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‘Sex’s’ sonic sizzle sells

'City' promo sounds off to auds

Four sets of high heels and a New York skyline can only mean one thing: “Sex and the City 2” has arrived. But before audiences flocked to see Sarah Jessica Parker and her gal-pals, they were teased by the Empire State Building to the tune of perfectly selected music — and immediately knew what was coming.

“Music is the glue that holds the whole trailer together,” says Benedict Coulter, president and founder of Trailer Park, which produced the “Sex 2” trailer. “And Bobby holds the key to the music.”

“Bobby” is Bobby Gumm, the 300-person company’s sole music supervisor, responsible for finding the tunes that help Trailer Park’s editors tell an upcoming film’s story in a minute and 15 seconds (for a teaser), or twice that much for a full theatrical trailer.

The process can begin six months or a year before the film’s release, often while the cameras are still rolling. “We were cutting the first teaser as they were shooting the movie,” Gumm explains in the case of “Sex 2.” The producing studio will usually provide a script and, as is often the case at that point, dailies, or, if they’re lucky, a rough cut of the film from which to work.

The picture editor may have inserted temp music tracks, which help give Gumm a starting point. “It’s helpful, because it gives you an idea of what the filmmakers like in terms of tone.” Meetings between Benedict (or, in the case of “Sex 2,” Matt Brubaker, the company’s Theatrical A/V president) and the client reveal further direction, after which a staff producer will meet with Gumm, editors and graphics designers to agree on a direction for the trailer. “We all go off and do our thing; I’ll start looking for music based on that direction.”

Since score music for a film is often recorded just a month prior to release, Gumm must rely on three other sources to find his music: scores from previous films, production music libraries and pop music. “Scores are always a good place to start for establishing the tone and story,” he explains, frequently using them as the first few of the five or six cues which typically appear in a trailer.

Directors whose composers have a unique style — such as Danny Elfman for Tim Burton — may provide an early piece for use in a teaser. “Something like that, where you know that the score is going to be unique and different, you want to highlight it in the campaign,” he explains. Other directors may specify to avoid using score music: “Christopher Nolan, for example, doesn’t want his movie to reflect other movies by using other people’s scores.”

“Sex and the City 2” — like many sequels — came with a built-in “no-brainer” cue: its instantly-recognizable main title theme. “We knew, of course, that had to be in there,” says Gumm, as in the case of the first “Sex” feature, for which Trailer Park also created the trailer campaign.

Gumm also relies on production music libraries — music created specifically for use in trailer work by companies such as Immediate Music and Audio Machine, among others.

“I’ll send them a reference track and say: ‘Hey, I’m working on a movie that’s a big thriller, and I need something that’s similar to this. Let me know what you’ve got,’ ” Gumm says. “They’ll either send me a cue or actually spend the time to compose something specifically for the campaign.”

Such music is typically recorded on spec — if Trailer Park opts not to use it, the composer can sell it elsewhere. “I had Immediate Music compose some stuff for ‘Avatar’ that we didn’t end up using,” Gumm says, “but I’ve seen it in two other campaigns since then.”

For a film like “Sex 2,” a hot pop song can immediately draw an audience’s attention. Gumm normally will send the word out to his record label sync/advertising department contacts, asking for suggestions.

For the film’s teaser, Gumm was able to acquire the then-unreleased Jay-Z/Alicia Keyes hit, “Empire State of Mind,” which also made its way into the final trailer. “We knew early on that New York was a big character in the movie,” he says. “So we had to come up with a few different ideas to present to the client for the teaser.”

Though the client found the track appropriate, regardless, Gumm must also provide several alternatives. “Works by big-name artists can sometimes be cost-prohibitive, so it’s our duty to provide them with other choices.”

Once the teaser was accepted, work began on the trailer itself, involving setting up more of the story — which, in this case, includes a trip to Dubai for the girls. “We knew we couldn’t use a song that references New York while we’re showing desert footage,” Gumm says. So he cast his net out to his usual contacts, but, in the meantime, came upon the perfect candidate on a routine scour through iTunes: Ricki-Lee’s “Can’t Touch It.”

“The client wanted a cool little unknown piece of music to play throughout the middle of the trailer,” says Gumm. “This fit perfectly between the Jay-Z/Alicia Keyes piece and the series theme music, with its big-bandy drums.”

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