Coming Soon, part II
How to make an industry trailer ☛
My last piece was about the trailers that show in cinemas, the ones the public gets to see. However, before a movie’s theatrical trailer or even its teaser has hit the big screen, there may have been a couple of promos already cut for that film. Indeed new forms of these trailers are developing right now, thanks to the growth of Kickstarter and Indigogo. So, what work do industry trailers do and how do you go about making one?
If a producer wants to sell their film at a market like Cannes, Berlin or AFM they will need to go armed, and their primary weapon is the market trailer.
Market trailers are longer than theatrical trailers, clocking in at around 3-5 mins. These are often cut by the assistant editor – a task I performed many times in my day. Picture quality is rough; grading and sound are simply what the offline suite can manage. The music is usually drawn from the soundtrack albums of other movies – usage isn’t for public consumption, so copyright isn’t a factor.
The crucial difference between a market trailer and the sort you might see in a cinema is that the market trailer has no obligation to withhold plot information or avoid spoilers. Distributors are unsentimental and have little time to be teased – you just need to show them the money shot. Film markets are like meat markets: not for the squeamish. Anything that might make the film more saleable – fights, nudity, epic vistas – needs to be shown, and there’s little obligation to pretend to tell the story. As long as the genre is clear and all assets are on display, the sales agents have what they need.
If a significant film market happens to fall during the shoot of the feature, the market trailer may simply consist of the most impressive scenes shot to date. This has even less gloss to it, and is more like a showreel of clips than a trailer.
Before even the market trailer, indeed before a single frame of the movie has been shot, there may well have been what you might call an investment trailer. A fairly recent phenomenon – they haven’t even developed a standard name – these are made in an attempt to get investors to put their hands in their pockets. Increasingly they’re also being used to support Kickstarter campaigns and the like.
But if you haven’t shot the film, how do you make a trailer?
There are a variety of creative approaches to this, but it’s becoming increasingly common for filmmakers to shoot material specifically for a trailer. The two most common approaches are: shooting a sample scene from the film or trying to emulate a theatrical trailer. I’ve tried both of these strategies myself, and found each to have its advantages and disadvantages.
Shooting a scene from the script, has many practical advantages for filming. You tend to be in one location, which allows you to focus more time and money on making the material look good. You’re more likely to be able to create something that will have the production values of the eventual film. It’s more like a sample than a trailer, but it proves that you and your team are capable of making this movie.
This approach does not work for every script however. There may be production values that are unaffordable, even if you’re only shooting for one day – VFX, stunts, music clearance, star actors… in fact casting is a bit of an issue.
If your film is to star unknown actors, then you’re fine: get your key cast together, set them running on a juicy dialogue scene and you’ll have something that displays the potential of the project. But often films looking for investment are also looking for stars. In this case, shooting a long dialogue scene might show off the director’s ability to work with actors and the quality of the script, but it draws even more attention to the performance of the actors on screen; if they’re not going to be playing those parts in the eventual film this can be confusing. People often assume that the actor starring in your trailer is the actor you have in mind for the main role, even though you’ve told them a hundred times that this is not your intention.
Making a theatrical-style trailer reduces this problem. These inevitably draw less attention to performance, so people find it easier to imagine a ‘name’ actor doing all the running around and shouting. Also the theatrical trailer is a form of movie promotion familiar to non-industry investors: they understand how these work.
Unfortunately theatrical-style trailers are a pain to shoot from scratch. Part of the purpose of a genuine theatrical trailer is to give a sense of the scope and scale of the movie. This tends to mean a lot of different locations, showing off stars, glimpses of set-piece sequences and the like. Without either stars or set-pieces within your budget, jumping around locations tends to be the only option to lend the trailer cinematic breadth. And this means a lot of time you that could be spending shooting will be taken up moving locations.
Of course, you might have a project that is all set around one location, in which case you’re spared this problem. Otherwise, if you’re canny, you can find somewhere to shoot that has a lot of locations which have very different feels and appearances within easy reach of each other.
When Gavin Boyter and I made the trailer for our project Nitrate, we were lucky enough to be given almost free rein in Pinewood Studios, which provided a rich palette of different locations. Even so, our shoot ended up spending a lot of time moving and setting up, even though we were moving just around the corner.
But there are other ways of making a trailer to raise money. The teaser-style approach can work too. The most successful example of this I know of, raised its money from a trailer that included no actors or dialogue – it simply set up the world and idea of the film.
Admittedly the work and production values that they threw at this minimal approach indicate a fair level of investment (if only of goodwill from VFX artists and animators) but they did prove that showing off a marketable idea and demonstrating your approach can be enough to raise the €7.5m needed for Iron Sky.
Some filmmakers take a different tack and make a short film to sell their feature. This works best if the short is very similar in style and subject matter to the feature project. It has the advantage of being able to get exposure in its own right, via film festivals and broadcast. This proves that the director is the right person for the job and that there’s an audience out there for that sort of film. Good examples of this are Andrea Arnold’s Wasp which paved the way for Red Road; Asif Kapadia’s award-winning short The Sheep Thief, the natural precursor to The Warrior; and Carine Adler’s short Fever which was a dry run for her movie Under the Skin (no, not that one). The most gloriously shameless example however must come from French filmmaker Phil Dussol with his short Easy Money.
Sadly the follow-up feature remains to be made, but I think it deserves to be, for cheek alone.
Whatever approach you use to promoting your project, never forget that the main purpose of any of these featurettes is to convey what makes you and your film exciting. While investors, sales agents and distributors will be reassured by seeing how your film is similar to other films – that makes their job easier – it’s also important to show them how your movie is different and indeed unique. Achieve that and your dreams of hitting the big screen will get that much closer. The internet has opened up many new ways in which a movie can be sold, many of which are yet untried. Let me know if you think of any new ones.
Copyright © Guy Ducker 2014
Edited by Dr Sara Lodge
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