I never, ever mean to go longer than what’s given to me.
I was given 20 minutes and I went exactly 35:46. It was hard to do because I was graciously given access to one of the largest trailer houses in all of Hollywood and the man who leads it, Tim Nett of Trailer Park.
When you think of great interviews in entertainment most people would lean probably lean towards directors of films or the actors in them. Sure, these are the kinds of individuals that bring immediacy to the material but my own inclination and interest is in that which has been my mainstay for the past two and a half years around these parts. It’s the two and a half minutes of tightly packed sizzle that aims to part you with your cash. Willingly.
And, really, that’s the magic. This is where the really good are praised in silence for developing creative ways to sell it and where the bad are recognized by their peers for going through the motions. You’ve either got the desire to be fresh or you’ve got some malaise that not even a thick voiceover or a quick cut can help.
This is where Tim steps in. At the head of a 300 person organization and one of the producers of the Hollywood Reporter’s Key Art Awards, a show that has been running for 35 years in praising the best in filmic advertising that ranges from trailers to lobby standees, which was held in Los Angeles at the Kodak Theater two weeks ago. As a person who was asked to be an official judge in this year’s 35 Years in Trailers competition I leapt at the opportunity to find out what really goes into this process of making a good trailer. Is there really a science to it? Is it as easy as just dropping in a few scenes, pop in some graphics and then spend some money on a guy to come in and voiceover it for you? I really wanted to know and acquired the answers I sought after.
You never quite know when you’re asked to talk to the CEO of a company with this much pull. It could’ve gone the way of a The McLaughlin Group round table with answers being about as politically correct as a publicist who really thinks that Shasta McNasty is so going to be the next best thing in television history. It was my pleasure to find Tim just sounded like a guy who still loves what a good trailer can do, what a good poster can prompt you to say, just a guy who you can see has to run a business, and be profitable, but who can still tell you about the people whose trailer work he still loves to watch.
I’ll always be a fan of trailers just knowing there are guys like Tim behind the wheel of quality control.
QUICK STOP: Congratulations, first of all on all of Trailer Park’s nominations at the Hollywood Reporter’s Key Art Awards.
TIM NETT: Well, thanks.
We just cleaned up at the Golden Trailers. We won a total of four, including Best of Show.
KP: Really? I have a friend who worked at Interlink, he was the one who cut the BATMAN BEGINS trailer.
NETT: What’s his name?
[Classified. Ed. Note: Sorry, it’s the nature of the beast. More on this later.]
KP: And he told me, sent me a note last weekend about why I didn’t have any coverage for The Golden Trailer award show…
NETT: Yeah, as soon as I said it I was thinking, “Oh, I need to talk about the Key Art Awards.” So we’re not even supposed to be talking about the other one.
Just forget I even mentioned it; the competing awards show…
KP: Well, at least tell me what you won for.
NETT: The MISSION IMPOSSIBLE III trailer.
KP: Loved that one.
NETT: Which got, I think, Action/Summer Blockbuster and Best of Show and then we got one for the EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE.
KP: I liked that one because of two things: 1) It was a little creepy and 2) It didn’t give away too much. Which I am finding is rarer and rarer these days.
NETT: Yeah, it is. I mean you know why it goes that way, right?
KP: Well, on that point, when I was researching you I found an interview you did with CNN and you mentioned that focus groups, the customers, who are the ones demanding, “We want more of the story. We want more of the story.”
NETT: They do! And that’s the thing about testing.
KP: Well, where are they testing these things?
NETT: Yeah, The National Research Group sets up, and I’ve never seen one, but my understanding is that they have this little room in the mall, be it an empty storefront or what have you, and they’ll have a couple of VCRs and monitors set up and then they’ll ask them questions about it.
And the questions are like, “Do you want to see this movie? What was most interesting about it?” They’ll go through and ask them what scenes they remember or what scenes had the greatest impact on them. So, there’s a part of it that’s qualitative and a part that’s quantitative.
The quantitative part is, “How many people mentioned each particular scene?” The number of scene mentions. The more scenes that are mentioned then, obviously, the greater the impact.
And the qualitative stuff that goes, “Well, they were confused by the story.” Or whatever their issue was with it.
The other piece to this is the focus groups where you stand behind a two-way mirror…(Laughs)…No, they actually have places in the Midwest and we’ll essentially sit in a room and just watch it on TV. They’ll close-circuit it.
NETT: Yeah, and the thing is that focus groups are really useful for me, the focus group is way more instructional because they tell you what the deal is. You don’t have to interpret it from the data. You also get the more subtle shades of things from people when they’re talking about it rather than having to derive it from the numbers.
But you need both. A focus group is only ten people as opposed to testing which is thousands of people.
KP: Well, have you cut that portion out completely and simply go back to the studio to get their thoughts?
NETT: The thing of it is, this is not science. If we look at it and we think it looks cool, and it all depends on the movie and the studio, and the personality of the person working at the studio. Studios are more prone to going “Ah, screw it” regardless of what the testing says. The testing sometimes just helps to validate their hunches. They’re sort of mixed bag and everything in between; a little bit of data and a little bit of gut.
KP: Like you said to CNN there really doesn’t seem to be a formula for figuring these things out. You want things people will remember, you want that “Oh, cool!” factor but there seems to be a shift where even if these things are present a bad reception, ultimately, at the box office sometimes gets blamed on the advertising. Do you think that’s unfair of the studios or…
NETT: What I will say is that it’s sort of the cliché in the business: if it succeeds it’s the film if it fails it’s the marketing. That’s sort of the cliché.
And it’s sort of within the marketing community…there are some movies that you go, “Oh, we should’ve been able to open that one,” “We should’ve been able to figure that one out.”
So sometimes you do feel like you didn’t quite come up with the right package. And, frankly…some movies are easier to package than others.
There are movies that are readily apparent how to put them together and others that take a little while to figure out what the right thing is. And it’s right there in the movie; you’re just trying to figure out what portion of that movie you’re looking to highlight.
KP: I’m thinking of movies that have turned out to be real turkeys but which had real solid trailers. Movies you thought were going to be nothing but balls-to-the-wall action. One movie I’m thinking of is DAY AFTER TOMORROW. Which sold me but left me feeling scammed after I paid for it.
NETT: You’re welcome. That was one of ours.
KP: Yes! It was an absolutely brilliant trailer. The trailer may have sold me on something that wasn’t eventually there but someone took a movie that was so-so and made a trailer that led me to believe this was going to be an intense, intense flick. And, I would say, that’s the hallmark of a great marketing campaign.
NETT: And that’s the thing. There are some movies…that movie had some real science behind it, was easy to grasp and had a sensationalist premise. You just had to frame it and that’s what’s great about big movie movies like that.
But then…let’s see…you get a movie like THE BREAK-UP.
NETT: Which we didn’t do but I just know that was incredibly difficult to do. It’s like, “What part do you grab onto?” It’s a story about interpersonal relationships and it’s not like there’s some big thing…I mean they break up…but it’s not exactly provocative. I am sure there was a struggle.
KP: I liked that one. I think they did as well as they could for the kind of pressure they were no doubt under.
NETT: Every one is custom. Every movie is different. Everyone has got their own little thing.
KP: Do you ever get instructions on what to do? Or are these things farmed out to, like, five different people and it’s just whoever comes up with the best one gets the nod?
NETT: More or less. And the studio will all have varying levels of involvement in it. Typically, it’s expensive to do this but they also don’t want, let’s say, five people turning in the very same thing. So, they’ll be, “You guys do the romantic angle, you guys do the action angle, you do the guys angle…”
And the thing is that they’ll play to the strengths of the trailer houses and teams that the trailer houses have. For instance, we have a lot of people here and we have a team that are experts at horror and another team that is good at chick flicks…
KP: And this raises a point I’ve thought about for a while…everyone says they love going to movies for the trailers but, I think, no one has a real grasp on the process of making and actually doing this. How did you think that creating your own company to do this was a good idea?
NETT: Well, the way I started was that I worked at another one of the houses and the thing that I wanted to be was a feature editor. But I got into it, it was cool, and ended up being a copywriter. I was a freelance copywriter and people started hiring me to do produce trailers and, next thing you know, I was hiring people. I just decided to have it to make a company.
KP: How many employees?
NETT: 300. And we merged with another company [Creative Domain]. So, that accelerated things quite a bit.
KP: And what is Creative Domain bringing to the table?
NETT: Well, we’re primarily a theatrical company. We do the first run theatrical movies, primarily, and that means print, the one sheets and stuff, and trailers. And then, what Creative Domain did, was the other parts of it like web sites and they did DVD campaigns, packaging, menu design, authoring, everything; they basically make the DVD. And we had a little, tiny video game division and they have a pretty well-established video game division.
So, it ended up being real nice. A real front to back package. And we also filled in the gaps of what we didn’t have like the EPK.
QS: So, explain to me, one of your nominations at the Key Art Awards was Special Recognition Audio/Visual. What does that mean?
NETT: Oh, the reason they did that was because trailers are regulated. They have to be 2 ½ minutes long. And with TV they’re :30’s or :60’s, whatever. And once a year every studio can have one trailer that can go long. So it wasn’t really fair for the other trailers that were 2 ½ minutes having to go up against ones that were 4 minutes. You just have more time to tell the story, develop it, be more subtle, whatever, so this category is for those things which are odd lengths.
KP: And you’re nominated for the WALK THE LINE trailer?
NETT: The internet one.
KP: Oh, so you didn’t do the theatrical one?
NETT: No, and it’s funny because I don’t know who did that one. For that campaign we did the internet trailer and most of the TV.
KP: Any of the print?
NETT: No, but the print was GREAT wasn’t it?
NETT: So good. I will tell you that the guy over there at Fox, Tony Sella, president of marketing, he came from a print background. He just has very good taste. He’s the one that was also in charge of the people who did that beautiful stuff for X-MEN. The pictures that were just beautiful photography.
KP: Yeah…I mean that’s the kind of thing that people will respond to. It seems that a lot of the studios are fine with the “floating head” syndrome-type media.
NETT: I know. I know. The reasons why a lot of the stuff looks the same at the end of the day is that these things have work to do. It’s not like product advertising where, like, we all know what Doritos are. We don’t need them to explain it to us. Now it’s just about making Doritos look fun, cool or whatever.
We have to go “What’s the movie about?” “Who’s in the movie?” “Is it really exciting or really funny?” and get those emotional points across while getting it all done within a time constraint and so you really need to get on it. Make sure that you’re concentrating your message.
NETT: And that’s why a lot of people say that they all end up looking the same. They all have to do the same work, the same functions. But that’s why the WALK THE LINE was different, though. There was a regular trailer that did all that work so ours could be a little more artistic and didn’t need to fill all those perfunctory functions.
QS: And I would agree. I would say for a large percentage of the trailers out there the common person will just watch them and not think anything of them. The ones that do a little more, stay with you a little longer. Do you find more fulfillment when you get a little looser, artistically, than if you had marching orders to produce something vanilla for the studio?
NETT: Well, I’ll tell you, I went to Cannes one year and they have a trailer competition at the film festival and I was a judge in the competition. And it was completely different. The way they do things in the rest of the world, mostly in Europe, cinema is an art form more than a business for them; they view it more that way. So the trailers are more artistic and they’re more about the feel and the mood. The American trailers have a narrator walking you through the entire story. That was the first time it was so glaring to me, the difference, between the way we do it. But I think American audiences are unique in the way they want to know what’s it all about. That’s why we end up doing it that way.
If you’re in a business and you’re trying to make money you’re going to do it so that it becomes the most successful product it can be and that’s the mandate for a lot of the American companies whereas the mandate for a lot of the other say French companies, is that they view it as an art form; if they make money, great.
Look, there is a lot of great French commercial stuff but, overall…
I mean we would love to do nothing but cool, groovy, esoteric trailers but it’s a balance. We’re always trying to push it a little more but that’s what you want. Sometimes they’ll let us go and sometimes they’ll pull us back a little bit.
KP: How long from thought germ to when it’s all done and out of your hands?
NETT: It’s long. Just depends on the movie.
What happens is, and the business has changed so much, and I’m thinking of how to say this properly, it used to be that you used to get a full feature. A rough assembly of the feature, most of the time. Now, most of the time you start working off of dailies. So, they’re starting the shoot and we start cutting. Most of the time.
NETT: A couple of reasons for that. One of them being is that we can start to do our work earlier and work on it a little more and the other being that we don’t have a movie so there isn’t anything for anyone to pirate.
Everyone is very sensitive to the pirate issue. I mean you could have a whole collection of daily scenes but it’s not a movie.
Another thing is that the turnaround is faster. I think they can do it faster and I think they do do it faster. And I think it’s because of technology and so you can crank through post-production faster than you used to be able to.
I can’t remember what it was like with MUNICH but it was record time.
KP: I remember reading he was shooting in the early part of the year and the studio had already set the date.
NETT: I know… it’s crazy that they were able to get it out in that time. One of the reasons in general is that the studios have made the investment and they want to recoup that investment so the longer it sits out there the longer the time usage of money. They would just as well as get it out there as soon as possible so it really does accelerate the end part of the process. And because they’ve been able to close that window we’ve needed to start sooner which I think is another reason we start on dailies.
KP: Well, how do you get the vibe of the movie before you even know what’s coming?
NETT: You read the script and then you talk with them about it but we’ll assemble the movie. It may not be the way they do it but we assemble it, sort of put it together. I wouldn’t call it anything more than an assembly because it really is Scene 24, Scene 25, etc… and it’s just to get a feel for it.
But we were putting KINGDOM OF HEAVEN together and, oh my God, you have no idea how many dailies that was. It was a mountain…of dailies.
KP: This award show, your nominations, do they say anything about the work you do?
NETT: Well, the Key Art Awards, I am one of the producers of the show, differs from something like the Golden Trailer awards. There the awards go towards trailers that are interesting and different as opposed to the Key Art Awards which is a bunch of marketing people who understand exactly what you’re trying to accomplish and how well you’re doing it by that measure. So “Is it doing the work” “Is it reaching the right audience?” “Is it positioning the movie properly?” you have to have more focused criteria.
Getting an award from the Key Art Awards is a little more like, “The people who understand what I’m doing gave me this award.” I think it has a little more impact because of that.
I think it is an art form because you have pressures in terms of what needs to be in there and then having someone ask themselves how they can do it artistically when it’s done right.
I’ve got to tell you, there are very few people who do this job well. It’s a very specialized little area of expertise.
KP: And how come, like MTV does all the time now, trailers aren’t branded with the trailer house or trailer creator’s name? Kind of like a director’s credit.
NETT: Yeah, well, we’re the guys behind the curtain. We’re not forefront.
I always wish there could be something, too, like some kind of esoteric symbol, where we could know who made what. It would be great if there could be something where I could give someone their props when they do great work.
QS: Exactly! I mean the guy who did the BATMAN BEGINS trailer I know some of the other things he does and I like knowing because he’s like a rock star in a way; I like being able to follow someone’s particular style and watch how they handle different material.
NETT: The funny thing is that when you work in the business…you know. Like, I know who’s done most of the stuff. Even if I don’t know the editor I at least know the company. Most of the time. Just because we all know who’s working on what. Just part and parcel from working in the business.
KP: Is there particular styles certain people have?
NETT: Yes, definitelty. Oh yeah. One company that has one of the most pronounced styles is this place called Skip Film. Skip was the guy who did the GONE IN 60 SECONDS trailer, the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE II trailer. He’s just a very interesting editor who just incorporates a lot of graphics and special effects into his editorial work. He’s really good at just making something just visually interesting. He’s a very visual guy. So, he’s got a style.
People do evolve and develop certain styles and, as a big company, we try not to have a certain style and we want to have the ability to emulate all sorts of different styles but we have one guy who does horror trailers and you can usually pick out his trailers.
KP: I would love to be able and follow someone as they evolve as an artist in this medium.
NETT: And that’s the thing. There are some great practitioners and it’s usually the same cast of characters. Like this guy, Bill Neal, and he works with a guy named Scott Bramlett, they’re an editor/producer team. They did TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and they did EMILY ROSE and they did DAWN OF THE DEAD.
KP: I dug that one completely. Got one of my top picks for 2004.
NETT: Really? The thing is, he is so good. Even as a kid he was a huge horror fan but he never cut horror trailers. He never worked at a place that did horror. And, I don’t remember what it was, but we got him a horror trailer and this is what this guy loves. He’s into it. He understands what makes good horror. It was like all the planets aligned and he just exploded.
KP: I’m telling you, fantastic trailer.
NETT: And the thing that I love about what Bill and Scott do…at the end of the day the trailer needs to feel like you got something from it. Like there was enough substance to it. There’s enough “There!” there. And that’s the thing with those that just have a lot of razzle dazzle is that it just doesn’t feel like there’s a lot of substance to it. Then a lot times when you get the trailers that have a lot of exposition it just feels like there’s too much substance.
What Bill and Scott do, what they’re really good at, is that they don’t make you feel like you’re getting spoon-fed.
[With DAWN] you pretty much get it, you understand the premise…just the whole way was a really entertaining, creepy, journey.
KP: Makes it an experience.
KP: Those hands that are scratching at the screen at the end…that’s the kind of thing that stays with you.
Yeah, we shot that. A little added bonus.
KP: I mean eff all the people who think these things are all the same. The guys who are really hardcore and want to try something different those are the people who you want to keep track of.
NETT: There’s my business partner, Benedict Coulter. He has been doing this for a very long time at the highest level. I think he started editing TV spots on STAR WARS. The stuff he produces is always very cool. He works a lot with an editor named Nick Temple who is amazing. He’s the one who did the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE teaser, the WALK THE LINE piece, did the MUNICH trailer.
Having been in this business a long time, the thing that I appreciate most about what he does is he understands when to take the time. When to go and be like shredding and then when to stop. And he’s not afraid to stop and let everything die down and have a pause. And Bill does that too. That’s what separates the great guys from the good guys. It’s understanding pacing.
A good trailer, if you’ve done it well, is like a piece of music. You just go along for the ride. And it’s really fun and cool.
KP: Thank you for your time, sir.
E-Mail the author at: Christopher_Stipp@Yahoo.com
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