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.

The importance of a good trailer

August 11, 2011
posted by sheric

Many times when independent filmmakers send a request for help to me, they attach a link to their film trailer. This is the video they have on Youtube and on their website as a representation of their film, a reason to see it or buy it. Often, they are terrible. They are too long, they are too slow, there is no sense of what the film is about or why I would want to see it. A trailer should not be a 3 minute cut down version of your film. It is an advertisement meant to pique the interest of prospective viewers and there is a talent to making them work. This isn’t a job for your intern.

I asked professional trailer editor Bill Woolery if he would share his knowledge about what makes a good trailer, what are common mistakes he sees so many filmmakers (and distributors and studios) making, how to use trailers if you are trying to fundraise and what techniques are commonly used to ensure action is taken. Your trailer should make people say “I’ve got to see this film!” or “I want to donate money to help it reach its goal.”

For over 2 decades, Bill worked as a trailer editor for major studios and production companies on their theatrical and TV campaigns. He has since moved into editing trailers for documentaries and non profit humanitarian projects  for use in fund raising.  He has established himself as the go-to trailer expert for documentary and independent film producers and is often asked to speak and critique trailers in seminars hosted by Carole Dean and other high-profile members in the documentary community. His regularly scheduled “Trailer Clinics” help give filmmakers the tips and tools to improve their fundraising trailers.

An example of Bill’s past work is the trailer for The Unbearable Lightness of Being. “My boss tossed me the project saying, ‘We don’t know what to do with this, so come up with something.’  It turned out to be one of my most satisfying challenges. Janácek’s chamber music set the tone for the editing.  The film tanked at the box office, but AFI now includes it on their 100 best American films list.  A young Daniel Day-Lewis stars with Juliette Binoche.”

How does editing a trailer differ from editing an entire film?

“These are not only two different styles of editing, they’re two distinctly different realties.  A trailer incorporates the same scenes as the full-length piece but uses a totally different “language” to express them.  When filmmakers come to me, it’s often because they tried cutting their own trailers.  After much labor in the edit room, they were never able to achieve a sequence that felt like a trailer.  There is a characteristic pace and flow to a trailer you don’t find in narrative editing.  It’s the same material but presented with an urgency and immediacy that’s very different from your whole film.

A feature documentary has emotional moments, but a trailer is basically one emotional moment from beginning to end.  It takes you immediately into an emotional reality and holds you there until it drops you at the end.  During that span, it must also convey specific information: who the characters are, what the story is about, why the characters are doing what they’re doing.  Most importantly, it must answer the questions: Why is this doc (or feature) something you should see?  And why is it important to see it now?

These are a few of the many elements that make a good trailer and constructing it is more complicated than most narrative filmmakers realize.  A well-edited trailer is a very busy ‘world.’  At every moment you’re moving through multiple arcs: characters’ arc, the main story arc, the emotional arcs.  They’re all intertwined.  It’s a lot to keep track of.  And over-arching all that is ‘the build.’

The ‘build’ is probably the element that most clearly defines the difference between trailer editing and feature editing.  A trailer must maintain a continuous forward momentum.  This momentum usually picks up in speed and urgency in the second half of the trailer.”

How to evaluate a potential trailer editor for your project?

“Beware the editor/producer/filmmaker who has some downtime and says, ‘Sure, I can cut you a trailer.  I’ll do it as a favor.’  Also, stay away from anyone who thinks a trailer is basically a cut-down of the feature – because you will get a cut-down of the feature and not a trailer.”

Why should a trailer editor be used instead of just an intern or the editor already working on your film?

“During the past 10 years, the role of the trailer has changed, especially in the funding strategy of documentary and indie production.  Traditionally, trailers were edited by the filmmakers themselves because (a) budgets were tight and (b) they had the edit system and media sitting there in their second bedroom.  ’Outsourcing’ a trailer didn’t make sense.   Over time, with the development of the Internet, people became accustomed to seeing videos (addicted to seeing them, really).  Eventually, the pitch, the proposal, the text on your website – all of these took second place to the video trailer.  It was as if your project wasn’t real unless your intended audience could ‘see’ something on the screen.   Today, some distributors or funders will ask to see your trailer before talking to you. So the trailer has become the most critical element to getting your project funded or distributed.  It needs to be really good, really effective.  Paying a trailer editor is now considered a sound investment.” (I totally agree!)

What are the different types of trailers?  such as theatrical, TV etc

If  you check the Doc Trailers page of my website you’ll find this:

Fundraising Trailer – the key element to your project’s success

Work-in-Progress Trailer – to find your finishing funds

Showcase Trailer – specifically pitched to buyers/distributors/broadcasters

Sizzle / Teaser trailers – to generate buzz when you don’t have much to show

Theatrical Trailers – the all-purpose video that establishes your project’s identity

The majority of my editing projects now involve FUNDRAISING trailers.  As a trailer category, it’s wide open because it depends on what you have to show, how good your footage is and what you want to accomplish with it.  In terms of length, it could be anywhere from 3 to 8 minutes long, possible up to 12 if you’ve got a compelling story and/or extraordinary footage that can sustain it that long.  It also has to do with who it’s intended for: a foundation, grant qualification, a private funder.  Research your intended viewer and find out what they’re looking for.

Everyone agrees a trailer should not reveal the end of the story.  For theatrical-style trailers that is certainly the case.  But when you’re putting together a fundraising trailer the purpose is to sell your idea to people who can share your vision and might invest in it.  They need to see what they’re buying – all of it.  It’s important for them to know you have a satisfying ending so don’t hesitate to show it.

WORK-IN-PROGRESS trailers run longer so the viewer, usually a major funder, can feel confident about the project’s progress, that their investment is worthwhile and in capable hands.  In terms of length it’s determined by the funder’s needs and could be anywhere between 4 to 14 minutes.

Every project needs a THEATRICAL-STYLE trailer.  This is the one that’s used as the all-purpose “calling card” for your project, the one you post on YouTube and Vimeo and the project’s website.  It’s normally made after your doc is finished and mastered – but sometimes there’s need for it before the projects gets to that point.  This kind of trailer is short, usually 1.5  to 3 minutes.  It’s energetic and dramatic and makes no obvious solicitation for funds and does not reveal the end of story.  The cliff-hanger ending that works so well for commercial entertainment trailers is also the most effective “out” for documentary trailers.

Finally, there are TEASER or SIZZLE trailers.  These terms are used pretty much interchangeable.  Their purpose is generating advanced buzz for the project.  In both cases, they’re often put together with rip-o-matic images from the Net with a voice-over telling you how great the project will be once the viewer contributes the funds to realize it.  These kinds of trailers might include a “pedigree” montage of the filmmaker’s past projects – if they exist.  A teaser is short, 30 seconds to a minute and a half, unless the “past projects” are very prestigious and need screen time to be showcased.”

In part 2, Bill will talk about techniques such as motion graphics, using music to set the tone, using voice overs and the biggest mistakes he sees people make in editing a trailer. Stay tuned!