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Length of shots in trailers

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Anthony Atkielski
Length of shots in trailers
on Feb 5, 2012 at 11:54:03 pm

I'm trying to make some trailers for short videos I've created. Obviously an important goal of a trailer is that it has to be a lot shorter than the original video, so I'm cutting out most of the original video and preparing a series of very short shots.

The problem I'm having, though, is in deciding how long each shot should be. I know that in the original video, shots should be at least seven seconds long in most cases, and I try to follow that rule, and usually it turns out okay. However, seven-second shots aren't going to work in the trailer, so I'm trying to go with two- or three-second shots. But I find that I don't really know the length of the shots work until I render the trailer and watch it, at which point some shots "feel" too long or short.

So, what I'd like to know is: Are there guidelines for determining the best length for a shot in something like a trailer, which might help me to estimate the correct length before I render and watch the whole trailer? What types of images need a bit more time, and which need a bit less? If you have a pointer to a Web site that talks about this, that would be great as well. Obviously, I'm not a professional editor.


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Mark Suszko
Re: Length of shots in trailers
on Feb 6, 2012 at 7:45:35 pm

Let rythm be your guide, I say. Visual AND aural. Trailers are one place where people don't mind a lot of cutting on the beats.. The thing to stay away from I say is giving away too much fo the story; give them a good hint of what they'er getting for their money, but don't give away all the best stuff for free.


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Nick Griffin
Re: Length of shots in trailers
on Feb 6, 2012 at 7:48:01 pm

I can't speak for anyone other than myself here and I've never 'studied' editing, just done a fair amount for my own projects. Okay, with that as my starting point… What?? I've never heard of there being any set length, minimum or maximum, for individual shots. It's dictated by what works for telling the story, not by any particular rule or trade practice.

Not to get too cinematic on you but think of the shower scene in Hitchcock's Psycho. I believe that had some cuts as short as a half second. Dozens and dozens of them in quick succession. Compare that to the majority of Stanley Kubrick's work where many scenes were a single shot, from a single perspective, lasting sometimes for minutes while the action just took place within the confines of the frame. Which of these classic directors was right? Both of them, because there is no "rule" on this. It's dictated by your style and what works.

As to trailers, the whole idea is to create a storyline (or, more typically, the illusion of a storyline whether it's true to the movie or not) in as short a period of time as possible. So there, yes, the shot durations would logically be far shorter than the longer piece they are attempting to sell you on.


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Lance Bachelder
Re: Length of shots in trailers
on Feb 6, 2012 at 9:24:22 pm

If you go to Apple site and download a variety of trailers and play them back frame by frame, looking at show length and especially how sound and visual transitions are built. You'll see single frames of white, black, how some rely on VO, some graphics and other just great storytelling to create the great "trailer moments".

Couple of my favs from last year were WIN WIN and The Descendants.

Lance Bachelder
Writer, Editor, Director
Irvine, California



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Richard Herd
Re: Length of shots in trailers
on Feb 6, 2012 at 10:35:30 pm

As a marketing piece designed to get viewers, the trailer ought to establish some general categories: who is the main character? Genre (example: is the movie horror or romantic comedy?) What does the main character need?

It's a place to start. The trailer should not be less than that, although of course there is room to add.


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Anthony Atkielski
Re: Length of shots in trailers
on Feb 8, 2012 at 5:38:48 pm

Thank you all for the replies. I think I'll continue to work on a single trailer over and over until it looks right. There's no urgency so I have time to practice. I'll try to incorporate all your suggestions.


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