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From the Field: A Peek Into the Process

Posted on March 01, 2017

Q&A by Ciara Lacy.

Photo: Nathan Fitch, Island Soldier


Learn more from two documentary filmmakers as they share their approach to crafting a trailer.

For documentary filmmakers, a film trailer often referred to as a work in progress (WIP) trailer, is a powerful tool to secure the support of funders, distributors, and other potential partners. However, getting a trailer right isn’t easy. In this article, director Nathan Fitch and producer-director Robin Lung share their trailers and their process behind making them. 

Director Nathan Fitch answers a few questions about creating a work in progress (WIP) trailer for his PIC-supported film Island Soldier. Nathan is a filmmaker and visual journalist based in Brooklyn. He currently works in the video department of The New Yorker. His work has been featured in The New York Times OpDocs, ESPN, TIME magazine, The New Yorker, NPR, and The National Film Board of Canada.

Trailer Link https://vimeo.com/203928301

What have you used or plan to use your WIP trailer for? 
We have been sending our WIP to potential funders as a password protected link. Recently, we released our WIP trailer publicly online, with the objective of generating excitement around the film in the community that we have built over the last few years. We also sent to our WIP trailer to our Kickstarter supporters to let them know that we are making progress on the film. 

Did you use any references in creating your trailer, whether articles or examples you’ve seen?
We looked at a lot of trailers from films, both documentaries and scripted, and tried to identify ways that they communicated information about the film’s narrative in a concise and compelling manner. We then organized the trailers in a spreadsheet that we could draw upon for inspiration when working on our WIP trailer. 


Producer and Director Robin Lung provides insight into her process for creating a trailer for her film Finding Kukan. Robin Lung has a 16-year history of bringing untold minority and women’s stories to film. She made her directorial debut with Washington Place: Hawai‘i’s First Home, a 30-minute documentary for PBS Hawai‘i. Her current feature documentary, Finding Kukan, screened at HIFF 2016 and DOC NYC 2016 and is currently screening at festivals around the world. 

Trailer Link - https://vimeo.com/188201391 

What have you used your WIP trailer for? 
We had several WIP trailers. We used them for fundraising –– soliciting funds from individuals online and informal grant applications to foundations and institutional film funders (ITVS, Sundance, etc.). We also used them to build our audience for our final film, posting them online and screening them in-person (at community and university presentations). 

Evaluating your WIP at this stage in your project, what did you think worked and didn’t work about it? Anything you might have done differently? 
Our earlier versions of the WIP lacked focus since we weren’t sure how the story would develop and we had limited footage to work with. The final trailer is much more focused and snappier, because we know the full story and had the entire film and original music to pull from.
Who was your audience for your trailer? 
For our online, public WIP, we were trying to attract several different groups – Asian Americans, Career Women, Film Buffs and World War II History Buffs. For the WIPs created for film grants, we tailored them for the granting organization. 


The right trailer for your film can open doors for your film, so take the time to dive deep into the process like Robin and Nathan have. Given the success of their films, it’s absolutely worth it! 


Get engaged! Share your favorite trailers or tips with PIC’s filmmaking community via our Facebook page.

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