How critical is the trailer to a film’s success? What really goes into the making of a trailer? We talk to promo editor Aditya Warrior, director Jeethu Joseph (Drishyam), national award-winning editor KL Praveen (Kabali), and other experts about what makes the final cut for those highly-anticipated promotional videos.
After watching the trailer of Salman Khan’s Sultan, a friend burst out with a common complaint, “It reveals the entire story!” Directed by Ali Abbaz Zafar, Sultan is about a wrestler from Haryana (Salman Khan) whose dream is to win an Olympic medal for India. The trailer begins with a wrestling match. Salman Khan’s body is, as usual, all over the screen. We watch as Sultan meets his designated soulmate, Aarfa (Anushka Sharma). A courtship begins. A few shots later, however, she accuses him of being obsessed with wrestling.
Until this point, the trailer feels like a feel-good sports film with a dose of romance. Then halfway through, the mood changes. A morose Sultan walks out of the house, arrives on a new turf, and fights new rivals.
Then comes the twist.
Khan is in front of a mirror, brooding over his bulging midriff. (Has there ever been a movie which had Khan worrying over his age? Never. Has he ever stared at his prized asset – his physique – so despondently before? Never). By the time the trailer ends, Salman Khan has fought his way back to success; landed the final, victorious punch.
Arguably, the trailer reveals far too much of the film. But without that particular shot, this would have passed as just another Salman Khan movie.
Marketing a movie is tricky business. What makes a trailer ideal? Is it better with enticing spoilers or best when it withholds its secrets? Over the years, the format of trailers has changed dramatically. In the pre-internet days, a trailer was a mix of action, romance, and comedy shots, with a towering voiceover. Today, millions of people watch promotional videos over the internet, TV, and in theatres. There are extensive reviews, analyses, and fan commentary around these videos. Today, every trailer is a careful montage designed to race the viewer through an adrenaline-charged mini-story, accompanied by high-end CGI (computer generated images) and music.
A trailer is no longer an inconsequential filler.
“It is the first audio-visual of the film that reaches the public. These days, there are giant trailer launch events which never existed in the past. People look forward to it. So, it is important to take them seriously,” says Aditya Warrior, the founder of Mytri Aditya Warrior Productions, a company that specialises in making Bollywood and Marathi film promotional videos.
The trailer of Yash Raj Film’s 1993 multi-starrer Darr was an old-fashioned 2-minute video. It was a montage of shots of a menacing Shah Rukh, a prim Sunny Deol, and a vivacious Juhi Chawla, woven together in no particular order.
Vijay’s Ghilli released in 2003, had a 3.15-minute long trailer with an English voiceover announcing, “Ilayathalapathi Vijay in Ghilli!” The actor’s last release, Theri, had a stylish trailer which was carefully categorised into three parts to showcase the actor’s three avatars in the film: an affectionate father, a stern police officer, and a lover.
“The audience is used to watching slick and high-quality Hollywood trailers. They expect those kinds of promo videos here in the domestic industry,” says Abhinav Sunder Nayak. Nayak is from Chennai, and has worked as a promo-editor in a number of Malayalam and Tamil movies.
Anurag Kashyap’s Raman Raghav 2.0 used a new approach. The team released four well-cut, spine-chilling teasers before a full-length trailer was released. The videos, scripted by Vasan Bala, were cut by Sahil Kajale and Vaibhav Sharma of Mytri Aditya Warrior Productions. “Those videos aren’t a part of the film. We shot them separately,” says Aditya Warrior. “For the trailer, we started off with a monologue to show how crazy the man (Raman) is,” he says.
When cutting the trailer for Rajinikanth’s Kabali, editor KL Praveen had less than a day. Unsurprisingly, he was under immense pressure. Kabali has Rajinikanth returning to the genre that had made him a larger-than-life star. And after a long time, he would play his actual age. The trailer had to prove that the greying hair and the unblemished wrinkles haven’t reduced his charisma; that he aged with grace like red wine.
Within 12 days, according to official YouTube statistics, the trailer had over 16.8 million views.
Usually, great deals of discussions and trials go into deciding the shots to be used in the trailer. “I knew which shots were to be included in the trailer as soon as I saw the movie’s rushes,” says Praveen. “We wanted to tell the audience that this was different from other recent Rajini movies. We brought that retro look, and used that ‘superstar’ logo at the end of the trailer.” Santhosh Narayanan, Kabali’s music composer, even scored a special segment exclusively for the trailer.
According to a Huffington Post report, the trailer broke the existing YouTube record set by Shah Rukh Khan’s Dilwale trailer which had garnered 3.6 million hits in 24 hours. It also beat the record set by the Tamil film Theri, which had 2.2 million views in 24 hours.
Big Players, Big Money
“Relatively smaller movies spend around Rs 3-5 lakhs on trailers and promo videos. The bigger superstar movies spend nearly Rs 25 lakhs on them. Regional industries and smaller films do not spend much on trailers, but I believe it should be the other way around. Smaller films are doing a good job at filmmaking. They should focus more on promo videos so that more people watch their films,” says Warrior.
He feels that the regional industry hasn’t really understood the importance of trailers. Studios like Viacom, that produce Marathi films along with Bollywood ones, take trailers seriously.
The trailer of the Malayalam movie Drishyam, one of the biggest hits in 2013, was edited by Sandeep Nandakumar, an associate of the film’s editor Ayoob Khan. The film’s director, Jeethu Joseph explains, “In the regional industry, everything happens in a jiffy and editors are always rushed. So, most of the time, their assistants end up cutting the promo videos. It’s not like in Bollywood where there are special teams who work as promo editors. Trailer cutting is not an easy job.”
Abhinav Sundar feels that hiring an outsider to cut the trailer is actually an advantage, “I believe the film’s editor shouldn’t cut its trailer. Bringing a different person to cut promo videos would give it a fresh perspective. And not all editors can make good trailers. I like the Bollywood way of hiring a third party to edit promo videos. That’s the way it should be in regional industries too.”
Aditya Warrior agrees, “I would say there are two types of editors. Those who are good with technology and can work as great operators. And those who are also scriptwriters, and hence, creators. We belong to the second category. Trailer cutting is a tough job because you are picking a few shots from a 2-3 hour movie, and making it into a montage of 3 minutes. You are linking shots which aren’t interconnected. Ideally, a scriptwriter should work in the making of a trailer.”
To Reveal Or Not To Reveal
“I want trailers to be intriguing, without revealing a lot of details about the film,” says Warrior. “But it’s really up to the director and producer. Sometimes, they want all the interesting scenes in the trailer. In Hollywood, they reveal practically the entire storyline through the trailer. Yet, you would want to watch the movie. Because the highlight of the film isn’t really the overall story. There’s more to it.”
Drishyam had a deceptive trailer that cleverly hid the crime-thriller mood of the movie, and masqueraded it as a light-hearted family drama. “I maintain a low profile for all my movies before their release. Like, for Memories, we had two cut trailer versions. The one we rejected, at last, had more action scenes. I didn’t want to let out the best secrets and moments through the trailer.”
“When I was cutting Mankatha, there was a dilemma. Finally, we decided to conceal the fact that Ajith was playing a villain in it. So whoever watched the film at the theatre was in for a surprise,” says KL Praveen.
Can A Good Trailer Save A Movie?
When Mytri cut Vikas Bahl’s Shandaar‘s trailer, it was an immediate hit on the Internet. However, the movie sank at the box-office. “Shandaar‘s opening collections were quite good. That could be attributed to its trailer. The makers of the movie had not even arranged a press show of the movie fearing that early reviews might hamper the opening collection, which, they knew would be huge, thanks to the trailers and songs,” says Warrior.
Actor Siddharth’s Jil Jung Juk had a quirky trailer that led to sky-high expectations from the film. The film was satisfactory, but didn’t exactly live up to the hype created by the trailer.
Jeethu Joseph feels that theatrical trailers are more effective than those released online, “In the early 90s, I would go to Sreedhar theatre in Ernakulam, just to watch trailers of upcoming Hollywood releases. Theatrical trailers are more important than the ones we release on YouTube. The impact of the former is more.”
While there is a lot of focus on how many YouTube hits a trailer has, 2D Entertainment’s Rajasekhar says that trailer views rarely translate into box-office numbers, “I don’t think these net-savvy young people who watch trailers, teasers, and other videos on Internet make it a point to watch movies in theaters.”
He feels there are better ways of reaching a domestic audience than trailers and promotional videos, such as through the old-fashioned posters and flex boards. However, he admits,”trailers definitely help the film’s business in the overseas market, where we don’t have other promotion mediums. Overall, Rajasekhar feels that promoting trailers on social networking sites and YouTube increases actual viewership by only 5-10 %. He adds, “As time passes, the number might get bigger. There is no doubt that trailers really support the movie. Their advent has changed the whole format of movie promotion. But we don’t go by the number of views they garner online.”