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Murphy's approach is to treat the trailer project like a mini-movie with its own three-act structure.

NAB Show 2016: ‘In a World…’ – The Secrets Behind Successful Film Trailers

Want to create a coming attractions trailer for your film project? Paul Murphy has and he shared his knowledge with attendees of the National Broadcasters Association (NAB) Show in Las Vegas, April 15-21.

Murphy, with over 12 years experience, has worked on feature films, documentaries, broadcast news, commercials, and music videos. He conducts training on many video tools including Premiere Pro, which he used to edit his first feature documentary, Red Obsession, narrated by Russell Crowe. The film won the AACTA award (Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts) for Best Feature Documentary and screened at Berlin, Tribeca, and Sydney Film Festivals.

NAB posterMurphy began his class by saying how much he enjoyed watching trailers. “It’s the one thing I miss about VHS,” he said. “Before every movie, there were a bunch of trailers. Now that’s gone.”

Murphy’s approach is to treat the trailer project like a mini-movie with its own three-act structure. He recommended a four-step process: planning the structure, selecting the scenes, finding the music, and then making the final edit.

He used his trailer for Red Obsession as an example.


Murphy cautioned that your goal is not to tell the story of the movie, but to make people excited about seeing it. “You are developing a marketing tool and your job is to persuade people to pay to see the film,” he said.

He suggested budgeting time for planning. “Think about the film as a brand,” Murphy said. “What other films are like it? What is the message? Watch other trailers and see if there are any you can use as a model.”

He suggested Apple Trailers and Trailer Addict as two good sources. Murphy said he used the trailer for Inside Job as an inspiration for his Red Obsession trailer.

“Watching the Inside Job trailer gave me confidence that I could make something out of my material,” he said.

“Ask yourself, ‘What is my message?’ In some cases, it doesn’t matter what the film is about,” Murphy explained. “The original trailer for The Shining doesn’t involve the plot, but for this project I didn’t have Stanley Kubrick or Stephen King to fall back on. I try to think of someone I know, usually my wife, and make the trailer for them. My wife lets me know how I’m doing.”

He emphasized, “Don’t get bogged down in the details, but don’t lie.”

“Once you have your message,” he said, “even though a trailer is only 90 seconds to three minutes, write a log-line for it and break it into three acts.”

He also said that you might need to plan for multiple trailers: a long one, a thirty-second version, and maybe one for potential investors.

The Scenes

‘Red Obsession’ chronicles the Chinese interest in French wine

To select scenes for the trailer, Murphy said that editors should “decontextualize.” He suggested looking at each scene as a standalone unit, and think of the sound and visuals separately. He argued that just because they were together in the finished film, did not mean they had to be presented that way in the trailer.

So, as not to give away too much, Murphy said to select your scenes from the first act and the first half of the second act. Visuals should help establish your setting and explain your message. The dialog you choose should be short and punchy and create intrigue or arouse emotions.

“Also, look for the cool shots,” he said. “Look at shots as if you were seeing them for the first time.”

The Music

Murphy believes that music is one of the most important tools for creating an exciting trailer, but that the original score from the film will rarely work. He said that the tone of each act can be set with the music you choose. In his personal experience, he said he spends about 10 percent of his trailer production time on editing and 90 percent on looking for the right music.

His recommended sources for trailer music are www.ampmusic.com, www.extrememusic.com, jinglepunks.com, and audiojungle.com.

He believes that the best trailer music has lots of peaks and valleys, which add intensity to the viewing experience.

The Edit

According to Murphy a two phase approach is best.

For the rough cut, he said to drop in your music, lay down the pillars of your message with dialog, add in the essential visuals and, “If you can’t say it with dialogue, use titles. There is no time to be subtle or too clever.”

During the class, he demonstrated looking at the work-in-progress in various ways: with only dialog, just the music, or only the sound effects. This allows you to focus on the impact various elements will have.

Murphy brings a sense of humor with him to his training sessions

In the final edit, Murphy said that you should focus on building momentum.

He recommended tightening everything up and then dropping in your titles. He said it was important to “cut to the beat” more than you would in a long form film. An example of this in the Red Obsession trailer occurs when one of the music beats is synced with a horse’s hoof hitting the ground.

Also during the final stage, he recommends enhancing the music and dialog with abstract sounds such as whooshes, booms, risers and reverses (the sound of cymbals played backwards).

For titles, he said he never just puts in plain text. The text should have a glow, smudge or shimmer, surrounded by a vignette. You can see this style in the Red Obsession trailer.

The Climax

Murphy chose to end his presentation with a quotation about trailers from producer Stephen Garrett: “You need to make viewers fall in love with your film even before they have seen it. Trailers are about promise and possibility. They have to tap into irrational and emotional impulses. They have to invoke a sense of want and need. To paraphrase Shakespeare by way of John Huston, they are the stuff that dreams are made of.”

Murphy has created some free tutorials which can be viewed at The Premiere Pro. His trailer for Red Obsession is below.


About Leo Sopicki

Writer, photographer, graphic artist and technologist. I focus my creative efforts on celebrating the American virtues of self-reliance, individual initiative, volunteerism, tolerance and a healthy suspicion of power and authority.

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