19th Annual Golden Trailer Awards Nominees Announced

19th Annual Golden Trailer Awards Nominees Announced

The Golden Trailer Awards nominees have once again been announced. Practically the Oscars of motion picture trailers and television marketing, the nomination tallies reflect a shifting of the cultural guard over from the traditional major studios towards the major players in streaming such as Netflix. This year, both Warner Bros. and Netflix round out the top two studios with 62 nominations each.

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Whitney

Whitney

It’s only natural that the music of Whitney Houston would take centre stage in the trailer for her biopic, due for release July 6th. A joint release by Miramax and Roadside with Oscar-winning director Kevin Macdonald on board, the trailer includes an interesting choice of music that balances a view of Houston in popular culture with the deeper understandings of an individual that any biopic worth its salt will offer.

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Johnny English Strikes Again

Not detracting from a noticeably rampant Hollywood affliction of “sequelitis”Johnny English Strikes Back is nonetheless a sequel that relatively few might recognize as its entries have been released about seven to eight years apart. Including 2003’s Johnny Englishand 2011’s Johnny English Reborn, which both earned $160 million worldwide, the series is a send-up of the Bond franchise, probably drawing inspiration from the Austin Powers trilogy (1997 - 2002).

 Strikes Again sees Rowan Atkinson back in action as a bumbling MI7 agent. While best known as “Mr. Bean,” Atkinson’s brand of comedy shines here, while also giving him the ability to have a speaking role and to fit a bit better amongst the broader cast, something that “Mr. Bean,” taking after the Charlie Chaplin school of comedic miming, was never intended for.

The trailer opens by taking advantage of the fact that few are expecting a sequel to Johnny Englishright now: a solemn cello is paired with a sombre drone in the upper strings against a shot of the London Eye; an incredibly sophisticated MI7 headquarter is presented as a trailerized version of Bonnie Tyler’s “I Need a Hero” is sung against stark images of phones off the hook and a few action shots. 

The ruse is revealed, however, on the word “hero,” which is contrapuntally juxtaposed with the image of Atkinson’s famously goofy visage, as he raises a martini glass and opines that someone is “looking particularly beautiful tonight.” It turns out there is a second reveal, as we realize he is actually, for some reason, teaching this gesture to a large class of schoolchildren. 

At 0:38 we’ve reached the second third of the trailer, and with it, after the reveal, a marked change in tone, with a rollicking rock riff pausing only on cue for the comedic dialogue, with the occasional trailer-signature “winding down sound”for good measure. 

At 1:18 the music changes track to more of a stomping groove as various other cast characters and new gimmicks particular to this entry are introduced, such as a virtual reality gag. 

By 2:00 the final third of the trailer is in play, which, while keeping the same music, has moved from presenting an assortment of clips to a more extended scene involving magnetic boots. At 2:12 we get the main title card, and at 2:20 there’s a moment of synchronicity between the music and image, as the music seems to be building towards a climax, only to end in Atkinson’s thudding body as he falls off a cruise liner’s railing, emphasizing Atkinson’s penchant for slapstick humour. The music returns at 2:28 with the release card (“coming soon” – more precisely, September in North America and October in the UK). 

Strikes Again’s trailer reaffirms many things that we already know of the modern comedy trailer, including the trope of the fake-out opener. It is interesting, however, that the editors would go for a completely new rendition of an existing Bonnie Tyler song rather than anything fully new or pre-existing. It could be that by presenting such an over-the-top song in this context, it could act as a subconscious indicator that the world of Johnny Englishis fundamentally satirical and more than slightly ridiculous. The effort to lampoon the slow pop song trope in a way that completely lifts from Bond openers, including the slowly rising and falling chromatic embellishments, is noticeable.

 

– Curtis Perry

Westworld Season 2

For the Season Two trailer of recent hit HBO show Westworld that dropped on March 29th, the music is a true highlight. Credited to series composer Ramin Djawadi, the music embodies the second season’s tagline – “chaos takes control.”

While it is another trailerized cover song in an environment where such an approach has become if not tired then certainly a norm, this rendition of seminal grunge band Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” is impactful on multiple levels. The first and most immediate aspect of note might be its intertextually allusive power. For a series that is a “dark odyssey about the dawn of artificial consciousness and the evolution of sin,”fn the themes implied in the title of “Heart-Shaped Box” resonate with those of Westworld, a series that is nothing if not an elaborate rumination on suffering and consciousness.

The trailer begins with a 19-second dialogue between Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and Bernard (Jeffrey Wright); both of them are “hosts” (artificial beings) who have both recently become aware of their apparent inhumanity. According to biographer Michael Azzerad, songwriter Kurt Cobain said that the song was inspired in part by documentaries about children who have cancer. The music video, meanwhile, was a surreal landscape that included imagery from The Wizard of Oz, and various other absurdist, surreal elements such as artificial crows. In this context, the choice of song is generationally powerful; those in the teenage demographic at the time of the song’s release are now well into their 40s and well in the position of recognizing what the song stands for and how it ties into the themes in this HBO drama.

All that being said, this pairing also works not least because the music is quite powerful in its own right, whether or not you might be aware of the original song. At first, the piano simply outlines a minor chord, and even the keenest listener would be able to identifiably discern that a cover song is underway.

By 0:38, however, the piano plays the quasi-famous riff in full, and there is no doubt for those familiar with the tune. At 0:50 a cello enters with the main melody and the dialogue continues over a montage of violent and dramatic scenes. At 1:15 we get a subtle pick up of energy; with every repeat of the riff, the intensity slowly builds. At 1:27, the staccato strings enter and we get additional harmonization to the main melody that wasn’t present in the original.

At 1:35 we get a brilliant musical takeout as everything cuts out except a closely-mic’d piano playing a tritone (known sometimes as “the devil’s internal”), which in turn allows the chorus of the song at 1:38 to enter in full epic bore, with pounding orchestral percussion and blaring brass. The jarring tritone that acts as the chorus’ hook works in tandem with the clearly mounting and ever-escalating conflict. At 2:14 we get a slight shift in the melody to direct it towards a climactic moment, rather than the usual descending tritone.

A black screen at 2:14 and a soft but clear major piano chord connote a bookending return to the opening aesthetic. Dolores’ smile enters in conjunction with a descending chord that chromatically modulates keys; it is bittersweet – just as we know Dolores’ smile is a brave one, fraught with all of the concerns presented to us earlier, the two major chords are separated by a minor third, and there is an underlying sense that something is fundamentally wrong.

Dolores asserts, “why on earth would you ever be frightened of me?” – and the Westword and HBO with release sate title cards quickly enter at the end as the piano plays the tritone motif once more, with a static hiss in the background and the last few notes fading out. It’s an ending as creepy as it is intriguing.

Westworld’s Season 2 trailer joins a fairly short list of paratextual media that very convincingly justify its sustained use of a cover song. It’s most reminiscent of the campaign for last year’s Logan, which used Johnny Cash’s cover of the Nine Inch Nails track “Hurt.” In both trailers, both the musical motifs and their connotative thematic resonance feel effortlessly compatible with the trailers they underpin.

 

– Curtis Perry

Terminal

Terminal is Margot Robbie’s self-produced follow-up to the well-received I, Tonya, for which Robbie received a Best Actress nomination at the Oscars. What’s great about the teaser for Terminal is that it is not something that purports to be a teaser, when it divulges much of the plot – one really cannot ascertain about it much beyond the overall tone of the work, which clocks in at under a minute.

Amidst the distant screech of a waterphone and various atmospheric sound effects, Robbie’s character intones in a creepy, layered? voice that “there is a place like no other on earth.” The sound of footsteps is as far as the trailer gets towards establishing a tempo.

Twenty-two seconds in, we’ve been treated to a few dimly-lit shots and Robbie’s mildly disconcerting voice, but nothing concrete yet. At 0:26 we see a hallway glowing an effervescent red, and then a second hallway glowing blue. Robbie assets that you “need to be as mad as a hatter, which luckily I am.”

And that’s it. However, at 0:39 two very notable things occur as the main cast appears in neon signage one by one on the title card. First, perhaps, is the inclusion of Mike Myers, whose name people haven’t associated with major movies for a while if the YouTube comments are anything to go by. More pertinent to this blog, however, is the clear whistling of the popular folk tune “Danny Boy.” It immediately brings to mind the famous whistle from “Kill Bill”; Robbie’s placement as another femme fatale type character reinforces this interpretation.

Satisfyingly, and suitable for a teaser, it leaves one with far more questions than answers. What, if anything, does “Danny Boy” have to do with the film? Despite that lack of immediately available context, the repurposing of this innocent tune in a nefarious atmosphere is suitable to the teaser’s goal of focusing on the feeling of the film and inciting curiosity, rather than giving away the plot.
 

– Curtis Perry

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

This week we are looking and listening to the latest instalment in the far-reaching Harry Potter (or is it Fantastic Beasts?) franchise by J. K. Rowling – Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.

Naturally, the sequel picks up where the first Fantastic Beasts left off, after the arrest of the eponymous character, a dark wizard bent on conquering the wizarding world. It also features, notably, the debut of a younger Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law).

In terms of musical treatment, it’s an unabashedly grandiose, orchestral affair throughout, and mostly of a rather fitting if generic variety, with at least one subtle but important exception which will be pointed out.

Composed and licensed by Versus Music, a fairly prodigious outfit currently airing its 19th volume of music on YouTube, it begins immediately with a sweeping harmonic minor gesture as we see some lush panning shots of Hogwarts, back in the 1920s when the Fantastic Beasts series takes place.

At 0:12 the main theme begins with steady, beating woodwinds and lower strings, in a swift compound meter, some dialogue atop it. The subtle flourishes of flute are in keeping with the overall tone of the Fantastic Beasts (and, again, Harry Potter as a whole) series. At 0:31 the harmony thickens in tandem with the thickening plot (“I know he’s working under your orders”). It is at that point that Jude Law as young Dumbledore is revealed (brining to mind, somewhat, the revealing of a young Han Solo in another trailer released on Super Bowl Sunday).

At 0:38 we get out first pause in the music, appropriate, for Dumbledore’s dialogue. At 0:45 the studio cards come in, and the music comes roaring back, now with epic choir, suddenly becoming more intimate again at 0:49, only to dynamic ratchet it up again for J. K. Rowling’s title card at 0:53. It’s a bit of a dynamic rollercoaster, but it works well as we move from chord to chord on each title card.

At 1:03, about the midway point, a slightly more humorous, off-hand dialogue is exchanged, giving the audience a breather mid-way through and effectively prepping the audio viewer for the second half, which begins with the release date title card (“This November”).

Now all of the stops are pulled: sforzando strings, rapid woodwind scales, and choir all feature prominently across the action montage which ensues. As the action becomes more, well, fantastical, we hear the not-so-subtle inclusion of harp glissandi. At 1:18 we get the classic epic chord change, the so-called Neapolitan chord. No need to know its name, of course – you can hear it, loud and clear, an epic turn that immediate imparts the feeling that things have gotten real.

From 1:25-1:29 we get a prolonged dominant chord as the action escalates further and further, finally reaching at peak at 1:31 as the catchphrase title card comes in.

For the final action sequence at 1:39, we get something rather different – grunting vocals and epic percussion more in line with typical modern action trailer fare. As a brief sequence, it works.

Now, the aforementioned musical quotation comes at 1:46 – as if on cue, the famous Hedwig’s theme enters, albeit augmented (slowed down) and given an epic treatment, now sounding somewhat like a superhero theme, with the title card entering view and ending unresolved on the dominant chord, and finally resolving with an entirely different instrumentation on the final title card, for the exact release date. That final note, of course, alludes to the glockenspiel version of Hedwig’s theme which fans are intimately familiar with.

Much like just about any other long-running film franchise in recent memory, then, the trailer for Grindelwald leverages the most memorable musical theme of its series to assist in the sale of its newest instalment. What may be slight different here, however, is the way that theme has clearly been changed in terms of genre to fit the movie. As Grindelwald promises to be more action-oriented than the Potter series was, so we hear a version of Hedwig’s theme at cleaves closer to the conventions of epic music. And even then, there is – if only for a single note! – an allusive nod to the earlier musical memories of film-going Potter fans everywhere.

 

– Curtis Perry

The Grinch

While it’s only March, it’s already time for holiday films to begin their promotional campaigns. Likely to be a forerunner in that category for families is Illumination Entertainment’s take on The Grinch. Set for release statewide November 8th this year, the film takes on the bright 3D animated style that Illumination (The Secret Life of Pets, Despicable Me) is known for, a marked change in style following the live action version starring Jim Carrey back in 2000, and of course the classic, hand-drawn TV special from 1966.

The trailer isn’t shy about letting you know the studio’s pedigree, either – the title card for Illumination is the first thing we see, even featuring a minion, the small yellow creatures from Illumination’s Despicable Me series, in favour of anything Seussical.

Musically, the trailers conducts a double fake-out. At first, we are lead to believe we are in for an epically orchestrated trailer; deep, driving strings beginning from the first title card proceed to full-blown brass and winds in a rollicking 6/8 theme in a harmonic minor key as the camera swerves steadily up what is presumable the Grinch’s keep. Soon enough, the imagery of the Grinch’s bedroom – looking decidedly well kept and civilized – foreshadow what’s about to happen musically: the orchestra cuts out, and the clock strikes seven, at which point a mild breaking of the fourth wall occurs. Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” emits from the clock radio; it is possible that that musical choice is as much an intertextual allusion to the use of the same song in Despicable Me 2 as it is a not-so-subtle stroke of situational irony, as the Grinch grumpily wrestles with the unwelcome alarm.

This scene serving to clearly tie together Illumination’s past successes with what they hope to bring to the Grinch’s story, then, at 0:52 that point is hammered home with a card citing as such (“from the creators of Despicable Me, The Secret Life of Pets, and Sing”). Alongside this, we hear a new cover rendition perhaps the single most recognizable musical riff in all of Seuss: the jazzy, bluesy brass of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”.

After a scene showcasing the Grinch’s comically grouchy morning routine with his dog Max, we finally get some spoken word thanks to the inner monologue of Benedict Cumberbatch, who assumes to the new mantle as the mean green one. The music continues without lyrics as he proceeds to embark on some shenanigans, subtly causing strife in the lives of those down in Whoville. In this respect, the film already appears to be taking a slightly different narrative tack than it did in the original, which featured a decidedly more hermit-like Grinch.

The final musical flourish at 2:00 ties in nicely with the turning on of a large holiday lighting and float display, culminating in the accidental walloping of the Grinch by an inflating snowman.

It is pretty clear, whether looking at the musical choices or the title cards, that Illumination is leaning rather heavily on past works and suggesting it is an indicator for future success. While it is hard to argue that there is anything here that is genuinely new, using “Happy” as an intertextual marker is a fairly subtle and likely effective strategy for imparting that message competence. Moreover, the use of a faithful-yet-new cover of “You’re a Mean One” works well with the visual style, which clearly adheres to the illustrative style of the original books.

Everything about this trailer seems to prioritize safe bets over artistic risks, and under the consideration that this is likely the studio’s goal, this trailer achieves that goal with aplomb.

 

– Curtis Perry

Mary Poppins Returns

This week we are listening to a trailer that is clearly an exercise in restraint, where the music truly is the driving force of the film cutting process. Today the teaser trailer for “Mary Poppins Returns” was dropped by Disney; the sequel/ reboot starring Emily Blunt appears to take the opportunity of staying aesthetically faithful to the original both in terms of visuals and music, while at the same time leveraging the full fidelity of contemporary filming and recording equipment.

The original Disney film was a 1964 adaptation of the book series by Pamela Lyndon Travers published from 1934 to 1988. The interest in a sequel likely follows the box office success of “Saving Mr. Banks,” a 2013 period drama specifically detailing the working and creative relationship between P. L. Travers and Walt Disney.

The opening at 0:08 gradually fades in a shimmering cloud of upper strings emanating from a romantic orchestra; a strong solo bassoon enters, roughly outlining the melodic contour of the classic Poppins track “A Spoonful of Sugar.” The scene is a wet and dark London of about 1930, as the original film took place in 1910 and the children from it have now became adults.

At 0:27 we hear a much fuller orchestral phrase, highly reminiscent of the era when romantic film composers such as Max Steiner ruled the roost. In 2018, however, the style is downright unusual and identifiably nostalgic in tone.

In tandem with this choice of music is the style of the trailer itself. The music is sweeping, and it is never usurped or otherwise punctuated by modern trailer tropes like having dialogue splicing up the soundtrack, or epic percussion, or any extra diegetic sound effects. Instead, the title cards are effectively cut to the natural ebb and flow of the orchestra’s phrasing. In many cases, music is cut and composed to fit the narrative demands of the visual. In this case, it is quite possible that the scenes were cut to match the length of the musical phrases.

Besides the sweeping, chromatic orchestral music, we only hear the flapping of a kite in the wind, and the bicycle bell of a new chimney sweeper (played by Lin-Manuel Miranda). Dialogue is saved for the very end.

The chords enter a sequence at 1:10, leading us higher and higher (in tandem with the visual of the kite gaining altitude), until finally as we reach the cadence, Poppins (Blunt) appears once more, riding in with the wind.

With a positively retro trill of the woodwinds and a quintessentially straightforward coda ending resolutely on key alongside the release date title card (Christmas), the trailer campaign lives up to its promise. It gives us a faithful return to the time and the aesthetics of the 1964 original, albeit updated, but only in ways that aid in the fidelity of what was already there, fulfilling the film’s promise as a vehicle for nostalgia.

 

– Curtis Perry

Solo

Catching up a bit to all of the action that happened over the Super Bowl weekend with respect to trailer premieres: by sheer brand recognition, Solo naturally continues, to a lesser extent, what Rogue One started – parlaying the previous decades-long musical achievements of Williams and rolling it into new musical material that is, well, alien to the galaxy far, far, away. In this case, as we'll see, the emphasis is much more on elements that are new to the series than what the Rogue One trailers opted for.

Right away, the first sounds we hear seem to be the ignition controls of, presumably, the Millennium Falcon. The nondescript engine roar flares up with the Lucasfilm title card, revealing itself to be an electric guitar. Cue a young Han Solo (this time as Alden Ehrenreich), doling off a litany of boasts germane to the legend we know – kicked out of the flight academy; on the streets since ten years of age, and so on.

Throughout this sequence, we hear blaring, regal horns and strings with an emphasis on the low end, moving up through a classic harmonic sequence connoting heroism. For music theory buffs out there, that’s a tonic chord moving to the dominant, but then throwing the listener for a loop by unexpectedly chromatically modulating the key by a third – that’s the chord at 0:29, opening at the sweeping shot in the desert. At the same time, as will be addressed, this entire time we hear a “ticking” that ties together all of the various aural and visual elements of this first third of the trailer, giving drive and unity to the visual pastiche of the opening, reminiscent of the trailer to the recent Nolan blockbuster, Dunkirk.

Then at 0:39, on Chewie’s taking the invitation to join an unknown commander’s crew, as the orchestral music dissipates, a distinctively electronic bass is revealed as the sonic floor, so to speak, reminding this writer a fair bit of Vangelis and his Blade Runner work. Notably, it seems that the newer musical elements only occur when there are iconic characters on screen. Perhaps this sonic balancing of old and new is intentional.

At 0:44 we come to understand the initial sounds of the trailer were indeed an aural foreshadowing of the Millennium Falcon gearing up to warp speed; it’s a clever way of integrating the figurative countdown with the literal.

In the montage that follows we hear an unknown woman’s voice admonishing Solo and chastising him for “what (he) really (is),” meta-alluding to the promise of the film to shed a bit more light (wanted or not) on Solo’s past. We see a cavalcade of new and intriguing Star Wars-y figures throughout this sequence as the harmonic rhythm picks up alongside an intensification of epic percussion.

Of course, Solo gets the last laugh, and it’s also our first clear look at Alden-as-Solo. Feigning incredulity, it is a small reminder of potential for humour and light camp that the Star Wars series partly stakes its name on.

The main title card finally gives us our first clear use of the main theme from Star Wars; by the time it arrives, it almost feels forced as compared to the rest of the trailer, which steers relatively clear of such aural branding tactics.

Interestingly, the biggest action sequence of the trailer and the final build up is saved for the end. The reveal of Solo’s character was sufficient as climactic for the title card, saving the final action sequence for its own last shot of adrenaline, not to mention of course saving the last true unknown – the release date – for last (Memorial Day).

The first full trailer for Solo, then, notably refrains from leaning on any recognizable Star Wars melodies or other aural icons such as the lightsaber. It is very much its own thing, apart from Star Wars, and perhaps also apart even from Rogue One, the latter of which ended up going for a distinctively darker, grittier feel. In contrast, Solo feels like it wouldn’t be entirely out of place in the pantheon of modern Star Trek films, both visually and aurally. Whatever the case, it will be interesting to see what direction Disney takes the campaign in leading up to release.

 

– Curtis Perry

A Quiet Place

In what may be both a first and only occurrence for Trailaurality, this week we are looking at and listening to a trailer that is arguably most notable for its complete absence of music – or, at least, what we typically identify as music. The track, "Silent Killer," comes courtesy of composer Alec Johnson, of Hybrid Core Music + Sound.

An American supernatural horror film directed by John Krasinski, A Quiet Place stars Krasinski and spouse Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada), and is set to premiere in a few short weeks at the upcoming South by Southwest festival.

In the first seven seconds the audioviewer is bombarded with a multitude of media sounds, including tuning radio dials, television white noise, and the like.

After the Paramount title card, we do get a few synthesizer notes, but literally only a few: a dissonant gesture fades away, revealing a steady and unsettling heart beat beneath. This is repeated for the first cue card (“those who have survived”), and again at 0:27 (“live by one rule”). Most notably, there is zero presence of any diegetic sound or music in any of the shots thus far.

By 0:35 we hear something we rarely hear in today’s world of bombast and epic music – practically nothing at all. Then, at 0:42 we hear the child’s toy space shuttle, with its low-fi escalating tones; a child has transgressed the new Golden Rule: will he have to pay? The onscreen sound smoothly transitions to a more sweeping wash of noise, finally punctuated by a percussive hit in tandem with the release title card (April 6).

From here, the tension ramps up considerably; waves of synthesizer wash over the film as the action intensifies, with occasional sound, such as the car window breaking, piercing the veil of the non-diegetic aural narrative.

Finally, after an arresting scrape of a waterphone, we return to the heartbeats of earlier. A few precious moments of quietude pass, following by a jump scare at 1:12 in tandem with the return of the menacing synth.

After the most visceral round of percussion yet, it’s jarring to hear the first line of dialogue at 1:26, sounding weak, pleading, and at the total mercy of whatever it is that haunts them. Here the turn line sounds earlier than usual in trailers and has narrative significance, even in her hushed voice.

The last few shots before the title card at 1:44 feature a full-bore aural kaleidoscope of horror tropes – jittery, escalating strings, creeping synths, and the like, punctuated by, of course, a scream.

While the trailer A Quiet Place leans on some well-tested techniques for eliciting a sense of horror, that which makes it unusual, or at least novel, among horror films is its unwavering belief in accomplishing more with less. A single jump scare and a single scream suffice, as the trailer wisely spends its time building up to these moments with enormous dynamic range. Coming from the sound of practically nothing to moments that more typically fit the sonic profile of a modern horror trailer, it speaks to the power of absence to unnerve us, especially in an age of unceasing sensory stimulation.

 

– Curtis Perry

Ant-Man and the Wasp

Continuing a recent trend in Marvel cinematic universe trailers, Ant-Man and the Wasp draws upon an all-original score by series composer Christophe Beck. While not quite as catchy as the rollicking 7/4 (irregular time) beat of the main theme from the original, Beck’s score is clearly made-to-spec for the frenetic action of this sequel. Tonally, Beck is clearly aiming for a super-hero theme in a classic sense, comfortable in its own slightly ridiculous plot circumstances, with (ahem) smaller stakes, and more notable humour.

The trailer begins, as so many action trailers do, with a thundering percussive strike, revealing a steady cam shot of the city skyline; shortly after, bits of dialogue alluding to the broader Avengers story arc alternate between continuing epic percussion in a slightly off-beat manner, just enough to keep the audioviewer guessing. At the ten second mark we’re introduced to the eponymous Wasp (Hope van Dyne), and the percussion quickens and climaxes.

At 0:17 we see the Marvel Studios card in a vaguely insect-like, honeycomb motif, and a wailing electric guitar brings the theme: a fairly repetitive melody riff featuring a bluesy flat-five scale degree. One interesting facet of this trailer’s music is the fact that there is effectively only one minor chord played throughout — the rest is covered by melodic embellishment and percussion elements.

At 0:22 we hear a return to the dialogue and percussion dynamic, and then the electric guitar enters without warning at 0:27, not unlike the accompanying sudden drawing of weapons by what looks like an FBI SWAT team. At 0:32 we get our first sight gag as an entire building in shrunk to the size of a suitcase, and a man accordingly, in non-sequitur fashion, pulls out a handle and wheels it away. The fact that the music doesn’t shift in tone at this point provides an effective dramatic counterpoint to what we see, effectively intensifying the comedic relief.

At 0:48, a third of the way through the trailer, we get the card for the release date (July), and the percussion moves to a steadier, pulsing rhythm. At 0:45 the guitar enters again and it is now obvious that the music has settled into a 6/8 compound meter groove. At 0:52 it stops only to use a flying car’s horn as a sort of accent for the music. Around 1:04 we experience an action sequence with hits cued to the beat; likewise, at 1:08 a particularly arresting sequence feature a miniature Wasp dodging thrown knives in a bullet time sequence; the sound of the knives slicing through the air is almost palpable.

At 1:17 the music finally stops for a punchline, more in line with a typical comedic trailer, and does so again between brief snippets of action and high energy music featuring Wasp.

At 1:26 the main title comes into view, accented by the same electric guitar motif described earlier. There is one more sight gag, though that shouldn’t be spoiled, but it does again lean on a disconnect between the comedic visuals and the more serious, action-oriented music.

This first trailer for Ant-Man and the Wasp, then, is an interesting study in musically blending action and comedy trailer conventions such that one complements the other. Allowing the action music to stand in counterpoint to the sight gags makes the comedy more effective, and likewise, the consistency of the tone of the music helps give a sort of emotional grounding to the zany world of Ant-Man.

– Curtis Perry

Seven Seconds

 

One of the more acoustically visceral trailers released this past week, Netflix’s upcoming series Seven Seconds is a crime anthology focusing on the death of black teenager at the hands of a white cop. Produced by Veena Sud (The Killing), the trailer promises a nuanced and dramatic study of racial tensions that continue to grip the United States, with the series taking place in Jersey City.

A nighttime aerial shot of an urban landscape accompanies an immediate hit of epic percussion and bass, leaving in its wake a single, insistent piano note in the mid-register — a musical trope that just won’t die, likely because its effectiveness as a musical “unique selling point” outweighs the risk of sounding tired and cliché.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the vocals for the song ("Everywhere Ghosts Hide" by Erin McCarley, released on January 25) begin at the seven second mark. After the first line (“pull me under”), a quick Netflix title card is followed by an array of U.S. flags, which turn out to be the opening shot for the funeral — at this point there is much emotional layering, between the vocals, the off-screen narrator (Regina King, as the mother of the deceased), and the stark visuals of the funeral in progress. The narrator then appears on screen for a brief second at 0:26, only for the shot to change again upon the lyric “thunder,” where we see, perhaps, the murderer walking free. This passage, albeit only a few seconds long, is meticulously set up, with multiple visual and aural threads overlapping and intersecting at key points such that the audioviewer gets a sense of, foremost, the feel of the series, as opposed to the think of it, as Kubrick once said.

It is at this point that we see a second title card for Netflix touting the production as an original series, and after a brief bridge we hear a section resembling perhaps the chorus of the song. Between glimpses of graffiti, photo evidence, and other shots in a montage highlighting the escalating conflict, the dialogue continues, this time focusing on conversation between the guilty party and his confidantes.

At 0:52 there is a brief interruption in the music in favour of sound effects, to emphasize a shift in dialogue as the narrator delivers in pointed language a statement regarding the injustice that “his life does not factor into the equation of the city.” At 0:58 the percussion ramps up, the dialogue and action likewise.

Finally, at 1:29 we hear a symphonic flourish, and the strings almost overpower the vocals as we see glimpses of what looks to be some climactic moments (police in riot gear, etc.) flash across the screen. At 1:48 the song, which has been steadily building since the beginning of the trailer, stops as the mother asserts that “a man did that,” and that the murder is not some mystery that only God might be privy to, as was suggested moments earlier in the trailer.

For the last scene, after a heavy bass drop the piano returns, unadorned, roughly in sync with the clicks of a spinning bicycle wheel on the ground, perhaps at the scene of the crime. We see the main title cards, and then the Netflix logo once more with a quick release date (all episodes available February 23rd).

In terms of form, this trailer for Seven Seconds is as first blush formulaic, with a clear three-part structure, steady rising action and drama between the music and the visuals, and the use of a few tried-and-tested musical tropes. This being said, the key to a well-edited trailer is not in the givens, but in the details, and in this sense Seven Seconds shines. Whether considering the movement from contrapuntal audiovisual storytelling in the first third of the trailer towards the assault-on-the-senses that prevails in the latter third, or the fact that the trailer does not rely so heavily on a trailerized song or cover version, this trailer rightly directs the music as a framing and supporting device for the dialogue. Bearing these creative decisions in mind, it is quite successful. 

 

– Curtis Perry

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is the aptly-named sequel to the 2008 ABBA-infused film, itself based on a 1999 musical of the same name. Somewhat like the revival of the Ocean’s franchise also set for release later this year, the trailer for Here We Go Again leans heavily on past musical favourites, and thus memory (if not nostalgia), immediately beginning with “I Have a Dream,” a signature song from the original musical. At 0:25 we see and hear a clever analogy for the flashback about to occur plot-wise, as we prominently hear a cassette tape being rewound — the cassette itself serves as a piece of retro symbolism, like in Guardians of the Galaxy, in addition to the fact that it is being rewound, .

Cue what else than “Dancing Queen,” the quintessential ABBA hit and a centrepiece of Mamma Mia, alongside the title card for the date (“next summer”). The track is interspersed by dialogue from Lily James (playing a young Donna Sheridan with mother Meryl Streep), delivering some vague but curiosity-inducing lines such as “you don’t really know me at all, do you?” The question as much for the audience as it is for the person on-screen, with the title cards promising to tell the story of “how it all began” in greater detail.

The mood of the trailer takes a turn from celebratory to somber as a young Donna sings the verse of the title track on-screen with off-screen piano accompaniment (sitting in between being in and out of the sonic universe of the film, as music in musicals does). The track carries on beyond the scene and we see a montage of more introspective moments in her life, only to pick up again as the track does with the song’s chorus, highlighting her drive to continue despite any setbacks real or perceived.

At 2:10, after the title card, we hear a deep bass sound as Sophie’s grandmother (Cher) arrives unannounced to a party hosted by Sophie; she leaves on a note of additional intrigue and a talking point for outlets to focus on.

Clearly, this trailer uses music in a wholly expected and straightforward way, leaning rather heavily on the past as cover songs do. Using two tracks in equal measure to deliver equal doses of action and drama, as well as using equal parts music and dialogue (leaning towards music, as is appropriate for a musical adaptation), this trailer for Here We Go Again is nothing if not even-keeled. In that regard, there’s something to be said for the way it achieves a sense of emotional and sensory balance. The literal, “un-trailerized” covers in the trailer soundtrack both identify the franchise and draw upon audience memories for the original song and the film.

 

– Curtis Perry

 

Ocean's 8

Well past the holiday season at this point, today’s trailers are beginning to target the summer action/ blockbuster season. Chief among these is the preview for Ocean’s 8, the somewhat-confusingly named spinoff following the Ocean’s Eleven (2001), itself a remake of the namesake 1960 film, which was followed by Ocean’s Twelve (2004), and, perhaps predictably, Ocean’s Thirteen (2007).

Following just over a decade when the series left off, then, and scheduled for release on June 8, 2018, the film is set to follow the misdeeds of Danny Ocean’s sister (Sandra Bullock), in “business” with an all-star cast of colleagues, including Helena Bonham Carter, Mindy Kaling, and Rihanna.

The 1966 version of “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” by Nancy Sinatra, the original version of this song that has been heavily covered, features prominently throughout this trailer, stopping at regular intervals to feature snippets of the film’s deadpan dialogue, much in the style of other trailers that generally fall into the comedy genre. The audio is noticeably spruced up (re-recorded), and it also incorporates added percussion and sound effects to match the dynamic range of a typical modern trailer. In other words, the song has been (subtly) trailerized. That being said, this mix falls closer to the end of being faithful to the original song.

The trailer begins with a shot of Sandra Bullock’s character in confessional mode and orange prison garb, with the soundtrack equally stark, a simple tambourine, kick drum, and hand claps – quickly becoming cliche – not yet giving away the choice of song for the trailer, but still sounding decidedly contemporary.

At the 0:35 mark, the Sinatra version of “Boots” enters as the original recording does with its slowly descending bass and jangly guitar alongside the studio logos, immediately giving the sense that what Ocean’s 8 is going for is not a reinvention per se, but rather, something unapologetically classic, picking up to some extent exactly where the series left off a decade prior. Nearly each line of Sinatra’s is contrasted with a snippet of dialogue, delivered in a generally upbeat, deadpan, swaggeringly defiant style, much in the vein of the song. Moreover, it is lifted by thundering percussion and additional rhythmic flushing that really modernize the style while not sounding out of place in the context of the original recording. It’s a fine balance, and the trailer music succeeds in it.

The song then speeds up with a clever title card listing off the stars in sync with the repeated descending bass at about the halfway mark. At first, it seems like a second song has entered, with funkier percussion and an equally funky guitar riff. But then, Sinatra’s voice re-enters for the chorus of “Boots.” This subtle, gradual contemporizing song works in tandem with the trailer’s goal of reminding and reintroducing the audioviewer into the franchise, which doesn’t have the immediate mindshare of something like, say, Star Wars, but certainly has a cachet to its name of its own.

By the two minute mark, we hear new vocals and it’s clear the trailer has musically reached another place. The final drum roll at the 2:10 mark, synced with a final action montage, is far more reminiscent of a live rock concert than anything from the Sinatra original. The title card uses the same (very effective) sync between the descending bass and the card’s presentation as a final, memorable shot to end the trailer.

With the Ocean’s 8 trailer’s rendition of “Boots” comes a reminder that the cover song is not always the answer, and what’s older in the pantheon of popular music can be new again – especially for a song that has been covered so extensively, simply presenting the original (mostly) unadorned can be refreshing in and of itself. It’s also a great example of progressively disclosing and blending the original song with its trailerized elements, threading the audioviewer along from the original to the recomposed version in an effective and engaging manner.

 

– Curtis Perry

 

Guest Post: An Introduction to Epic Trailer Music Production

by Manu Malik


What started as music specifically composed for Hollywood blockbuster movies has now become its own genre. Epic trailer music can be described as modern orchestral music that incorporates sound design, synth sounds and booming percussion to stimulate emotions.  There are numerous companies that produce high quality virtual sound libraries that can be used by composers to bring their compositions to life. The companies that create orchestral sound libraries meticulously record world-class orchestras in studios that are acoustically built to capture the audio characteristics of the instruments. This provides composers with the ability to create authentic cinematic music within a digital audio workstation environment.

The basic structure of a trailer music cue has three main sections (acts) of roughly equal length followed by a conclusion (tail), which is approximately half as long as one of the main sections.  Following this formula, a cue with main sections each having a length of forty seconds and a twenty second tail, totals two minutes twenty seconds in length, the maximum allowed theatrical trailers. Each of the sections in a trailer music cue have defining characteristics – it should be very obvious to the listener when one section ends and the next one begins.

In Section 1, the mood of the cue is established (and may be extended and even have its own intro). This can be achieved by having the lead instrument, such as a solo violin, play the main melody, or by using an ambient synth to play the main chord structure, or by introducing the theme of the cue in a strategic manner that will allow for it to be further developed in subsequent sections. In this first section, the percussion and bass sounds are either very minimal or not present at all. Rhythmic phrases, such as string ostinatos, should be used carefully because using them in this section can cause the energy of the cue to plateau prematurely. This is definitely the section of the cue that has the least amount of energy and it often contains mid-frequency sounds which peak around the 500Hz range.

As the music transitions into Section 2, there should be an immediate increase in energy and some tension or anticipation should start to build. Introducing elements such as low-end percussion or a rhythmic chord phrase would be a good start. Some layering of sounds can also provide texture. This will result in an RMS (root mean square) level increase of approximately ten percent. An RMS meter is critical for measuring the overall loudness and energy level.

The cue will then proceed to drastically increase in energy as Section 3 begins. This is where nothing is held back and all of the elements which were presented in the first two sections are fully developed. All of the percussion, orchestral and synth sounds (possibly with added choir) should culminate with as much energy as possible. This is also the section where there should be different patterns of movement, such as counter melodies, within each of the frequency ranges.  Act 3 should end with a grand finale which dissolves into the tail, which frequently trails off.

After all three sections and the tail have been recorded, there should be some additional sound design work done to add definition to the section transitions along with some additional energy.  The cue then enters the mixing and mastering process to increase the overall loudness by decreasing the dynamic range while preserving the sound quality of the music. This should be done very carefully because decreasing the dynamic range excessively to increase loudness can result in a squashed sound which will significantly decrease the expressive quality of the orchestral instruments.


Stay tuned! Trailaurality will feature further blog posts on production, including orchestrating and arranging as well as mixing and mastering. Hear Manu Malik's trailer music demos here

The 2017 Trailaurality Awards

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This week on the blog, we’re doing something a bit different. As we look back on a year full of trailers from thrilling to sombre and everywhere in between, we at Trailaurality wanted to tip the proverbial hat towards a variety of trailer soundtracks that we thought stood out among the rest in particular ways.

 

Best Throwback: Cuphead

It’s no accident that Cuphead has been received warmly upon release, having been hotly anticipated in the years up to its release. By way of a near-annual pace of trailers, indie developer StudioMDHR parlayed its labour of love (and, eventually, well-deserved profit) by pairing its artfully rendered faux-thirties cartoon style with quintessentially matched music by Toronto composer Kristofer Maddigan.

Read our full writeup on Cuphead here.
Listen to the Cuphead soundtrack on Spotify.
 

Best Use of Franchise Music: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

While most trailers use music that ultimately has little to do with the movie to come out, once in a while there are franchises for which there is music that can and indeed ought to be used for a coming sequel. As such, this award is almost unfairly favoured towards the storied franchise that is Star Wars. Propelled by the massively successful sequel/reboot The Force Awakens by J. J. Abrams in 2015, and bolstered by last year’s Rogue One, this year’s entry fared no worse for wear; Disney may yet be right to expect to be able to crank out sequels and side stories for the next eight or so years, much in the vein of its handling of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Production company Pusher Music handles the audio in Disney’s first official trailer for the film with aplomb, judiciously balancing the Wagnerian thematic material that musically interlinks Luke, Rey, and Kylo. The force is with this one.

Read our full writeup on The Last Jedi here.
 

Best Epic Music: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Nintendo had a phenomenal year: sales of its new Switch console have, in ten months, already exceeded the five-year sales of its preceding console, the relative flop that was the Wii U. Heading the charge was this trailer, released after an online company presentation on January 12th, 2017. A nearly four-minute affair, the martial percussion and sweeping strings – not to mention a deft allusion to the thirty-year-old theme (inspired in part by Ravel’s Bolero) in its closing moments – stand toe-to-toe with any piece of epic music one could think of. While video games will by their nature never surpass the narrative cohesion and depth of cinema, this trailer betrays that expectation, thanks in large part to its bespoke soundtrack.

Read our full writeup on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild here.
 

Best Use of Contemporary Pop: Spiderman: Homecoming

After a steady decline in critical acclaim for Sony’s Spiderman film franchise, bottoming out with the lacklustre Amazing Spiderman 2, it was time for a very different approach in 2017, with Homecoming putting on offer a stylistic approach much more in tune with the broader Marvel Cinematic Universe. By infusing the third trailer for Spiderman: Homecoming with fairly contemporary Billboard pop songs like Hoodie Allen’s 2014 hit “Act My Age,” that fresh look and feel that Spiderman so sorely needed was delivered in spades. No other trailer this year has leveraged contemporary pop so viscerally well.

Read our full writeup on Spiderman: Homecoming here.

 

Best Use of Nostalgia: Stranger Things Season Two

Not only was Vincent Price’s inimitable dialogue cleverly repurposed for Stranger Things’ 2017 outing, but we also hear the late Michael Jackson arise again – as if, one could say, from the grave – to thrill us once more with the 1982 hit Thriller. As an unabashed nostalgia play more broadly speaking, it was an impeccable creative decision to pair the borderline-whimsical, 1980s paperback horror world of Stranger Things with perhaps the most emblematic song carrying the very same aesthetic.

Read our full writeup on Stranger Things Season Two here.

 

Best Use of an Artist Cover: Logan

In the first official trailer for Logan, Johnny Cash’s famous cover of Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt is absolutely front and center, playing through the entire 1:47 span of the video uninterrupted. The dialogue between Professor X and Wolverine is secondary to the expertly cut and abbreviated track, which allows for one full verse and chorus, plus a brief coda. The intertextual associations are obvious: as Cash performed this cover near the end of his life, so too are we witnessing in Logan a chronicle of the end of Logan’s days.

Read our full writeup on Logan here.

 

Best Trailer-ized Cover: A Wrinkle in Time

One noticeable trend in trailer music over the past few years has been the use of the “trailer-ized” song – creatively reimagined covers that leverage many conventions of trailer music, such as epic percussion and sweeping strings, concocted as a response to the need for trailers to both reach a target demographic while also providing something fresh and interesting. This year, the teaser for A Wrinkle in Time caught our ears thanks to the sonorous voice of Keeley Bumford singing the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams” atop an arrangement by composer Mark Hadley.

Read our full writeup on A Wrinkle in Time here.

 

Best Use of Library Music: Blade Runner 2049

Last and not least, sometimes projects are so multifaceted and dynamic in terms of personnel that musical choices can come down to the use of a library selection. The first official trailer for Blade Runner 2049 is interesting in this regard in that, while one may reasonably assume musical excerpts by Vangelis from the original Blade Runner have been repurposed here, instead a track by Cieran Birch entitled “Decay” and published by Elephant Music is used in its place. While Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson was at first tapped to compose the score for 2049, eventually Hans Zimmer replaced him, with director Denis Villeneuve citing the need for an artistic direction closer to Vangelis. Despite the creative turbulence roiling beneath the veneer, the trailer holds its own by providing a musical atmosphere satisfyingly similar to the 1980s original, without coming across as stale – again, achieving all this with a library track.

Read our full writeup on Blade Runner 2019 here.

 

Coming Soon…

Suffice to say, 2017 was another great year for trailer music aficionados. Whether revelling in the sounds of the past, delighting in new arrangements and variations on past works, or going full bore into uncharted musical territory, today’s trailer soundscape is rife with fine examples of persuasive art, in myriad ways fully leveraging the role that music plays in its effectiveness. Bring on 2018.

– Curtis Perry