horror key art

As mentioned in the last post, the two most important marketing pieces that will gain audience attention for your film are the trailer and the key art, the film’s poster image. This image sets the audience expectation of what they will see before they even look at who is in the film, what it is about, and whether they will pay further attention to its advertising. It is very important to get this piece right.

I spoke with Mark Crawford of Blood and Chocolate, a boutique design firm in Los Angeles specializing in entertainment advertising, to learn how they work with studios and producers to create the visual identity of a film.

SC: Where do you start when coming up with design concepts? Do you watch the film?  Is there usually a brief that includes the marketing goals? Do you talk about the sensibilities of the audience the film is trying to reach? 

MC: “There is no set way to begin the development of a key art image for a motion picture. It is as fluid as the actual production of the film, and is equally as much a collaborative effort.

On some projects, we are brought on before the film has even begun shooting and we may begin developing conceptual ideas from the script or photo-shoot concepts that can be covered when the production begins. With this approach, important scenes can be extensively covered in the unit photography, assuring we have good images with which to work. But in most cases, the film is in production or completed.

The actual beginning of developing images usually starts with a direction meeting with the studio executive overseeing the project. Having been involved with the producers, film makers and other studio executives since the inception of the project, he or she communicates the positioning and tone that the studio feels is the best way to sell the movie. These would include everything from the actors to be featured on the 1-sheet to the message communicated in the copy line.

Based on the direction, we develop a series of poster images, usually anywhere from 25 to 50, that explore a wide range of imagery and tone that could represent the film.”

horror key art

SC: How does Blood and Chocolate keep horror designs fresh? Very often a wall of horror “posters” or thumbnail images starts looking the same when viewed in the iTunes store (dark backgrounds, old houses, a knife and blood).  

MC: “Horror is a very widely exploited genre, making the mission to stand out even more of a challenge. The goal is to develop an image that will stop people in their tracks.

The first place to start is the film. There may be scenes within the movie that provide the inspiration we are looking for. What are the unique aspects of this film that I can draw upon to create an image that is specific to to this movie? Or is there an establishing shot that just hints something very intense is about to happen. A very simple image, with a provocative copy line, can let the viewer connect the dots.

Sometimes, there is imagery within the film that can be used as inspiration to create an iconic poster-something not even in the movie but supports the concept.

Ultimately, the technique of the final artwork is crucial.”

SC: Is the real purpose behind the key art to tell the film’s story in a visual way? Or to give an emotional resonance that draws one into investigating further? 

MC: “We feel that the purpose of the key art is to pique your interest in a film, not try to tell the entire story. It is the single image that represents the journey that the film maker will take you on.”

SC: Where do you stand on having several different art designs for a film campaign? Should there be the same design for theatrical release, digital release, DVD release so the audience becomes familiar with it? Or is it effective to have variations on that theme to suit the medium that is selling the film? 

MC: “There should be one primary image to represent the film- one image that becomes the signature. However, the internet offers an amazing forum to feature secondary images that can broaden out the impression of the film.

Ultimately, it is important to have a focused campaign that can expand out.”

SC: Does the key art usually lead when it comes to other advertising elements like outdoor, web design and even trailers and TV spots?

MC: “Depending upon the budget and the scope of the marketing plan, sometimes teaser posters are created in advance to promote certain aspects of a film.They can feature the characters or be based on the concept of the movie. It can be a provocative way to build awareness. These ultimately lead to the key art which is the image that will represent the movie.”

SC: Is it part of your work to come up with taglines or other text as well or is that a separate entity’s work? How about other technical considerations like credit blocks? What size font, what kind of font, placement on the poster? Is that dictated in a certain way (WGA, PGA, DGA rules?)

MC: “Development of copy directions is part of the first phase 1-sheet presentation. It is very much an integral part of the poster and must work hand-in-hand with the visual. It is not unusual to develop teaser images that are copy alone.

As far as the billing block, those are provided by the studio and represent the legal credits called out by the different guilds. Their size on a poster is dictated by the size of the title.”

SC: Are images used in the design work created on set or does Blood and Chocolate usually arrange their own photo shoot to suit the proposed design?

MC: “Images used in one-sheets come from a variety of places. Often they are from unit photography that is taken during production or special shoots of the talent done later. Often times, Blood & Chocolate will special shoot specific images if they are needed for specific concepts. Photographic stock agencies are another resource.”

SC: When you are hired to create the design, who owns the design? From a standpoint of possibly wanting to sell the artwork as a separate function than purely promotional, does the client have the right to do that without further compensation to you?

MC: “Once the key art image is finished and delivered, it is owned by the studio. They can use it any way they choose to promote the movie.”

SC:Name one design in particular and illustrate how you approached it?

MC: THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT

Blair Witch Project design

“It was the first of the reality-based modern horror movies. The entire movie is the tension of not knowing exactly where it is going. Ultimately, the haunting feeling is the absence of anything you can actually see, just their fear.

The poster conveys the same feeling. It is a low-angle shot – almost like someone laying on the ground, but we see no one. The only image is the woods, shown as a negative image. The documentary-style copy delivers an ominous message. No words like ‘terror’ or ‘horror,’ nothing cliche. It just says how their footage was found. Open ended and haunting.”

SC: Can you give a ballpark estimate for design cost for key art?

MC: “The cost of key art depends a number of factors. For smaller independent movies, the budget is usually smaller. They require fewer concepts and make fewer changes.For larger movies, the budget is bigger, as is the scope of work to be done to get to a final poster.”

Sheri Candler

October 31st, 2013

Posted In: Creative, Key Art, Marketing

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One of the absolute strongest pieces of marketing you will create for your film is its trailer. The other is the key art. I wish more filmmakers appreciated how important having a kick ass trailer is and stop trying to save money by editing it themselves or having their feature editor do it. A horror film audience is typically younger and very distracted. A trailer that fails to capture attention in less than 5 seconds is easily turned off in the quest to find something more interesting.

I spoke with professional trailer editor Michael Kurthy of Ye Olde Trailer Shoppe, Inc. about what goes into editing film trailers, especially horror trailers.

SC:What is the first thing you do when you sit down to edit? How do you evaluate the film to choose the elements that will go into a compelling trailer? 

MK: “If I’m working directly with the producer, we usually collaborate on coming up with a marketing direction for the film. The producer usually has some ideas, but is so close to the film that they don’t see the ‘big’ picture on how to sell the film to a wide audience. Every film is different and requires a different approach. I will do a ‘Break down’ of the film prior to cutting the trailer. This is basically deconstructing the entire film shot by shot/dialog line by dialog line. I try to use the footage and dialog to tell a story, but if that can’t be done, I will write or hire a copy writer to tell the story with narration. The trend these days is NOT to use copy. Sometimes we will be working on a film in the early stages of production and we will indeed use a shot that may not make it into the final cut of the released feature.”

SC: Is there a difference between what goes into cutting a trailer for a horror film and cutting any other kind of narrative film? Are there “rules” or conventions that go into marketing a horror film that you follow? Does it depend on what the trailer is supposed to do (IE, sell the film to industry vs sell the film to the consumer)?

MK:”The only difference is that horror is usually paced slower, more pregnant pauses are used to accentuate a particular moment and we like to use more sound FX. When I cut the trailer for The Wizard of Gore, a remake of a 70’s Vincent Price horror film, I chose to skillfully use music and sound FX that would drive the trailer along in a frenetic manner, with lots of stops. I concluded with a high energy rock cue from the feature soundtrack because it worked so well to pull the whole trailer together at the end.”

horror trailers

SC: How important is music in a horror trailer? Where do you source your music from? 

MK: “Music searches are really one of the most important elements in trailer making. The music will set the tone of the piece as well as the mood and what I would like the audience to feel and think. For most of the indy horror film trailers I create, I’m usually handcuffed into using the feature score from the film because of ultra low budgets.This can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on the score.”

SC: Are there certain fonts or motion graphics that can be used to great effect? Should you have text/graphics or should the scenes play out to demonstrate the full effect of the film? What about using festival laurels or critic quotes? What about foreign films, how do subtitles play in trailers?

MK: “The only reason you need text or graphics in a trailer is because you have to convey another story that can’t be accomplished with using dialogue from the film; or the dialogue from the film isn’t enough to tell the story.

When we use the festival laurels or critic quotes in a cut, we are trying to use the accolades of the film to our advantage. Testing shows that people do respond to awards and such. A lot of times we ‘hide’ foreign films by doing a trailer with no dialogue,it’s very difficult to sell a sub-titled foreign language movie here in the States.”

SC: How is trailer editing different from feature editing? 

MK: “I almost exclusively cut just trailers. I think it really is necessary to hire a professional trailer editor who is not biased on the film. One who can step back and really see the big picture. I recently edited a feature documentary for the first time, a film called The Sound of the Surf about the origins of ‘Surf’ music. Unlike trailers, this feature’s files were so big and daunting, so many things to keep track of ie: photos, interviews, music,flyers etc. With a trailer, one simply has the 1 ½ hr film to be concerned with plus miscellaneous music, graphics and select pulls. Quite frankly, after completing this feature edit, I wonder if I could still cut a trailer for this film, after being so immersed into it.”

SC: Given the audience for horror is usually young (teens), does this dictate the length and style of the trailer? How about different lengths depending on where it is shown (online vs in theater)?

MK: “Less is more in this case. Attention spans have shrunk in recent years probably due to the obliteration of broadcast material out there.There is no official maximum length, but if your trailer is over 2m 30secs, it probably won’t get played in a theater.”

SC: How do you feel about the accusation that trailers “give away the movie”? Is that true? Are there instances where they have to in order to get bums in seats/streams sold?

MK: “A good trailer should never give away the story or ending. However, today a lot of trailers do just that. A lot of this has to do with creatives in charge at the studios.There is a lot of pressure on them to ‘Open’ a film [ie, provide a successful opening weekend of the release] because if they don’t, it’s their job on the line. Being a creative advertising exec at a studio is a very short lived career.”

SC: Now for the question all of our readers will want to know for budgeting purposes, could you give me a range for how much a professional trailer would cost? Also, how far in advance should a producer plan for trailer edit? 

MK: “If you go to a trailer house (large company with many producers, editors, graphics people), you are going to be charged anywhere from $40,000 on up to $75,000. Smaller shops like mine (1 to 5 employees) can bring the price way down. My rate for an indy trailer is around $4000-$5,000.

It’s always a good idea to plan in advance, but unfortunately people wait until the last minute. I have had to cut trailers in ONE DAY!-not fun. Ideally, it takes 1 to 2 weeks to get a great trailer cut that the client likes.”

 

 

Michael Kurthy is an award-winning motion picture marketing veteran who, over a 20 year career, has created successful theatrical campaigns for dozens of block-buster hits including: “Independence Day”, “The Matrix”, and “The Lord of the Rings”.

Currently,he owns Ye Olde Trailer Shoppe Inc., a boutique trailer house, for which he creates quality advertising campaigns for major and independent features. Mike has created campaigns for many horror films including, “The Wizard of Gore”, “Cold Storage”, “Friday the 13th Part Vlll”, “Blackout”, “Close Your Eyes” and “Freddy’s Dead” all of which can be seen at www.michaelkurthy.com

 

Sheri Candler

October 24th, 2013

Posted In: Marketing, Publicity, Trailers, Uncategorized

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We’ve all heard the stories of the little independent horror films that could; seemingly plucked from nowhere and went on to be mega hits. 

Paranormal Activity, a $15,000 film launched at Slamdance 2008, was bought for about $350,000 and became the highest grossing film in the history of the festival. Though it was originally acquired with remake rights in mind, it ended up spawning four subsequent installments.

Sundance 2004 served as the launchpad for Saw (production budget around $1mil) which, like Paranormal Activity, was never supposed to go to movie theaters; it was originally going to go direct to DVD. It spawned 6 sequels. Another Sundance premiere, The Blair Witch Project, was shot for $60,000 and made over $140 Million in theaters.

Insidious was made for $1.5 mil, premiered at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival and grossed over $90 Mil worldwide. Other films to launch at TIFF include Hostel and Cabin Fever.

horror blog

Yes, these films are the exceptions to the rule. The rule that says box office success is a result of higher production spends and star names. Such is the potential of the horror genre. It has one of the most loyal audiences who, to a certain degree, ignore critics and don’t care too much about star cast. The catch is the traditional indie release model does not work to get these films out to market.

It is almost impossible for a horror indie to do the slow expansion route. This is why most films either release day/date, go direct to DVD or open wide and place all their marbles on opening weekend. Almost all horror films drop off over 50% after their first weekend. Often dropping even 60 or 70%. Even a film with critical appeal like You’re Next only received middling reactions from the larger fan boy audience and will end its theatrical with less than $20 Million. Notably, it still out-performed all but one TIFF acquisition from last year’s festival.

What makes the films I listed above unique is that they either opened in limited release and immediately garnered major interest (Paranormal Activity) or showed immense staying power per the genre (Insidious).

The commercial potential of horror compared to other arthouse films cannot be ignored. Almost no one I know would consider any of those films ‘arthouse,’ but that’s exactly what they are. They are some of the most commercially successful independent films ever released. This year, all but one of the midnight madness films from TIFF has a US distributor attached and last year’s batch all found distribution deals, making it the only section from the festival to secure domestic distribution for all of its slate.

Even the films that don’t necessarily draw massive box office are usually incredibly successful. Sundance films like The Pact and V/H/S were never about theatrical receipts. Both were profitable via the advance received for their domestic distribution deal alone and both were profitable for the distributor (mainly via home video and foreign sales) hence why they each got sequels. Horror is arguably the only genre I know where a film could be bought for just shy of seven figures (The Pact), gross less than $10k theatrically in the US and still be considered a massive success. Distributors like Anchor Bay (who sometimes finances too), IFC Midnight, and Magnet specialize in this kind of release model and continue to thrive. It’s incredibly rare for any of them to push the theatrical and almost all of their releases are available on demand upwards of 2 months before they even pop up on a screen.

There is also a clear set of time windows when these films do well. You will not see horror films popping up in theaters in the US during November or December and with good reason. Who can compete with the Christmas releases? Many distributors treat horror as filler title for January/February and it has worked well for films like Hostel. Insidious and The Pact were both summer counter programming. When The Sixth Sense set a then record for releasing at the end of summer, it seems to have set a precedent to debut horror in late summer.

I want to be clear though all is not a pot of gold when it comes to the genre. Please contrast this post with the prior blog entry from my colleague Sheri Candler. EVERYTHING there is absolutely true. I received more solicitations for generic horror films from the Cannes, TIFF, and AFM markets than for anything other genre or story. Many of these films will never see the light of day and even at micro budgets will fail to recoup.

Every year, we anoint maybe one or two new voices in the genre and otherwise it’s mostly a rehashing of the same people. Just look at the midnight films from TIFF this year, The Green Inferno and All Cheerleaders Must Die from Lucky McKee. There are fewer spots for new auteurs to breakthrough. The people who are in the horror game are frequently collaborating and backing one another creating a genre power situation where they can squeeze out the very little guys/gals that would have just as easily been considered a few years ago. It’s a giant game of six degrees of separation now that gets one to the inner circle of horror stardom.

As the horror sequels pile on, it is so easy to forget the simplicity of what came first. If horror is your game, I encourage you to go back and watch the original Saw. It’s really a mystery story focusing on two people trapped in a room. The few other traps we see are only in flashback. The bulk of the film is two people talking in a room. As studios continue to struggle to push the boundaries (okay let’s be honest, they struggle to come up with anything even slightly unique or entertaining), they look to the festival circuit for the next film with breakout potential. Every horror franchise to launch in the last few years has come from the festival circuit.

There is still a lot of life left in the genre, but if you’re on a micro-budget, you have to offer something fresh or with minimal star power or have powerful connection in the indie world to get noticed. Horror is one genre where titling and cover art can make or break success with an audience. The attention span of the typical horror fan is very short unless they recognize something they like immediately. It’s no accident that people were talking about Sharknado; an absurd, but definitely different take on horror and sci fi. It lit up Twitter like nobody’s business. The Asylum does very well making those types of films. But the success narrative is skewed; it only attracted a viewing audience slightly better than a typical SyFy Channel movie of the week and its hurried theatrical screenings pulled in less than $200K from 200 cinemas. Still, it has spawned a sequel!

So to recap, the genre is waiting for someone to break out in the midnight section at Sundance, SXSW, Tribeca, and/or TIFF, these films are often the most successful to come out of the festival circuit and almost always receive a deal. However, to get into the festivals at all is incredibly difficult and if you’re not already connected to the “in crowd,” you are probably shit out of luck. While you could do a D grade microbudget film with distribution pre attached through Full Moon, what would that do for you? The best case scenario is you make a whopping $5,000 for all your hard work, they get control of the edit and the film doesn’t see a significant release.

But whatever you do, choose a smart title, a good poster and cut an exciting trailer. They are imperative in horror.

October 11th, 2013

Posted In: Distribution, Theatrical

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The month of October seems a good time to look at films in the horror genre and we will be releasing a series of posts all month long that addresses the business of releasing these films.

Long the domain of ultra low budget filmmakers everywhere, horror audiences are now spoiled for choice when it comes to finding a film that terrifies. Yes, everyone with access to a digital camera and buckets of fake blood seems to be honing their craft and turning out product by the thousands. Unfortunately, most of it is high on splatter and low on story and production value. That may have made up the majority of the horror film sales 7 years ago, but distribution advances paid for such films are now exceedingly low (maybe $5K per territory, IF there is a pick up at all) and now the genre is perfect for the torrent sites.Unless you plan to make films as an expensive hobby, the pressure to produce a stellar horror film that people will talk about (see The Conjuring, Insidious, Paranormal Activity) is very high.

horror films

The trouble for filmmakers creating in this genre is there is so much being made of questionable quality, it is like asking audiences to find a needle…in a stack of needles (hat tip to Drew Daywalt). The same challenges for fundraising, marketing, and distribution that plague every production, plague horror films as well. To get good word of mouth, the film HAS to be great and have a significant marketing push.

At a recent event hosted at the LA Film School by Screen Craft entitled Horror Filmmaking: The Guts of the Craft, several involved in the horror genre talked about budgeting and distributing indie horror films. All agreed the production value bar has to be raised so much higher than everything else in the market in order to get people to part with their money for a ticket when competing with studio films. Talent manager Andrew Wilson of Zero Gravity Management pointed out that comments like the film did a lot with so little doesn’t hold water with audiences outside of the festival circuit. “You still need it to be good enough to get someone to come into a theater and pay $12…the guy who is going to pay $12 doesn’t care that you did a lot for a little bit of money. They want to see a film that is as good as the big Warner Bros release because they are paying the same amount of money to see it.” While you may be thinking, “I don’t need my film to play in a theater,” and that may be, the films seeing the most revenue in this genre are the ones that do.

The panel also addressed selling horror films into foreign territories. While horror does travel much better than American drama or comedy, there are horror films being made all over the world and some are much more innovative than their American counterparts. France, Japan and Korea were cited as countries producing fantastically creative horror films. American filmmakers with aspirations of distributing their films overseas need to be aware of the competition not just with fellow countrymen, but with foreign talent as well.

Other film distributors are candidly talking about the complete decimation of the market for horror, largely brought on by the internet and piracy, but also a change in consumer habits. Why buy a copy to own of that low grade splatterfest when you can easily stream it (for pay or not) and move on to the next one? More where that came from. There was once big money in fooling audiences to buy a $20 DVD with a good slasher poster and trailer, but now they are wise to the junk vying for their attention and don’t see the need to pay much money for it.

In a talk given last year at the Spooky Empire’s Ultimate Horror Weekend in Orlando, sales agent/distributor Stephen Biro of Unearthed Films actually warned the audience of filmmakers not to get into horror if money was what they were seeking.”The whole system is rigged for the distributors and retailers. You will have to make the movie of a lifetime, something that will stand the test of time.”  He confirmed DVD for horror is dead. Titles that might have shipped 10, 000 copies to retailers are now only shipping maybe 2,000. Some stores will only take 40 copies, see how they sell and order more if needed in order to cut down on dealing with returns. Of the big box stores left standing, few are interested in low budget horror titles. Netflix too is stepping away from low budget indie horror on the DVD side. They may offer distributors a 2 year streaming deal for six titles at $24,000 total, but there will be a cost to get them QC’d properly (which comes out of your cut, after the middlemen take their share of course!).

As for iTunes, there are standards barring graphic sex for films in the US and in some countries, they are now requiring a rating from the local ratings authority in order to sell from the iTunes Movie store. The cost of this can run into the thousands (based on run time) per country. Also, subtitling will be required for English language films, another cost.

The major companies in cable VOD (Comcast, Time Warner, Verizon etc) are now requiring a significant theatrical release (about 15 cities) before showing interest in working with a title. They are predominantly interested in titles with significant marketing effort behind them. The cable operators often do not offer advances and you must go through an aggregator like Gravitas Ventures to access. If the aggregator refuses your film, that’s it.

Selling from your own site via DVD or digital through Vimeo or Distrify is still an option, and the cut of revenue is certainly larger. But unless there is a budget and plan in place to market the site, traffic won’t just materialize. Still, for ultra, ultra low budget films (like made for less than $5,000) with a clear marketing strategy and small advertising budget, selling direct is the way to go. Certainly better than giving all rights away for free, for 7 years and seeing nothing. At least your film can access a global audience.

Here is Biro’s talk from Orlando. It runs almost an hour

If after reading this, you are still set to wade into the market with your horror film, stay tuned to future posts looking at the numbers behind some recent horror films and what options you’ll have on the festival circuit.

 

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/markybon/102406173/”>MarkyBon</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>cc</a>

 

Sheri Candler

October 3rd, 2013

Posted In: Cable, Digital Distribution, Distribution, International Sales, iTunes, Long Tail & Glut of Content, Marketing, Netflix, Theatrical

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