There was a flurry of excitement around JCF Land last night when we started getting texts and emails that Andrew Stanton had just tweeted about the fan trailer that JCF had posted a couple of weeks back.
The tweet reads: “Great fan trailer! They get it!” and includes a link to the trailer: John Carter Files Fan Trailer.
— andrew stanton (@andrewstanton) February 20, 2012
Beyond that……here are some thoughts:
When we first posted the trailer we didn’t explain how it came into our hands, the reason being that we were trying at that time to “focus group” the trailer by running a poll on the site and we didn’t want to potentially skew the results by saying anything about the origins of the fan trailer, plus we didn’t know for sure how the poll was going to go. All we knew was that we thought that the fan trailer was a helpful addition to what’s out there to let people know what to expect from John Carter.
Now that we’ve gotten a SWEET endorsement from Andrew Stanton and the poll has prettymuch run its course with the results being that 86% favor the fan trailer while 14% favor the trailer playing in theaters . You can see the poll results here.
As to the origins of the trailer — well, now that the poll is basically done and this is all out in the open — we can go ahead and explain the trailer’s origins. My film-making partner Mark Linthicum and I cut it on Super Bowl weekend.
Aside from being fans of this movie, we’re both film-making professionals and working together we’ve cut 20-30 trailers previously so this wasn’t our first rodeo, although it was the first time we’ve ever done one just as interested fans rather than as the “real” trailer team. To gather materials we downloaded the two main trailers from Apple Trailers, then downloaded everything else we could get our hands on from YouTube (TV spots, etc), and loaded it all into Final Cut Pro. We also created the graphics cards “From the director of Wall-E and Finding Nemo” and “Based on the Epic Tale that Inspired 100 Years of Film-making” in After Effects and Final Cut Pro, and used After Effects to get rid of the subtitles from the Japanese trailer (which helped a lot with the opening segment of the trailer). Then we sat down and cut it in two sessions totaling about 8 hours of actual editorial time.
Some people who aren’t that used to analyzing trailers have asked — why does this trailer seem to work better when everything in it comes from trailers and clips we’ve already seen?
It may be a worthwhile exercise to offer an explanation of the thought process that went into making this trailer — in part simply as an answer to those who have been asking, and in part because maybe, just maybe, sharing the thought process help in some small way the thinking of someone who’s cutting real trailers, not just fan trailers, if they happen to come across this. At least it’s food for thought for anyone cutting more trailers of this movie.
Before discussing that — I want to make clear that our objective in doing a fan trailer was not to be disrespectful in any way of the work that’s been done to date — there are a thousand ways to cut a trailer and often a studio will hire different teams to try different versions and then test the results of their work with focus groups and use this to help in either deciding what trailer to use — or deciding how to combine different elements from different trailers into the one that eventually goes into theaters. We saw our little experiment as a grassroots effort to contribute to the possibilities by following an approach that is different from the main theatrical trailer that’s out there, especially in the way it begins and ends.
First of all, we felt that the existing theatrical trailer, opening with the coliseum scene, promotes spectacle over story and while that approach justifiable given the great quality of the spectacle — it’s really not working that well because (we believe) the audience doesn’t have any context for understanding what’s going on other than there’s a dude in a coliseum fighting an ape. It’s a wonderful action set piece, but it always seemed to us that for a full theatrical trailer, more of a setup is necessary. Plus the white ape scene has been over-exposed — it’s been in almost every trailer and TV spot, so we consciously decided to leave the white ape out of the trailer altogether.
We felt it was important for the trailer to follow a three act structure with the first act establishing how JC gets to Mars so the audience can get oriented and know enough about the setup to be able to plug into the story. We found the elements for the setup in the July 2011 Teaser Trailer, and the Japanese Trailer. We pulled from those two trailers — I felt that the Japanese trailer, which spends 47 seconds getting JC to Mars, is good but spends too much time on the setup. We tried to get JC to Mars in 30 seconds by streamlining elements from the Japanese trailer and combining them with stuff from the teaser. We found a way to convey the wife and child a bit quicker while still making it clear that they died (we slowed down the shot of JC dropping to his knees in front of the graves, and brightened it enough so you clearly see the crosses and clearly know he’s in front of gravestones).
ARRIVAL ON MARS
The next segment — JC’s arrival on Mars — was tricky because we wanted to use that as a bridge to get to our “pedigree cards” — “From the Director of Wall-E and Finding Nemo”, and “Based on the Epic Tale that Inspired 100 Years of Film-making”. We felt that these are two key selling points but we wanted to get to them artfully, in the right way, at the right moment.
In getting to the “From the Director of Wall-E and Finding Nemo” card, because those are animated films we were concerned that in order for the cut to this card to really work, we needed to cut FROM something that causes the audience to feel like Wall-E and Nemo have something in common with John Carter in terms of tone, etc — otherwise it might not completely work. We felt the key to making this cut work was to precede the cut to this card with humor . We found what we needed in the “Virgnia” segment of one of the kiddie trailers that has JC and Tars Tarkas meeting, and ends with Tars “Did I not tell you he could jump!” …we felt like that was the perfect segway into “From the director of Wall-E” and when we tried it, it seemed to work.
We then wanted to get in a card recognizing ERB ….wording on that one was a little complicated but we came up with “From the epic tale that inspired 100 years of film-making” a line which we cribbed from Andrew Stanton’s intro to the Japanese trailer.”
SHOWING THE “EPIC TALE” AND INTRODUCING THE LOVE STORY
Generally, we felt that the existing trailers and spots are very big on showing John Carter among the Tharks and emphasizing “western” looking landscapes that give an overall impression of “it’s a film in a desert”, and we felt that we wanted to tone that aspect down a bit and dial up the “epic” LOTRisnness of it all. So right after the Burroughs card, we went to the shot of the airship flying at the camera with Helium in the background, then two “epic” shots form the wedding that really look spectacular and then — very important — two shots back to back of John Carter and Dejah Thoris falling in love. We felt it was really important to do what Burroughs did — get the love story going. We only had a total of three “love story” shots to work with (that’s all that has been used in any of the spots released to date) and we felt that we had to spend two of the three shots here right at the beginning of “act two” of our trailer. So we put the two shots back to back and slowed them both down so they’re on screen long enough to register. We felt that this was very important and we thought it worked pretty well … as Act 2 of the trailer is getting going, the audience should feel that JC has an emotional investment in what’s going on, and we — the audience — get it that there is love blossoming between JC and Dejah Thoris.
As Act 2 of the trailer develops — we consciously avoided the “western” looking shots of the desert in favor of “pomp and pageantry” shots in Helium and war images that show more technology and look less like an old-time western or, for that matters, Star Wars. We slowed down shots of the wedding; shots of the airships; the overhead shot of Helium at night (the poster frame of the trailer on Youtube).
We felt it was important to get Woola in. We tried using the JC jumping at night with Woola pinning him down, but the footage we had for that was really dark and kind of muddy and it just didn’t work. So we went for the “woola go!” bit and used that as a bridge to get to the aerial action. I had slight mixed feelings about this just because the frame is really barren desert behind Woola and JC but I felt the trade-off of showing Woola’s character and relationship with JC outweighed any negatives, so we went with it.
FINAL ACTION FLURRY – END OF ACT 3
We tried in this section to “sell” the “I was too late once, that’s not happening again” aspect so we a) put in “the kiss” … slowed down considerably, so we get the relationship coming to fruition before he says ‘I was too late once’ … then we jiggled around the shots in that section so that as he’s saying it, we’re seeing more shots of Dejah and the wedding (even though that’s not what JC is referring to — it ties them together) and then finally we added that shot of JC against the stone wall looking — (the cutting makes it seem) at Dejah, and we did a digital push in on JC to emphasize that. All of that was designed to heighten the sense of a relationship between JC and Dejah and “something worth fighting for” that JC and the audience have an emotional investment in.
EPILOGUE — “Something new int his world”
We felt strongly that it should not just end on action — that it needed a beat of mystery and romance at the very end. The teaser trailer has something — and we borrowed the “When I saw you I believed something new had come into the world” from that — but we added that final shot, which I think is really, really important because it’s the final image — of JC and Dejah looking out over Helium, and Dejah moving closer to JC. We had to slow that shot down a ton and run it through After Effects to get it so Dejah’s movement was smooth and the shot was on the screen long enough to register. In the end, I think it’s pretty magical — she seems to be gliding mysteriously closer to him, and their bond seems sealed but the epic threat and risk remain.
One final note, just in case anyone from Disney is reading this.
We’re film professionals right here in Burbank 5 minutes from the Alameda entrance to Disney. We’d love to be able to help in a more meaningful professional way. I realize that’s kind of a blatant pitch and I apologize for that, but there is so much at stake, and there are so many of us who really want to do all we can to help. It’s coming from that kind of place — we simply wish we could do more to help.