I had never heard of Mark Woollen until I read this profile, but then I realized I knew him from his work, which I love. Among the movie trailers he has cut:
- The Tree of Life
- Little Children
- The Social Network
- To the Wonder
- Schindler's List
- and many, many more...
A much longer list of movies whose trailers are covered with his fingerprints reveals a guy with particular taste. In what is usually a vulgar craft, Woollen is an artist. He has a trademark style: no voiceovers, an occasional expository text card (perhaps his one concession to the advertising imperative), heavy reliance on a musical track to carry the emotional through line. Watching his work, it's clear he understands that it's not just about conveying the outline of the plot but the mood of the thing.
Like Woollen’s most impressive trailers, Birdman hinges on music. Early on, editors tried scoring the trailers to David Bowie’s “Under Pressure” and “Heroes.” Both felt overfamiliar. Iñárittu suggested Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” but Woollen had the same reservations. Then someone in the office found a live version Cee Lo had recorded for British TV, singing to a drum machine. It synced beautifully with the shorter “teaser.” Still, the video “wasn’t feeling special enough,” Woollen recalls. Then he remembered a long shot, 32 seconds of Keaton stalking down a hallway. It could be the perfect introduction to a movie that feels like one continuous shot. An editor ran it for only five seconds, but “I said, ‘Let’s just put the whole thing in.’ And it clicked — the feeling we’d been looking for.”
Birdman and Gone Girl are about as commercial as Woollen gets. Summer blockbusters are neither his interest nor his strong suit. Woollen helps sell what 12 Years a Slave producer Dede Gardner calls films without an “obvious headline,” crossovers with the potential to expand the mainstream. “For movies that are elliptical or episodic, you need someone who really understands tone and mood, because the story isn’t going to help you sell tickets. Mark makes something that is not commercial seem absolutely watchable.”