The Art of Making Movie Trailers: A Longtime Movie Trailer Editor Breaks Down Classic Previews for Dr. Strangelove, Carrie, and Others

No art form is as sub­ject to trend and fash­ion as the Hol­ly­wood film — except, per­haps, the Hol­ly­wood trail­er. If you came of age as a movie­go­er in the nine­teen-nineties, as I did, you’ll remem­ber hear­ing hun­dreds of grav­el­ly-voiced promis­es of trans­porta­tion to “a world where the sun burns cold, and the wind blows cold­er”; to “a world where great risks can bring extra­or­di­nary rewards”; to “a world where dream­ers and believ­ers are mirac­u­lous­ly trans­formed into heav­en­ly crea­tures.” Prac­ti­cal­ly all of these  lines were deliv­ered by voice-over artist Don LaFontaine; when he died in 2008, the “in a world…” trail­er went with him.

LaFontaine gets his due in the Vox video at the top of the post, which exam­ines the art of the movie trail­er through the eyes of edi­tor Bill Neil. Neil’s own résumé includes the trail­ers for mod­ern entries in var­i­ous hor­ror fran­chis­es, like remakes of The Texas Chain­saw Mas­sacre and The Ami­tyville Hor­ror, as well as the 2018 Hal­loween.

This placed him well to cut one togeth­er for Nope by Jor­dan Peele, an auteur keen on putting old tropes of genre film to new ends. The project gave Neil a chance to exer­cise his own retro-repur­pos­ing instinct, and here he lays out a few of the sources — Car­pen­ter’s The Fog, Steven Spiel­berg’s Close Encoun­ters of the Third Kind — to which he paid homage while fill­ing the trail­er with intrigue.

With Nope, as with most every film, Neil made its trail­er with­out see­ing the fin­ished prod­uct. Rather, he had to work with raw footage as it was being shot, which results in vis­i­ble dif­fer­ences between the images in the trail­er and those in the actu­al movie. (In some cas­es, scenes excerpt­ed in a trail­er end up cut out entire­ly.) Such restric­tions have a way of inspir­ing edi­tors to come up with new tech­niques, some of which become high­ly influ­en­tial: in the video, Neil high­lights the fea­tures of clas­sic trail­ers for pic­tures like Dr. Strangelove, Car­rie, and Alien, iden­ti­fy­ing the most endur­ing ele­ments of their lega­cy in his craft.

When those movies came out in the nine­teen-six­ties, sev­en­ties, and ear­ly eight­ies, most trail­ers were seen in one place: the movie the­ater. (And in those days, as Neil notes, trail­ers were made not by spe­cial­ized pro­duc­tion hous­es, but employ­ees in the stu­dio or even the film­mak­ers them­selves.) Then came the home-video era, which chal­lenged edi­tors with defeat­ing the view­er’s instinct to hit fast-for­ward. Today, trail­ers reflect the dom­i­nance of what Neil calls the “bumper,” a flash of max­i­mum excite­ment in the first few sec­onds that sug­gests “it’s gonna get crazy by the end” — on the the­o­ry that, because you’re prob­a­bly watch­ing on Youtube, you won’t hes­i­tate to click that skip but­ton oth­er­wise.

Relat­ed con­tent:

John Lan­dis Decon­structs Trail­ers of Great 20th Cen­tu­ry Films: Cit­i­zen Kane, Sun­set Boule­vard, 2001 & More

Com­pare the Orig­i­nal Trail­ers of Clas­sic Films with Their Mod­ern Updates: Casablan­ca, Dog Day After­noon & The Exor­cist

Watch 25 Alfred Hitch­cock Trail­ers, Excit­ing Films in Their Own Right

Watch the 7 Hour Trail­er for the 720 Hour Film, Ambiancé, the Longest Movie in His­to­ry

The Creepy 13th-Cen­tu­ry Melody That Shows Up in Movies Again & Again: An Intro­duc­tion to “Dies Irae”

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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