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Sunday, March 1, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 15.0° F  Fog/Mist
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Anatomy of the 2014 Wisconsin Film Festival trailer (video)

In the beginning, there was fire. A campfire. A campfire logo. And a body of water. And trees. Colorful trees and a shoreline. And a gray-blue sky. Christina King's graphic design for this year's Wisconsin Film Festival was one of the very first things we nailed down this past fall as we prepared to take the plunge: creating an eight-day film festival in a relatively short period of time. The festival is made from scratch each year, and I served as coordinator of the 2014 edition.

Then there was a trailer. A need for one. A festival trailer designed to acknowledge all of our sponsors and partners, and, along with the graphic design, attempt to set a tone and identity for an event that is marked by its wide variety of films, from nearly every genre and corner of the world.

I was responsible for the 2013 trailer (the one about the cows), but this year I had other responsibilities, too. An eight-day festival encompassing nearly 150 films shown at eight different venues, with upwards of 50 special guests and various non-film events, requires a fair amount of coordination. So for a time, the trailer was talked about only fleetingly, pushed aside while I attended to more pressing matters.

And then there was a deadline. Looming. Getting closer and closer. And concepts, begging to be fleshed out and realized. There was a theme tugging at our brains. Outdoors, camp, get out there. Perhaps we could make the credits look like scouting patches. They could come to life somehow. Or we could try to recreate the poster image, make it live action with running water and chirping birds.

In the end, we were running out of time, fast. And then there was fire again. A campfire built in haste as twilight descended on what we thought and hoped would be the last truly cold weekend of the season. (Spoiler: It wasn't.) Three quick tilts down from the sky, blended together to create a long, slow journey toward earth and the communal warmth of a campfire on a cold winter night.

And what about music? It seemed like a good idea, maybe. A campfire song, evoking memories of summer camp and toasted marshmallows, John Denver songs and the smell of burning wood. Would it be catchy enough? Would it be too catchy? People would potentially be seeing and hearing this thing 10 to 20 times. How could we make something enjoyable and accessible without making something cloying and annoying?

Don't ask me if I think we succeeded. I only know that we put our heads down and barreled forward. The making of this year's trailer was infused with the spirit of community. A real team effort from concept to writing, from shooting to singing, from playing to editing and, of course, in this increasingly digital age, rendering.

In the end there was a trailer, made in haste and delivered long past deadline, but with some life in it, and a sense of the communal effort of gathering, side by side, to sing a song or watch a movie. Turn the lights down low, Wisconsin, I think spring might finally be here.

Ben Reiser is coordinator of the 2014 Wisconsin Film Festival and has produced over 60 videos for Isthmus.

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