Welcome to the first of our Behind The Trailer features, where we lift the curtain on the making of the trailers for the year’s biggest and most notable films.
When you’re sitting in a cinema, watching a trailer for some animated film, the last thing you would probably expect is for, firstly, the poor animated happy potato to get his skin peeled off, and secondly, for said potato to drop no less than two F-bombs in the space of 10 seconds. Nor would you expect an R-rated animated film to exist at all – although there’s always South Park and Seth MacFarlane’s productions on TV.
This approach – to ease you in with familiarity, and then to shock when the true premise is reveal – is one Ignition Creative‘s team behind the first trailer for Sausage Party, consisting of editor Jay Lorenz, producer Jackie Thomas and creative director Spencer Kaplan, took when putting together this first look at Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan’s film. And if the response to this trailer, which dropped just alongside the film’s first screening at the SXSW (South by Southwest) festival back in March, is to go by – the biggest red-band trailer launch in Sony Pictures history leading to a great $33.6 million domestic opening [The Wrap] and now a Gold CLIO Key Art Award for Best Teaser – this approach may have just proved to be a winning one.
Following their win at the CLIO Key Art Awards last week, we got the chance to ask the team behind the trailer a few questions. But first, take another look at the trailer itself (titled “Two Worlds”):
TT: The whole idea of an R-rated Pixar-esque animated film feels like a bit of a paradox – did this present a challenge in any way when approaching and working on this project? Were there any other challenges that this project presented?
Spencer Kaplan (Creative Director and EVP of AV): Our clients at Sony tasked us with creating a teaser trailer that would launch the Sausage Party campaign for the adult comedy crowd – during a year when R rated comedies have been underperforming at the box office. We all loved the movie for its original concept, bold vision and brilliant humor. But after initial focus groups and testing found that the idea of an R-Rated animated comedy was confusing to people; we realized we had a tough but exciting creative challenge on our hands.
Jackie Thomas (Producer): Every moment in this movie is so funny and outrageous, the content itself presented multiple different directions we could have taken the teaser. Team that with communicating the adult themes in a way that creates a “movie theater must-see” reaction from viewers within a two minute spot and you have an exciting challenge on your hands.
We needed to create a delicate balance — Setting the movie as charmingly expected in the front half to quickly combat any potential confusion about an adult animated comedy, then turning it on its head to showcase some of the wild and unexpected scenes in the second half to capture fans with its pedigree comedy. This helped us combat another challenge we encountered; once revealing that this movie is R-rated we needed to quickly convey that it’s a smart R-rated movie… Not just dick jokes. The writing is incredibly clever and the respected comedic actors voicing the characters take its hilarity to the next level. We really wanted to do that justice. Citing movies including “This Is The End”, “Neighbors”, and “Superbad” put Sausage Party into a category of comedies that aren’t just funny, but good movies with real stories that are well written and produced.
TT: The teaser has this great bait-and-switch structure to it – was this an idea you’ve had from the very start, were there any other ways to present this first look that you played around with?
JT: It took some trial and error to arrive at the final structure, particularly because we all had to buy in to the build-up knowing that there wasn’t going to be a joke until a minute in to the teaser; That’s generally not an instinctual move when cutting a comedy trailer! We took the concept of the movie seriously in the first act, shinning a light on the secret world of food. This would easily pass for the story of a family animation film. During this first half, we showcased that premise very sincerely, until the big reveal that it’s R-rated. We discovered that by reducing confusion and going for a sincere Pixar approach first-off, it made the unexpected switch in genre during the kitchen massacre even more shocking and comical.
TT: You’ve likely heard the story this summer about a theatre playing this red-band trailer in front of Finding Dory, what did you think about this? Especially given that the first third of the trailer could honestly pass for a family-friendly film; a lot of great reactions online – especially video reactions from YouTube – came out from this.
Jay Lorenz (Editor): We were knee-deep into creating the first part of the TV campaign for Sausage Party when we heard news of the “Finding Sausage” incident. By the end of that day I’d probably received a dozen different articles from friends and peers and I was surprised by the amount of coverage it was receiving; BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post, even The New York Times. The teaser became incredibly popular online and this un-staged event certainly played a part in its fame.
TT: How involved were the filmmakers and producers with this trailer – did they have much input during the process of putting this together or did they and the studio get you to put your own spin on the material?
JT: The filmmakers and producers were very involved in the marketing process as this movie had been a passion project for Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg for some time. They were great to work for and very receptive to all the concepts we tried out, some that were theirs and some ours. Ultimately they loved the teaser and were especially supportive of our music choices and cutting style. The entire team behind this movie was terrific to work with!
TT: How did the particular music choices for teaser – the JR JR and the Jason Derulo/Snoop Dogg tracks [Gone and Wiggle respectively] – come about? Did you consider using the music and songs from the film, like ‘The Great Beyond’?
JL: When we started to explore options for a Pixar-style open, one of our music supervisors, Omar Herrera, immediately thought of the JR JR track. And as soon as I dropped it on the timeline I knew it would be the winner; That track did such a great job of setting the happy tone from the very beginning and completely sold the idea… before the massacre.
We loved the Jason Derulo / Snoop Dogg track so much because it has a young, fun feel while being super quirky and the whistling in particular makes it really memorable. This is a song that we constantly heard people singing in the office while working on the campaign. It’s contagious.
The opening musical from the film [The Great Beyond] is fantastic and on multiple occasions we searched for a fitting place for it in the marketing campaign. Ultimately, we didn’t end up using it so it could be saved as a surprise scene in the film.
TT: There’s also a green band version of this trailer that Sony have put out with Angry Birds which has some alternate footage – when working on it, was this just a case of just removing and replacing things from the red band that wouldn’t be okay in a green band trailer, or did some consideration go into how you could actually present this premise to family audiences?
JL: I think if we could have modified every joke from the Red Band version in to a Green Band rating, we would have. But, in this case, we had to use different content without the ability to simply swap in jokes. We weren’t ready to give away more of the story than what was being presented in the Red Band version, so we found lighter jokes that still served the teaser’s purpose. The [peanut butter and jelly] bit was a favorite among all of us at Ignition so we were happy to be able to use that content, and it worked perfectly for the Green Band version.
TT: And lastly, what did you think of the final film itself, and did the experience of working on the trailer have an effect on how you viewed the film in its finished form – if you’ve seen it?
JL: I’ve watched this film over a dozen times and having worked on it since the campaign’s inception I felt an incredible sense of achievement to see it come together, from storyboards to final animation. Some of the scenes we worked with for the teaser were in their early stages when we first had them so it’s been fun to watch the final renders and see the characters come to life.
JT: By the end of some theatrical campaigns it’s easy to fall out of love with certain movies because you’ve seen them so many times… Not with Sausage Party. Our clients at the studio and the filmmakers were always receptive to trying new jokes and bizarre packaging devices, so we played with lots of different material during the process. We had a big team of editors working on this project and we were always making each other laugh with content from the movie!
Sausage Party, the first R-rated CG animated movie, is about one sausage leading a group of supermarket products on a quest to discover the truth about their existence and what really happens when they become chosen to leave the grocery store.
Sausage Party is released on Digital HD in the U.S. next Tuesday, November 1, followed by physical formats – including 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray – on November 8. The UK release date for all formats is currently set for December 26.
A massive thank you to the team at Ignition Creative for this – check out more of their film, TV and video game marketing work at ignitioncreative.com.
(images and video courtesy Sony Pictures)