Promotional trailer video editor

Avid timeline showing video clips edited together on one track and audio clips edited onto different tracks
Avid timeline showing audio edited onto different tracks

30 seconds to sell

In order to produce great promotional trailers, post-production editors need to be able to make the most of the short time provided to capture and engage the audience whilst also communicating the programmes’ or projects’ ideas.

When working at the BBC (and also for Red Bee), I edited network presentation trailers to promote some of the nation’s favourite programmes and campaigns. The duration of presentation of these trailers usually averaged 30 seconds but could range from 10 seconds to 90 seconds. I would usually work with a producer to deliver each programme’s trailer.

Depending on the project, the producer might have filmed some specially shot material or commissioned some graphics or animations to be edited together for the trailer. Another method of creating trailers is to use an edited mixture of vision clips and sound clips selected from the actual programme being trailed. Combining these clips with a creatively selected music track and voiceover can enhance the programme’s appeal to a wider audience in order to maximize the viewing figures.

Making the best possible trailer for any agreed duration means editing the content in a way that makes the most of every frame. For UK broadcast (and web delivery) each second of video consists of 25 separate frames.

How to start the edit

A good way to start editing a trailer is to start with the audio. A 30-second trailer may be required to end at 29 seconds and 15 frames so that it transmits cleanly on network television. It can be a good idea to edit down the selected music track to this 29s15f duration. Editing music down to such tight durations can be a challenge with some commercial music tracks, as the trailer needs a good musical start and a good musical end (not just 29s15f of any part the music track) (well you can but you won’t develop a reputation as a good trailer editor!).

Once the music is edited to the length required, then you can edit in any other known elements that have a fixed position. This might include an opening or end graphical board (possibly with 10 frames early vision for the front or a freeze frame on the end for network broadcast) or a powerful image from the programme.

You may also wish to include a voiceover in the trail. To help with the timing of the edit, it can be useful to record a guide voiceover and edit that into position. You can always edit in the replacement final voiceover or perfect take at a later stage once the trailer has been completed.

When I was editing these trailers, I would usually edit together sync sound taken from the actual programme or film. Sometimes, the producer may have written a rough script and made a note of the time codes of all the relevant audio to be edited together. At this early stage, I would still be focused on editing the audio so that it could be made to fit the trailer duration. By laying down the video attached to that same audio will also help you build the vision edit as well. Once you have all the required sync edited into the timeline you can see what duration the trailer is coming to.

Editing out all the audio gaps in between words and phrases really helps to tighten up the edit and can give you extra time to play with. This is really key to making a great trailer.

Close your eyes and listen

With the body of the audio in place, you can play the trailer through to see if it’s working audio wise and time wise. At this stage, you may want to edit the audio so that it sounds more natural. Turning off the vision monitor or closing your eyes can really help you focus on the actual sound rather than be distracted with the current visuals. Adjusting the levels of the music and audio so that you have a good sound balance can also help at this stage. Adding mixes to audio transitions can help smooth the joins and avoid any audio bumps.

Once the audio has been worked on, you can start to look at the vision. Hopefully, you will have edited in any video that was attached to the audio you have been working on. In this case, you may now have a lot of vision jump cuts from your work on the audio. You can now decide which of these visual elements to keep and which to paint over with a different shot or cutaway. You may choose to keep the stronger facial visuals and edit in a different shot from the programme at the previous or next edit.

After editing in all your different shots you will hopefully have a trailer free from any jump cuts and which best reflects the programme or film you are looking to promote.

Grading the pictures so that the trailer fits the creative brief would usually be one of the last stages. Adding any textual elements or special effects can be done once the trailer is nearly complete.

There are many different ways to edit together a trailer and this summary is just one example. You start with what elements you have and you either work to a brief you have been given or create something yourself which in your opinion, works for the project, programme or film which is being promoted.

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Julian Langham

Julian started his career in media in 1994; shortly after Julian was invited to join the BBC where he was quickly promoted to Editor. Julian left the BBC to develop his freelance career in 2009. Highly-practised and skilled in constructing engaging narratives, Julian’s key strength is his ability to produce strong visually-led stories. In his work, Julian shares his passion for creating powerful synergies between story content, visual rhythm and music.