Just Kill Me
Movie trailers marry artistry and marketing to lure audiences
By David Kaplan -- Broadcasting & Cable, 4/11/2004 8:00:00 PM
With Miramax's Kill Bill Vol. 2 ready to burst kicking and maiming into theaters April 16, readying the trailer for TV-commercial consumption was a challenge.
In overseeing the movie's trailer, Miramax, which is distributing the sequel to the film with the highest body count in cinema history, was under immense pressure. For openers, the trailer had to meet the aesthetic requirements of director Quentin Tarantino. More telling, Kill Bill Vol. 2 was entering a vastly different media climate than the one that greeted its predecessor six months ago.
Did that affect the trailer? "The pressure is there," admits a Miramax rep, "but given the strict guidelines of the Motion Picture Association of America in terms of what's acceptable for advertising, we're not worried about what we can show on TV."
To ensure that it was ready for prime time, Miramax hired several different production houses, sources say. After all, the stakes were high. First, the level of artistry was pronounced. Second, it had to hit the right audience chord. "Trailers now include special effects, often created for them. It's become an art akin to and a part of the actual movie making and editing," notes Albert Litewka, chairman and CEO of Creative Domain, a Hollywood film-marketing company.
And it carried a movie-size price tag.
On average, a motion picture currently costs $35 million to make; the cost of the trailer, which is designed to help cover that expense, ranges from $250,000 to $750,000, industry sources say. Almost always, a trailer includes "motion graphics," 3D effects digitally animated and integrated into the live action to kick up the entertainment value. Movie ads are expected to exceed the quality of the spots that surround them.
Kevin Aratari and Michael McIntyre, managing director and creative director, respectively, of Venice Beach, Calif.-based production house Mocean, worked a year on the 30-second spots for action film Hellboy. The film, produced by Sony Pictures subsidiary Columbia Revolution, opened April 2 and scored a chart-topping $23.5 million weekend take. So far, the duo has made 18 spots; two are running primarily during late-night broadcasting and prime time on cable channels such as MTV and E! Entertainment.
One of the primary challenges Hellboy faced was its anonymity. "You don't have that problem if you're dealing with Spider-Man," McIntyre says. "We needed to define the character. Then, define the film."
The two main trailers feature fast edits and many explosions. The character, based on an obscure occult comic-book series about a demon conjured by the Nazis in the last days of World War II, is raised by the Allies as a force for good against evil. The trailer focuses mainly on Hellboy battling giant monsters while quipping, "Let's get to the good part: How do I kill it?"
Not surprisingly, the spots worked well with the target audience, young males 18-24, McIntyre says. But women weren't buying it. So the two went back to the drawing board "to focus more scenes on one of the female characters," Aratari says. These new spots will likely air during prime time on The WB, UPN, and Fox, which skew younger than the other three networks, and on syndicated shows between 9 and midnight.
Hellboy isn't the only challenge for producers. Dealing with a highly anticipated sequel, like Lord of the Rings or Shrek 2, has its own concerns, says Mike Greenfeld, co-CEO of The Ant Farm, a Hollywood production house that worked on both.
"You don't want the scenes to strike the audience as too familiar," Greenfeld says. "We have to try to top the original. Shrek won an Oscar, so it's not easy. In the first film, he rescues the girl and lives happily ever after. Knowing the audience has that in mind, you have to wonder, where do we go from there? Millions are riding on this," he sighs. "You don't want to screw it up."
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