An Extensive “How To” Create a Generic Horror Trailer

Hej Allesammen! I dag vi snakker lidt om video trailers.

(Hello everyone! Today we are going to discuss movie trailers.)

Pee-Wee's Big Adventure  Re-cut As A Horror Film

Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure Re-cut As A Horror Film

In preparation for our upcoming hefty assignment, in which, we will have to re-cut or remake a video trailer so that it significantly changes the genre of a single film, I have spent a great deal of time of researching movie trailers. I know it was quite a dreadful task to watch movie trailers for homework! However, while I did really enjoy the assignment, I did actually learn something! Watching 6 thriller/horror trailers in a row, teaches you quite a bit about the specific formula that is required to make a truly terrifying/thrilling video trailer. Same is true for comedy films, I watched a fewer comedy trailers than thriller/horror trailer, mainly because my project is going to taking a romantic drama and changing it to a thriller/horror/murder mystery, however, they too, have a generic formula. It is even easier to highlight these given formulas when watching re-cut trailers, I chose to only watch re-cut trailers that transformed a comedy to a horror, again, because my project will aim to transform a romantic drama to a horror/thriller.

To start, all of the original trailers, no matter if the genre were horror, comedy, or adventure, averaged at 2:30 seconds. So this would be the starting base point for any trailer. However, the three re-cut trailers were, on average, 30 seconds shorter, concluding at 2:00 roughly. Once you know that your trailer has to be around 2:30 minutes for an original, or  2:00 for a re-cut, there are 7 different variables that help makeup the final project of a trailer; these being: 1) shot length, 2) shot transitions, 3) overall pacing, 4) music, 5) sound effects, 6) narration, 7) typography. A trailer in many ways is just a generic sum, of theses 7 different common variables whose characteristics remain the same within a given genre. Let’s start with horror/thriller, as it is the genre which I spent most time researching and it is the genre I will attempt to replicate.

Horror/Thriller films have the same characteristics for each of the 7 variables discussed above. Shot length in horror/thriller trailers has a specific pattern: it is always pretty drawn out in the beginning, but within a minute into the trailer the shots become shorter and shorter, and culminate to a chaotic flash of several extremely short shots, at about 2:15 minutes into the trailer the shots become a littler longer, then there is usually one somewhat lengthy shot at the very end which ends abruptly. As shot transitions usually mimic shot length, in terms of smoothness, i.e. the longer the shot length the smoother the transition, the shorter the shot length the choppier the transition, shot transitions start out pretty smooth at the beginning of thriller films. During the culmination of the chaotic short shots, the transitions are extremely choppy, there is sometimes a transition from shot to black screen to shot to black screen during this chaotic sequence.

As for pacing, the shot length and the transitions really set the pacing in a trailer. Thus, as thriller/horror films usually start with lengthy shots, that turn into shorter and shorter shots, which then returns back to somewhat lengthy shot, the pacing of a thriller/horror trailer is much the same. At first the trailer is very slow, it slowly builds fear, and then it overloads the senses with a quick sequences of short shots, it then becomes somewhat slow which then leads to its abrupt ending.

Music and sound effects are also set in horror/thriller films. The most common of thriller/horrors start with a solo piano piece or a soft but dark orchestral piece, during the sequence of chaotic scenes the music culminates to a louder orchestral piece or more feisty solo piano. Out of the 6 thriller/horror films I watched,  4 of the films had a solitary piano piece that was then accompanied by orchestral music. The music also often included high pitched noises, and slow drum beating. One re-cut played music box music which I found very effective, as it was quite creepy. As for sound effects, the most common sound effects were that of: rain, thunder, whispering, bells/phone ringing, wind blowing, animals/people screeching, solitary swings swinging, creaking doors, sirens, humming, little girl whispering/laughing, heavy breathing, etc.

As for narration and typography, the majority of narration the thriller/horror trailers was done through character dialogue that is taken from small snippets of dialogue that are put together to give a background story, there were no voice overs, and there were very little usage of typography to narrate the story, most horror/thrillers had no more than two screen appearances of typography to explain the story. In terms of the types of fonts these trailers used, many replicated childish handwriting, almost as if someone had dipped their finger in paint and began to writing in it. The font that was more composed replicated a type of Times font, but was usually colored in red, was see-through, or was underlined in red. It is important to note that one of the re-cut horror/thriller trailers I watched employed a lot of typography to narrate the story, however, I found it distracting and it took away from the mystery and fear of the trailer. If you sum up these 7 different variables and their discussed characteristics you will produce one fine, generic, horror/thriller trailer.

As for comedy trailers, I will say a lot less, however, I will say that there are still the 7 variables to follow. However, they differ greatly from the horror/thriller genre. All the shot lengths of comedies are pretty uniform throughout the trailer and are all of medium length, they are not too long, nor too short. The transitions are smooth and supportive, just moving the viewer from one scene to the next. The overall pace of these trailers, are very much like a brisk walk, it never starts out as extremely slow, it jumps right into the scenes, unlike horror/thriller, and it just takes you quickly throughout the trailer. The music is somewhat funky/groovy music that includes guitar and carefree singing such as “lalala,” but it completely excludes piano music and there are hardly any sound effects whatsoever. The most common sound effect is of characters laughing, but not like the per-recorded laugh track mind you. As for narration, the characters also narrate the story’s premise, however, it is usually just one shot where one character tells the story and the remaining shots just mimic what he has said, or shows what will happen, as opposed to the thriller/horror trailer which showed various scenes while a character was talking. As for typography, very large boxy, goofy letters are commonly used that are colored in joyful color such as green. In other words, although trailers are usually composed of all 7 variables (a lot of comedies however do not have very many sound effects, unlike thriller/horror that are loaded with them), thriller/horror trailers are very different from comedic trailers, as is to be expected.

Before concluding this blog post, it is important to make note of the effective re-cut trailers. Although some of the re-cut trailers were a little off in terms of audio synchronization, the most successful ones followed to a “T” the characteristics of the 7 variables for a horror/thriller outlined above. They used hardly any explanatory type or narrator voice over, they simply told the story by using snippets of  character dialogue while showing different shots, and when they did use explanatory type, it was very minimal. The only re-cut that did not successfully do this, and for this reason falls short of the others is Home Alone Re-cut (Family friendly film to horror/thriller). In fact, this trailer used typography 7 times to explain the story. This usage was excessive and unnecessary as the dialogue provided by the characters, he music, and the shots were more than enough to set the story in motion.

Well I hope you found this blog helpful in deducing the generic formula for horror/thriller trailers! And I hope you take the chance to re-cut one of your own trailers!

Trailers: The Village, Orphan, Catching Fire, About Time, We Are What We Are, That Awkward Moment, Stoker, Jane Eyre (2011).

Recut Trailers: Mrs. Doubtfire (family film transformed to psychological horror film), Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (slapstick comedy transformed to horror film), Home Alone (family comedy transformed to horror/thriller)

Vi Ses! (Until next time!)

Rebeca

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