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Trailer Blazer

Skip Chaisson's sharp, fast-cut movie previews have earned a loyal following in Hollywood

June 30, 2002|LORENZA MUNOZ

Skip Chaisson comes as close as you can get to superstar status in the trailer-making industry.

When A-list directors and producers like Michael Mann, Tony Scott or Jerry Bruckheimer need some magic for their trailers--the two- to three-minute previews shown in theaters before the feature attraction--they call Chaisson, whose sharp, fast-cutting style has inspired filmmakers and even led some to incorporate parts of his trailers into their films.

Known in the industry simply as Skip, this young Bruce Lee- and comic book-addict has a deceptively mellow Southern California attitude. But his ability to succinctly summarize a director's style enables him to tailor trailers to each--a skill that has won him a loyal following in Hollywood. Chaisson is one of a handful of trailer editors who can boast personal relationships with filmmakers or stars. They come to his office or call him at home directly (as Chaisson's mother found out while she was visiting when she answered a call from Tom Cruise).

Here's how Chaisson assesses some of the directors he's worked with: "Ridley [Scott, "Gladiator"] is really visual and adept at creating other worlds.... Tony [Scott "Spy Game"] is more attuned to contemporary editing styles, meaning he will take an image that he has shot and be open to speeding up that image or reversing it. With Michael [Bay, "Pearl Harbor"], when he choreographs a shot he is telling a story within a shot .... Every shot has a beginning, middle and end."

"He asks himself, 'What is the essence of what I am actually doing?' " said Tony Scott. "With a trailer, [that approach] makes it easier because it is a sound bite and it's very valuable."

This kind of personal contact is highly unusual in an industry in which studios try to maintain direct control of the product and sometimes actively work to keep filmmakers away from the editing process for trailers and TV ad spots.

With marketing taking on an ever more central role in the movie business, trailers have a huge effect on the success or failure of a film. The desperate need to attract audiences for upcoming films makes for a highly pressurized and competitive environment that at once keeps the trailer makers on their toes and leads to frustration.

The pressure-cooker atmosphere does not seem to faze Chaisson. Laid-back and full of "aw shucks" expressions, he is still somewhat star-struck and modest about his talent.

"I try not to impose my view on anybody," said Chaisson, who grew up in Los Angeles and is married with two children. "I grew up watching movies, and it's kind of cool to feel yourself a part of it."

Six months ago, Chaisson branched out on his own and founded Skip Film, a subsidiary of Aspect Ratio Holdings, an advertising and movie marketing firm.

On a recent morning in his Santa Monica office, wearing a beige nylon shirt printed with red hula dancers, jeans and bright-white high-top sneakers, Chaisson is still busy with interior decorating; he's hammering a blown-up Bruce Lee movie poster to a brick wall. With his dark, curly hair closely cropped and a trim, athletic physique, he looks more like a surfer than the somewhat nerdy, computer-savvy, trailer-making guy he is. On most days he can be found in his air-conditioned office simultaneously watching a movie, reading a script and perusing one of his beloved comic books.

Movies and scripts are the tools of his trade, of course, but comic books are essential to developing his visual style, Chaisson says. On weekends, he spends an average of $150 buying the latest offerings.

"Comics are like movies," he says. "But they are a still form. When I look at them in the still form, I bring them to life. I think that is what kids do. When I read a script, I see it in my brain. Trailers are the ultimate comic book. When I read a comic book, I get real excited. I hear the music, I jump around and do the sound effects--at least that is what my staff tells me I do."

Chaisson is a relative newcomer to the trailer industry, having started 10 years ago at Kaleidoscope Film Group, one of the older trailer houses. Perhaps that is why he is so open to questions when most of his colleagues are so secretive that they verge on paranoia.

Secrecy is prized--after all, they are working for the studios, and a lot of money is at stake.

"Our world is sort of a cloak-and-dagger kind of world," said Anthony Goldschmidt, founder of Intralink Film and Graphic Design, one of the oldest trailer houses in the business. "Many filmmakers don't even know we are doing their movie--studios would prefer they think it's being done in-house. It's such big business, and there is such a great risk [financially for the studios] that everyone becomes very proprietary and squirrelly."

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