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Kicking off summer a year early

For tentpole trailers, it's never too early to plan

It will be a year before audiences see “Men in Black 3,” “The Amazing Spider-Man” and other summer tentpoles scheduled for 2012, but production dailies are already being screened at trailer shops across Los Angeles and New York.

For independent creative shops it’s never too early to begin the process, conceiving and executing trailers with little more than studio-provided dailies and a film’s script. Normally, next summer’s movies call for the first teaser trailers to be shown with Christmas films.

The cycle for creating a trailer takes two or even three months from the start of discussion to locking a final version — usually full length at two minutes 30 seconds — which is somewhat miraculous considering all the vetting required, from studio brass to talent to the all-important test audiences that can often determine a trailer’s fate.

Sometimes it’s the cart that draws the horse, as with the shorter teasers that introduce films to audiences and stake out prime holiday premiere dates, often requiring filmmakers to move up schedules for special effects and shooting scenes.

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“They have to be completely on board because they are creating elements for many teasers,” says David Stern, owner of trailer shop Create Advertising, whose credits include “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” and the upcoming ‘The Amazing Spider-Man.” “Because the teaser comes early in the filmmaking process, you are limited on the footage you can get, which often forces you to be more creative.”

“If it’s a new franchise, the first teaser can come out a year in advance” to create basic awareness, says Martin Kistler, who is co-owner and co-creative director at Ignition Creative, whose credits include Universal’s “Cowboys & Aliens” and Paramount’s “Transformers” franchise. “If so, you likely have a second teaser a little later when there is more footage available.”

As trailer release dates are planned, creative shops and studio marketing executives meet months earlier to hash out ideas. Typically, four trailer shops are involved for each major studio tentpole. They serve as creative catalyst for ideas and also are in an informal competition.

“We trade notes with the studios and then develop more specific content such as copy in a voiceover narration or graphic cards,” says John Long, co-owner of creative outfit Buddha Jones, which worked on Paramount/DreamWorks Animation’s “Puss in Boots,” “Kung Fu Panda 2” and “Megamind.” “We try to make the story arc that is in our first version as polished as we can make it. But we also know there are other story lines that could be followed and other explorations that that studio might want us to pursue” in later revisions.

The first version, commonly known as “Trailer #1,” will roll out around March. At that point, more elements are available from the films themselves, though invariably there are gaps — such as no finished soundtrack.

Trailer #1 is a hard sell designed to motivate specific target demos whom the studios deem as a film’s core audience. After more consultations, trailers can be tweaked or completely reworked. These are more carefully audience-tested than the teasers (right now, the Trailer #1 for this year’s Christmas films are getting tested, each with several hundred moviegoers).

A half year before the theatrical premiere of summer 2012 tentpoles, marketing activity gets crowded because the separate but related process of creating TV commercials gets under way in earnest. A major studio film rolls up an estimated $1 million-$3 million in creative and audience research expenses among trailers, TV commercials, one-sheet posters and other foundation marketing materials. Typically, creative shops offer more service than just making the trailers.

With a final trailer making the rounds for a summer tentpole in February or March, the appearance of a second trailer closer to the release date is not uncommon. “This brings out additional cool shots that weren’t ready for previous trailers,” says Goktug Sarioz, co-creative director and co-owner of Ignition Creative.

ART & BIZ TRAILERS/THE GOLDEN TRAILER AWARDS
Hitting the mark | Trailer shops cue music | Sound gardens | Where trailers are the star attraction | Kicking off summer a year early | Golden Trailer kudos: short and sweet | Golden Trailer nominations | Overseas trailers more permissive | The hit list

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