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The Making of Honest Trailers

The Making of Honest Trailers

This Screen Junkies Show video shows the behind-the-scenes making of Honest Trailers, using the episode Star Trek Into Darkness as an example.

It takes about a week to make one episode of Honest Trailers. This process includes watching the film, taking notes, working those notes into a script, recording the narration, and editing the video. Up to a dozen people are directly involved in the production of each episode, including writers, editors, producers, narrators and graphic designers.

The first stage of making an Honest Trailer is choosing which film to parody, which is described on the page about film selection.

Writing Edit

Writers room

Inside the Honest Trailers writers room during 2013. Picture shows head writer Spencer Gilbert and writer Jason Pickar at their desks.

Well-made movies are fun to watch but difficult to Honest Trailer-ize, but the opposite is true of bad movies. ~ Spencer Gilbert[1]
Honest Trailers are written by a team of writers. Over the years, the size of this team has varied from 3-6 people. The team of writers begin by watching the film or show on their own and taking notes. For feature films, this initial stage of the writing process usually takes two to three days.[2] However, when the team tackles long run TV shows, the watching stage can stretch to many, many, many, many months.

Writer Lon Harris explains when watching a movie for an Honest Trailer, the goal is not to look for things that are stupid, but instead to look for the movie's key threads.[3] In addition, the writers must express their ideas in short fragments that sound "trailery." As Spencer Gilbert puts it, "We're making jokes nine words at a time."[4]

The writers state that when a movie is really bad, they start mentally writing the Honest Trailer while they're still in the theater viewing it for the first time![2] On the other hand, when a movie is exceptionally good, the writers get wrapped up in just watching it and forget to take notes at all. Joe Starr explains, "There's a lot where I'll watch and I'll realize I've only taken like four notes 'cuz I was like, 'That was fine.' I've got to stretch seven pages out of 'That was fine.'"[5]

After all the writers have watched the film, they come together for a group writing session where they discuss their observations, and send their notes to whoever is overseeing the script. Usually, head writer Spencer Gilbert has the job of incorporating the various notes into a cohesive draft script. The script goes through various rewrites and revisions. Very often the writers don't remember who came up with what line. The draft includes specific references to the exact clips from the movie the writers want included to punctuate their jokes, usually with attached time code to make the task of editing easier. Often, the writers have to rewatch the film specifically to collect time codes for recurring tropes and moments. This stage of the writing process takes one to two days.[2]

In 2014, head writer Spencer Gilbert explained the creative process like this: "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.'"[1] The series often use twists on the Honest Trailers formula to avoid repetition, including: Transformers: Age of Extinction in which the last third was narrated in Chinese in a meta reference to the film pandering to the Chinese market; Memento in which the segments of the Honest Trailer were played backwards in reference to the film's backwards structure; and A Quiet Place in which the video was translated into ASL.

Honest Trailers has been nominated for multiple writing awards. The series was nominated for the Streamy Award for "Best Writing" three years in a row (from 2015 to 2017), winning in 2016 (See Awards for more information).

Recording Edit

Jon bailey

Jon Bailey records his narration from a recording booth in his home in Tennessee. A Screen Junkies producer is on the phone with him during the recording session, giving him directions.

Jon Bailey records his narration from the booth in his house, under the direction of one of the Screen Junkies producers. The script Jon receives contains lots of alternate lines in order to make it easier for the production team to swap out jokes that aren't working. Jon also improvises some lines. In the early days, Bailey took up to an hour to record his narration, but has got that time down to around 20 minutes.

Editing Edit

Dan murrell editor

During 2013, the editor of Honest Trailers was Dan Murrell, pictured here in his edit-bay. In 2018, the series had two editors, TJ Nordaker and Kevin Williamsen.

Honest Trailers are designed to resemble real movie trailers in editing conventions. This includes the use of "discontinuous montage, fast editing, voice over narrative and the use of imitation or actual studio branding images" (from Cross media promotion: entertainment industries and the trailer).

Editing is crucial to the comedy of Honest Trailers. For example, jokes are often punctuated by character reaction clips, and sound effects (e.g. record scratches, crickets chirping, etc). In addition, Honest Trailers often use humorous music, e.g. circus music added to dramatic movie scenes or epic rock music put to shots of inane events. In fact, so much of the comedy is derived from editing choices, that the writers say that Honest Trailers are really an editor's medium.[6]

In general, it takes around two to three days to edit an Honest Trailer.[2] The first stage of editing is creating "stringouts," which involves collecting numerous clips from the movie, e.g. every instance of a recurring trope. The editor also goes through the movie to find shots of the characters when their lips are still - these will be used for the starring section. The editors also collect reaction shots that can be used to visually embody the narrator's emotions, e.g. eye rolls, high fives, people showing frustration, and so on.[7]

The post-production team combines narration, music, sound effects, clips from the movie, specially created title sequences, and any other still images (eg, movie posters, photos of key film-makers, screenshots of news articles, etc). If the film has been released on digital or Blu-ray for a while, the editors use clips from the full movie. However, as shown in the "The Making of Honest Trailers" video, sometimes the film is released the day before the video is due to be uploaded. In the case of Star Trek Into Darkness (as shown in the behind-the-scenes video), editor Dan Murrell initially used temp footage. When the full movie became legally available, he was required to stay up all night to edit the video in order to meet the deadline. The team reviews the video, cuts jokes or even re-records parts of the narration if necessary - and if time permits.

The editing of Honest Trailers is often praised. Medium declared that Honest Trailers "are (really really) well edited: Unlike many YouTube creators who are into vlogging or other simpler video creation process, Screen Junkies depend a lot on how well their videos are edited to convey the intent well while engaging the audience." The site went onto observe, "The video clips, transitions and sound effects are orchestrated really well to achieve high audience engagement, one of the best among YouTube creators....the story they portray in that 5 mins will usually require a densely packed presentation of audio and visual cues that are in sync with their narration." In 2018, Honest Trailers was nominated for the Streamy Award for "Best Editing." (See below: Awards)

Publication Edit

Honest Trailers are uploaded to Screen Junkies main channel on YouTube on Tuesdays at 10am PST. The first eight Honest Trailers were uploaded monthly. From October 2012 - April 2014, Honest Trailers were uploaded every two weeks (roughly). From summer 2014 on, Honest Trailers were released every week. When the series became a phenomenal success, Defy Media reportedly wanted to publish new episodes on a daily basis and expand the concept to even more kinds of subject matter: "If Defy had their way, they would have done it every day, honest this, honest that. We would have deflated much sooner."

On rare occasions, two Honest Trailers have been released on the same date, for example the Honest Trailers for Superman (1978) and Batman (1989) were released in the same day to coincide with the theatrical release of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and formed a popularity contest. Honest Trailers are always uploaded on Tuesday - except if other days of the week hold special significance, as was the case with the Back to the Future Honest Trailer which was released to coincide exactly with "Back to the Future Day" on Wednesday October 21, 2015.

Honest Trailers are also published on platforms like Facebook and IGTV. The YouTube videos are edited into a slightly different format to suit these different platforms, for example by having captions on all the time, and using square or vertical framing to focus on where the action is in the frame (for more information, read the video design case study on Medium).  

References Edit

  1. 1.0 1.1 Gilbert, S. "Here’s What Goes into Making an Honest Trailer," IndieWire, October 9, 2014
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Dan Murrell explains this in the SJU episode Godzilla & The Kings of Monster Movies streamed on May 30, 2019 via Fandom Entertainment.
  3. Lon explains this in the Honest Trailers Commentary for the MCU.
  4. Spencer says this at 47:05 in the Honest Trailer Commentary for MCU.
  5. Joe Starr says this in the SJU episode Godzilla & The Kings of Monster Movies streamed on May 30, 2019 via Fandom Entertainment.
  6. As explained in the Honest Trailers Commentary for the MCU.
  7. Editor Kevin Williamsen explains his editing process in the Honest Trailers Commentary for the 300th episode, MCU. You can watch the video here.

See also Edit

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