cliffhanger can be something simpler that lets the viewer know what to expect if they see the rest.
Above all else, the viewer should be intrigued by the end of the trailer and think, “wow, I need to see that.”
cut logos and credits
While we’re all for giving credit where it’s due, save it for last, or the final cut. the distributor’s or production company’s logo doesn’t need to be on the trailer, and it certainly shouldn’t be the first thing on the screen. online trailers need to be fast, snappy, and end quite abruptly to keep people intrigued.
If someone scrolls through a feed on vimeo or facebook, you should engage the viewer within a couple of seconds. keep your trailer short by removing all unnecessary information.
give the viewer an action to take
You should use your trailer to get viewers to take action, eg buy your movie, sign up for your mailing list, etc. otherwise creating a trailer is a huge missed opportunity.
If you haven’t made your video available for purchase yet, try using this space to encourage mailing list subscriptions.
Instead of giving viewers a chance to quit before the buttons appear, go directly from suspense to call to action. avoid extended credits and black frames at all costs.
don’t put a url in your trailer
This may seem simple, but it makes a big difference. a final card that says, “go to http://website.com to view” may result in fewer people viewing your project. you want people to click a button to buy or watch your movie, not think, “oh, I need to type that url.”
The key is to remove as many obstacles as possible to make it an easy action required by the audience.
remember: all press is good press
Word of mouth is a powerful tool. when someone raves about a movie, it definitely makes you want to watch it. When certain movies get picked up by festivals and start sweeping award shows, their star power skyrockets.
It’s no secret that recommendations make you want to buy something. In fact, 93% of consumers read online reviews before purchasing a product, you can bet they’re reading movie and media reviews.
While word-of-mouth recommendations from friends are the best, a good review from a trusted publication can be just as compelling to potential viewers. There’s a reason Hollywood puts press quotes on trailers and billboards: It increases your social proof, showing that not only does your project or product exist, but that someone else notices it.
Every time you get a new review or great comment, update your trailer to include the most recent quotes possible. if your movie doesn’t have press reviews yet, quote the fans instead.
Take, for example, beauty mega-brand glossier, which created a full-length trailer for its lash slick mascara, inspired (and powered) by its loyal following and five-star reviews.
use teasers and trailers
A sneak peek is a shorter version of your trailer that can be used to build interest in your video. you can also release teasers over time to keep people interested. Every time you post a new video or cut, it’s another opportunity to build buzz about your project.
When it comes to distribution, teasers work great on Facebook with the CTA button, giving viewers a quick preview and an easy link to see more. If you have a lot of followers on instagram (usually more than 10k), you can take advantage of the “swipe up” feature on your instagram stories and view your trailer that way.
Be creative in how you develop your project, whether it’s a short gif posted to your instagram feed each day counting down until the trailer shows up, or promoting sponsored social ads.
With these seven tips in mind, creating an exciting trailer is easier than ever. Remember: when a trailer is doing its job well, your purchase and viewing rates will skyrocket. Another sign that you could have success on your hands? share and save on social networks.
what matters most, however, is that you learn how to make a trailer that resonates and connects deeply with your target audience.
morgan cooper, writer and director of peacock’s bel-air, said, “at the end of the day, all people see is what’s in the frame. it doesn’t matter if you went to film school or not. if you can give people that magical feeling, then you should tell stories.”
Not sure how to edit a trailer? Try your hand at vimeo create, an easy video and trailer maker for video beginners and movie buffs alike.