31 December 2015

Why minimalist trailers won't work for ordinary films

Star wars: Why a minimalist trailer for The Froce Awakens won
Rich McCormick in Verge has argued that "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" broke internet records because of its minimalist trailer, i.e. by removing the voice over that says "In a world..." and by hiding the major plot points:
The Force Awakens' clips showed impressive restraint in an age where two minutes are jammed with as much exposition as producers can throw at the screen, pulling back on the amount of detail and building excitement by deliberately avoiding major plot points....The first teaser for The Phantom Menace's first teaser dropped the dulcet tones of the "in a world..." voiceover man, relying instead on carefully selected shots that Star Wars-starved fans could pick over again and again. In the process, it broke the internet before breaking the internet was a thing people aimed to do. The Force Awakens, again, bucked the trailer trend by omitting the kind of information that most trailers include as standard, and spawned thousands of feverish fan reaction videos, posts, and discussions.
 The Force Awakens can afford to do so, in the same way that IBM and GE need not write "International Business Machines" or "General Electric". IBM and GE has already spent millions of dollars in building its products and advertising them for several decades that their logos or initials are already well recognized icons of their respective companies. Similarly, the Force Awakens was built on the foundations of 6 Star Wars movies by George Lucas which are all blockbusters. A fan watching the trailer would already see parallels in the previous movies: Rey and Luke, R2D2 and BB-8, Darth Vader and Kylo Ren. The fan is already assumed to know the force, light saber, Jedi, Dark Side, and Storm Trooper. With these data, the fan can already make connections and try to deduce the major plot points, which builds up the excitement to watch the movie.

But what about an ordinary movie like Shawshank Redemption? The first word of the title is already a marketing headache since it does not conjure anything familiar. There is no Shawshank Prison as prequel that the reader can spring from to make sense of the Shawshank Redemption. With these handicaps, the trailer has to reveal major plot points to give the viewer what the movie is all about: the court verdict, the life in the prison, and the theme of hope. But even then, the film never became a blockbuster in the cinemas; it was only later that the movie was found to be exceptionally good. Had it been shown in today's era of blogs and social media, it would have a fair chance to be a blockbuster in cinemas, too:
Despite its box office disappointment, the film received multiple award nominations (including seven Oscar nominations) and outstanding reviews from critics for its acting, story, and realism. It has since been successful on cable television, VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray. It was included in the American Film Institute's 100 Years...100 Movies 10th Anniversary Edition.[3] It is now widely considered one of the greatest films of all time. In 2015, the United States Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the National Film Registry, finding it "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". (Wikipedia: Shawshank Redemption)

A trailer must tell what the film is all about: the setting, the characters, and the conflict. How the film will try to resolve the conflict, the trailer can leave out. In the same way, when marketing a book, the setting, the characters, and the conflict must be spelled out in the book's marketing copy at the back cover. Here is an example from the Lord of the Rings:

In ANCIENT TIMES the rings of power were crafted by the Elven-smiths and Sauron, the Dark Lord, forged the One Ring, filling it with his own power so that he could rule all others. But the One Ring was taken from him, and though he sought it throughout Middle-earth, it remained lost to him.  After many ages it fell by chance into the hands of the hobbit Bilbo Baggins.

From Sauron's fastness in the Dark Tower of Mordor, his power spread far and wide. Sauron gathered all the Great Rings, but always he searched for the One Ring that would complete his dominion.

When Bilbo reached his eleventy-first birthday he disappeared, bequeathing to his young cousin Frodo the Ruling Ring and a perilous quest: to journey across Middle-earth, deep into the shadow of the Dark Lord, and destroy the Ring by casting it into the Cracks of Doom.

The Lord of the Rings tells of the great quest undertaken by Frodo and the Fellowship of the Ring: Gandalf the Wizard; the hobbits Merry, Pippin, and Sam; Gimli the Dwarf; Legolas the Elf; Boromir of Gondor; and a tal, mysterious stranger called Strider.
Notice that the first three paragraphs of the marketing copy reveals the setting, the characters, and the conflict. The third and fourth paragraph describes the major plot: it is a quest to Mount Doom to destroy the Ring. Whether Frodo and company would accomplish the quest is left for the book to tell. Also, the copy reveals something intriguing through the word "mysterious". All these creates a tension or a cliff-hanger that needs to be resolved by reading the book.

The principle of "less is more" for movie trailers is only for those who have already invested more in marketing in the prequel movies. But for films who have just built their fictional world out of nothing and who has only one chance to convince the customer to view it, the marketing principle should be "more with less" for the trailers--more revelations of major plot points in less number of minutes.

30 December 2015

Social media poster design workflow using GIMP and Google Drawing

Social media poster design using GIMP and Google Drawing. Picture credit: "Secretary" by Elias Bara. CC BY-SA 3.0.
For a week now, I have standardized my poster design work flow for my Blogger, Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and Pinterest social media accounts using GIMP and Gogle Drawings. GIMP is the free counterpart of Adobe Photoshop, while Google Drawings has excellent poster design features, though you still have to handcraft many of the templates unlike in Canva.

1. Blogger

What I usually do is to find good pictures from Wikipedia, usually those with Creative Commons or public domain license. I download the picture and use GIMP to resize it to at most 800 px width. I export the picture from xcf to png.

I open a file in Google Drawings, go to Page Setup, and click on 16:9 width to height ratio. This ratio is a good fit as Facebook snippet, though 2:1 ratio would also do fine.

I insert the png picture in Google Drawing file canvass, placing the picture in the left side. To find the background color of the canvass, I right click the canvass and click on background. Sometimes I choose among the tabulated preset colors for the poster. But usually I first go the GIMP's xcf file of the picture and use the color picker tool to find a suitable color for the background and the text from the picture itself. Below the GIMP's tool palette, there's the rectangular box showing the color chosen. I click on the box and copy the HTML color code. I paste this color code in the custom color option for the background in Google Drawings.

My favorite font for the text is Oswald and Cambria, which are found in Google Drawings. I place the title text on the right side of the picture. Below the title text, I write the by line: "by Monk's Hobbit".  Below the byline or below the image, I write the picture credit. Usually the picture credit details can be found by clicking on the Wikipedia picture. This is usually true for Creative Commons licenses with Attribution requirement. Otherwise, I copy the title of the picture and the author, then the picture's Wikipedia url address. I also add the the license of the picture, whether it is Public Domain or CC BY-SA 3.0, for example. All these picture credit details I write in Arial. I am really conscious about picture copyrights and I don't use pictures which I don't have license to use. Otherwise, I would get sued and my blog may go up in smoke.  It is better to be safe than sorry.

I download the finished poster in Google Drawings into png and then upload the picture into my blogger blog. I place this picture at the top of my blog post and choose the extra large picture size option in Blogger, which has a width of 640 px. This is optimum since my blog text page layout has 800 px width. Uploading a header picture for your blog post is important because Blogger will use this as a snippet for your Related Posts and Recent Posts widgets.

I click publish and view my blog post. The picture should show up well.

Why the man should take a lead in a relationship and in marriage
Why the man should take a lead in a relationship and in marriage. Blog source: Monk's Hobbit. This is an example of a poster for Blogger, Facebook, and Google+.

2. Google+

If I chose my blog to be linked to my Google+ page, the blog  post will be automatically published in Google. Otherwise, I copy the url of my blog post and post it in Google+. The blog header picture would show up nicely, but you have first have to write your own post snippet before publishing the Google+ post. Notice that I don't design a separate poster for Google+. I still use the same 16:9 width to height poster ratio.

3. Facebook

I copy the blog post url and paste it in my Facebook post. Facebook will then show you several pictures from your blog. Usually, I hide the other pictures and choose only the header picture. Sometimes, the header picture can't be found in any of the choices, so I upload the picture manually.

4. Pinterest

I go back to the original poster I designed in Google Drawings for Blogger. I click File-->Make a Copy. My naming convention for my blog post posters is
  • blog_name_title_key_words_dateinYYYYMMDD. 
What Google Drawings will do is to make a new file:
  • Copy of blogname_title_key_words_dateinYYYYMMDD. 
I change this to:
  • blogname_title_key_words_dateinYYYYMMDD_pinterest.

 I change the poster by going to File->Page Setup-->Custom--> Pixels. I choose a width of 800 px and start with an 800 px x 1600 px to be modified later. I upload the png picture which I used in the blog to the poster's canvass and place the picture at the topmost area, stretching the picture at the vertex to preserve the width-to-height ratio, until the edge of the picture matches the boundaries of the canvass. You will know this since Google Drawings will show a red line.

Once the picture is in place, I write the title text below it using the same fonts I use in the Blogger header picture for consistency, but with different sizes. I try not to exceed more than three lines for the title text. I avoid superimposing the text into the picture as usually seen in social media, because it requires greater thought to the layout and design. At the footer of the picture, I place the picture credits in Arial font.

I download the poster in png and upload it in Pinterest. I type the title of the blog post and the corresponding hashtags, and then post the picture in one of my Pinterest categories. Once the picture is pinned, I click the edit icon and add the blog post url, so that clicking the picture would lead the reader to my blog. Well, I could also pin the picture directly by pasting first the blog post url and choosing the header picture to pin. but in my experience,  a 16:9 width-to-height poster ratio is not optimal for Pinterest where vertical posters are the norm. That's why I design separate posters for Pinterest.

5. Twitter

Star Wars: How the Spiritual Exercises can hlp us discern the two sides of the Force. Blog source: Monk's Hobbit. This is an example of a poster for Twitter.

Twitter has an uncanny ability to determine if you use public domain photos and block them. So for now, I avoid putting photos in Twitter posters. The reason for this is that if I put a picture, there would not be enough space to put the text, unless I superimpose the text over the picture--something which I don't like (but I may change my mind later). I go for the simple text in monochrome background. The poster size I use is 16:9 width-to-height ratio, which is the same one I use in Blogger. This ratio is approximately the same as the 2:1 width-to-height ratio preferred by Twitter. For my poster naming convention, I use this:
  • blogname_title_key_words_dateinYYYYMMDD_twitter.
I upload the poster in Twitter, copy the blog post title, put the relevant hashtags, and schedule the post using Tweetdeck.


Standardizing my poster design workflow for social media saved me time in thinking about layout and colors. The result is a consistent brand image across my social media platforms. I also showed that GIMP and Google Drawing can be used together to make a simple poster with colors drawn from the image using GIMP's color picker for use in poster text and background to create a unified poster color scheme. I hope some of the ideas here may also be useful to you when you design your own posters for social media.