The current rage in movie trailer design is what audiences hear, not see, as Hollywood marketers create unique sounds to position their movies in the crowded summer sweepstakes.
The trend walks the fine line of “taking familiar sounds that are not too far outside the ballpark, but processing them differently so they are unique,” says Yoav Goren, president of production music library Immediate Music.
“It’s not what you’ve heard before but there is a reference to what you’ve heard before.”
Film trailers have become their own artform because, after all, they are celebrated by the Golden Trailers and other kudofests.
But originality isn’t given a high priority because imitation isn’t just the best form of flattery, it is often deemed the best creative approach to sell a movie.
Among the more popular trends sweeping film distributors and trailer shops from Los Angeles to New York are:
• Sound design elements (or “cues”) that blend music with synthetic sound effects, such as camera flash bulbs popping, deep-toned whomps and large machines eerily creaking. Sound design is employed particularly by horror and sci-fi films to impart the feel of another world and to build tension.
• Symphonic orchestra music to position big-budget action-adventure movies as grand epics. After a while, even the richest orchestrations all start to sound the same, so trailers overlay a dose of electronic, hip hop or other contemporary music while maintaining the foundation orchestration audiences associate with glossy blockbusters.
• In a less-is-more trend, soundtracks increasingly rely on an even-keel, cavernous tone, instead of a succession of crescendos that audiences can find fatiguing and overtly manipulative.
• 3D trailers are edited to a slower pace than normal, because fast cutting can give viewers headaches. Interestingly, these trailers are produced in 2D because 3D elements typically aren’t finished when trailers are made and 2D’s smaller data files are more manageable. This leaves trailer shops to tell client distributors, “Trust me, this will really work great in 3D.”
• Previously scarce because of restrictions in theaters, R-rated red-band trailers are booming online where they get wider circulation. Most prevalent are R-rated comedies that aim to spark a buzz online.
• Anything that directly connects to online media is in fashion, such as the trailer for “The Grey” quoting tweets and blog posts by film critics after seeing the survivalist drama in pre-release screenings.
• What never goes out of style is surprising audiences with the unconventional, such as the weirdly engrossing “Prometheus” teaser that acts as a fictional commercial for robots manufactured by the “Weyland Corp.,” in which a humanoid robot played by Michael Fassbender sounds eerily like Hal of “2001: A Space Odyssey” fame.
Trailer music has been a growing point of emphasis for several years as marketers came to realize “as much as footage is important, it is music that drives emotion and uniqueness,” says David Stern, owner of trailer house Create Advertising, whose credits include “The Amazing Spider-Man.”
There’s plenty of room for creative latitude because movie soundtracks are usually one of the last elements in post, and so musicmakers for trailers can depart from the script.
Trailers and TV commercials are extensively audience-tested before rolling out because film distributors know they are the most influential. Results range from small tweaks to substantial overhauls to completely scrapping a trailer. By the time distribution execs and talents get involved, pressure ratchets up considerably.
In this supercharged environment, with the clock ticking down to the film’s premiere date, the choice usually boils down to conformity vs. breaking the mold.
“No matter what you think is popular, if you do the opposite, sometimes that will let the trailer stand out,” says Scott Goldman, executive VP of theatrical at trailer house mOcean that worked on “The Avengers” and “The Vow.”
“If it’s earth-shatteringly weird, it could get everyone’s attention. But if it doesn’t serve the movie, then absolutely not.”