The goal for my trailer remix project was to convert Gran Torino (Clint Eastwood 2008), a rough and wrinkled melancholy drama, into an uplifting family film, which I titled, Foster Parent. The plot is twisted in a way that orients the two young complimentary Korean characters, Thao (Bee Vang) and Sue (Ahney Her), as adopted children by foster parent Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood). The adoption was prompted by the traumatic death of Walt’s wife, who had always wanted to adopt a girl and a boy. Walt honors his wife’s legacy with this deed and finds his life enriched by this newfound family. Despite what may actually be going on in the scenes and shots featured in my trailer, I wanted to make the ark of Walt’s character appear to start as a grieving and lonely husband and finish as a content family man with a purpose in life. The song acting as my backing track is “Fade Into You” by Mazzy Star. Lyrically the song heightens the story, and the lead vocal is lush and uses plenty of reverb, which leaves enough headroom for my voiceover. My trailer is above average in length due to the fact that I wanted to be sure to sell this alternate story for a movie that is so seemingly blatant.
The majority of trailers contain straight cuts between shots that are, for the most part, in chronological order. With trailer remixes, chronology gets thrown out the window. A poignant moment in my trailer is the shot of the birthday cake, which appears at the dramatic climax of my soundtrack and voiceover. I pulled the birthday cake shot from early on in the film, and in a completely different context, and paired it with the “family” grilling sequence. For my purposes, I used this pairing as a parallel cut to attach the “adopted” children to Walt’s cake. In his work Anatomy of Film, Bernard Dick describes parallel cuts as presenting “two actions occurring simultaneously” (pg. 70). Portraying the birthday cake shot as simultaneous with the “family” grilling sequence and having it land on the chorus of the track adds up to a moment that drove home my idea of Walt seeing his life being enriched right before his eyes.
No matter how many times I watch my trailer remix, I am left baffled by how happy Walt seems to be. When watching the movie it’s hard to find moments when Walt cracks a smile because they are either not there, or they are followed up by a racist remark or foul language and therefor ignored. After finding instances of Walt exuding the most minimal forms of happiness, I quickly stripped away all audio, the dialogue being too vulgar, and stacked as many of these shots together as I could. The result was shocking. Layered with any decently soft song, Walt became the most content man you’d ever see on television. In his work, Messages, Signs, and Meanings: A Basic Textbook in Semiotics and Communication, Marcel Danesi states that symbolic signifiers are signs “designed to encode a referent by convention or agreement” (pg. 27). The idea that all indications of Walt’s happiness are either absent or stripped away and left to one symbolic signifier, smiling, is something I kept in mind throughout the implementation process. When viewing the remixed trailer, we read so many things into each shot of Walt smiling because of its context with surrounding shots, and context within the audio track. For Walt, the smile, a common symbolic signifier of happiness, radiates family, love, and newfound peace.
In much the same way that happiness had to be portrayed purely by instances of smiles with no character dialogue to back them up, the idea of showing Walt as a respectable American man to guide Thao and Sue had to be achieved without using his own words, or even the words of others. In his work, Genre Film: A Classical Experience, Thomas Sobchack uses the term “iconography” as a way to “further the speed of comprehension of the plot” and to “eliminate the need for excessive verbal or pictorial exposition” (pg. 199). In order to show his manhood as described in my voiceover, I purposely used scenes of Walt doing as many culturally deemed manly activities. Walt is shown working on his classic car, working with tools in his garage, grilling meat, and is placed in shots that show his American flag in the background. No one mentions his manhood throughout the film or trailer but myself in the voiceover. Having culturally accepted symbols as ways to show this idea without having it explicitly said makes my trailer more concise and thought provoking.
I had plenty of fun making this remix trailer and thoroughly enjoyed pacing cuts, timing shots with music, and portraying a whole new side of Walt. Although, it was quite difficult not having very much usable dialogue due to crude language, music in the background, or simply things were never said. My biggest frustration came with the automation of audio. I ended up doing all audio through my own music software and exported the file as one track onto Adobe Premiere. I’m not going to give the typical advice to future students of starting early, but I do believe that you should give yourself a long afternoon or morning to focus on work. I found myself giddy over streams of consciousness and ideas and the next thing you know 4 hours have gone by. These moments are brilliant! If you work in small fragments, the better ideas may not come as easily. If anyone from future classes will be reading this, I wish you all the best!
Danesi, Marcel. Messages, Signs, and Meanings: A Basic Textbook in Semiotics and Communication. Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press, 2004. Internet resource.
Dick, Bernard F. Anatomy of Film. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1978. Print.
Sobchack, Thomas. “Genre Film: A Classical Experience”. Literature Film Quarterly 3.3 (1975): 196. Print.