The Art of the Tease: Jonathan Gitlin

With box office dough on the line, a movie’s trailer must be meticulously crafted, from the sound design to the big title reveal. It’s Jonathan Gitlin’s job to make you remember the name. 


  • Jonathan Gitlin

For all the panic over our short-attention-span, snippets-and-nuggets information age, movie trailers prove it all wrong. After all, in a truly utopian, quick-burst world, a movie’s trailer would be the entire movie. Three minutes or so of hurtling action, heartbreaking romance, a deeply longing look, and a breeze through the trees (maybe topped off with the “To the Stars” cue from Randy Edelman’s Dragonheart score) and you’ve seen all you need to see. Let’s face it: As long as the average moviegoer is still willing to pay exorbitant amounts of cash to sit quietly for two hours of character development, plot structure, and, hopefully, a payoff, we’re not in the shallows yet.

We are, however, beginning to understand and show appreciation for the art that goes into the movie trailer. Beyond YouTube, entire websites (, or extremely popular portions of major sites (, are devoted to the collection of cinematic snack bites. What’s lesser-known is that entire companies exist solely to produce these trailers, offices packed with editors, sound designers and mixers, and graphic artists that make film teasers pop off the screen, from the inevitable “In a world…” voice-over to the final curtain call: the reveal of the film’s name.

Jonathan Gitlin, 29, is the creative director in charge of the graphics department at Create Advertising, an award-winning trailer house in Southern California. You’ve seen Gitlin’s work mostly in the afterglow of a movie trailer’s thrilling footage and deeply growled voice-over. It’s in the rapid frames of a silhouetted Michael Jackson, at the end of the trailer for This Is It, in the snaking black and red wires that compose the logo for Metal Gear Solid 4, and in the galactic glory of Wall-E’s distinctive title. He’s one of many responsible for the real reason you get to the theater on time: the trailers.

Get In Media: Take me through a typical day as creative director at Create.
Jonathan Gitlin: I run the motion graphics and visual effects department at Create. The entire company is built on editorial [editing the trailers] and graphics. I run the graphics side. We do CG work, title design; we do animation spots. I’d say the bulk of our work is theatrical, but about 40-50 percent of it is now gaming. I’d say a day here is: I’ll be checking in on graphics; it’s a good amount of meetings with us and the producers and editors, discussing concepts, and then myself and the associate creative director will discuss the technical aspects – how we’re going to actually do it.

GIM: How long do you spend on a typical project?
JG: Certain projects can last two years, certain projects can take three weeks. But we’re pretty much built on doing things very quickly here. We have a significant render farm.

GIM: What on earth could last two years?
JG: Something like 2012. We’ll start doing teaser concepts maybe two years out, and after that it’s cutting the trailer and the big main title.

GIM: Is there a lot of back and forth between the studio, the marketing department, that sort of thing? Are there a lot of cooks in the kitchen?
JG: Sure, oh, absolutely. There’s so many cooks in the kitchen. And that’s what makes it take two years. But it’s the creative process.

GIM: You grew up in the [San Fernando] Valley. I would think an interest in film is pretty much default?
JG: Absolutely. I’d say 90 percent of my friends work in some sort of entertainment capacity. I started at Create as an intern, and the graphics department was just myself and one woman here. Within the span of five years we grew to 20 [employees]. I went from a designer to associate creative director to creative director.

GIM: What were you doing as an intern?
JG: I was doing motion graphics. I was doing title design for movies. It was pretty hands-on back then. Luckily, I got right in and was working immediately.

GIM: Up until recently you were studying to be a lawyer. What kind of law were you interested in?
JG: I didn’t know, I just knew that because I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, then I was going to become an attorney. My dad’s an attorney. I have so many friends that made the exact same decision. They got out of college and said, “What do I do? I guess I’ll go to law school.” I started out at a market research firm, just doing customer service and stuff and they needed a flyer for something. I sat down and started playing with Microsoft Publisher and really loved what I was doing. So I went home, bought Photoshop and started tinkering, learning online with tutorials. I remember going to Deviant Art and being in awe. I saw that FIDM [the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising] had a contest I could enroll in. I did a silent movie in the park, like a three-poster series. Somehow I won and got a full ride to FIDM. I went there for a year, taking classes from After Effects to Maya to editing in Final Cut, doing some sound design. While I was in school, my editing teacher was a tech at Create and he took us there on a field trip. We walked around and I met the motion graphics woman and talked her into giving me an internship and that internship turned into a job after six months.

GIM: Were you into art and design before?
JG: Not really.

GIM: So you didn’t sit at home and sketch things? No interest?
JG: No interest. I did have a pretty big interest in architecture. When I was younger I used to make floor plans and stuff like that. I can’t draw a lick, though, so I still do stick figures today when I’m trying to explain [story]boards.

“It was a technical nightmare, I’ll tell you that much. And we won a Golden Trailer for it.”

GIM: Do you remember anything specifically that you told Create to get you the job?
JG: Yeah, I said, “I don’t need any money and here’s my work.”

GIM: When you started as an intern, I don’t imagine you knew much about the art of cutting together trailers.
JG: No, not at all. Trailers, there’s kind of a formula, and you need to learn that formula to a certain point. Same with title design for movies. I look back at the work I did when I first started and it just doesn’t make any sense. But that takes time, sitting down and seeing what kind of fonts movies use, what kind of treatments are used for comedy compared with drama; they all kind of fall into similar categories.

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