Hi everyone. Today we talk about Trailers!
First, that word isn’t thriller like I hear a lot of people say.
Oya slap yourself if you’ve been calling it thriller. “Thriller” is a film genre and the title of a Michael Jackson album. Shior!
I had always wanted to work in advertising. I loved the challenge of having to tell a story in 30secs so I read a lot of books on advertising back in the days. Working in advertising in Nigeria was quite stressful and I thought they didn’t recognize great talent so I left. My interest in trailers actually started about ten years ago with the movie “Elektra”. How many of you remember that movie. They had about three trailers…Great action sequences and then we saw the movie and it was bleh. It made an impression on me. The stuff in the trailer looked like it was an entirely different movie. I loved that I fell for it as well as a lot of people.
In the early to mid 2000s, people stopped thinking of trailers as just “preview” materials and started taking them seriously. My second interest was in game cinematics (trailers used in advertising video games) my favorite then was Dragon Age. I knew if I made a movie, I was going to think about the trailer as much as I thought about the movie. This is serious business my people.
Now Lets talk about what your trailer is and what its not. I will make references to my films: Falling, Out of Luck, Meet the In-Laws, The Arbitration and most recently, Room315.
YOUR TRAILER IS NOT YOUR MOVIE!
One of the big mistakes people make is try to make their trailer a visual summary of their film. This is usually a wrong and boring approach. It also runs the risk of revealing the plot of your movie. People can easily figure it out and loose interest in seeing the movie.
Your trailer should be a different movie all on its own and a much better one at that. Studios abroad write scripts for trailers. Anyone who has worked closely with me on set is used to hearing me say; “This one is a trailer shot/scene”. What does this mean? Sometimes I deliberately shoot stuff that won’t make it into the movie just for the trailer. Notice the bottle smashing on head scene in the Out of Luck trailer…? It wasn’t in the movie.
YOUR TRAILER IS YOUR MOVIE! :–p
I know…I know… it’s this Abuja Jollof Rice that’s worrying me. What I’m trying to emphasize here is that your trailer is the best representation of your movie before it finally comes out. As far as people are concerned, that is your movie!
What this means is that some of your finest shots, scenes and sequences should be in it. Don’t make a trailer and keep all the good stuff expecting to surprise people in the theatre. They won’t come. Did anyone notice that people started paying more attention to 93 Days after the second trailer with so much production values? A lot of people never got to see Kajola but they all feel they know the movie well.
You will never get a second chance to make a good first impression.
YOUR TRAILER IS BIGGER THAN YOUR MOVIE!
Do you know why toothpaste ads show a video of someone squeezing toothpaste on a brush with many bristles from end to end. No its not because you need all that to have a clean teeth. its because they want your kids to finish the product on time so you can buy another. Nigerian film critics who want to yab me always have a way of saying I tricked them with my trailers…lol. That was exactly what I had in mind. I always have fun doing that. I make the “film” in my trailer bigger than the film everyone will eventually see. Now, what this means is that, if it turns out to be a good film, people will feel rewarded and you will make good earnings – but sometimes, it can backfire.
With “Make a Move” trailer, people believed they were going to see Step Up Nigeria, we didn’t quite nail the dances cos good actors can’t dance so it ended up been mostly a great drama. It kinda backfired with critics calling me all sort of names. With The Arbitration however, I used rape and sexual discourse to drive the trailer. Rape is very strong and even though it was only mentioned a few times in the film, The trailer made it look like we were going to get more. Fortunately for us, The Arbitration was everything and more – and people felt rewarded.
So how do I go about getting a trailer?
THINK ABOUT YOUR TRAILER BEFORE YOU EVEN SHOOT.
I told you earlier that I plan special shots that I want for my trailers. Pixar and Disney do this a lot too. They will animate the characters out of the film’s main plot just to gather interest. Let your actors know that this shot is specially for the trailer. Design them in your head and communicate with your DOP. Do you want a special camera move to hit a powerful line? Do you want the character to move to a music you know you will use in the trailer. Plan it and shoot and let your editor note it is for the trailer.
That lovely opening shot in The Arbitration was actually designed for the teaser. It took almost 3 hours to set up and it ended up in the movie. . The final shot of Bimbo Manuel in “Room315” trailer was designed specifically for the trailer.
WATCH TRAILERS OF FILMS SIMILAR TO YOUR FILM.
Creativity they say, is knowing how to hide your sources. You will always have something to borrow. For each of my films, I will study at least 5 good trailers that I love (mostly from Hollywood, nobody understands marketing like those people.) I would watch them over and over again and begin to form ideas in my head. For The Arbitration, I watched “Gone Girl”, “The Judge”, and “Social Network”. For Meet the In-Laws trailer, I watched “Meet the Fockers” and “The Big wedding”. I borrowed ideas from them.
LET THE MUSIC FIND YOU.
Music is the biggest part of my trailer work. This will surprise you but I usually will spend up to two weeks thinking about the trailer and looking for the right music. Once I nail them, I can cut the whole trailer in two hours. For The Arbitration, I knew the song and the trailer even before we started filming. I even told the producer. One of my favourite use of music in a Hollywood trailer was the first “Man of Steel” teaser. Damn that gave me goose pimples!
Think about a song that can drive the entire trailer or the key parts of it. Go to production music sites like audiojungle.net or megatrax.com and buy a small license. You will be fine. If you don’t have money, you can go to freeplaymusic.com – they have free YouTube license that will do the job. It can be a bit daunting to find music on the site sha!
Also, a popular song, if you can lay your hands on it can help a lot. The Arbitration teaser with the “I Put a Spell On You” cover track was all Cameron bailey saw in Lagos when he called me aside and asked to see the whole film. That was how we made it to TIFF. The teaser took me to one of the world’s biggest film festivals.
USE MUSIC BEATS AS EDIT CUE POINTS.
This is the biggest trick music video directors’ use and it works fine in cutting trailers. Find the hits, cymbal clashes, drums, even silence in your music and use them as key points to reveal something or end something in the trailer.
My technique will be to lay the music on the timeline and using the numerical (*) key in Premiere Pro, I will set markers while listening to the music and feeling the hits. I will then cut my clips to fit. Music hit points are also a good place to reveal names and titles.
YOU MUST HAVE BEAUTY SHOTS (THIS IS COMPULSORY).
Please and please, only use the beautiful shots for your trailer. I have used shots that didn’t make it to the edit maybe because it was a bad take, had continuity errors, etc. But then, the actress looked hot or the sky was really blue. No one will remember that when watching your film. You’ve gotten them there already. Stop trying to be accurate with the detail of your film.
Find the really sexy shots and put them there even if they are disconnected with the flow of the trailer, everyone likes to see beauty shots of beautiful people and places. Use that aerial shot – the actress coming out of the pool, the actor taking off his sweaty t-shirt, etc. The other contrast to this is that you can also use gritty and excessively ugly shots if you know it will trigger a reaction. But be smart with it. Don’t show what will make people cringe. Even horror movie trailers don’t do it. Less is more.
FOLLOW THE THREE ACT RULE.
I always treat the trailer as if it’s a totally different film.
Let’s look at The Arbitration. First, in 15seconds I reveal basic ideas of the film, after then I reveal characters and show some motivation. This is also the best time to show the key characters in the film. Introduce them. This is why you should take special trailer shots while filming. A character backing us only to turn around and we see it’s a celeb – is always interesting to see. After 30 seconds, I started showing some action and strong conflict. This goes on for about a minute till it climaxes. Then I show what looks like a resolution but I always sidetrack everyone. You must never resolve the trailer. Rather make people think they know what’s happening, yet confuse them at the same time. In The Arbitration, it first looks like OC Ukeje’s character is terrible and then Sola Fosudo makes us question that entirely with his question at the end. Following the standard 3 Act Story rule, I also jiggle the dialogue too. That way, you can imply a totally different idea or meaning to what people will eventually watch without making them stray too far.
USE CELEBS EVEN IF THEY HAD TWO SECONDS IN THE FILM.
I know you want to show your newly discovered lead act, but if you have celebs in the film, put them in the trailer almost as if they are leads. After Adesua won the AMVCA, I saw some movies where she had small roles, cut their trailer as if she was the star of the film. That’s a smart move. Stop that rubbish “I don’t need popular faces to sell my film”. Another fine way to use celebs is the way we used Chigurl in the Out of Luck trailer – at the end, when everyone thought the trailer had finished. That genuine surprise is very pleasing to audiences and it gives the illusion of “there’s probably more deliciousness in this film”
Remember guys, we have to make money and how we position our films matter. A good trailer can save a bad film. A good trailer will make a good film a hit. A bad trailer can ruin everything you want people to see. Start thinking about your trailers early enough. When people see a good trailer, they will share it. You won’t have to beg them. It will save you tons of marketing money. I want to start seeing good trailers in Nollywood. If you are working on one, share with me before you make public and I can advice and make recommendations.