When L.M. Elliott first approached me with the idea of directing the book trailer for Suspect Red, I had no idea what a book trailer even was. But, I knew how to tell a story in under 2 minutes.
My experience with Suspect Red was really extraordinary, and that's due to the source material. It's such a fantastic novel and L.M. Elliott is an author I very much admire. Once you have a great script, there's very little anyone can do to ruin the film. Conversely, even the greatest director in the world could not for the life of her make Leprechaun 2 passable. The approach Elliott and I took was to use narration from the novel as voice over in the trailer. This provided structure. Once we extracted, edited, and roughly timed the voice over, all that was left was the imagery.
In my experience, the shorter the format usually means the more abstract the ideas are. The audience isn't committing to a whole lot with a trailer. It's 2 minutes of their time. So in that sense, you can do anything you want. I focused on looking for a single image that would be appropriate to the story’s deep core: something immediately recognizably Suspect Red. It quickly became clear to L.M. Elliott and me that the image had to be the tape recorder on the book’s cover. From there, the fun started.
Once I knew I was going to be shooting a tape recorder, I blocked a small sequence off of that image: two G-Men arrive back at the location they are using to listen in on a nearby house that they've bugged, we follow one in particular who turns on a desk lamp, casting light into a dark room (which is always a classic way to communicate ideas of espionage), the lamp light reveals the tape recorder, one G-Man puts on headphones, flips all the switches, and listens. It’s an incredibly mundane scene to be frank, but that’s the joy of working within such a small format. It frees you up to think more about style and less about content. Further, it isn’t what you answer as much as it is how you ask the questions. Plus, it’s just a trailer. The answers are in the book!
Trailers are a lot like music videos. Imagery becomes the most important thing, directorially. You don't have to create a clear narrative in 2 minutes, answering all of the questions you raise for the sake of the audience's attention span. Instead, you’re looking to give the audience pieces of a puzzle, without assembling it for them. If you’re too liberal in doling out the information, they’ll get bored and will disengage. Moreover, if what you’re showing them is too subtle, they won't care to engage themselves because it's immediately too difficult to decipher. It becomes a balance of visually-gifting certain clues to the audience in order to keep them with you when you want them with you, ahead of you when you want them thinking they've got it all figured out, and behind you when you want to keep them in the dark. That balance, played correctly, generates intrigue in an audience.
Working with L.M. Elliott has been such a pleasure as I hope it will continue to be. Her writer/actor son, Peter, and I make films together. Our latest short, Ziggy's Will, premieres at Manchester Film Festival in March. Additionally, Peter and I have continued to write and develop new feature-length material to produce in the coming years. It’s just one big happy family.
-Alexander Sharp, Sharp Art Pictures