beeOne advantage of having a brilliant and devoted readership like mine is that I can occasionally reverse the Q&A process and appeal for your insight. Here’s the situation…

At Sundance, I talked about my plan-slash-pipe-dream of releasing the underlying footage of The Nines simultaneously to its DVD release. Essentially, you could load it into your Avid or Final Cut system and it would show up neatly divided into bins. From there, you could cut your own version — or better yet, mash in other content to create something unique: The Nines vs. The Grifters, or Donnie Darknines: The Koalapocalypse.1

Yes, you could do some of this just by ripping the DVD, but having the original material allows for much more sophisticated re-cutting, just as the a cappella version of Jay-Z’s The Black Album enabled a thousand remixes and reinterpretations.

There are legal and political hurdles to be sure, but all of that’s months away.

Right now, we’re surprisingly close to having an official trailer.2 After seeing vastly different approaches–comedy to thriller to existential drama–it became clear that no matter what the tone, there are approximately 15-20 shots which were in nearly every version of the trailer. Which is a pretty small number. Which raises a natural question…

Why not let people cut their own trailer?

Surprisingly, everyone who could veto the idea hasn’t. So I think we’re going to do it. But that means there’s a lot to figure out, much of which falls well outside my area of expertise. I know this blog has a significant readership beyond aspiring screenwriters, so I’m hoping that editors, web-heads and other folks with useful insight will de-lurk and offer some of their genius.

Format

My hunch is that most of these trailers will end up on YouTube, where the ideal input format is MPEG-4, 320×240. (Update March 2011: Outdated, obviously.) It’s certainly compact. The trouble is, editing systems like Final Cut would rather ingest almost anything other than .mp4. Which leads to my first question:

1. What’s the best video format for sending out the trailer footage?

We’re trying to strike a balance between a few competing goals. First, it needs to look and sound pretty good, both as edited, and ultimately, as re-compressed by YouTube. Second, it needs to be fairly compact, so that it’s feasible download (or torrent) the footage.3 Third, it should be something fairly industry-standard. No doubt there is a clever proprietary format out there, but if it requires special plug-ins, people are much less likely to bother.

2. One clip, or many?

Would it be more efficient to offer one long clip (perhaps with chapter marks) or a folder of the individual clips? The latter seems more convenient — you could just drop it into your system as a bin. But does more clips mean more chances for things to go wrong?

Logistics

Beyond the video format, there are other questions about the smartest way to do this. Such as…

3. Should it be a competition?

I suspect many people would participate just because they thought it was interesting, but my experience with the Scene Challeges is that even a phantom prize gets a lot more people invested. Assuming the trailers end up on YouTube, would a standard tagging scheme be enough to help identify the contenders, or should there be a forum for people to list/hype their entries?

3A. If there’s a competition, how long of a deadline?

Assuming the footage came out on a Thursday, would the following Monday be enough time? I suspect there’s a sweet spot between enough time and too much time.

4. What’s the best way to get the footage out there? Torrent? Download?

I’ve barely torrented, and have never set up any seeding situations, so I’m almost fully ignorant on the best ways to make this sizable file available. (In coming up with solutions, you can safely assume we have almost no money to spend on this.)

No doubt there will be other smart questions asked amid the answers in the comments thread. If you’re addressing any of the technical issues, it would be helpful if you mentioned your experience, or provided links. Thanks in advance.

  1. Just typing that makes me eager to shoot new koala footage.
  2. Once the official trailer comes, you’ll find a link here, and no doubt a lengthy talkback on a certain site.
  3. I’m going to guess and say that we’re looking at about six minutes of raw footage, if that helps the back-of-the-envelope calculation.