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Saturday, March 08, 2008

The Future of the Movie Trailer

An impromptu dinner at SXSW last night brought together an interesting group, including Arin Crumley ('Four Eyed Monsters'), Lance Weiler ('Head Trauma'), Brian Chirls, and producer and Filmmaker Magazine editor Scott Macaulay.

One topic we talked about over barbecue at the Iron Works was movie trailers: is it time to retire the idea of the trailer? Or just radically revamp it? (The very word 'trailer' is archaic; coming attractions used to play after the feature..."trailing" it.)

Here are some questions to think about:

- In an age when it costs nothing to distribute clips and promotional material from your film, why have just one trailer?

- Why are trailers only made once the movie is done and ready for release? What about sharing material (even, heaven forbid, non-polished material) while the film is in production, or post?

- The trailer genre is unabashedly sales-y. "Let's show you some great moments to try to convince you to go see this movie." What about more authentic approaches to introducing the audience to your story, your characters, your issue?

- Why not explain, as the filmmaker, what attracted you to the material, or why you wanted to tell this story, or playing a character of your own devising? (Alfred Hitchcock used to introduce his movies in the trailers. Check out Hitch promoting 'Psycho.') If you're a documentary filmmaker, maybe you could provide an introduction to the issue your film is about... with some stats, background, and images.

- Could a trailer (or series of trailers) offer 'entry points' into a movie, as Wes Anderson did with his 'Hotel Chevalier' short? Rather than excerpting the movie in a trailer, why not tell a story about one or more of the characters that pulls the viewer into the full-length film?

Scott Macaulay pointed out that many directors aren't good at cutting their own trailers. And he said that some filmmakers might worry about posting material early in the process: that can make it clear just how long it's taking to get your movie finished.

Brian Chirls and I talked a bit about using clips on sites like YouTube not just to generate buzz, but to get potential audience members to give you their e-mail address, or subscribe to an RSS feed of updates. (That's helpful later, when you want to try to get them to show up to a theater, or buy a DVD or download.) Chirls said the best solution is to use sites like YouTube to bring people over to your site (via a link in the "About this Video" box), and explain to them really simply how to sign up for your RSS feed, add your Facebook group to their profile, or enter their e-mail address to get occasional updates on the film.

In general, we agreed that most filmmakers are just so focused on making the feature, and then making the next feature, that they don't spend enough time exploring innovative ways to market and promote their work.

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