Cutting a Trailer

It takes a lot of time and money to make a documentary, especially when you are just starting out. It’s one thing to get the filming done but another to get your film into post-production. One of the first things you can do to draw attention to your film is to make a trailer that will start buzz about your film,  even while it’s still in production.

We spoke to our former staffer Adam Perez and his fellow CUJ alum Jan Hendrik Hinzel (both class of ’13) about making the trailer that’s helping them fundraise and bring interest to their film Who We Become.

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Who We Become tells the story of a group of people in the Bronx who are building their own trans family. As the filmmakers describe it, “The film focuses on a makeshift family bonded by the search for community.” Though the film is still in the making, the trailer that Perez and Hinzel put together gives us a taste of their film and the potential it has to reach people in and out of the trans community.

The film will focus on four characters: Jace, who moved to NYC when he was kicked out of his home in rural Texas and found refuge and a new life with a trans family. With few resources, Kim and Cris run the only clinic in the Bronx that deals with trans care. They work to create a family of transgender individuals who are isolated by friends and disowned by their families. Daisy is an activist, attempting to live openly as a trans woman and inspire others to do the same in the process.

Who We Become is currently in the middle of a crowdsourcing Indiegogo campaign to raise money for its post-production.

Columbia Visuals: How did you approach cutting the trailer?

Adam Perez: We took some advice from our former professor, Duy Linh Tu, who told us video is about motion and emotion.  With that advice in mind, we spent a few days creating a storyboard of the “best hit” moments.

CV: What were the elements you knew you needed?

AP: We needed to introduce our two main characters, Jace and Kim. One problem we faced was that we have many supporting characters.  We decided to edit a montage featuring many of them, to give an impression of what was to come.

Jan Hendrik Hinzel: We also knew we needed to include the murder of Islan Nettles in a way. It’s not the main story of our film but it sets the backdrop. Many trans people are afraid that living openly as trans means putting their life at risk. It affects some of them in their decision whether to be out as trans or to live “stealth,” meaning not disclosing that they are trans.

CV: What was the emotional tone you were going for?

JHH: We wanted to show the dark elements but also show the fun parts. We didn’t want to give the impression that being trans means a life in misery.

AP: We wanted to start off mysteriously because we wanted to convey that many trans people live in secrecy and straddle often-conflicting identities. However, we wanted to end with a sense of joy and optimism because despite the obstacles our characters have faced they are always having a good time.

CV: You have so much material, how did you decide on what footage to use without having the edited film?

JHH: We know the narrative arcs for all of our characters and of the overall film. We just had to brainstorm which scenes and moments represented, and what each character’s journey is about.

AP: We reflected back on the past months of shooting and wrote down what scenes and emotions we remembered.  From there, we organized a basic structure: intro, setting, character, conflict and resolution.

CV: How many edits did you go through before you settled on it? 

JHH: I think we had about five or six cuts. Sometimes moving around individual shots makes all the difference.

AP: For every edit, we exported it and played it back on different screens, watched it throughout the day, and marked down edits.

CV: What advice do you have for someone cutting a trailer for the first time?

AP: Don’t feel like you need to include everything about your documentary. Some of my favorite trailers, Bombay Beach and Long Train Home, hint to the story without being overt.  A trailer, in my opinion, should tease and make your viewer want to know more.

JHH: Get good music. We spent over a day just searching for the right music. For the montage at the end of the trailer we had some folky-sounding happy song. It worked well with the cuts and with the footage. But every time I watched it, something just didn’t feel right and I couldn’t figure out what it was. In the end it just didn’t seem authentic. I’m not sure our characters would listen to that kind of music, and it didn’t go with the vibe. So we went back to the piece we had already used in our preview and that worked out perfectly fine.

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