We’re living in a golden age of movie trailers, and we have trailer production companies to thank for it.
In 2014, the Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer made headlines when it netted 35 million views in a single day. No one had predicted audiences would need only 24 hours to make it “the most popular thing Marvel Studios has ever put on the Internet,” as RadioTimes’ Huw Fullerton described it.
Four years later, 35 million views in a day is small potatoes. Age of Ultron’s record has been beaten multiple times, including by The Incredibles 2, a trailer that contains a scant 10 seconds of footage from the actual film, notes Susanna Lazarus. Currently, the one-day viewing record belongs to Age of Ultron’s sibling, Avengers: Infinity War, with 230 million views in the first 24 hours.
Movie trailers have become a genre and an industry all their own, with a following that parallels, but isn’t always identical to, the audiences for the films themselves. They’ve captivated audiences and even have their own awards show: the Golden Trailer Awards. Trailers have become so popular that IBM even tasked a supercomputer with creating one — which audiences liked far more than the movie on which it was based, says Suman Ghosh.
Here, we explore a few of the movie trailer production companies releasing outstanding work from the last few years.
The big name in nominations at the 2018 Golden Trailer Awards was Buddha Jones, which entered the night with 30 chances to bring home an award. The production company netted seven of them, tying it with Mark Woollen & Associates and falling just behind Trailer Park with nine. Wins included Best Thriller for Unsane’s “Believe” and Best Comedy for a Series, GLOW’s “Become.”
Storytelling is central to Buddha Jones’ work. “Anybody with an editing system on their computer can take a movie and crush it down to two and a half minutes,” Buddha Jones co-founder John Long tells Hugh Hart of Fast Company. “But that wouldn’t necessarily be an artfully delivered piece. A great trailer is its own mini-story.”
Music plays an especially important role as part of the hook in many Buddha Jones trailers, says Long, and it’s often a process of collaboration with music supervisors and other members of the creative team.
Mark Woollen & Associates
Mark Woollen & Associates picked up 23 Golden Trailer Award nominations in 2018, taking home seven wins that night. The successes included Best Documentary for the trailer to Focus Features’ Won’t You Be My Neighbor.
The company’s leader, Mark Woollen, has developed a reputation in the trailer industry for being able to find the heart of a film and bring it to the fore — often in unexpected and delightfully creative ways.
“Mark has the difficult task and very rare talent of finding a film’s DNA in 120 seconds,” 21 Grams and Birdman director Alejandro González Iñárritu told Boris Kachka at Vulture in 2014. “Once he finds it, he translates it not by revealing its story but by expressing, in a clear but mysterious way, the film’s emotional essence.”
One way Woollen and his team pull this off is through music. “Music is always pivotal, but not because a familiar song will reliably trigger familiar feelings,” Kachka writes. “One song might score an entire trailer, and if it’s recognizable, it’ll be an obscure cover version.” Music is harnessed in the service of mood and worldbuilding, not for mere marketing or kitsch.
Perhaps the most well-known example of Woollen’s musical creativity is his house’s trailer for The Social Network, which famously used a cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” by Scala and Kolacny Brothers, a Belgian girls’ choir. “He had the song kicking around in his collection for year, waiting for the perfect project,” Jordan Kushins writes at Gizmodo. “This was it.”
Synchronicity was founded by David Hughes, who founded the production company in 2006 after putting in nearly 15 years on trailers for modern classics like Trainspotting, Pulp Fiction and Jurassic Park.
While Synchronicity is the only production company on our list to miss out on nominations in the 2018 Golden Trailer Awards, the company remains well-known for its founder’s attention to music and his willingness to break with convention.
Trends in music exist in movie trailers just as they do on the radio, and they can be easy to spot, Hughes says. “The current vogue seems to be slow female vocal versions of popular hits cut to slow-motion action shots with lots of dips to black.”
Hughes cites the trailer for Cliffhanger as one of “the early game-changers in my career” — and in the industry. Cliffhanger’s trailer “was the first to use operatic music in a montage of action and not worry if there were what we call ‘flappy mouths’ – people talking with no words coming out – for dramatic effect. It was quickly ripped off by everyone. Myself included.”
Trailer Park, Inc.
Los Angeles-based Trailer Park netted 29 nominations at the 2018 Golden Trailer Awards, second only to Buddha Jones, according to Variety’s Dave McNary. And while the nominations covered a wide range of categories, Trailer Park stood especially tall when it came to music.
The company took home both top music awards at the 2018 Golden Trailers: Best Music, for the Baby Driver trailer “Tekillyah,” and Best Music for a Series, for its work on the Stranger Things Season 2 trailer “Darkness.” And unlike its competitors, Trailer Park had two bites at the Best Music apple: Its trailer “7 People,” for Ocean’s 8, also received a nomination.
For many in the movie trailer business, music and sound design are the heart of what they do. One recent example from Trailer Park is Coco. Trailer Park’s team tried dozens of songs for the trailer, Trailer Park editor Jeff Gritton tells The Ringer, but weren’t inspired by any of them. Asking a friend to create a Mexican guitar cover of “Bitter Sweet Symphony,” however, gave the trailer exactly the feel it needed.
Wild Card is the studio behind “Imagination,” a trailer for The Greatest Showman that picked up a Best Music nomination at the 2018 Golden Trailer Awards. They also won 2018’s Best Sound Editing in a TV Spot for a Feature Film for their work on Atomic Blonde’s “Begin.”
For Wild Card, the medium is the message. “I fell in love with the idea of taking material and trying to create a message with it,” Wild Card founder Nick Temple told Inc. in 2015. Editing movie trailers gave Temple the opportunity to build a team of creative minds with a similar passion: applying keen storytelling skills to distill a film into key elements that leave viewers wanting more.
One of the first steps the Wild Card team takes is to choose the right music to set the mood — and to organize it with silence and voiceovers in a way that feels more like art and less like marketing. Since today’s audiences are “more astute and they know conventions,” says Temple, trailer houses like Wild Card can “be more restrained” with traditional marketing, focusing on music and art instead.
“The ultimate goal is to create as much impact as possible,” Temple told Fast Company’s Tony Castle in 2014. “Make it feel like the biggest event possible.”
The Future of Trailers: Music and Mood
These and other production companies have found success by hitting on a key element of a movie trailer: the use of music to set mood, build worlds and manipulate audience emotions.
“Music is at least 50 percent of any trailer,” Ron Beck of Tiny Hero tells Mental Floss, and it’s why producers like Beck and Woollen listen voraciously, only to sit on the perfect piece of music until the perfect scene or trailer appears.
Sometimes, that takes years. “I’ll picture a scene and maybe see something like it a year or so later,” Beck says of his listening habits. “And then I’ll go, ‘Oh, I’ve got just the song for this.’”
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