FRIDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:

TRAILER MOMENTS


You spent months writing and rewriting that 110 page script, making sure every word is the right word - but whether anyone ever reads it or not depends on a 25 word logline. And after turning that script into a fantastic 2 hour movie, whether an audience shows up to see it or not depends on a 30 second TV spot or a 3 minute trailer. If the producer can't cut a trailer from the film, they'll have trouble getting anyone to pay the $11 to see how fantastic the film is. There's even a consulting company that rates screenplays for "trailer moments" BEFORE a producer buys the script. Why would a producer want to buy a script they can't get an audience to see?

What is a "trailer moment"? Scenes and dialogue that are so amazing, so fantastic, so awe inspiring that you grab your place in line just to see it. The White House exploding in ID4, an asteroid taking out Paris in ARMAGEDDON, that giant tidal wave washing over New York in DEEP IMPACT. Clint Eastwood saying "Make my day" or Woody Allen telling Tiffany Amber Thiesen that if she runs an ad in the DGA magazine saying that she'll sleep with directors, she'll never be out of work. Larger than life incidents. Exciting scenes. Laugh outloud lines. Cool stuff. Spectacle. Scenes you just have to see again.

Though I never think about "trailer moments" while writing, I could easily pull together a trailer from any of my scripts. I try to have as many really good lines of dialogue and big dramatic moments as possible, keep my plot twisting and escalating and evolving in unexpected ways, and have lots of big exciting scenes. This gives them lots of material for the trailer. But don't write these scenes for the trailer, I write them because I want to make every moment of the film entertaining and exciting. I'm just trying to write the best script possible and the "trailer moments" are a side effect of that.

How many times have you seen a comedy because the trailer had five laugh-out-loud jokes in it, only to discover that those were ALL of the jokes from the film? Is it the trailer's fault for using all of the good jokes, or the writer's fault for not providing more laugh lines? Hey, a trailer only lasts 3-5 minutes... if you only have five minutes of good stuff in your script, you're in a heap-o-trouble!

Ben Affleck as Batman? Well, he's already played Daredevil and Superman, so why not? Though he wasn't so good taking over for Harrison Ford (who took over for Alec Baldwin) as Jack Ryan in the Tom Clancy movies. Let's go back in time and look at the trailers for that movie...

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Let's take a look at the trailer for SUM OF ALL FEARS, which was Ben Affleck's shot at playing Jack Ryan... Unless I've screwed up the HTML, there should be links to the trailer so that you can see exactly what I'm talking about. All good stories are about characters, and this three minute story begins by introducing Jack Ryan (Ben Affleck). In a funny little scene Jack calls his girlfriend to break a date - he can't tell her why. Morgan Freeman says "Go ahead. Tell her where you're going. In fact, tell her who you work for. She'll be impressed." Jack tells her "I work for the CIA and the director asked me at the last minute to come with him to Russia to do a nuclear arms inspection", and she says "That is so lame," before hanging up on him. Morgan Freeman snickers at the reaction. Right away we know who Jack Ryan is - he's a new guy at the CIA and he's smart enough that the CIA Director has taken him under his wing. The scene is also funny. Introducing a protagonist in a humorous scene is a great way to build audience identification.

"Welcome to the CIA, sport."

We see fighter planes scrambling... we see a nuclear missile being transported. This premise of this film is about a potential nuclear war. Next scene has Jack noticing that 3 Russian nuclear scientists are unaccounted for. Where are they?

Next scene has the tough CIA spy telling Jack to suit up. "I don't go on the missions, I just write reports." "So write a report about it." Now we've combined character and premise - Jack is an information analyst who is going to go to the dangerous front lines. He's a fish out of water. "I'm an information analyst, I'm not trained for this." Then we see Jack in a violent fight scene - not exactly writing a report! We know that Jack is going to have to grow into an action character in order to survive.

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But there's more to Jack's character arc - remember that girlfriend? "I can't be with somebody who's going to keep their life hidden from me, Jack." (Great image of the doors at the CIA becoming opaque as they close - we aren't allowed to see what goes on inside there!) "I won't let that happen," Jack promises her - but can he keep his promise? Will he have to sacrifice his relationship for his career?

Now we introduce the villain - a neo-Nazi. "You don't fight Russia and America - you get Russia and America to fight each other... and destroy each other." (Great image of the President of the United States shaking hands with the Premiere of Russia after signing an agreement - you have to establish the relationship before there can be a betrayal.) Then we see the nuclear bomb. The neo-Nazis are going to start a NUCLEAR war between the USA and Russia! The bomb was put on a cargo freighter headed for the East Coast!

Now let's get to those big spectacle shots - the ones that make you stand in line on opening day. Ryan in a helicopter says into a radio, "The bomb is in play!" Next we see a major city... Then we see a nuclear blast! The helicopter gets knocked out of the sky. Cars tumble off the road like Matchbox cars. It's an amazing series of shots - a nuclear bomb destroying everything in its path. Next, Jack near the wreckage of the helicopter asking where the President is... and discovering the USA plans a retaliatory strike against Russia! World War 3 is about to begin!

And it does. Next we get a series of amazing shots, including a huge battle ship hit by missiles and exploding. Wow! This is no small little film - we're going to see a fleet of ships EXPLODE!

Jack is yelling at someone - "My orders are to get the right information to the people who make the decisions." One sentence which sums up Jack's plot goal. Then another amazing action shot - there have been several that I haven't mentioned... this film seems to be overflowing with large scale action. But this shot is Jack trying to drive his car through a city that's on fire. Debris rains down on him. Wow! He's right in the middle of World War 3 - and that war is taking place right here in America!

Next we get a big dramatic scene - the kind that leads you to believe that Ben Affleck can really act. Jack is being held back by the Secret Service as he YELLS at the President of the United States*, "If you shut me out, your family, and 25 million other families will be dead!" Not only is this a big dramatic scene (he's yelling at the President), it's a single line of dialogue that sums up the stakes in the film. Not a page of dialogue, not 5 lines of dialogue... ONE line of dialogue.

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The next shot is Morgan Freeman at the Superbowl Game looking scared. I guess that means there was a SECOND nuclear bomb... Can Jack convince the President that the Russians aren't behind the nuclear strike? Can he get the CIA looking for the neo-Nazi terrorists before that second bomb goes off and kills everyone? Hey... I want to stand in line and pay my $11 to find out! This looks like a damned good movie (though trailers have been known to lie).

In the 30 second TV spot there is a great shot of people working in a hospital. Just normal life... the kind of stuff we see on ER every week. Then a nuclear blast turns the hospital and everyone in it to ash. The ordinary world invaded by the extraordinary. A shot like that distills the story down to a single image. Do you have a shot like that in your script?

Let's cut the trailer for YOUR script!

PREMISE - What is the image, brief scene or quick dialogue exchange that will tell the audience what your story is? DOUBLE JEOPARDY had that great line where Roma Moffat tells Ashley Judd that she can kill her scumbag husband in Times Square in broad daylight and there's not a thing the police can do about it. That's the whole premise in one line of dialogue!
CHARACTER - What is the image, brief scene or dialogue exchange that will tell the audience who your protagonist is? Will this scene make us LIKE your protagonist, too?
CHARACTER ARC - What is the image, brief scene or dialogue exchange that will show us your protagonist's emotional conflict?
GREAT LINES - Even if your film is a drama or thriller, you need a handful of really great lines for your trailer. In the 30 second TV spot for ENOUGH there are a bunch of great lines. If you don't have 5 kick-ass memorable lines of dialogue in your script, you're in trouble. Pat Duncan (MR. HOLLAND'S OPUS) told me they turned lines from one of his films into bumper stickers! His contract didn't give him a cut - who could have guessed? Okay - what are the 5 lines of dialogue in your script that would make great bumper stickers?
SPECTACLE SHOTS - Movies are larger than life experiences... what are the larger than life scenes in your script? The big amazing cool scenes that make me want to grab my place in line right now. It might be a huge action set piece or an amazing exotic location or a an amazing comedy set piece. What are the scenes that the audience just HAS to see on the big screen? The scenes so big and amazing that they will be diminished on video? Okay - what are the 3 single kick-ass SHOTS (not scenes) in your script?
DRAMATIC MOMENTS - Do you have a couple of scenes where the actors get to act? Big dramatic scenes that will make the audience line up and pay $11 for the ACTING?
ROMANCE, HUMOR, THRILLS - These are popular story elements that audiences look for in trailers. Even a drama needs some humor, even a comedy needs a few thrilling moments, every film could use a little romance. An image or brief scene that shows us any of these elements will help get those butts in the seats.
THE ORDINARY & EXTRAORDINARY - What is the shot in your script that shows ordinary life shattered by the extraordinary events of your story?

Those are the elements you'll need for your script's trailer... are they already there in the script? They should be there, not because you're thinking of what the marketing department will say, but because you naturally find those things in movies. The best thing to do is to make sure that every scene in your script is so packed with emotion and excitement that the marketing department can cut five trailers and there will still be $9 worth of great material left in the film.

* Turns out the trailer lied through editing - he wasn't yelling at the President, he was yelling at the commander of an Army base.


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