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?)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

frame by frame

okay, so this isn't a trailer, but it's one of my favorite shorts.

this 3-minute love story was created using stop motion, which is an animation technique that makes objects appear to move on their own. (think Robot Chicken.) the simple explanation is: you take an object and move it in small increments, photographing each frame. this creates the illusion of movement when all the frames are sequenced together.

if this still sounds weird, just think back to when you were a kid and you used to take a small flipbook and draw inside every page, then flip all the pages real fast so it looked like the drawing was animating. that's the same thing, sort of.

anyway, check it out:

the artist's description of the piece is: "A couple of pencil-outlined birds escape from a little girl´s drawing, leading us through the life she dreams of."

so how does it relate to movie trailers? because it's a great example of how to tell a coherent and moving story in very little time, using the trailer-maker's best tools: music and visuals. even without dialogue/VO/text, the story still comes across perfectly. and the lack of words lets it transcend language, making the piece universal.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

to voiceover or not to voiceover

i think voiceover (VO) in trailers is a thing of the past.

i could be alone in this, but doesn't it get old hearing the same script for trailer after trailer? that's because VO is corny, old-fashioned, and it invariably always follows the same structure: "Amy Green was just an ordinary advertising executive. But one day, she fell into a sea of toxic waste and came out extraordinary. Now, she's about to discover..." well, you get the idea.

in my experience, VO acts like a crutch: if you need it in a trailer for the story to make sense, that probably means the trailer's structure doesn't stand on its own. and even if that's a failing of the film (as in, the plot falls apart, the concept is too complicated, the movie makes no sense)--it doesn't matter. it's the trailer-maker's job to create a story.

personally, i prefer no copy at all. no VO, no cards. nada. just let the music carry the spot, with a few choice dialogue lines. however, i do enjoy a good card run when the writing is clever and/or moving and/or works particularly well within the trailer. unfortunately, that doesn't happen often, so most of the time cards wind up being uninspired and clichéd.

the only text i like to include in trailers are reviews and festival laurels. i think those speak louder (and say more about the movie) than a trite play on words.

for example, check out the awesome trailer for the film JCVD. look at the way they use reviews in place of any copy/VO. the reviews elevate the film while still complementing the trailer's tone and structure, and they even assist the act transitions. (also, just because you're already watching it, stick around until the end of the piece--the final picture montage is incredibly well cut and one of my favorite things to watch.)

now compare the JCVD trailer to something like the trailer for the upcoming film Drive Angry. here you have the same tired VO set-up (see above for my example and look at how well this fits), followed by a super clichéd card run. (sidenote: how many times does “hell” come up in this trailer? SIX.)

it looks like they had enough footage to create a fun trailer, but instead of making it original and interesting, they went with what we’ve seen 100 times before.

the last word on VO: there is a special case when VO works well in a trailer, and that's when it's lifted from the film itself. if a movie has a narrator, and the trailer incorporates the narration into its structure, that usually results in a unique spot. that's bc the tone/feel of the movie will translate into the trailer--and the VO itself will be more specific to the film. check out the (500) Days of Summer trailer (which is awesome) for an example.

final note: please keep in mind that when i critique a trailer, it has zero bearing on the film. i’m solely commenting on marketing materials.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

trick or treat (or trailer)?

since it's Halloween, here's a fun treat.

check out the trailer for the original 1978 Halloween film (below) and compare it to the trailer for the 2007 remake (below-er).

the trailer for the original is playful. it starts through the eyes of a killer, underscored by creepy music, and just as we think we've pieced together what's happening--there's a twist. the guy behind the mask is a little boy.

what's interesting about this spot is that it's all set-up. they give us the backstory about the original murder, and the rest of the time is spent building tension-suspense-excitement, until the final seconds when the voiceover says, "Halloween. The night he came home." in other words, the whole thing is an introduction.

oh, and the studio wasn't very subtle about its branding. lest you forget what you're watching, the film's title comes up a whopping three times.

now here's the trailer for the 2007 version:

this one is less of a tease. we actually see a lot of the action, the confrontations, the murder scenes. this spot places a lot of emphasis on the fact that it's a remake, which means the studio is primarily aiming to hook fans of the original.

it's also using the remake angle as a way to distinguish itself from the plethora of horror films vying for space in the 2007 box office (30 Days of Night, Hatchet, Vacancy, Grindhouse, The Mist, Hostel 2, 28 Weeks Later, Severance, The Host, etc).

happy hauntings!

Friday, October 29, 2010

trailers and tribulations

welcome to trailer mix, a blog about movie trailers.

i've been working in motion picture marketing for about four years, and i love what i do. when i first landed the gig, a few months out of college, i'd never even given any thought to how previews got made. i just needed a job.

but after learning from some of the best editors in the industry, i realized trailers are mini works of art. taking a 2-hour film and turning it into a 2-minute piece that tells a story, creates intrigue, and evokes emotions in an audience takes talent and a special skillset.

movie trailers are like music videos: they tell a story, they're flashy, and they're all about the MUSIC. on that note, here are some of my favorite trailers from the past few years. one thing you'll notice about them: they all use the minimum amount of dialogue (some of them use NO dialogue), but the story still comes across. and more importantly: music carries the entire piece.