by André van Heerden
My father is by no means a film expert and will happily tell you as much. But he knows what he likes and what he doesn’t. After watching another movie that disappointed him and my mom he complained: “Why can’t they just make the movie that they show you in the trailer?”
It’s a fair question. It’s happened to me and I’m sure that it’s happened to you. You watch a trailer for a film and it looks funny, exciting, smart and full of heart. Yet when you watch the actual film it turns out to be mirthless, dull, predictable and spiritless.
Film trailers are designed to tell an audience what a movie is about and make them want to see it. In recent years they have become a new type of art form and there are even annual awards given to the year’s best trailers. While there are categories like “Best Comedy”, “Best Horror” and “Best in Show”, which honor the best trailers for their films, there’s also a very telling category called the “Golden Fleece.” In this category the award goes to the best trailer for the worst film. It’s a way of honoring someone who has been able to best polish “poop” and make it look shiny.
So the film trailers that entice my parents, me and countless others in are just doing their job. The trailer creators are given a movie and told to make it sell. Sometimes a creepy unpleasant film will be made to look like a dark comedy (see: DARK SHADOWS). Sometimes a lackluster confusing epic will be made to look like a rousing, dazzling adventure (see: JOHN CARTER). Or sometimes a romantic comedy thriller that isn’t funny, romantic or thrilling can still be made to look charming (see THE TOURIST).
What’s interesting in these cases though is that the creators of the trailer actually knew how the movie could have been good. The story makes sense. It stays in the proper genre. The characters are likeable. Why didn’t someone make that movie in the first place?
It’s one of the reasons that I’m an advocate of screenwriters coming up with an imaginary trailer for the new movie script that they’re about to write before they even write it. In picturing how it might look and sound and what story it’s trying to sell, the writer quickly gets an idea of what makes that story work and what doesn’t. It tells the writer who the main characters should be; what their goals should be; which obstacles should stand in their way; and even what genre the film should be.
In a new way of approaching filmmaking competitions, Cinecoup, seems to be adopting this approach. The Canadian company encouraged filmmakers to compete for a production budget of $1 Million with their very first submission being a “concept trailer.” Not a logline. Not a synopsis. Not a script. Competing filmmakers had to create and submit a trailer for a film that hasn’t been shot and in some cases, for a script that hasn’t even been written.
I’ll be the first to admit that any good film MUST begin with a good script. I absolutely agree with the timeworn filmmaking mantra of “The Script is King!” And at first when I heard that a filmmaking competition wasn’t beginning by judging which scripts were good, I was a little wary. However, by working through this competition and its various missions (check out my entry and samples HERE) I’ve come to see how such a process can make a writer focus on what makes the story engage an audience. That seems to be what’s missing from many films. A story that only works for the writer or director might be fulfilling for them, but it misses the end goal. As an indie filmmaker I think it’s time that I paid more attention to the Golden Fleece.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: André van Heerden has worked in practically every aspect of film and video production for over 15 years. His very first documentary, done as a video thesis at Carleton University’s prestigious Journalism school, was sold to the National Film Board of Canada.
Since then he has produced, written, directed, and post-supervised numerous documentaries, dozens of TV programs, and countless numbers of commercials, trailers, infomercials, and special features.
Most notably André directed the feature films, Revelation, Tribulation, Judgment and Deceived; wrote the features Judgment and Left Behind: World at War; co-produced Left Behind: The Movie and Left Behind II: Tribulation Force and produced Left Behind: World at War and Saving God.
He is widely respected and liked by the cast and crews and has become one of the most well-known and accomplished filmmakers within the Christian film market. Most recently André produced the Cloud Ten co-production Saving God (Ving Rhames, Ricardo Chavira, Dean McDermott), and wrote the well-received feature-length documentaries: Shadow Government, Dragons or Dinosaurs?, The 12 Biggest Lies (with Kevin Sorbo), and the upcoming 2012: Prophecy or Panic? and Mark of the Beast.
Medea just got real, people! Tyler Perry is channeling some Denzel Washington acting chops in this James Patterson book-to-Film against Matthew Fox (“Lost”) who is channeling some Edward Norton. I mean, I watched the trailer and Perry doesn’t once turn toward camera closeup and say, “Awwww, heeeeyyuulllll no!”
But don’t take my word for it, check it yourself…
Director: Rob Cohen (“Fast and Furious”, “Dragonheart”)
Writers: Marc Moss, Kerry Williamson (Screenplay)
James Patterson (novel)
ProdCo: Summit Entertainment
About once a month I throw on my old baggy movie shirt and jeans, fire up meh browser and cruise on over to Quicktime’s Movie Trailer site to peek at what’s coming down the pipeline. It’s a schmorgasborg…a shmourgerboard….a smhoogash-ahhh….there’s a-LAWT of micro movies there for the watching. It’s literally an en-TI-yur movie in 2 minutes. In fact, if they’ve left any surprises for the feature length screening, they haven’t done their jobs.
What’s even more ah-MAZ-eeeng than my inexplicable need to phonetically spell out words in this post, is the fact that the themes are so repetitive. They’re just (insert lip-smackie sounds here) ripe for the spoofing.
But not every great trailer can be found on the Apple Quicktime (AQ) site. Sometimes you have to troll around at TrailerAddict.com to catch some that were not Apple-certified? Is that the right term? I dunno how that process works. Is it a pay thing?
But back to the spoofing thing…one of my students pulled this one up to show me (it’s the modern suck up equivalent to leaving an apple on the desk) and I KNEW instantly that I had to share it because if there’s any type of pre-flight checklist that Academy Award Films go through before they take off into production, this trailer showcases them all!
“Catch phrase!” Laugh laugh laugh.
And speaking of Movie Trailer Voiceover guy – which we weren’t – you ever wonder about him? What he looks like? What’s that V.O. session gotta be like? Well, I haven’t actually seen Seinfeld’s film “Comedian” but I rank his trailer for that film up there as one of my all-time favs…
Just thought I’d throw those out there for you this morning. Now get back to work, people! We’ve got movie trailers to make.