Trail to Success

By Julianne Fylstra

Most moviegoers decide whether to see a new film in the span of one to three minutes. As a marketing device, movie trailers are highly effective tools that can determine the next blockbuster or flop at the box office.
But what people don’t realize is that making movie trailers can be an excellent way to start a long-term career in the film industry, according to “Coming Attractions,” a documentary about the history and effects of movie trailers which will be screened tonight at the James Bridges Theater.

“Trailers are an excellent training ground for editing, and writing, and for shooting,” said Michael Shapiro, the director and editorial supervisor of the film. “Cinematography is also an avenue; sound mixing, scoring – these are all elements that go together to make either a good film director or give a film producer a good idea of the concept of how films are made and the people that make them.”

Shapiro, who worked in the trailer business for over 30 years and created the trailers for films such as “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” will be one of four industry professionals who will examine movie trailers during a panel discussion following the film.

Other panelists include Rob Friedman, who most recently was the Chief Operating Officer of Paramount Pictures; Gregory McClatchy, president and senior creative director of advertising for Motor Entertainment; and Joe Dante, best known as the director of “Gremlins” and “Innerspace.”

Dante started his career putting together trailers for Roger Corman at New World Pictures.
“It was an unusual path to directing, but it was certainly a worthwhile one,” Dante said.

His experience cutting trailers eventually helped him later in life, when he decided to become a film director.
“Editing trailers is actually a very good template for directing movies, because you really have to study the work that’s been done, and figure out how to piece it together,” he said. “As you start to cut a scene down to its smallest bit, you start to realize how a scene is constructed, and it comes in very handy later when you’re actually on a set.”

The idea to make a documentary about movie trailers and their career benefits came from Andrew J. Kuehn, Shapiro’s business partner of almost 44 years. Kuehn was one of the pivotal pioneers of the trailer industry, and it was his death in 2004 that caused Shapiro to carry out the project.

“On his last few days of life, he looked up at me in the hospital and he said, ‘Make sure this gets done,'” Shapiro said. “Charged with that request from my lifelong friend and business partner, I and many others spent the next two years making sure that Andy’s documentary got done.”

Before his death, Kuehn set up the Andrew J. Kuehn Foundation for the creation of “Coming Attractions.” The Foundation will be donating $500,000 to the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television to underwrite the teaching of movie marketing in the film school.

“This is something that’s not done very often at a lot of film schools,” said Tim Kittleson, director of the UCLA Film and Television Archive. “I believe it’s very important to people (to learn) the craft of movie-making, but they’ve also got to know the craft of how to sell the movie.”

The Foundation will also donate Kuehn’s vast collection of movie trailers to the Archive, including the original trailers for “Jaws,” the “Indiana Jones” trilogy and “The Sting.”

“This is a very large collection, and we’re still just starting to receive it,” Kittleson said. “We already have a considerable amount of trailers in our collection at the Archive, but this will expand it to make it probably the largest and certainly the most accessible collection of movie trailers in the States.”

Much of the monetary donation, however, will go to benefit the UCLA MFA Producers Program, which is headed by Denise Mann. Mann, an assistant film professor, will also moderate the panel discussion after the screening of “Coming Attractions.” She will guide the panel in discussing the major changes in the evolution of the movie trailer, in addition to each of the panelists’ roles in the process.

One such major change was the introduction of market research, the process when studios screen trailers on test audiences and study their reactions in the hopes of appealing to the correct target audience. Trailers have changed to more closely match the test audiences’ preferences.

“You start seeing trailers becoming more loud, action-oriented and bombarding the viewer with visual and oral stimulus,” Mann said. “It’s interesting because it’s symptomatic of the current state of the industry, where there’s so many movies vying for audience attention on any given weekend that they often cannibalize one another.”

Regardless of the studios’ desire to manipulate trailers to appeal to certain audiences, working in the trailer industry still remains a viable way to get started in the film business.

“It’s not as hard to get a job in the trailer business as it is to get a job in the movie business,” Shapiro said. “Perhaps a lot of young film students will see the film and consider trailers as a starting ground for a career in motion pictures.”