Your film’s trailer – How to shoot for it, and editing tips

For the past month I’ve been toying with making a new Death Grip trailer that’s more “mainstream” and suited for international markets. It’s been far more difficult than I had imagined. Here are the things I continually find in error while I cut this thing:

  • No one-liners
    One-liners tie the story together in a really dumb, hit-you-on-the-head way. I didn’t shoot them because, duh, “the film should speak for itself!” In the final product, it works great, but for a mainstream trailer it’s problematic to not have Hollywood-style one-liners. Next time I’m shooting them for the trailer, and nothing else.
  • No slow motion
    Death Grip has no slow motion. It a choice where I wanted the action to speak for itself at 24fps, no more and no less. The end result feels expository, . Trailers often do have slow motion, though, and they should. It would have been incredibly easy to shoot the stunts in slow-motion with a separate DSLR camera. I can’t recommend it enough, even if your film doesn’t have them. Shoot the big stuff in slo-mo too!
  • Lack of VFX, Titles, and Color Correction
    I waited too long to do the visual effects (muzzle flashes, blood spurts) and other finessing touches, thinking I could wait until the “smooth” cut of the film was done, and I’ve found myself pressing people hard to get these things done more quickly. It’s a miracle they haven’t straight-up said “no”, so I gotta hand it to the graphics guys (Shaun Finney, Joe Golling, and Drew Daniels) for being so dedicated and reliable.
  • Finding music for the trailer that fits
    This one is tricky. I could have cut the trailer and have it scored, but that’s arguably beyond my skill set. I need music to cut to for promotional materials. Instead, I scoured royalty-free sites for good “trailer” music, which for something like Death Grip was hard. It couldn’t be poppy, rock, slow-paced, horror, too big, too small. Nothing out there seemed to fit right. I found what I needed at www.musicloops.combut the track cost me $75, and I can’t even use it on the DVD with the license they give. A better solution would have been to hire the composer earlier on, plan the trailer with him, give him a few days to write the cues, spend a week or two cutting the trailer to the cues, and then deliver the trailer to the composer to tweak the music, add live instruments, etc. The process would have taken maybe 3-4 weeks tops. As is, I’ve been searching for the perfect music for over a month. Lesson learned: get your composer as early on as possible.The same goes for sound mixing.

All things said and done, producer and co-star Rebecca Ahn and I have cut a trailer that we’re proud of, despite these setbacks. It’s action-packed and badass. We’ll release it soon.

Here’s the previous trailer, which is less “mainstream” and more festival-friendly. Sales agents and distributors at the American Film Market commented that it was too slow for an action film, which inspired the upcoming trailer.


8 thoughts on “Your film’s trailer – How to shoot for it, and editing tips

  1. Thanks, Eric! I’m about to cut the trailer for my short, so some of these rules may not apply, but I think most of them will! And luckily I’m prepared for at least half of these things… might have to get creative with the rest 😉
    Can’t wait to see what you guys came up with!


      1. For sure. I’ve been itching to get into it but I’m refraining until all of my sound, colour and FX are done. Music will be the part to figure out. We have a great score for the film but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to cut it down for the trailer or if I’ll have to get the composer to write a special version. We’ll see when we get in there!

  2. Thanks, some of these are really great tips!

    I purposefully wrote into my script some one-liners, the kind of lines that summarize a scene or part of a story like “You’re in way over your head.” I figured if they didn’t flow well in the scene, they would be easy enough to cut out, but would still work well for a trailer.


  3. Eric,

    I know I am WAY late to the party here, but I had a question. As far as dialogue in a trailer, how much? How little? I’m onboard with the “one-liner” advice, I’m just wondering if there’s hard and fast rules for how much talking there should be. (BTW, my film’s mostly action, blowing things up, etc.) Thanks in advance

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