Making Cameraphone Trailers

Moviemaking has been called “the liveliest art,” perhaps because it encompasses to many other arts: writing, photography, lighting, graphic design, recoding, acting, costume design, music, make-up, editing, and more. No one can master every skill required, which is why you see so many credits at the end of movies.

To describe every skill and to warn of every pitfall would fill a very big book. And yet, if you start with a solid idea, the following few tips can contribute a great deal toward your creating an impressive short video.

Tip 1. Acting

An untrained actor will occasionally deliver a stunning movie performance. An example is the young kid in Terminator II.

Unfortunately, more often novices will sink an otherwise well-made trailer by being stiff or by over-acting.

According to Oscar-winning director Bert Salzman, the best way to solve the inexperienced actor problem is through careful casting. For example, if you need someone to play an undercover police officer, brainstorm a list of everyone you know who might fit the bill. You might also contact acting teachers or advertise on Craigslist. Then give short video tests to each candidate to identify the best candidate. You can view a 5-minute video of Bert here.

Three additional suggestions that can help beginners turn in acceptable—even polished—performance are:

1. Give the actor something to hold. A prop in the hand can make an actor feel comfortable. If you’re doing a crime movie, an obvious prop might be a gun or knife. But with a little imagination, you can come up with a prop for almost any scene: car keys, a comb, or a cell phone. Yes, this use of a prop is a kind of crutch, but it can make a difference. See an example here.

2. Minimize the dialogue. One of the hardest tasks facing an actor is delivering written lines in a way that sounds natural. It takes most acting students months or years to become convincing. So, in most cases, the less an untrained actor says in your trailer, the better. Consider having the actor deliver the lines as off-camera narration. Another technique—if you have two actors in a scene—is to shoot one actor listening while the other actor delivers the lines off camera. See an example here.

3. Get the actor moving. Although it might seem more difficult to act and talk at the same time, if the actor is engaged in a meaningful activity—driving a car, riding a bike, making an omelet—the action can focus the actor and remove the sense of “I’m acting.”

Tip 2. Steady Shooting with a Tripod

One of the hallmarks of high quality video is steady camerawork. A jiggling image will almost always distract and annoy audiences.

That’s why professionals have embraced such devices as the dolly, the steadycam, and video stabilization software. The low-tech tripod can itself work wonders in allowing you to create sophisticated video. And that brings up some good news and bad news.

First, the bad news. Many smartphones do not have a socket for mounting the device onto a tripod. Now the good news. For about $30 you can easily find an adapter that will attach your phone to a tripod. (See links, below).

Typically, these adpters come with mini-tripod legs, so if you have a table near your subject, you’re in business. More important, when you unscrew the legs, the adapted has a mounting screw that will fit into long-legged tripods.

Even if you can hold your cameraphone for a while without trembling, you’ll value the tripod for extended shots of the sort you might need when producing an interview for a documentary.


iStabilizer MobiMount Smartphone Tripod Mount

Quik Pod Mobile + Smartphone Adapter with Mini Tripod Legs

Build Your Own Cameraphone Tripod

Watch a Video about Cameraphone Tripods

Tip #3 Location Scouting

Hollywood producers may invest hundreds of thousands of dollars to build a set. They consider this money well-spent because where an action takes place can be almost as important as what the action is.

If your production budget cover that kind of artistry, you can still compete with the big boys by finding actual locations that have eye appeal.