Making a trailer for nothing

It’s a very popular practice for independent filmmakers to shoot a trailer, just the trailer, in hopes of using it to raise money for the full film. The idea is to show what the movie will look like once completed. You know, once you give them money to make it.

Nice idea. Except I’ve never actually seen this work and it still takes a huge amount of work to shoot a trailer. A trailer is a great marketing tool. But it doesn’t show you can properly and compelling tell a story. I think we’ve all experienced a promising trailer, only to be disappointed by the actual film.

Before committing one minute or one dime to making your trailer I have a couple of ideas that might help.

Just shoot me

From a filmmaking standpoint, I find it a colossal waste of time and money to obtain a location, crew, actors, and equipment, and then only shoot a small part of a scene for your trailer. You’re already there. Shoot the whole scene! Then that scene is already done and you’re only looking for funds to complete the movie.

In a previous post, I wrote about the elements to write a good trailer. That was a prewriting exercise but can handily be useful here. Pick your script apart for the trailer moments. Once you’ve found your necessary scenes pull them from your script. These are the scenes you’re going to shoot for your trailer.

You’ll still get your sexy marketing trailer but now you’ve actually started making the film. It’s more attractive to potential investors to know they’re jumping onto a moving train rather than one that hasn’t left the station yet. It speaks to your ability to actually get things done.

But again this option isn’t cheap. Shooting anything has its costs. So for the penniless filmmaker, I have another idea.

Edited for content

Edit a trailer using existing footage. This is sometimes called a “Rip-o-matic”. You edit your trailer entirely using footage from existing films and television shows. Completely illegal by the way since you won’t have the copyright holder’s permission but it’s common place in Hollywood to do this.

One of the biggest benefits of using existing footage is access to things you might not have otherwise. Sweeping shots of the Serengeti, ariel shots, explosions, Paris, animal attacks, screaming children, nothing is off-limits for you. The world is your oyster.

But how do I make a trailer with existing footage? Well, first you’ll need to know how to edit. Go learn Adobe Premiere, Final Cut, or just use iMovie. No one cares what you edit with.

Now there are two ways you can go about editing a trailer with existing footage.

For tone

You could cut together a series of clips from things similar in tone to your film. Joe Carnahan famously did this when he was trying to get Daredevil off the ground. It’s a slick, professional sizzle reel. It doesn’t tell you anything about the story but it gives a good sense of the world and tone that the final project would have.

This is not the path I would recommend. It worked for Joe because he was selling his vision for an already existing property.

For story

Show actors that approximate how you see it cast. If you can find clips of them saying things that could be in your film, though not exact, use it. If you can’t find similar dialogue cut shots of the actors where they’re not speaking and record your dialogue for it. Actually read dialogue from your script and place it over the actor so you get the feeling. I would avoid placing it over shots of the actors speaking as that could look like a bad foreign language audio dub and become distracting.

Obviously audio is always key. So even in your pseudo-trailer make sure you use a good microphone.

With a clever edit and the right music you could cut together something that really conveys the spirit of your film. Not everyone has a great imagination. Your trailer should go miles in showing them your story and your vision for it.