Just Follow the Script

After watching the first three movie trailers I detected a pattern forming. Each consecutive trailer had a striking resemblance to the one before. Whether it be through length, sound effects, music, dialogue, or narration, each movie trailer followed a similar format. Additionally, the best recut trailer I watched emulated the same format that the movie trailers followed. The only differences between the original trailers and the recuts stemmed from narration, typography, and audio synchronization. 

The trailers I watched could be categorized as action/adventure, drama, or thriller. Regardless of genre, each trailer or recut was roughly the same length and contained the same array of camera shots and transitions. The trailers and recuts each lasted roughly 2.5 minutes. While none of the videos that I viewed surpassed the 2.5 minute mark, several, including two of the three recuts, only ran for 2 minutes. In those brief 2.5 minutes, the video showed an immense amount of shots. In two trailers, Ender’s Game (Gavin Hood 2013) and 300 (Zach Snyder 2007), I tried to count the number of total cuts. Unfortunately, I lost track of cuts in both trailers somewhere around fifty.

The trailers were total sensory overload. The action-packed scenes were sometimes hard to follow, but left the viewer blown away. The majority of the shots were either close-up or medium close-up shots. They focused the viewers’ attention on either the action or the main characters. With shots lasting barely half a second, the majority of the transitions were normal cuts. However, for the few longer scenes lasting several seconds, the director used fades or wipes to transition from scene to scene. Longer shots were utilized to show dialogue, usually involving the protagonist.

Music and sound effects were crucial in developing tone for the video. My favorite recut changed Ghostbusters (Ivan Reitman 1984) from a family comedy to a thriller. Using dramatic orchestra music, possibly from The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan 2008), the film became much darker. The fast-paced string music brought me to the edge of my seat and turned comedic moments from the original movie into more serious shots. For example, cello or bass music turned the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from a joke into a mildly terrifying monster.

Even in films that were not known for being fast-paced, the music transformed them into being more exciting and dramatic. Into the Wild (Sean Penn 2007), for example was centered on introspection and transcendentalism. A 2-hour film following a character walking to Alaska, the film was far from a thriller. However, because of the music, the movie took on an entirely different tone. The music made the scenes seem more exciting and melodramatic.

The main differences between the trailers and the recuts centered on overall quality of the video. Only the Ghostbusters trailer contained dialogue in which the voices were properly synchronized. Additionally, instead of letting the actual video footage tell the story, the recuts almost cheaply added their own narration or text shots to tell the story. The original trailers stayed away from using outside narration and text, largely using actual footage and dialogue to tell the story. Narration was mainly used at the beginning of the trailers, to introduce the protagonist or define the setting. In the Up (Pete Doctor 2009) recut, the director chose to entirely switch the original dialogue with dialogue from Gran Torino (Clint Eastwood 2008). While I enjoyed the genre switch, because the audio did not synchronize with mouths of the characters, I found it hard to follow. The lack of synchronization in recuts did make sense however. The film trailers were made with multi-million dollar budgets and were done by full-time video editors. The recut trailers were most likely done on little to no budget by people with average to little expertise.

The Ghostbusters trailer was by far the best recut trailer that I watched. Using music, cuts, and actual dialogue, the recut was able to tell a story without adding text or narration. The only text used gave credit to the actors and the director. Every clip used in the recut was well thought out and added to the change in genre.

Trailers: Ender’s Game, Thor: The Dark World, 300, 12 Years a Slave, Into the Wild, Die Another Day, The Dark Knight, The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug 

Recut: Up (animated family film into suspenseful drama), Ghostbusters (family comedy into action-thriller), Stepbrothers (comedy into horror)

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