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Dinosaurs vs. Spaceships

Did you know there are commercials on trailers now? Online media and promotion has become so important that we’ll put a commercial on top of a commercial. With declining theater attendence, trailers are more important than ever before. Trailers can hype a new movie, and excite an apathetic fan base. They are their own art form–most trailers today are made by companies that specialize in only making trailers, and will even create shots unique the to the trailer. If you’re curious about the science of trailers, their are numerous sites that dissect them: Art of the Trailer and Honest Trailers are a couple you should check out.

Two trailers for long awaited sequels have come out in the last week, and I’ve seen much banter about them being “the worst” or “the best” of their franchise. Since it makes for a fun blog title, I’m going to review Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens vs. Jurassic World. Or, to put it simply: “Dinosaurs vs. Spaceships.”

I’m going to get it out of the way and announce my biases now: I like Jurassic Park more than Star Wars. I’ve read Jurassic Park, seen the original movie 8-10 times, and watched it twice just this year. I think the last time I saw any of the Star Wars movies was Episode III in the theater, and I really dislike J.J. Abrams. I hate his obsession with mysteries, and the stuff he pulled with Khan in Star Trek was pretty unforgivable. Though, I do respect that he apologized for his outright lying about ST2 . I’ll try to give an unbiased review, but films are an emotional medium and you should understand this is mostly my own opinion.

Best Trailer Ever

To create a baseline, I’m going to look at length, hits, likes, dislikes, box office sales, and storytelling as the main components of a trailer and movie franchise. In doing some research, it seemed that some of the “best” trailers tend to be for horror movies, with the trailer for the original Alien being rated best by Wired magazine. Psycho, A Clockwork Orange, and the Shining were also well reviewed.


The Numbers for Alien

Length of trailer: 1 minute, 56 seconds

Gross for the Aliens’ franchise (8 movies): $1,406,580,804

Average per film: $175,822,601

Social Media: not included since this trailer has been posted in too many places to accurately measure.

Financial information comes from thenumbers.com.

My review: the Alien trailer is the coolest. In re-watching it, I noted and enjoyed the misdirection of showing Sigourney Weaver’s character running while inter-cutting with footage of the crew exploring the Space Jockey’s ship.  Great horror movies always have a moment where the characters could have prevented their tragedy, and made this emotionally tangible. Whoever made the trailer focused largely on these two sequences, and created the infamous “egg hatching” shots just for the trailer. They don’t overplay their money shots: we only see about 2 seconds of an alien (the chestburster) and the Jockey’s ship is also brief. The really great shots of eggs, aliens, and robots are reserved for movie going audiences.

This trailer is a pretty classic example of parallel editing: cutting between two sequences to create an effect and/or story. The crew exploring the Jockey ship are shown as oblivious/calm, while Weaver’s frantic running, and the pulse-like soundtrack create a sense of impending doom. This all comes to a crashing halt at the title card where the music cuts out and we’re left with the tagline “In space no one can hear you scream.” The Alien trailer creates mystery and tension with the least amount of footage, and the misdirection forces the audience to become engage by imagining what the actual aliens look like.

Star Wars

The Numbers

Length of trailer: 1 minute, 31 seconds

Gross for the Star Wars’ franchise (7 movies): $4,485,672,683

Average per film: $498,408,076

Social Media (might have changed since writing this article): 20 million views, 166,000 likes, 8,000 dislikes.

Financial information comes from thenumbers.com.

My review: this is the shortest trailer of the bunch, and I alway prefer shorter videos. Remarkably, it only has 8-10 shots. On the surface, there’s very little story in this trailer. Up until the lake sequence, the shots could be considered part of the same scene, or not. This trailer avoids nearly every Star Wars cliche a fan could expect: there’s no scrolling text, no shots of old characters, no gratuitous use of taglines, and they keep the “money shots” (CG, new tech, fight sequences) to an absolute minimum. The thing I enjoyed the most was the Millenium Falcon shot, it made the ship seem very cool. From what I remember of the movies, I always felt like people talked about how great the ship was, but it was rarely shown to be the most bad-ass ship in the galaxy. Watching it deftly out-maneuver smaller ships was awesome. HOWEVER, this cinematography seems very similar to Star Trek, and I suspect die hard fans will dislike Star Wars VII for this reason.

Knowing Abrams, this trailer was probably created to maximize the amount of conversation and speculation around the new movie, and was not created for its own entertainment value. He is literally giving you pieces that don’t fit to force you to imagine and contemplate on the larger picture. His specialty is engineering an event around the movie–not always in making a good movie. The Episode VII trailer makes a very big, old franchise seem fresh and engaging without straying too far from its source material. While I like this trailer, Abrams doesn’t always deliver what he promised, and the trailer is ultimately not a good judge of the final movie.

Jurassic World

The Numbers

Length of trailer: 2 minute, 34 seconds

Gross for the Jurassic Park franchise (7 movies): $2,188,233,656

Average per film: $547,058,414

Social Media (might have changed since writing this article): 1.1 million views, 10,000 likes, 287 dislikes.

Financial information comes from thenumbers.com.

My review: this trailer isn’t sure who is the audience. It could have been 2-3 great trailers, but this feels like they tried to play too many angles too early.

We start with a young boy, going off to the park. This character is probably meant to draw in the younger crowd, the protagonist for children that are too young to have seen the original film (it came out 20 years ago). We see a fully functioning park, with cool new features that were never envisioned by John Hammond. That is all fine. I like seeing boring old “Disney-World-with-dinosaurs.” This is the future that Dr. Ian Malcolm rails against in the original: the awesomeness of nature patented and slapped on a lunchbox, all the magic completely bled out of it. We easy see one of nature’s other great predators–the shark–served up as food for a greater animal (yes, I also know this is a Jaw’s reference). If the trailer had ended here, it could have been great. It sets up the human protagonists as deserving of their fate. They made dinosaurs boring and they should pay for that.

But then the trailer switches to Dallas Bryce Howard’s character talking about making new dinosaurs. It makes some sense when you see that the park has become routine and boring. My question is: who is she talking to? We’ve followed the boy up until this point, so the switch in character perspective from third person limited to omniscient is jarring in the short format of a trailer. In contrast, Star Wars VII doesn’t follow any character, and is free to roam around the movie and pick and choose the best shots.

Then we switch again to Christopher Pratt’s perspective. This feels like the most incongruous part of the trailer. I–like most people–fell in love with Chris Pratt this summer. His casting in Jurassic World would have occurred before the mega-hit of Guardians of the Galaxy. With its success, the trailer craftsmen wanted to capitalize on Pratt’s popularity. The problem is, we know that the dinosaurs are going to get out. We know that man’s dabbling with the building blocks of life is going to backfire. We know that there are going to be chase sequences, raptors, and a T-rex. All they do by showing Pratt is waste the one great thing about their movie.

We see no less than five different dinosaurs in two minutes. Star Wars shows some spaceships and a robot. The only thing that the Jurassic World audience can hope to see in the actual movie is more Chris Pratt and the new mystery dinosaur. Which–if I had to guess–the new dino is bigger, has spikes, and might be slightly smarter than the raptors in the original. The trailer establishes that there’s no difference between this movie and the other three except that the park actually works. And they’ve combined the characters of Alan Grant, Ian Malcolm, and Rubert Muldoon into one person. I’ll probably see it in the theater, but this trailer under plays the story elements and overplays the magic moments.

Final verdict: the Star Wars trailer is slightly better than the Jurassic World trailer because of it’s brevity and ability to create excitement about its movie. But, I should just watch Alien, Jurassic Park, and Guardians of the Galaxy if I want to watch a movie I’ll enjoy.


Other observations: 

• I mostly researched the profits on all the films because I was curious if one franchise was clearly more popular/profitable than the other. However, I found out that the average take for Star Wars vs. Jurassic Park movies are pretty close.

• The more I wrote about the Star Wars VII trailer, the more respect I had for Abrams as a sales person. Lens flares and mysterious mysteries aside, he knows how to whip up a fan base.

• I still really like the movie Alien.

• This was partially written as a bet with another person, and I’m surprised I found the ability to write 1600+ words about such a silly topic.

What Shooting a Horror Film on My iPhone Taught Me

Video contests are kinda my thing. When Providence’s 48 Hour Horror Film Project was announced, I automatically signed up.

But when you’ve completed 14 contest videos, you’ve got to keep things interesting. As a result, I decided to shoot my horror video entirely on my iPhone.

I wanted to challenge myself — but I also wanted to see just how well I could expect the iPhone to hold up when compared to the equipment other teams would be working with. After all, more and more people rely on their smartphones to take video, because their phones are everywhere.

The resulting video, Foo Goo, clocks in at 5:32.

An iPhone and a Little Bit More

How did I do it? I used an iPhone 5 with a 16 gig hard drive — but I only actually had 3 gigs free. That turned out to be less than ideal, since video files are huge. If you’re planning to shoot a lot of video with your smartphone, I’d suggest either clearing off some files or buying an iPhone with a big hard drive.

As useful as I found my iPhone for this project, I did need a few more resources in order to complete this video.

  • An actress: Diana Porter was incredibly helpful — not only in her willingness to work with such a small crew, but in so many other ways. Since we completed Foo Goo with just the two of us, having an actress who knows what she’s doing and is willing to pitch in was invaluable.
  • A shotgun mic: The built-in microphone on the iPhone (or any smartphone, for that matter) just can’t keep up. I used shotgun mic and a Tascam interface to get sound into my computer.
  • A laptop: The particular latop doesn’t matter all that much, but I relied on Adobe Premiere to edit the film. I did notice that the previews had some weird grain on them that didn’t render out — whatever codec Apple uses for the video, it’s an odd one.

A Real Learning Experience

There are some issues that I noticed while using my iPhone. These aren’t major issues, but they do require some planning ahead when shooting your video.

You will always need more light. iPhone footage will get very grainy if you don’t have enough light. I used the overhead lights or a clamp lamp for most shots.

The lens on the iPhone is surprisingly good: I used it for when the woman gets sucked into the tub and it worked great. However, it doesn’t work in all situations. The Olloclip 4-in-1 Lens Solution gave me a lot more options while shooting. It makes some wacky shots, but it slips off easily, so be aware.

Sound is always tough. Using an iPhone takes the question of sound to a whole new level. Next time I decide to shoot a video on my iPhone, I’ll change out the sound equipment a bit. I’m thinking that Zoom H4N Recorder will be the best bet. Having PluralEyes software to synchronize audio makes the whole process a lot easier.

Compared to the equipment I usually work with, the iPhone weighs nothing. This fact makes keeping your camera steady very difficult. You need either an incredibly steady hand or a good tripod.

Using a small camera totally has its moments! We fit into difficult-to-shoot spaces (like the bathroom) quite nicely.

The render time seemed very short. I only needed about twenty or thirty minutes, compared to about an hour when I shoot with my usual equipment.

Making Your Own Video?

If you’re considering shooting a video — whether it’s your very own horror story or an ad for your business — I’ve pretty well proven that you can do so using your iPhone. Of course, the more budget you have available to invest into your video, the better the results you’ll get.

Got the money? Here’s where to spend it to get the best value:

  1. Rent the sound gear. You’ll be surprised how cheaply you can get it from places like LensProToGo, especially if you’re going to shoot over the weekend.
  2. Hire a videographer. Experience does count for a lot and a trained videographer can get the best results out of whatever equipment you use.

Got some time to invest, as well? Write out your script and rehearse it. Rehearsal may seem like such a little thing, but it can dramatically improve your video. Even better, if you only have your equipment or a videographer’s help for a set amount of time, rehearsing beforehand guarantees you aren’t wasting any of the minutes you may have to pay for.

It’s October! 10/14


Day #14: Impending Fear That Your Favorite Show Will Be Cancelled. This monster comes along and dissolves all your favorite story arcs, makes cherished characters die, and wraps up the season with a cliff-hanger kiss.  Another “guest” monster. This was suggested by my friend Jesse Smolover.

It’s October! 10/13


Day #13: Mutant Duck From Beyond. This ducky floats into your room in the middle of the night to whisper horrible things to you while you sleep.

I got my friends 11 month old son to make some scribbles on a page, then filled it in to make a monster. He was more interested in giving me his sippy cup than drawing. I will have to work on this with him.

It’s October! 10/12


Day #12: Old Age. This was suggested by a friend. I’m not sure it’s as terrifying as it could be. It’s just really hairy. I struggle with my long hair, so I guess this seems scary to me. Also scary: being naked in public with just hair to cover you.

It’s October! 10/11


Day #11: Carb Monster. It masks itself by being super delicious: flakey, butter, and crisp all in the right proportions. Then it pounces by expanding in your stomach, which allows the Lethargy and TV Binge Monsters to devour your soul.