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Taut and Exciting Trailers Lure Youth With Manipulated Images

May 07, 1999|MICHAEL P. LUCAS

New technology has made it much easier for studios to perform a crucial sleight-of-hand: altering the director's finished images for the trailer.

"There was always a standard of not manipulating footage of the feature films. . . . You wouldn't do slow-motion, speed-ups, do things visually with the film that the director hadn't already done," said Kevin Sewelson, a partner in leading Hollywood trailer-maker Seismic Productions. "Now it has all changed to where we are manipulating images . . . and doing it a lot more this year than last."

Virtually all trailers are created on digital editing systems introduced in TV commercial and feature film production. Avid Technology Inc., based in West Tewksbury, Mass., won a technical achievement Oscar this year for its digital systems on which editors can quickly create stunning visual effects.

Take the preview for MGM/UA's upcoming supernatural thriller "Stigmata."

"We're layering a lot of shots, four or five, one on top of the other, and we play with the speeds as well," said the studio's new vice president of creative advertising, Seth Gaven, who joined MGM/UA last month after six years with Los Angeles trailer specialty house Intralink Film Graphic Design.

Sewelson's trailer for the recent Sony release "Cruel Intentions" is a textbook example of image manipulation. He uses deft edits to condense the feature into a 2 1/2-minute filmlet that magnifies the original's sultry tension and quirky sense of humor. Lingering white flashes--now de rigueur in trailers--provide edgy visual punctuation.

Speeds are manipulated to build tension, with shots of actor Ryan Phillippe looking up in surprise or looking around in panic slowed down and a crane shot soaring up to Sarah Michelle Gellar on a balcony is speeded up.

"It's a very youth-oriented film, and we did some things they're doing in commercial advertising," Sewelson said. "It's creating a hip edge along the lines of what music videos are doing."

"Cruel Intentions" director Roger Kumble said he's not bothered by the reworking of his images.

"It helped the pacing and gave it a certain kind of style that we really didn't have in the film," Kumble said. "But it really didn't go against the tone of the film, so I thought it was an interesting choice, and I liked it."

Added Kumble: "Trailers have taken on their own artistic form . . . and I'm not from a purist school. It's whatever gets the butts in the seats."

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