While Ryan, our kiddos, and I were in Arkansas for the holidays, we drove 4+ hours across the state to see our friend, director Hunter West, to shoot a pitch trailer for his next film. It was worth every minute. All 15 hours of shooting. With no real childcare for the day. Just a small extremely capable and efficient crew, a few of us actors, our kids, and the script.
Ya see, I starred in Hunter West’s sex-trafficking crime drama “Ridge Runners” (Indican/Lionsgate) and I loved working with him. 3 1/2 years later, Hunter and writer Austin Lott have 3 scripts ready to go: a fun 80’s bank robbery/heist in a small town, a post-civil war Arkansas Western, and a classic Romantic Comedy Christmas movie. He, and we, assumed the Christmas movie would be the easiest one to get off the ground (financially) and so the whole team went about the logistics of getting together and shooting a pitch trailer in a day!
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
“In the filmmaking industry, a pitch trailer, also known as a Concept Trailer or Proof Of Concept Trailer, is a movie trailer produced independently by the filmmaker for the sole purpose of illustrating the concept, style and theme of a feature film. Pitch trailers can be used by film directors, producers or executive producers during the film’s planning, crowdfunding or fundraising phase. They are often self-financed and are structured and edited to appear like an ordinary feature film trailer. Pitch trailers are most commonly presented to financiers as a part of the film’s pitch. Sometimes, these trailers are used for casting purposes and marketing purposes as well.”
“Well known examples of feature films produced following a successful concept trailer pitch were The Lord of the Rings film series, Looper, The Hunger Games, Machete, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, the Super Troopers films, Iron Sky, Pickings, Miles Ahead, Hardcore Henry, Lazer Team and others.”
Is it Necessary?
In this fabulous article, “A Script Is No Longer Enough: Why First-Time Feature Directors Must Make a Proof-of-Concept,” William Dickerson shares that “…As the prospect of making my fourth feature film nears, the proof-of-concept has become, for me, just another necessary step. It is no longer just a requirement for first time feature directors; it is pretty much de rigueur for any filmmaker seeking financing for a movie.””
And I completely agree. I barely take myself seriously unless I have some media to show for it, and I’ve made several distributed films already.
What’s the difference between a proof-of-concept or pitch trailer or …prototype? Why make a trailer instead of a market-ably viable short film? Why put in all that effort (time/money) for something you don’t release publicly?
From entrepreneur.com, Muthu Singaram (CEO, IIT Madras HTIC Incubator) and Prathistha Jain (Director at Vibazone Private Limited) break it down perfectly. Although their breakdown is not filmmaker specific, you can draw the parallels here between a sample, trailer, or short film version of your project.
“A Proof of Concept (POC) is a small exercise to test the design idea or assumption. The main purpose of developing a POC is to demonstrate the functionality and to verify a certain concept or theory that can be achieved in development. Prototyping is a valuable exercise that allows the innovator to visualize how the product will function, it is a working interactive model of the end product that gives an idea of the design, navigation and layout. While a POC shows that a product or feature can be developed, a prototype shows How it will be developed.”
“While a POC is designed purely to verify the functionality of a single or a set of concepts to be unified into other systems. The usability of it the real world is not even taken into consideration when creating a proof of concept because integration with technologies is not only time-consuming, but also might weaken the ability to determine if the principle concept is viable. This exercise is to identify the product features before jumping into development. A prototype is a first attempt at making a working model that might be real-world usable. Things go wrong in the process, but identifying these errors and stumbling blocks is principle purpose of building a prototype. A prototype has almost all the functionalities of the end product, but will generally not be as efficient, artistically designed, or durable.”
Singaram and Jain are not only explaining the difference between a POC and a prototype, but they briefly explore the benefits or drawbacks of both. For our film, director Hunter West decided upon a trailer instead of a short film as to sell the overall idea of the product. We chose the proof-of-concept route (a trailer or ‘pitch trailer’ or ‘concept trailer’) as opposed to a prototype (short film version or stand-alone scene from the film). A short film would be fun, but it wouldn’t help us with this particular genre. With a stylized feature or unique story structure, I’d lean towards short film to shop, festival, and market. But it really is up to you what would be best for your specific purposes.
Sometimes a short stand-alone film works. Read about these “8 Great ‘Proof of Concept’ Films That Got Picked Up by Hollywood” by Jonathan Paul There are dozens of examples, really. But I’ve never made the leap. I usually make these (or participate in these) for crowdfunding campaigns. That’s about it.
When I get overwhelmed by all of this, I might correctly complain that a proof-of-concept may not ever get you anywhere other than a good crowdfunding campaign anyway! Jeff Schneider shared his thoughts on how “Hollywood Loves Proof-of-Concept Shorts, But Where Are the Movies?” in 2015. The piece is definitely worth the read, but here were a few relevant thoughts:
“For the last five years, VFX-savvy filmmakers trying to break through the Hollywood logjam have been making proof-of-concept short films to communicate their ideas for original sci-fi movies. But very few of these projects have managed to escape from development hell and make it onto a big screen in a studio system that is increasingly focused on branded content and pre-existing concepts….”
“[IAM Entertainment’s Scott] Glassgold said that a good script is important, but noted that in any given year, only 10 percent of the spec scripts that sell actually get made, if that. “When a short film sells, it’s a bit more high-profile because it’s tangible. The whole industry can watch them in a few minutes and critique them, whereas 99 percent of specs don’t get read by everybody in town,” he said. “When there isn’t a script in place, you’re selling a visual touchstone and a high concept, and I think a short lends itself to a tremendous uniqueness. I feel like this is one of the last remaining inspired things studios do.”
“The bias against original material isn’t universal, but it seems to be widespread — and growing. “Certain studios won’t do anything that isn’t branded,” a veteran producer told TheWrap, citing Tom Cruise’s “Edge of Tomorrow” as an example of a great, original movie featuring a major movie star that only reinforced Hollywood’s shift towards established brands. “Five years ago, the emphasis on brands was materializing, but it wasn’t as crystallized as it is today.””
Now, that was bleak. But, again, ya gotta do it.
On filmmakingStuff.com, writer/director Kevin O’Brien gives some tips on
“How To Shoot A Pitch Trailer.” Check out his 5th step, “Work Out Pitch Trailer Logistics:
One of the best suggestions I got from Brandon (DP) was to choose scenes we could shoot at one location. We found a church that had many of the sets we needed in one spot. They gave us free reign of the building for that day. This was an incredible help, as we could accomplish our day without moving.
Even making a pitch trailer, there was so much that came together in one day: 5 crew, 8 actors, 12 extras, locations, vehicles, props. We shot from 8am – 9pm: a 13-hour day! It was surreal to see a hint of these characters and scenes coming to life. It was also a wake-up call. I quickly realized the actual production will be 24 of these days in a row!
Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, and Seed & Spark recognize the power of a pitch video. They continue to be a great resource on this very subject because regular filmmaker successes make them look good (and that’s literally how they make their profits). Organized licensed online crowdfunding has drastically changed the landscape for filmmakers. Access has forever changed… as has the expectation of a potential fan, colleague, or investor. You MUST make a media pitch now. Not just for you and a few industry others, but the internet audience recognition is required?! I do not agree with the way the game is playing out right now, but I am more than happy to jump in and participate. There is a LOT to gain by taking this route. And, although some may be concerned that this is a more public way to be embarrassed by putting yourself out there and not succeeding, I would argue that trying and ‘failing’ (having public set-backs) isn’t as bad as you think – I ONLY want to work with people I know are going out and doing something every single year. It all adds up over a lifetime.
All that to say that whether or not you ever plan to crowd fund (or vow to never crowd fund again), these sites offer real tangible advice about making a media pitch. Meaghan O’Connell and Dustin Kurtz on “How To Make an Awesome Video”:
“If you’re like us, the first thing you do when visiting a project page is click play. A video is by far the best way to get a feel for the emotions, motivations, and character of a project. It’s a demonstration of effort and a good predictor of success. Projects with videos succeed at a much higher rate than those without (50% vs. 30%). We know that making a video can be intimidating. Not many of us like being in front of a camera. We also know that making a video is a challenge worth taking on. It says you care enough about what you’re doing to put yourself out there. It’s a small risk with a big reward.
If you have computer access and a ready supply of enthusiasm, you’ve got all you need. Some videos are big montages and others are epic long takes, but most videos are just someone telling their story straight into the camera. You can spend days shooting and editing, or you can just knock it out with a couple friends on a Saturday. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be you.”
Before you lay out whether or not you want to do a proof-of-concept or pitch trailer or plain video pitch or whatever you want to call it, you should really decide what type of piece is realistic to accomplish well and serves your particular project best. You could never be too prepared and thought out before you ask a handful of people to give their time/equipment/money/trust to you to help you create a solid media kit for your next feature film.
NOW, we’ll be taking our trailer to some trusted colleagues, previous distributors, sales agents, casting director friends, and potential investors and explain what we’re doing. With a business plan in hand (a file in my email, actually), our heart-warming script, and a whole lotta confidence, we’ll be using this trailer to get us to the next step.
Have you shot a concept / trailer before? What are your tips? @JennicaRenee