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Here’s What Goes into Making an Honest Trailer

Here's What Goes into Making an Honest Trailer

Every day is a little bit different writing at Defy Media (the parent company behind ScreenJunkies and Honest Trailers) but one of the tasks that stays consistent week to week is writing the Honest Trailer series.  It’s my favorite thing we make and the creative team and I see the process through from beginning to end.

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Here is how the honest sausage gets made…

Day 1:

Although we look at all of our viewer’s requests when choosing what movie to target next, we usually tackle the big summer blockbusters as soon as they’re available on iTunes or DVD. So it was with ever-increasing dread that late September approached, as it meant we would be sitting through multiple viewings of “Transformers 4: Age of Extinction,” Michael Bay’s 2 hour 45 minute middle finger to plot, character, and subtlety.
Well-made movies are fun to watch but difficult to Honest Trailer-ize, but the opposite is true of bad movies, so the first and hardest step for this one was having to watch the film. I take careful notes during the first viewing, marking down the time-code of any interesting moments to help our other writer and series editor Dan Murrell track them down later, but in the case of “Transformers 4,” all I could manage was some variation of “what the hell is going on?” at 2:00, 30:50, 48:35, 1:02:10, 1:21:20, 1:44:48, 1:53:30, 2:10:00, and 2:36:00.

Day 2:

With my notes organized into a rough outline, it’s time to begin the first draft. There are two main things series creator Andy Signore tells me to keep in mind when writing these. One is to be honest, as in, NOT sarcastic. It’s not “Sarcastic Trailers.” We can’t call Michael Bay the “most understated director of our time” while rolling our eyes, we have to call it like it is, i.e. “the director most likely to jerk off to an explosion.”

The other thing to remember, especially with a movie like this, is to keep it simple. We could nitpick the movie to death, pointing out every plot hole and continuity error, but it’s our firm belief that no one cares or even remembers details like that for these big dumb action flicks. The trailer is there to sum up the general moviegoing experience, not take the viewer through it step-by-step.  With the first draft done, it’s off to the Honest Trailer brain trust of Andy and Dan.

Day 3:

Predictably, Andy’s notes back are to make it more general and less sarcastic. After 50 of these it’s still difficult to avoid the deep well of sarcasm that lives at the core of every comedy writer, but the series is always better for it. While punching up the first draft in the writers room, an uncomfortable question arises: since this is the 3rd “Transformers” trailer we’ve done, are the jokes all too similar to each other? Are we starting to repeat ourselves? The answer is a begrudging ‘yes.’ But then Andy and Dan come up with a clever twist: just like the film itself, the 3rd act of our trailer will blatantly pander to Chinese audiences…in Chinese. With that change made, Dan and I do one or more passes until the script is worthy of the “Honest” name.

Day 4:

With the script locked, we record with the current voice of Honest Trailers, Jon Bailey. He has a recording studio at his home in Tennessee, so Dan or I will direct his performance over the phone from Los Angeles. Jon always adds a ton of comedy into the finished product simply with the inflection of his voice. The way he pronounces “boobs” can turn a lazy boob joke into one of our series catchphrases, “bewwwwbs.” We do multiple takes of every line so Dan has a lot of options for when he starts the edit. I’m told he listens to Jon’s voice so much it haunts his dreams, lucky him! Meanwhile, Andy uses the magic of social media to track down a Chinese-speaking fan who will help us out with that section. It turns out there’s no direct Chinese translation for “Yankee pigs!” so we go with “dirty old Americans.”

Day 5:

Armed with the honest voice-over and a digital copy of the movie, the trailer is now in Dan’s masterful editing hands. I couldn’t tell you what exactly he’s doing, but I’m sure it involves a fair amount of hotkeys and trimming. All I know is he cuts the picture first, then adds the music last after all of our edits are made. Editing is really another round of writing, especially in comedy where so much depends on timing. Dan not only has an innate sense of comedic timing, but he does an amazing job of matching visual style to the movie genre, cutting it up like an action trailer for an action movie, a romantic comedy trailer for a rom-com, etc.

Regardless of how he worlds his magic, by the end of the day Andy and I get to watch the first cut of an Honest Trailer and complain about it. Over the next day or so our notes are implemented and it’s ready for release!

Day 6

With the trailer complete, our baby is offered up as a sacrificial lamb to the wolves’ den of the YouTube comment section. As the view count rises, we congratulate each other on a job well done, having made something that our viewers say is either “the best HT yet!” or “The worst. You guys have totally lost it.” or most likely, both. On to the next one!

Watch the resulting Honest Trailer below:

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