A Tale of Two Mediums

I love theatre trailers. It’s a wonderful way to help advertise your show and reach out to a massive online audience. What could be better?

But it’s a tricky business, this making of trailers malarkey. For one thing, and for me the most complex part, is that you are using one medium to sell another that is entirely different in its make-up and energy.  Film is a carefully controlled and orchestrated moment.  Edited and timed to perfection for maximum impact on the viewer and focusing the attention, the eyes of its audience on to one very detailed moment. I want you to look at his gaze as he contemplates jumping off that roof so perhaps a wide shot of man on edge of roof looking down, to then cut to close-up of his face as he peers over .  As I said perhaps, but hopefully you get my point.

Skeleton crews- DOP Ross Newell footing ladder for photographer Andy Colbourne. On blanket Johnny Schumacker & Angela Bull

Theatre can do this too of course, but by its very nature of being live, there is a danger, an uncertainty as to what the audience will notice or choose to look at it. The picture is much larger.  And of course no moment ever occurs in exactly the same way.  The intention of the moment, hopefully, always exists but perhaps the way in which it is carried out has altered, even minutely. How then can the precise art of film truthfully advertise theatre? I have seen some comments on twitter about theatre trailers finally becoming better made, more cinematic, less ‘just rehearsal footage cobbled together’.  There has definitely been a move towards greater production value of the theatre trailer which I can only imagine has a little to do with access to cameras, editors, post-production teams, but I can only guess.  Greater thought to budgets for marketing online is perhaps another reason too. But the whyinterests me less than do theatre trailers have to be more cinematic?  And if they are, does this then lead to a false impression of what the real event will be? If we’re making live theatre then perhaps excerpts from rehearsals is as close to the real event as possible. Perhaps interviews with teams are the best way to go and leave the rest up to the view/listeners imagination? If the trailer itself is so film-like, so cinematic then is it falsely portraying what the real piece will actually be like? Will the theatre audience then be disappointed?

All of the above raced through my head continuously whilst planning and making the trailer for Skin Tight.  I wanted to make a trailer as I am fascinated by directing film and because I love this trend for theatre trailers.  I made a couple of very short trailers for King John when I was assisting Phil Willmott. When I knew I was directing Skin Tight for Exeter and then London I knew I wanted another go.  I started researching other theatre trailers, how other companies do them.  (The RSC make gripping trailers for many of their productions and seasons) I read ‘how to’ blogs on writing and making a trailer (all geared at film by the way and also not for an on-line audience) and started writing various scripts that I hoped reflected the show and what my vision for it was. All of them were far too complicated!  It was only when I nailed down the style of the theatre piece, its movement, its passion, the raw emotion of the couple that I began to be able to envision the final trailer though I will happily admit it came out far better than I dreamed of. 

Actors Johnny Schumacker & Angela Bull, DOP Ross Newell & Photographer Andy Colbourne leap into a rapeseed field in Kent. I’m behind the iphone keeping an eye out for the farmer who owns the land!

I’ve been told that the images are beautiful.  Tick.  That the emotion of the couple pours out.  Tick.  That it makes the viewer want to come and see the show.  Tick Tick. Those who are have been in the rehearsal room with me agree that everything you see in the performance of the actors on screen happens on stage.

So now it’s time to wait and see what the audience in Exeter and then in London say.  Did it sell the show correctly or was it false advertising? Did it sell the show at all?  Now that we’ve made it I need to learn more about driving traffic towards it to then see if it boosts ticket sales and an awareness of the production and the company. Either way, it was wonderful to make and I would recommend making one to all theatre producers and directors.  Looking at the piece through a lens, being on locations that are similar to the ones in the piece, spending an entire weekend with my cast prior to rehearsal with them embodying the emotions of their parts only helped to enhance the whole process and kick up the eagerness to create the show and get in to the rehearsal room proper.

Angela Bull & Ross Newell – ‘I wonder which bit of the trailer this is from?’

Loads is being written about this topic.  Check out Chris Unitt’s brilliant thoughts on making sure you know who you’re audience for your film is and understanding the difference of trailers for an on-line viewer.  (I found it whilst thinking about this blog, so Chris going to try and put your ideas into action for Skin Tight!)  and I agree with Honour Bayes:

the best adverts communicate the idea that inspires the product, not just the product itself.


What are your thoughts?


One thought on “A Tale of Two Mediums

  1. Most of the time, I appreciate trailers for movies for giving me advance warning that I don’t need to see the movie. Your trailer made me wonder what the play was about and I was intrigued by the repetition of images and the different responses they engendered in me. When I then read the printed promo material, the words there fit together with my response to the trailer.

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