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!

Top 5 Ways to Fail at Crowdfunding

October 10, 2010
posted by sheric

photo credit Paste

I am prompted to write this post because I have been hit up many times lately about supporting, advising or donating to various crowdfunding initiatives. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t quite a complaint because I have been known to support many campaigns by doing any one of these things (ask anyone else offering their advice if they have done any of these things by the way, the answer could surprise you). I do get frustrated by the ones who contact me because they have embarked without thinking through the strategy or they are very close to the time limit and very far from their goal. I thought it might be helpful to list out some ways to fail in this endeavor so you can be sure to avoid these mistakes.

1) You do not already a have a support network online. This is a biggie. I know you’re thinking Sheri, how can I already have an audience and supporters of my work when I haven’t raised the money yet to do my work? Do you have a personal identity built up? Does anyone actually know who you are yet? There are many ways to do this, starting with sharing your knowledge and experiences with people and championing others as much or more than you do yourself. This identity building takes time and should be started well in advance of asking for favors. If you don’t have a strong support network of friends, colleagues and people who enjoy the work you do, do not introduce yourself and your project by asking for money.

2) Your goal is unrealistic. At the moment, the highest amount I personally have seen raised is $30K.  That was for a feature and mostly used on principal photography. Most of the other projects I have seen find success are raising under $10K. Crowdfunding is meant to get your project started, get your project finished or be used for something clearly defined like a festival run or your own screening tour. It is not going to be your only source of financing for your feature film. In time, as your audience grows, this could change for you. Unless you have the base of fans mentioned in #1, try raising $5k and see how you do.

3) You do not know who your audience is. In addition to that base of supporters, you will also need to reach those most interested in the kind of story you are telling. Many filmmakers just keep their campaigns limited to targeting other filmmakers. Folks, I don’t know any filmmakers NOT looking for money to fund their projects. While they may love and support you, you must venture out of that pool to find alternate sources for donation. I was asked whether I felt that crowfunding had reached its peak yet. Hardly! Ask any average joe on the street what crowdfunding is and you’ll get a blank stare. These are the guys you need to hit up, the ones who aren”t completely burned out by being bombarded by appeals and who might enjoy what you are doing.

4) Your campaign length is too long. Kickstarter has advised that the most successful campaigns are the shortest. Why? Because you and everyone else you know gets exhausted fundraising for 90 days. The campaign starts off strong (you hope) but somewhere around the 30 day mark it wanes big time! The momentum stalls, people get tired of shilling for you, you get tired of shilling too. Set the goal for 30 days maximum and work it nonstop during that time. Hint: that doesn’t mean your only communication is donation appeals. A reminder or two a day will suffice. The rest of the time, tell us about what you have planned for the project, comment on other conversations, share some useful links. Don’t be a complete pest!

5) Just offer tshirts and DVDs as perks. Nothing meaningful or imaginative. While I usually do not donate based on the perks, but on how well I know the people and how much I believe they can carry off the project, many people are all about the perks. If you are offering the same run of the mill stuff that can be purchased way cheaper at Walmart than at your minimum donation level, you need to think from the greedy donor perspective. I can get tshirts for $5 and a DVD of a film I have actually heard of far cheaper than a donation at the $50 mark. Get creative on what you can give donors that they will actually like, need, and most importantly, talk about. Are you a great cook? Can you do cool magic tricks? Are you a poet (I’m looking at you John Trigonis)? What can you offer your donors that is special to them and won’t cost you much if any money to manufacture?

Anyone else have some mistakes to add? Advice from those in the trenches is always appreciated.

TFC Tidbit of the Day 43 What makes people donate?

August 18, 2010
posted by sheric

You must think of fun, interactive and interesting ways of soliciting funds. My friends from Tilt the movie had a really fun way of engaging their donors. They created a map of the town where their film is set and “populated” the town with their backers, complete with fun, made up bios of each one. For $15, a donor could see what kind of creative backstory could be invented for their presence in the story of Tilt. All from the creative minds of the filmmakers.

Think of the target audience of your film, what drives them, what interests them, what can you give THEM for donating? You will find that your donations are easier to get when people feel great about helping.

This week’s tidbits are from Sheri Candler and will cover her assessments about successful crowdfunding initiatives.

To some artists, crowdfunding looks like easy money. Make a pitch video, give a synopsis and a few perks and let the money roll in. That’s a mistake. To be successful in crowdfunding depends on having a solid foundation of followers, people interested in your work. If you don’t already have a presence on social networking platforms, a well read blog, and/or a large network of friends and supporters, build that first before starting to crowdfund. If you try to raise money before anyone knows you or cares about your project, you will fail to garner interest.