CREATING A SHORT FILM TRAILER
Since we just released the trailer for my new World War II short UNE LIBÉRATION, I thought I’d write a bit about creating short film trailers. It’s a slightly different art form than feature trailers.
I don’t know about you but I hate trailers that give away not only the ending but also key plot points. Twenty-three years have passed and I’m still pissed at the TERMINATOR 2 trailer (SPOILERS) that gave away the fact that Arnold is playing the film’s good Terminator. When you watch the finished film, that revelation is clearly meant to be a surprise! I wish I could have seen the film that way.
Now, T2 runs 137 minutes and they couldn’t craft a trailer that didn’t give away a major plot twist, what did that mean for me? When creating a trailer for my short films, which run an average of 19 minutes, I faced a huge problem of what to show, what not to show, and how to package it in an interesting fashion that would entice an audience to see the film without giving away key elements of the story.
For my previous short FAR, I first tried cutting a trailer that played like a feature film trailer. When I played it back, I realized I had given away much of the film’s story and surprises. My mistake was treating the trailer of a short film like the trailer for a feature film.
In my opinion, shorts, because of the inherent minimal running time, simply do not have enough imagery and plot to support the structure and length of a feature trailer. To try and craft a short trailer in the model of a feature does a disservice to film and the audience. It’s going to give away too much or at least provide the audience with the pieces they need to put the film’s story together.
Also, a short is targeting a different audience than a feature. Feature trailers are designed to be played in multiplexes for months and months to an average movie-going audience — meaning an audience with no filmmakers, film buffs, or film students. “Civilians,” for a lack of better word.
A short trailer is going to be targeted directly at filmmakers, film buffs, and film students, either at a film festival or through online distribution. This audience will be very savvy to the content of a trailer. They will be far more likely to watch a slick and polished 30-second trailer than a meandering 2-minute trailer that gives away the whole story. The filmmaker’s job is to make an impact and leave them wanting more.
FAR had a surprise plot twist to protect, so my solution was to focus the trailer on three elements:
1. It’s a date film.
2. It’s a fun film.
3. There’s a mystery surrounding the girl.
The driving music for the FAR trailer came from the opening date montage of FATHER vs. SON (FVS), a feature film I had edited and produced. As composer Darren Fung did the music for both FVS and FAR, he was kind enough to grant me permission to use his composition for the trailer.
For UNE LIBÉRATION, there were two key cinematic influences that I had my department heads watch in pre-production: Carol Reed’s 1949 film THE THIRD MAN and Ridley Scott’s ALIEN from 1979. Neither film is set in World War II, but both feature characters in dark passageways and tunnels.
Thankfully, ALIEN also provided the perfect example of how to craft the UNE LIBÉRATION trailer. The trailer for ALIEN isn’t cut like modern feature trailers. Aside from a monster on a spaceship you really have no idea what the film is about or who the characters are. It doesn’t matter, the images, sound effects, and music are so compelling that you are pulled into the film.
With this in mind, I actually ripped the Alien trailer off of You Tube, imported it into AVID, cut down the trailer’s music (starting from around the 56 second mark in the above You Tube video) to thirty seconds and then used that audio as a temp track to edit the UNE LIBÉRATION trailer. I just swapped out the imagery and adapted ALIEN’s simple visual log line to my own purposes. ALIEN — woman fighting monster in futuristic spaceship. UNE LIBÉRATION — woman fighting Nazis in World War II Paris.
I purposely cut the trailer before UNE LIBÉRATION was scored and mixed. This allowed my returning composer, Darren Fung, to write and record an original piece of music for the trailer while he was doing the film’s music. Re-recording mixer DJ Lynch mixed the trailer at the end of the film’s sound mixing session, so both trailer and film were finished simultaneously. This was a time and money saver as I didn’t have to go back to either Darren or DJ and ask them to work on the trailer separately.
Finally, the true test of the trailer for me will be seeing an audience’s reaction to it versus the final film, which I can’t wait to do when UNE LIBÉRATION has its official world premiere.