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!