Monday, October 2, 2017

Quick Takes — Trailers for Coming Attractions (2018), or: The Trailer and the Cover Song


The trailer is one of the few forms of mediated advertising that the public actively seeks out, and, on occasion, even enjoys. When effectively constructed, trailers create anticipation of and desire for the completed product, all within a closed media form of only two minutes and twenty seconds. Music, image, and narrative must join forces to communicate a story and deliver emotional impact in a very short time frame, which dictates an extreme economy of means—music bears the burden in this collaboration because of its comparative efficiency in signifying and its ability to set the pace for the other elements. In the hands of a skillful trailer editor, these components can be brought together into an organic whole, one as satisfying and impactful as the film it advertises, if not more so (think of the first trailer to Suicide Squad). The ideal trailer blends commerce and aesthetics, craft and creativity, manipulation and inspiration in a mini-movie that pleases the audience and entices them to buy tickets (or a game) and engage in word of mouth.

A few quick facts about trailers:
  1. Film studios don’t produce trailers; rather, they are created by boutique trailer houses that typically compete for the contract;
  2. Trailer music is very rarely from the film, since the music for the film is almost never finished when trailers are released. One exception is the use of the “Dies irae” from the Verdi Requiem in studio Trailer Park’s teaser to Mad Max: Fury Road, which George Miller liked so much that he had it incorporated into the film score.
  3. Trailers have traditionally relied on production or library music, pre-composed tracks that are written and selected for use by virtue of the affect they elicit.
The most recent trend in trailer music is the use of cover songs or songs that have been “trailerized” (tracks edited for use in a specific trailer). In these versions, the originals are typically slowed down, fragmented, and occasionally reversed in meaning (e.g. “What a Wonderful World” in the teaser to disaster film Geostorm). The trend of covers even extends to the confusing world of video game trailers, where the industry produces trailers for every stage of a game’s development.

The use of existing music in cover or trailerized versions unites the four Quick Take posts on trailer music, which illustrate the diversity of quotation styles. Jacky Avila discusses race and gender in the trailer to Proud Mary, which features Taraji P. Henson as Mary and uses the eponymous song by Tina Turner (sans Ike). Loren Kajikawa reviews the trailer for the highly anticipated Marvel release, Black Panther, situating the song, “Legend Has It,” by Run the Jewels within recent hip hop discourse. In contrast, Will Gibbons problematizes the trailer “Mysteries of Egypt” for the video game Assassin’s Creed Origins because of its exploitation of the song, “Blood,” by the band Algiers. And I discuss issues of vocal style and identity in the cover of “Sweet Dreams” used in the teaser trailer to A Wrinkle in Time.

James Deaville teaches Music in the School for Studies in Art and Culture at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada. He has edited Music in Television (Routledge, 2010) and has co-edited Music and the Broadcast Experience (Oxford, 2016). He is currently working on a study of music and sound in cinematic trailers, a result of the Trailaurality research group that has been funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. He is also undertaking a co-edited anthology on music and advertising as one of the Oxford Handbooks. He regularly gives papers at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies and Music and the Moving Image conferences (among others), and has published on music and media in Music, Sound and the Moving Image, the Journal of Film Music, and Music & Politics (among others).

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