A movie can have a big star, a visionary director, cutting-edge special effects and an extremely fresh concept, but in the end what it really takes to get butts in the seats is a trailer. breathtaking. And, just like those who make movies, those who make movie trailers are constantly looking to raise the bar. “There’s always pressure to do something different and new,” says Benj Thall, a seasoned trailer director and editor who runs his own boutique agency, Evolver Creative, and works as a hired specialist for film studios. and streamers. “There are only a limited number of 80s pop songs that we can trailer,” he adds with a laugh.
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Thall, whose work ranges from studio masts like Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, tron the legacy And watchmen to documentaries and indie fare like Val, whale rider And The young Victoria, sees his task as taking the raw ingredients of a film and creating a gripping mini-narrative that captures the film’s dynamic essence. “Really good trailers present something in a brief moment that you may have never seen before, or just knock your socks off,” he notes. “I always start my trailer work by looking for a real impactful moment in the film that sums up the emotional tone or feel of the film,” he explains. “All good trailers have a bit of that indescribable feeling that you get watching that specific movie, whether it’s a quintessential line, a moment, a look between the characters. I I tend to try to build something around that.
Ric Thomas, editor of Buddha Jones, one of Hollywood’s most prominent trailer houses, whose work includes a slew of Marvel campaigns, such as promos for Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, says there is a constant search for innovation. “We always try to avoid people feeling like they recognize tropes and clichés; so it’s constantly evolving,” says Thomas, who sifts through the content with his colleagues to identify standout moments, then makes assemblages using elements from the finished films, dailies and screenplays as a guide. “We’re trying to find the clearest, most concise way to tell the story…You don’t want to overload people with information.”
watch the clock
For decades, the running time of trailers was largely limited to two minutes and 30 seconds, and even in the age of digital media, Thall says that trailers that adhere to this familiar standard tend to be the more successful. “Two minutes to three minutes is the sweet spot.” Thal said. “If you get a three-minute trailer, you’ll feel like ‘that’s long.’ So there’s this built-in limit. In that brief window of time, trailer editors try to pack every possible selling point in the most organic and economical way possible.
“When you have these big action movies like Guardians of the Galaxyadds Thall, “every two-second shot has to be loaded for the viewer; loaded with information, loaded with special effects, loaded with emotional content. Every frame is important. Also the blows you don’t include are important; what you are not say, what you let the viewer infer. Much of the power of editing is what you don’t put into it, leaving a question for the viewer.
How much is too much is a frequent source of friction – trailer editors go out of their way to tease but not necessarily spoil the stories these films tell. “There’s a push to put the movie in its best light – maybe that’s the only time anyone sees anything about this movie,” Thall says. “But it’s a delicate balance. When we start a play, we discuss what not to give. Thomas agrees, “It’s a fine line in terms of spoilers,” though he admits Hollywood’s fixation on franchise and IP features creates the opportunity to create some exciting reveals for fans who will return for a glimpse of an old favourite.
Test, test and test again
Thomas says studio input can vary widely, as multiple trailers — even multiple teams within a trailer — come up with different takes. “A brief will vary from very specific ideas and things we need to hit on ‘We trust you, and we’d love to hear your thoughts on what you think of a trailer for this. [film] would look like,” he says. “We will send out the first drafts and then we will go over the notes with the studios and other stakeholders. The trailers are tested to the point of asking people what resonates with them, and the filmmakers will be involved in that process and obviously they will also get the final approval.
Although directors and producers have a say in the process, only a handful of filmmakers have an active, hands-on role in creating trailers (among them are David Fincher and Christopher Nolan). “The filmmakers are so close to the material that the level of disambiguation we have to do is difficult for them,” says Thomas.
Sometimes trailers stand out as works of art in their own right: Modern classics include Fincher’s The social network with its powerful and innovative use of a slowed-down version of Radiohead’s “Creep” that would last as a trope for years to come, and Small childrenwith its juxtaposition of film footage with the sound of an oncoming train in the background.
Stay one step ahead
Lately, Thomas has taken advantage of trailers that leverage social media-friendly modes like TikTok and Instagram “to create less polished content than people don’t engage with, because people on some digital platforms don’t like to feel like they’re being advertised,” he explains. “They want content that’s a little more familiar and less polished.”
Such a counterintuitive approach only proves that trailers are “this really unique medium,” says Thall, reflecting on the limitless possibilities for creativity and artistry in a seemingly straitjacketed format. “You create the whole thing from a visual point of view and a sound point of view, and we usually can’t change the visuals of a movie, but we can put that stylistic signature and sound and feel the way whose film is presented.” As for Thomas, “People ask me if I would like to edit features myself, and I say, ‘Well, I can’t, because I would do it in two and a half minutes.’
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