Selling a Movie in the Editing Room

The purpose of a movie trailer is simple – to sell people on spending money to see that particular movie. Various factors such as plot, actors, and release date play a major role in whether consumers will see a movie in theaters or not, but often Hollywood can use film techniques in the trailer to evoke certain emotions that they want intertwined with the film as well.

Film trailers vary in length. Initial, “teaser” trailers are relatively short and last around one minute while more traditional trailers last around two and a half minutes. This makes sense, as the shorter “teaser” trailers are more about spreading the idea that the movie exists while the longer traditional trailers detail more of the plot and characters.

In order to evoke fear or excitement, movie trailers often use very short shots and fast cuts interspersed with fewer long shots and fade cuts. This helps give the film trailer a relatively fast pace, but also some ebb and flow. Sound effects such as screaming, shrill orchestral notes, and machine gun fire are also used to make the trailer more exciting, along with a chilling or epic song that usually plays throughout the trailer. Whenever dialogue is included, it is usually used asynchronously. The dialogue is usually used in horror films to give context to the frightening images on screen, while it is used in action films to give a sense of the danger involved in the situation. In the trailers I watched, narration was not used to evoke fear or excitement. Whenever typography was used, it was in big, bold fonts for action movies and small, highly-contrasting fonts for horror movies.

These techniques are somewhat opposite of those used in film trailers designed to evoke laughter or sadness, such as in dramas and comedies. These film trailers are more likely to use longer shots and fade cuts. This creates a slower pace, and allows the viewer to be more relaxed while watching the trailer. The music used is more likely to be a popular song, or one that is “catchy” to attract attention. Unlike horror and action movies, the music is likely to change within the trailer to match the mood of the plot of the film. Also, sound effects are less likely to be used. When dialogue is used, it is used synchronously with the scenes being displayed. This is often used to create a more personal relationship with the characters or to tell jokes. Typography and narration play a much more prevalent role to convey plot points and allow the movie dialogue to present on its own.

When recut trailers are made to alter the mood or genre of a movie, the same techniques are used. Chilling typography with vague phrases and haunting music were used to make a horror movie. Fast cuts, scary music, and short shots were also used. In contrast, long shots with fade cuts and dialogue were used to make a drama. In this case, narration and typography were not necessary. However, regardless of genre, asynchronous dialogue was more common in order to take dialogue from one part of the movie and pair it with a different scene in the movie to change the meaning. In this way, film editors have the power to completely change who they are selling a movie to.

Trailers: A Good Day to Die Hard, Carrie, Safe Haven, John Dies at the End, The Guilt Trip, Smiley, Jack Reacher, Silver Linings Playbook.

Recut Trailers: Home Alone (family movie converted to horror), The Ring (horror movie converted to drama), Toy Story (children’s movie converted to horror).

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