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“If there’s an auteur in the trailer industry—he’s it.”
Secrets of a Trailer Guru: How This Guy Gets You to the Movies
by Jason Kehe & Katie M. Palmer for Wired
You don't know his name. But if you care about trailers you know his work: iconic previews for films like The Social Network, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Tree of Life, and director Nicolas Winding Refn's latest project, Only God Forgives, out July 19. Meet Mark Woollen.
You don't know his name. But if you care about trailers you know his work: iconic previews for films like The Social Network, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Tree of Life, and director Nicolas Winding Refn's latest project, Only God Forgives, out July 19. Meet Mark Woollen. A video editor since high school—he was already cutting trailers for movies like Schindler's List in his early twenties—Woollen now runs his own company in Santa Monica, California. It's one of the go-to trailer boutiques for an elite group of Hollywood filmmakers that, in addition to Fincher, includes Spike Jonze, Terrence Malick, and the Coen brothers. And they all want what he's selling: trailers that not only capture the spirit of their movies but get people talking. If there’s an auteur in the trailer industry today, he’s it.
How's the trailer industry changing?
When I began, trailers were not on the Internet. That's changed dramatically over the past several years, especially with fan participation. We have instant critiques, for better or for worse. Everything has gotten faster.
Gotten faster—and better?
Those don't always go together. The web has definitely opened up lots of opportunities for different types of pieces. I was in a meeting with a director a couple of years ago. We had cut something that was on the short side, and he made a crack about it feeling like a trailer for a trailer. It's bizarre that a year later, that's become an actual thing people are doing. But I'm not a fan of that phenomenon. Honestly, I will say that my best experiences as a moviegoer are when I go in knowing as little as possible about a movie. That's so hard to do these days.
That’s fascinating coming from someone who cuts trailers for a living.
[Laughs.] Yes, it’s funny.
Do you watch trailers for movies you’re not working on?
You do it to stay current and see what the other guys are doing. But if there’s something I’m really interested in, I probably don’t watch as many.
If you’re involved early, what happens if you end up hating the final cut of the film?
That’s always the job. You come in hoping for the best. But I feel fortunate about the kinds of the things we work on—with certain directors you know it’s going to be a pretty good experience.
How would you characterize your body of work?
I want to figure out the right language without sounding silly. Most of the movies we work on come out in the fall versus the summer. Whatever is the nice way to say what those types of movies are.
Like ... Oscar winners?
Yeah. Those are the movies that I tend to be interested in—from the filmmaking. It’s a type of director-driven film. Dramas and a certain type of comedy. I’m interested in a Coen brothers comedy or a Spike Jonze comedy more so than a broader type.
These are films that are defined by their directors’ aesthetic approach and choices. Does that constrain the trailer-editing process—because you feel like you have to honor that?
It’s not about me putting my own imprint on the work. I’m handling their material, and it should reflect their work and represent that. That’s one of the exciting things. We work on up to 75 films a year in different stages. And so being able to get into the heads of the characters in the stories and the minds of the people who are putting these films together and live in that world for a while—it’s fun.
How does your process begin?
We come in at different stages, when there’s just a script or where they’re shooting and there are a lot of dailies or when there’s a finished film. When a film is fully done, you can make sure you’re getting the tone right and capture that vision. On the other hand, it’s fantastic to have the freedom of dailies for when you need a few more frames of this close-up or that shot. That’s why you sometimes see things in trailers that don’t end up in the movie.
Your most recognized trailers are defined by a single piece of music. Why?
Directors talk about how it’s all about casting for them—when they get the right actors, their jobs are easier. For us, that’s true of music. Sometimes 70, 80 percent of the job can be trying to find that perfect piece. Trailers are all about rhythm, pacing, and feeling. That’s why it’s important to always be listening to things. I go to South by Southwest every year, trying to build my bag of songs that I’m going to hold on to for the right moment. I’d had “Creep” on my iTunes for five or six years kind of kicking around before the Social Network trailer. You’re always looking for the right project to line things up with. And then when this project came along, I started to consider that song. There are a couple of qualities to it that I thought could do a lot for the trailer. It was a fantastic piece of music—the build, the message, the flavor. So that was one of the half dozen concepts I presented. We shot the beginning of the trailer— the Facebook stuff—in our offices and came up with that whole concept. It was something that got a good response. That’s how the piece came about. You find music in different places.
What else sets your work apart?
You won't hear some of the familiar sounds or stylistic tricks. We're always trying to reinvent things when we can. It should be about teasing and raising interest and asking provocative questions, not answering them.
How many people do you work with?
About 20—producers, editors, writers, graphic designers. I oversee how all the pieces come together creatively. But I'm actually in front of an Avid right now, going through my process of breaking down a film. I'll watch the whole movie without sound, just looking for visuals—that little head turn, that glimpse, that spark of something. Then I'll watch the movie just for dialog. I can get down to about 10 to 15 minutes and from there start crafting and making connections.
Did you always want to make trailers?
I started editing professionally right out of high school. When I was 19 I got a job doing trailers for Disney, with things like Beauty and the Beast. Then I got an opportunity to work at Universal. That was my big break because I got to do the trailer for Schindler’s List—when I only about 21, 22. That afforded me the opportunity to strike off on my own. I did that for several years, working from home on a handful of projects. Sometimes it feels like I’m still in my spare bedroom, just trying to figure things out.
A lot of people think trailers today give away too much.
I’d tend to agree. You probably have to ask: Why is that?
Why is that?
The studios want to have one weekend to capture the largest number of people. As I understand it, the data they get back is that people want to know more story—they want to know more before they make an investment. Now it may not be what you, me, or the readers of your magazine consider the right approach. But that’s what they’ve come to.
Do you reject the traditional three-act structure of trailers?
To a degree. You’re usually setting up a character and a situation—that can be an act I. And depending on the film you’re often setting up a conflict or obstacle—that can be an act II. But it’s all about the pace and style and the manner in which it’s handled. The worst feeling is when you get to the end of act II and feel like, “Here we are rounding the corner and then this is going to happen!” That’s kind of miserable.
Are there certain trailers over time that jump out at you as transformative or influential?
The easy ones to go to are any of the Kubrick trailers—they continue to be influential, inspiring. But for the most part, when we go back and look at a reference—we’ve done this a number of times—most old trailers are almost never, ever helpful. They have such a short life. You look at a trailer from even 10 years ago and it feels like things have evolved.
So looking back, would you cut Beauty and the Beast or Schindler’s List differently today?
For sure. I don’t know how they would play. Beauty and the Beast would probably be done more in the animated style of today—slicker, more crackle and pop. The trailer for Schindler’s is a fairly emotional piece, a fairly intense piece. I don’t know if it would be too heavy, if there would be a request for more story.
Most of your material is so heavy. Aren’t you ever tempted to cut the next *Iron Man 3 *trailer?
[Laughs.] It doesn’t really appeal to me. And I don’t think I’m the best person for that. There are people—including people in this office—who really love those films and know what’s expected. I’d still rather watch Beasts of the Southern Wild.
But it would be an interesting experiment.
We have gotten calls over the years to see what our perspective would be on that type of film. So we have worked on some of those things. But it isn’t ultimately what they’re looking for.
Do you get sick of a movie in the process of making the trailer?
Oh yeah. There's a long withdrawal process after you've been working on something for a while. You dislike even the smell of ice cream after too much.
“From ‘Schindler’s List’ to ‘A Hidden Life,’ the Unsung Hero of Awards-Season Trailers Is Mark Woollen“
From ‘Schindler’s List’ to ‘A Hidden Life,’ the Unsung Hero of Awards-Season Trailers Is Mark Woollen
by Anne Thompson for IndieWire
If you have an easy movie, the ones where the trailers practically edit themselves, that probably isn’t a Mark Woollen trailer. Woollen is the guy they call when the movies are more idiosyncratic, or their creators are, or both; the ones where the three-act structure may not be visible to the naked eye, or it’s hard to explain exactly what they’re about, but damn if they don’t make you feel something. But how can you see feelings, and in two minutes or less? What kind of marketing is that?“I don’t know what marketing is,” said Woollen from the Santa Monica offices of Mark Woollen & Associates, where he employs a staff of 30. “I’m trying to represent the film. Filmmakers come to us in a vulnerable place. Sometimes we’re the first eyes seeing the first rough cut of film they’ve been working on for years. We’re entrusted with introducing it to the world. Their careers and lots of money is invested in how it’s received. We have a responsibility to do right by them as best we can.”
Among those he’s served are Barry Jenkins (“Moonlight”), Darren Aronofsky (“Black Swan”), Steve McQueen (“12 Years A Slave”), Alejandro González Iñárritu (“Birdman”), David Fincher (“The Social Network”), the Coen Bros. (“The Big Lebowski”), and Lulu Wang (“The Farewell”). Most recently, he edited the trailer for Terrence Malick’s “A Hidden Life.” When she first saw it, Fox Searchlight co- president Nancy Utley said she was reminded of why she acquired the World War II anti-Nazi film out of Cannes. “Mark consistently delivers on showcasing what’s best about a film,” she said, “to the extent that even version-one of his trailers have been known at Searchlight to induce chills and have us reaching for the tissue box.”
Woollen was only 22 when he cut the trailer that gave him his big break: “Schindler’s List.” Steven Spielberg’s black-and-white drama is now recognized as a classic, but in 1993 Woollen’s trailer was radical: No stentorian voiceover, telling viewers what to expect; in fact, no voiceover at all. Just two snippets of dialogue (“Goodbye, Jews!”/”The list is life.”); the rest was evocative and silent images, underpinned by a passage of Wojciech Kilar’s “Exodus,” since John Williams was not yet finished with what would become the film’s Oscar-winning score.
Woollen is an autodidact: At El Camino high school, he took TV production classes (“We’d edit from Betamax machine to Betamax machine”), but after graduation he skipped college in favor of working for San Diego Zoo host Joe Embry, and editing on “America’s Most Wanted.” After answering a Variety ad, he took the night shift for a company that cut trailers for Disney films like “Father of the Bride” and “Beauty and the Beast.” “I was working on Disney animated films and going to see ‘Slacker’ after work,” Woollen said.
After “Schindler’s List,” Woollen became a free agent. He bought an Avid, moved it into the Venice bungalow he shared with his partner, photographer Erin Fotos, and ran his own shop. Finally, in 2002, Fotos ordered him to pull his expanding posse of assistants out of their bedroom, living room, and kitchen and into a proper office.
Today, Woollen’s Main Street Santa Monica building boasts its own parking lot, a trophy room lined with awards, and houses producers, music supervisors, editors, copywriters, and graphic designers who assemble some 200 trailers a year for specialty foreign-language, documentaries and narrative films as well as studio fare and television including HBO’s “Big Little Lies” and “Sharp Objects,” Netflix’s “Ozark,” and “Aziz Ansari: Right Now,” the stand-up special directed by Spike Jonze.
“People come to us for a certain point of view,” said Woollen, “how we handle the material. So there’s lots of conversations, collaboration, gut reactions to the film, figuring it out. Not anything is black and white.”
Every trailer contains an element of detective work; using the the earliest- available materials, Woollen and his team must divine how the final movie will look and feel. On Jim Jarmusch’s zombie comedy “The Dead Don’t Die,” Woollen threw in a throwback announcer from the George Romero era, Adam Driver one- liners, and dripping red fonts. “Iggy Pop as a zombie is a good start!” said Woollen. “Jarmusch has a certain tempo to how his films work: You need to capture that feeling.”
“Mark has a way of being able to perceive the filmmaker’s vision for a feature in its short form better than anyone else in the business,” said Focus distribution chief Lisa Bunnell. “He sees film with his heart and soul and it comes out with the work that he is able to bring to the big screen. It’s like a beautiful piece of art that evokes emotion.”
The first step is what he calls “a film autopsy,” breaking down the movie’s structural elements and figuring out the best way to rearrange them, like taking apart a complex engine and reassembling it in a brand new way. “We analyze the emotional architecture, understanding how it’s put together, the different points of the film, how to harness that idea, and capture that in two minutes,” Woollen said. “A great part of all the work is about capturing that feeling of experiencing the film for the first time, what that was.”
On “Moonlight,” director Jenkins had been working with a different company for a couple of months when he begged A24 to hire Woollen after seeing his trailer for “Tree of Life.” “We’d spent so much time trying to crack a trailer, so we knew what didn’t work,” Jenkins said. “So rather than trying to build a trailer that told you exactly what the movie was, my direction to them was to try to create a trailer that communicated the feeling of watching this film. We sent over the score and said, ‘Maybe open with a conversation between Kevin and Black.'”
Woollen did just that — but it’s not a conversation that happens in the film. “Mark took the entire story of those characters’ journey and cut together a conversation that spanned all the different characters,” Jenkins said. “It’s really brilliant. It was just about... trying to find a way — despite the fact that there are three different actors playing the character — to find a trailer that united them as one.
“It defies logic: I want you to take a two-hour thing and communicate the essence of it in two minutes? It’s an illogical piece of art to create,” he said. “But I think he’s doing that in a way where the speed and the brevity doesn’t feel like it’s flying by you at a million miles an hour. You’re just sipping it in very calibrated doses. You watch the ‘Moonlight’ trailer, you don’t have any damn clue what that movie is about. But you know exactly what it feels like. They just crushed it.” All that, and fast: Woollen’s team created the only “Moonlight” trailer that went out into the world in less than a week.
On A24’s “Last Black Man in San Francisco,” Woollen artfully wove together a new narration by Danny Glover — recreated from dialogue in the movie — with the film’s street-corner a cappella rendition of “Are You Going to San Francisco,” along with a bit of new orchestration composed specifically for the trailer. “When we figure out the music, we often figure out the trailer,” Woollen said, adding that finding the central emotion of a movie is sometimes “in a look, in a glance after a character says a line. Getting that moment, with the music coming in at the right place, gets you right there. It’s happening in a number of places. It’s figuring out where they are: there’s 10,000 jigsaw pieces with the right connections to tell a story.”
Some filmmakers present their own demands. When Todd Field said he didn’t want any music or character exposition for 2006 suburban relationship drama “Little Children,” Woollen used the sound of a train as a driving arc to build up to the trailer’s climax. “I need some sense of rhythm,” he said. “The sound of this piece spoke to the Kate Winslet character’s longings; as the trailer progresses to the intersection in the couple’s relationship, what’s under the surface as the train comes closer and is approaching, is the magical moment in the film when Patrick Wilson is playing trains with his son. The high point of everything is raging and accelerating after that. We figured it out.”
The Coens also challenged Woollen to make an unusual trailer to match their quirky 2009 drama “A Serious Man.” “There was a shot of the main character Michael Stulbarg, getting his head hit against the chalkboard in his classroom,” said Woollen. “I took that. One of the things you are not supposed to do in trailers is repeat a shot. But that one-and-a-half second moment became an amazing rhythm heartbeat baseline for the trailer. What better illustration of the character at the point he’s put through an existential crisis, with his wife asking for divorce, he’s up for tenure for his job, he’s crashing his car, asking for help, than literally banging his head against the wall?”
Some of Woollen’s approaches are so fresh, they wind up being embraced by his competitors. Woollen initiated the trend of using music covers as a trailer’s backdrop, with “The Social Network;” he found an unreleased Belgian choir doing a cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” to use as the trailer’s anthem. “I was doing one thing at that time that has since happened over and over again,” he said. “I was tired of it six months after we did it, with people knocking it off. While I’m still responding to whatever is special and unique about the film, I’m still trying to stay current, respond to the new, figure what the new is. It’s an industry which can have tropes that you want to stay away from.”
Other editors are faster than he is. But he knows one thing: “I know where the cut needs to be, what frame to cut on. ‘This is it’!”
“How the Cover Song Conquered Movie Trailers”
How the Cover Song Conquered Movie Trailers
By Alex Pappademas for The New Yorker
Every story, as movie trailers never tire of informing us, has a beginning. The story of the cover-song trend in movie trailers began nine years ago, when the veteran trailer editor Mark Woollen found himself grappling with a difficult assignment. This was not unusual for Woollen, who is known for producing iconic, inventive mood-piece trailers for tough-to-market, tougher-to-summarize films by such directors as Terrence Malick, Steven Soderbergh, Michel Gondry, and Alejandro González Iñárritu. The brilliantly odd trailer for the Coen brothers’ “A Serious Man,” punctuated by a rhythmically recurring shot of Fred Melamed bouncing Michael Stuhlbarg’s head off a chalkboard? That was Woollen. The trailer for Todd Field’s “Little Children,” which used the sound of an oncoming train in lieu of music? That was Woollen, too. There are some films that can’t be marketed by traditional means; Woollen is the trailer auteur to whom auteurs turn for a nontraditional solution.
In early 2010, Woollen’s company, Mark Woollen & Associates, was tapped to produce a trailer for David Fincher’s “The Social Network.” As Woollen remembers it, it was March or April; Fincher was still busy in the editing room, and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross had not yet written the movie’s score (which would win an Academy Award). With the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the election of 2016 still years away, the Facebook story seemed like curiously dry material for Fincher, the director of “Fight Club.” “It was kind of getting beat up in the press,” Woollen said. “Like, ‘How can you make a movie about Facebook? Are you gonna make a movie about eBay or Amazon next?’ ”
At first, Woollen wasn’t sure how to cut a trailer for a Facebook movie, either. But the answer turned out to be sitting on his hard drive. A few years earlier, while searching for something else, he’d downloaded an MP3 file from what he described as “some GeoCities-looking kind of Web site.” The file was a 2001 live recording of the song “Creep”—the first hit single by the British art-rock band Radiohead—as performed by Scala and Kolacny Brothers, a two-hundred-member girls’ choir from Belgium. The recording had a lot of the things that a trailer editor looks for in a piece of music. “It has this gentle introduction, it has moments that build and swell and rise, and then it can come down and land nicely,” Woollen said. “I felt, like, Here’s a track I can build a piece around.”
More important, the music seemed to work on a thematic level. Woollen, who was not a Facebook user, had been kicking around ideas about connectivity and loneliness. He played the choir recording on repeat while driving to work and thought about “lost, lonely voices that felt like they were speaking from the depths of the Internet.” In his business, Woollen said, “You’re always talking about trailers that invite you in, saying, ‘Come and see us, come and see us.’ ” He liked the counterintuitive notion of building a trailer around a song whose refrain is “What the hell am I doing here / I don’t belong here.” “The irresistible ingredient,” Woollen said, “was one hundred Belgian girls singing ‘You’re so fucking special’ in full voice.”
The finished trailer is an unsettling masterpiece. For fifty seconds, it plays like an ad for Facebook—a montage of photos, status updates, and unseen hands confirming friendships with the click of a blue-and-white button. Then, at the one-minute mark, a pixelated image of Jesse Eisenberg’s alarmingly dead-eyed Mark Zuckerberg fades into view. Woollen said that he was nervous about showing Fincher a cut that held back the director’s own footage in favor of stock photos and family pictures supplied by the staff of Mark Woollen & Associates. But Fincher liked it; the first time he screened “The Social Network” for the studio, he played Woollen’s trailer first.
The trailer instantly turned Scala and Kolacny Brothers into the most famous Belgian girls’ choir the world had ever heard. “They played Coachella, they played South by Southwest,” Woollen said. “They had their moment.” They also licensed songs to more than a few other movie trailers, television shows, and commercials—that was them, in 2012, singing Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” in a trailer for Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty.”
If you screen Woollen’s best-known work on YouTube, it’s obvious how he’s influenced the way that movie trailers look. But his “Social Network” trailer quickly became a profound influence on how movie trailers sound. The auditory signature of the modern movie trailer is a deliberately eerie cover version of a recognizable pop song, usually sung at a dramatically slower tempo, often by a breathy female vocalist whose delivery suggests a ghost beckoning a living playmate from the far end of a haunted-house hallway.
“Hollywood’s Two-Minute Auteurs“
Hollywood’s Two-Minute Auteurs
by John Lopez for Bloomberg
With movie marketers desperate to grab the increasingly fractured attention of audiences (and fight declining theater attendance), trailers such as Mark Woollen’s are fast becoming the standard. Heavy-handed voice-over has given way to subtler presentation, and the same overused cues are being replaced by more eclectic music selection. Trailers have begun to resemble tone poems selling a taste of how a film will feel rather than showing audiences everything they will see. They’ve found their medium on the Internet, proving to be snack-size events in their own right.
Trailers have been around almost as long as movies themselves; initially they followed a film’s end card to drive audiences out of theaters between showings (hence “trailers”). Until only a few years ago, a tight-knit world of fewer than 100 editors created the lion’s share of Hollywood trailers. Now these large houses face an expanding market of independent editors working on their own, facilitated by lower-cost editing software such as Final Cut Pro.
Mark Woollen’s hip, modern Santa Monica (Calif.) office belies the stereotype of editors as cloistered, Gollum-like creatures, surfacing from dark rooms only to pick up Chinese takeout. Contrary to Tinseltown custom, Woollen, 40, doesn’t decorate his offices with posters of the films he’s worked on—among them Where the Wild Things Are, The Tree of Life, and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo—in the belief it stifles creativity: “We’re always trying to do something that honors the unique films we work on,” he says. “What we felt from the movie, that’s the big thing, and seeing if we can communicate that in two minutes.” Woollen relies heavily on sound design and music selection to find the shape of a piece, always listening to his iPod for cues that may one day come in handy: “I’d say music is 90 percent of the work we do; it establishes the rhythm.” The finished product ideally leaves the audience wanting more: “One of the things to figure out is at what point do we leave off, where you’ve ramped up the anticipation enough to do that.”
Studios spend a premium to create that anticipation. Although Hollywood is loath to relinquish marketing costs, it’s generally acknowledged that Prints & Advertising budgets can regularly swell to over half a film’s production cost. (A single trailer can cost anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000, though the most lucrative contracts encompass multiple versions of the trailer.) Of all the ways to hype a movie these days—billboards, talk show interviews, junkets, viral campaigns—trailers continue to be the cornerstone of film marketing. Marc Weinstock, president of worldwide marketing for Sony Pictures, says exit surveys consistently show trailers are the most influential driver of audience interest—generating 50 percent, compared with 30 percent for TV spots. With movie attendance at its lowest level since 1997, the pressure increasingly is on trailers to cut through the cultural white noise. “Our biggest fear is being average,” says Weinstock. “We don’t want people to think, ‘Maybe I’ll see that movie the second weekend.’ We want that trailer where people go, ‘I have to see that movie now!’ ”
To get as many options as possible, studios often “double-” or “triple-vendor,” farming out assignments to multiple houses that compete for the glory, financial and creative, of “finishing” a trailer (i.e., being chosen to edit the final trailer). Sometimes studios mix and match, using the beginning of one editor’s take with the end of another’s. They then employ the same focus groups for trailers—and data-driven surveys—that they do with feature films. The Internet provides an added resource. Trailers are the third-most-viewed videos online, after news and user-generated clips, and studios pay attention to the reaction. According to Weinstock, “We look at all the instant feedback: Facebook, Twitter, chat rooms, our own in-theater analysis, as well as all film-related websites.” He is particularly proud of a decision to let a more enigmatic trailer for 2009’s District 9 build interest: “We made a last-minute decision based on feedback to let the mystery simmer.” The film, an unknown property from a first-time director, made $210 million worldwide and was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar.
As Woollen notes, “It’s a seriously competitive business. You have several companies working on a given campaign, all trying to do their best work and get finished.”
In this environment, the key to success and survival for both the trailer houses and the films they represent is to constantly defy convention. Last year’s innovation quickly becomes this year’s cliché. Woollen now fields requests to replicate his Social Network trailer: “If you’re working on a drama, everyone is excited to use a Radiohead song, and I don’t really want to hear those anymore! I feel like those have been done—let’s keep trying to find what the new thing is.”
“Woollen & Associates: Hitting the mark“
Woollen & Associates: Hitting the mark
by John Anderson for Variety
Here’s a hypothetical: Put a hostage in a room full of movies and tell him to make a trailer. He has no experience, he has no clue, but he does one of two things: An action movie (steal the explosions) or a comedy (steal the best jokes). Pure survival instinct says to avoid the existential art film, biting social satire, foreign drama and/or documentary. Otherwise, he’ll never get out of the room.
That said, it’s slightly uncanny how Mark Woollen & Associates not only turns out acclaimed trailer after acclaimed trailer but does so with movies that seem impossible to distill. “Tree of Life.” “The Social Network.” “Catfish.” “Biutiful.” All are up for Golden Trailer Awards today and all were done by Woollen, whose recent output also includes “Black Swan,” “True Grit,” “Super 8,” and the upcoming Errol Morris documentary, “Tabloid.”
“Yeah, we usually get the calls that say, ‘We have a really difficult film and we thought of you,’ ” Woollen says with a laugh. “But it also means we get challenging films, and movies I’d really like to see. The extra challenge is, if I believe in the films, I want to honor them. And there’s a lot of pressure in that.”
Woollen, 40, started editing professionally before he was out of high school — he took four years of television production classes at El Camino Real High School in Woodland Hills, Calif., editing part time, winding up at Craig Murray Prods. in Burbank and working on a lot of films for Disney, including “Beauty and the Beast.” He then went to work at Universal Studios, and had what he still calls his proudest moment, cutting the trailer for “Schindler’s List.”
“That really wowed a lot of people,” says Stephen Garrett of the New York-based Kinetic, which, like Woollen’s company,specializes in the indie and arthouse. He says Woollen’s “sterling” reputation is augmented by a sense of daring.
“When he did ‘Little Children,’ ” Garrett recalls of the 2006 New Line film, “the trailer didn’t have any music in it. It was all atmosphere, with the sound of a train in the background, and a sense of ‘We gotta get out of here.’?” Garrett says at one point the studio added Simon & Garfunkel’s “Sounds of Silence” and then thought better of it. “At the last minute they dropped the song, and wound up with one of the most acclaimed trailers.”
“The thing that’s unique about Mark,” says Angus Wall, who won an Oscar earlier this year as co-editor of “The Social Network” and who has cut trailers himself, “is that there are formulas for making trailers. And all those formulas have these tricks. And after a certain point, a lot of trailer cutters become a collection of their tricks. But not Mark. I think he considers each film individually and his approach depends on the film. And that’s the reason he’s so good.”
It was Wall who suggested Woollen to Errol Morris, who didn’t need much encouragement. “He’s legendary,” Morris says of Woollen. “I’ve gotten a really favorable response to the trailer. People write me via various blogs and websites, responding to it. I got a message from someone recently who had gone to the movies and said the best thing they saw was the trailer for ‘Tabloid.’” However, Morris added, “the proof is in the pudding. Will it drive people to the theater?”
And there’s no real way to quantify that. Web hits don’t translate into dollars; trailers are sometimes better than the movies; screening trailers for enthusiastic fanboys at Comic-Con can prove a bust (see “Scott Pilgrim,” and “Tron: Legacy”). “The best gauge,” says Wall, “is ‘Do you like it?’ and ‘Does it sell the movie in a somewhat genuine way? Does it get inside the skin of the movie?’ ”
That is Woollen’s guiding principle. And it means playing to your strengths.
“We don’t do the summer blockbuster-type movies, but we might do something like ‘Super 8,’ ” he says. “We might do Academy films like ‘Social Network’ and ‘Black Swan’ and have historically done a lot of director-driven films like ‘Tree of Life’ and independent films. We don’t do horror really well.”
Unless it’s existential horror: One of Woollen’s most acclaimed trailers was for “A Serious Man,” the Coen brothers’ Jewish-identity-angst comedy. “I had worked on a number of Coen brothers films, like ‘The Big Lebowski,’ so I had a long history with them and it was great to have that kind of a challenge and do something different. It wasn’t an ordinary movie. And shouldn’t have had an ordinary trailer.”
Likewise, “Tree of Life,” which paired Woollen with one of his favorite filmmakers.“I was always a tremendous Terrence Malick fan and that was a dream-come-true project,” he says, “but the challenge was what not to use. You’re presented there with 2 1/2 hours of the most gorgeous, impressive, haunting, evocative imagery — how do you not, kind of, screw it up?”
Plus, he adds laughing, “You also kind of want to make Terrence Malick happy.”
In the end, the result was a combination of Woollen’s artistic ethos, and the reason trailers exist: “You weave it all together in a compelling way, where you might not even understand everything that’s happening,” he says. “But you come away thinking, ‘Oh, I need to go see that.’ ”
“Four Perfect Movie Trailers Made By Hollywood’s Reigning Master”
Four Perfect Movie Trailers Made By Hollywood's Reigning Master
by Jordan Kushins for Gizmodo
Mark Woollen is a modern maestro of this very specific, super potent kind of movie magic, and has cut clips for everything from Beauty and the Beast to 12 Years a Slave. At yesterday's Wired x Design conference at Skywalker Sound, he offered a bit of insight into how he approaches these concise mini- features.
There's no one-to-one formula for transforming the narrative of a full-length film into an edit that, in the span of a mere couple of minutes, will capture the spirit of the story and the attention of the viewer. Sometimes Woollen has hours and hours of dailies, or raw footage, to work with; other times, the director hasn't even yet made key choices regarding character development or visuals.
"I think you have to be an optimist," he told Wired senior editor Caitlin Roper. "To be able to see potential in material." I love this; because no matter the subject matter of the movie itself—it could be the darkest, most dramatic heartbreaker— trailers are inherently full of promise, hinting at the kind of transcendent, oh-my- gosh-WOWWOWOOWOW cinematic experience that we all want to have at the theater. The best trailers manage to not only embody the film, but elevate it (heck, even the worst provide a unique kind of wishful thinking of: Surely the final couldn't be that bad).
Have a look at Woollen's site and scroll across the bottom; it's a veritable freaking gold mine of trailer brilliance. Here are four of his greatest hits; they're short, but allow yourself some time, as you're going to want to watch them over, and over, and over...
"First: I was trying to make the Coen's laugh," he told Roper.
The sound of that head slamming against a wall became a kind of bass line. It was one of the sonic elements that could be looped and give the clip its rhythm—along with a distinctive cough and sniff—that ultimately begins to build into the "cacophony of of the characters' world.”
"How do you make a film about Facebook?" Woollen didn't want to jump in with the story itself. Instead, the goal was to first establish a connection with viewers about the way they communicate online, a kind of familiarity that would draw them in and make them care about the narrative behind it. Woollen and his team took a day in the office where everyone brought in posts from their own networks, which became the basis for the opening montage. And then, of course, there's that angelic rendition of Radiohead's Creep by Scala and Kolacny Brothers, a Belgian girls' choir. He had the song kicking around in his collection for years, waiting for the perfect project. This was it. Director David Fincher was, understandably, into it.
Director Todd Field had a few challenging directives for this trailer: He wanted no story; he wanted no music. Woollen had to get to the heart of the movie through sound design. "It was about creating a feeling," he said. Like A Serious Man, things start out slow, until all the elements start to click and the tension ratchets up through these increasingly intimate snippets of film and audio. The effect is unsettling, and yet: It leaves viewers with an insatiable desire to see more.
I first caught this teaser a few weeks ago and: Whoa. I could not stop pushing play. Not only that, but I just kept thinking about it, and coming back later to push play again. Only yesterday did I learn it was Woollen's work, which now, of course, makes perfect sense. "The film is put together as it's almost one take, one shot," he said. This informed the structure of his trailer, which follows Keaton through this kind of meta-trajectory of a washed-up star of a superhero franchise searching for cultural relevance again.
“PODCAST: Meet Mark Woollen, Trailer Guru and Awards Season’s Secret Weapon”
PODCAST: Meet Mark Woollen, Trailer Guru and Awards Season’s Secret Weapon
You may not know Mark Woollen's name, but thanks to his work on some of the most attention-grabbing trailers of the past twenty years, you're probably familiar with his work. Whether it's the subtle heartbreak of "12 Years a Slave," the technical wizardry of "Birdman," or one of his most recent efforts, the immersive two-minute hurricane that is the trailer for "The Revenant," Woollen has been turning the teaser into an art form all its own. This week on Indiewire Influencers, Woollen sits down with Indiewire Editor in Chief Dana Harris for a conversation about his career in the field and what it's like to work with such a varied list of collaborators.
Woollen's career has now spanned multiple decades, long enough to see a shift from a time when trailers played almost exclusively in theaters to now, when they're readily available at a moment's notice. But the changing venues for the premiere of a trailer haven't affected Woollen's work as much as you might think. "If anything," Woollen explains, "the Internet really has opened up things for immediate feedback the second a trailer drops. There's all kinds of comments and you get your report card on how you did."
Working with some of the top directors in the field brings with it a unique atmosphere where Mark and his team aren't strictly hired hands, but also have to consider a filmmaker's literal and figurative vision. "I always feel a great responsibility with what we're doing," Mark says of crafting the audience's initial window into a particular film, adding, "That trailer we make is really the world's first introduction to their child. So you want to make it right."
What clichés does he avoid? And how exactly did Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" become the unofficial "Birdman" anthem? Find out by listening to the full episode above.
“The Movie’s Fine, But You Should See the Trailer“
The Movie's Fine, But You Should See the Trailer
By Daniel Riley for GQ
Mark Woollen has a trailer house in Santa Monica. He and his editors lean toward an independent, critically acclaimed batch of movies. Last year, they did the trailers for Boyhood, Birdman, The Theory of Everything, and Gone Girl. The year before, it was 12 Years a Slave, Her, Dallas Buyers Club, Nebraska, Captain Phillips. Woollen credits several factors for the evolution of the trailer—some technical, some cultural. Among the largest: "I think audience expectations have grown. The fact that so many trailers are watched again and again and kind of scrutinized on the Internet has made for more interesting work. A more sophisticated language has kind of evolved where it doesn’t need the handholding of big voiceover narration, but you can do more with dialogue and sound and that kind of storytelling.”
“Movie trailers have a new trick to keep you watching“
Movie trailers have a new trick to keep you watching
by Jason Guerrasio for Business Insider
Some of the biggest new trailers to hit the internet begin with a six- to seven-second tease of what you're about to watch before it begins. The latest example arrived Thursday when the trailer for the Mark Wahlberg movie "Deepwater Horizon," about the worst oil spill in US history, went live. If you saw it on social media, you got the six-second tease showing huge explosions and the movie's stars.
Movie trailer veteran Mark Woollen made the "Deepwater" clip through his boutique trailer house Mark Woollen & Associates. When Business Insider talked to Woollen on Thursday, he didn't hold back his thoughts about the teaser- before-the-trailer trend. He's not into it.
“I guess there's some data somewhere that supports it," Woollen said. "But it feels like a form of self-cannibalism myself.”
Woollen said trailer houses were not responsible for the teasers of the trailers. Instead, he said, the teasers are often put together at the last second by the studios before a trailer's release.
"You spend months going through the process of making a trailer, which is trial and error and different voices involved and research and all of that, and then the week before the trailer comes out it's like, 'Oh, we should take five of the best shots and put it before the whole thing,'" Woollen told Business Insider.
Woollen has become the go-to trailer guy in Hollywood for some of the biggest names in the business, including David Fincher, Spike Jonze, and the Coen brothers. He made the trailer for "The Revenant," and most recently his company handled "The Lobster" and "Swiss Army Man." He says others who work on trailers have similar views about the teasers.
Woollen acknowledges that he isn't fully in the conversation about why studios have decided to start this. But he thinks a big reason is that, after you've viewed three seconds of a video playing on Facebook or Twitter, it counts as a view. So the teaser doesn't just grab attention — it actually pushes up a key performance metric for a film.
"At the end of the day, is it about getting numbers or making an impression and really creating real interest?" Woollen said.
"We're taking something that a director had been working on for sometimes years and we're making that first introduction, so to have this vomit of stuff before the actual trailer happens, it's something that I'm not a fan of," he continued. "There are always different trends and tropes. I don't know when this one will pass, but maybe with enough pushback it will.”
“Do We Really Want Shorter Trailers?“
Do We Really Want Shorter Trailers?
by Darren Franich for Entertainment Weekly
Would a mandatory two-minute length radically alter the style of movie trailers? Mark Woollen, whose company Mark Woollen & Associates recently released spots for Don Jon, Only God Forgives, and Captain Phillips, thinks it could be an exciting challenge. “I’m definitely in the less-is-more camp,” he says. “There are plenty of trailers that reveal too much. I would be interested to see if the two-minute format would force us all to be more creative.” But Woollen also notes that complaints about the lengths of trailers may be overblown. “It’s a research-driven business,” he says, “and the research continues to show that there’s still a [larger] percentage that want more information.” You mean we can actually blame ourselves for trailers that give away too much plot?
“Trailer Directors Explain Why Spoilers Are Actually Good“
Trailer Directors Explain Why Spoilers Are Actually Good
by Amelia Dimoldenberg for Vice
“The only trailer I remember seeing as a kid was for The Shining," said Mark Woollen, director of Mark Woollen and Associates, one of Hollywood's top trailer- making agencies. "It was one single shot of a corridor with scrolling titles and music to set the tone. That's all I needed.”
That trailer really is as basic as it sounds and looks alien in today's world of rapid cuts. Woollen, unlike a lot of his contemporaries, is still an advocate of the "less is more" approach: " I like going [into the cinema] and feeling like I know as little about the film as possible." A big statement from a man whose job it is to capture the essence of an entire film in roughly two minutes.
Clichés and tropes are banished (where possible) from Woollen's portfolio, which includes trailers for many major films from the past 25 years, from 12 Years a Slave to Fargo. "The movies that we work on have original voice and vision behind them, so we have to create trailers that follow that," Woollen said. "We are not going to package the films we work on in a cookie-cutter mold—it doesn't work like that."
One such mould-breaking trailer was Woollen's cut for The Revenant, Alejandro González Iñárritu's epic tale of survival that featured an Oscar-winning performance from Leonardo DiCaprio. As the film is full of remarkable cinematography but limited in terms of dialogue, Woollen had to find something else to pace the trailer with—Leo's breath.
"I noticed you could visibly see the breath coming from Leo in a number of images. I thought that would be the perfect element of sound design to connect us to him. It made sense as a way of representing this constant pushing on to survive."
For Woollen, much of the process behind an enticing trailer stems from sound design, whether that be DiCaprio's breath or the Scale & Kolacny Brothers "hypnotizing cover of Radiohead's 'Creep,'" as used in the trailer for The Social Network.
"When you find that right piece of music, it can be the spirit and guiding force of a trailer, that gives it its pulse and rhythm," said Woollen, who used "Creep"to emphasize the human relationships within a film that tells the story of a technological phenomenon. "I started to find connections with the lyrics and the film's story... the lines 'I don't belong here' and 'I wanna have control' made me think of adding friends on Facebook and [Zuckerberg] feeling isolated."
I asked Woollen about the trailer for Room. I realized, after seeing the film, that this trailer seemed to reveal the entire plot. "That film has a difficult first half—there is a darkness to it," he replied. "Honestly, in cases like that, there are going to be concerns with how can you let people in and show that it's going to be OK." Perhaps sometimes, you have to promise a happy ending in order to get audiences into the cinema in the first place.
Woollen has never found it challenging to assert his vision of how a trailer should be, but he is aware that many trailers are still edited to the cookie-cutter mold that film fans have an issue with.
"I don't think that film marketing traditionally is known for being extra bold or risky," Woollen said. "The movie business overall thinks, If it's worked once before, then why not do it again?"
Despite the reviews, and despite the spoiler-filled trailer, Batman v Superman still racked up the fourth-biggest global opening in history. But for those films that aren't massive sequels or superhero blockbusters, the ones that can't rely on a pre-existing fanbase, the trailer must stand alone. "Trailers are now their own form of entertainment, in a way," Woollen said. "And come to think of it, there are films that should exist just as trailers.”