Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman, 2008) received enormous praise from critics like Roger Ebert during its release. But despite the name recognition of Kaufman, and lead actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, the 20 million dollar production only raked in 4.4 million at the box office. Synecdoche, New York explores the inconvenience of death, through the eyes of a struggling director, who wants to reconnect with his daughter, and find romance, and find love, and build an impossibly large model of New york City for his theatre piece. But Hoffman’s character might also live in literal purgatory, or hell, or in his own delusions prior to an off screen apocalypse. Needless to say, the marketing campaign for a romantic, surreal, absurdist, artistic drama confused general audiences.
I love Synecdoche, New York and encourage everyone to check it out. But convincing anyone to take a look at a lengthy, meandering, and utterly depressing art film takes effort. For my re-cut trailer, I tried transforming Synecdoche, New York into Black Synecdoche, an edge of your seat mystery thriller along the lines of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (David Fincher, 2010), and Oldboy (Park Chan-wook, 2003). Synecdoche, New York contains a healthy dose of bizarre, and sometimes disturbing imagery. By taking shots out of context, and substituting my own context with stolen voice lines from other parts of the film, I attempted to re-frame the film as the story of a grizzled detective on the hunt for an occult childknapper. I stuck to the same format of other trailers I had researched, by using a bumping electronic soundtrack with along with quickening and intensifying cuts. I made a red band trailer because some of Synecdoche, New York’s best imagery contained nudity and blood, so be forewarned before watching.
I tried sticking with dirtier shots for my re-cut trailer, that is, shots with grime, smoke, or general clutter in the frame. Greg Smith states in What Media Classes Really Want to Discuss that “our understanding of realism is often guided by a broad assumption that reality is not pretty.” Synecdoche, New York often feels like a whimsical adventure, with perpetually burning houses impossibly sized production sets with regards to the play within the film. I made sure to include numerous unpleasant shots, such as of the rats, and the borderline apocalyptic ruins of New York, to better ground the film in Smith’s ideas of realism. That being said, I subtly included some of the more bizarre imagery to ramp up the tension, in accordance with the genre I was aiming for.
While the original trailer for Synecdoche, New York featured numerous tenderly romantic moments, I instead decided to include a fully nude shot of actress Robin Weigert in all her tattooed glory. I utilized a strategy mentioned by Vance Packard in The Built in Sexual Overtone. Packard explains how car dealerships are encouraged to “put the hope mistress-adventure a little closer to males by giving most prominent display to the convertibles.” Though most men end up buying sedans, dealerships can appeal to less realistic fantasies in order to grab hold of a customer’s attention. Rather than advertise the genuine compassion between characters, I draw the audience in with more sexual approach. Of course, women should not be comparable to cars in a window. I use the technique for the purpose of advertising sexual content and themes rather than as a statement on women, although I acknowledge that this might still come off as a problem to some viewers. I also utilize sound bites from and shots of Hazel (Samantha Morton), to show her using sexuality as an instrument for her own goals. While the original trailer (and movie as a whole) utilize Hazel as an example of a meaningful connection, I portray her more as member of a vague conspiracy. I include include a clip of Hazel walking through a smoke filled room without hesitation, and another of her looking up from Philip Seymour Hoffman’s shoulder— cutting to another shot just as the audience catches a glimpse of her dark, almost demonic eyes. With Hazel, I wanted to make an effort towards presenting a female character with agency, complexities, and objectives, somewhere between a trickster and a villain.
Now that I’ve finished digging a hole for myself in the previous paragraph, I’d like to dive into my more technical creative choices. I wanted to use instant cuts of decreasing length in my trailer, along with an ever intensifying soundtrack. Bernard Dick stresses the importance of rhythm in Film, Space and Image. Dick notes in simple terms that “no great film is rhythmically uniform. Some shots remain on the screen longer than others; some sequences move more rapidly than others.” Because I am not a seasoned film editor, I relied on the the uniquely bizarre yet invigorating electronic track A Dream Within A Dream by the Glitch Mob to vary and time my shots satisfyingly. I keep some shots up for longer than others using the music for reference. I use a fade out at the end of the trailer for dramatic effect, and a serif typeface for the title of Black Synecdoche. The trailers I wrote about in my last blog post were not consistent in their use of typeface, so I chose serif out of personal preference, in accordance with movies like No Country for Old Men ( Ethan & Joel Coen, 2007), and Jacob’s Ladder (Adrian Lyne, 1990). I nearly went for a more emotional rock soundtrack, as seen in the mouthwatering trailer for Oldboy I’ve included below. Ultimately, I felt that the material I could squeeze out of the movie fit better with something artificial and uniform.