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Editing the perfect trailer: Tips from a pro

editing film trailerResponsible for TV shows and films such as Breaking Bad and Inglourious Basterds, Ross Evison has spent his fair share of time locked away in an edit suite creating the most important part of a movie’s marketing campaign: the trailer. Chatting to KFTV, he offers some advice on how to edit the perfect trailer.

How do you start the editing process?

The majority of the time I will have the unfinished film to watch. The picture may be locked or close to it, but VFX and audio could still be rough and even the score might be temporary. It's very rare that I work directly from rushes; it can happen but it's quite time consuming as you don't know how the final film looks yet, so you may be second guessing the takes and shots that will be used. It's been years since I cut a trailer from rushes.

The main way to start the editing process is to watch the film and then break it down in to scenes, making a selection of shots and pieces of dialogue you like. Try to get to know the film as much as possible.

Do you have much freedom in deciding a trailer's tone?

The tone can come about a couple of ways. Often it comes from the emotional response I get from the first viewing of the film. There are certain things that just leap out at you such as great scenes or a line that you know has to be included in the trailer. There are also bits you no will never feature in the trailer.

You often work with a copywriter or producer, and depending on the client's brief, it can take a long time to determine the tone and structure. Some clients have a specific view of how they want to market their film and some don't. Both can be a help and a hindrance, as with one you have a set of boundaries within which you can be creative and the other you have no boundaries so you better get thinking. However, be prepared to change it all a couple of cuts down the line as people's minds change and what you thought might work end up not really delivering. It's a process.

Who selects the music?

As with most aspects of a trailer, the editor usually picks the music. It's also something that helps with the tone - you can't really have one without the other. Depending on the client and what sort of budget they have to work with, you may be limited to using the film's score if it's cleared for advertising purposes.

More often you just listen to film scores and raid music libraries; often a piece of music will come to mind when watching the film. Music is definitely a big part for me. I also watch other trailers for reference that may have a similar feel you are trying to create. The music from those trailers are also a good starting point.

Editing a trailer for film and TV, what's the difference?

The principle for me is the same: how can you make this the most engaging for the audience; does it sell the film or programme?

How different is editing a TV spot compared to a full length trailer?

Trailers are more time consuming purely by the nature of their length, but TV commercials have their challenges - you have 30 seconds to be as engaging as you can. You have to strip the story right down.

There are many ways to approach an advert: are you creating a story spot, a concept spot, showcasing the talent of the film? These are just a few examples. You can make several versions of a TV advert just to find the right one or make just two that you know both work perfectly.

Is there a perfect length for a trailer?

I think the standard lengths are for the most part OK, usually around two minutes in Europe and two and a half minutes in America (with exceptions of course). Personally I don't like it when a trailer outstays its welcome, especially when they purposely have to ramp it up for another 30 seconds just to show you more.

How much of the plot should you give away?

Tricky question. As a movie lover I hate to be shown too much, but as an editor you of course want to use the exciting parts of the film. You are in essence creating your own two minute story and if you're lucky enough to have great material to work with you will want to use it.

There's always a conscious decision of how far you take the story of the trailer. Sometimes the client wants more and sometimes less. You have to find a balance and occasionally it can go too far depending on the film and genre. Plus, if the film is weak you may need to show more just to entice people to see it. I can't speak for other editors but my intention is never to give too much away.

Are you a fan of action trailers? Then click here to check out our top ten.

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