Structure of the Kairos trailer

This is a tweet thread I wrote about the Kairos trailer you can follow me @LukeCoalman

The Kairos trailer was animated and produced by Studio La Cachette and was made for the graphic novel by Ulysse Malassagne

The Kairos trailer is so cool it holds up really well. I wanted to try and break down the structure.

(I haven’t read the graphic novel, only watched the trailer about 100 times)

The trailer starts with a short intro sequence. Establishing shot>guy wakes up> Dinosaur thing comes through the fireplace>he gets thrown around>dinosaur kidnaps his partner

This sequence gets your attention and makes you want to find out more. It ends with this cool transition. The whole sequence is about 30 sec long, longer than I expected.

I’m going to jump to the ending. The ending is a big action sequence. We see the guy who has now become a monster fighting the same Dinosaur soldiers. It’s  super fun and exciting this is probably the part everyone remembers. This sequences is about 40 sec

The reason this sequence works is because it’s set up. We know who he’s fighting for. Guy has wife kidnapped by Dinosaur soldiers>Guy fights dinosaur soldiers to get to his wife. We’re emotionally engaged. DRAMA!

In Between those two sequences we have a bunch of cool vignettes

The vignettes are usually two shot each, what they do is show the scope and scale of the story. They are what makes this feel epic.

When we’re shown these random images our brains are scrambling to fit them into a narrative.

So the overall structure of this trailer is Guy and wife are attacked by dinosaurs, wife is kidnapped> vignettes of fantasy world and random things happening>guy fights dinosaurs to get back his wife> cliffhanger ending

I’ve looked at some other (epic) trailers and they have a similar structure

  1. Overall narrative (something very simple scene or sequence)
  2. Cool vignettes (something to show the scope of the story)
  3. Cliffhanger ending (what makes you want to see more)

The point of the of the overall narrative is to provide structure to the trailer. It’s usually a scene from the film that’s reworked into this format. It’s there to provide a beginning/middle/end

This is a trailer the idea is to tease the story make people go out and see the film or show. That’s where the cliffhanger comes in. Bad trailers tell you the whole story, good trailers give you just enough information and leave the important stuff out.

In Kairos the coolest scene, where the guy crashes through the scaffolding, ends right as he’s about to land in a crowd of Dinosaur guards. That’s an exciting cliffhanger. The story that was set up doesn’t pay off that makes you want to see more.

In school I wasn’t a huge fan of trailer films. There’s something disingenuous about them when their teasing at something that doesn’t really exist. The worst part of the Kairos trailer is that I just want to see the whole movie.

Trailers are also an art form, good ones are really tight and balanced. They play directly with our emotions. End

Film Crit Hulk and why shorts are meant for learning

I liked this Twitter thread from Film Crit Hulk about short films. Despite his name, Film Crit Hulk is one of the very best places to read film criticism and learn about storytelling and filmmaking. That’s why this thread is so good.

The thread made me think of is the place shorts have in our culture. Short fiction in any medium. Short stories, short comics, short films. The truth is people don’t seek out this work. The industry is too busy to seek them out. They might go a film festival. I don’t think audiences seek them out either. Yet, at the same time beginners are encouraged to make shorts. This gets to Hulk’s final point.

The purpose of most short films is to learn. Short projects are where you cut your teeth and learn. I encountered this situation earlier this week. Isaiah and I are in the middle of production our next short comic. It’s going slowly, we’re undermotivated so we had a call. We wanted to take a cold hard look at the project. What we came to is that we’re either making things to build an audience or we’re trying to make something good. It would easy to say that we’re trying to do both. When you’re trying to figure out your goals, stick to one. Having too many goals will split you in different directions. It became clear is that if we were interested in growing our audience we’d be working differently. One might make more content share more often. What we were focused on was making something good. More specifically it was about learning how to make something good. Getting better at storytelling, and finding a story we’re excited about. After we finish this project, learn from it and move to the next one.

Start with short fiction because it’s a great training ground. It’s a great training ground because you will falter and fail. The iteration, the feedback will make you better at what you do. It might seem ideal to start a big project now. Working on short projects gives you a taste of how much energy any project takes. When you have the experience of making many things, you can stare down a big project with a bit more confidence. Knowing you can see it through the other side.

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2 kinds of short stories to simplify your big ideas

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Many of us want to make big, important things. You might be trying to figure how to get started on your next project. You might want to outline your epic, start world building your next saga but the fastest way to get to making big and important things is to make small things. I’ve written before about how to take your big idea and make a small version of it. Part of that process is choosing what kind of short to make. I’m not an expert but this idea has helped me. It’s help me wrap my head around story, and especially break down my big ideas into smaller more manageable ones.


There are two ways your can look at short stories. Broad and Narrow. The Broad story is a story that takes a very general view of the entire story you want to tell. I think a great example of this in animation is The Reward:

“Driven by greed, two young boys venture out on an epic treasure hunt across the world, but to reach their goal they will need to conquer greater dangers than flesh-eating totem-poles and transvestite angels.” IMBD This short is essentially a montage of the journey the characters take. It gets across this big picture epic feeling. It’s funny, and action packed but you don’t that deep with any themes or characters, and that’s okay. I think the point of it is to be fun and exciting.


Now if you wanted to go more narrow maybe the short Borrowed Time:

The description from IMDB, “A weathered sheriff returns to the remains of an accident he has spent a lifetime trying to forget. With each step forward, the memories come flooding back. Faced with his mistake once again, he must find the strength to carry on.”IMDB It’s deep, it’s harrowing, and it’s emotional. It’s also contained, it focuses on the main character, his memories. We don’t know how the characters met, we don’t know how the chase started but again that’s not the point. The point is to get across a specific emotion, and it does that beautifully.

In the system called Dramatica, this concept is called slicing and dicing. The way that it works is that every story has 4 parts. An Overall Story, Main Character Arc, Impact Character Arc* and a Relationship Story**.  To slice is to take a little thin piece from every part of the story, getting every layer of a cake in one slice. This kind of story will feel big, but sort of general. Dicing takes a one piece, focusing on one section, just scraping off the all icing and only eating the sponge. This kind of story will be deep and specific, but most of the broader context will be omitted from this narrative.

What’s useful about this approach is that you can take parts of your narrative and split them into short stories. You don’t have to be bogged down by your big ambitious story, you can start small. You can tell as big or as contained of a story as you want and begin the learning process.

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*Impact Character is a secondary character that the main character comes into contact with. Think of all your favourite films/stories there’s usually an important secondary character.

**Relationship Story is a story about the relationship between the Main Character and Impact Character. It’s the ‘heart’ of the film. Story of how they grow to closer or fall apart.

Why I was wrong about short films

I was going to write a post about why I don’t like making short films. As I was writing I realized my reasons were kind of garbage. I had all of these misconceptions about short film production that weren’t true. I haven’t been thinking about short films in the right way. Here are the reasons I thought short films weren’t worth the effort they take.

“Short films are too short for my stories.”

Animation takes so long to produce it’s often in the best interest to make the film as short as possible. I thought that short films had to be so short, you couldn’t fit a full narrative. I want to tell stories that are long and deep. This isn’t a good reason to not make a short film. There’s no reason you can’t take your bigger idea and simplify it to fit the format. I used to think that short films work better when they were funny, and you couldn’t do epics. I think this was fear, each time I tried to make a short film I tried to game the system. I’d make something that I thought would work. In the end I always ended up with something that wasn’t honest to what I wanted to say. This was my lesson from those films. I tried to hard to make a good short film, instead of trying to make my own short film.

I convinced myself that self contained short films were better. I didn’t like the idea of making trailers, or a short that was clearly a pitch for a series. I thought it was more pure to make a film that could stand on it’s own two legs. This is silly, if you’ve put all the work into designing the characters and building the world why not tell more stories. Why not make a long story told in installments. I had this idealized version of what an animated short film was and it prevented me from making the kind of films I wanted to make.

“Short films take forever to make”

Many of us only made short films during school. In school the way you make a film is you start in September and you (hopefully) finish in April. I was lucky in that I started working on my first short film at the end of my second year of animation school. I got funding and worked on it on top of doing coursework. After I graduated and finished my thesis film I had to return to animating this film. The process was excruciating, this is where I get my negative feelings around short films. It took me two and half years to finish it. From that experience I thought animated films took forever to make. At least a year of hard work, for maybe a minute of animation. You can make a short film in however much time you like. When you make the film on your own, you can set the schedule, and the deliverables. I’m probably not going to spend a year on a film again. I’ll manage the scope differently so I don’t have to spend another 2 years on one film.

“Short films are lonely experience.”

The two films I made I animated entirely on my own. Animated filmmaking is unique because you can make a film by yourself. I don’t endorse this, for my money, animation is the best when it is collaborative and a team sport. When working on your own project its common to use yourself, you are the cheapest person you know. Everyone else costs money. I think there are interesting ways that you can raise money or call in favours. Making animation with other people is one of the great benefits of making cartoons.

“Short films have no market.”

I was under the assumption that nobody watches short films. That there wasn’t much success outside of film festivals, and I don’t really get film festivals. What I realized is the struggle of getting people to see your work is hard no matter what your selling. Getting people to watch a short film is as hard as getting someone to read a blog post, see your drawing, read your comic or buy your product. This is a marketing problem and the medium isn’t what’s holding you back. It’s true that there is a very small group of people who are looking for animated short films. They are probably not your audience. What you really need to do is to make something that is for a specific group of people who are looking for what your making. You want to find a group of people who like to share what’s interesting to them. It doesn’t have to reach everybody it just has to reach the right people.

I wrote this post to try and explain why short films are a waste of time. I don’t think that any more. I’m actually kind of excited, I want to start making one. It’s a whole new perspective. I think we all have an idea of what a short film is supposed to be. Often we make it to hard on ourselves. This gets to the point of Indie Animated. You choose the terms of what you want to make. Question your assumptions about the proper way to do things. Don’t wait for someone to approve your idea, or funding to come through, or the perfect story. If you see an audience waiting for a certain kind of story, and you want to make it, start making it. Get it out in whatever crude version you can. It might not work, but try to have the bravery to make something better next time.