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14 Secrets of Movie Trailer Editors

An interesting read from Metal Floss BY JAKE ROSSEN.

JANUARY 26, 2017

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Decades ago, Hollywood used to put previews of their coming attractions after the conclusion of their theatrical releases. The teasers earned the nickname “trailers” because they followed the feature film.

Today, trailers aren’t such an afterthought. Studios spend millions of dollars stirring up anticipation for their big-budget movies by releasing trailers that promise consumers something worth the hassle and expense of a ticket. The responsibility for taking the most dazzling 120-odd seconds from hours of footage and splicing it into a coherent—and compelling—mini-movie falls on trailer editors, who screen films months in advance in order to create previews that will build the viral buzz filmmakers look for.

To better understand the job, mental_floss spoke with several editors at three of the most highly respected firms in the business. Here’s how they get you excited about the next blockbuster.


If you think studios are worried about rough cuts of their films falling into the wrong hands, you’d be correct. As some of the few pairs of eyes outside of the production to see a movie months before release, trailer houses must make sure their offices can’t be tapped by potential pirates. Ron Beck, the owner and creative director of Tiny Hero, says that only employees at Fort Knox might be able to relate to the level of security that trailer editors deal with. “There are cameras everywhere,” he says. “We have sensors that record everyone who goes in and comes out of a door.” Rough cuts of movies typically get delivered on encrypted hard drives and are edited only on hardware that’s inaccessible to an open network.

“All of [the studios] are careful, but Marvel leads the pack,” Beck says. “Their stuff is super-strong. That’s why you rarely see their movies pirated.”


In order to begin work on marketing campaigns, trailer firms are usually given extremely early footage that has yet to be polished and edited. Rough cuts might emphasize plot points or characters that wind up getting minimized by the time the picture is done, or “locked.” David Hughes of the UK-based firm Synchronicity says he’s seen a few movies that he barely recognized once they hit theaters. “Bridget Jones’s Diary was quite dark at one point,” he says, “and I recall a totally different opening to Bowfinger where the film-within-the-film was called Star Wars rather than Chubby Rain because the accountant who wrote it was so stupid he didn’t know a film called Star Wars actually existed.”

Since films continue to get pared down right up until release, it’s also common to see scenes in trailers that don’t ultimately make the final cut. “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels [is] my favorite example, because someone wrote to complain that they had waited the whole film to see Steve Martin push an old lady into a swimming pool, as seen in the trailer, only to find that the scene wasn’t in the finished film.”


Because editors see films so far in advance, they’re often looking at footage full of green screens and unfinished effects work. But if an editor feels like a scene would bolster the trailer’s impact, they can request the studio fast-track the CGI. “We can’t ask what they shoot first, because productions usually revolve around an actor’s schedule,” Beck says. “But we can ask for visual effects stuff we need to be done first.”


Daniel Lee, who spent 10 years at Mark Woollen and Associates before migrating to the buzzed-about firm Project X, says that editors are often called upon by directors or producers to splice together a “sizzle reel” made out of stock or existing footage in order to sell a studio on a movie. “It’s becoming increasingly common to do,” he says. “It’s an inexpensive way to sell someone on the vibe of a movie.” Director Joe Carnahan commissioned a reel when he was looking to direct a theatrical version of Daredevil (above).


For last summer’s Terminator: Genisys, fans who viewed the trailer were slightly annoyed to learn—spoiler—that perpetual victim John Connor was a Terminator in yet another revision of the franchise’s confusing canon. But those edicts usually come down from the studio, according to Beck. “I like to tease, not tell,” he says. “In certain movies, though, you have to give it up, or the trailer won’t even be good. Revealing a twist is ultimately the studio’s decision, though.”


Trailers are often the result of other trailers that studios noticed were particularly effective in engaging an audience emotionally. One example: the preview for 2003’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake. “The one that always comes to mind is the trailer for the Michael Bay-produced remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacrewhere black frames were inserted off the beat to disorienting effect,” Hughes says. “This technique has been borrowed for many horror trailers since, including some that we’ve made.”

Another trend-making trailer: the one for 2010’s Inception, with its thunderous “braam” sounds that seemed to influence every heavy action/drama film that followed.


Because trailer content is subject to many of the same ratings restrictions as the feature film itself, editors often have to cut around some of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) mandates. If a trailer is a “green band,” or suitable for general audiences, that means no threatening people with firearms. “There’s a lot of minutiae, like where a gun can be pointed,” Beck says. “You can’t have someone pointing it straight at the camera, for example, or at anyone in the same frame. Sometimes we blow up [zoom] a frame to hide stuff like that.”


Studios looking to reach the widest possible audience sometimes like to hedge their bets on campaigns and enlist two different trailer vendors to create edits for the project. They’ll focus-test each and back the one with the most support. That’s not unusual, but what irks editors, Lee says, is when a studio’s marketing department decides to split the difference and create a trailer based on ideas from two different creative entities. “They might combine trailers,” he says. “We call that Frankensteining.”


Because editors have precious little time to communicate the theme or premise of a movie, having a line or two of dialogue that summarizes a character’s motivation can make all the difference. Unfortunately, not all movies come stocked with exposition. If a trailer needs a clarifying line and the actor isn’t available to record dialogue, Beck can go in and splice together sentences from words he’s already said. “We might use a sound-alike actor, or we might see if we can form whatever sentence with the lines we have. We could make ‘I need to find her’ from someone saying ‘Find her’ and ‘Need to.’”

If all else fails and an actor is needed, Hughes says there’s one relatively quick fix. “If you’ve seen a film in the last five years, you’ve probably seen a film in which at least one line of ADR [Additional Dialogue Recording] was done on an iPhone after the actor had left the set.”


Studios love when fans of film franchises dissect trailers to spot hidden references or clues. So do editors, but sometimes the Easter eggs they drop in are going to be hard for anyone outside of their family to catch. “I know a few editors, myself included, who try to slip in their voice in a piece,” Lee says. “That’s only if you have enough time to fiddle with it.” Lee’s two kids lent their voices to a sound mix for World of Warcraft: Looking for Group, a documentary about the game. “I don’t know if they made the final cut, but they’re in there.”


Of all the film genres he’s overseen, Hughes believes comedies that don’t hit the mark are his worst assignment. “I’ve made trailers for comedies where there were literally not enough jokes in the film to fill a trailer,” he says. “Going back in the mists of time, I remember the trailer for Beverly Hills Cop III having one joke in it, Serge saying something sarcastic about Axel Foley’s shoes, and then they cut that joke out of the film.”


Fall down the YouTube rabbit hole and you’ll find thousands of movie trailers cobbled together by hobbyists outside of the industry. While many might underestimate the work and craft involved in doing it professionally, a few have been able to use it as a launching pad to get noticed. “I know one or two editors who got careers because of their YouTube channels, where they were uploading stuff completely as a hobby,” Lee says.


Beck believes the majority of a trailer’s impact can be chalked up to how the images fit with the music selection. “Music is at least 50 percent of any trailer,” he says. With access to unreleased tracks from music labels, Beck will go jogging with his earphones in to sample tunes, even though he might not find a perfect visual fit for a song for months. “I’ll picture a scene and maybe see something like it a year or so later. And then I’ll go, ‘Oh, I’ve got just the song for this.’”


Ever since voiceovers for trailers largely went out of style, editors have needed to keep viewers oriented in other ways. But that doesn’t mean they can’t cheat a little. Beck says that editing a trailer for anything containing Morgan Freeman is like having a narrator. “We did Now You See Me 2 recently, and when I knew we had Morgan Freeman in the movie, I knew the whole trailer was going to be driven by him saying his lines. He’s like the voice of God.”

Another go-to performer: Ryan Gosling. Why? “He just nails it,” Beck says. “He can convey a meaning or moment so quickly that you can use it in the trailer. You’re trying to do so much in a short amount of time, and when an actor is emotive, it makes my job easier.”

Oscar-nominated editors clear up the biggest category misconception

 Some great insights on what an editor does, By Mandi Bierly, EW.com.

Leading up to Sunday’s Oscars, EW.com will take a closer look at four categories that moviegoers may mistakenly think of as “technical.” First up: Film Editing, with insights from Life of Pi’s Tim Squyres, Silver Linings Playbook’s Jay Cassidy and Crispin Struthers, and Zero Dark Thirty’s Dylan Tichenor and William Goldenberg, the latter of whom also cut Argo, making him one of only a handful of editors in Oscar history to compete with himself.

Ask a film editor what the biggest misconception is about his or her role, and the answer is the same: “It sounds funny, but a lot of people tend to think it’s a purely technical job where you literally go in and cut slates off, and the director says, ‘Do that, do that, do that,'” says William Goldenberg, Oscar-nominated this year for both Argo and Zero Dark Thirty and previously for The Insider and Seabiscuit. What will surprise those moviegoers then is just how many decisions the editor actually makes — and when. Let’s start with an overview:
• The editor begins work when cameras start rolling, not after they stop, and typically does the first cut of the film on his or her own. “This is something that people always seem surprised to find out,” says Tim Squyres, who’s edited every film Ang Lee has directed but Brokeback Mountain and received an Oscar nomination for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon before Life of Pi. “If they start shooting on a Monday, and I get the footage on Tuesday, Ang is shooting another scene on Tuesday, so he can’t be in the editing room. So the editor always does the first pass by themselves. I cut scenes and show them to Ang, and I usually don’t get any feedback, because all he needs to know from me while we’re shooting is whether the scene was covered. If he feels that he has everything he needs, he forgets about it and worries about what he’s shooting tomorrow. About two weeks after the end of shooting, we sit down and watch the whole movie as a movie, and he hasn’t seen it yet. He’s only seen it scene by scene. That’s the way it has to work. Some directors are more involved than others in editing during production — it partly depends on schedule and partly depends on the director’s preferences.”
Goldenberg, for example, who’d previously cut Gone Baby Gone for Ben Affleck, went to the Argo director’s home editing room every Sunday, even during production, to show him his week’s worth of work. “Even though I wasn’t getting specific notes from him, I was getting a feel for what he wanted. It was almost like by osmosis: just having all his conversations in my head gave me a feeling of like, Oh, I know Ben would hate this or I know this isn’t what he’s looking for.” Affleck turned over nearly 1 million feet of film, including a noteworthy amount of footage of a parrot being enticed to squawk for the tense airport finale (which Goldenberg will dissect for us later). “It was really hilarious, because you couldn’t see Ben, but you could hear him off-camera. He’s just squawking and squawking and squawking, and then the bird would finally do it, and he would squawk over the bird or be talking over it,” Goldenberg says. “It was a lot of bird.”
Zero Dark Thirty director Kathryn Bigelow, meanwhile, delivered roughly double that amount — or about 320 hours of footage — thanks to her fondness for shooting multi-camera (maybe seven at once on big scenes). It would have been impossible for one editor to handle that volume on their clock, so Goldenberg joined Dylan Tichenor, previously nominated for There Will Be Blood, at the end of shooting. “We were in a little house in Studio City. He was in the master bedroom and I was in the living room,” Goldenberg says. They worked on separate scenes, but consulted with one another and sometimes swapped, like after Goldenberg spent his first month on the climactic raid and showed a 45-minute first cut. “We kinda all knew it was too long, but Kathryn just needed to live with it for a while and sort of enjoy it in all its grandeur,” Goldenberg says. “Dylan did a pass where he was able to make it shorter, where I think if I had done it, somehow Kathryn woudn’t have accepted it as easily. I don’t know why that happens.” Offers Tichenor, “That’s one of the great things about having more than one editor: Someone passes you the sequence and then you look at it fresh and go, ‘Oh, what if we did this, this, and this? And maybe this makes more sense.’ You have this objectivity because you haven’t sat and gone through the work. That helped us enormously in this film.”
What kinds of decisions are the editors making? We asked them to walk us through scenes to show us.
Choosing the right take
As Life of Pi’s Squyres puts it, “An actor might read a particular line between six and 100 times, but only one take’s gonna be in the movie.” It’s the editor’s job to pick it, at least initially. It was on Sense and Sensibility, his fourth film with Lee, that Squyres had the epiphany all good editors experience: “It was the first film that I had done with Ang that was all in English, and it’s Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Alec Rickman, and Hugh Grant — these great, great actors. When you get footage like that, you realize that your job is really not technical. It was my job to look at something that Emma Thompson had done and say, ‘Eh, that’s not good, I’ll use this other one instead.’ And not only was I allowed to pass judgment on these tremendous actors, I was required to. I think every editor gets to that point where you go, ‘Oh, they’re actually asking me to be an artist.'”
Great directors and actors give editors a range of performances to choose from. “So part of the editor’s job is to go through these performances and calibrate which is the right tone, which is the right level of intensity to use,” says Crispin Struthers, a first-time nominee for David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook (the first film in more than 30 years to have acting nominees in all four categories). The early scene he and fellow editor Jay Cassidy, a second-time nominee after Into the Wild, point to is the fight Pat (Bradley Cooper) and Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) have when a hopeful Pat returns from a run and seeing his friend Ronnie and tries to call his ex-wife, who has a restraining order against him.
Cassidy: There was a tremendous amount of dialogue that was added on the set. He tries to call his ex-wife and he gets a disconnected signal, and then he tries to call Ronnie and leaves a message for Ronnie, and Pat and his father begin to fight over the handset of the phone, and the fight goes on for about 2 minutes. David shot a tremendous range of performance. In doing the first cut, we tended to do the most extreme version of a scene first. The Bob De Niro in that first cut, boy, you saw a Bob De Niro from Raging Bull. It was creepy.
Struthers: It was intense. A bit too intense. (Laughs)
Cassidy: And it was five minutes long. It could never stand at that length, but it’s the only way where the editing is a continuation of a discovery on the set of how this behavior should be calibrated in the film. You sort of begin with the extreme and then peel it back. What was interesting is that it got peeled back to about a 2 minute and 26 second scene, and then we didn’t change it for about 2 months, and it was always about De Niro and Bradley fighting over the phone and “Take your medication, take your medication.” Then we got to the first preview, and we took it out completely. So the first time we previewed the picture, De Niro simply complains about the Redskins beating the Eagles and the doorbell rings, and it’s 12 seconds long. This 5-minute scene got squeezed down to 12 seconds. In the second preview, we put some pieces of it back, and it was 23 seconds. And then the third preview, it got a complete recut, and we chose new performances, especially on De Niro, and they were kind of a gentler Bob. What David had said he was looking for was Bob’s anguish at seeing his son so manic, as opposed to his anger at not taking the medication. So in the third preview, all the dialogue about “Take your medication,” “I don’t need my medication” was all taken out, and it simply became about “Don’t behave this way,” and it was really about the character’s pain at seeing his son in this fashion. And then that version got recut again for the seventh preview, and then the final cut of the scene was done in July.
Struthers: As Jay says, we went for the most intense, full-on Robert De Niro amazing performance first. And then we realized this was too much too soon for this film. We couldn’t peak this early and build up to crescendos that were gonna come later. That’s why we initially overreacted by pulling it back to almost nothing, before coming back to the kind of Goldilocks scene that we arrived at, which did what it was meant to.
Cassidy: Also, when we looked at the scenes before it, we realized that before Pat’s run, they had argued already about taking the medication, so if you left all of Bob’s protesting in about “Taking your medication,” it almost felt redundant. I remember when we changed the takes, it was like, “Oh, we’re looking for this thing on Bob that’s the pain of it,” and there was one take in particular. Pieces of that take had been used, but only when you took out the other material, the “Take your medication, take your medication,” could you see what De Niro was doing. Fantastic.
Believe it or not, Struthers adds, that later bedroom scene of Pat Sr. breaking down (pictured) while telling Pat that he wants to do everything he can now to help him get back on his feet was, at one point, not in the movie, as they were looking to trim. They weren’t sure they could go from Pat Sr. being that emotional with his son upstairs to Pat Sr. giving his son a pep talk about attending the Eagles game downstairs. “We were thinking, Gosh, you can’t have both of these De Niro scenes right next to each other,” Cassidy says, “but you know what, you could.”
The tonal balancing act was also at the center of Argo, and never more delicate than in the sequence when Alan Arkin’s character organizes a read-through of the fake hit Argo at the Beverly Hilton.
Goldenberg: It’s a microcosm of the whole movie in a way, because we’re combining all these different tones in this three-minute sequence: the read-through of the fake script, which is with these actors in silly costumes saying kind of cheesy dialogue; combined with a mock execution with the hostages in the Embassy; combined with what our houseguests are doing; combined with stock footage of newscasters at the time. I always felt when I read the script — and I think Ben and [Oscar-nominated screenwriter] Chris Terrio felt the same way — that if we could make that sequence work in terms of mixing all these tones, then it was indicative of how it could work for the whole movie.
I did it over and over and over again until it felt right, moving things around — some things were subtle, some things were big moves like switching sections to not juxtapose anything silly with anything incredibly dramatic and life-threatening. I remember looking at it at some points while I was first cutting it and thinking I had it really good, and then looking at it and going, “I hate this. It’s not working at all.” And then I’d work on it some more. From the point where I hated it to where I loved it, it was a matter of just subtle adjustments. It really does show the subtlety of editing and how little things can upset the whole thing. Michael Mann [for whom Goldenberg cut Heat, The Insider, Ali, and Miami Vice] always referred to it as mercury: you gather it up and then one little part moves off to the side. That’s kinda how you feel when you’re cutting, especially something very sensitive like a lot of the scenes in Argo, where it was so easy to go sideways and mess it up.
The hard line Bigelow drew for the tone of Zero Dark Thirty is, perhaps, best explained in the sequences she didn’t use.
Tichenor: She only reacts to things when they feel real to her. I mean, there are scenes cut out of the movie and they were expensive, and they took a long time to shoot, but it just wasn’t part of the movie for her. One of the very early sequences involves Ammar, our detainee played by Reda Kateb, who did so well in the movie. There was a whole sequence where Daniel, Jason Clarke’s character, goes in with a local ISI team, and on a tip, they’ve infiltrated this little town and find him in a house and extract him. There was a little action sequence with a little chase through the house and an alley way, and they grab him. Kathryn saw that first cut, and the sequence played really well, quite like a Michael Mann movie, I thought, (Laughs) and she just said, “You know, when I see this, I feel like someone is showing me a movie. I don’t want to feel like I’m watching a movie. Let’s try to do it without it.” And we did, handedly. It made one of the most striking cuts in the movie, actually, to go from the 9/11 montage of sound in the beginning to just the hard cut of the sun streaming through the window in the detainee center and Jason walking in. It’s a stomach-clenching moment.
Keeping the story rolling when everything is happening, and when you’re simply adrift
An editor wants to draw the audience into the story and keep them there. Tichenor paraphrases a quote he’s sure others have said, but that stuck with him when he heard it from Goldenberg’s mentor, Michael Kahn, who’s won three Oscars and is nominated again this year for Lincoln: Editing is often trying to find the least amount of material to effectively tell the story. “Audiences will react, even unconsciously, very badly to repetitive information. If they feel like, ‘Yeah, I got that already, you don’t need to show that to me again,’ then they start to get shifty, or bored, or you lose the tension that you’ve gained up to that point,” Tichenor says.
The Zero Dark Thirty editors point to the section of the film when they’re tracking Osama bin Laden’s courier Abu Ahmed — from the moment they get his mother’s phone number from a Kuwait informant to where they actually find him in his little white SUV driving around Pakistan. “Being able to tell that story clearly, having the audience track along with it, and having it build to a culmination was, I think, one of the more difficult sections of the movie,” Goldenberg says. “Hopefully it doesn’t appear that way, and it’s exciting and great to watch, but there were so many different ways to go…. There was one day where Kathryn and I had moved some stuff around and taken big sections of it out trying to accelerate it, and we thought we had just like done it and we were so excited. And then she was in the other room, and I looked at it more carefully, and I realized, Oh this doesn’t really make sense, because how does this person know that? And the look of disappointment on Kathryn’s face. I was so heartbroken to go to tell her. You felt like it was a punch in the stomach.” (How do they know when they’ve finally got it right? For that, Goldenberg likes to quote director Tony Scott, for whom he cut 2005′s Domino. “He would look at a scene and say, ‘Something itches.’ He didn’t know what it was, but something would bug him, and you’d go attack that area. You’ve just got to work until it doesn’t bug you anymore.”)
Argo was, obviously, another film that had built-in tension. “Even watching the dailies, my stomach was in a knot,” Goldenberg says. “I remember watching the dailies where they’re all waiting at passport control and I sent Ben an email saying, ‘Just watching the dailies makes me anxious.’ And I think he somehow misinterpreted my email as saying it was a lot of film and I was anxious about it. He’s like, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll take our time, and we’ll get through it all.’ And I was like, ‘No, no, no. I’m anxious because the footage is so good it’s making me feel anxious.’ I knew it would only get better as we cut the pieces together.”
When editors present first cuts of scenes to directors, they like to include rough ideas of sound effects and temporary music, so it feels like a film. It was Goldenberg’s idea to have the sound slowly fade out in the airport to make the audience feel as though they were inside the houseguests’ worried minds:
Goldenberg: What gave me the idea was when Ben Affleck’s character comes into Tehran [earlier in the film], he’s at passport check-in and there’s a little skirmish off to his left. Some guy gets hauled away by the police, and then they stamp his passport, and I made the sound of that passport stamp a little bit accentuated. He’d gotten a little distracted, so it snapped him back to attention, and he clears passport control. When they went through that check point on the way out, I thought it would create a whole different level of tension to slowly drop the sound out. I used this sort of tonal temporary music that had this droning heartbeat feel to it. All the characters were so convincing at looking scared, so I had great shots to cut to and cut away from. I think when you’re super nervous like that, your heart is beating out of your chest and you’re trying not to give that away. It’s not the first time anybody has ever done it in a movie, but dropping the sound out subtly really gets you in each character’s mindset and feeling how terrified they were. Then I used that sound again of the passport stamp to snap everybody back out and bring all the real sounds back. [Argo’s Oscar-nominated sound mixing team] was able to take what I did in my Avid, and just make it even better. Instead of a small editing room, it’s got to fill a big theater, so they were able to take that idea and really just make it even more impactful.
Because of all the visual effects in Life of Pi, Squyres and Ang Lee had to find a number of different ways to be able to sit down and watch it like a movie. “We developed a lot of things to put the crude animation and crude backgrounds in right away so that we didn’t have to sit there and watch a boat with no tiger in it and walls of the wave tank with no sky and no ocean,” Squyres says. Still, that wasn’t the toughest part. Nor was editing in 3-D glasses for two years. It was structuring the story — cutting back and forth between the storytellers in the present day and the story that’s being told in the past, and then the extended flashback to Pi’s journey. “Our main character is drifting at sea. He’s not planning the bank robbery or trying to coordinate all kinds of things — stuff just happens when it happens, without any real cause and effect. So to give the audience a sense of being adrift at sea without them feeling like the movie is adrift is actually quite tricky.”
The scene Squyres points to is when Pi gets the stick and tries to train Richard Parker.
Squyres: We had a sense of what their interaction was going to consist of with the stick and the meat, but rather than animating what we thought the tiger might do, we figured we would work with real tigers and let them show us things. We shot about 4.5 hours worth of footage with real tigers on a boat. Now the boat was not in the water, the boat was on a gimbal, the thing that rocks it to simulate water. As our tiger trainer said, “Tigers don’t act. Tigers just behave like tigers.” They gave us all kinds of interesting behaviors, some of which was great reference for the animators, some of which really informed our thinking about what their interaction would be. There’s a shot in that scene where the tiger sharpens his claws on the bench. We never planned that, that’s just what the tiger did. And according to the tiger trainer, that’s a nervous tiger trying to pretend he’s not nervous. So I got all this footage, went through it myself, and then the tiger trainer came in with me for a couple of days and we structured out some possibilities for how the scene could work. Ang came in, and we presented that and figured out what their interaction was going to be. Three weeks after we shot the tigers, we shot the part with our actor, because at that point, he knew, and the animation supervisor knew, exactly what the scene was going to consist of. There are 23 used shots in the film with real tigers, 10 of them in that scene.
Now that you know what an editor does, here’s the kicker: “It’s not always the case that editing should be invisible — it depends on what kind of movie you’re making — but generally speaking, if you’re watching the editing, you’re not watching the movie,” Squyres says. “Ideally, when you’re editing, you’re doing kind of what you would do if you were in the room watching the scene that’s going on. When you cut to something new, it should seem like what you’re seeing now is better than what you would have seen if you stayed where you were. You’re getting some new piece of information that keeps you engaged and involved in the scene. And if it does, then you just watch the story and enjoy it.”

More Bodies, Fewer Cuts — Editing John Wick Chapter 2

By Evan Schiff in Timeline Tuesday, Video Editing


The day I interviewed for John Wick Chapter 2 was the first day of production. For whatever reason, hiring an editor had been delayed until cameras were already rolling, and Chad Stahelski, the director, called me for my first interview during lunch on Day 1. By the time I officially landed the job, flew out to NYC and got set up, it was Day 11. To begin a film of this size 11 days behind, with a director and producers you’ve never worked for and who don’t know you, was stressful to say the least. But as I sat in my new office scrolling through all the footage they had already shot, it became obvious quickly that I was about to be a part of something awesome.

Editorial Style

One of the things that the first John Wick is known for is its relentless, wide view action. Chad and David Leitch, who co-directed the first John Wick, wanted you to see how the action was being done, to see that it was Keanu doing it, and to make it clear that nothing was being hidden behind tricky edits or shaky cameras.

John Wick Chapter 2 follows the same ideology. As the action unfolds, we intentionally stay wider and hold on shots longer than a viewer might be used to. Chad’s edict to me when I first started assembling the action together was that he never wanted to go close on the action unless we were forced to by some other problem, and I think we succeeded in doing that. Keanu and the whole stunt team are so good at what they do that my job was to find the best vantage points for each section of action and then stay out of the way.

With the dialogue, we had a similar approach. The world of John Wick is one with rules, etiquette, and respect. We directly reference this in the film, but you can also feel it in the way our characters interact with each other. For instance, everyone talks at a measured pace and no one interrupts each other when they’re speaking. Our dialogue style is much more John Wayne than Aaron Sorkin. I cut the dialogue scenes to match this performance style, which means I almost always let our actors say their lines on camera and in full. When you have actors like Keanu, Ian McShane, and Laurence Fishburne (to name just a few of our excellent cast), why wouldn’t you?


I won’t get into the weeds too much on Production, but there are a couple interesting moments to call out:

On my first weekend in NYC, I spent a day with 2nd Unit Director Darrin Prescott assembling our big car chase. It was a really fun day, not to mention beneficial for both of us. Darrin got to make sure the vision for the footage he shot was reflected in the edit, and having him in the room saved me from needing to guess at how 5 days’ worth of car footage shot out of order was supposed to be arranged.

Since I started so far behind camera, I forwent my usual temp sound and music work and just focused on getting assembly cuts of every scene as quickly as I could. New footage was coming in every day of course, but I didn’t want to burn myself out right at the start, so I kept to regular working hours as much as possible. All in all it took me 3-4 weeks to completely catch up to camera.

Production wrapped in NYC just before Christmas, and then resumed in Rome in January. I went to Rome for 10 days while they were still location scouting so I could work with Chad before shooting started up again. Most of the film’s big dialogue scenes were already shot, so we focused on refining those first. By the time I left Rome, we had solid cuts of our big dialogue scenes, with some edits that still remain in the final version.

Assembly Timeline


When Post-Production started in LA, I went head first into reshaping the biggest slow spots from the assembly. One result of this is a really fun montage I made from 3 scenes that were intended to be sequential. This montage is now one of the most memorable parts of the film. I also sent some scenes to the cutting room floor that strayed too far from the main narrative, and moved some bigger chunks around to keep the momentum of the story going strong.

For the fight scenes, Chad likes to experiment with his own assemblies, so we set him up with his own Media Composer system and an isolated copy of the project. In this film especially it’s important that the martial arts and gun work are flawless, so making use of Chad’s depth of knowledge in those areas was crucial. He and I would then compare cuts for each fight and make a hybrid version with the best of each other’s edits.

Since we shot more dialogue than we needed, we also spent a lot of time figuring out what the minimum amount of information was that we needed to convey, and then trimming the rest out. This is always a bit of a balancing act, since you don’t want to confuse anyone by moving too quickly, but you also don’t want an exposition scene to outstay its welcome. Plus, there are going to be people who see this film without having seen the first one, and it was important to make sure those viewers don’t feel like they’re missing any required information.

Picture Lock Timeline

John Wick Chapter 2 comes out in the U.S. on February 10th. I’m really proud of the film and hope you all enjoy it!

By Evan Schiff in Timeline Tuesday, Video Editing


The Kuleshov Effect influences every film and every filmmaker. Understanding it can give insight to “movie magic” and creating the meaning you want expressed in your project.

The Kuleshov Effect is the single most important concept to editing, if not to filmmaking itself. It’s a cornerstone of visual storytelling; through this phenomenon that we can suggest meaning and manipulate space, as well as time. It is a fundamental aspect of “movie magic,” one which every filmmaker needs to understand.

Kuleshov and Film Theory
Lev Kuleshov (1899-1970), was a Russian filmmaker, considered by some to be the first film theorist due to his work dating to the 1910s. Kuleshov asked the question: what made cinema a distinct art, separate from photography, literature or theatre? He found that any form of art consists of two things, the material itself and the way in which the material is organized. Following this logic, Kuleshov found that the organization of individual shots, also known as montage, is what makes film stand apart.


In 1921, Kuleshov set up a series of cinematic demonstrations which gave the phenomenon its name. In these experiments, he projected the face of a well-known actor, then cut to a plate of soup, he then showed another shot of the same actor, then a girl in a coffin, the final sequence was the actor’s face, then an attractive young woman. Audiences responded that the actor seemed in the first sequence to be hungry, in the second, quite mournful and finally seemed to exude lust. In reality, all three shots of the actor were the exact same, his face was interpreted differently based on what it was put next to in the edit. Additionally, even though there was no establishing shot of the actor together with objects from the other shots, they seemed to the audience to be in close proximity to one another. Through the ordering of the shots, two separate places seemed to be one whole continuous location to the audience. Manipulating space and time was possible through the use of editing. This was a huge moment for cinema, with Kuleshov declaring montage to be the central principle that defines film as an art on its own.

This was a huge moment for cinema, with Kuleshov declaring montage to be the central principle that defines film as an art on its own.

Kuleshov’s theories were instrumental in the creation of a powerful genre of filmmaking, Soviet Montage, which was eventually suppressed under Stalin. But the Kuleshov Effect lives on, exemplified in almost every film or video that we encounter.

Understanding the Kuleshov Effect allows editors to better control the tone and meaning found in their films. Through the choices in how shots are organized and sequenced, filmmakers can create new meaning by juxtaposing unrelated images. With the illusion of condensing space, we are able to create new worlds, connecting places that were previously separate. Thus, the Kuleshov Effect is a huge part of the magic that is film.

Russian film theorists in the early 1900s were hugely influential in shaping how cinema was to develop. They saw film as a powerful tool of social transformation, inherently political and inextricably linked to the filmmakers’ worldview. Kuleshov’s contemporaries explored the power of montage and their innovations paved the way for contemporary filmmakers.
Sergei Eisenstein, promoted the idea that the essential element of all art is conflict. Eisenstein advocated dialectic montage — that a sequence of shots can have more meaning the the sum of its individual parts. He was inspired by his study of Japanese Kanji which juxtaposed two concepts to create a new third concept. Eisenstein’s films “Battleship Potemkin” (1925) and “Strike” (1925) are both classics of Russian cinema.

Dziga Vertov eschewed dramatic films as a corrupting influence. An early experimenter in the realm of documentary, Vertov pioneered many modern staples of filmmaking in his newsreels. In 2014, “Sight and Sound” named his film, “Man with a Movie Camera” (1929), the best documentary ever.

Taken from an article written by Erik Fritts for videomaker magazine.

Movie theater owners call for shorter trailers

Richard Verrier from The LA Times published an interesting article about the rift between Theater Owners and Distributors.
Moviegoers fed up with long trailers may get some relief at the multiplex.

The trade group representing major theater chains announced that it was clamping down on the duration of movie trailers — and how far in advance they are shown before a film’s release.

As part of new guidelines released Monday, the National Assn. of Theatre Owners called for limiting the length of movie trailers to two minutes. That is down from 21/2 minutes, which for several years has been the standard recommended by the Motion Picture Assn. of America.

Seeking to “maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of the industry’s marketing efforts,” the theater owners group also called for restricting marketing time for trailers to 150 days prior to the release date of the film, and 120 days for all other in-theater marketing materials.

Distributors would be allowed two exemptions a year for trailer length and marketing lead time.


“These guidelines will evolve in response to technological innovations, marketing and advertising trends, competition in the marketplace, and consumer demands,” the theater owners group said in a statement. “The guidelines are completely voluntary and will be implemented through individual exhibition company policies, which may vary.”

Trailer length has been a source of annoyance among consumers, as well as a bone of contention between theater owners and studios, who often haggle over how to divvy up box-office revenue.
Although studios and theater owners view trailers as a key way to market upcoming movies, exhibitors have grown increasingly concerned that long promotional spots consume valuable advertising space, reveal too many plot lines and can be ineffective if they are screened too many months ahead of the movie’s release date.

The sides also have clashed over the growing practice of charging for trailers.

Traditionally, theater owners were content to run the advertisements for upcoming movies on the understanding that they drove box-office receipts and concession-stand sales. Studios paid to make the trailers and cinemas screened them without charge.

But in a sign of the trailers’ rising value, some large theater chains are charging studios to run their trailers. Some studios pay as much as $100,000 to play a trailer for one film. Last year, the nation’s largest cinema chain, Regal Entertainment, cut the number of free trailers that studios can run with their own movies from two to one.

The practice is a sore point with distributors, which have complained that they’re being asked to pay to get their trailers played or risk getting shut out.

The theater owners group’s executive board voted last April to create new industrywide guidelines for trailer length and placement as well marketing lead-in time.

Several studios balked at the initial recommendations, which included a 90-day window for releasing trailers and did not allow for exemptions.

After discussions with executives of the seven largest distributors, the theater owners group agreed to revise the guidelines.

The guidelines will go into effect for any film released domestically on or after Oct. 1.





Movie trailer makers multiply as online viewing of previews soars.

Here’s a recent article in The LA Times, by Ryan Faughnder, about the burgeoning scene of Hollywood movie trailers.

Movie trailers have become their own kind of blockbusters.

Hollywood studios collectively spent $3.16 billion last year on U.S. marketing efforts to draw people to the theaters in the face of competition from new entertainment options, according to Nielsen.

The struggle to reach the mass audience has given rise to a diverse industry of producers that cuts feature films into bite-sized appetizers. About 15 years ago, there were only a dozen or so companies distilling motion pictures down to 21/2-minute previews. Now there are more than 100.

Fueling this growth has been an explosion in viewing online, where previews can generate as much buzz as the films themselves. People have watched more than 35 million hours of movie trailers on YouTube so far in 2015, up 90% from the same period last year.

“For us, it’s a heyday of trailer-making,” said David Stern, whose 10-year-old company, Create Advertising Group, has worked on campaigns for “Fantastic Four,” “Minions” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”

The rise of trailer companies is largely due to technology. New digital advances for filmmakers have made it easier and cheaper for aspiring trailer cutters to get started on their own, and the reach of YouTube means a bigger audience than ever.

Established players such as Trailer Park, Mark Woollen & Associates and Create Advertising have had their eyes on the broader market for years. But some start-ups have gained a foothold by appealing to specific demographic groups.

Soda Creative, based in the hip Arts District of downtown Los Angeles, is one of the companies that have sprouted up to take advantage of studios’ appetite for targeted marketing. Owner Jaime Gamboa has made a specialty of the burgeoning Latino market that has become increasingly important to Hollywood and driven the success of huge films such as “Furious 7.”

He and business partner Jaehoon Oh, who started Soda in 2013, try to amplify parts of the movie that will appeal to Latinos without pigeonholing them. Their “Guardians of the Galaxy” commercial for Univision, for example, highlighted the Disney superhero movie’s action and swagger, not its offbeat humor and 1970s pop music.

Disney also recruited Soda for its feel-good movie “McFarland USA,” about a white PE coach who leads a team of Latino cross-country runners. Disney desired a more “culturally rich” feel for the drama’s second trailer, Gamboa said.

It wanted a different song to play over the footage, replacing the U2 track used in the first trailer. Gamboa’s team and Disney ultimately landed on a song from Colombian rocker Juanes.

Disney recruited Soda Creative for its feel-good movie “McFarland USA,” about a white PE coach who leads a team of Latino cross-country runners. Disney desired a more “culturally rich” feel for the drama’s second trailer, Jaime Gamboa said.
“The way other major agencies were approaching the Hispanic market was, to be frank, very archaic,” said Gamboa, 41, who is Mexican American. “We’re not coming at it from the perspective of ‘I’m Hispanic, so I know all about Hispanics.’ We’ve been involved in the research.” The focus on Latinos appears to be working.

Gamboa’s staff has more than doubled to 12 full-time employees in the last year, and he says his revenue is growing at an annual rate of 40% to 44%. The company this month moved to a 4,000-square-foot space from a cramped temporary office.

The audience for trailers is not just diverse, it’s hungry, experts say. The explosion of online video has helped make trailer release dates into events that get their own promotional push. Studios increasingly hype teaser trailers that come out ahead of the full versions, and announce when they’ll unveil each new video to keep the audience interested for months leading up to opening weekend.

Websites such as YouTube have become the go-to place to view movie ads, especially for young people who aren’t trekking to the multiplex as often as their parents did. The second official teaser for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” racked up 88 million online views on its first day alone, Disney said in April.

“The marketing of the marketing has become a prime secret weapon,” said Craig Murray, whose Los Angeles firm mOcean has helped with campaigns for Marvel’s “Ant-Man” and Warner Bros.’ “American Sniper.”

There are risks to flooding the Internet with movie ads. Trailers can bomb, just like the movies they sell.

Kenneth Branagh, who has starred in and directed several Shakespeare film adaptations, including 1989’s “Henry V” and 1996’s “Hamlet,” will direct a new live-action version of Disney’s “Cinderella.” Lily James will play Cinderella with Richard Madden as her prince.
“Monkey Kingdom” tells the story of survival centered on a newborn monkey and its mother. Since the duo were not born into the top of the social hierarchy of monkeys deep in the jungles of South Asia, they are forced to fend for themselves.
Fans have long complained about pre-rolls that go on too long, give away too much of the plot or mislead the audience. One filmgoer in 2011 sued the distributor of the Ryan Gosling movie “Drive,” contending the marketing suggested it would be similar to the “Fast & Furious” films. She lost her case.

Trailers have been mocked for their familiar formulas and cliches — think “In a world …” voice-overs and endless “from the makers of …” roll calls. A common complaint: Why see the movie, when all the best jokes are in the preview?

In today’s culture of social media and fanboy websites, trailers are parsed and criticized without mercy. The “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” trailer, released in April shortly after a low-quality version leaked, met with decidedly mixed reviews.

“You can have backlash, for sure,” said Fandango Chief Content Officer Sandro Corsaro, who oversees trailers for the online ticket seller. “The ante has definitely been upped.”

But sometimes it works.

Disney sparked a frenzy over its 88-second preview for the next “Star Wars” movie last year by announcing it would run in just 30 North American theaters on Black Friday. The Burbank studio unveiled the preview online the same day to tens of millions of views over the holiday weekend, sparking wide excitement about the franchise reboot that debuts in December.

And the official trailers from the studios are only a part of the boom. Fans upload “reaction” videos by the thousands, giving their first takes on the previews.

For the summer hit “Jurassic World,” fan uploads earned more than twice as many views as the videos Universal Pictures put up, according to the video technology firm Zefr, which helps entertainment companies track and analyze clips on YouTube.

“It’s all been for the benefit of the marketers, because they can harness the power of the fans,” said Zefr co-founder Rich Raddon.

Warner Bros. this month tried to keep a lid on the Comic Con trailer for the super-villain movie “Suicide Squad.” But in the face of leaks, the Burbank movie giant begrudgingly relented and released the footage on the Internet.

Studios are willing to spend $50,000 to $500,000 to get a trailer right.

Marketing pushes for the biggest blockbusters can start more than a year before the film’s release. Studios tap firms like mOcean and Create Advertising to come up with ideas even before the picture begins shooting, basing teaser concepts on scripts and storyboards.

“The marketing of the marketing has become a prime secret weapon,” said Craig Murray, whose Los Angeles firm MOcean has helped with campaigns for Marvel’s “Ant-Man,” pictured, and Warner Bros.’ “American Sniper.”
The firms sometimes get complete movies to work with. But with bigger, effects-driven films, the companies tend to get piecemeal access to scenes as they’re completed. A single teaser trailer concept can take two to six months to come to fruition, as it goes through the painstaking efforts of writers, editors, voice-over actors and music supervisors.

Not everyone wants more marketing. Trailer length has been a bone of contention between theater owners and studios, as well as a source of annoyance for audiences. Last year the National Assn. of Theatre Owners put out new guidelines to clamp down on the duration of trailers and how far in advance they are shown before a film’s release.

On the other hand, trailers have proved popular enough to spawn their own awards shows. The annual Golden Trailer Awards — considered the Oscars for short attention spans — has recently given top honors to spots for “Furious 7,” “Gravity” and “Iron Man 3.” It bestows an especially dubious title, the Golden Fleece, for the best advertisement of a bad movie.

The last ceremony, held in May, played to a sell-out crowd at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills. The event, hosted by “Silicon Valley” actor T.J. Miller, doled out trophies for “Furious 7,” “Big Hero 6” and “Ted 2.” The Golden Fleece went to “The Giver,” and “Inherent Vice” won the Don LaFontaine Award — for best voice-over.

“People’s attention spans are shrinking,” said Evelyn Brady-Watters, who launched the Golden Trailer Awards in 1999 with her sister Monica Brady. “You can’t waste a second of the time you have in front of people.”


Link to the original article


Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times

 Tags: Editor, Los Angeles, Hollywood.