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Criticwatch's Diary Of A Mad Trailer Editor
by Erik Childress

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a reposting of an article originally printed in April 2005. It was temporarily taken down out of respect as our anonymous source was discovered and let go from his position in January 2006 for the information he provided.) It’s hard to find a regular moviegoer who won’t admit that one of the pleasures of going to the cinema are the coming attractions. These trailers, which used to follow the film some decades ago, now trail the endless myriad of Coke-and-Car commercials which normally rob 15 minutes of your moviegoing experience. Often you will find that the trailers themselves actually excite more than the feature attraction you paid your nine bucks for. Dan Otumba is one of the guys behind-the-scenes who spend hours and weeks crafting these trailers to help get you through the theater door on opening weekend. Dan Otumba is also the alias of the person who contacted us, intrigued by our investigation into Earl Dittman and the countless critical whores who invade not just the print ads but the very television spots that he helps to create. Dan had a lot to tell us about the ins-and-outs of what goes into the formation of those thirty-second-to-two-and-a-half minute advertisements, but there’s also a whole other side to this business of quotes and reviews that maybe you're not aware of.

ERIK: Give us a basic overview on the trailer business and your current dissatisfaction with it?

DAN: Believe it or not, the most common question I get asked by people is "Do you get to choose what pieces go in the trailer? Do you get to see the whole movie?" While understandable (I guess), it shows that people don't really think about what goes into a trailer -- if they did, if they cared (not that they particularly have reason to), they would probably realize how silly that question sounds.

The thing that always gets me is how hard we work, and how much money is spent, on products with zero lasting value. A marketing campaign's only purpose is to get people to buy movie tickets, and when the movie's gone, so is our work. Trailers may surface on DVD, or hang out on the Internet, but TV commercials (which are the brunt of our work) are gone for good, buddy, along with weeks and weeks of one's life. I clocked a 75-hour work week last week, and a 95-hour one a few weeks before that. And for what?

ERIK: Is there any satisfaction of a job well done once your trailer premieres in theaters or airs on television?

DAN: Sure, I get giddy when I see my spots on the air, and I brag that "if you see a commercial for such-and-such movie, that's my handiwork," but its small consolation for the hours and hours I spend staring at an Avid. The pay's not bad, though.

ERIK: Take us through a typical approach of how a trailer is made, from the moment you’re hired and henceforth.

DAN: The way it works is this: the studio will hire one or more agencies, "trailer houses" in the parlance, to arrive at a marketing strategy for their movie. The house I work for has a partnered print division that works on one-sheets, newspaper ads, etc; we do the theatrical campaign (trailers, TV, and radio); we have another division that does home entertainment marketing (commercials for the DVD release). The departments are pretty separate and the print division and the theatrical division may never work on the same movie.

ERIK: How early do you start looking at footage?

DAN: If we get into a campaign early, to pitch a teaser or a trailer, we will start receiving dailies from the
studio as the movie is being shot. An average romantic comedy can yield two hundred tapes' worth of dailies. An action movie can yield double that. Everything is digitized into the Avids (usually only one take of each shot, and if we want to find another performance we'll go back and load more) and assembled into a rough feature cut by assistant editors. This is why you may see shots or scenes in the trailer that are not in the finished film: because trailers are almost always cut from dailies, not from the finished film. Even after we receive a cut of the film from the studio, we may continue to receive updated and revised versions as the campaign progresses, with scenes cut out or reshoots added. On animated projects, we can end up working on incomplete versions of the movie. There may be unfinished animation, or storyboards, or green-screen effects that haven't been done, or scenes missing, and there's always timecode all over the picture, and there's usually no music.

ERIK: So, while the movie is still in principal photography, you are already battling it out with other agencies for the account.

DAN: Most studios “farm out” the trailers to several different houses, fishing around for who's got the
best ideas. Marketing execs develop relationships with certain trailer producers, and certain houses (or divisions within houses) build reputations by doing good work on certain types of movies (i.e. family films or action movies). Some studios, such as Universal, also have in-house trailer departments; most studios did until you started to see better work from independent agencies.

ERIK: What goes into a typical pitch?

DAN: The writers and producers at the trailer house will view the dailies string (rough cut of the feature
assembled in-house), read the script, and start pitching ideas to the studio. This will typically
take the form of a packet of trailer scripts, which contain the ad copy and sometimes a suggestion of which bits go where. The copy is the verbiage either expressed as graphics or read by a narrator. Here’s an example.

"PANCAKE JOE" Trailer Script

MEET JOE DIPSHIT.

HE'S GOT THE PERFECT JOB.
"I'm a pork farmer, and I love it!"

HE'S MARRYING THE PERFECT GIRL.
"Oh, Joe, I love your musky, porky smell!"

AND HE'S THE PROUD OWNER OF THE PERFECT DOG.
"Woof!" "I love you, Rover!"

BUT WHEN SAM SHITHEAD CAME TO TOWN
"I'm gonna kill Joe!"

EVERYTHING CHANGED.
"Oh, Rover, what are we gonna do?!"

NOW THE TOWN'S BIGGEST HOG FARMER

WILL HAVE TO BECOME ITS BIGGEST PIG.
"Joe, if you can eat all these pancakes, I'll let Susie live!"

GFX: THIS SUMMER

GFX: CHEER FOR THE LONG SHOT
"Go, Joe, go!"

GFX: ROOT FOR THE UNDERDOG
"I've never seen anyone eat that many pancakes!"
"Arf!"

GFX: AND BELIEVE
GFX: THAT PIGS WILL FLY

"Joe..!!!"

ROB SCHNEIDER

IS

PANCAKE JOE

RATED PG-13

ERIK: Do those who hire you actually believe puns like that are funny and won't produce groans from even mildly sophisticated audiences?

DAN: It's not really about being laugh-out-loud funny as much as it is about being clear, succinct, and not boring. That was a pretty bad example that I gave, and it wouldn't have made it past my producer. But it's a tough task to write copy that somehow leads the viewer organically through a story that takes two hours to tell in its entirety. If it's funny, that's bonus. Lines that are too cliche are eschewed, but often lines that are not cliche enough aren't meaningful. There's a very fine line.

Remember, a trailer doesn't have two hours to tell its story. It has two and a half minutes, tops (MPAA rules, and each studio gets one exception per year). Meaning you have use shorthand, and sometimes tell the best story that you can tell (even if it's not always exactly the same story as the movie). If you were forced to tell the exact story of the movie, every time, there would be a lot of boring trailers full of exposition that general audiences wouldn't respond to.

ERIK: And how many versions of this lame verbiage do you come up with?

DAN: As many as twenty or thirty of these scripts are written, approaching the story from different angles and different ways to sell it, incorporating different puns and building to different jokes (for example, that "Pigs will fly" line probably builds to someone hitting a catapult and something sailing through the air). Perhaps a dozen or so will go out to the client, and whichever one they like (or some combination of lines from several) will be handed to an editor to cut.

ERIK: Not every trailer has a wacky Don LaFontaine working for it though.

DAN: Some trailers have no external ad copy, and are entirely dialogue-driven or driven by narration
internal to the movie. These are usually structured by writers working from transcripts of the movie and presented to the client that way.

ERIK: Once the agencies are done pitching the studio, do they make a decision and say “run with it.”

DAN: The client has the luxury of getting a variety of pitches from different houses, and it's not uncommon for several houses to be working on trailers independently and simultaneously. Another common occurrence is when the client is not sure how to market his movie, or is working under uncertain pressures from above, and changes direction back and forth, asking the trailer houses to cut several different trailers (one presenting the movie as a thriller, one as a straight drama, one as a dark comedy, action movie, etc).

ERIK: Have you ever worked long hours on cutting a project, only to have the studio finalize with another agency?

DAN: We -- the vendors -- live or die at the whim of the studio marketing executives. They can (and do) simply stop returning calls in the middle of a project, and our trailer or TV campaign simply falls by the wayside in favor of another house's. We do our best to be creative and clever and original at first, but ultimately we do whatever they ask us to, because they pay the bills.

ERIK: How much are those bills?

DAN: It depends on the agency's level of involvement. One agency may cut theatrical trailers and TV spots; another may only do TV; another may only do post-open TV (review spots). It's directly proportional to the number of hours spent on the project by editors, compositors, producers, PAs, etc. and the volume of material produced. Most spots are cut on spec; unless the client likes it and asks for revisions, there is no charge to the studio for the hours billed to that spot. Basically spots are shown at version 1 on good faith, and then only if they go up to version 2 or beyond are they charged to the client. I don't know if all agencies work like this or not.

A nice round number for a trailer campaign might be $100,000, and add another 50-150K depending on the extent of a TV campaign. The client also pays for expenses such as voice-over talent (say $2,000 per session, plus an 'upgrade' if the spot makes it to finish). Editors, graphics personnel, producers, etc) and materials fees (the price charged for every tape dubbed and delivered, every file upload and download, every DVD burned).

A full TV campaign may involve dozens of VO sessions and anywhere from zero to 20 TV spots finished. Five to ten spots finished on a campaign is considered great; most studios will finish a handful each from a couple of houses. It's also not uncommon to work for months on dozens of spots and never have anything finish.

ERIK: Do you work exclusively on major studio releases? What's the protocol for smaller or limited releases that don't have the money to mount a huge advertising campaign?

DAN: My house works pretty exclusively with major studios. Sometimes we work on stuff for their arthouse labels -- Fox Searchlight or whatever -- and it's usually a case of "we have x amount of advertising budget, so don't put in a lot of overtime, and whatever we have by the time we run out of money is what we go to finish with."

ERIK: And because the “BIG” trailers reach upwards of six figures, the shots are the studio’s call and that eliminates any chance of originality on your part with the trailer.

DAN: By trading creative freedom (and we whore ourselves to the studios, because if we don't give them what they ask for, ten other houses will) we gain a freedom from responsibility. We're like the house painter that doesn't care what color your house is; it's your house and that's the color you want it. If people think your house is ugly it's the owner's fault, not the painter's. Because, anymore, movies are made or broken by their opening weekend, there is a tremendous amount of pressure on marketing executives to deliver strong openings, and this makes them neurotic and paranoid as a rule. (There are nice guys out there but they all feel the same pressures.) If the movie bombs its opening weekend, it is directly attributable to the marketing effort failing, and that blame falls on the executive's shoulders, not ours. This feeling is particularly acute when the movie is bad, because the opening weekend is pretty much the only chance it's going to get to make money before the DVD comes out. (I think, over enough time, every movie makes its money back on DVD, it's just that some take longer than others.)

ERIK: If creativity is completely lost on them though, how do they know that they absolutely have something they want to go to press with?

DAN: In order to stave off the crippling uncertainty that the executives feel, many things live and die based on 'testing'. You've probably seen the guys in shopping malls that want you to watch a trailer and take a survey. It's a horrifically inexact science, run by market research companies in whose interest it is to make the product look bad so you revise it more and test it more, but it's the greatest gauge the studio has to what people react to about the movie – does this scene play funny? do people like this actor? Do people respond to the plot development, or would they prefer more action shots instead?

There are all sorts of problems with the technique -- one, people don't know why they like or don't like things; two, it leads to a homogenized stew of all the 'highest testing moments', even if they don't combine into a coherent whole -- but some studios really, really rely on it. An example would be The Pacifier and its duck, who is in the movie for maybe fifteen total minutes. But from the marketing, you'd swear the movie was just about Vin Diesel and a duck.

ERIK: Both Snow Dogs and Kangaroo Jack are recent classic examples of this. The titular animals only spoke during dream sequences, yet the campaigns clearly focused on this miniscule plot point.

DAN: But that movie opened huge on the talking-dogs angle. Think about it: if you have talking dogs footage, and the testing tells you people love that, are you going to leave it out of your marketing? The Racing Stripes trailer did the same kind of thing, by focusing on the rapping flies instead of the rest of the movie, which was even worse.

ERIK: And then you have the infamous Diary of a Mad Black Woman spots. One is a wacky Big Momma's House comedy. The other is a sobering account of one woman's struggle to put her life back together and find love with a star from The Young and the Restless. Is this the client trying to cut through racial boundaries or a realization that they had a schizophrenic piece of garbage on their hands?

DAN: It's because the testing shows that certain demographics are more or less responsive to certain approaches, so they're trying to cover their bases -- if they don't like this, they'll like this other thing. We do that all the time by cutting "Kids" spots (farts and burps) and "Moms" spots (dissolve-heavy and no fart jokes and lots of hugs) and "Teen" spots (cross-dressing humor and sexual innuendo, if you've got it) and "Girls" spots ( Britney Spears or Michelle Branch or Hilary Duff music).

In other words, elements that people respond to are played up heavily, and elements that they don't are downplayed or eliminated. It makes sense, from a marketing point of view -- put your best foot forward -- but it leads to the inevitable complaint, "but all the funny parts were in the trailers." Well, of course they are! You think they'd try and sell the movie by showing you the bad stuff? Rule of thumb: if the trailer doesn't make you laugh, there's nothing in the movie to, either. You can make a good trailer out of a bad movie, but if the trailer's bad, stay the hell away from the movie. They couldn't even find two minutes worth of interesting stuff in it.

ERIK: Do you ever try to sneak one in on them though? Like finding something clever in the material that you know will go over their heads and allow you to sleep better at night?

DAN: Believe it or not, we always aim for the high road. We're more tired than you are of bad trailers full of bad cliches. Imagine working on one for 60+ hours a week! Smart is always a plus; clever is always a plus. But too smart goes over the heads of general audiences; too subtle doesn't play well at 24fps, 50dB in a dark theater. Remember, the studio has the final say. We can't really 'sneak' stuff in. We can present whatever we want, and argue for it and make a case for it, and sometimes it flies and sometimes it doesn't. And yeah, there are things that I've put into spots that no one ever complained about, and it made it to finish and I was pretty proud of it. But there are other things that people object to -- "I see what you were trying to do, but it doesn't work for the following reasons".

At the end of the day, everything we produce is expected to be smart and competent and professional. That's the baseline image that we project to our clients, and that's why they come to us. It's up to them to mold it and change it and make it fit their marketing strategy, and when it happens for the worst, it's very, very discouraging to see something good get forcibly changed into something bad.

ERIK: Does your conscience ever get the better of you, cutting a trailer for a bad movie and essentially fooling people into seeing it?

DAN: Early on in my editing career, I asked an editor the same question. He replied, "I just sit back in the theater, watch it play, and think, wow, I got paid to do that." A few years on, I totally understood. We are vendors; it's not our role to moralize. You want your house pink? Fine. Magenta or fuschia? In the case of a bad movie, it is always "make this look good at any cost."

ERIK: You mentioned Hilary Duff music. When you use a song in the trailer, does anyone ever pay attention to the lyrics? The Goo Goo Dolls’ Black Balloon was used in trailers for Meet Joe Black, not to mention in the Freddie Prinze Jr. “comedy”, Down To You. Yet, it’s a song about a drug tragedy. U2’s One was used for Nicolas Cage’s The Family Man, but that’s about a AIDS-afflicted man writing a letter to his father.

DAN: Songs are chosen for the trailer based on their sound, their recognizability, and their lyric content, in that order. Black Balloon sounds angsty and tender, and people recognize it from the radio. Only Goo Goo Dolls fans know more lyrics than just six words of the chorus, so its recognizability outweighs its lyrical inappropriateness.

Typically songs in the trailer will have a catchy riff, a single lyric that's audible (a "sound-up") and
an appropriate tone. The sound-up should have some obvious link to the movie in a very superficial way, since that's all that you'll hear of the song. The other lyrics do not need to be appropriate; in fact, often we'll request instrumental versions of the songs so that we can have our one sound-up and then the music with no lyrics (otherwise the lyrics will muddle the dialogue and so forth).

Whoever cut the Around the World in 80 Days trailer, used Sugar Ray's lyric "All around the world..." and then went to instrumental as the narration came in. He kept the instrumental for a few more seconds and then, after the title, brought up the lyric "I just want to fly" as Fogg's flying machine zoomed by. It all has to be very obvious and superficial.

ERIK: After all you go through on these trailers; the constant repetition, the behind-the-scenes nonsense, and your own intuition telling you you might be help promoting a less-than-worthy cinematic event - can you actually go watch these movies in a theater and still enjoy them?

DAN: The ones I work on? Not usually. But here's why: 90% of all movies are crap. Therefore, 90% of the movies I work on are crap. They're movies I wouldn't go see anyway, even if I hadn't spent months working on them.

Though sometimes, if you work on a movie before all the special effects or re-shoots or musical score are complete, watching the final product in the theater is the only way it makes sense!

Most movies, though, I am way sick of after spending weeks or months working on them, even good ones. And in general -- though this is more a personal thing -- if I'm going to the movies, I prefer to see something I haven't already seen, rather than see something twice.

ERIK: As a film lover I can’t imagine any movie being reduced to that of an overplayed song on the radio. People may talk a movie to death and I’ve certainly had my fill of trailer overexposure (mostly on crap films though), but to lose the magic of any great movie at such an early stage is something I never want to experience and I hope doesn’t befall any of the filmmakers either.

DAN: We lose all perspective after a few weeks or months on one movie. The jokes, if they were ever funny, are not funny anymore. Most movies are bad; they start bad, and then after a few weeks they get sort of good as you notice all the little details and quirks and throwaway stuff, and you see how the people making the movie can believe that it's good.

Then they get bad again, as the studio tires of seeing the same old jokes and forces you do dredge through the movie, find new material, and even make up new jokes through juxtapositioning lines from different scenes or recutting a line of dialogue to mean something else. This practice -- finding "cheats" where you can put a line of dialogue out of context, or put two shots together to make a joke that doesn't exist in the movie, is the height of editorial creativity. It's not just accepted, it's expected and lauded -- when the executive is just as tired of watching this movie as you are, and you show him something fresh and new, you've just endeared yourself to him.

ERIK: Even at the expense of being true to the movie?

DAN: Sure, but who cares? Is it funny? Will people want to see the movie because of it? Then fine! Often, when the movie's just run out of jokes or cool shots or dialogue lines that set up the story or whatever, you can troll through the dailies looking for alternate takes, or lines that were cut out, or alternate angles on a scene. Sometimes it's a matter of finding a different performance on a line from a different take; sometimes it's a matter of finding a shot that plays longer in the dailies when they cut away from it in the feature cut. (If you come into a campaign late, after the trailer's already done, and you only work on TV spots -- usually by then there's at least a rough cut of the movie, and you work from that. Often you can request specific dailies from shots or scenes if you want additional material.)

ERIK: It’s disappointing then when an audience’s favorite shot doesn’t make it into the movie, like Christopher Walken’s “OW” at the end of The Rundown trailer.

DAN: Anything's fair game -- dailies, shots that don't make it into the final feature cut, or even shots that have been manipulated by the graphics guys. Our graphics guys are pros at making animals wink, for example, even though they may not in the feature. Again, the pressures on these marketing guys are immense. They're going to use every advantage they have to make their movie look appealing. That doesn't make them necessarily malicious, or purposefully deceptive for the sake of deceptive; they're just trying to do their job. If they can't seem to get people interested in a trailer without giving away the second-act twist, then what do you think they're going to do? Everything is based on what test audiences respond to.

ERIK: Will studios ever ask you to remove shots (or takes) from a trailer that don't appear in the movie?

DAN: Every shot in the trailer exists solely at the studio's discretion. Every cut we make is reviewed,
vetted, and revised by the studio. Often there may be shots that they don't like and ask us to change or remove during the course of revisions, but usually the reason is related to telling the story of the trailer clearly, rather than concerns about what is and isn't in the feature.

ERIK: What’s the rationale though of wetting an audience’s appetite with what might be the funniest moment or biggest money shot in the trailer if it never appears after they buy their ticket?

DAN: Why not use everything available to us? We have a tough enough job putting our best foot forward, and trying to sell this movie in two minutes, so why impose restrictions that'll make it even harder? Besides, in most cases we're showing the audience something that's pretty similar to what's actually in the movie, so they can still make an informed decision about whether to see the movie or not."

Sometimes, however, scenes or shots or lines will be removed from the feature for a reason, and we usually can't use those for the same reason. For example, in an early cut of Bringing Down the House (and I haven't seen the final version of the movie, so if this line is actually in there, forgive me -- but the point still stands), Betty White was standing on her lawn and had a line that went something like "I thought I heard someone speaking Negro!" Steve Martin then responded, "Uh...no! No Negro spoken here!" I imagine it was taken out of the movie because it might offend someone.

(The line does, in fact, remain in the movie; one which I commented on in my original review.)

Well, we certainly can't use it in the marketing, for the same reason. Usually this situation occurs when overzealous directors include non-age-appropriate humor in their family movies, and when the lines are cut from the movie for that reason, they're off limits to us, too.

ERIK: How often does the director of a film get involved? An Adam Shankman or Brian Levant might not get his say - but what about someone like Scorsese or Spielberg?

DAN: You're right in that it has a lot to do with how much creative control the director has vis-a-vis the
studio. The marketing head at the studio usually has the final word, but the filmmakers often get to chime in at the later stages. There's a huge hierarchy in place here that I'll try to elucidate.

When I cut a spot, it has to pass muster with my producer before he'll show it to the client. The client can be anybody from a junior marketing exec at the studio, to a senior VP of marketing, to the President of Marketing. Sometimes it may take months, on a trailer, before cuts inch their way up the chain of command to someone with the power to approve it (or, more likely, kill it, then give the tape to your competitor and have them finish the trailer using your best bits).

So my producer gives me notes on my cut before he'll show it to the client, and then the client gives me notes, and when he's happy with it he shows it to his boss, and so on and so forth. Sometimes the chain goes up to a senior VP; sometimes the President; sometimes(!) to the chair of the studio; sometimes above them to the filmmakers themselves.

If the filmmakers are involved, they normally have unilateral veto power. We sometimes get notes during the campaign that have come down as mandates from the filmmakers, for example a list of shots that we can't under any circumstances use in the marketing (so as not to give too much away). Or they may have a list of shots to use whenever possible -- to align the marketing with their vision of how to present the movie to the audience.

ERIK: Film lovers are quite savvy to remembering what they saw in the trailer and hate to have films ruined even subconsciously. Will you ever consciously do your best, or have the director's best interest at heart, not to reveal crucial lines or moments from the final act?

DAN: You must remember that there is a huge difference between film lovers (who constitute 0.1% of the gross receipts of most blockbusters) and the general public (the other 99.9%). For every film lover that was peeved because their favorite shot from the trailer wasn't in the movie, there are 100 people that went to the movie because of that shot from the trailer. Maybe they're peeved, too, that is wasn't in there; most of them won't notice, though, and those that do still bought a ticket, didn't they?

ERIK: That might be understandable for something like the final shot of the original Twister trailer with the tire smashing into the windshield, but what about potential twists to the plot ruined? Fox sent out a press release that they weren’t shipping the final reel of Hide and Seek to theaters until late Thursday evening because they didn’t want to ruin the BIG TWIST ENDING, but then there’s the shot of Robert DeNiro looking creepy going “Come out, come out, wherever you are.” And I also knew people when Pulp Fiction came out, remembered from the trailer Travolta & Jackson capping Alexis Arquette after he unloaded on them and missed. In the movie they saw Travolta died and wondered, ‘what happened to that moment?’ Even a great director like Robert Zemeckis said people WANT to see everything in the trailer, after ones for his What Lies Beneath and Cast Away essentially gave away the whole movie.

DAN: Well, What Lies Beneath was a wretched trailer because it rendered moot the red herring that was the entire first half of the movie. But a trailer that only drew from the first half of that movie would have been B-O-R-I-N-G, and nobody would have seen the movie. I'm guessing he was talking about that trailer when he said that people like to see what they're getting into. For the most part, that's true. People go to movies that they think they'll like, and so you have to show them what the movie is, so they know if they'll like it. But when you know the public (in the aggregate) prefers thrillers, and you have a quirky little movie that isn't really a thriller but could seem to be with some creative editing, the temptation is pretty intense -- and that goes double if you know the movie sucks. Since word-of-mouth is gonna kill it, you need to deliver a big opening weekend.

ERIK: That was one of the complaints jackasses like Michael Medved used in his offense of Million Dollar Baby.

DAN: Given my druthers, I'll try not to reveal secrets integral to the plot, and usually the studio guys are
on board with that too. But big set pieces, big jokes, things that are hilarious in the movie because of their unexpectedness -- those are pretty much fair game for the trailers, unfortunately, because they're unexpected-and-therefore-intriguing in the marketing.

ERIK: How often will you look at what you have and feel compelled to just reveal the story from act one-to-three as is the case in many trite romantic comedies, particularly ones with the word "wedding" in the title? Do the studios prefer you to mix-it-up a bit instead of the 1-2-3 approach?

DAN: It all depends on what will make a coherent two minutes. A line from here, another from there, a
third from over here, put together makes a complete conversation that takes the place of 30 seconds of exposition. It's all about that makes the story progress efficiently and serves the coherence of the trailer as a whole.

Your "wedding" movies, for example, will always conclude with a dissolve-heavy montage featuring every turn-and-smile shot from anywhere in the movie, usually with some dancing thrown in. People don't go to romantic comedies to have the foundations of their existence shaken; they go to smile and have a fun time.

ERIK: What have been some of the best examples of trailers you've ever seen (and/or seen recently)? Something that entices but doesn't give away the best stuff.

DAN: I really liked the trailer for the recent Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake. Great use of sound design and music. Really creepy, set a mood without giving away the movie. I also think it's elegant when a trailer can use an internal narrative from the movie to tell its own story, like the Return of the King trailer or the Pearl Harbor trailer. (Say what you want about Michael Bay, but his movies are full of great trailer footage.) Another one that sticks in my mind for style is the Gone In 60 Seconds trailer. Also, the Sin City trailers are fucking great, just because they're so distinct and confident.

I also give props to trailers that don't give away anything at all about the movie. The Minus Man had a trailer that was just two people trying to figure out the movie, and it was pretty entertaining. I never saw it, but I give the trailer props for originality. Seinfeld's Comedian trailer was pretty funny too. (The guy in that trailer is voice talent Hal Douglas, aka the voice of the WB.)

“Rug-pull” or “misdirect” teasers are sort of a cliche, but the Austin Powers 2 teaser that played off of the anticipation for Star Wars Episode I was really well done. I think the original Raiders of the Lost Ark trailer just featured footage from the opening temple scene, setting the stage for action without giving away anything from later in the movie.

ERIK: What would you have done differently on certain trailers (that weren't yours) if you had the opportunity to recut them?

DAN:
I was really disappointed with both the Episode III teaser and the trailer. I thought they were lazily slapped together and poorly mixed. They both ended on this real sour note, and I mean literally, like the music goes flat all of a sudden. I didn't care for the Ep. II trailer either. (come on, 'Begun this clone war has'’) Goes to show what happens when you take your audience for granted.

I mean, they showed all the cool shots, and they used the recognizable music and all, and maybe it's because all the performances are so wooden that it's not very engaging. I think the current Episode III trailer could be twice as effective if they took out all the music and replaced it with a drone that slowly built in intensity and frequency, and that took on the notes of the Imperial March near the end. That would give me chills.

I like to watch trailers to see how they're put together, and I like it when a trailer gets me excited about an upcoming film. Usually I can tell when a trailer's pulling my leg, because I can see all the little tricks and cheats, so when it works -- like the Return of the King trailer -- it really fucking works. But given my druthers I prefer not to watch any trailers before seeing a given film, just to come to it with a clean slate. Then, if I watch the trailers after I've seen the film, I'll be able to tell better how they put the trailer together.

>>>>>CONTINUE ON TO PART TWO AS DAN DISHES THE DIRT ON THE QUOTE WHORES


link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=1810
originally posted: 04/29/06 00:49:03
last updated: 06/06/07 22:55:57
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