My video trailer uses footage from the classic time-travel film trilogy Back to the Future, specifically from the first two films. When I started the video trailer project, I immediately knew what kind of genre I wanted to do: gangster/murder thriller. I was inspired by the AMC Channel remix trailer of Forrest Gump in the Hood, which I had watched several years ago. This particular trailer left a remarkable impression on me, particularly because of how well the editors spun the good-intentioned Forrest Gump into a thug seeking vengeance for his murdered friend. I wanted to do a very similar editing job with Back to the Future in which I turned a science-fiction action comedy into a murder mystery drama.
I designed the remix trailer to present some of the darker themes in the original film, which included the murder of Marty McFly’s father, George. Thomas Sobchack notes that the “genre is… distinguished by subject matter, theme or techniques.” Thus, the murder of George identifies the trailer as a gangster/murder thriller. The beginning of the trailer begins with a bed sequence where Marty wakes up and becomes shocked when his paradigm doesn’t line up with reality: that his father died and his step-father Biff Tannen is responsible. I did not add music until after Biff’s entrance, as the silence would add an element of surprise when Marty realizes what has happened. The rap music speaks about gang life and money, supporting the notion that Biff is a mob boss. When Marty takes a look at the hotel, the viewer knows that this establishing shot shows where the trailer takes place. An establishing shot, as defined by Bernard Dick, shows through a long shot different landmarks and breaks down the components of the setting to show the viewer where the action is occuring.
Several times in the trailer the characters refer to people or things, in which I immediately cut to that particular thing. This allows the scenes to assist in narrating the primary plot. I sped up the cuts at the end of the trailer by including close-ups of high-action scenes, such as car chases and romantic scenes, and I finish with a climatic one-liner by Marty, declaring that “history is gonna change.” Many action movies speed up the cuts to add dramatic suspense to the climatic end of the trailer. Motion added by the car and title slide cut add to the thrill effect in the trailer.
Sound is a huge part in cueing the viewer to new sequences and plot twists. Gangster movies like Goodfellas use gun shots in between cuts to transition. Often times, the gun shot disconnects from the scene, so the viewer doesn’t know where the bullet went. My remix trailer utilizes Biff’s gun as a central power symbol, centering the focus and arrangement of the gun to its most prominent appearance. The gun asserts Biff as the antagonist and the most powerful and dangerous character. Effects like gun shots and lightning at the cemetary cue dramatic plot twists found in movies in its genre. Driving beats from an 80’s synth rock piece keep the pace steady, slow enough that the viewer understands the drama between cuts. For example, I timed the entrance of Marty at the bath tub to the entrance of an additional bass beat. The song comes from the soundtrack of Hotline Miami, an action video game set in the 1980’s like when Back to the Future was produced. I felt that the music editing was one of the more successful pieces of the trailer because the cuts were well-timed to follow the music, and the pace was not too fast or slow to disorient the viewer.
In some ways, the film trilogy made it easy for me to find an ideal sequence of scenes that fit the dark, gritty murder mystery genre. Time travel is the string that ties all three movies, so the film visits several different eras with different themes and moods. In the second film, Marty McFly inadvertently changes the past again and his present time is now set in a dystopian world where the main antagonist Biff is his step-father. My trailer takes the 15 minute segment of this dystopian world and removes all of the time travel context, leaving the trailer with serious undertones of deception, murder, and corruption. Symbols like the gun are meant to “encode a referent by convention or agreement,” which Marcel Danesi defines. They are made clear when Biff holds the gun against Marty, a clear symbol of dominance. The gun suggests some phallic imagery, because Biff uses it against his step-son whom is fearful of being hurt in retaliation.
Of course, there are places where the trailer gave me the greatest trouble. I envisioned Doc Brown to be shot instead of Marty’s father George. Thus, I tried to find clips which would set up the plot for Doc Brown to be killed instead. My limited vision in the source material became the limiting factor for what I could do for the trailer, and it came to a point where I couldn’t tie the scenes together without heavy narration on my part. Flexibility was a huge part of why I chose a film trilogy like Back to the Future. It allowed me to choose footage from the second film, which worked out great for establishing the gangster/murder thriller genre.
There was very little text in the trailer, which did not help with explaining the plot of the trailer. While the scenes and dialogue established the murder of George McFly, text would have been very useful in explaining smaller nuances, such as how Marty got to be where he was or that Biff is actually his step-father, which was not very clear. I would have been more generous with that and spent more time learning how to use the title cards. They are effective in any remix trailer, especially when the scenes are unrelated to each other in the original source. The trailer was successful either way, partly because I had fulfilled my personal goal of making a dark gangster/murder thriller. It transforms the film into a much more serious movie than most people would expect from a classic sci-fi flick.
Sobchack, T., & Sobchack, V. C. (1980). An introduction to film. Boston: Little, Brown.
Dick, B. F. (2005). Anatomy of film. Boston, Mass: Bedford St. Martins.
Danesi, Marcel (2004) Messages, Signs and Meanings: A Basic Textbook in Semiotics and Communication. Studies in linguistic and cultural anthropology, volume 1. Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press.