How to Make a 15-second Trailer

IMTF’s Trailer 2013 contest includes a category for trailers 15 seconds or shorter.  The best short trailer will win $250, but it will also compete for the $3,000 Grand Prize. The 15-second trailer can be for a completed movie or for a movie still in the dream stage. If you’re making a trailer for a movie hasn’t yet been shot, here are some tips that might prove useful.

1. Remember that the goal of any trailer is to tease. While you  want your trailer to give a sense of the content, the genre, and the style, your ultimate purpose is to make the viewer want to see more. This principle will help to decide what to include and what to leave out.

2.  Identify the most important element in your story. List all your big ideas, then pick the one that’s most likely to grab people. Your material may contain lots of exciting elements. But when you have just 15 seconds, you need to zoom in on your most powerful selling point.

3.  Figure out how to approach the material. If like most indie moviemakers, you’re on a shoestring budget, a little imagination can enable you to capture your big idea. For example, suppose you were making a 15-second trailer for a movie that features a giant robot. If you can’t create the robot for the faux trailer,  you might shoot reaction shots of people encountering the monster. Or you could have someone listening to a news program about the robot’s rampage. Or maybe you could shoot scenes from robot’s point of view. Or…

4. Write your script. A script for a teaser is as important as one for a longer movie. This is true whether your project is a fiction film or a documentary. Writing the script may give you unexpected ideas. And the finished script will tell you exactly what resources you need: actors, locations, props, sounds, and music. Hint: To make shooting easier and more affordable, you may do better if you use voice over narration or title cards rather than recording actors saying their lines. (You’ll find a sample script at the end of this article.)

5. Test your script by having someone read it aloud. Ask yourself if it’s dramatic, surprising, and intriguing. Use a watch to check the time.

6. Handle preproduction chores. Tasks include assembling a crew, casting, location scouting, prop gathering, and scheduling.

7. Shoot the trailer. Given the limits of a 15-second trailer, you should be able to get it done in one day, especially if you limit your locations.

8. Do the postproduction work. Tasks include editing the visuals, inserting titles, and adding sound effects and music.

9.  Play your trailer for a test audience. Don’t look for praise. Your goal is to find out if the trailer is clear and compelling. Be prepared to make changes if you’re persuaded they will improve the trailer.


Sample 15-second Trailer Script for “The ESP Affair”


CONNIE, 25, lies in her bed, eyes closed, asleep. Her HUSBAND, 25, sleeps next to her.


What if you had a dream….

The camera moves in on Connie’s face.

INT. CAFE – DAY (tinted to look like a dream)

Connie sits by herself, eating a sandwich and looking at her mobile. A handsome STRANGER approaches and sits at her table.  She obviously doesn’t know the man, who without an introduction pulls her to him and kisses her deeply.


…that was so exciting…


Connie sleeps.


…it woke you up.

Connie eyes pop open. She looks at her sleeping husband, then gets out of bed.


Connie enters the living room.


…and what if your dream was…

Connie stares off frame. The camera pans to reveal the stranger smiling at her.





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