Trailers and Pitches

Book pitches.  Movie trailers.  They serve the same purpose: to introduce the book or movie in the most attractive way possible.  Thus, creating a trailer or pitch revolves around finding the most attractive view.

I’m not going to try a how-to-write-pitches post, because I have seldom done it, and never well.  However, I enjoy seeing trailers and pitches and comparing them to the full-length production.  I have something to say about them.

The other day, I saw Star Trek: Into Darkness in the theater.  It was amazing, and was my first time seeing Eggs Benedict Cookie-batch (Benedict Cumberbatch) in action– but that isn’t the point.  Needless to say, it was prefixed by decades of previews of movies to come.  One of them was for the movie World War Z.  As you can probably guess, the trailer is a little bit violent, so click on the link if you want to see it.

Is the movie worth watching?  No, I don’t think so.  The trailer, however, is worth studying.

We see here a classic action movie, dystopian, portrayed as emotional yet explosive– and of course, as a Brad Pitt masterpiece.  Barely a third of the trailer isn’t taken up with his face, and that third is packed with explosions.  We see Brad Pitt as a loving father trying to get back to his family.

That’s about it.

What are they trying to showcase?  What, to them, is the most attractive feature of this film?

Brad Pitt, saying, “I need answers!”

Personally, I’m not sold.  I thought the premise was rather good, though– there seemed to be a lot of mayhem and madness about the world.  I’m curious: what actually happened?  Who are they talking about defeating?  What is going on?  The trailer doesn’t say.

For comparison, consider Partials, a very similarly-pitched book (without Brad Pitt) that I was sold on.  The back says, “’When our ancestors were attacked at Pearl Harbor, they called it a day that would live in infamy. The day the Partials attacked us with the RM Virus will not live in anything, because there will be none of us left to remember it.’  -President David R. Cregan, March 21, 2065, in a press conference at the White House. Three hours later he hanged himself.”  (Via GoodReads.)

This is, in itself, a pitch.  A very good one.  It does the same thing as the World War Z trailer, but better: it shows mayhem and hopelessness, but instead of focusing on its main character/star actor, it focuses on the enemy.  World War Z: who is the enemy?  No idea.  Partials: who is the enemy?  The Partials, with the RM Virus.

In this case, the author thought the mayhem and enemy were more important than the main character, and he was right.  In World War Z, the most important part is Brad Pitt and mayhem– to them, an infallible combination.

The movie I was going to see, Star Trek: Into Darkness, has a very distinctive trailer.  It too has quite a bit of violence, but it’s worth studying as well.

What is this trailer trying to showcase?  What is its most attractive feature?

By far, its Star Trek-ness.  Star Trek has an enormous fan base, an enormous world– the universe is its world, and you can’t get better than that unless you do multiple universes (I won’t even mention Fringe).  Its biggest feature, its most attractive feature, is that it is Star Trek.  The trailer shows colored shirts, star ships, phasers, Kirk, Scotty, Spock, and of course, Khan.

Second to that, however, they are showcasing the story.  You watch it and get the sense that everything is falling apart.  Falling off cliffs multiple times; prophesying doom upon all who serve under Captain Kirk; and explosions.  Lots of explosions.

This is important to the producers.  Perhaps they could have given a detailed explanation of what Captain Kirk wants, with a few close-ups of him saying things like “I want answers”, as they did for Brad Pitt.  But Captain Kirk isn’t important to the film.  The story and the setting are important.

Considering that Brad Pitt is one of the most important things in World War Z, I doubt it will be much to see.  I thought the same of Oblivion, wherein they showed close-ups of Tom Cruise looking determined, which was obviously most important to them, more important than what happened to humankind.

Remember: this isn’t a how-to post.  It’s just noticing something very important about what’s important.  But if you’re looking for a trailer or pitch to write, just keep in mind what’s most attractive about the story.

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123 thoughts on “Trailers and Pitches

    1. I watched the preveiw. That was kinda creepy with all those people flying out of the plane. And what are they fighting!? What is going on?! There was too much Brad Pitt’s family for a movie called World War Z.

      1. Another thing to add. Mom said World War Z’s preview was done explosions for the men, Brad Pitt for the women. Leave out the explosions, lose the male audience. Leave out Brad Pitt, lose the females.

  1. Now, if I could just step out of my own story enough to look past – but it’s ALL attractive. It is so hard to be objective about one’s own “baby”.

  2. World War Z is about a Zombie apocalypse (and its been getting surprisingly good reviews) but from the trailers I’ve seen, there’s no way I could have know that.

  3. Good post. Though, I have to disagree with you. Star Trek, in my opinion, sucked. I thought it had too many elements that just didn’t gel together. I don’t know why, but to me, it just seemed like a jigsaw puzzle where the pieces didn’t really fit :/

    I wanted to ask your opinion on something. Have you heard of the ‘Snowflake Method’ of story writing? I was just reading up on it right now, and it seems okay. As someone who completely sucks at *plotting* her stories, anything looks decent right now x(

    http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/articles/snowflake-method/

    Here’s the link I was looking at. Tell me what you think of it?

    1. I’ve read through that a couple times. I loath it. I prefer a different way of brainstorming stories every time I brainstorm a story, but at heart I’m a discovery writer. I might be able to make do with coming up with a concept or character and building a plot from that, but I can’t write pitches before I write the story.

      1. Whoa, that’s a strong sentiment! xD

        Thanks for the opinion. What would you suggest for someone who sucks at plotting? I just need something to kick-start my brain. (Ask me to come up with a character–even the weirdest, most difficult sort–and I can. Ask me to come up with a plot, and I’m stumped. Ugh.)

      2. Did you read my post about character development and Pixar? It was pretty recent. Basically, if you know your main character’s flaws, you can find a plot to fit it.

  4. ‘my first time seeing Eggs Beneditch Cookie-batch (Benedict Cumberbatch) in action’
    Please tell me that you just mean seeing him in a film, rather than having not seen him act *at all*. Please. Please tell me you’ve watched Sherlock. Please. The idiots at my school are the only people who are allowed to have not watched it, and that’s because they’re idiots without understanding of how awesome it is. I might blow up if you say you haven’t watched Sherlock.

    In other news, I spend most of my time nowadays frowning at a screen in confusion whenever I see a film trailer. Action films especially have gone from trying to sell you on the unique story to proving that they have more explosions and so are better. I suppose that’s Hollywood for you — running out of either ideas, or a want of new ideas.

    1. I agree with Charlotte, Liam. Watch Sherlock if you haven’t. If you have, tell us your theory of how Sherlock survived in The Final Problem.

      1. I’ve got a couple of theories…

        Welcome to Robyn’s hair-brained on the spot theories 2.0:

        It was raining in the death scene. Remember in Hound where the hullacination-drug was used in the mist? It made people see their fears…
        So, if it was raining, Sherlock “keep your eyes on me” Holmes, could have done one of two things. He, with Molly’s help, could have recreated the HOUND drug and gotten it to John (hey, for all we know, he drugged John earlier during breakfast), thus John “saw” Sherlock fall. Or maybe the biker gave it to him and he saw a dead Sherlock.

        More likely, Sherlock was beemed up into the Enterprise, couldn’t remember who he was, then thinks that he “is” Moriarty, and proceeds to be the villian of the next Star Trek film. 🙂 Right?

      2. I vote for that second theory. Definitely the most likely. 🙂

        I have heard a theory (I daren’t even try to create one of my own) that says that Sherlock jumped but fell on something soft or something and John didn’t see because he was getting knocked over by that cyclist. Then he stuck that bouncy ball he was playing with under his arm to stop the blood to his arm and lay on the floor all dead-like and then, I suppose, used his magic powers to create his own body like he did for Irene Adler.

      3. I have seen about a minute of Sherlock, only because we don’t get that channel. Very sorry– I hear it’s brilliant, but I have not the means by which to watch it.

      4. Nope. That foiled my plans for Doctor Who as well, which I have been able to slip in, fortunately. I’m still trying to catch up on all the British shows.

      5. Or… you could pay your own bills. And quite frankly, in order to pay for Netflix for you, I think I would need your address.

      6. I am not an internet ruse. I’m Liam’s puppet commenter.
        I don’t think Liam was planning to give me his address, anyway. At least, I hope he has the sense not to.

      7. They won’t get to your house and, therefore, the whole thing is pointless, welcome or not.

      8. If I want to send them to the Castle, I have to track trade winds so I can estimate where to send it to. Too complex.
        Let’s see… who else could I send it to?

      9. Oh. Good. That would be confusing. I’m not saying I am Batman, but we’ve never been seen in the same room together so… Actually, I’ve never been seen in the same room with Iron Man, either. I also… should probably stop talking before I give something away.
        You mean other people can see the Batsignal? I must talk to security about this.

      10. Anyway. I haven’t had time to watch the episode yet. There have been more pressing matters to deal with, and might I say it, I’m more eager to deal with them.

      11. That’s fine. I wasn’t going to pay for your Netflix, anyway, especially now that you have a means of watching at least the first episode.

      12. I hope you do watch it. But don’t feel obligated to do it right away. Please, go read and write and edit. You have novels to put on the shelves of libraries around the world.

      13. My mom said that maybe it had something to do with John’s fear and shock, making him see what he “wanted” to see, so to speak. Plus, this is Sherlock—who says he can’t fake his own death?

  5. This reminds me that I need to work on my own pitch….Though, I’ve already not done what you said, because I’m not sure that it’s saying what’s most important. My pitch is essentially just a one-sentence summary of the plot…..which might be okay, except that I think my novel might be more of a character-story. I’m not entirely sure, though. It’s hard to tell.

    1. Well, there are a few ways to portray a plot, yes? A girl tracks down a team of assassins who killed her brother– we know she cares for her brother and that’s her motivation. Therefore, you care about the story and the character. In a dark world of mayhem and knives between ribs, a girl must call upon her worst fears to find the men who killed her brother– suddenly, we know it’s a dog-eat-dog world and we’re curious about her worst fears. Therefore, you care about the setting and the conflict. It’s the same story both times.

      1. Well, the plot interests me, and I love my characters. Actually, I think my favorite part about the story, and the reason I keep writing it, is because of the characters.

      2. I could probably give far more than a paragraph. But I’ll keep this in mind. It’s a good thing I don’t exactly need the perfect pitch at this point….

      3. See, my pitch is currently this sentence: “Magic stops following the rules.” However, part of the story is about my two favorite characters and their interaction. Both of them end up having to face their fears, one of dying and other other of drowning. But the other half of my story, narrated by a different character, is more of an event-story, and dealing with the plot and all that. So….I’m not sure if the pitch actually fits or not.

      4. Well, for a short hook, it’s great. I was thinking you wanted a full-sentence pitch, in which case you’d highlight the two favorite characters (but don’t mention their fears), juxtaposed with the plot. That is, assuming that the two favorites have anything to do with the plot…?

    1. Indeed he is. Yet, the first Hobbit movie only shows the silhouette of the Necromancer, and the nose of Smaug. If I’m supposed to extrapolate the actor from that minimal amount of data, I think you have the wrong idea.

  6. Interesting post. My family just saw the World War Z trailer (I missed it), but they thought the same thing (also, I’m pretty sure Z is for zombies, so there’s your antagonist). And all I remember about the Star Trek trailer is lots of explosions. And Benedict Cumberbatch BLONDE. (This was rather shocking after seeing him dark in Sherlock). I thought the pitch for Partials was weird when I first read it, but I see what you meant and how that works. Really interesting

    Now I’m rethinking the pitch I’ve written for my NaNo.

    Also, have you read Fragments yet? I just finished it.

    1. No, he’s dark-haired in Star Trek.

      I just bought Fragments, in fact. I’m currently reading Mistborn, by Dan Wells’ friend and writing group partner Brandon Sanderson.

      1. He… He is? I thought he was blonde. Huh. Wonder where I saw pictures of him blonde.

        I won’t say anything about Fragments yet, then, though I am curious to see what you think of some things in it. How’s Mistborn? That’s a cool title.

      2. Ooh, I just looked it up, and that looks really fun. Adding it to the to-read list, and searching the library website….

        …. My library has it. Ah, the dilemma of which of the cool-looking book to read next.

      3. Going Postal by Terry Pratchett (I can hear you groan, but my parents really liked it, and I liked the movie), The Princess Bride by … someone (another cool movie that I want to read the book of), half a gazillion books on my shelf that I bought for 50 cents at my library’s book sale, something by John Green, the rest of the Ranger’s Apprentice series, the rest of the Frog Princess series that my sister has been begging me to read, other books my sister has been begging me to read, the Maisie Dobbs series by someone….

        I’m sure I could think of others, but I’ll stop there. Mistborn actually sounds like the most fun at the moment.

  7. WWZ is a zombie apocalypse movie based on a novel. I am waiting for a copy (from my honorary book-lender) at the moment but have heard great things. It is written as a documentary from the point of view of many different victims. The actual book takes place after World War Z. I’ve heard that it is unconventional, in a good way, and makes the whole zombie thing seem quite eerily possible.
    Additionally, there were some admirable hints toward the zombies (“every person we save us one less to fight” and the waves of bodies mindlessly droning and climbing on each other), without using the gore to reel people in.
    If you don’t see the movie, please read the book. I think you may like it.

  8. Brilliant post, Liam! I’m horrifically bad at blurbs and pitches alike – something I need to work on – namely because it can sometimes be very difficult to pin down the essence of a complex (or seemingly so) story into one phrase. The author always thinks they need to make sure the reader knows there is more to it – that this character is interesting and dynamic, that there are undercurrents and side-plots, that these themes will be addressed, that there will be romance etc etc.

    Tricky business, pitching. Tricky, tricky business.

      1. I’m comatose and dribbling into my pillow at one in the morning, and anyone who attempts to alter this usually ends up with my foot lodged in one of their facial orifices.

      2. I usually make do with the attacker’s foot lodged in his own facial orifices. That way, I can go back to sleep without hanging at an awkward angle. Of course, there are nights when one o’clock in the morning is allergic to sleep, and won’t let it near me.

      3. Those moments are most unfortunate. Especially as I’m even more likely to lodge things where they ought not to be when disturbed. One ought to take the multiple terrible fates of my various alarm clocks as a warning.

      4. Indeed. What was it… Oh, yes, when I was thirteen I was writing a pretty stupid medieval fantasy, and one of the characters had to be woken for a council meeting. He dispatched a squad of soldiers with a boot, then fell back asleep.

      5. That sounds both ridiculously silly and also rather epically hilarious. Then again, I’m the one who, in a similarly silly mediaeval fantasy, had a character nearly break her half-brother’s nose with the hilt of a talking axe when he roused her from an afternoon doze.

      6. Now there’s an idea with potential for chaos. Poor hero wouldn’t last a second if his boot was forever spouting useless wisdom or complaining or being needlessly snarky.

      7. Something like that. Or commenting on how they walk like a rejected extra from Jurassic Park. Or that their feet smell. Probably more the latter.

  9. I’d have to disagree with you – I liked the World War Z trailer (and not because Brad Pitt was in it – honestly, I’m not the biggest fan of him). The fact that the trailer never told you who the villain was exactly left me wanting to watch the movie so I could get answers. I don’t know…Maybe I just liked it because of all the madness and mayhem…

    On another note, I loved the new Star Trek movie. Benedict Cumberbatch’s acting was superb (as well as his acting in Sherlock). And the soundtrack was amazing as well. My favorite is definitely this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EAdBZlCb-_M

    1. If the only thing that makes me want to watch World War Z is the lack of information, I don’t think I’ll be satisfied with the movie as a whole. Since most questions are answered about halfway through the movie, I think I’d leave after that.

      Ah, yes, I picked that one up on the piano yesterday. It’s a nice, simplistic theme.

      1. Eh, I’m still interested in seeing the movie. It has action, and a lot of people die. Right up my alley.

        Same here. I already have it down on the piano.

  10. I saw Star Trek the other day. I want to know your thoughts on the the last half-hour of it. In the movie, they would solve a problem, get another one, solve that one, have another, barely solve that one before there’s another problem to fix, and on and on until Spock knocks out Khan. My sister and I personally were thinking “When is this going to end?”

    1. I agree, it did seem to drag on a little, but not so much that I was action-dazed. Perhaps knowledge of the trailer helped me a little– I knew the trailer showed Uhura holding a gun on a moving platform, and that didn’t come until the very end. But that shouldn’t really matter. I knew that Khan was a superhuman, and few things would really defeat him once his blood was up (for example, the five phaser shots he takes to the chest). Thus, it felt okay to let him keep getting up and fighting some more.

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