A Tale of Two Trailers

Checking Focus -credit David Stluka www.davidstluka.com

Though movies and TV are almost all widescreen nowdays, movies were often more ‘box’ sized in the 30s. When deciding on the look and feel of The Lilith Necklace, I chose to shoot for 4:3, as this would closely approximate the size of 35mm film prints and – theoretically – give the audience an immediate sense of vintage film. As it’s a short film, there’s not a lot of time for exposition; I had to use as many visual shortcuts as possible. I wanted to mimic the classic style of 35mm films – their lighting, their framing, their wordplay, even their long takes and more theatric acting – while subverting their conventions, specifically their sexual politics.


As you can see, I decided to keep the 4:3 framing when cutting my teaser trailer. I chose almost all the exact cuts actually in the film,  and – using The Maltese Falcon‘s trailer as inspiration, the help of a voiceover artist in England via freesound.org, and a handy ‘1930s’ option on this audio filter – I produced a classic teaser.

The monitor giving me a picture of our final product.

The monitor giving me a picture of our final product.

Will, on the other hand, decided to cut his trailer in the modern standard 16:9. He did this for several reasons – he wanted to show off more of our beautifully lit background, he wanted to differentiate the trailer from a lot of the Standard Quality filmwork floating around (modern 4:3 is usually not associated with gorgeous lighting or High Quality image, and certainly not ‘film’), and he wanted to really play with the idea of a classic Mildred Pierce-esqe trailer in standard conventions.

Will was able to cut a widescreen trailer because the cameras still shot everything in widescreen dimensions; we used tape so I could frame things up [see picture at left], then in edit I had a little wiggle room so what I wanted was perfectly ‘in frame,’ and it wasn’t actually cropped to 4:3 until the very last step, still leaving the original images intact.

This gave him an additional level of difficulty – since I had firmly decided in pre-production the finished film would be in 4:3, we weren’t overly concerned with the picture on either side of our tape lines. Sometimes there’s a C-stand, or Dan our audio guy, or the smoking cigar that would be used later in the take, sitting just outside the frame. In other words, what to me was the perfect take could be a complete bust for Will.

Between this and personal choices, many of his takes and angles are different than mine. Again, with a short film, there’s not a lot you can give away in the trailer, so I think it worked out excellently in giving two takes on the same source material.

I used voiceover, he used text. I was dramatic, he leaned towards the melodramatic. Neither of us watched the other’s trailer until we had finished our own, but when we finally exchanged videos, we were both happy with how the two interpretations promote the same movie in extremely different ways.

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