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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

What's the Deal With Movie Trailers?

When I met with our fair Wave-inatrix a few weeks ago, she asked about my day job.

I told her that I worked at a theatrical marketing company, i.e., a trailer house. I was a little shocked but definitely excited when she asked me to write this little blurb for the blog.

First, the name: why “trailer” if they come BEFORE the movie? Well, in the early days of film’s misspent youth, they did come after the feature film. The problem was, the audience usually had things to do. Y’know, like churn butter or get to their 18-hour shift in the factory. They couldn’t hang around.

Once the big money people realized there was bigger money in whetting people’s appetites for upcoming films, they started showing the previews at the start of the feature and the “trailer” business was born.

Today, when a studio is ready to start their campaign for a film, they send us the daily film footage or a roughly edited version of the whole film. Our producers will grab the editor that works best with that genre, and the work begins. Sound familiar? Yep, that genre thing is all over the place in this industry.

Since the average trailer shown before the feature is about 1 and ½ to 2 minutes long, the producers have to get down to the most basic elements of the film. Are there some moments that make you jump from the horror flick? Is there a great kiss scene in the romantic comedy? Are there great dialogue lines? Is there a hot star or director attached to this movie?

At this point, the editor creates or “cuts” a series of possible trailers. Now, copywriters, enter stage left. These are the writers whose sole job is to create the word-sketch of the project. The producer wants their take on the project with lines for the narrator and dialog/shots from the film. Talk about boot camp for log lines! The writer that gets in, gets out and gets the message across…you guessed it….gets the gig.

Once the studio executives, the producer, and the editor pick the copywriter’s scripts, they complete the campaign. Thus begins the approval process with the studio. Once the campaign makes everyone involved happy, it goes to finish. That means that music; narration, graphics and dialog are all put together. Now, the trailers are fresh from the oven and ready to separate us from our hard-earned cash.

Now, you’re thinking, “Nice article. What’s it got to do with me?” Let me quote the immortal Inigo Montoya from “The Princess Bride:”

“Let me explain. NO! There is too much. Let me sum up.”

If you could make a trailer of your movie now, what scenes would it use? What lines of dialogue serve as your film’s amuse bouche, giving audiences just enough of a taste to want the whole thing? What genre conventions have you used? Can those be turned on their heads to really grab an audience? Maybe a look at your script from a marketing producer’s point of view can help you. I know it’s helped me.

That brings me to some of the questions I usually get from people about my day job. Julie, like many, wanted to know why the trailers are sometimes so much better than the movie?

Well, it’s because the film didn’t give our people much with which to work. Our job is to get butts in seats for our clients. We’re going to put all the best stuff in the trailers. Maybe the script didn’t really give us anything to chew on. It could also be a great script but the film derails in the production process. I’ve seen both.

And yes, that guy from those insurance company commercials is one of the main voice-over artists for film. I’ll save you the midnight-memory jog---his name is Don LaFontaine. He’s one of only a handful of men that voice feature trailers and television ads or “spots.” You read correctly, it’s just men at the moment. However, there are some awesome ladies poised to change that. So, aspiring female and male V-O artists, keep it up!!!

On that note, I’ll return you to your regularly scheduled Wave-inatrix. Thanks, Julie! Oh, by the way, I’d now like to put in my request for a cupcake. Red velvet, if you please.

Breck Murray aka The Wave-inatrix's favorite Writing Buddy

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E.C. Henry said...

GREAT post, Breck Murray,

"The problem was, the audience usually had things to do. Y’know, like churn butter or get to their 18-hour shift in the factory. They couldn’t hang around."

Not only do you do trailers, you do comedy too! (I likey)

ALWAYS interested in hearing how those in the industry do their job. Thanks for passing on this informantion in a fun to read fashion.

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

Désirée said...

I collect trailers, almost. I love them (the best of them, that is).

How come surprisingly many of the trailers have scenes from the very end? Is there no risk of damage the thrill?

Why it the second quarter of the movie the most popular place to pick material? Are the best lines of dialog there? Or the right mood? Why is that?

Anonymous said...

Hi Julie,

This is what I do.

I pay to see the big movies.
I watch the trailers (4-6 trailers).
I watch 20 minutes of the movie.

Then I ask for a refund. The cinema must give you a refund before 30 minutes.

That's enough entertainment for a Friday or Saturday afternoon.

Then I go back to writing my scripts and do most my full time job.

It's fun. I'm having fun doing this.


Breck Murray said...

Thanks! E.C. Henry!

Hi, Desiree! Breck here.

While the reasons can vary, my best guess as to why so many shots come from the end of the film is because the climax is in the 3rd/4th Act. Especially for action films, that when the main stuff happens.

Now, when a trailer is done well, like "Ironman," is doesn't give anything away. If you remember, part of the climactic battle was shown in the theatrical trailer and tv spots. However, it was one quick shot and the context wasn't given. We worked on it, and I didn't even know that was the final battle scene.

Now, in another trailer we're working on, we are giving away the story. The finished film doesn't give us much with which to work. So, we really don't have a choice.

We take so much from the 2nd quarter of the movie because that's the 2nd Act. That's the longest part of standard, American, mainstream films. It contains the most material.

All of this, of course, is trumped by the most important factor: what the client wants. As I said in the original post, anything my or any trailer company does has to be approved by the client.

They get final say on every shot and piece of narration. Whether we agree with their creative decisions or not, at the end of the day, they pay us to do what they want.

I look at it as an object lesson for my screenwriting career. I love my day job, but I want to get paid to write. When I do, I'm going to have to do what my day job does--take my money, let go of the finished piece and move on to the next project.

Désirée said...

Thank you, Breck. That was realy interesting.