T R A I L E R | W O R L D
Richard Verrier from The LA Times published an interesting article about the rift between Theater Owners and Distributors.
Moviegoers fed up with long trailers may get some relief at the multiplex.
The trade group representing major theater chains announced that it was clamping down on the duration of movie trailers — and how far in advance they are shown before a film’s release.
As part of new guidelines released Monday, the National Assn. of Theatre Owners called for limiting the length of movie trailers to two minutes. That is down from 21/2 minutes, which for several years has been the standard recommended by the Motion Picture Assn. of America.
Seeking to “maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of the industry’s marketing efforts,” the theater owners group also called for restricting marketing time for trailers to 150 days prior to the release date of the film, and 120 days for all other in-theater marketing materials.
Distributors would be allowed two exemptions a year for trailer length and marketing lead time.
“These guidelines will evolve in response to technological innovations, marketing and advertising trends, competition in the marketplace, and consumer demands,” the theater owners group said in a statement. “The guidelines are completely voluntary and will be implemented through individual exhibition company policies, which may vary.”
Trailer length has been a source of annoyance among consumers, as well as a bone of contention between theater owners and studios, who often haggle over how to divvy up box-office revenue.
Although studios and theater owners view trailers as a key way to market upcoming movies, exhibitors have grown increasingly concerned that long promotional spots consume valuable advertising space, reveal too many plot lines and can be ineffective if they are screened too many months ahead of the movie’s release date.
The sides also have clashed over the growing practice of charging for trailers.
Traditionally, theater owners were content to run the advertisements for upcoming movies on the understanding that they drove box-office receipts and concession-stand sales. Studios paid to make the trailers and cinemas screened them without charge.
But in a sign of the trailers’ rising value, some large theater chains are charging studios to run their trailers. Some studios pay as much as $100,000 to play a trailer for one film. Last year, the nation’s largest cinema chain, Regal Entertainment, cut the number of free trailers that studios can run with their own movies from two to one.
The practice is a sore point with distributors, which have complained that they’re being asked to pay to get their trailers played or risk getting shut out.
The theater owners group’s executive board voted last April to create new industrywide guidelines for trailer length and placement as well marketing lead-in time.
Several studios balked at the initial recommendations, which included a 90-day window for releasing trailers and did not allow for exemptions.
After discussions with executives of the seven largest distributors, the theater owners group agreed to revise the guidelines.
The guidelines will go into effect for any film released domestically on or after Oct. 1.
Here’s a recent article in The LA Times, by Ryan Faughnder, about the burgeoning scene of Hollywood movie trailers.
Movie trailers have become their own kind of blockbusters.
Hollywood studios collectively spent $3.16 billion last year on U.S. marketing efforts to draw people to the theaters in the face of competition from new entertainment options, according to Nielsen.
The struggle to reach the mass audience has given rise to a diverse industry of producers that cuts feature films into bite-sized appetizers. About 15 years ago, there were only a dozen or so companies distilling motion pictures down to 21/2-minute previews. Now there are more than 100.
Fueling this growth has been an explosion in viewing online, where previews can generate as much buzz as the films themselves. People have watched more than 35 million hours of movie trailers on YouTube so far in 2015, up 90% from the same period last year.
“For us, it’s a heyday of trailer-making,” said David Stern, whose 10-year-old company, Create Advertising Group, has worked on campaigns for “Fantastic Four,” “Minions” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”
The rise of trailer companies is largely due to technology. New digital advances for filmmakers have made it easier and cheaper for aspiring trailer cutters to get started on their own, and the reach of YouTube means a bigger audience than ever.
Established players such as Trailer Park, Mark Woollen & Associates and Create Advertising have had their eyes on the broader market for years. But some start-ups have gained a foothold by appealing to specific demographic groups.
Soda Creative, based in the hip Arts District of downtown Los Angeles, is one of the companies that have sprouted up to take advantage of studios’ appetite for targeted marketing. Owner Jaime Gamboa has made a specialty of the burgeoning Latino market that has become increasingly important to Hollywood and driven the success of huge films such as “Furious 7.”
He and business partner Jaehoon Oh, who started Soda in 2013, try to amplify parts of the movie that will appeal to Latinos without pigeonholing them. Their “Guardians of the Galaxy” commercial for Univision, for example, highlighted the Disney superhero movie’s action and swagger, not its offbeat humor and 1970s pop music.
Disney also recruited Soda for its feel-good movie “McFarland USA,” about a white PE coach who leads a team of Latino cross-country runners. Disney desired a more “culturally rich” feel for the drama’s second trailer, Gamboa said.
It wanted a different song to play over the footage, replacing the U2 track used in the first trailer. Gamboa’s team and Disney ultimately landed on a song from Colombian rocker Juanes.
Disney recruited Soda Creative for its feel-good movie “McFarland USA,” about a white PE coach who leads a team of Latino cross-country runners. Disney desired a more “culturally rich” feel for the drama’s second trailer, Jaime Gamboa said.
“The way other major agencies were approaching the Hispanic market was, to be frank, very archaic,” said Gamboa, 41, who is Mexican American. “We’re not coming at it from the perspective of ‘I’m Hispanic, so I know all about Hispanics.’ We’ve been involved in the research.” The focus on Latinos appears to be working.
Gamboa’s staff has more than doubled to 12 full-time employees in the last year, and he says his revenue is growing at an annual rate of 40% to 44%. The company this month moved to a 4,000-square-foot space from a cramped temporary office.
The audience for trailers is not just diverse, it’s hungry, experts say. The explosion of online video has helped make trailer release dates into events that get their own promotional push. Studios increasingly hype teaser trailers that come out ahead of the full versions, and announce when they’ll unveil each new video to keep the audience interested for months leading up to opening weekend.
Websites such as YouTube have become the go-to place to view movie ads, especially for young people who aren’t trekking to the multiplex as often as their parents did. The second official teaser for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” racked up 88 million online views on its first day alone, Disney said in April.
“The marketing of the marketing has become a prime secret weapon,” said Craig Murray, whose Los Angeles firm mOcean has helped with campaigns for Marvel’s “Ant-Man” and Warner Bros.’ “American Sniper.”
There are risks to flooding the Internet with movie ads. Trailers can bomb, just like the movies they sell.
Kenneth Branagh, who has starred in and directed several Shakespeare film adaptations, including 1989’s “Henry V” and 1996’s “Hamlet,” will direct a new live-action version of Disney’s “Cinderella.” Lily James will play Cinderella with Richard Madden as her prince.
“Monkey Kingdom” tells the story of survival centered on a newborn monkey and its mother. Since the duo were not born into the top of the social hierarchy of monkeys deep in the jungles of South Asia, they are forced to fend for themselves.
Fans have long complained about pre-rolls that go on too long, give away too much of the plot or mislead the audience. One filmgoer in 2011 sued the distributor of the Ryan Gosling movie “Drive,” contending the marketing suggested it would be similar to the “Fast & Furious” films. She lost her case.
Trailers have been mocked for their familiar formulas and cliches — think “In a world …” voice-overs and endless “from the makers of …” roll calls. A common complaint: Why see the movie, when all the best jokes are in the preview?
In today’s culture of social media and fanboy websites, trailers are parsed and criticized without mercy. The “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” trailer, released in April shortly after a low-quality version leaked, met with decidedly mixed reviews.
“You can have backlash, for sure,” said Fandango Chief Content Officer Sandro Corsaro, who oversees trailers for the online ticket seller. “The ante has definitely been upped.”
But sometimes it works.
Disney sparked a frenzy over its 88-second preview for the next “Star Wars” movie last year by announcing it would run in just 30 North American theaters on Black Friday. The Burbank studio unveiled the preview online the same day to tens of millions of views over the holiday weekend, sparking wide excitement about the franchise reboot that debuts in December.
And the official trailers from the studios are only a part of the boom. Fans upload “reaction” videos by the thousands, giving their first takes on the previews.
For the summer hit “Jurassic World,” fan uploads earned more than twice as many views as the videos Universal Pictures put up, according to the video technology firm Zefr, which helps entertainment companies track and analyze clips on YouTube.
“It’s all been for the benefit of the marketers, because they can harness the power of the fans,” said Zefr co-founder Rich Raddon.
Warner Bros. this month tried to keep a lid on the Comic Con trailer for the super-villain movie “Suicide Squad.” But in the face of leaks, the Burbank movie giant begrudgingly relented and released the footage on the Internet.
Studios are willing to spend $50,000 to $500,000 to get a trailer right.
Marketing pushes for the biggest blockbusters can start more than a year before the film’s release. Studios tap firms like mOcean and Create Advertising to come up with ideas even before the picture begins shooting, basing teaser concepts on scripts and storyboards.
“The marketing of the marketing has become a prime secret weapon,” said Craig Murray, whose Los Angeles firm MOcean has helped with campaigns for Marvel’s “Ant-Man,” pictured, and Warner Bros.’ “American Sniper.”
The firms sometimes get complete movies to work with. But with bigger, effects-driven films, the companies tend to get piecemeal access to scenes as they’re completed. A single teaser trailer concept can take two to six months to come to fruition, as it goes through the painstaking efforts of writers, editors, voice-over actors and music supervisors.
Not everyone wants more marketing. Trailer length has been a bone of contention between theater owners and studios, as well as a source of annoyance for audiences. Last year the National Assn. of Theatre Owners put out new guidelines to clamp down on the duration of trailers and how far in advance they are shown before a film’s release.
On the other hand, trailers have proved popular enough to spawn their own awards shows. The annual Golden Trailer Awards — considered the Oscars for short attention spans — has recently given top honors to spots for “Furious 7,” “Gravity” and “Iron Man 3.” It bestows an especially dubious title, the Golden Fleece, for the best advertisement of a bad movie.
The last ceremony, held in May, played to a sell-out crowd at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills. The event, hosted by “Silicon Valley” actor T.J. Miller, doled out trophies for “Furious 7,” “Big Hero 6” and “Ted 2.” The Golden Fleece went to “The Giver,” and “Inherent Vice” won the Don LaFontaine Award — for best voice-over.
“People’s attention spans are shrinking,” said Evelyn Brady-Watters, who launched the Golden Trailer Awards in 1999 with her sister Monica Brady. “You can’t waste a second of the time you have in front of people.”
Link to the original article
Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
So this isn’t trailer related, but it is music related. Here’s a breakdown of the awesome, sticky GoT theme, from composer Ramin Djawadi.
Put it simply, in the analogy of cooking, a trailer editor, just like a good Chef, takes all the different ingredients and combines them to create the perfect meal.
In the case of a trailer those ingredients are
1) the script from the producing / writing team.
2) The footage, visuals
3) Music – Music is 50% of any trailer. Depending on the budget, the trailer editor will select one or multiple cues to be used. The music selection will be based on the what tone needs to be communicated in the trailer, for e.g.. epic Orchestral, big fast action rock, or moody indie rock, or dark gritty electronica etc.
5) Sound FX
4) Dialogue and Voice over narration (if required)
5) Graphic cards to communicate the message.
A good trailer, just like a good meal is a creative combination of all the above mentioned ingredients coming together in perfect harmony.
So the trailer editor’s job involves translating scripts into edited trailers, tv spots, or radio spots. Unlike many jobs, trailer editing is usually project-specific, so over the course of a year they will work on many different types of campaigns for many different movies or video games or commercials.
On a typical morning, the trailer editor will work on the day’s cuts. A 30-second TV spot may take a day or two to cut from scratch, and they usually work alone for a while until the spot is refined enough to show to the producers / creative director and show it to them and get notes.They’ll work together for a bit to make the spot make more sense or be funnier or scarier or whatever’s necessary. Once done with all the notes and internal revisions, there could be a few rounds at times. Then it’ll be sent to the client and then all the client’s notes will be addressed. So all in all, a good trailer is very dependent on also a good team around the trailer editor.
And now you know what a trailer editor does!!
There’s tons of “Best trailers of 2014” lists out there. I’m not sure if I agree with most of those, but this one by A.V. club, comes close. You decide.
Cutting a movie trailer may be primarily an act of salesmanship, as mercenary in its goals as a fast food commercial or a pop-up ad, but there is an art to it. The best “coming attractions” manage to stoke anticipation while either capturing the spirit of the film in question or—and this is rare, admittedly—carving out their own fascinating identity. Below, we’ve selected the 10 trailers that impressed us the most these past 12 months. These are not, it should be noted, the most popular trailers of the year (though one of them is). Rather, they’re the ones that worked best as shrewdly effective advertising, artful montage, or, ideally, both. Did we forget a crucial choice? Tell us about it in the comments below. And check back tomorrow when, at long last, we unveil our favorite films of the year.
10. Star Wars: Episode VII—The Force Awakens
On first watch, it seems to put the tease in teaser, “rewarding” the salivating faithful with a measly 11 shots, none featuring characters anyone has ever seen before. But with the Force not awakening for another full year, perhaps it’s best that the marketing whizzes of The Empire (sorry, Disney) seem committed to preserving the mystery of this return engagement to a galaxy far, far away. Anyway, there’s still plenty to obsess over in the 90-second spot, whose artfully arranged excerpts—a panicked John Boyega rising dramatically into frame, a presumed Sith lord unsheathing his impractical lightsaber—at least suggest that the Padawan at the helm (some guy named J.J.) can orchestrate a little mythic imagery. In an age when trailers tend to reveal too much, there’s value to one that leaves audiences wanting more. And let’s face it: It could have been a minute and a half of dancing Ewoks and we all would have still helped it become the most watched trailer ever.
9. American Sniper
Cherry-picking a single enticing scene from a movie and allowing it to function as the full theatrical trailer isn’t a new trick, but it remains a rare one. The preview for American Sniper, Clint Eastwood’s biopic about the deadliest sharpshooter in U.S. military history, repurposes and slightly modifies a tense early scene of Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) agonizing over whether to take out a civilian child with an explosive device in his arms. There’s something a little queasy about using this moral dilemma to sell tickets, but damn if it isn’t an effective strategy: Eastwood’s clean, muscular direction sells itself, and one leaves itching to see the resolution of the cliffhanger—even if getting hooked by the possibility that a little kid will be shot dead is kind of sick.
Documentaries are rarely granted unique or extraordinary trailers, possibly because their distributors assume that trying to “trick” audiences into seeing a non-fiction film is a lost cause. (And the people already inclined to shell out cash for a bunch of talking heads don’t need to be sweet-talked into it—or so the argument might go.) But Citizenfour isn’t an ordinary documentary, and that’s nicely reflected in this short and evocative clip, which marries audio of director Laura Poitras reading a clandestine correspondence to images of ordinary locations rendered unsettling through context. A powerful sense of surveillance and paranoia is quickly and simply conveyed. And then comes the climactic appearance of Edward Snowden, which the trailer treats like that moment in a blockbuster preview when a famous character or franchise element is finally revealed. Masterful stuff.
7. Nighcrawler (first teaser)
Everything terrific about Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut—its nocturnal vision of Los Angeles, its midnight-black humor, Jake Gyllenhaal’s ghoulish embodiment of self-actualization gone wrong—is crammed into a fleet 94 seconds. Incorporating footage not actually seen in the finished film, and repeating one of Lou Bloom’s self-help mantras until it sounds like the ravings of a lunatic (which it essentially is), the teaser captures the twisted allure of Nightcrawler much better than the subsequent (and too plot-heavy) full trailer. Again, less can be more.
6. The Grand Budapest Hotel (first trailer)
It must be both exhilarating and a little maddening to assemble the trailer for a new Wes Anderson movie. When every given minute of running time features countless striking images and/or gut-busting gags, how does one possibly settle on what to include? There are several spots for The Grand Budapest Hotel, including a randomly profane Red Band trailer and one that hints at the film’s stories-within-stories architecture. But the best of the bunch is still the original international trailer, which handpicks some of the funniest lines (“I’ve had older”) and slapstick bits (the succession of face punches). Whoever cut the thing also seems to understand the pacing of an Anderson comedy, as they sometimes slow the madcap montage to a halt for a few seconds of deadpan stasis—as when, for example, Ralph Fiennes and Tony Revolori are caught stashing the stolen painting. The trailer is almost as delightful as the movie it’s advertising, which is really saying something.
5. Guardians Of The Galaxy (second trailer)
Faced with the challenge of selling audiences on a team of second-string superheroes they’ve probably never heard of, the Marvel team rose to the occasion by treating the characters like instant stars. The gamble clearly paid off, given all the Guardians fan art that flooded the web before the movie had even opened. The trailers—the second one, posted above, gets the slight edge—also smartly played up the sardonic spirit of the movie, positioning it as a comic alternative to more poker-faced superhero offerings. But let’s be real: The enormous success of these trailers—and, subsequently, the film, which remains 2014’s highest grosser—can probably be attributed to four little words: “Hooked On A Feeling.” Just try to think of Guardians Of The Galaxy without hearing the joyful chorus of that Blue Swede song. It’s impossible!
4. Birdman (first teaser)
Here’s another example of an initial teaser that’s much better than the longer, more informative trailer that followed it. Scored to the moody strains of a slow-jam version of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” the first Birdman clip shrouds the film in intrigue. Will it be a psychological thriller? An absurdist comedy? An arty superhero movie? Those who didn’t immediately rush to Google for plot details could get lost in the mystery the teaser cultivates—not to mention the gloriousness of Emmanuel Lubezki’s gliding camerawork. Also: Did any 2014 trailer end on a funnier note?
3. Godzilla (first full trailer)
Who needs more than a passing glimpse of the titular monster when you have Bryan Cranston bellowing about the end of the world? Building off the vague unease of the original teaser, Godzilla’s first full trailer offers several tantalizing glimpses of urban devastation, including an opening aerial view of a downed aircraft and that shot of jets plummeting into San Francisco bay. Still, for all the wanton destruction being hinted at, it’s Cranston’s hysterical monologue that gives this spot its true gravity. It makes very clear that the terminal goofiness of that last American Godzilla movie is a thing of the past. Smart move.
2. Mad Max: Fury Road (Comic-Con preview)
Look at this insanity. Just look at it! The Mad Max team has stuffed more stylish, kinetic, awe-inspiring mayhem into two and half minutes than most action movies manage to fit into their entire running times. It’s the type of trailer that rewards compulsive replays, each subsequent look uncovering some incredible detail you missed on the first, second, or 10th time around. There are, technically, two versions of the spot, and while we prefer the one that premiered at Comic-Con—it has that cool calm-before-the-storm opening—you can’t go wrong with either. If the actual movie is half as exciting as the feverish montage of violence they’re using to advertise it, look the fuck out.
A miniature masterpiece of anticipation, distilling one of the year’s most bewildering films into a self-contained unit of screwball brilliance. This writer won’t go as far as claiming that it’s betterthan Paul Thomas Anderson’s movie. But it is infinitely more fun—and the rare trailer that’s still worth watching after you’ve seen the film it’s advertising, if for no other reason than it helps explain some of the truly confusing plot. Also, watching Joaquin Phoenix freak out over that picture never, ever gets old.
The Art of First Impressions: How to Cut a Movie Trailer
It’s only two minutes long. But it’s the way a film greets the world. For a self-distributor, it can mean getting 100,000 hits on YouTube within a week. For indie filmmakers trying to make an impression, it’s a chance to have their no-budget D.I.Y. movies stand shoulder-to-shoulder with The Hobbit and Avatar 2 on iTunes. And it has a long shelf life; years after a theatrical release is over, it will be one of the first things to pop up on a Google word search.
The humble movie trailer, once a delightful distraction seen only by punctual film goers exclusively in movie houses, is now the principal way most movies get exposure and remain in the public conscience. And as long as there is a computer and an Internet connection, it can be watched anytime, anywhere, indefinitely. Along with the movie poster, it is arguably the most important marketing tool available to a filmmaker.
A bad trailer won’t automatically hurt a film. Strong reviews and terrific word-of-mouth can make uninspired advertising irrelevant. Then again, not all films are bulletproof success stories. What about that promising first feature? That peculiar but compelling foreign language film? That oddball documentary with seemingly banal subject matter yet an undeniably hypnotic style? These kinds of movies can really benefit from a memorable piece of advertising. (And, oddly enough, a bad flick can occasionally make for a fantastic trailer. More on that later.)
Studio films typically break down into a handful of genres: action, drama, comedy, horror, sci-fi, fantasy. They all have their conventions, and their trailers have a similarly categorized look and sound. Thick sans-serif font with jaunty music? Comedy. Elegant serif font with dour orchestral cue? Drama. These are mass-produced goods, and they are by definition formulaic. This is not necessarily criticism; there are excellent studio films that have accordingly superlative trailer work. (Trailer campaigns for huge franchises such as The Matrix, Harry Potter and Spider-Manare particularly well-crafted.) But independent and foreign language releases are usually hard to categorize. They often mix genres, subvert them or ignore them completely. Documentaries, too, can defy definition. Is it an essay film, an experiential meditation, agit-prop, social commentary or all of the above?
At Kinetic, the company my partner Christy Wilson and I co-founded 10 years ago, we have had the opportunity to work on tremendous non-studio movies that aren’t the easiest to categorize; over 300 films, most recently Cary Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre, Agnieszka Holland’s In Darkness, Constance Marks’ Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey, and Tom Six’s The Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence. From a marketing point of view, the options are wide open — which can be either intimidating or liberating, depending on your point of view.
So you have a movie and you need a trailer. Put very simply, a trailer is a condensed version of a feature, so it should be a collection of its greatest elements. The best way to evaluate your film is to see it first not as a genre but in terms of its fundamental characteristics. Does it have arresting dialogue? Great cinematography? Searing performances? Memorable production design? Lead with its merits.
Of course genre will guide the trailer process. But which aspects are the best ones to market? If it’s a comedy/drama, do you make it funny with some gravitas, or serious with a few zingers for levity? Do you let genre define the film? Doing so might attract more ticket buyers, but could also alienate those people if the movie they see doesn’t match their presumptions. Also, if the film has played on the festival circuit, consider using laurels to tout its pedigree. Are there good reviews, and do you want to add them to the mix? Or will laurels and reviews attract only a highbrow audience and alienate the general market?
Do you think the trailer would benefit from a narrator? What kind of music is available — are there cues specifically composed for the film that would be appropriate, or is outside music a possibility? Do you want a copywriter to get involved, or does the film have enough explanatory dialogue to sustain itself? Now that you’ve unpacked your elements, decide on a creative approach.
RHYTHM AND STRUCTURE
Above all, and without exception, trailer editing is about rhythm. If you don’t have an innate sense of it, then your trailer will not sing. A trailer, cut well, will have a flowing motion to it, a sense that everything plays off everything else, and will propel the viewer through the experience of the film. Trailers build up excitement and anticipation, and a keen sense of rhythm heightens those sensations.
While you may not choose for music to be the defining characteristic of your trailer, it still plays an important role in its basic construction. It literally sets the tone and the rhythm. I usually start every trailer by building my music bed, and that bed is generally composed of three music cues. Why three? Because trailers lend themselves to a three-act structure.
Act One: Introduce the films’ characters and environment. Act Two: Complicate their world with obstacles to overcome. Act Three: Intensify the conflicts and ratchet up the tension/excitement/humor. (Montages invariably end up in Act Three.) There can be four acts, there can be one — it really just depends on the material. But three acts is a good place to start. Most importantly: never resolve anything! Whenever possible, leave questions unanswered. Don’t tie up loose ends. Keep the audience wanting more.
I mentioned before that bad movies can have great trailers. That’s because trailers are about raising expectations. Films are made because a group of people really believe in the ideas behind that movie. All films start out being potentially great. By the time the filmmaking process is over, reality has intervened. Is it still great? That’s open to debate. But a trailer doesn’t reveal the whole movie. It just reveals the movie’s potential to be great. It pitches the promise of the premise. And if the trailer has seductive rhythm and an arresting structure, then any movie can look like a winner.
DISASSEMBLING YOUR FILM AND CONSTRUCTING YOUR TRAILER
In order to make a trailer for your film, you have to take it apart. Every trailer editor goes through the film meticulously, breaking it down and turning it into basic building blocks. The main way to do this is to create two sequences: a dialogue string and a visual string. These are highlight reels. But they’re also like basic ingredients. Imagine taking a cake and reverse-engineering it, extracting the eggs, flour, sugar and butter.
Editors are like tailors. They cut materials and shape them, letting them out here and tucking them in there, until they make a perfect fit. But editors, particularly trailer editors, are also cooks. They take their materials and they boil them down, condense them and extract their essence in order to flavor the overall meal.
Common sense might suggest that the editor who cut your feature should cut your trailer, too. But in certain ways they are the least qualified. Yes, they are familiar with the footage, and trailer editors need to be, too. But feature editors are too familiar. They have lived with the footage for months, sweated over the choices and labored to make every shot fit perfectly into the specific context of the film.
Trailer editors, on the other hand, are disrespectful. They de-contextualize everything. That half-smile the heroine gives to her boyfriend that secretly devastates him? The trailer editor only sees a smile. A dog bark is a dog bark. It’s not Spot’s excited howl that saves the life of his master — it’s just a dog bark. Trailer editors have to see everything for what they are inherently, not how they function in the feature film. They have to unpack the feature in order to repack it and turn it into a trailer.
There are also many familiar editing tropes in trailers: dissolves, fades from black, fades to black, white flashes with the metal-door slams, fast-paced flutter-cuts, double exposures, speed adjustments, audio rises, audio drones, audio stings. These effects are like the images from the film itself: they are tools in a toolbox. Got something lush and romantic? Use dissolves and fades. Got something fast-paced and tense? Use increasingly faster hard cuts that crescendo in a metal-door slam and a white flash. This is simplistic, but the basic message is this: Use these tools (the sound effects, the editing tricks, etc.) to tell a story. And to sell a story.
STRIKING THE RIGHT TONE
Certain films have subject matter that might turn off audiences who think they’ve seen that type of movie before. Myles Bender, senior vice president of creative advertising at Focus Features, was concerned that their new production of Jane Eyre would be perceived as too literary, too outdated and be viewed as a chick flick. He requested a trailer that played down the traditional romantic melodrama and emphasized something else: horror. So Wilson mined and exploited the darker, eerier aspects of the film and treated the story not as a treasured classic but as a very modern tale of madness and obsession.
Let’s say your film deals with controversial issues. Some people who might really love the movie may recoil when they learn what it’s about. Respect that. Don’t rub people’s noses in it. Be subtle. Or at least be tactful. In Ryan Fleck’s feature debut Half Nelson, released by THINKFilm, Ryan Gosling plays a beloved high school teacher who is also a crack head. When we did the trailer, we were very conscious of not naming what drug he was using. We alluded to drug use, but we weren’t specific. Also, this movie is about so much more than drug use. It’s also about adults inspiring teenagers, having human weaknesses and getting second chances in life. So we underlined the tragic parts, emphasized the positive and didn’t dwell on the more salacious, negative aspects.
Before we started Kinetic, Wilson cut the trailer for L.I.E., a critically acclaimed drama about pedophilia on Long Island, released by Lot 47. In this case, the material is so potentially toxic that it’s difficult to explain the story without it seeming lurid. But the movie had a melodic yet sinister song (Donovan’s “Hurdy-Gurdy Man”), sumptuous cinematography (courtesy of Romeo Tirone) and evocative shots (thanks to director Michael Cuesta). Lot 47 co-founder Jeff Lipsky asked Wilson to make a trailer using only the one song, drop all the dialogue, and cut a montage peppered with critics’ quotes and laurels. He asked her to create a mood instead of a narrative; something that was by turns alienating, thrilling, dangerous and ultimately haunting. Without saying a word, it is an incredibly faithful reflection of the film.
MUSIC-DRIVEN (AND MONTAGE-DRIVEN) TRAILERS
L.I.E. is essentially a music-driven montage trailer. The song and images dictate the feeling and structure, but don’t reveal a story. Certain filmmakers have such a distinct visual style and use of music that the best sort of trailer for their films is usually a music-driven montage. Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void is a perfect example. The trippy film about the ghost of a junkie watching over his stripper sister in the neon-drenched city of Tokyo practically begs to be a visual head-trip trailer. IFC Films, who released the film, totally supported that approach, but vice president of marketing Ryan Werner and director of marketing Shani Ankori wanted to make sure the two main characters were also established. So the montage is book-ended with the two of them talking to each other and promising to always be together no matter what. Along with being a string of trippy images set to a pounding techno cue, the trailer also has an emotional undercurrent that humanizes the material and makes the psychedelica oddly poignant.
Another incredibly visceral filmmaker is Lynne Ramsay, whose 2002 film Morvern Callar, released by Cowboy Pictures, follows Samantha Morton as she assumes her dead boyfriend’s identity, claims his book as her own and becomes a celebrated author. Cowboy’s co-heads, Noah Cowan and John Vanco, wanted the trailer to tell that story, but they also wanted it to be impressionistic and to showcase the visuals and the music. The film has an incredibly eclectic soundtrack (Aphex Twin, Stereolab, Lee Hazlewood, Ween), and I used four different cues throughout. The story is about, essentially, an identity crisis, so the music keeps getting interrupted by stray bits of dialogue that are jolting realizations. The structure of the trailer is one of disruption and deliberately jerks from exultation to anxiety and introspection.
Although documentaries are technically non-fiction, they usually abide by the same rules as fiction films. They tell a story. The trailer for the Zeitgeist release Bill Cunningham New York, cut by our junior editor Laura Tomaselli, is absolutely about fashion, since the subject is a fashion photographer. But it’s also about the sacrifices one person makes in order to do what he loves. She makes his story compelling in two minutes because she captures his monastic, Spartan lifestyle and contrasts it with flamboyant wealth. And she shows how this man has just as much individuality, taste and style as the most outrageous clotheshorse. It’s an eloquent ode to having the courage of one’s convictions—whether it’s what you wear or how you choose to live. And the opening line is a killer set-up. Icy Vogue editrix Anna Wintour says, “I’ve said many times that we all get dressed for Bill.” A power-broker like her, bowing to one man? Tell me more.
While Sundance winner and Oscar nominee Trouble the Water, also released by Zeitgeist, has compelling protagonists, it’s fundamentally about Hurricane Katrina. But what makes the film riveting is the you-are-there video footage that was shot during and immediately after the storm. Zeitgeist co-presidents Nancy Gerstman and Emily Russo wanted to play that up, so the trailer focuses mainly on that; the stylistic flourish of white flashes with thunderclaps, used metaphorically in other trailers, is used here literally, to recreate the ravages of the hurricane. You see the main characters, but the focus is on the storm and the government’s reaction to the storm. It’s a classic case of “show, don’t tell.”
Sometimes, the most obvious marketing angle isn’t always the right one. Werner Herzog’s Encounters at the End of the World, an affectionate and near-mystical portrait of a group of scientists living in the extreme climates of Antarctica, is narrated by the Bavarian director and is rife with his trademark Teutonic cadence. When I cut the trailer for THINKFilm and Image Entertainment, I saw Herzog as a major selling point; so, using the eerie choral music from the film, I cut together a series of arresting images and accompanied them with Herzog’s joyfully nihilistic ruminations. But THINKFilm president Mark Urman surprisingly suggested that I drop Herzog’s voice. What remained, just the images and the music, became far more intriguing and absorbing, and ultimately far more powerful.
Years ago, distributors were wary of using subtitles in their trailers for foreign language films and relied on a narrator instead of dialogue to explain the story. More cynical minds might say that it was a lack of faith that audience members didn’t want to see something that wasn’t in English. But there’s a more practical reason: trailers go quickly, and it’s hard to read while so many images are flashing by. These days, trailers now happily carry subtitles. In this digital age, one could argue that people are far more adept at processing a barrage of information quickly. Regardless, subtitles are another tool for trailer editors. The question is, how to use them effectively?
For the most part, I treat foreign language dialogue the same way I treat English dialogue: to advance a story, set a mood and share emotion. The trailer for Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, released by IFC Films, has 20 subtitles in it. But they convey urgency and tension (“What are you going to do?,” “Once we start, there’s no turning back,” “Want to tell me what’s going on?”). The dialogue doesn’t actually reveal information. It raises questions. The more subtitles, the more tense the trailer gets. (The trailer is also a good example of how to handle sensitive material; nowhere does it mention that the film is an abortion drama. The images hint at the plot, but nothing is explicit).
In the trailer for Tomas Alfredson’s Swedish vampire thriller Let The Right One In, distributed by Magnolia’s genre arm Magnet, I only use three subtitles. Halfway through, there’s a quick exchange: “Are you a vampire? / Would you like me anyway?”; and at the end, “Will you be my girlfriend?” Otherwise, the story in the trailer is told wordlessly, which Magnolia president Eamonn Bowles, as well as former senior vice presidents Tom Quinn and Jeff Reichert, completely supported. The economy of dialogue is helpful from a marketing point of view — there’s a good chance that U.S. horror fans with no knowledge of international cinema might give this one a look, even if they usually avoid subtitles. But less is also more; the spare dialogue increases the dramatic tension in a lovely, somber way.
USING COPY AND NARRATION
Copy and narration are an acquired taste. Because Hollywood movies overuse copy and narration, they can look and feel tired and uninspired. They are also literally disruptive; you’re watching a great image or listening to a line of dialogue, and then suddenly it’s interrupted by some deep bass voice or a card full of text. Conversely, if you can cut a trailer without copy or narration, then the movie is explaining its own story organically. Showing rather than telling is always more interesting, so I try my best to avoid copy and narration whenever possible.
That said, there are always exceptions to the rule. Copy is a great way to set up a premise quickly and economically. In the trailer for Carlos, Olivier Assayas’s sweeping five-hour epic about an international terrorist, released by IFC Films, it helped immensely to have three copy cards at the beginning: “IN THE 1970s AND 1980s / ONLY ONE MAN / COULD HIJACK THE WORLD.” That sets the time, place and global impact within seconds. Because Bill Cunningham New York is an episodic portrait of a man, the trailer uses one-word copy cards that allow an impressionistic structure while reinforcing Cunningham’s identity: PHOTOGRAPHER. / PERFECTIONIST. / LONER. / MAVERICK. / VISIONARY.
When the premise is more complicated, narration is actually more expedient. Copy cards are good if they are brief. It’s difficult to sustain an idea over multiple cards; after three cards, you risk losing the train of thought. That’s where a narrator is ideal. He or she can express a paragraph in a few seconds, while allowing the audience to focus on a related visual montage that strengthens the trailer’s overall message. IFC Films’ documentary The Black Power Mixtape: 1967-1975 is an electrifyingly immediate work of cinema vérité that relies on a few very long copy cards at the beginning to explain that this is long-lost footage shot by a Swedish TV crew during the black power movement in the U.S. But for the trailer, no one on screen says that, and telling all of that exposition on copy cards would slow things down. Instead, Ryan Werner and Shani Ankori requested a narration that delivered the summary context quickly and compellingly.
MAKING A TRAILER ECONOMICALLY
Let’s say there’s just no budget to pay for music (either from a composer or from a music library). Or, even more importantly, the director chose not to use music for thematic reasons. Also, let’s say that there’s no budget for a copywriter or a narrator, either. None of these things is necessarily bad. Practically 99 percent of trailers have music, copy or narration, so those few trailers without them actually have an advantage in terms of standing out from all the others.
Kelly Reichardt’s Wendy and Lucy, about a down-and-out woman and her dog trying to get to Alaska, deliberately had no music, to accentuate the film’s stark, unsentimental mood. David Fenkel, president of Oscilliscope Laboratories, the film’s distributor, wanted Reichardt to be involved with the marketing, and she and I quickly decided not to use music in the trailer. We also both prefer not to use copy or narration. So that just left the film’s strongest asset: Michelle Williams. But her performance in the film is so riveting that we used her dramatic predicament to create the music and rhythms of the trailer. Her escalating desperation and increasingly extreme circumstances formed the structure of the trailer, and key bits of dialogue accentuated her stress and anxiety. There is innate music in the spoken word, if you listen for it.
IFC Films’ Day Night Day Night was another extreme situation. Julia Loktev’s harrowing depiction of a suicide bomber preparing to sacrifice herself is so narrowly experiential that the viewer never really knows what is happening at any given time. The movie is disorienting, so I tried my best to make the trailer equally so. I found structure in repetition; as the main character goes through her training, she repeats phrases and words that others give her. The natural rhythms that arose were the material that I used to give the trailer a shape and a sense of danger and emotional vertigo. No copy, narration or music was necessary.
REFERENCING THE TITLE
It sounds silly and even somewhat obvious, but if someone in the movie says the title of the film, you should consider using it in the trailer. If the film’s title is cryptic or somewhat elusive, then that dialogue can give it context and possibly even a sense of poetry. Why risk a ticket sale due to confusion about the title?
No one in Half Nelson explains the title. But when we were working on the trailer, we were allowed to use an outtake that explains it: a snippet of audio that intros a piece of music (“This song is called “Half Nelson,” for those times when you’re feeling kind of stuck”). It’s at the beginning of the trailer and was used as a cheat to seem as though Gosling is hearing it on his clock radio.
Morvern Callar has such a strange title that one could be forgiven for not thinking of it as a woman’s name. So at the beginning of the trailer, we use a piece of a phone conversation from the film (“Mervill Coller?” “No, Morvern Callar”) that makes light of the name — and we also show a computer screen where the name is being typed.
NO RULES, ONLY GUIDELINES
Everything I have written so far can be disproved by another trailer that I (or someone else) has done. My ideal trailer doesn’t have copy, narration or subtitles. But one of my favorite trailers is for Matteo Garrone’s Gomorrah, which I cut for IFC Films and which has — guess what? Very lengthy copy cards, a healthy dollop of narration and loads of subtitles. It’s incredibly helpful to have a three-act structure, with three distinct music cues. But the trailer for L.I.E. has exactly one song and only one act.
You never really know what shape a trailer will take until you start cutting it. Look at the film’s assets, weigh its limitations, and then find a rhythm and structure that works best. There is no one perfect way to cut a trailer. A movie can have five different trailers, all of which take a different approach and all of which do a great job selling the product.
A TRAILER IS ITS OWN FILM
Trailers have their own internal logic and should function separately from the movie they are promoting. If cut well, a trailer can be something you want to watch again and again. But (of course!) it should also make you want to see more.
In most cases, unfortunately, people may only ever see the trailer. That’s why trailers should never resolve anything. If a trailer gives too much away, then viewers might feel like they’ve already seen the whole movie and don’t need to look at the film. Always leave them wanting more. A trailer, cut well, needs to arouse, provoke, seduce and beguile. These are romantic adjectives, which is the point; you need to make viewers fall in love with your film even before they have seen it. Again, trailers are about promise and possibility. They have to tap into irrational and emotional impulses. They have to invoke a sense of want and need. To paraphrase Shakespeare by way of John Huston, they are the stuff that dreams are made of.
The Realities of Trailer Marketing
By Dan Schoenbrun
For independent filmmakers hoping to use an appealing trailer to create interest in their undistributed film, the process of getting a trailer into a movie theater or onto a mainstream digital platform like iTunes or Yahoo is something of a Catch-22. Independent filmmakers want their trailers seen in these venues in order to increase exposure for their projects, but it’s nearly impossible to get placement in either venue unless a project is already quite exposed.
Let’s start with theaters. Filmmakers going the DIY route, or who have partnerships with small, niche distributors, should all but count out the possibility of getting their trailers into the major theatrical chains. These theaters generally show four to six trailers before a feature. Two of these slots are allotted to the studio releasing the feature, and the remaining trailers are decided on by theater executives based on demographic research. It’s a well-oiled system, with no clear entry point for small independent filmmakers — especially if their films aren’t playing at the chains in question.
Independently owned theaters provide an entirely different quandary. These theaters generally only show trailers for films that they will be playing. Elliott Kanbar of Manhattan’s Quad Cinema elaborated on this practice in an e-mail to Filmmaker, explaining, “It’s an important aspect of marketing films. Trailers are owned by the filmmakers/distributors and they require the exhibitor to play them in advance of the film opening.” Filmmakers four-walling a theater should expect that theater to play their trailer in advance of the run; again, though, others will have a hard time.
It can be just as difficult and costly to get a trailer into the mainstream digital realm. Yes, iTunes and Yahoo both allow open trailer submissions. (iTunes’ contact address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and Yahoo’s is email@example.com, but note that each site has specific instructions about what details to send.) Both sites are also quite selective about the trailers that they accept. As a prerequisite for consideration, iTunes requires that films already have a theatrical run planned, or have been “accepted to a major film festival.” Meanwhile, Yahoo’s submission form asks the filmmaker to specify release date and distributor, two fields that should give an idea as to how far along they expect their trailer submissions to be. A simple perusal of either site’s current trailer roster confirms that both iTunes and Yahoo favor studio films and indies being released by large distributors almost unilaterally.
The rare self-distributed title does make it onto iTunes (recent examples being Jennifer Fox’s My Reincarnation and Tze Chun’s Children of Invention), but these projects generally have a good deal of hype behind them before they reach Apple. In an e-mail, Invention producer Mynette Louie discussed how that film’s festival run was an asset in getting it on iTunes. “They actually first posted our [trailer] in May ’09, four months after we played Sundance, while we were in the thick of the fest circuit,” Louie explained. “Then when we did a theatrical release in Feb ’10, we just e-mailed again to ask to repost on their homepage, but offered them two exclusive clips of the film as well. When you do this, they have more incentive to post/feature [your film].”
By Dan Schoenbrun
Thanks to the increased prevalence of digital trailer platforms like iTunes and Yahoo, the days when editors could deliver trailers entirely on celluloid are long past. Nowadays, in order to cut a trailer for both theatrical and digital use, editors require a long list of costly deliverables. To give filmmakers an idea of the complexity of this process, here’s a brief glossary of items and terms used by the trailer editor. — D.S.
HDCAM MASTER The HDCAM Master is what an editor will create the trailer’s various video elements from, including the DCP (digital cinema projection file), the current standard for digital projections in movie theaters. It’s also the version that will eventually be used to create the trailer’s 35mm theatrical print. The standard HDCAM Master features four tracks of audio, but one can also use an HDCAM SR, which features 12 tracks.
Be sure to include a time-coded version of the trailer on your HDCAM Master, as well as a textless version (one that includes graphics, but no actual text). This will come in handy when the trailer is needed for overseas use or if the distributor requires a clip for inclusion on a tribute reel.
PRORES QUICKTIME FILE Most trailer editors don’t own HDCAM decks, so they need to edit from a ProRes Quicktime file. Make sure you’re editing on a time-coded export, as all non-HD footage will eventually need to be matched back to the original HDCAM Master, a process that requires the rental of a post-production facility with an HD editing bay.
ASPECT RATIO If your trailer will be shown theatrically, the editor must create two versions in order to conform to both flat (1.85) and scope (2.35) aspect ratios. It’s cost-effective for editors to first create a version in the flat aspect ratio and then simply pillar-box, a process in which black bars are added to the left and right sides of the screen in order to expand it to scope.
AUDIO MIX Editors must create two audio mixes for a trailer: one in 5:1 and one in stereo. A 5:1 mix is required in most movie theaters and is three times more complicated to create than a stereo mix. Stereo is preferred across digital platforms. For most theatrical screenings, the trailer also needs to be certified by Dolby. Filmmakers should also make sure that their Pro-Tools audio-mixing session is saved, in case an element (such as a song with an expired license) needs to be replaced later on.
AUDIO STEMS Distribution companies commonly require editors to create different versions of the trailer’s audio, each one lacking certain elements. Most common is an M&E stem, a version of the trailer that contains music and effects only and which needs to be created in both 5:1 and stereo. Also commonly required is a dialogue-only stem, but this stem is needed in stereo only. These stems are necessary if the trailer is to play on a program like Access Hollywood, or as part of an EPK, where only certain audio elements are featured.
35mm PRINT Many theaters don’t screen DCPs, so the editor will need to create a 35mm print from the HDCAM Master. For 35mm, an optical soundtrack must be created and then wedded to the print. Luckily, though, both stereo and 5:1 mixes can be embedded onto the same print, so if the trailer is screened in a smaller, non-Dolby theater, it will still sound fine.
Tags: Editor, Los Angeles, Hollywood.