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Pop Culture

How movie trailers get you hooked in a matter of seconds, explained by a guy who makes them

"It's like trying to sell a jigsaw puzzle."

movie trailers

Bill Neil breaking down iconic trailers for Vox.

We know that a ton of dedicated time, energy and artistic skill goes into bringing movies to life. But what about the thing that first introduces you to the movie? That 60-second video meant to encapsulate every thrill, swoon and jump scare the story promises to deliver, if only you are brave enough to step out to the movie theater (or these days, your couch) for two hours.

We are, of course, talking about the movie trailer. And take it from the ones who create them, trailers are in and of themselves a complex art form—with just a dash of psychological manipulation.


“It’s like trying to sell a jigsaw puzzle," quipped Bill Neil, trailer editor for Buddha Jones. “And in order to sell the jigsaw puzzle, you can’t show the whole picture on the box. You are only allowed to show four pieces of that puzzle.”

In an interview with Vox, Neil explains that most of the time, trailer editors are only given bits of the movie’s footage called dailies, and from that footage, they piece together what they think the overall feeling of the film is going to be. This certainly helps explain why some trailers might appear to be selling completely different movies than what was actually watched. Part of the art is in the guessing.

Once an editor has the gist of what they’re selling, it’s their job to pack a hefty emotional punch in a short amount of time. There are a few techniques that can help with this, such as a “rug pull,” where the trailer takes a distinct tone shift, usually going from lighthearted to something more unsettling. This shift can happen abruptly or gradually.

But perhaps no technique is as engaging as sound design, which Neil describes as “the soul of the trailer.” In just a single minute-long teaser, Neil might compose an entire symphony of sound effects.

For Jordan Peele’s “Nope,” Neil used Stevie Wonder’s “Fingertips” throughout the trailer in several different ways—first playing it diegetically (meaning that characters interact with it in the context of a scene), then matching the sounds of a galloping horse to the song’s percussion, then giving it a creepy echo followed by silence, finishing with a deconstructed version of the song under a layer of other sounds.

In case you didn’t know, “Nope” is (SPOILER ALERT) an alien horror movie. So Neil drew a lot of visual inspirations from movies like “Close Encounters of a Third Kind,” even formatting some of the onscreen text to subtly look like a descending spaceship.

All in all, these choices make for a super creepy trailer.

As with any art form, trailer making has evolved throughout the years. Gone are the days of heavy voiceovers, and technology has made it easier than ever to access ever-growing sound effects libraries. But at the end of the day, the challenge remains the same—make people want to see the movie and make them want it fast.

Check out Neil’s full interview below, where he breaks down several iconic trailers throughout the years, starting all the way back in the 60s and going forward to the present day. It’s only further proof that trailers really do deserve their own Oscar category.

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Commence epic reply...


(full text transcribed under the post).

A Facebook user recently commented that the Eagles had "played like they were wearing tutus!!!"

Our response:

"With all due respect to the Eagles, let's take a minute to look at what our tutu wearing women have done this month:

By tomorrow afternoon, the ballerinas that wear tutus at Pennsylvania Ballet will have performed The Nutcracker 27 times in 21 days. Some of those women have performed the Snow scene and the Waltz of the Flowers without an understudy or second cast. No 'second string' to come in and spell them when they needed a break. When they have been sick they have come to the theater, put on make up and costume, smiled and performed. When they have felt an injury in the middle of a show there have been no injury timeouts. They have kept smiling, finished their job, bowed, left the stage, and then dealt with what hurts. Some of these tutu wearers have been tossed into a new position with only a moments notice. That's like a cornerback being told at halftime that they're going to play wide receiver for the second half, but they need to make sure that no one can tell they've never played wide receiver before. They have done all of this with such artistry and grace that audience after audience has clapped and cheered (no Boo Birds at the Academy) and the Philadelphia Inquirer has said this production looks "better than ever".

So no, the Eagles have not played like they were wearing tutus. If they had, Chip Kelly would still be a head coach and we'd all be looking forward to the playoffs."

Happy New Year!

In case it wasn't obvious, toughness has nothing to do with your gender.

Gendered and homophobic insults in sports have been around basically forever — how many boys are called a "pansy" on the football field or told they "throw like a girl" in Little League?

"They played like they were wearing tutus" is the same deal. It's shorthand for "You're kinda ladylike, which means you're not tough enough."

Pure intimidation.

Photo by Ralph Daily/Flickr.

Toughness, however, has a funny way of not being pinned to one particular gender. It's not just ballerinas, either. NFL cheerleaders? They get paid next to nothing to dance in bikini tops and short-shorts in all kinds of weather — and wear only ever-so-slightly heavier outfits when the thermometer drops below freezing. And don't even get me started on how mind-bogglingly badass the Rockettes are.

Toughness also has nothing to do with what kind of clothes you wear.

As my colleague Parker Molloy astutely points out, the kinds of clothes assigned to people of different genders are, and have always been, basically completely arbitrary. Pink has been both a "boys color" and a "girls color" at different points throughout history. President Franklin D. Roosevelt — longtime survivor of polio, Depression vanquisher, wartime leader, and no one's idea of a wimp — was photographed in his childhood sporting a long blonde hairstyle and wearing a dress.

Many of us are conditioned to see a frilly pink dance costume and think "delicate," and to look at a football helmet and pads and think "big and strong." But scratch the surface a little bit, and you'll meet tutu-wearing ballerinas who that are among toughest people on the planet and cleat-and-helmet-wearing football players who are ... well. The 2015 Eagles.

You just can't tell from their outerwear.

Ballerinas wear tutus for the same reason football players wear uniforms and pads:

Photo by zaimoku_woodpile/Flickr.


To get the job done.


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