Making Game Trailers with Derek Lieu

by Brandon Pham
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“More than ever, game trailers are critically important to help your audience find you. No one has time to play all the things, but most will spare a couple minutes to see if they want to dedicate more time to your game.”

— Derek Lieu (Trailer Editor)

A beloved east coast guest hailing from Boston Mass, Derek Lieu moved to LA to work on movie trailers right out of college before eventually focusing his attention on AAA and Indie game trailers full time as an independent creator. Aside from his work in games, you can find Derek practicing his Martial Arts and his stand up comedy bits.

The main focus of our podcast this week, aside from getting to know Derek was learning more about his process developing trailers for games, finding out what things developers can do to make their games more trailer friendly and even some chatter on how and when to release your trailer based on the time before release.

Getting a start editing movie trailers

Loving movie trailers all his life, Derek was working as a teachers aide in his DVD authoring college class. In walks in a movie trailer editor from a nearby trailer house. Being one of the only students eagerly asking questions of the guest, he turned what would have only been a lecture experience into an internship before then moving up to an Assistant Editor position at the same company! This all happened because his passion lead him to take advantage of an opportunity and take initiative to ask questions about working in editing and sourcing content from the guest lecturer.


“I work on multiple projects at the same time, and certain tasks fill the time given… Most of these projects if I had someone breathing down my neck, I could turn around technically faster than I do, but to make sure I don’t overwhelm myself I may give myself two weeks”. This is a crucial key to your success in general, especially if you see your schedule start to fill up. The goal is to always be able to deliver your best work, even if you need to increase your frequency do not overbook yourself and let you efforts dwindle in the process. Giving yourself the time to properly complete your tasks at a high level is a clear sign of being professional. Overburdening yourself and delivering sub par work are two mistakes not just one.”

Common mistakes you see made on indie trailers

“So many game trailers show the HUD! You don’t need to show the HUD!” He likened this exclamation to driving a car and having a leaf appear on your windshield preventing you from seeing properly beyond it. This is an annoyance. If you really want to sell your game and deliver crisp and engaging footage, it’s best to do it without the HUD. Relating subtle information about the character, health, ammo, compass etc is not important when you just want to wow your viewer and potential customers with your gameplay footage, why waste any time distracting them?

Don’t use footage that is too confusing, “you can’t just play the game a whole bunch and use footage from that”. As fun as inputting random clips from your epic battle scenes may be, if the user cant contextually understand everything they’re seeing in the footage, or if any of the footage could possibly need explanation, then it may be best to avoid using it. Trailers aren’t long enough to recover from leaving a confused or bad impression, so its best to minimize the potential to do so at all costs. “Try turning off certain options or killing off all the enemies in the surrounding area before you begin recording yourself killing off the one in the middle” this keeps your footage focused on what is important.

Announce dates and rollout schedule vs Attention Spans

“I always worry when a game puts out a trailer really early before it ships, because I see the comments on forums and youtube when people start to lose interest in something”.

“I always worry when a game puts out a trailer really early before it ships, because I see the comments on forums and youtube when people start to lose interest in something”. This can’t be said enough. A common problem with game consumers is their attention spans feel narrower than you the developer may wish they were. With so many new games coming out on a daily basis across multiple gaming platforms, you can’t afford to be forgotten about.

He also says to watch out for releasing additional trailers that don’t have enough new content. He explains “People do, when they see a trailer that maybe isn’t different enough from a previous trailer, maybe say what else is new? I’m not getting excited anymore”. And also when he’s working on a game for a long time, he explains he is aware of what footage and gameplay he has already shown to make sure he avoids redundancy and keeps each trailer fresh and exciting as they all rollout.

Do you work from a shot list or do you play the games yourself and develop your ideas?

“That depends, if it’s a narrative game like Firewatch or Thimbleweed park, first I’ll play the game enough to understand how the story is told in the game. When I worked on Subnautica, I made the mistake of not playing the game soon enough in the process thinking it was a big game and I should go to the script first… Only to find out all these voice over files were from audio logs and there wasn’t really much shown on the screen at the same time”. Admitting to a slight mistake, he pointed out the need to be familiar with the product in a similar way as the end user which is why he likes playing the games he’s creating trailers for and also because it helps him not assume content experiences will be a certain way and mess up the production plan for cutting the trailer again.

“If it’s something spoken on screen in some sort of way, I can just take their script which could be thousands of lines long and just use my system of looking for the exposition or the parts that talk about the character or plot and take that, and make one hundred pages into sixteen pages and just gradually whittle that down until the main story points I want to focus on get honed in on.”

Pre-production trailer Making or Nah?

I have only really done that once or twice, I had to do that for GDC this year and it was working off of some voice files and concept art. That can be fun too in a different way. Whenever you have some sort of constraints it can be fun to work within that. I’ve never pitched a game to a publisher or something like that but it’s hard for people to visualize things if you’re just talking about it, it’s much easier to show a nice video. But I don’t do that often because people don’t approach me for that sort of thing often, but I really only try to work on games that I either like or believe in their message or their story. I don’t want to work on a game that gets announced on like twitter an say “I don’t want to retweet this” “. He knows what value he brings to the table and where your money is best spent if he’s making a trailer for you. Most importantly it does paint a bit of a teachable moment involving knowing when to get the production resources involved in helping to market your product. Even if he’s being paid to work on your trailer and make your game look its best, his retweets somewhat are an extension of his own brand when he’s promoting something he was involved in. The hesitation to support unfinished works should be shared by the developers as well. There is such thing as too early to show.

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