LA agency Ignition Creative reveal how their superb trailer for Mike Cahill’s celestial drama took flight and discuss the changing tide of promo making.

The key ingredient to marketing a good film, besides having a good poster, is a tidy trailer. Occasionally this flash of marketing flesh can turn out to be more memorable than the final product. Often it’s a case of false advertisement. Either way, there’s a tried-and-tested rule: create a compelling trailer and you guarantee that your film will find its audience.

It’s very rare to find a trailer that stands out from the crowd in a unique manner but the promo for Another Earth, released earlier this year, was one of those rare pieces of work that managed to find itself teetering somewhere along that fine line between art and commerce.

With its sombre, reflective tone and haunting piano-driven melody, it’s one of the most striking pieces of film marketing we’ve seen this year and it’s all thanks to the hard work of Ignition Creative, the Los Angeles-based agency responsible for the film’s entire ad campaign.

Founded in 2003, Ignition have spent the past eight years crafting promotional materials across an array of different formats including film, television and video games. With an impressive roster of work behind them ranging from big Hollywood blockbusters to smaller independent features, their work on Mike Cahill’s quaint sci-fi tale proved to be one of the company’s most emotionally captivating ventures.

Ignition’s involvement with Another Earth began with an initial meeting with distributor Fox Searchlight. “Every campaign begins with a creative brief with the studio,” explains producer and Ignition VP Carrie Wiltshire. “This is to determine the direction they would like us to go in and their overall thoughts about the marketing campaign. This brief is essential.”

From the early stages, Ignition were given a relatively blank canvas to work with and they promptly began the process of crafting a unique sell for the film. “Our normal process will start with us watching the movie and sitting down with our writers and editors to discuss how we’re going to break it down, looking at all the details and finding those signature moments,” says creative director and co-owner, Goktug Sarioz.

“In the beginning it’s very creative on our side,” adds Wiltshire. “After the brief the studio give us creative freedom for the first version and after that they will come back with their notes and ideas based on the first cut we have presented. They’re always heavily involved in the entire creative process though.”

Ignition’s first consideration was to work out where the film sat in the marketplace. Searchlight had effectively presented the company with an arthouse picture. “It’s not a four-quadrant movie so you don’t really have to please everyone”, observes Sarioz, “you still want to get four-quadrant numbers but it’s not your summer blockbuster.” The subsequent level of freedom this afforded Ignition was above and beyond what they could expect from a larger budget release, which opened them up to all manner of stylistic opportunities.

“We didn’t want to sell this as a small movie. We wanted to achieve that weird sci-fi feel and we could have gone a lot more indie with it, but the structure feels like we’re doing a big movie.” The first few versions saw Ignition experiment with a variety of stylistic approaches, resulting in multiple trailers with different structures being crafted over the course of a three-month period. “We wanted to make it a little bit commercial without ruining the artistic feel,” explains Sarioz. “Having a lot of explanation but being really minimalist in the way we told the story; that was the big start point.”

Opting to provide narrative context by employing the film’s narration by reallife scientist Dr Richard Berendzen, it was then a case of re-constructing the film’s imagery around the voiceover. “That dialogue tells a lot of story and stylistically it matched what we were trying to do.”

With the key story elements in place and a firm narrative structure in mind, the next step for Ignition was to find the perfect musical cue to capture Another Earth’s tone. After experimenting with a number of different tracks, Ignition’s music supervisors put forward the suggestion of The Cinematic Orchestra’s ‘That Home’. The song posed a unique proposition, not least because it encapsulated the film’s melancholic atmosphere but also because, with a runtime of less than two minutes, it required virtually no cutting or rearrangement.

“The beautiful thing about that song is it’s really short, so you can only make so many decisions about cutting material,” says editor Dave Herrera. “It was one of those fortunate things where you’re not chopping the music up and there’s a right moment for the right shot. The song, in a way, gave you the road map for how to cut it.” Its length was not without its problems however as it restricted the way the team could cut the material. “The hard thing was that, because it was short, we were limited as to what we could edit. The moment you start to try looping that song, you can hear it and we wanted to stay true to the song.”

Music may be one of the key elements that defines a trailer’s success, but it can be a troublesome one, too. Much like soundtracking a film, licensing can be a sticky issue, with artists often refusing to licence their work for commercial purposes. There have also been past cases of trailers having been completed and ready to be signed off, only for it to emerge that the music has been licensed elsewhere and is subject to an exclusivity deal.

The recurrent use of film score and popular music in different trailers has become a familiar trend in recent years, with many trailers bearing a striking resemblance to previous genre promos in their musical choice. Part of the reason that Ignition’s work on Another Earth sets itself apart from other promos is the conscious decision to move away from genre expectations, but the company are all too aware of the industry’s eagerness to imitate prior successes.

“I have no problem with it, and a lot of times I don’t have a problem with it when it pops up again and again,” Herrera concedes. “The problem is when music gets used to try to clone the same genre again and again. It’s like when they say, ‘I want it to look like this and therefore use the music.’ That was a request that happened for a long time. But I love it when it works; when film music can get folded in to a trailer and a piece of music can find a home so beautifully with another movie.”

Musical issues aside, there’s an overriding sense with Ignition’s work that marketing has evolved from its roots as a purely commercial endeavour to something much more artistically driven. Herrera, however, is cautious to attribute that level of freedom solely to an increased level of artistic licence. “With digital content coming so much to the forefront now, there are so many products competing for your eyes and your time. I think a lot of times when [studios] can be savvy they’ll take that risk and do a piece that runs counter to how a particular genre might normally be sold, just to set it apart from the four other genre movies you can watch on Netflix right now. I think a lot of it’s about putting yourself in a unique position.”

The need for creativity is as much a response to industry demand as an incentive for creative agencies to experiment with new ideas, although Sarioz is hesitant to downplay the importance of adhering to the basic tropes of advertising. “It is an art form for sure, but we can’t forget that we are doing marketing and we are trying to sell a movie. That’s where art and commerce meet. You’re telling a story but it’s marketing at the end of the day and you just have to do that as artfully as you can.”

One thing is certain however: the film trailer is no longer a soulless, artless work designed purely to sell a product to an engorged consumer market. That may ultimately be the overarching objective but, as Sarioz suggests, there’s now much more to it than that. “Trailers open up a conversation. In a shortform format we create a new storytelling device and then we hope that people will start talking about it. Without having that content, there isn’t much to talk about, and that’s key to what we create.”