Shaun Farrington is the founder and creative director of Zealot, a creative marketing company with offices in Sydney, London and New York. He’s a client I’ve worked with over the years since 2007, and a exceedingly pleasant, thoughtful and successful movie marketer.

Nearly two year ago, I was pleased to introduce him to Dr. Keith Johnston (Lecturer in Media Studies at the University of East Anglia, Norwich and the author of one of the very few, choice books on AV movie marketing, “Coming Soon: Film Trailers & the Selling of Hollywood Technology“) who interviewed Shaun for his course on movie marketing, using his own questions and those posed by his students. When Keith was asked to guest edit the recent issue of Frames Cinema Journal dedicated to Film Promotion rather than the films promoted (disclosure: I was interviewed by Dr. Johnston for the same issue), he included a transcript of the interview in the issue due to his extensive practical knowledge of the industry.

I recently read Shaun’s interview and was inspired to share some of his insights into the business he’s mastered over the past 2 decades. I’ve embedded the trailer for Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) above, because this was the project on which Shaun transitioned from being a commercial director/producer, to being a trailermaker. (nota bene: He was asked to do tv spot cutdowns for the film, and did not produce this trailer!)
Highlights from Zealot’s current reel include trailers for such films as: The King’s Speech; Shame; Blue Valentine, etc. etc.

About Zealot (in NY and London) and the kind of work each office does. Also, notice the distinction between PROMO and Trailer, which I’ve discussed before in this blog:

KMJ: Before we get into the specifics of the trailer as a product or an art form, can you give me a bit of background on Zealot?

SF: The two main hubs are London and New York. New York is servicing LA, effectively, anyway, as well as New York, and London sort of serves the European territories… [the Australian market] didn’t justify having people on the ground, and also the reality of working in a market where there’s a lot more competition, a lot more day-to-day interactions with trailers and people doing trailers, just means the quality of talent we can access in America and here in terms of employing great people – scriptwriters, designers, editors – is much greater. So, the New York office mainly does U.S. domestic trailers working with, mainly the high-end independents, so your Focuses, your Weinsteins, those kind of companies – a lot of domestic trailers, but also a lot of international, what we can film sales promos for the film markets, where the films are being sold to distributors – so working with, you know, Fox International, Film Nation, high-end international sales agencies, Focus, people like that. And the UK does exactly the same here, although we probably do more sales promos because the London hub is a real base of the international side of the business, where you create a promo in order to sell films to the world market, because there are cultural sensibilities that you have here, whereas America is much more American domestic focus, so they would probably do 70% trailers, 30% promos, and we probably do the reverse of that – oh, and TV commercials for films as well.”

On the subject of working on studio features vs. independent films and the relative creativity a trailermaker enjoys:

KMJ: While I don’t want to put words in your mouth, do you think that means you can do more creative work than you could in studio-based trailer production?

SF: I don’t know if the work’s more creative, I think you have more creative freedom as individuals, as a company – I mean, I think the end results of the studio process is incredibly robust, incredibly creative, if you have fifty different editors all working on a trailer, the final versions that come out of that pipeline at the end are going to be amazing, but the process may not be as satisfying for the people involved, because they might end up going “oh look, I put those three shots together there at the end, you know, and they used my little bit of music there,” whereas for most of us, if we see a trailer on the screen we can generally say, well, we worked on that for quite a while, and that’s ours… although… I was going to say you could explore more creatively, but no, I don’t think so, I think that studio trailers… are incredibly creative and clever, it’s just a different form, really.”

On the value of multiple trailers and TV spots, a privilege of bigger budget projects:

KMJ: I suppose I was wondering if you could push the boundaries more..?

SF: Oh, look, you definitely can – no, that’s true, you can – I mean, you can, you can do things that you would never get away with on a mainstream film because it would just alienate too many – if you’re going for a certain type of audience, you can probably… test the waters more with some different forms and ideas, but having said that there has been some phenomenally good creative trailers for big mainstream blockbusters that, you know, throw all the rules out and do something completely amazing – and the advantage they have over the smaller independent film is ultimately the independent film will most likely have one or maybe two trailers in total – the North American domestic, and there might be an international version. Whereas, you know, if you are doing a big studio blockbuster you could be going out with three or four – the latest Bourne film [The Bourne Legacy: Gilroy, 2012] had a really good teaser trailer. If you’re only doing one piece of marketing – if you had one shot at the marketing, producing one trailer, you probably wouldn’t even go with that, because it’s too risky, it’s too narrow – but if you’ve got five or six trailers in the market place that can be one your arsenal – so, you know, there are pros and cons, I think…”

On the process and skill sets involved in trailer making…

KMJ: Going back to that idea of process, what are the different jobs within trailer production? What strengths do you need, and what is the crossover between the different jobs within the industry?

SF: Different jobs? Basically, it’s a team… [at Zealot] we basically have a producer who’s across the job – his job is to manage it and liaise back and forth with the client – we have scriptwriters who come up with the ‘voice of God’ lines or whatever, the structure… and they’re not just limited to the trailer script of whether it’s graphics cards saying certain things, they contribute creative ideas, creative fodder to the process – we have music supervisors who help locate appropriate music – then we have graphic designers who are working out the look of the cards and any title elements, certain effects – but… you know, where the rubber really hits the road, is what we call creatives, but they’re editors as such, they’re the guys that sit in the edit suites, day in, day out, physically drawing all the resources that that group of people bring into that room and putting them together, and hopefully producing something that runs for two minutes and…works! Everything we do is feeding them assets to see what they do… if the editor’s not able to actually string it together in a way that finally, really, works, then you got problems…”

On the topic of what a trailer has to have (spoiler: emotion/feeling)

KMJ: For you, then, what does a trailer have to have to be effective?

SF: I think the main thing is that it has to make you feel something, I mean I always say that… does it make you feel angry, happy, sad, cry, it’s gotta evoke some kind of emotion, emotional response – otherwise, it’s just information. That’s what… we’re striving for here, you want to reach and touch someone, and know that they actually feel something. Because then you really connect with them. Otherwise, okay, I get it, it’s a drama, there’s these characters, they do these things… so what? It’s more like “oh, that poor woman, and oh my God, and will she make this, and what will happen?” Oh, I care – you know, that’s a trailer, that’s what it wants to be about.

Or, if it’s a comedy, did I burst out laughing three times? Has it got three killer gags – “have you seen that trailer where the guy does that? Go watch it”. You know, job done. That’s what it’s about.”

There’s lots more to the interview than what I’ve cited above. I do encourage you to read the rest. Click here to do so!

And when next you need a trailer or promo for your quality indie project, think of Zealot and Shaun. They’d be happy to meet with you in New York or London.

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movietrailers101 by Fred Greene is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License

About Frederick Greene

Entertainment Copywriter & Visiting Assistant Professor, UCLA Dept. of Theater, Film & Television. I teach a graduate seminar in new movie marketing, which focuses on the history, contemporary practice and likely future of a/v advertising for motion picture entertainment.
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