In reality competition The Chair, two first-time directors--Shane Dawson and Anna Martemucci--are given a budget and the same script to complete their first feature film. Naturally, since filmmaking is something of a collaborative process, they needed a fair bit of help. When it came to trailers, that help came from Culver City-based Wild Card Creative Advertising. The list of Wild Card trailers doubles as a jaunt through some of the biggest blockbusters from the past several years--from 2014 alone, Wild Card has put its stamp on the upcoming Exodus: Gods and Kings and Unbroken, plus Maleficent, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and more.
There's a fair bit of variation in what Wild Card has worked on--Día de Muertos-themed kids movie The Book of Life and space epic Interstellar, for example, would make for an odd double feature. And the two trailers for The Chair are vastly different, for all that the movies that they came from are based on the same script. Dawson's Not Cool resembles nothing so much as American Pie, while Martemucci's Hollidaysburg has a more indie dramedy feel.
"For us to do the trailers [for The Chair] was exciting, because it was an opportunity to take a couple young editors and pair them up with essentially what were two first-time filmmakers, and really see how that parallel path worked for both of them," explains Wild Card CEO Nick Temple. "After watching the films, we sat down and said 'OK, which young editors here would jibe the best with the directors?'... It was cool to see how the personalities worked between the editor and the director, and then tackling the material from that standpoint."
For Wild Card, cutting trailers comes down to one question: "How can you make something stand out?" Temple himself ascribes to a "less is more" approach, acknowledging the criticism that's been popping up more and more as of late that trailers give away too much. It's part of the "evolution of the trailer," he explains: "They get analyzed and critiqued and they're watched millions and millions of times," fans able to pore over every frame in a way that they couldn't pre-Internet. "You have to be conscious about what's enough to engage the viewers so they understand, and at the same time leaving enough that they feel you didn't spoil it."
Temple shared the story of one summer film that the studio kept putting out clips for. "We were in a meeting, and one of the producers on the film said 'I understand at this point, from what we've learned, that kids are stringing those clips together.' And it gets to the point where they can see 30-40 minutes of the film! And it's really had almost an adverse effect. As they move forward, I'd be surprised if some of that didn't gear back a little bit. There are different ways to deliver content that can be really engaging, and stuff that's a little more out of the box. Not clips from films."
The key to creating that engaging content, says Temple, is emphasis is on establishing a tone and evoking emotion instead of flat-out showing what a movie's about."What I never responded to favorably [in trailers] is stuff that feels expected. And that's not about the material, about the film. It's about the conventions by which trailers are created. It's something that feels very linear, very straightforward, holding my hand and taking me through: 'This guy walks through the door! Now he goes upstairs!' Funnily enough, when you watch that stuff, that might not even be what the movie is. That might only be one small component of the film. But when it's presented in a way that's constructed like you've seen everything because it's created in such a linear fashion... then it can create that impression."
One all-important tactic for avoiding those boring, by the books trailers is music, which was used to excellent effect particularly in the first Unbroken trailer. "Music can be such a huge storytelling device, even if there's no dialogue," Temple says. "If a piece of music really sticks out, or it really connects, that's what [the audience will] remember."
But crafting something that will catch the audiences' attention--in the first 30 seconds is essential, Temple believes, because "if you don't get people's attention right out of the gate, you're almost a goner"--has gotten more difficult in this digital age, when moviegoers are bombarded constantly by clips, trailers, even trailers of trailers. And most of them are seen for the first time online, as opposed to on the big screen. "I remember the first time that I really thought about it," Temple recalls. "I was working on Avatar. It was a movie that had to be seen in the theater, it had to be experienced. When we put the teaser out, [people were watching] on an iPhone or a small screen, and there was just no way you could generate the impact that you would have created in a theater... I don't know if there's any way you can really get away from people seeing it first online. But at the same time, there are ways to [still create effective trailers]. Less is more, again. When you watch something online for the first time, if you're creating a tone and a first impression, a lot of times that's a lot more impactful than going all in and showing everything."
For Exodus: Gods and Kings, that tone was all about not letting one single aspect of the film overwhelm the others: "You really want to take the material and say, 'Look, we can't just cater to the religious crowd. We can't just cater to the all-action crowd.' It's really about finding a nice balance. We're going to build the trailer with some [aspects] that people know through the Moses story, but at the same time it can feel huge and exciting and not like something they've seen before."
In having that balance, one avoids falling into what Temple sees as trailerdom's biggest trap. "You're causing more damage not doing the unexpected... The more shocking and more unconventional [a trailer] is, as long as you're still on-point with your marketing message, the better. Because I think there's nothing more damning than being mediocre. And it's very hard to reverse that impression once you've created it."