Importance of a good trailer continued

August 15, 2011
posted by sheric

Bill Woolery worked 2 decades in trailer editing for major studios and TV campaigns. There are mistakes he continually sees with trailers that are edited by inexperienced filmmakers. Three of the biggest are use of music cues that are too slow and weak to make the trailer work,  use of very slow fade-ups and downs, and telling the story chronologically.

Regarding music, Bill says, “Music is the life-blood of a trailer.  All theatrical movie trailers have wall-to-wall music and documentary fundraising trailers do, too.  That’s because the tension and flow in a trailer cannot be broken from top to bottom.  Also, the music must have a momentum.  Or at least some kind of pulse that constantly moves the trailer forward. If the film has been scored, my first step is to review all the cues.  Obviously, it’s best to use cues that are in the main piece and have no licensing issues.  In a majority of cases, however, I have to go elsewhere to get the right trailer music.  Sometimes mystery or poignant cues from the main piece will work in the first part of a trailer, but when I get to ‘the build,’ I usually have to find new cues. As for licensing: I first try using the royalty-free cues I have in my library.  If I can’t make these work, I move on to other cues that are in a legally gray area.  If I’m cutting a fundraising trailer, there’s no problem.  These trailers are not intended for the general public and there’s no ‘profit’ involved.  I feel free using any music I think is appropriate.  But I do avoid well-known songs with well-known singers.  Instrumental cues are generally fine.  I never touch anything that Disney owns – they’re very protective.”

I asked him about setting the tone or the emotional impact of a trailer. For me, this is the key to making a good trailer. It isn’t so much about what is the story, but giving a sense of what you will experience when you see the film. I also want the trailer to be “sticky” or resonate deeply. “As I mentioned earlier, a trailer is emotion from beginning to end.  It should have a distinctive ‘emotional temperature,’ a specific tone to it.  It should live in its own little emotional world.  Many times, it’s what people remember about a trailer – whether they’re conscious of it or not.  It’s critical that your trailer editor can create this ‘world’ and it is one of the most important reasons for hiring a professional.  This isn’t about adding something new to your material, it’s about selecting certain elements from your whole piece and utilizing them in different, creative ways.”

Motion graphics and voice overs are two common elements found in today’s film trailers. I asked Bill if the typical trailer editor has a skill for motion graphics and when a VO is best used. “I enjoy motion graphics and I’m always amazed by what can be done with After Effects.  When it appeared on the editing scene, I wanted to learn everything about it, but discovered these type of programs are enormously complex.  They require major learning curves and are continually being updated.  I don’t hesitate to use motion graphics when I think they’re appropriate, but I’m a story-telling editor and working out these complex graphics required hours of my time.  It took me away from doing what I do best –which is finding the ‘heart’ of the story and creating a great trailer around it.  The After Effects people I work with have little interest in story editing.  So it’s a great fit.  They love what they do and I love what I do.”

“My VO rule goes like this:

A. Let’s try and tell this story without any VO.  I think people naturally resist being told what to think.  It’s much better to let the dialogue bites tell the story and the viewer can draw their own conclusions.

B.  Sometimes there are certain story points or links that are not stated in the dialogue bites.  It’s then time for title cards or a VO to fill in the missing info.  This doesn’t have to extend thru the whole trailer.  VO or cards can setup the story in the first 20 seconds and then you can let the dramatic portion flow unimpeded through to the end.”

Many times you’ll notice that there are green band and red band trailers. Green band trailers are approved for all audiences by the Motion Picture Association of America. Do trailers and films HAVE to be rated by the MPAA? “There’s no law that says movies (and docs) theatrically released in the U.S. must be rated by the MPAA, but it’s the policy of all the major theater chains to only show MPAA-rated movies. Even when I was cutting trailers for studio features (at Paramount), every trailer had to be green-band (G or PG) even though the feature might be rated R (red-band).  Studio movie trailers are often attached to release prints of other movies and sent all over the country, so the trailers had to be able to play without any restrictions.”

Finally, I asked the question most of my readers would want to know. How much should you budget for a trailer editor? “When I created my business as a trailer editor to the documentary community, I realized the financial levels were much lower that those found in the commercial entertainment world.  For a full-service documentary trailer coming from the original material, $3500 would be a realistic figure for 3 weeks of work.  If I’m working only with scenes in your edited project, it can be less. If that doesn’t work with your budget, I offer detailed consultations that can significantly improve your existing trailer.  These range in costs according to the depth of my involvement.  I can write up notes and suggestions to improve your trailer or I actually edit a re-assembly of it that you can smooth out and finalize yourself.  Costs for these services run from $175 to $500.  Consultations are, by far, the most popular way my clients are able to achieve a successful trailer.”

My thanks to Bill Woolery for taking time to share his knowledge and expertise. If you would like to work with him or take one of his trailer workshops, head on over to his website.

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