Every day in Hollywood, filmmakers meet in rooms at production companies and movie studios, giving their take on potential upcoming projects. This process hasn’t changed much over the years, except for the advent of carefully crated trailers for nonexistent movies, meant to help executives visualize the final product. Fans often post their own mash-up trailers, but we rarely get to see these pitches from noted filmmakers. It’s even more rare to find them for major Hollywood blockbusters.

The reason is simple. If the pitch gets bought, we’ll see the final movie. If it isn’t, weeks and weeks of hard work, sometimes even paying out of pocket for test footage, animatics, custom created logos and voiceovers, is all for naught. Creating these pitches is not just time consuming; it can get expensive and pretty disheartening. These videos are almost never seen outside of the studio walls, though Joe Carnahan‘s Daredevil is a recent and rare exception. Today we have another.

Years ago, Fame and Mortal Kombat: Rebirth director Kevin Tancharoen went in and pitched his take on Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. The film eventually went to Gary Ross and became a $400m+ success. I came across this video and Tancharoen has graciously allowed us to share it. Watch it now after the break. I also had an opportunity to chat briefly with Tancharoen about the process of pitching movies, how that process has changed, and the emergence of these mash-up trailer pitch reels, and that interview follows the video.

Dancer-turned-filmmaker Kevin Tancharoen made his feature directorial debut with the 2009 update of the musical Fame. , before making a name for himself in the fan community with his test short film Mortal Kombat: Rebirth. That short went viral and he’s since been writing/directing the Mortal Kombat: Legacy web series for Machinima and Warner Bros. while developing a new feature film based on the Mortal Kombat video game series for New Line Cinema..

When I first saw Kevin’s Hunger Games pitch trailer, I was blown away by how much different his vision of the film adaptation was from that of director Gary Ross. I’m not going to say its better, as that wouldn’t be fair — but its definitely more science fiction-heavy, which is something I liked.

Peter: When you went into Lakeshore to pitch for Fame a few years back, was it a different era? What kind of package did you put together for your presentation?

Kevin: Yes when I went to pitch for Fame it was a different landscape. I went in with some poster boards covered with images. I also remade the main title logo so that it felt more contemporary. I felt that if I locked down an aesthetic for that, they will understand how I want the movie to feel like. I also made a “look book” to showcase tone.

Peter: It seems like a lot of upcoming directors are now putting together these video reels for their studio pitches. When did this start, and when did you discover this practice?

Kevin: The idea of a “pitch reel” has been around for awhile and is very common practice for any director. Trying to pitch a vision to a room full of people is always very difficult verbally. In the past two years, the pitch reel has significantly become more demanding since technology allows for people to make mini movies in their own homes. It’s almost expected for a director to show some visual materials, but the need to impress has become elevated. At first, it was just some concept art, some storyboards and possibly a treatment. Then the rip-o-matic (a visual reel using clips from other movies to portray a visual style) became really popular. I even know some directors who do a full animatic at their expense just to take into a meeting.

Peter: So pitch videos have been around for a while, but it seems like they consisted more of concept art, animatics, or even fully shot test footage like you did with the Mortal Kombat short film. The MK short must have been a considerable investment in time and money, especially considering you made it on spec?

Kevin: Yeah I think before taking the big leap into investing in a short film, filmmakers are attracted to the idea of creating a mash up trailer because it essentially visualizes the scope of the whole movie rather than just the first ten minutes.

Peter: When did the mash-up trailers begin to crop up? Is it happening more now because its easier? cheaper? Or allows for a more expansive vision?

Kevin: There is an epic feeling about trailers, and when done right, they are extremely gratifying. It’s also much cheaper if you have the hard drive space haha. The first mash up trailer I saw was in 2006. Ever since then, everyone I know makes one for a pitch to complement other materials. I also think the idea of making a trailer is very attractive because when you watch it, you have the feeling that this is what the movie will be like when it’s done.  Some things that make trailers hard however are pacing, music and sound fx. Because when you rip a movie, all that stuff is tied together. You don’t have the luxury of stripping the music away from the dialogue, and that can be limiting sometimes.

Peter: How long did it take you to put together the pitch trailer for Hunger Games?

Kevin: It took me a month to finish it all. The pitch book took a little longer.

Peter: Can you talk about the process of putting something like this together? Are you working more to establish tone or to introduce the look and style of the world?

Kevin: I start by just thinking of the style and tone I want to portray. What are the stakes that should come across in 3-4 minutes?  While that’s going on, movies that I’ve seen naturally pop in to my head for specific moments and I write them down. By the end of that, I have a long list of movies and I start the most painful process of putting this together:  converting movies. Once I finally have all the movies on my hard drive, I just start cutting. I usually like to go in linear order, but sometimes I cut the big ending first so I know what I’m ramping up to. As I’m cutting, new ideas always come up so I end up searching for other movies that fulfill the moment I need. Sometimes its a voice over thing that I just record, or I take a shot from one movie while a dialogue moment from another movie plays on top. Anything goes really. Once that’s all in a good shape, I start editing the music in Pro Tools and add some sound design. I think this is what makes things really stand out.

Peter: One signature thing I’ve seen in many of these pitch trailer mash-ups is the section where they introduce the cast. Is this your dream cast? Or is this a way to establish your casting taste for the project?

Kevin: As far as the cast is concerned, I was just trying to show some casting choices. It wasn’t trying to pitch that exact cast or anything.

Peter: Do you ever create shots or special effects to put into these trailer mash-up pitches?

Kevin: Sometimes I do create specific shots if I think it will help tremendously. It would either be a matte painting to showcase scope or, in the case of Hunger Games, I had a CG mocking jay created for the ending logo.

Peter: I feel like a lot of aspiring filmmakers don’t concern themselves much with editing, but clearly being able to put together these mash-ups is a big help in pitches — what is you advice to film school students who don’t spend much time infront of final cut or avid?

Kevin: My advice to aspiring filmmakers is to do a lot of these types of exercises. It really really helps you build your knowledge of storytelling even if it is 3-4 minutes. They are challenging to make and require problem solving, both of which are valuable lessons. I would also highly urge any young film maker to learn how to edit. It’s not that difficult to learn and is an invaluable tool as you build your career. When you’re first starting out, you’re going to have to do a lot of things on your own to help sell yourself as a filmmaker. The only person who is going to trust you at first is yourself…nobody else.

Peter: We don’t end up seeing many of these pitch reels for obvious reasons such as rights clearances. Its a shame because so much time goes into putting these together and they’re very enjoyable to watch. Recently we’ve seen some directors upload these online for all to experience. How do you feel about your Hunger Games trailer being circulated online?

Kevin: I think its a lot of fun to revisit it.  It was incredibly difficult to find all these clips and tell a new story but I’m happy with the way it turned out. I would love for this to be an example for people who want to know what a pitch reel looks like and how to create one from existing movies. I really loved the film that Lionsgate, Gary Ross, and Nina Jacobson made – I went opening night.   I just think it’s interesting to see how different directors visualize the same source material.  I’ve always enjoyed when other directors showcase their process…it has helped me learn tremendously.

Peter: I really hope more filmmakers come out and put these things online. Thanks so much for sharing your trailer, and talking with us. Hopefully it will help a whole new generation of filmmakers see the possibilities and prepare for “the pitch.”

You can follow Kevin Tancharoen on Twitter at @KTANCH

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