Monday, September 5, 2011

labor day post -- awesome trailer

this is an awesome trailer.

first there are the evocative images, playing in the clear, with slightly ominous sound design...


a haunting lullaby is born. it slowly pulls us into this Victorian home where a sinister energy threads its way through the halls, the toys, even the three little girls...


a young girl's voice seeps into the air, and her dark rhyme tells the tale of a house and a marsh and a curse...

new toys contribute to the tune, and a discordant series of notes builds to a rise, punctuated by drum hits...


and then the girl's story is over.

there's not a single dialogue exchange in the whole trailer. we never even hear any sound from the shots we're seeing -- not the flames licking the walls, not the woman's cries, not Daniel Radcliffe's screams. everything is swallowed up by this eerie lullaby.

we close the way we started, and we end up back in black.

they're calling it a "teaser" trailer, but i wish they wouldn't. why give away more of the film? this 90-second spot is already a pretty good indicator of what the movie-watching experience will be like. do you really need to have the FULL plot spoiled for you in order to make up your mind? and why spend upwards of $12 to watch a film when you've already seen all its best parts?

they really don't need another trailer. this spot is perfect. it's beautiful, haunting, terrifying.


Friday, January 21, 2011

something for everyone

major films tend to have more than one trailer.

there's usually a teaser that comes out many months--or even years--before the movie's release date. then there's the first trailer, which follows the film's general marketing plan, and oftentimes takes a few risks. this is followed by a second trailer that's usually more tame, adhering to the typical trailer structure, and often targets new viewers--whereas the first trailer was mainly speaking to the movie's predicted audience base. finally, there's international trailers, home video trailers, TV spots, and more. as you can see, this whole marketing thing can be a pretty timely and expensive process.

let's use Battle: Los Angeles as an example of an elaborate marketing plan. here is the original trailer:

not the trailer you'd expect for a huge film about aliens coming to destroy our planet, is it? the music is soft, offbeat, nuanced, at odds with the pictures onscreen. there's no dialogue, just a deluge of cards. they decided to take a risk by doing the unexpected--selling this not as just an action flick, but as something artsy and profound.

now check out trailer #2:

in contrast to the previous spot, this trailer has dialogue set to music that's driving and matches the images onscreen. the whole thing feels like a traditional action film trailer. it functions as a complementary piece to the original, showing moviegoers a different side of the same film.

as with movies like Watchmen, Benjamin Button, and countless other major motion pictures, the first trailer is silent, quirky, artistic--but it's followed up by a second one that focuses more on story and uses a 3-4 act structure.

Battle: Los Angeles's second trailer actually tries to marry both approaches by using the song from the first trailer in the final act of its second trailer. to me this feels a little jarring--if they've already gone 3/4 of the way with a straightforward action spot, they might as well finish it off that way. but from a branding point of view, this is an attempt at linking both spots and making them feel cohesive.

finally, there's the international trailer:

international trailers are a completely different animal. they don't follow MPAA guidelines, they're crafted to be more straightforward and therefore more easily translatable, and they're immune to any and all kinds of American colloquialisms.

note that this trailer has no greenband at the head. that's because the MPAA solely rates films and trailers for American audiences. usually when my company is hired to create international previews, we're encouraged to show more skin and use stronger language than what the MPAA allows. that's because those things tend to be selling points for a film.

if you look back at domestic trailers one and two, you'll notice they're more card-heavy. but the international spot uses a voiceover. why? because it's easier to slap on simple subtitles than it is to hire a design team to re-create their motion graphics in multiple languages. (and cheaper.)

you also can't use cliches, sayings or any kind of American idioms in international trailers. for example, "step on a crack, break your mother's back" doesn't exactly translate to a foreign audience. so a play on words wouldn't work here.

it's also interesting to notice the creative approach they took in this trailer as opposed to the domestic ones. the international preview feels more like a documentary, citing a string of alien sightings from around the world, and culminating in the attack on Los Angeles. the whole thing almost feels like a news reel from the mid-1900s, when people went to theaters to get the news from abroad, which updated them on wars and foreign affairs.

i'll leave the discussion on home video trailers and TV spots for another post.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

the making of a trailer

i'm often asked to explain the process of creating a trailer--what goes into taking a 2-hour film and turning it into a 2-minute preview?

i can't speak for other trailer houses, but where i work, trailers are the product of a team effort. we start with a film--sometimes it's fully finished; sometimes it's a rough edit that's missing visual effects, music, etc; and other times it's just a collection of dailies that we need to sort through and put into some kind of order. ("dailies" are basically a film's raw footage, which includes every take of every scene--NOT fun to organize.)

the editor and writer/producer watch the film (and the designer, too, if he/she wants), and then we have a creative meeting where we throw out ideas. once we've arrived at an agreement of what will/will not work, we call the client and combine their vision with ours. once we're all happy with the direction, we start editing.

our preference is to first create a soundbed--music and dialogue only--before we add picture, transitional elements, etc. in other words, we create our trailers like radio spots, and then we fill in the visuals. that's because a good structure is key to a good preview--once the story is there, everything else falls into place.

once we have a first presentation, we show it to the client and go back and forth with revisions until we have a product we're all happy with. and in the interest of full disclosure, i haven't posted a single trailer i've personally worked on because i'd like to keep this blog as objective as possible.

that said, here are a few recent trailers i've enjoyed that i want to share with you. first off is The King's Speech. (yeah, i'm a little late with that, but i just had to discuss it.)

i love this trailer because it's a mini film. they do such a great job of making us fall in love with every single character in the space of just two minutes. the wonderful cinematography, the touching story, the unique characters, the quirky music, the great acting--it all comes across in this piece.

do i think they reveal too much? yes. i think a lot of great moments/lines are given away here, and they also pretty much show us the ending--a major pet peeve of mine. however, i still love this trailer--it's so well cut that i can't help myself. :)

another trailer i really like is the one for Sofia Coppola's Somewhere.

the music and visuals are amazing, and the dialogue is kept to a bare minimum. the only sound-ups are when Elle Fanning shows up, and when her mother says she doesn't know when she's coming back--because really, that's all we need to know about the story. everything else is implied.

i've seen the film, and there were so many great moments--funny, sad, strange--and yet this trailer doesn't give any of those away. we don't hear the jokes or the emotional exchanges or anything else that makes a movie. that's all kept as a surprise. i love that.

finally, i want to include a different kind of trailer that might not appeal to everyone, but i like it. the film is called Waiting For Forever.

to me this feels like a grown-up Where the Wild Things Are. the copy, the text's font, the discrepancy between our imaginary childhood and our real one, trying to hold on to the feelings of invincibility and endless possibility that are part of being a kid...all of that feels present here.

i like the way the trailer intercuts the present with the past, i like the music, i like the graphics. when a film doesn't have major action sequences or huge actors or mind-blowing visual effects, it's difficult to make a "loud" trailer. but that doesn't mean a "quiet" trailer can't be just as effective--and in this case, they managed to make this small budget indie film feel important. at least, i think they did!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

happy thanksgiving--here's a side of trailers...

happy holidays!

i'm sorry for not posting in a while. the past couple of weeks i've been busy with my own trailers, and i haven't had a chance to comment on all the new ones that have popped up. so i'm going to get the ball rolling on the best (and worst) of the latest previews, but i'd love to hear from you in the comments section about the new trailers you love/hate.

the first one i need to mention is the spot for Black Swan, which is awesome. (of course, it doesn't hurt that the editor had amazing visuals and performances to work with.)

for the first minute of the piece, we get the story--right until the teacher says to Natalie's character, "The only person standing in your way is you." after that, it's all sound design, music, little dialogue and terrifying picture. also, the feathered texture for the graphics is great.

the music is understated but sinister, and constantly building. what's great about that is it never turns into that cliche "thriller film" beat with heavy percussion and a progressively building tempo. instead, the music remains subtle, all the while growing darker. and the contrast between the final soft cue and the desperate scenes unfolding on the screen is haunting.

...and just when you think it's over, there's that horrifying little button! (a "button" is what we call a final scene/joke/moment that comes up after the title.)

another cool trailer is the one for Cowboys and Aliens. i'll admit that even before watching it, i'd already assumed it'd be predictable--crazy music, insane visual effects, the usual "action hero" lines delivered Jack Bauer-style, and out. but instead, it's refreshingly cool. the spot has minimal dialogue, the pacing is really nuanced, and the soundtrack is composed of sleek sound design rather than a song. some lines even play entirely in the clear--which is risky, but they pull it off really well. this is a great trailer, especially for an action flick. it manages to stand out in a genre riddled with seemingly identical marketing materials.

but it's important to remember that without bad trailers, we wouldn't have good trailers. and that's why i think we should check out the spot for Every Day.

the brief verdict: it's boring. the evidence: the trailer spends 2 and a half minutes giving us just one storyline: Liev's character is going through a slump in his marriage, and he meets a new woman who spices up his life. there's nothing else going on. and aside from spelling the whole thing out with dialogue, it's repeated in copy via redundant and uninspired copy in 5+ cards.

let's focus on the cards for a bit. first off, there's nothing clever, poetic or interesting about them. if you're going to use copy/VO in a trailer, there should be a reason--like you need help getting the story across or you want to share the film's credentials or you have a particularly cool turn of phrase you want to include. but none of the cards here help in any way:

"everyone wants a wonderful family"
"everyone wants a loving father"
"everyone wants a satisfying job"
"everyone wants a second chance"
"every day is another chance"
"to get it right"

the way they incorporated the film's title here feels forced. if that's what they were trying to do, then the copy should've been structured through the repetition of "every day" and not "everyone." like--every day is an adventure, every day is a complication, every day is another chance to get it right. (obviously that's off the cuff and not great, but you get the point.)

plus--a sidenote about cards--in trailers we usually follow the rule of three (like in my example above) when making one statement. you can have more cards later, but they should be making a second statement, upping the stakes. in this trailer, all the copy is essentially one long sentence, and it slows down the pacing because we never get past first gear. when every card starts with the same line, we never move into a second act.

this one-act structure is further aided by the music, which never goes anywhere. the first two cues are very similar. the final song is the only one that has movement, but it's such an emotional cue that it creates no tension between what we're seeing and what we're hearing, which makes the spot feel like it's hitting us over the head with its message. check out the Black Swan and Cowboys and Aliens trailers above (and the newer Last House On the Left spot in a previous post) to see why it's more effective when the music contrasts with the visuals.

okay, i realize i'm going on way too long with this analysis, and i'm running the risk of coming off as redundant and heavy handed as this trailer. but honestly, if the piece had been a minute long, i'd have a completely different reaction to it. because if i'd only seen snippets of what happens in the film, i'd be intrigued. i love ensemble dramas that have an indie feel. but this trailer showed me too much without ever shifting into second gear--and so the film went from quirky character-driven drama to trite story i've seen a hundred times before.

sorry for the ultra long post! i guess i owed you guys for the weeks of radio silence. anyway, i probably won't blog again this week because of the holiday, but feel free to chime in below with your favorite (and most hated) trailers from this holiday season!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

let's see some IDs

sometimes a movie trailer will call out the big names starring in the film. these are referred to as "IDs." studios like to use IDs when they feel the cast is a significant selling point for a particular film. (for some really fun IDs, watch the In Bruges trailer in the previous post.)

an ensemble film will usually include IDs because its vast collection of stars is part of its appeal. for example, check out the Valentine's Day trailer. since the film's claim to fame is its star-studded cast, its marketing capitalizes on that.

but sometimes you don't need IDs, even when there's a big cast. the Harry Potter trailers don't use IDs because we already know the actors--and also because the cast has little bearing on whether or not we'll watch the film. other reasons not to include IDs: if the film is low budget and has no recognizable actors; if IDs would interrupt the flow of the trailer (like in Nine, below); or if the cast is SO BIG that there's no need to call them out because we'd recognize them anywhere (also like Nine).

but by far my favorite use of IDs is in the trailer for The Ten. check it out, towards the end. it's pretty hilarious.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

blazing trailers

happy weekend!

it's trailer mix's one week anniversary, and i'm still blogging--which (for me) is cause for celebration. so here are a few more of my all-time fave trailers. please feel free to chime in with yours in the comments section.

laugh-out-loud funny

one of the most engaging and original trailers i've seen in recent years is the one for In Bruges. this piece does a great job conveying the film's tone and dark sense of humor, and it's got some of the best motion graphics i've seen. but really, i just love it because i laugh out loud every single time i watch it.

in a previous post i talked about the use of copy/VO in trailers. this spot uses cards, and here they work really well laying out the story. (sidenote: cards/VO usually fare better in comedy trailers because they help set up jokes.) oh, and if you can find it, check out the redband version of this trailer, which is also great.

quietly brilliant

the first trailer for Benjamin Button is a really beautiful, moving, epic piece. i love that there's only two moments of dialogue in the entire spot: the first is at the top, to set up the premise, which is simply (paraphrasing)--my name is Benjamin Button and i age backwards. you don't need to know anything else to understand this story.

the music is perfect and the visuals are stunning. we're basically watching a life unfold in reverse, a countdown of sorts, and it doesn't need any more explanation than that. the entire time, the spot is building to just one moment: the scene when Benjamin walks into Daisy's ballet studio, and he doesn't look a day older than eighteen. (that always gives me chills.)

and that's why it's the perfect place for the final lines of dialogue: Daisy tells Benjamin, "You're so young." and it's exactly what we (the audience) are feeling. and his response--"Only on the outside"--sums up everything we've been seeing for the past minute and a half. an entire life, fully lived, but backwards.

the horror, the horror

i'm not a big fan of horror flicks--but i'm brave enough to watch the trailers. and the spot for Last House on the Left (a film i'm way too cowardly to see) is really good and super memorable because of how different it is, primarily because of the final song. the last cue is so wonderfully unexpected, and the juxtaposition of an almost lullaby-like version of "Sweet Child of Mine" with the terrifying visuals in the montage is both risky and brilliant.

and just for kicks, here's the trailer for the original Last House on the Left film from 1972. enjoy!

...i'd say trailers have come a pretty long way the past few decades! now repeat after me, "it's only a trailer...only a trailer...only a trailer..."

Friday, November 5, 2010

the trailerette

trailers are fun to watch--so fun, in fact, that oftentimes they're better than the films they're promoting. but if i could rule over the trailerworld for a day, there's a lot i'd change.

for example, the 2:30-minute trailer that gives the entire story away, and in comedies, showcases all the best jokes. instead, i'd stick to 60-90-second teasers that give an audience just a hint of what they'll find in the film without giving up the goods.

for example, check out the trailer for Funny People. is there anything you don't know about the film by the time you've finished watching this? he gets sick, he gets better (which doesn't happen until an hour into the movie), he reconnects with the "one who got away" and he sets out to win her back. other than a few more jokes and an Eminem cameo, they're not hiding much.

something else i'd get rid of is multiple trailers for one film.

i remember The Dark Knight had one teaser and three full-length trailers. and as much as i loved all the marketing materials for that film, i really didn't need every single great moment divulged to me before i had a chance to watch the film. honestly, i think even if they had only released the teaser (which was really good), audiences would still have flocked to theaters.

when i finally watched The Dark Knight, i found myself analyzing the film rather than simply enjoying it. and that's because i already knew so much going in that i was waiting for specific trailer moments to play out.

the solution, as i see it, is some sort of teaser-trailer hybrid.

introducing...the trailerette.

it's shorter than a trailer, has more substance than a teaser, and it hinges on either a stylistic technique or a major scene or an important character, using that to give the audience a taste of the film—as opposed to giving us the whole story.

here's a trailer that would work as a trailerette.

what's so great about this trailer(ette) is that it gives us a sense of the film's tone, its main character, the general plotline, production value, and the filmmakers' credentials—but we still don't know the details of what happens. the sole information we're given is that this man goes to speak with his rabbi and gets turned away. everything else is achieved through sound design, repeating dialogue, and a picture montage.

what do you think of the trailerette? (and can you think of a sexier name for it?)