Behind the Scenes: How to Make a Movie Trailer for Your Product (or Book) 181 Comments
It was a warm evening in the Mission district, a good omen and unusual blessing. The goal of our meeting was simple: to see if we clicked and, passing that hurdle, to plot the making of “the best book trailer ever made.”
Whether we pulled it off or not, that ambitious mission statement was necessary to survive the many all-nighters and hiccups that would follow.
August of 2010 was the starting point.
On November 30th, the end product was a 59-second trailer, which debuted on Huffington Post Books. It immediately took The 4-Hour Body from near #150 to #30 on Amazon, where it later climbed to #1.
The launch was initiated by a simple poll post, which was followed by an analytical second post. Due to its high production value, the video then made the jump from online to offline, eventually making it to national TV for The Dr. Oz Show (see the clip at :40).
This post will explain exactly how the trailer was created, including early concepts, tools, the team, and more…
Hitting the Pink Elephant First
Let’s hit the most common question first. How much did it all cost?
I paid close to $12,000 total, but I also brought a lot of resources and co-promotional opportunity to the table. The same trailer done with a good freelancer could cost $40-50,000. If you choose a production company, which involves more moving pieces, it could add up to $100,000+.
But don’t be scared away by the above numbers. Can you sometimes make budgetary miracles happen? Most certainly.
Emulating a Hollywood film is much more expensive than a slick demo trailer such as those produced by Epipheo, and the latter is better suited to many start-ups and services:
Second, it’s easier to contain costs if you have a clear vision of your goal, as well as a clear picture of your would-be partner’s longer-term goals. In my first fateful meeting with Adam, I slid a piece of paper across the table within ten minutes of us sitting down — the draft storyboard:
Click here for larger version.
Following up on our meeting, I sent him this e-mail:
OK, so here are some goodies to get your juices flowing.
Here is the basic book idea — I’ve made myself a guinea pig so you don’t have to:
The video clip in this mock-up vid (attached) is from an incredible gymnast in the UK, Damien Walters. I have an email in to him to see if we’d be able to use any of his stuff. Pretty amazing, but it’ll give you an idea.
Current book cover is attached. I imagine it, some variation, or book/combo would appear at the end after the dude jumps over the car (perhaps even mid-air), or whichever visual we use.
Other potential vids for ideas:
These are all starting points, but feel free to go nuts with your imagination. I want your ideas and input.
Look forward to your treatment!
How did it all hold up? Here’s the final product in HD (give it some time to load):
Getting from that scrap of paper to spots on national TV was not easy.
The music portion alone almost killed the project. But the success of this trailer IS replicable.
The following interview and footnotes will explain the process and the lessons learned.
Adam Patch, interviewed by Charlie Hoehn (with comments by Tim)
Tell us a bit about your background.
My name is Adam Patch, and I directed and edited the trailer for The 4-Hour Body. I went to film school in San Francisco to learn directing, and got my start doing music videos, commercials, and motion graphics editing. I’ve been a freelancer for the last five years or so.
How were you chosen to direct the 4HB trailer?
I received a call from Tim one day, out of the blue.
He introduced himself, told me about the new book, and said he wanted to do a trailer for it. It sounded cool, and I hadn’t really seen many book trailers, so I was intrigued by the idea.
When we first met up, Tim laid out his entire vision, which was pretty clear from the beginning. He already had the track from Sevendust (“Splinter”) picked out, and knew he wanted to base all of the trailer’s visuals around that song.
After our first meeting, I wrote up a treatment (which is just a specific outline of how I wanted to shoot the trailer and the energy I wanted to bring to it), presented it to Tim, and he was on board right away. Shortly after that, we went and filmed it on a two-day shoot.
[TIM: Here is the original treatment Adam presented to me]
What happened after The 4-Hour Body trailer came out?
It blew up. The trailer got a ton of great comments on YouTube [896 at the time of this writing], the hits on my website took off, and I got several calls from other publishers interested in doing book trailers. I’ve also been getting emails from film students who are interested in learning how I did certain effects. It’s been really cool to see such a positive response to the video.
The trailer opens with a shot of Tim working at a table. Can you talk about that day of shooting?
We basically did a full day’s worth of shooting at the atrium inside Tim’s house. We knew that we were going to split it up, so we took our time finessing everything and really made sure all the shots looked nice. And visually-speaking, the atrium was super cool to photograph.
How Adam gave the atrium a cinematic feel in After Effects.
We brought all this stuff to make it look like a mad scientist lab, like he had been doing experiments on himself and taking notes. We shot that 30-second part of the video for probably six hours in one day. Then the following day, we drove all around the Bay, meeting up with each of the people in the video and shooting their little vignettes.
What goes into a six-hour shoot like that? Why does it take so long?
Almost all of that time was spent setting up lights. We lit up his whole atrium so it looked cool on camera, laid out a dolly track, and set up two cameras for shooting. We had a rough idea of what we wanted to shoot, but we were also exploring while we were there and coming up with ideas on the fly. For instance, there was one shot from overhead where the camera kind of drops down on Tim, and we didn’t really plan for that shot.
Typically, a shot like that would be done with a jib. But we didn’t have a jib, so what we did is we had the camera up on two C-stands and had two of our grips lower them down slowly. That looked pretty amateurish while we were doing it, but we also couldn’t see what we were shooting. We just put the camera up there and hoped it would work. So it was cool because it actually turned out pretty great.
There’s also a shot of a dilating eye. How did you guys shoot that?
We just had Tim sit in front of a camera with his eye closed for 20 seconds or so. We had a light nearby so that his eyes would quickly dilate when he opened them. Then I actually enlarged his pupil in post-production to make it even more noticeable.
What were the “holding your breath in the pool” shots like?
Those little pool shots were with Nathan Zaru. I remember it was kind of cold outside, and the water was freezing. And we had to keep doing take-after-take to make sure we got it right.
The camera we were using was the GoPro HD Cam, which is this really small HD camera where you can’t see what you’re shooting at all. It just has a fisheye lens. You shoot with it, and then you have to download the footage to see what it looks like. So we would do several takes with the camera from different positions, hoping one of them would work. In the meantime, poor Nathan is just sitting there freezing his ass off. By the end, his lips had literally turned solid blue, and we finally said, “Okay, that’s probably enough. I’m sure we got it.” It worked out.
How about the deadlifting shot in the gym?
We went down to Mark Wild’s Wild Iron Gym in San Jose, which is a really tiny, grimy old-school gym. It’s basically a big storage unit with a roll-up door, and there’s a whole bunch of huge dudes working out inside. It was pretty awesome.
What was amazing about that shot was that powerlifter Mark Bell [our photo subject] was just in the middle of a workout. It wasn’t like we were telling him to do the lift. I mean, he helped move stuff around to make it look good, but it wasn’t as staged as I thought it would be. He was lifting about 600 pounds, repeatedly. He kept saying, “You guys want me to do it again?” It was nuts.
[TIM: Just for fun, compare the above "after" post-production shot with the below "before" still. The footage is exactly the same. Notice any differences?]
We also shot Tracy Reifkind with the kettlebell at the same location. We were trying to find a good spot to film her workout, and it was basically a parking lot and storage units. So we ended up lugging all of our gear onto the roof of the building and shooting.
Her scene is on the roof of this huge industrial building. It was kind of sketchy; you’re not supposed to be able to get up there. But we shimmied up the ladder with all of our gear and shot her at the top, just so we could have a nice view of the sky.
What about the running portion?
We were driving around with Brian MacKenzie, trying to find a good spot to shoot his stuff, and we ended up finding a cool place right off of the freeway in San Mateo. We pulled over and ended up shooting a lot of different angles, because I wasn’t sure I was going to use them at cut. There’s a ton of footage of him just running around and going through trees and trails, but we only ended up using a tiny portion of it.
And the second to last shot: the Parkour jump over the wall?
We shot that with Brian Orosco at Ocean Beach in San Francisco, and he was just coming off of a sprained ankle, so he wasn’t even up to par. It was a little scary because we weren’t sure how many takes we would get. He was totally doing us a huge favor and after the first jump, we didn’t expect to get another take. We figured he would hurt himself or something and we’d have to move on. But he was great. He did that jump four times, I think. And the one we ended up using in the trailer was what he called “The Lazy Boy,” where he puts his hands behind his head and jumps off.
Brian on top of the world. Not a small wall.
The set-up for one of four total camera angles.
We have to talk about the original ending. The first time Tim and I watched it, we busted out laughing. It just didn’t work.
[Laughs] Yeah. When Tim first spoke to me about the trailer, he told me a theme of his book was “becoming superhuman.” And one of the things that I put in my original treatment was that it would be cool at the end (after Brian jumps off the wall) if it were actually Tim who slams down in the final shot. So I wanted to do this totally epic comic book-style, like “Sin City” or something, where Tim would smash down on his knee and look up at the camera. That was the plan, at least.
[TIM: Here's what the rough cut looked like, using placeholder numbers for experiments, test subjects, etc. Try and keep a straight face at the end.]
Keep in mind that this shot would only look good after a lot of work in post-production. But it was basically Tim softly dropping down to the ground, which looked extremely silly while we were shooting it. I still think that if I’d had some time to fix the shot, it probably would have turned out cool. But in the first round of edits, it just looked like a joke.
Tim called me right after he saw it for the first time, and he couldn’t stop laughing. He suggested we replace him with the book slamming down instead.
The book was just a high-res still of the cover, and I rebuilt it in 3D using After Effects. I took the different planes, rebuilt a book shape, and just slammed it down. I added dust particles and concrete cracking and all that stuff to make it seem more energetic than just a cut to the book’s title.
What kind of gear did you and your crew use during this shoot?
My crew consisted of Phillip Briggs (cinematographer), Jeremy Wong (1st AC), Chris Galdes (gaffer), and Chris Bennett (grip). Below is the full list of video gear I had to use for this shoot (minus lighting equipment).
Footnotes and Cautionary Notes from Tim
But what about the music? Ahhhhh…. music. You capricious little minx, you.
The entire trailer started as a fantasy while listening to Sevendust’s “Splinter” track in an airport. I chartered Charlie with identifying the route to licensing and the costs involved.
In the beginning, it seemed so simple. That is, until is wasn’t simple at all. Here’s what we found in the rabbit hole, partially from ASCAP and partially from industry mentors:
There were six writers on the title “Splinter” performed by the band known as “Sevendust”:
John M Connolly
Vincent E Hornsby
Edward Clint Lowery
Corey French Lowery
La Jon Witherspon
There were four related publishers, listed below, Chrysalis being the primary and the place the start:
DARK NEW MUSIC
KAYLA 1 PUBLISHING
Once determining the above, the standard next steps were then:
Issue a “quote request” to the publishers (starting with Chrysalis) indicating the various rights and terms we were looking to clear. The request could start with “initial rights”, the most narrow we could manage, followed by “options” for broader rights. To begin the quote request, we’d need to define the scope of rights sought:
Media: Internet and TV (Need to specify if this is “all tv”, free tv, cable, satellite, etc.)
Territory: For Internet, it’s the world; for TV, is this for “Good Morning America” in the US only? North America?World?
Timing: What is the length of the use — how much of the track? Is it edited or interrupted?
Nature: Is it a background vocal? Background instrumental? Visual vocal? How is the song being used (i.e. In what context)?
Term: 6 months minimum with two options for 1 year, then 3 years? Additionally, there would be a master recording which needs separate clearance.
Sevendust’s “Splinter” also came out through Asylum, who would be the label to clear the master, typically on an MFN basis (most-favored-nation) with the publisher’s quote. While it might be helpful to have a relationship with the band (to approve the use and help expedite the process), ultimately we’d have to deal with the publisher and label at the end of the day.
Sound complicated? It should, and that was just the tip of the iceberg.
It was then time for disaster-recovery planning.
Since the trailer made no sense without accompanying music, and “Splinter” was up in the air, I began to look for sound engineers as a back-up insurance policy. For a 60-second original track, the cost could range from $500 to well over $10,000, all depending on the complexity of the score, their reputations, past clients, etc.
Re-editing the visuals before launch was impossible, so their tracks would need to match the cadence of our cuts. Both Steve and Dave were excellent to work with. Here are two of their samples:
Incredibly, at the 11th hour — literally, late the night before the final video deadline — we received the official go-ahead to use Sevendust’s track online, and I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Alvin Witherspoon, LJ’s father; Tony Couch, Sevendust’s manager; and Aaron Ray of The Collective for making it happen.
Last but certainly not least, thank you to Sevendust for creating such incredible music. If you haven’t heard their stuff, you should absolutely grab either Cold Day Memory or their acoustic Southside Double-Wide.
In summary: If you’re on deadline and need music, either hire a professional (such as a seasoned production company) to manage the complexity, or hire a sound engineer from the outset. Licensing tunes is not for the faint of heart.
The Morale (and Moral) of the Story
This trailer was incredible fun to create. It was also extremely stressful towards the end, with more than a few late-night sessions fueled by wine and caffeine.
The entire experience was infused with an anticipation wouldn’t have existed without the ambitious “create the best X ever” goal. I also believe, as smooth as most things were, it could have gone horribly wrong without a few key ingredients:
- A well-defined vision for the end product
- In-depth review of Adam’s prior reels, as well as in-person discussion, to ensure an aesthetic match.
- Two brainstorming sessions with Adam prior to making things official, to ensure a collaborative match. Creative headbutting, as opposed to give-and-take, creates delays. The request for treatment was also to observe his response time, which was outstanding. Remember: reliability and on-time delivery is more important than optimal skill set.
- Alignment of interest: Instead of focusing solely on price, Adam and I looked at how we could help each other. He was eager to show-off his killer directorial abilities in addition to his post-production skills, and the trailer provided an outlet.
As I’ve written before and still maintain:
It’s lonely at the top. 99% of the world is convinced they are incapable of achieving great things, so they aim for the mediocre middle-ground. The level of competition is thus fiercest for “realistic” goals, paradoxically making them the most time- and energy-consuming. It is often easier to raise $10,000,000 than it is $1,000,000. It is easier to pick up the one perfect 10 in the bar than the five 8s.
If you are insecure, guess what? The rest of the world is too. Do not overestimate the competition and underestimate yourself. You are better than you think.
Unreasonable and unrealistic goals are easier to achieve for yet another reason.
Having an unusually large goal is an adrenaline infusion that provides the endurance to overcome the inevitable trials and tribulations that go along with any goal. Realistic goals, goals restricted to the average ambition level, are uninspiring and will only fuel you through the first or second problem, at which point you throw in the towel. If the potential payoff is mediocre or average, so is your effort. I’ll run through walls to get a catamaran trip through the Greek islands, but I might not change my brand of cereal for a weekend trip through Columbus, Ohio. If I choose the latter because it is “realistic,” I won’t have the enthusiasm to jump even the smallest hurdle to accomplish it. With beautiful, crystal-clear Greek waters and delicious wine on the brain, I’m prepared to do battle for a dream that is worth dreaming. Even though their difficulty of achievement on a scale of 1-10 appears to be a 2 and a 10 respectively, Columbus is more likely to fall through.
The fishing is best where the fewest go. There is just less competition for bigger goals.
As the Romans (or at least Turnus) would say: “Fortes fortuna adiuvat!”
Fortune favors the bold. Have fun with it.
Posted on March 24th, 2011