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Piquing interest to a point: The art of crafting a trailer

Devin Hawker

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Copy writer and co-owner of Gas Station Zebra, a motion picture advertising agency that specializes in theatrical teasers, trailers and TV spots for feature films.

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Current credit: “You, Me and Dupree”

Previous credits: “School of Rock,” “Team America: World Police,” “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie,” “Vanilla Sky”

Job description: “We are a brainstorming resource for the movie studios. Every project, every film is sort of different. Our client -- the studio marketing executive -- will call us and they’ll have ideas and they’ll want our ideas. It’s usually people we have worked with for years. Sometimes they have very specific ideas, and sometimes they don’t. It is our job to execute those things or come up with some of our own.

“Nothing that gets out on the screen happens without their guidance and nurturing. We support the studio, we support the studio marketing executive. We help them in any way that we can. A lot of times we are working together with them to find a way to edit footage together that tells a certain story about the movie.

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“If it’s a teaser, we are working from the script. I read through that, and then it’s kind of my job to brainstorm and come up with concepts. We don’t have footage at that point. Sometimes it is a graphic kind of thing we will produce. It is: What story do we tell? What kind of an enticing announcement can we put together? My strength is not those really clever lines. I am more sort of a structural writer -- writing the words or the graphic cards that propel the story along.”

Why footage appears in a trailer but not in the movie: “When I talk to people outside the business they think that’s some sort of devious thing going on. But what happens is that [the filmmakers] are cutting the movie the same time we are cutting the trailer. It is a concurrent thing and so they are making their decisions and the studio is making theirs on what the trailer should be so a lot of times the trailer will go out and two months later they will pull something out of the movie.”

Giving away the plot: “No one wants to give it away. The people that I have worked with all love movies and don’t want that experience ruined for them either.

“I think it happens for a variety of reasons -- there is so much pressure on the opening weekend that you don’t want to leave out any of your good material. Those are tough decisions.

“With ‘Forrest Gump,’ if you look at that trailer, you see that he gets back from Vietnam and you see that he’s running, but I don’t think anybody thought that trailer ruined the movie for them.”

Hardest job: “Films that are the biggest, with the greatest expectations and the most time to explore them, tend to be the hardest. ‘The Truman Show’ was challenging because it was hard to find the right tone. The first time you watch it it’s kind of heartbreaking, but on multiple viewings it plays like dark, social satire.”

Background: “I was writing corporate films, education films. I just sort of stumbled into this. I was doing aerospace stuff, and then the Berlin Wall came down and all of that work left Southern California. A friend of mine was working at a trailer company. But it’s like anything in Hollywood. You have to make them an offer you can’t refuse, which is sort of do it for nothing until you prove you’re valuable.”

Relationships: “You are being shown materials the studio doesn’t want [people to see]. They need people they can trust. They are also entrusting you to not say bad things about the film. You need to be discreet about it and give the film every benefit of the doubt.”

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Age: 44

Resides: North Hollywood

Union or guild: None

-- Susan King


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