Opinion: How to sell your Nollywood blockbuster in 2 minutes

by Seun Ajayi


As an unrepentant media buff, I’m one of those Nigerians who has his overpriced data bundle depleted by the common practice of watching youtube videos, A LOT of you tube videos.

Since Nigeria got its share of the new media explosion, Nollywood producers swiftly moved from the expensive and then popular TV spots, to youtube, as a means of marketing their new work.

Every week new Nollywood film trailers are uploaded on youtube and available to anyone with eyes, an attention span and an internet enabled video viewing device.

This takes me to the crux of this article; there are thousands of Nigerian films out there and they have trailers, Dear producer, what makes your trailer get me excited about watching your film?


Congratulations,this film has taken you five years in total to shoot. You have been dreaming about making this idea you got while sitting on the cold porcelain toilet seat in a raggedy hotel. You expanded your thoughts into a full blown screenplay, scratched for funding and pulled a cast and crew together. Now it’s finally in the can, you are done shooting this ‘blockbuster’ of yours. Now here is the big question; can you sell it to an audience in two minutes?

There are three main tools of marketing used to promote a film. A teaser; a very short clip that gives only a sneak peek into the world created by the director. An excerpt which is a short clip cut out of a particular scene of the film for promo purposes, then there is the trailer.

A trailer is basically an advertisement. It is used as a promotional tool to entice the targeted audience towards the film. It is usually the first contact that the audience makes with the film, so you want it to leave a lasting impression. The first thing to understand here is that I am no EXPERT in cutting commercials. However, I have seen enough film and TV drama trailers to know what works and what does not, in most cases. So here are a few recommendations.

First thing to note, this is the trailer, not the film

One of the most common mistakes I have noticed with Nigerian film trailers is that they belabour the audience with too much information. Don’t try to over explain the story you are about to tell; let the movie itself do that. To avoid this common error, think of your trailer as an audiovisual synopsis of the film. An easy way to do this would be to write a story through line for the trailer, when done, this would more likely play to the strengths of your story and would serve as the foundation on which you would build the rest. Your story through line may end up not as linear as the story you are telling in the film itself, err… don’t panic its marketing, the idea is to put you best foot forward *wink*.

Your trailer is a Story in itself.

Another very important aspect of cutting trailers is in the structure. Overlooking this very vital issue may result in your trailer just being another blip on the radar screen and not one that catches desired attention. The basic story structure is usually in three parts. Start off your trailer by setting up the place of the story, a general introduction of the characters and the environment they are in; slowly drawing the audience in and then… BAM! In the second act, throw in the conflict. This is what indie Filmmaker Mike Flanagan refers to as the SLAP. In most trailers, this is usually introduced by a dramatic change in music, the introduction of a foil character… it could be anything. This middle act escalates the drama to a turning point in the last act that leaves the audience with a promise, a longing to see how the story turns out. It’s a simple process to build a situation of normalcy, introduce and heighten tension and then build expectations with suspense. In the words of Ross Evison; ‘Escalate, escalate, escalate then stop!’ Below are two Nollywod trailers, lets see if you can spot the difference between the properly structured one and the one that runs on the same spot without going anywhere, story wise.


The Music.

You want to know how important music is in the art filmmaking, then, try watching some of the best films ever made on mute. Or just imagine how boring those chases between Tom and Jerry would be without the score. Yes, that is how vital you’re the music is to your trailer. You have to be able to choose music that suits the physical, philosophical and emotional tones of your film to use in cutting your trailer. The music could also help in switching up the moments. Watching some trailers sometimes gives the illusion of the pictures ‘dancing to’ the rhythm of the music, in other words the score determines the editing pace for the trailer. As a matter of fact, some movie trailer editors choose the music first before they start cutting a trailer.

Voice Over and Copy

I remember while growing up and watching those VHS versions of Hollywood flicks from the late 80s and 90s. The most intriguing thing about some of those films where the trailers that preceded them. From films like Robocop, to Terminator and many others that I cannot possibly remember now, there was something unique that always etched the memories in my mind; the VOICEOVERS. Using voiceover announcers to make a film trailer always sounds very exciting; however, there is always a very thin line between getting this right and falling flat on ones face. The truth is, not all film trailers need voice announcers and the use of VOs in trailers has reduced even in Hollywood, but if you find it necessary to use this method, it just needs to come out right and fit the tone of your film. As for the copy (The lines written for the announcer to say) make sure that it sounds right and catchy enough. Don’t forget that it is still an advert. If you cannot write the copy by yourself, engage the services of a screenwriter or advertising copy writer. If you cannot afford the services of a third party then, ask a friend’s honest opinion on how this copy sounds when you read it out loud to them (Note: I said HONEST opinion). Finally, when choosing a Voiceover talent to record the copy, make sure you choose the person with a vocal tone that suits the overall theme of your trailer. These waters need to be charted very carefully, but if you get this right, it would be clear sailing.

The length of your trailer

Always, remember, the trailer is a not supposed to be too long. The essence of creating one is to attract the audience which is know to have a very short attention span, to your work. Mostly, some of the best trailers make a strong case within a duration of 90 seconds and 2 minutes. Some trailers last a little longer, say about 2 minutes and 30seconds, usually most trailers that run longer than 3 minutes have a tendency to over flog the subject.

I’m sure that there are many other factors to consider in relation to individual projects, as there is no one way to skin a cow. However one of the most helpful things you can do for yourself would be research; watch a lot of trailers. See as many as you can, especially trailers for films in related genres to the one you have just made. Try you best not to copy exactly what you see, that could be dangerous as to finding your own voice in the creative space, just observe, learn and adapt. Lastly, it is most often better to get a third party to cut your trailer for you. The thing with directors cutting their own trailers is that they may become too sentimentally attached to particular scenes, motifs, lines etc; that may have no relevance in the trailer. If you can afford it, pay someone who knows what they are doing, if you cannot afford it, then you have to ‘man up’ and be brutal with your own work.

A film maker can brag about his or her film all they want, but a good trailer that creates a longing in the minds of the audience to see the whole story is even more powerful. In fact some film producers have attracted major distributors based on the stir generated by their trailers. Nollywood is a business and your trailer is not just a loosely stung up montage of nice scenes from your film, it is a marketing tool, don’t joke around with it, put in more effort to get it right.

Here are a few more movie trailers that left a smile on my face.

This article was first published on Veesta online


Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

Comments (2)

  1. hey guyz…. i write but i seem to have no idea on how to get my movie scripts out there to producers

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