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As Aspect Reaches 40, It Retools for the New Media Age

The creative shop’s history parallels developments in the entertainment biz across four decades

Aspect Trailer House at 40
Courtesy of Aspect

Creative agency Aspect’s Throwback Thursday Facebook postings of its past work offer a fascinating historical document. They not only showcase highlights from the company’s 40 years in the movie-trailer business such as “Men in Black,” “Misery” and “Wayne’s World,” they’re also a reminder of how much the medium has changed since the days when the sonorous and instantly recognizable voice of narrator Don LaFontaine graced thousands of trailers, promos and ads.

Then and now, Aspect reigns as one of the top trailer houses in Hollywood. Back in the old days, it had a reputation as the go-to place for comedies. But, today, it prides itself on its ability to work on projects of any genre, from “Ready Player One,” “Hell Fest” and HBO’s “Westworld” to “Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again,” as well as every platform, from the big screen to smartphones.

Aspect’s reel can be seen here:  https://wdrv.it/07dba9029

“When we hire editors, we say, ‘You could work on a 15-second TV spot for a Netflix comedy series or a 2-minute-30-second piece for “Mary Poppins” and “Rampage,”’” says Lisa Feldman, a 23-year Aspect veteran who today serves as co-president and creative director alongside Nati Braunstein. “We’re doing everything from full-length trailers that are scaled for social to five-second Snapchats.”

There were only a handful of independent movie-trailer production houses back in 1978 when aspiring filmmakers Bob Israel and Ron Moler founded the company as Aspect Ratio and set up shop in offices at the Crossroads of the World complex in Hollywood.

The duo hit their stride in 1984 with “Bachelor Party,” a raunchy big-screen comedy they produced that was inspired by the real-life pre-wedding bash Moler threw for Israel. Co-written and directed by Bob’s brother Neal, the film was a big hit that (along with “Splash”) turned Tom Hanks into a movie star — and its innovative trailer put Aspect Ratio on the map as a creative force in the industry.

Over the next two decades, Aspect Ratio built itself into one of the largest entertainment advertising agencies in Hollywood with campaigns for era-defining hits including “Forrest Gump” and “Titanic,” while Israel and Moler continued to work on the occasional movie, most notably “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” and its sequel, co-produced by Israel.

In 2002, Aspect Ratio was sold to a Chicago investment group. Moler joined competing trailer house Ignition, while Israel stayed on as chairman emeritus for two years, before moving on to launch another agency, Workshop Creative.

In the early 2010s, Aspect Ratio found itself in the midst of a mid-life crisis as it dealt with a revolving door of execs and editors leaving to start their own shops, where they weren’t saddled with the expense of an IATSE union contract for their employees.

“The talk around town was that it was on its last legs,” says Braunstein, who joined Aspect from trailer house Buddha Jones in August 2013. “The talent here was very strong, but the opportunities were just not there anymore. So mission No. 1 was to right the ship and rebrand.”

The company shortened its name to Aspect (“Everybody was calling it that already,” says Braunstein), created a new logo and relocated its offices from the corner of Cahuenga and Fountain in Hollywood to a 22,000-sq.-ft. space in the NoHo Arts District.

More importantly, it recruited fresh talent with key client relationships.

Soon, Aspect had regained its form with such efforts as its trailer for Warner Bros.’ dark superhero movie “Suicide Squad” (2016), which was cut to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” “That was a turning point for us, where we said, ‘We’re still on the cutting edge, we’re still doing things that are different and taking chances and people are still taking those chances with us,’” says Feldman.

If there was any doubt Aspect was on the right path, it was vanquished when the company was honored as Agency of the Year at the 45th annual Clio Key Art Awards in 2016.
“We were still feeling like underdogs, so that was huge,” says Braunstein.

Over the years, Aspect has jettisoned some operations — it no longer has a print department — and added others, including a Games & Immersive Media Division, headed by David Wilson and Ryan Vickers, who joined from Ant Farm in February 2016. They’ve made their mark at Aspect with innovative work for Activision’s “Call of Duty” franchise, including the mini-documentary “Brotherhood of Heroes,” which won Promax and Golden Trailer awards, and live events including Sony’s E3 showcase at the Shrine Auditorium in 2017, featuring simulated tracer fire and onstage explosions timed to on-screen grenades and bombs.

Aspect also has a dedicated music department seeking out new music by emerging artists including Bishop Briggs, whose song “The Way I Do” was used for the season five trailer for “Orange Is the New Black,” and an in-house graphics team that creates everything from main titles for movies to end cards for video games.

“Aspect’s secret sauce is having the ability to keep rolling with the punches,” says Feldman. “That’s what we’ve done best over the years.”