Editing a Trailer

Like anything else the best way to learn how to do something is to “see” how it’s done.  I wanted to create a trailer for my documentaryI’m working with a professional editor on this project but while he is getting acquainted with over 160 hours of footage, I wanted to challenge myself to see if I could create a trailer.

For me, it’s always much harder to edit a very short piece. Everything becomes more critical – every cut – every shot – every sound bite and sound effect – every slate and every high and low in the music. And trailers are the ultimate shorts. You need to peak someone’s interest and make them wanting more.

I started paying attention to the trailers on DVD’s and online. I watched them to see how they were constructed. I analyzed them and paid close attention to things like sound effects, music and slates and if it made me want to see the movie.  There were a couple of trailers in particular that I really liked, each for different reasons.  One trailer was for the film I Am.  This trailer gave me some ideas on how to use music and text to deliver the story idea in a concise way and get people’s attention. I also liked it because it was just vague enough to intrigue me but not to confuse me.  Another trailer I like is Dennis Connor’s Breaking Boundaries; the Art of Alex Masket.  There are a lot of things I love about this trailer.  Dennis’s subject Alex Masket couldn’t communicate verbally so Dennis blended visuals of Alex using other people’s sound bites as the narrative.  He also had a beautiful jazzy musical score composed for the trailer.

My challenge was that I had to make a trailer for a film that was about 11 stories. The first thing that I needed to remind myself was that it really wasn’t about  11 stories.  It was about 11 people but ultimately one story.  With that thought I started pulling together  my strongest sound bites.  One benefit of spending all that time editing the past few months was that I was very intimate with the interview footage and I knew where to look for the gems.  I was looking for provocative remarks that left one wondering and they needed to be short and to the point.

Once I got the stand out sound bites on a timeline I started looking for some live action footage and other b-roll.  Then I began to interweave the appropriate visuals with the sound bites – pacing them – giving the piece a bit of time to breathe.  I also added slates with text to help tell the story.

Once I got it down to a reasonable length – in my case 3:45 – which is still a minute too long – I started looking for the perfect music.  I came across Neosounds.com a royalty free music site with some of the best RF music out there.  Picking music for me is like picking wallpaper, going back and forth until everything starts to sound the same.  After making a few painful decisions, I integrated my musical choices into the timeline.  There was still something missing and that was sound effects.  There are hundreds of great free sound effects that come with Soundtrack Pro.  I picked a couple of them to boost and emphasize certain spots in the trailer but I wanted to keep them subtle.  For example I used a sound effect of a motorcycle in one spot and a jet engine taking off in another.

What has resulted from this exercise are two variations of a trailer.  I am sharing these both with everyone because I would like feedback. I don’t want to influence opinion here, other than to say one trailer has a bit of more information than the other. One is also 15 sec. longer. Any and all comments are welcome.

Which one should I use?

Watch the links in this order.



Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine


11 Replies to “Editing a Trailer”

  1. Gail, both very strong, visually and emotionally rich trailers. I think the revised version is the stronger of the two.

  2. Gail, what exceptional images!

    Mother-daughter angle is interesting but, to me, not compelling (in the context of the primary content).

    The shorter version is better, and you can get it down further, e.g., the Salvation Army guy is moving but could be shorter without harm.

    (A picayune matter: The “typesetting” of the lines at the beginning has, to my eyes, too much space between the lines.)

    Look forward to finished trailer . . . and the piece itself!


  3. My opinion is that the first one is stronger. I do miss Erin in there (is she in there?), but on the second one, i get confused up front as to whose voice I am hearing – yours, Erin’s or a subjects. In both versions I think the text treatment could use some work. They are both too long in my opinion. I would rather see the strongest parts and leave us wanting more. In the first one, who is the guy in the beginning? Is he an assistant that went with you? I don’t get his involvement. I think it’s Erin’s voice next, but I’m not sure. On a personal note, I am not a fan of having so many voices coming out of previous shots that confuse me as to who is talking. At about 0:33 we see the front of a skiff, and then Gail, then the skiff and then another woman… again, confusing to me. I’m just quibbling here though. I admire it all.

  4. Mark,

    You mention text treatments could use some work – any pointers?

    As far as cutting it – I think I have some ideas – but I’ll let them simmer over the weekend. But love to hear some text ideas.

  5. Gail, as far as the type goes, I just think the thin Sans Serif face is getting lost in that black. Maybe just bold would do it. and perhaps a little more interesting reveal.

    In the first one I love the montage of shots at around 2;10. That really showcases your eye and makes me want to know more about these people.

    As for the Mother-daughter angle, I think that while that is interesting, unless there is a part of the film that explores that, I think it would be more of a “behind the scenes” aspect used for promotional piece for maybe workshops or appearances.. As for a promotional trailer for the film, I think it’s irrelevant.

  6. Mark,

    Great insights. My instincts were pulling me in that direction. Now to get ruthless.
    Thanks much.

    And thanks to all who took the time to watch and comment. Stay tuned for “Editing the Trailer – Part II”.

  7. Hi Gail-
    I am making notes and will email them to you shortly. I wanted to have you take a look at this trailer for the HAPPY documentary for a reference, too. http://vimeo.com/11335940
    Like you, I also like the I AM trailer. 🙂
    Talk soon!

  8. Hi Gail! Tom sent me the link to check these out. It was great meeting you at the Resource party. You definitely peaked my interest and pulled my heartstrings, can’t wait to learn more about these people. I prefer the revised version, love the music selections and chosen footage- beautiful. I agree with Marc about the very beginning- it’s a little confusing who is who [besides yourself] and how they relate to the film. I’m inspired- keep up the editing! Cheers, Lindsay

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: