A good trailer can really make or break a film. If that tightly edited two-minute clip does its job well, previously uninterested audiences may find themselves brimming with anticipation. On the other hand, a clunky or overly expository trailer may be the first of many flashing warning signs that read, “This movie you were excited for actually sucks.” How accurate these assessments are doesn’t really become clear until you see the full movie. In a new article exploring the labor-intensive world of trailer editing, The Ringer reveals that sometimes even the people who make the trailers don’t know if the movie is good or not.
The majority of trailers for big Hollywood productions come out of the aptly named marketing agency, Trailer Park, which The Ringer describes as “a buzzing hive of weird, funny, angry, often stoned people” who work tirelessly to pare down massive amounts of footage into a convincing, bite-sized advertisement. One might assume the trailer-making process begins after the majority of the movie is finished, so the producers know which bits they want included to best represent the film. But, as veteran editor Jeff Gritton notes, that’s usually not the case.
“Sometimes we’ll start on a trailer before they’ve even started filming,” Gritton tells The Ringer. “We just break down the script. Then we’ll get dailies—literally everything they’ve shot, hours and hours.” Gritton goes on to say that the process is even stranger for the CGI films he’s worked on, like Coco and Up, because they’ll still be using green screen shots and cardboard cutouts in their early drafts.
Editors are expected to take this wealth of footage and turn it into a finished product in “four or five days,” sometimes less. Because of the increasing importance of trailers in the age of YouTube, producers have started restructuring their shooting schedules to get “big trailer moments” in the can as soon as possible. This can occasionally result in big moments being featured in the trailer that don’t ever make it into the finished product. (Looking at you, Rogue One.)
But, at the end of the day, the trailer editors aren’t thinking too much about whether the movie is going to be good. They’re more focused on carving a sculpture out of the massive marble slab in front of them. “We try to discover the best stuff about each movie,” says Buddha Jones editor Bill Neil. “What’s exciting about the movie, what’s the best possible version of it, because it’s not fully formed yet. We get inspired by that idea, and that’s what we work off. When the movie comes out and it’s not so great, well, we gave it our best shot.”
You can read about the whole exhausting process of trailer-making here.
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