Running The Count

The Hangover (Todd Phillips 2009) is a movie that reinvigorated the over-the-top, shock comedy. So for this project, I thought I’d take one of the most outrageous characters from this movie, Alan Garner (Zach Galifianakis) and recut things to make him look like a sane protagonist. I ended up with a movie trailer for Running the Count, which is a reference to a term used in card counting. This trailer follows Alan and friends on a trip to Las Vegas during which they push the limit too far by cheating in the casinos. My trailer depicts Galifianakis as a card counting genius, the complete opposite of his role in The Hangover. The whole crew is enthralled by Alan’s abilities at the blackjack table, until they get caught by the pit boss. Next their fun weekend becomes a nightmare as half of Las Vegas comes out for their heads. Things take a turn for the worst and the original “wolfpack” of four gets cut down to just “three best friends.” Will the rest of them make it out OK? Not sure, but the trailer sure makes you wonder.

A Theory on Signs and Movie Trailers

Recreating Alan to look like a composed man of intelligence ended up being easier than I thought. See, in his book Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto, Chuck Klosterman points out that, people often create idealized character stereotypes out of the people they see on the big screen. Although Galifianakis plays no teenage heartthrob like John Cusack, he does play the role of “my idiot brother” (Klosterman, 2004, pg. 1-3). This is why it was pretty easy to make Alan a convincing hot shot. He just says the most random things. In the original context that the movie intended, they just sound outright ridiculous.

two_alans_image

Which one would you rather hang out with

But, cut them up a little bit with some editing, and it sounds like the characters are having a normal, rational conversation. This obviously lends itself greatly to the power of editing, but I think to the short length of a trailer as well. In The Language of Film, Edgar-Hunt says that a sign is, “anything we can see or hear or feel that refers to something we can’t.” In some abstract sense, I feel like a movie trailer itself is a sign that represents a movie. We infer what might happen in a entire two-three hour film from a minuscule two minute clip. Recut trailers are believable because taking pieces of something and placing them in a certain order or pattern creates the illusion of signs for a movie that does not exist (Edgar-Hunt, 2010, pg. 18-19). I might be stretching here, but I find this idea interesting. I think a supporting argument for this notion is one made by Thomas Shobchak. In Genre Film: A Classic Experience he states, “Any particular film of any definable group is only recognizable as part of that group if it is, in fact, an imitation of that which came before” (Sobchak, 1975, pg. 196). This is very true, we are so used to seeing certain signs in trailers for movies of a specific theme or plot, that we automatically associate them with said cliche movies. This is the concept that recut trailers take advantage of, and these are the ideas I focused on when creating my trailer.

Creative Decisions

A typical gambling movie is all about the money and the high stakes environment that surrounds the process of obtaining said doe. Would you really want to watch a poker movie where some guys walk into a casino, win a million dollars, and then the credits role? No, we need some tension; they need to get caught. That was my thinking for this project. I have everything start out happy, the hangover gang thinks they’ve got the system beat. They walk out after their first night of fun with tons of cash and think they’re just getting started. The song “Iko Iko” by The Belle Stars gives everything a happy innocent feel and the rhythm of the cuts are slow enough to complement this tone. This winning spree does not last long though. The next day, they are found out. The pace rapidly changes, and the the cheerful vocals echo off into the distance of a black screen. Next, there are some serious shots that are reinforced with a strong bass kick, now we’re talking tension. For this portion of the trailer I edited a song by Methodic Doubt called “Du-Shcine” to fit my liking. I really think this second half of the trailer was the easiest of all. The remainder of the trailer is a cliche quick paced, high drama sequence of shots cut to the beat of a swelling drum and bass combo. I’m not knocking it because it’s easy, in fact I love this sort of sequence because it really does work. You can almost feel Alan getting punched, or Stu getting thrown in the car crash. There’s no need for a narrative, you just feel it. Be it yelling, kissing, or violence, I just plopped in all the shots I could find that showed some sort of conflict on screen. People don’t have to know what’s happening, because they assume the movie will explain it all, so they just take it everything in. Other than that, I decided to make the title sequences in an tall, skinny but hefty font so that it really gives things a serious tone. Anything, opposite of comedy is what I was going for here. The text

running_the_count_title_image

shots are themed red because red is serious and reminiscent of gambling in this context. In addition to this red text, I also added an RGB Curve effect to every shot in my video for the same reason as I did the text. This gave each clip a higher contrast with some red tint and an overall more serious tone. I don’t think the impact of this style is really appreciated until the final title shot at the end, after the trailer has just come to a pointless but dramatic ending (I’m still riffing on those dramatic horn whaling sequences). Finally, I created some poker chips for the background, and I feel that this closes things out nicely.

Frustrations, Difficulties, and Solutions

To be honest, I didn’t have very many frustrations. I’m pretty well versed in the usage of both video and audio editing tools, so my experience was mostly pleasant. I was slightly annoyed with the fact that you cannot edit audio keyframes within the source window in Premiere, and that the scaling of clips could only be done with a numerical slider. It’s generally easier to re-size an image to the desired size by dragging it than guessing an appropriate number. Likewise, fine tuning decibels is just better done in a big window with more obvious waveform cues. The hardest thing I had to do was to find an original track for the second half of my trailer. Sure, I could have used pieces of the Inception soundtrack, but I wanted this trailer to have it’s own unique feel, and that wouldn’t have lent to this idea well. So I found a group on soundcloud called Methodic Doubt, they create music specifically for trailers and one of their tracks seemed like what I was looking for. I added a few effects to transition from beginning to end faster because of time restraints, but it worked out perfectly. My advice for future students would be to comb over some tutorials for a better understanding of a few main concepts: audio/video tracks and how to link/unlink them, effects and transitions and how to apply them, and finally keyframes and how they can be used to control virtually anything in the audio/video editing world. Also, look up some keyboard shortcuts for whatever program you are using, it really streamlines the process.

References

Chuck Klosterman (2004). This is Emo. Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto.

Robert Edgar-Hunt, John Marland, and Steven Rawle (2010) The language of film. Lausanne: AVA Academia.

Thomas Sobchak (1975, Summer). Genre film: A classical experience. Literature Film Quarterly, 3(3), 196.

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