Making of a trailer

Making of a trailer

As I believe I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been asked to help out with some promotional material for the upcoming YouTube meet in Munich. Well, I’m proud to present this little gem, which, even if I do say so myself, has turned out really well.

The idea was to make it in the style of a trailer for a Hollywood blockbuster. It was a simple enough idea: write a script, get people to take on parts, record them, send them to me, and stitch them together into one video. And in principle, that’s what happened, although, predictably, it wasn’t always straightforward.

The first part was writing a script, which was a slightly bigger challenge than you might expect. I wanted as many people involved as possible, but had to make contingency plans in case I couldn’t get as many volunteers as I hoped. But the beauty of the trailer format is that that’s quite easy: a modern trailer consists of vaguely connected soundbites and images from the movie itself, and it doesn’t really matter if the lines are spoken by two people or twelve. In the event, though, I got my twelve volunteers.

There is, of course, a progression of ideas throughout the trailer: the significance of “8-8-8” (which had appeared in the teaser) was explained, and the meeting place is also mentioned. I also threw in a few lines like, “We’ve got to get down there”, partly because that’s the sort of thing that gets said in movies, but also as an instruction to the audience: you’ve got to get down there. And there’s also some room for a bit of self-deprecation (“They’re all armed with camcorders!”).

I did let everyone see the script before they started (unlike some collabs, where nobody knows what they’re letting themselves in for), so they could get a feel for the general mood of mystery giving way to blind panic, and work out where they fit in to that progression.

Still, there were a lot of unknowns, and I could never be sure how people would understand the whole project. Waiting for all the clips was a little nerve-wracking, because if, at the end of the day, I was left with a crazy mix of styles, I would have to deal with it. In the event, everybody managed to pitch their performances just about right.

Some participants (such as NarsinhaTube) gave me several takes, which was helpful. PockhuhnFilm, ever the perfectionist, gave me three versions, each time with the instruction to use this version, please. I’m afraid I ignored that completely, and used clips from two of his three versions.

In fact, PockhuhnFilm presented a bit of a challenge by cutting in images of trees. I’m not sure why, but it didn’t quite fit: it was unexplained, and the trees were in daylight while the man himself was sitting in the dark. Luckily, Cataglyphis had provided me with some outside footage of Munich (it’s her images of the fountain, the underground train and the Olympic Tower), and as a bonus included some fireworks. I replaced PockhuhnFilm’s trees with fireworks.

tavin15 also gave me several takes, but in the one I liked best, he paused far too long between lines. But here, sheer blind luck saved the day. I had written the script so that, if possible, he and toxuo would be talking to each other, although I had constructed it so that even if I couldn’t convince an audience of that, it would pass as lines from two completely different scenes. I had asked each to be in a room with bookshelves or a desk… and as luck would have it, their rooms were so similar, they really looked like different ends of the same room. I was able to cut a second or two out of tavin15’s bit, and cover the cut with a shot of toxluo, apparently reacting. In fact, where it looks as if a question is half forming on his lips, he’s actually preparing to say “We’ve got to…”

Capricious technology also gave me the odd headache. The world of video is a highly complex one, comprising not only of different file formats, but even differently shaped pixels. Videos would be imported into my editing program and suddenly take on an entirely different aspect ratio (which is, thankfully, simple to correct). And for this sort of project, one tool is invaluable: even the free version of Any Video Converter will convert virtually anything into any other format you please, even if everything else on your computer complains of missing codecs. The only thing it gave up on was muserine’s first attempt to send me a file, which ended up completely silent.

Even after muserine had used a more conventional audio codec, the limits of her MacBook’s built-in webcam and microphone were all too clear: step even a little way away, and the mic struggles. Pumping up the volume high enough so I could make out what she was saying also pumped up the hissing and twittering those Macs are famous for, and there was only so much my software’s denoiser and dehisser could do. But then, this is a YouTube video, not an actual Hollywood blockbuster, and I can kid myself that the distortions were deliberately added for atmospheric reasons.

Oh, and I should mention that spunktkpunkt tells me that the rather cool graphic animation on her computer is a screensaver. I wonder how many Hollywood sci-fi computer displays are in fact screensavers.

The music was a devil to find. At first I was going to use the music that you hear as the credits roll, but it would have drowned out the dialogue. I found another piece that was more suited to be played under speech, but xOREGx and AericWinter both independently said they didn’t like it much: it was probably just a bit too sinister, and more atmosphere than music. I eventually found a piece called The Chamber, which is quiet enough for most of its length, but then builds to a nice, epic crescendo which I managed to time right before I pronounced the word, “Excellent.” It does overwhelm quite a bit of my speech, but my line has nothing of any real consequence, so it hardly matters.

honigmaeulchen provided me with a montage of scared faced. I’d asked some of the more well-known German YouTubers to provide a few seconds of scared or apprehensive faces for the ending. honigmaeulchen told me to pick the one I liked best, and really threw herself into it with gusto, explaining that she loves pulling faces. It was too good to resist: I selected a few seconds and added it as a “Bonus track”.

Finally, uploaded presented a final challenge. It was xOREGx who insisted it should look as good as possible, and he experimented with a whole bunch of different export settings. So, for the sake of posterity, here’s what we found out: for the highest quality, upload your YouTube videos in MOV format at 640×480 pixels.