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