In reply to Monica Williams's post on Mon 25 Aug 2008 :
Monica, far be it from me to have the first word on critiquing someone's work-in-progress trailer, but since no one else seems to be commenting on it, i'll go ahead and take a shot...
First of all, I think your concept is really interesting and compelling. Exploring the concept of evil is one of the things that most of today's documentaries have NOT done. Most of the docs that are coming out deal only with the personal stories in the aftermath of great evil (e.g. WAR DANCE, LOST BOYS OF SUDAN, etc.) So your doc certainly is timely and fills a void.
The most intriguing section of your trailer deals with Adolf Eichmann and the analysis of how his "banal personality" co-existed with his key role in the Holocaust. The archival footage here is strangely riveting and Susan Neiman's commentary gives pertinent information.
Looking at the trailer as a whole, however, I have to say that I didn't find the other sections as interesting or as well constructed. The one big problem – and I don't know how you get around this – is that Susan's voice and presence don't play that well on-screen. Her thoughts are often deep, but just not well-communicated. I feel like she is constantly droning on and sometimes a bit too pleased with her own insights. Tighter editing of her VO would probably help a lot so that we only hear her most salient points.
Also, you use a lot of classical paintings to illustrate your points but a lot of them fall flat because it's not very clear why you are using them. For instance, during the montage where "Sympathy for the Devil" is playing, there's one painting of a naked man with a protractor-drawing tool – what is he doing and why are we watching this? It may be obvious to you, but to the untrained viewer, we have no idea.
There are a number of technical points too that you should be aware of. The opening text animation is really clunky and you'll lose a lot of credibility right from the start if this is the first thing the viewer sees. Generally, text should not "bump" into other text unless you are trying to communicate something comical. A simple fade-in of text is the best approach here. Your other uses of motion graphics, especially with pictures, looks very amateurish as well. I realize you are probably doing everything yourself, but you need to either keep everything absolutely simple (and static), or hire a decent motion graphics artist who can perform the camera moves more elegantly (using AfterEffects). Lastly, the odd camera angles and shaking during Susan's interview don't leave a positive impression of the production.
My question to you would be: who is this trailer meant for? If it's meant to raise money, it has to be a LOT shorter and more tightly edited. If this trailer is for broadcasters, you have to make a better case for what your story is, and why Susan's train of thought will keep an audience engaged. Right now, I have no sense of what the finished film will be like; if it's just a slew of Susan's talking-head amidst an avalanche of archival footage, few will be interested. You can certainly "lead" the viewer with questions in your trailer, but you have to make them more regular and build on each other.
I'm sorry if my comments sound at all harsh, but I wanted to be completely honest with you. Again, your concept is rock-solid. It's the execution that is troublesome right now. If I were to suggest a possible structure for you, it would be something like:
1) Introductory montage – "Sympathy for the Devil"
2) 20-second sound bite from Susan on "What is Evil?"
3) Very brief exploration of Adolf Eichmann's case
4) Closing montage with some kind of cliffhanger question (e.g. "Can Evil ever be stopped?")
Anyways, best of luck with this project and any others you take up in the meantime...