Cutting a Long Story Short — Editing Movie Trailers

By in Timeline Tuesday, Video Editing

I started editing in 2004, initially in television. But in 2005, I switched to editing movie trailers, and I haven’t looked back.

The best thing about getting a feature and dismantling it is finding those moments that “pop” and killer lines to start building the trailer. I’ve worked on a wide variety of films, from big budget blockbusters (Jason Bourne, Kick-Ass and Prometheus) to smaller indie projects (Rust and Bone, The One I Love and Louder Than Bombs), and I have to say, I love them all. It’s a real privilege to work on such a diverse range of movies.

I’ve seen the industry grow and change in the last decade, and I know several editors who’ve switched between softwares and programs. But I’ve been an Avid purest from the get-go.

I got my feature-film break at Empire Design in London, and I’m currently based in New York, working as a senior creative editor at Giaronomo Productions. I recently worked on a trailer for a film called The Brand New Testament (from director Jaco Van Dormael).

The film is a quirky, Michel Gondry-esque black comedy about God, his wife and, instead of Jesus, this film introduces God’s mischievous daughter, Ea, played wonderfully by (Pili Gryone) They live in Brussels, and, in another contrast to the norm, God is an almighty trouble causer. He’s a malcontent who loves terrorizing mankind, from implementing small “accidents” to cataclysmic world disasters. After one too many “mishaps,” Ea decides to get revenge and force God to live up to his name by texting the entire world their death dates. Anarchy ensues.

I was in a fortunate and frustrating position when trying to decide which of the many clever elements and moments to handpick for the trailer. There was also a lot of humor in the piece, something that I am instinctively drawn to, so being ruthless was the artistic aspect of the challenge.

One technical challenge came from cutting a trailer in a foreign language (French). In addition, the source file from which I was cutting had burnt-in subtitles, and the client needed me to initially cut from a low-res file, due to time constraints. On occasions like this, the burnt-in subtitles present an extra challenge, as I have to blur them out and then recreate them using Title Tool.

When the Pro Res of the feature arrives, I overcut from the Pro Res file and recreate all the title media making sure it’s 1:1 so that I can export everything at full HD once approved.

As a movie trailer editor, my timelines are probably slightly simpler than that of a lot of long form editors. Short form is a very different process, and everyone works differently in the trailer world. But I always like to know what music I’m using before I start cutting. It helps me determine a tone for the trailer and where my turning points will be.

For this project, I actually cut three separate pieces: a 12 CERT theatrical trailer, a Redband version for the Internet and a 30-second TV spot. I want to focus on the Redband trailer.

After a couple of days work on it, I’ve put down a very rough sound bed of music, and I’m trying to work out what dialogue goes where. The crazy thing about trailers is that in general, you have free reign on the first round. After that, it’s easier for clients to give more specific requests. So much freedom means you can try many combinations and permutations, and it’s sometimes difficult to decide. That’s where parameters can be helpful, especially if you’re a perfectionist and you never stop tinkering. I know I’m sometimes guilty of indecision when I have 100 percent creative freedom.

You’ll notice this timeline is just dialogue and music. I like to get the story right before I start adding sound effects, video effects or even basic music edits.

This is about a week in to the edit. When I start to work on the audio levels, I tend to make the dialogue all uniform and then mix the music around it. I use add edits and dissolves rather than keyframes for this. Some say this is an old method, but in the trailer world, a lot of people do this. We tend to level everything and dip the music up and down — a lot simpler than long form.

I’ve added lots more subtitles and blur tools on the video layers. I now know (pretty much) what dialogue I am using. I have started to blur and retype all the subtitles. Since the first cut, I have also received the DME of the feature, which I’ve grouped to the initial source file and with which I am slowly replacing all of the other audio. Previously all the dialogue was from a stereo mix of the feature with music and dialogue mixed together, which can get very messy.

This is the timeline for the first presented cut. It has more sound effects, and I’ve tidied up the whole cut and filled in all the black holes on the video layers. I’ve also added GFX cards for the quotes, copy cards, title GFX and billing block. It has a more thorough audio mix, which is why there are more dissolves and edits added in the music bed.

This is the approved and final cut. It’s odd jumping straight from the first present to the approved cut, as quite a lot of time has passed between these two timelines. There have been about 10 different versions in between these cuts, and although they don’t look very different, a lot has changed.

For example, in the second version, I had to change the music in the back end of the trailer. We also had a version where the “button” (the section after the film’s title and before the billing block) was different, and we experimented with making God the focus. But as you can see, Ea is the main protagonist. She’s not the messiah; she’s a very naughty girl. Here’s the trailer that made it into the cinemas.

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I'm a London born trailer editor currently working for Giaronomo productions in New York.