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Tuesday, 11 December 2012 14:55

Marketing Films with Movie Trailers

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Any filmmaker will tell you that marketing a film takes hard work, a great design team and one heck of movie trailer. And one of the most enjoyable aspects of watching a film in theaters is the opportunity to see new trailers on the big screen. Getting that first look at a highly anticipated upcoming film can be a real thrill, but there’s more that goes into creating a great trailer than meets the eye. Trailer Editor Chris St. Pierre has ample experience in this arena, having edited trailers for Dark Shadows, the Harry Potter franchise, Troube with the Curve and many more films — and he knows all too well the effort that goes into creating an electrifying trailer experience.

chrisst.pierreSt. Pierre got his start after receiving a film degree from Texas Christian University. “I took an editing class my junior year and decided I loved the creativity of editing,” says St. Pierre. “I started to focus on editing and for every future project going forward.” He soon found a job  as a production assistant at Mojo in Los Angeles, Calif. and quickly moved up the ladder to become an assistant editor within two years and pushed himself to learn as much as he could. “In time they began to throw me cutdowns and tested me with 30-second TV spots,” he recalls. “Then one day I was cutting an internal piece for Sherlock Holmes for Warner Bros. I created a unique opening shot, and the studio liked it and it ended up in the beginning of the Sherlock Holmes trailer. All of the sudden I was part of this trailer and ended up working on over 50% of it.”

Now working as one of the leading trailer editors at Mob Scene in L.A., St. Pierre feels that all film directors should know basic editing. “There are a ton of directors out there that edit their own projects, like Robert Rodriguez,” he notes. “I feel editing is a major part of the filmmaking process because that’s where the story is created. You create the movie in the editing room. The director-editor relationship should be a strong one. You don’t want friction because good synergy is important. You see a lot of these major directors, like Steven Spielberg, who has worked with Michael Kahn for 30 years, and Martin Scorsese, who works with Thelma Schoonmaker. All these directors have the same team they work with, and you can see how important their established relationship is.”

Trailer assignments are given far in advance from the film’s release date, and the studios sometimes only give the editors limited clips for creating a story. “When working on Legends of the Guardians, we received only storyboards which would eventually be cartoon animated characters in different situations,” says St. Pierre. “We are so far ahead of the curve that most of the time we get the first cut of the feature and we have to spend a lot of time breaking it down, getting familiar with it, creating select reels of all the dialogue and all the visuals.” Being organized is a must for hardworking editors so they can look through selected reels to quickly find content instead of searching through the entire movie. “We take about two days to get familiar with the movie and start mapping out an idea and a concept,” adds St. Pierre. “The studio might pitch an idea or give some input, but basically they like to see what we come up with then give us feedback. It’s not uncommon to get into version 28 on something. We are also competing with a lot of other trailer shops, and sometimes we are cutting two to three trailers to submit different ideas. Once the studio decides on which trailer [and shop] they like, the filmmakers get involved and they start giving their input.”

St. Pierre says the toughest aspect of trailer editing is marketing, as it always comes down to successfully selling a product. “It’s creative marketing and, in the end, the best marketing wins,” he says. “You can’t be attached to the cuts you create. It’s often going to change and you realize many people have input. You are trying to target a demographic above all, and sometimes you can’t be as creative as you want to be because it’s all about targeting demographics.” The upside of the industry for St. Pierre is getting a sneak peek at new films. “I get to see the movies so far in advance,” he says. “When we got the latest Harry Potter, the character of Voldemort had a bunch of dots on his face and he didn’t have his nose removed and he was surrounded by green screens. None of the magic was there and you have to imagine what’s coming. On a movie like Harry Potter the hype is so high, and I had watched part one and two of The Deathly Hollows two years before the release. It’s exciting to work on something of that magnitude.”

For up-and-coming editors, St. Pierre’s advises editing as much as possible and working on many personal projects to get to know the software involved, so it’s seen more as a tool than a creative hindrance. “Get to a point where you can be completely creative and the software just helps you get there,” he instructs. “You don’t want to be limited by what you don’t know. When you get out into the industry, put yourself around people who are doing what you want to do. There will be a time [when] someone will [want] to teach you. [And] if you are in a situation where you can learn from a master, take advantage of that and learn as much as you can.”

Looking to the future, St. Pierre has high career aspirations. “I grew up a huge Star Wars fan, so it would be an amazing opportunity to work on one of the future films of the franchise,” he enthuses. “When we release a trailer with hype like Harry Potter, there would be a podcast of people around the world going through the trailer frame by frame and breaking it down and making notes. It’s very fascinating to read about something you have done and see what people have to say about it, especially because they have no idea who you are.”
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