WE’VE MOVED!! “Movietrailers101.wordpress.com” is now “Movietrailers101.com”

As I near my 100th post, I figured it was time to own my own domain and improve the visibility and traffic potential for my site.

I’ve transferred all the content from the wordpress hosted space, but henceforth, all new materials will posted at:


Thanks WordPress for getting me started!

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Django Unchained International Trailer: Marketing (and Exploiting) Tarentino’s Signature Style

I love Tarentino films, despite their trailers, which emphasize the visual pleasures of his style but miss the sublimity and substance of his films. (Perhaps that’s an impossible expectation for a trailer?) Hearing of the Django Unchained trailer (above) for the December 2012 release, I thought I’d use this post to understand why.

[Note: I’m writing of the International “official” trailer rather than the official trailer for domestic audiences. One is a close variation of the other, in terms of shot selection, music cues, and editing, although insofar as the international trailer better confirms my biases, it’s that which I consider here.]

Mining the “justified revenge” thematic and vigilante generic vein first opened by Kill Bill, and further explored in Inglorious Basterds, Tarentino, in Django Unchained, tells the story of an African American Slave (Django, played by Jamie Foxx) who accompanies a white bounty hunter (Christian Waltz) into the ante-bellum South in pursuit of fugitives, to rescue his wife (Kerry Washington) and to exact revenge.

To the pantheon of victim turned rampaging vigilante, Tarentino has added a black male slave to such enduring types as the ill-used woman (The pregnant, left for dead Bride) and the European Jew (Shoshanna) under Nazi rule. Given the context and the horrors endured by his protagonists, their subsequent, remorseless, and triumphant bloodletting is sanctioned and celebrated, with audiences invited to glory in violent, even excessive retribution. Tarentino’s gift, or habit perhaps, is an ability to usher his audience along the passage from shocked spectator to applauding and complicit participant in torture, mayhem and bloodlust. Yet for all its guilty pleasure– the moral complication and emotional ambivalence of one’s spectatorial position– a journey that begins in grindhouse locales often ends in instructive, affective and even transcendent precincts.

The trailer, for its part, lacks the time and the dramatic opportunity to fully engage either the horror of victimization or the nihilism of rampaging revenge. Though replete with story, characters, spectacle and generic pleasures, trailers for Kill Bill, Inglorious Basterds and now Django Unchained tread the shallow waters of exploitation, displaying their appealing and appalling materials but neither elevating nor transcending them. I assume that this is a result of the trailer formula itself, a short-form film format that is always already artificial, self-conscious and mannered in style. When you’re advertising and “previewing” a film whose style is similar stagey and “over the top” (as are the Tarentino films noted above), the ascend from parody to irony, from camp to melodrama, or from comedy to tragedy becomes well-nigh impossible.

But enough about what the trailer may be incapable of. Let’s consider, instead some of those things it does well. Once again, Johnny Cash is tapped for a music cue. Opening on a chained group of escaped slaves, Cash’s gravel-throated baritone delivers an instant and generous dollop of authenticity, singing the American roots gospel standard, “There ain’t no grave.” The lyrics both comment on escape and transcendence, as subjects of the film, while connecting to a religious faith and cultural practice that supplies narrative context.

After bounty hunter Waltz rescues Django and explains his bargain–Django is to identity the notorious Brittle (sic?) Brothers, in exchange for his freedom and help finding and liberating his wife, who the Brittle brothers sold to an unknown buyer–the two join forces. Initiating the second half of the trailer as a road and buddy film montage of extra-judicial murder, James Brown’s “Payback” is the chosen cue. When it kicks in, the trailer gains an upbeat cue that drives the editing, transforms the sensibility and explores, lyrically, the revenge theme.

I wanted to point out a sustained example of rhythmic cutting to the funky, syncopated beat of “Payback,” especially notable from 1:25 (or so) to 1:42. Gun shots, cast cards, screams and yells, whips, explosions, toasts, falling hats–are all choreographed to the music. It’s fun: you can dance to it, and yet, beneath the music-video charm, we see scenes of battle, cold-blooded murder and general bloodlust, represented by the red-wash over the cast-cards.
Such is the power of music to emphasize emotion and substance or to sublimate it. In this case, the latter occurs, with hip-shaking, foot-stomping, head-nodding good times abstracted and extracted from harrowing experience and brutal practice.

[Notably, There’s a striking image, of a spray of blood from a hapless target, that showers a field of white, cotton flowers, the crop most identified with American slavery, now nourished with the blood of the slaveholder rather than his human chattel.)

Renowned feature film editor Walter Murch insists that the ideal cut (in features, that is) is true to the emotion of the moment, advances the story, occurs at a rhythmically interesting moment, acknowledges eye trace, respects the translation of a 3 dimensional scene to the 2 dimensions of film and respects the 3-D continuity of space. [See:

, p. 18] Trailer editing clearly has a different set of priorities, whereby rhythm and eye trace frequently upend and rival–if not displace– emotion and storytelling in the original feature, in order to tell and sell another story to the potentially ticket-buying audience.

In the example above (1:25-1:42), the trailer uses music to sell the Tarentino sensibility and style, the bigger-than-life, fabulistic quality of his films, over the clearly serious and complex emotional substance of the film itself. Even the graphic design–in which title cards, copy cards (“The Chains Come Off”) and cast-card are washed in blood red–speak to the expectations that come with this director, and to which audiences respond passionately.

Django, like Kill Bill, or Inglorious Basterds, may be a cinematic masterpiece; it certainly has the stars, the subject matter, the directorial (and cinematographic and editorial) talent for that eventuality. But that is not what the Weinstein company appears to believe is the best way to represent the film as a commercial product. For that, it’s exploitation –sensation, quips, gun-play, sentiment, and lots and lots of blood–all the way.

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movietrailers101 by Fred Greene is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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Total Recall (2012) Trailer: Anxieties of Influence

Among the many challenges involved in remaking an iconic film, not the least is creating the trailer and positioning the film vis a vis its original. Beyond the always demanding job of engaging unfamiliar or uninvested audiences in the movie on offer, there’s the trickier task of assuring original fans of the reverence with which the new film has been made.

I am not alone, it appears, in considering the 2012 remake of Total Recall (1990) to be an invitation to examine its trailer. Indeed, alongside the official trailer (above) on Youtube, two 3+ minutes appreciations of the new film and its trailer appear, fronted by hyper-active fan surrogates and movie-review personalities Grace Randolph, at Beyond the Trailer: Movie Bytes, and Jeremy Jahns of Jeremy Jahns Trailer Reviews. Randolph’s is the more thoughtful and content rich comparison, but both express ambivalence about the new version, although they take pains to welcome its release, in the best spirit of show-biz comity.

As is often the case with trailer sites and trailer reviews, commentators look past the trailer as a worthy subject of inquiry and attention, to the film it heralds. In the post that follows, I’ll be focusing on the trailer as a trailer, assessing its formal and expressive qualities in order to appreciate how it meets the marketing challenge of its feature film.

The trailer opens on protagonist Quaid (Colin Farrell), waking from a nightmare and being comforted by his wife, Lori (Kate Beckinsale). Cut to Quaid staring into an futuristic, urban landscape, shot in blue-grey tones. Next, we find him at a bar with his buddy, Harry (Bokeem Woodbine), asking the kind of existential questions that explain his subsequent visit to the Rekall Corporation, against Harry’s explicit advice not to “mess with your mind.”

At Rekall, McClane (John Cho) explains the “memory implantation” operation which Quaid is to undergo. Unfortunately, the procedure goes awry in spectacular fashion. Cho brandishes a gun, screaming “who sent you,” as police storm troopers enter, killing everyone but Quaid who they arrest, despite his convincing pleas that there’s been some mistake. Whereupon, with the twitch of an eye, his newly implanted secret-agent persona takes over and he dispatches 10 armed and armored antagonists in a choreographed martial arts action sequence. Shocked at his own unfamiliar and lethal behavior, he throws down the gun and flees.

The words, “THIS SUMMER” appear on screen, as we cut to a city scape traversed by hover-craft and elevated expressways. Lori, is seen at the wheel of a vehicle, glaring menacingly like the villain she is, and next in a scene of domestic hand-to-hand combat with Quaid, who asks, “Why are you trying to kill me?” Her answer, “your memory was erased. Your mind was implanted with a life you think you’ve lived,” explains how events have come to this pass. She attacks yet again and Quaid leaps from their apartment balcony, crashing through an adjacent roof.

He is picked up by Melina (Jessica Biel), who claims to have been looking everywhere for him. (Her role is unclear, but she’s an ally, occupying an “outlaw” position as well.) He is chased by the storm-trooper cops and Lori, who operates alongside them, in a succession of fire and fist fights, within an urban, futuristic landscape.

Amidst spectacular special effects/CGI, choreographed fights and chases, the question quaid must answer, assuming he can survive, is tersely expressed in two copy cards, “WHAT IS REAL” followed by “WHAT IS RECALL?” After Quaid and Melina endure a harrowing, but gorgeous, vertical crash in their hover craft, the title, using the same block, metallic silver font, appears, followed by a button in which Quaid asks the all-important question, “If I’m not me, then who the hell am I,” To which Vilos (Bryan Cranston) responds with understatement, “you don’t have the most reliable memory, do you?” Cut to Quaid whose face morphs through a series of other visages before returning to his own. SUMMER and the website url occupy the final graphic card.

While rhythm is an essential component of effective editing, in this trailer, it becomes the defining quality. In a preview stocked with punches, kicks, falls, shatterings, collisions and automatic gun fire, the editing establishes a steady beat that’s regularly punctuated by staccato bursts of strobing light and images. For these pulses of visual information, the cuts are measured in frames rather than the seconds.

And Whereas in the opening, attention and eye trace is directed left (toward the past) and right (the future), with the initiating action sequence defined by its wraparound camera work and editing, in the second half of the trailer, up and down movements implying gravity and weightlessness predominate. Dropping, spinning, falling, plunging, bouncing, climbing and floating upward characterize and distinguish the visual presentation.

Synthetic and percussive, the soundscape translates diegetic elements into non-diegetic sounds that build suspense, underlines action and enhances excitement. Bullets and punches are scored as drum beats; motion as snares and cymbals played with sticks or brushes. Bass notes, warped and distorted as necessary, provide a steady beat and a tempo for the sound. There is no melody or harmony, to speak of, and the soundscape is urban, industrial, hypnotic and not-remotely natural.

Conflict and character in the film are conveyed chiefly by dialogue, with a spare copy treatment establishing the philosophical stakes. From Lori, Quaid learns what has happened to him–he’s been implanted with a memory not his own, which presumably, makes him a target of the security services. From Vilos, he learns that his memory is unreliable. The copy raises the metaphysical problem of mind and memory, more as a “cool” paradox than as a tangible subject for inquiry. (Reality vs. Recall or memory) The original film trailer foregrounded these issues and explored them at length, as I mentioned in last week’s post.

Whereas the original film and its trailer emphasized the fun, mad-house quality of the source material and its on-screen realization, this film and its trailer appear to take themselves and their subjects very seriously. Sober, anxious and un-ironic, there are no jokes in this film, no quips or put-downs. It seems as if, in style and sensibility, this film thinks of Blade Runner as its progenitor, rather than its 1990 original.

The trailer has a tricky path to pick out, between signalling relationship to its original and asserting its difference. By using dialogue, nearly identical to that in the original trailer–Lori’s, “your mind was erased…” and Quaid’s “If I’m not me…” this trailer explains Quaids situation, while quoting the iconic movie and rewarding its legions of loyal fans. The scene of Farrell undergoing the ReKall implantation is nearly identical to that of Schwarzenegger, as you can see in the key art photos of the two shots. Here, the trailer is quoting visual language from the original, and honoring the connection.

And yet, in many ways this trailer positions its film as a very different experience. One in which action, rather than metaphysics or political rebellion, is preeminent. In style, it also aspires to a look in keeping with its 200M budget, by which I mean cool, sleek, and expensive. There is enormous competition at the high end this summer, and Total Recall suggests that it can deliver the spectacle required.

Farrell in the role of Quaid represents a signal departure from the original, and probably as necessary one, since how would you fill the Guvernator‘s shoes? He plays it as an everyman, for which his physique and acting chops are better suited, displaying through dynamic and unfixed facial features the quality of his confusion and the absence of certainty in his own identity. The final scene where his face morphs takes his twitches and double takes of surprise and confusion to their ultimate extension.

Lastly, and this is my final comment, I wanted to offer an interpretation of the images of falling, rising and floating that preponderate in the back-end of the trailer. Apart from the pleasure of such vertiginous visuals and virtuoso graphic editing, it seems to me that weightlessness serves here as a literal manifestation of the metaphysical situation of our protagonist. Untethered to his past, he is freed of the gravitational pull of obligation and experience, light in the air and without inertia, able to bounce and recover. Yet the flipside of that freedom is the terror of rootlessness, of an ungrounded identity, impermanent and unfixed, in danger of floating away. Presumably, Melina will tie him down, as it were, to the insurgency in which she fights. For our needs, out in the audience, the trailer does an admirable job of explaining psychological concerns of the film using the most economical means possible, images from the film itself.

Like its predecessor trailer, this too is a superb piece of cinematic and marketing craft. Let’s hope the film holds up its end.

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movietrailers101 by Fred Greene is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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Do you recall TOTAL RECALL (1990) and its memorable trailer?

In anticipation of the remake of Total Recall (2012), starring Colin Farrell and Kate Beckinsale reprising roles immortalized by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sharon Stone, I reviewed the official trailer for the 1990 release, suspecting that that expensive, influential and critically acclaimed film would have had an interesting trailer. It does.

Next week, I’ll review the trailer for this summer’s remake (also memorable), and then–perhaps in a 3rd post–compare the high-profile, big-budget, distinguished and spectacular previews, released 22 years apart.

The trailer opens with the Carolco logo which morphs into the brightest star in a star field backdrop, into which the apparently disembodied head of Arnold, first seen supine and in profile slowly turns toward and then down away from the viewer, with whom his eyes engage until the angle breaks the connection. Beneath him, the red surface of Mars appear as we fly toward a black triangle just over the horizon. As this happens, a restrained and measured narration intones: “Your mind / it is the center of your body / it is everything you hear / everything you see / everything you feel. /It is everything you are. / How would you know if someone stole your mind?” We don’t see this kind of copy much anymore, lines that pose the “idea” of the film in terms that are at once “metaphysical” and deeply personal.

These first 30 seconds appear to be an homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey, and a bit of a parody, given that Arnold’s head stands in for the rotating bone / space station. However, the film, as represented in the trailer, is not the sublime and sober sci-fi vehicle that this opening predicts, but an unapologetically action spectacular with an involved and involving plot, comic beats and memorable punch lines.

AFter the graphically ambitious and philosophically portentous opening, we fall into the kinetic, incrementally futuristic world of the movie, featuring animatronic disguises, 21st century gadgets and technology, a Martian colony, a confused hero and a couple of relevant existential questions thrown in for good measure. Depicting the frustrations of Quaid’s situation and the emphasizing the conflicts to which it gives rise, consumes the rest of the trailer. Although resolution is not-specified, armed and active resistance appears to be Quaid’s best hope.

After the opening V.O., there is no further copy, until Schwarzenegger’s credit and the (two–count ’em) “Total Recall” title cards. Thereafter, filmed dialogue explains the plot: Doug Quaid’s (Schwarzenegger) memory has been erased and that of another man–one with an incredible set of skills and abilities–has been uploaded into him, with unexpected and significant repercussions.

Dialogue also transcends its story telling function to address the audience, marketing the film and explaining how to understand and consume it: “Get ready for a surprise,” says the disembodied head of the full-body disguise worn by Quaid, just before it explodes, producing a diversion that allows him to escape his pursuers. Later, an animatronic cab-driver, utters the programmed remarks, “We hope you enjoy the ride,” which works literally in the scene and figuratively, to position the film as an event and an adventure.

At 2:30, this trailer plays long. Even with the quick cutting, there is a lot of plot to cover (this trailer is tell-all, it appears, especially with respect to Quaid’s unhappy choice of mates, a woman who deceives, betrays and attempts to kill him.) and a few good lines to deliver. Before “I’ll be back,” became his trademark, Schwarzenegger was known for his quip, “Consider this a divorce,” pronounced over the corpse of his beautiful and cunning wife.

What we see in the shot select is Quaid on the run and repeatedly under attack. Choreographed fight scenes, it is indicated, will feature prominently in the film. He will also take up with another love interest, Melina (Rachel Ticotin), a resistance fighter, who knows her way around a machine gun.

As is common in trailer editing, elements of the film story are re-ordered to serve the interest of the marketing story, such as when one of Quaid’s trackers affirms, “got him,” before we’ve scene him insert the chip into his brain that allows such remote monitoring. Then, when an ally warns him that, “the bug is in your skull,” the next shot is of Quaid running in front of an x-ray screen, but it’s his gun, worn at the hip, rather than anything visible in his head, that “tips off” his assailants.

Quaid’s experience in the trailer is one of confusion, stress and physical torment. There are 3 significant scenes of him screaming, his face convulsed with pain. These extend the earlier shot of the distraught woman who literally “comes apart” in public, revealing Quaid concealed within her cybernetic bulk.

The editing, sound and graphic design are all sophisticated; though no longer cutting edge, they remain contemporary, if not in technique than certainly in style. Regarding the edit decisions, apart from the opening star-field and the subsequent Mars exterior, the shot selection comprises closeup and medium views of blandly interior locations and characters with bad 90’s haircuts and clothes, suggesting, it would seem, the physical, psychological and historical constraints on our protagonist. Faces, dialogue, and explicit images of what’s being discussed and described support the articulation of a complex storyline while developing the larger conceptual problems of identity, memory and agency.

Jerry Goldsmith
‘s symphonic soundtrack opens the trailer, with a heavy cosmic hum, punctuated by atonal eruptions, and complicated by menacing strings. It runs beneath the trailer, swelling into full orchestration –suitable for pretentious, big-budget, sci-fi epic– in the back end. The opening sequence, mentioned above, and the title design–accomplished by strobing laser lights– are bold, exhilarating and impressive, advertising the quality of visual artistry the audience may anticipate.

In tone, The trailer, like the film it represents, is playful, nearly campy in sensibility. With witty putdowns, clever quips, and extraordinary martial skill, Quaid navigates a hostile and faintly dystopian future, where technological advance conceals an atavistic political reality With the right woman–Melina, a resistance fighter–at his side, Quaid’s survival seem likely, while his confusion and trial delivers the vicarious thrill of a stressful ordeal destined to end well.

The trailer, like its film and the short story that inspired it (Philip K. Dick’s “We can remember it for you wholesale,” is complicated, confusing, violent, unpredictable, ironic, knowing and really, really cool.

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movietrailers101 by Fred Greene is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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MOVIE TRAILERS: Free samples, but of what?


The universe of audio-visual heralds for audio-visual entertainments keeps expanding, as I hope to have demonstrated in these posts. Consequently, I find myself revising my definition, conception and understanding of what “trailers” (in the broadest sense) are in order to include new functionality, new media for their dissemination, and all necessary and sufficient conditions of their being.

The difficulty of saying what they are, or perhaps an acknowledgement of their variety, is, I think, fundamentally a consequence of their hybridity, their deployment of motion-picture art for the objectives of marketing.

Thinking of their near relative, audio-visual advertisements for non-entertainment products– say, soap powder, cars, cereal, financial services, what have you– I was struck by the difference not in the means used, which are, after all, cameras, actors, dialogue, action and copy, but in the product sold.

Trailers are commercial films for a product that’s typically a story or narrative. And in this case, the medium of the product is also the medium of the advertisement. When you’re selling Tide detergent, the advertisement may very well offer a short narrative featuring the virtues of clean clothes and a reliable product, but the product itself must be bought and consumed apart from, outside of or beyond the medium of audio-visual presentation.

The film, tv show, video game trailer, featurette, spot or promo presents a sample of the product being advertised, a sample which is to be consumed in the very moment of its presentation. By consumed, I mean read or followed or understood, since the product is, after all, a story or narrative. But of course, that sample is not a portion of the larger entity being advertised, its story is not THE story, so much as a simulation of the story (the film, tv show, video game) from which it is distinct, having been visually reconfigured, adulterated with copy and graphic design, at the very least.

The trailer–an amalgam of those salable qualities of the film is not intended to represent the film as it is, but the film as its distributor conceives of it in order to appeal to audiences and compete with other offerings. It’s a story that’s for sale and a story that’s being shared with likely audiences/consumers, but they are not the same story, although they may, and probably should be, similar.

(Trying to imagine an analogous marketing situation to trailers and their films, I found myself eating a small “sample” portion of lasagna at my local Trader Joes this morning, provided by the employee who prepares food items that the story wants to promote and sell. That portion, it occurred to me, was a true sample of the frozen lasagna that was there available for my purchase. My medium for enjoying the sample–my gustatory sense– is the exact medium by which I would consume/enjoy the product. The food preparer needn’t have been present, nor would I have needed a sign to direct me to the free samples: smell and appearance did the work of alerting me to their presence and savory appeal. Smell and taste are, it seems, media, in the literal sense of mediating between object and subject, thing and self, world and experience of it.)

David Ogilvy says that advertising, at its essence, is “news,” and I think this claim is true of movie trailers just as it is of commodities and packaged goods. Advertising the film (providing information about it intended to induce a likely consumer to purchase it) requires that the product be classified (by genre) and described. That description—whether ingredients, (actors, directors, producers), functionality (comedy, tragedy, blockbuster, family movie), quality (commerce/art), testimonial (critical reviews, festival laurels) or demonstration (scenes, dialogue, “look”)—is what the audience/consumer relies on to make its decision.

At the grocers, you might obtain a sample of a product for sale, as you might at a cinema before the feature presentation. (Frozen lasagna, say; or cheese and crackers; nachos and salsa;) But at the grocers, it’s a face to face exchange, an encounter that can-but needn’t–be scaled up to the level of the regional and national marketplace.

The movie distributor, for its part, can, via a quick upload to youtube, or a digital distribution of the video file, offer a free simulation of the goods for sale to millions of potential consumers in locations around the world, at negligible marginal cost.

All of which is to say that a trailer is not a actually a free sample of the product for sale. A trailer is a free sample of the film it is itself, which, by dint of qualities/features/ingredients that are also present in the film (tv series, video game, etc.) being marketed, it hopes to make you desire to consume in their filmic fullness.

Lastly, I wanted to share the url for a forum devoted to the most deceptive trailers ever. In these examples, the stories the marketers felt compelled to tell via the trailers they cut, were less a simulation of the feature, than a distortion or misrepresentation. Audiences, as you can glean from the comments, did not approve of the artistic license taken by the marketers. The Village was a standout, on the forum, for advertising a psychological drama as a horror film. That would be like trying a sample of the lasagna at the grocers, buying the product, and getting home to find that there was a pizza, or perhaps a chicken pot pie–in the package.

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Movie Trailer Editing: Tips, Best Practices and Links


One of my close friends is currently enrolled in Video Symphony‘s 14 month editing program, so I’ve been absorbing editing theory and technique every time we’re together, and reminding myself of the subtlety, complexity and sheer artistry involved. Thus inspired and challenged, this post is dedicated to the key creatives of the trailer making industry, but intended for those who aren’t [yet?] editors, who want to know the conventions and formulae of trailer editing, better understand how it differs from feature editing, and appreciate the niche it occupies in the ecology of the film business.

A trailer editor is expected to provide information about the movie, emphasizing those aspects most likely to appeal to audiences as determined by the marketing department of the distributor. As does a feature editor, a trailer editor tells a story (or stories) eliciting and channeling emotion using images, sound, dialogue, music, voice over and graphic design. But this story telling is not always, necessarily or especially linear or narrative in presentation.

Moreover, while audiences are to be relied on as partners in the communicational exchange– since they are themselves “experts” on the subject by dint of having watched countless trailers and tv spots during their viewing lives– they must typically be corralled and guided through the dense, layered content typical of trailers. How exactly that happens is, of course, the $64,000 question. Practice, certainly. Trial and error, no doubt. But here are some articles and posts that offer an introduction to the trade as well as some tips to follow or appreciate, depending on your desire to become a trailer editor or merely to understand better what they do.

Emphasizing functionality, editor Mike Flanagan asks in his article “How to Edit a Trailer that will get your film noticed, “can you put forth something that represents not only the production value, the quality of the actors, the structure of your story, but also the TONE of your film as well, all in less time than you’ll find in a network commercial break block?”

He prefaces his review of representational fidelity, acting, structure, tone and vision, by reminding readers that the director/editor of the film is often the least well-qualified person to produce/cut the trailer, for the simple reason that they are too close to the material and too invested in its film artistry rather than its commercial potential.

The other takeaway from this article is the examination of the conventional three-act structure of a trailer, understood not as a criticism of formula but rather as an appreciation.

On Chris Jones blog, Chris interviews trailer editor Ross Evison who shares the following tips and advice:

• Choose the story through line and stick to it.
• Don’t introduce too many motifs or characters choose whose journey it is – if you’re fortunate to have a known performer, albeit in a minor role, utilise that fact.
• Don’t name check people who nobody knows.
• Know the end, the theme and feeling you want to leave the viewer with.
• The trailer doesn’t have to be as linear as the film – often better if it isn’t.
• Don’t have random moments that come out of nowhere – sounds contradictory to the above point but you can put scenes in any order as long a the through story is being followed, don’t be afraid of mixing it up.
• Writing copy (the voice over or captions) is tough, unless you have a way with words, don’t try and be too smart, serve the film rather than attempting to be clever with you words. The copy should encapsulate your through line story and can be helpful to skip through this. However, if you don’t need copy, don’t use it. If the film is strong enough let it do the talking.
• Stick with simple graphic captions – often the best way if you’re not graphically skilled.
• Voice over is not a must, and bad VO can alienate the viewer (don’t cheapen it with a fake American accent, if you’re a Brit and can read the lines, be a Brit, just be confident. Failing that, stick with captions)
• Don’t let shots and moments out stay their welcome. The perfectly constructed moment you created in your film CAN be trimmed right down in the trailer, don’t worry it doesn’t ruin your film. It will always be perfect in the film.
• Say something once, for example you may have two characters saying pretty much the same point in two different ways, cut one out you don’t need the other. Move on.

My last shout out goes to David Malki, a retired trailer editor now working as a cartoonist, who describes the trailer making ecology, breaking into the business, the daily grind of an editor and practical (and quite sensible, too) career advice for would be editors of trailers and features alike. See his “Breaking into Trailers” post on the website davidmalki.com

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movietrailers101 by Fred Greene is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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Movie Apps: interactivity, investment, engagement and ?

I was recently asked to expand my remarks about apps produced to promote and market movies, after my post mentioning the Stifler App from American Reunion that I first learned about in Professor John Weller‘s graduate seminar on digital marketing at UCLA TFT.

I began by looking for other movie apps and also by trying to understand, in a more rigorous way, what an app was. Short for application, an app is a program accessed via the internet that’s downloaded to a portable device–say a smart phone or an iPad– where it then mediates between the developer/server and the client/user. In this way, an app obviates the need for every update to the program to necessitate a download to the client’s device. Instead, the update to an application (the program) happens invisibly and nearly instantly. I’ll let Wikipedia continue the thought:
“Web applications are popular due to the ubiquity of web browsers, and the convenience of using a web browser as a client, sometimes called a thin client. The ability to update and maintain web applications without distributing and installing software on potentially thousands of client computers is a key reason for their popularity, as is the inherent support for cross-platform compatibility. Common web applications include webmail, online retail sales, online auctions, wikis and many other functions.”

I start from the functional assumption that an app developed in conjunction with a feature film is intended to extend, enhance and exploit the movie and movie marketing experience to build engagement, interest and consumption, whether tickets to the theatrical exhibition, purchase/rental of the DVD or the desire to see the sequel or the next installation in the series. Like any good advertising and promotion, such an app should provide information about the “product;” it should convey something of the nature of the film experience; and lastly, it should engage the curiosity and interest of the audience (or viewer or player) such that a consumption decision is brought closer to consummation.

Let’s take a look at some movie apps and assess this hypothesis.
I searched “movie apps” and “apps for movies,” as well as “apps” in conjunction with the name of some prominent Summer releases to see what emerged in the results. I found examples that will, I think, inspire some conclusions as well as beget a few more questions.

First, I encountered the apps that are about movies generally rather than a specific flic.

Flixster, bills itself as the #1 app for showtimes, trailers and reviews. Fandango provides the same information but also offers ticket purchase. The TCM (Turner Classic Movies) app delivers schedules, photos, trivia, movie history “and more” for classic movie lovers and viewers of its proprietary cable channel. IMDb, “mobilizes” the internet movie database, an essential tool for industry professionals and fans alike. Lovefilm is a streaming movie rental concern in the UK that ranks high in the “movie apps” search results.

I next searched by titles: MEN in Black III has an app: the “mib iii” app is, in the words of the developers: “The official game of Men in Black 3, putting players in charge of the agency.”

Dark Shadows has two apps, both of which seem lackluster, by comparison with the Stifler App. The first is a photo filter, that gives all your pictures the Tim Burton (and his cinematographer) treatment; The second app is a mobile scroll, which appears to be backgrounds and fonts for your texting pleasure.

Prometheus has an app: “The recently revealed Facebook app page shows an interactive “starmap” where delving deeper into it you can find new Prometheus stills and other goodies.”

Battleship’s app is “AUTHENTIC! EXPLOSIVE! AND FREE!” and “Inspired by the BATTLESHIP movie.” It’s a game where you “play as the Human navy or mysterious Alien forces. Sink every enemy ship – the fate of the world is at your fingertips!”

Avengers, too, has an app, one built by a Vancouver start-up, “Loud Crow Interactive…tapped by Marvel Comics to create an interactive comic app to mark the launch” of the film. “This is the first fully interactive comic book,” says Tom Mara, Loud Crow’s director of sales and marketing.

Films like Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Moonrise Kingdom did not have apps, not, presumably because of the expense–which can be modest, or not, depending on the development process– but perhaps because the marketing department did not see the clear and obvious benefit.

Which begs the question of what exactly that benefit it? For summer [would-be?] blockbusters, like MIB or Avengers or Battleship, an app seems to be part of the standard list of promotional features. Games are common and perhaps obvious choices for films that are themselves inspired by games and or comic books and are likely to inspire additional games or comic books.

For a film like American Reunion, an app can engage with and extend the world of the film through the memorable verbal stylings of a defining character like Stifler. (Stylings that were too provocative to be approved by Apple. Happily, Android had no such compunctions.) The Stifler App transcends its film, in the best way, endowing this unlikely anti-hero with cultural currency and longevity. Upload this app to express your inner fratboy!

For Dark Shadows, whose gothic soap-opera conceit has been made-over into a Tim Burton experience, aesthetic qualities of the film –its cinematography and production design– constitute the basis of the app’s appeal.

And of course, for the movie apps first described, essential marketing information– showtimes, reviews, tickets, trailers, posters, etc. etc.,–is the point and the payoff.

What I will hazard to say given this by no means comprehensive survey of movie apps, is that the situation remains fluid and developing. Different movies inspire radically different kinds of apps, with radically different modalities, sophistication and interactive possibilities. There is as yet no “standard” or formula for a movie app, as there IS a standard or formulaic trailer. What does appear to be certain, however, is that the movie app–however it is designed for a given film–is quickly becoming a standard feature of the movie marketing arsenal, and represents a new arena for audio-visual creativity and audience engagement.

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movietrailers101 by Fred Greene is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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Trailers, Movie Posters, Augmented Reality Games, APPS, etc., etc.: Promotional Materials in the Academic Spotlight

OFFICIAL AVATAR TRAILER – Download the INTERACTIVE one at http://www.avatarmovie.com/air/

I got a Call For Papers yesterday from a colleague, contributor to and resource for this blog, Dr. Keith Johnston, a lecturer in film at an University of East Anglia in the UK. He’s been invited to edit a special ‘Promotional Materials’ issue of Frames, the online peer-reviewed journal published by the University of St. Andrews.

This is a watershed moment people: advertising, publicity and promotion of films is emerging as a capital S subject of academic inquiry. Woohoo! Yes, there have been scholarly considerations aplenty–but only here and there, and just a few book length studies. But a special issue of a distinguished journal means that critical mass has been reached. The floodgates are open. I’m just sorry Professor Lisa Kernan isn’t here to see how critical her work was to the development of the field.

Besides congratulating Dr. Johnston on the academic distinction represented by this invitation, I wrote to thank him for the list of potential topics that he sent along to likely contributors to the journal. Effectively, he wrote a description of what I have intended this blog to be publicizing, exploring, examining and celebrating.

Meanwhile, I offer the list. Some readers will be delighted (I hope) to find that what they do for a living is the object of scholarly inquiry. Others, I believe, will say it’s about time. I know Keith will be asking, what next, what new technology, what new media?

POTENTIAL TOPICS [For the upcoming special issue of Frames.]

• How do promotional materials create or enhance the audiences’ relationship with the feature film or television program?
• Do good promotional materials mean that waiting for the film to arrive has become more enjoyable than watching the final product?
• The relationship and reliance on genre within trailers and other marketing materials
• Who produces the promotional material? What industries exist to create and disseminate these ephemera?
• The rise of ‘Interactive’ trailers for films such as Iron Man 2 and Avatar
• Audience response to trailers that reveal ‘too much’
• The rise of fan ‘parody’ or specially created trailers
• The aesthetics of movie posters and the expansion of the poster campaign (where films feature multiple posters focusing on character or different aspects of the film)
• Selling to different audiences: are promotional material gendered? Are different national characteristics displayed through such materials?
• The relationship of promotional materials to known pleasures: narrative expectation, genre, star figures, sequels…
• Trailers within adaptation theory: a further ‘adaptation’ of the material?
• Trailers in other media: television, radio, online, mobile phones
• Online promotional campaigns
• The rise of viral marketing and ARG (Augmented Reality Games) within independent and blockbuster promotional campaigns (The Dark Knight, Paranormal Activity, Prometheus)
• The role of the actor, star or crew in talk show or ‘personal appearance’ style promotional activities

Finally, I’ve used the Avatar Interactive Trailer above as the a/v component of this blog, because of what it represents: an effort to develop the traditional trailer within a new media landscape and for audiences with commensurate expectations. Because the technology of this blog doesn’t allow me to host an interactive trailer, I invite you to download it from the Avatar movie site and experience it for yourselves.

As Dr. Johnston argues in his landmark study, Coming Soon: Film Trailers and the Selling of Hollywood Technology, the medium of presentation, the media of distribution and the technologies of film and trailer making determine what movie trailers (entertainment promotions) have been, what they are and what they will be, as much (or more) than any other formal quality or marketing imperative.

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movietrailers101 by Fred Greene is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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Skyfall Trailer: Bond’s Chicken Little Moment?

The official teaser trailer was released yesterday (May 21st) for the November 2012 premiere of Skyfall, the latest MGM/Columbia installation of the venerable spy series featuring Daniel Craig as the redoubtable English Secret Intelligence Service agent James Bond. In today’s post, I’ll review the formal construction of this 1:16 film before hazarding an interpretation or two.

After the MGM and Columbia logos, we fade up on a rooftop view of London (looking East toward the Palace of Westminster from Pimlico, where the government security ministries are headquartered); Bond is center, foreground; his back is to the camera.

Two voices are heard off screen conducting a word-association interview. “Country,” prompts the distinguished, bespectacled interrogator/psychologist. “England,” responds Bond. “Gun” obtains “shot” in reply, as we see Bond/Craig running through a London park in the dawn’s light. Next, Bond stands in a shadowy interior doorway, “Agent,” is spoken to which he responds “provocateur,” (is he thinking of his own work or of the high-end ladies unmentionables boutique of the same name?). A firing range with a human silhouette target is shown as the word “murder” is spoken to which Bond, after a suitable pause, says “employment.” We are now at a medium two-shot of Bond and his interviewer in a tiled, flourescent-lit chamber, behind whose two-way mirrored windows, M (Judy Dench) watches the proceedings, flanked by Ralph Fiennes (in the role of mysterious Gareth Mallory). Finally, the word “Skyfall” is uttered and then repeated when no reply is immediately forthcoming. A scene, presumably a flashback of Bond on the job, gun in hand interrupts, before we return to a searching, dangerous stare (in close-up). Bond answers “done,” terminates the interview and and walks out.

The opening sequence features a blue/grey/black palette and all shots fade to black, in a steady, heart-beat rhythm, as the camera draw ever closer, crossing from exterior into interior. (By the way, the fades continue until the final quick-cut montage, described below. It is a remarkably restrained presentation for an action/thriller, but of a piece with Bond’s calm, unruffled demeanor.)

In part two, we cut to Shanghai (I’m guessing from the skyline), at night, showing bold, neon lighting, signage, video and advertising against the darkness. The color palette is warm, almost garish, composed or reds, golds and yellow. The shot continue to fade to black and the rhythm remains unchanged, although it is now established by a percussive two-stroke music cue, again heartlike in its “lub-dub” cadence. Bond fires his gun while walking through a ornately paneled room at unseen assailants; M overlooks a row of Union-Jack draped coffins; Bond in China, in tuxedo, at night, then with a gorgeous love interest, Naomi Harris, in a moment of intimacy.

Then Bond is back in the grey/blue streets of London, running through traffic in his well-fitted suit, tie firmly knotted. He falls, fully clothed, into water (as seen from below), then down a neon-lit elevator shaft, as helicopters hover and explosives threaten in successive scenes. A moment of visual repose interrupts the action: we see M and OO7, backs to camera, looking over a splendid, Scottish valley, whose mountainous horizon is shrouded in cloud and fog. A subway train then explodes through a wall and toward the camera, 007 approaches and peers out a window and the villain appears, silhouetted against a raging fire, as a jump cut brings him into extreme closeup. We never see his face; only the outline of spiked, messy hair tells us this isn’t Bond.

At this point, the title appears, white dots consolidating into the words “Skyfall” against a black background. Bond’s dialogue follows– over a machine gun being readied– constituting the de facto synopsis of the film being advertised. “Some men are coming to kills us,” Bond tells an unseen interlocutor with all the emotion of a diner ordering his meal. He then appears in closeup, suited, groomed and urbane: “We’re going to kill them first” he explains. Cue a recognizable variation on the Bond/007 theme and a quick cut montage of de riguer action– explosions, crashes, flying bodies, gunfire– concluding in the iconic graphic of 007 in which the 7 forms the stock of a pistol.

So, given our data, what interpretation can we make about this, the 23rd installation in the longest, best known, most profitable series of films ever produced? Of course, marketers for a well-known, much anticipated film with a predictable plot, mise-en-scene, familiar characters and likely ending enjoy advantages of provenance, familiarity and the desire of moviegoers for a pleasure they’ve had in the past and hope to relive/reactivate again. Suavity and sang-froid define Bond and make him an appealing hero for an anxious, uncertain, post-cold-war era. The teaser keeps faith with that portrayal. On the other hand, expectations are high and fans are knowledgeable, sensitive and unforgiving when filmmakers tamper with a beloved character, series and filmmaking style. Happily, there’s little danger on that score, from this teaser at least. As Craig Grobler of TheEstablishingshot.com puts it, “we can expect one cool and suave Bond, some astoundingly beautiful visuals and…gravitas” as we cheer the return of the beloved secret agent, “ruthless and very dangerous when prodded.”

The editing, with its heartbeat pulse and breathing rhythm implies restrained but building tension and excitement, juiced by a squirt of adrenaline into the final quick-cut montage delivering a sample of the spectacle to be had in theaters. The alternation and association between Day and night, prompt and reply, London and Shanghai (West and East), cool, dull colors and warm saturated colors, the past (as in Bond’s tragic romantic history) and the future (unknown and anxiety provoking) overdetermines the relatively straightforward conflict with its action/reaction dynamic: “Some men are coming to kill us; we are going to kill them first.”

For a film named “Skyfall” there is little to evoke any such Chicken Little panic, which presumably refers to a calamitous event to be prevented by the SIS, although there are numerous scenes of bodies and objects (the subway car) falling, whether toward or away from the camera.

For a teaser, I’d say this piece of promotion strikes the right balance between awareness, announcement and deferment of satisfaction, given the extensive knowledge audiences already have about Bond and the exciting, glamorous, sophisticated world he inhabits. OO7 isn’t effusive; nor should his marketing materials be.

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Battleship Trailers: From Story to Spectacle as the Skepticism Continues


I come not to condemn the beleaguered board-game inspired movie, but to praise its recent repositioning via the trailer above. Defying the skepticism and negative critical reaction to the 209M Hasbro branded summer blockbuster, (which, by the way opened in April in Europe to a respectable 215M at the box office), this is a great looking trailer emphasizing the qualities that are most likely to appeal to audiences and sidelining those that aren’t.

For example, this trailer is all about spectacle, scale, action and effects without any of the presumably second tier romantic conflict and subplot that is the focus of the first half of the first official trailer released 9 months ago. (see below) With Battleship, from the makers of Transformers, you get wicked machines, whether those of the US Navy or those of the alien invaders. You see global assault with weapons of extraordinary mass destruction, civilian casualties and desperate, patriotic counter-attacks. Soldier Rihanna is foregrounded; Romantic love object Brooklyn Decker is sidelined. Liam Neeson gravelly voice offers de-facto V.O. and his familiar visage suggests that acting has not been entirely foregone in pursuit of event.

In this trailer, as presumably in the movie heralded, audiences are presumed to care less about characters, than about the existential conflict and video-game thrill of experiencing a world endangered by hostile invaders (“the battle for earth/begins at sea” helpfully explains the copy) and defended by our brave men and women in uniform.


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