How To Edit Film Trailers

Cutting Film Trailers

Recently director Joe Carnahan uploaded this sizzle reel for the (18/NC-17) version of DareDevil that he was trying to persuade the studios to let him make. More interesting to me than the DD film premise, was the trailer editing from Skip Chaisson – who it seems is the don of Hollywood film trailers. (At least he was 10 years ago according to this LA Times article when he had just started Skip Film and it doesn’t seem like he’s lost his way since then.) It got me thinking about the art and craft of film trailer editing…

There’s an interesting interview with Skip about how he got started in the industry and managed to go about building Skip Film and getting to work with Ridley and Tony Scott, Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay.

Trailers are the ultimate comic book. When I read a comic book, I get real excited. I hear the music, I jump around and do the sound effects. – Skip

How to edit a film trailer

Ric Thomas from Empire Design in London shares his trailer editing process in this interview with Ric has worked on some big movies in his time; Toy Story 3, Tron, Knocked Up, Battleship, The Bourne Ultimatum, The Bourne Legacy and Aardman’s Pirates! to name just a very few…

Three Top Tips from Ric

– Watch trailers as many trailers as you can, look at the nuances, how they build the story, create the gags or the scary jumps; how they make the emotional moments, all with editing short hand.

– The big lesson is the trailer is not the film. Don’t get bogged down trying to explain everything, that’s the film’s job. Choose a story through line for your trailer; you’re looking for the best way to get an audience. All films have their strengths, so play to them. Know the ending, the theme and the feeling you want to leave the viewer with.

– Music is probably the most important tool we have. More than anything it quickly indicates tone and rhythm, which are massively important in the short form.

Film Trailer Wisdom

Ross Evison is another top film trailer editor having cut trailers for Inglorious Bastards, Mad Men, Breaking Bad and The International. Sharing his wisdom on the Chris Jones blog, Ross has some useful advice to share on how best to craft a trailer that will really draw an audience in. I’ve excerpted three of my favourite tips from Ross below but there are plenty more in the post. (There does seem to be some direct copy and pasting between this and the Ric Thomas’ interview above – not sure who is copying who!)

Three Tips from Ross

– Remember to keep building the trailer, make the story move forward, running on the spot is a waste of time. The 3 act structure, like the majority of story telling, works great. Set up you place and characters at the beginning, have some fun in the middle then push the turning point into the final act where you either have your final promise of what’s going to happen or throw in some jeopardy. Escalate, escalate, escalate then stop!

– Don’t let shots and moments out stay their welcome. The perfectly constructed moment you created in your film CAN be trimmed right down in the trailer, don’t worry it doesn’t ruin your film. It will always be perfect in the film.

– The trailer doesn’t have to be as linear as the film – often better if it isn’t.


  • While music is by far the most used device in a trailer it’s nice to see how a brilliant trailer need not have any music at all.

    ‘Little Children’ trailer is an awesome example of the use of sounds effects and no music:

    Posting this because I make indie wildlife documentaries that use no music and so making a trailer poses a particular problem with regards to music.

  • Hey Jonny,
    thanks so much for mentioning me and my company in your blog!
    please check out our Prometheus teasers from last summer and our current teasers for the upcoming A Good Day to Die Hard.


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