A guide to being a movie trailer editor
Mike Kurthy has been editing film trailers since 1988 and is responsible for trailers for films such as Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet and The Piano. Taking a break from the edit suite he gives us an inside look into the business and outlines some of the challenges he’s come across throughout his career.
What makes a good trailer?
A good trailer should never give away the story or ending. However, today a lot of trailers do just that.
What’s the best length for a trailer?
There is no official maximum length, but if your trailer is over 2m 30secs, it probably won't get played in a theatre.
What about using voice over in a trailer?
The only reason you need voice over in a trailer is because you have to convey another story that can't be accomplished with using dialogue from the film; or the dialogue from the film isn't enough to tell the story.
Today the trend is not to use voice over. This is just a current move in film marketing because audiences have gotten smarter and don't need to be told what a particular film is about.
How has the trailer business changed?
It used to be that trailers could only be seen in the theatre, now they can be seen at the push of a button. This only gives the film more exposure which in film marketing is a great thing.
The trailer business used to be kind of secretive – today there are college courses on making trailers. When I started as a film editor’s assistant, I didn't even know what a trailer was.
What’s been the most challenging trailer to cut?
The most difficult trailer I had to edit was for the film Waiting for Forever (2010), about the story of two childhood friends [Will and Emma, played by Tom Sturridge and Rachel Bilson] who grow up and reunite as friends. The problem was that Will was always in love with Emma and was basically stalking her his whole life. I had to position him as a guy who was kind of lost, because ‘stalking’ would have been the wrong way to angle the film. I marketed the film as a love story.
Which trailer are you most proud of?
I would say the campaign I created for Romeo and Juliet (1996) is the one I'm most proud of. Leonardo DiCaprio was relatively unknown at the time and the film was really bizarre yet unique. It was a small film but it had a big box office opening weekend.
I think the simplicity of the trailer and the music choices helped the film bring in a lot of bodies to the theatre. I was able to position the movie for a younger audience because the challenge was how to sell such an old story and bring in a new generation of kids.
Tell us a little bit about ‘hiding the movie’
As editors we have to often have to ‘cheat’ the films unfortunately. The client may have a serious drama but wants to sell it as a romantic comedy. For example, the trailer I cut for American Outlaws (2001), starring Colin Farrell, was basically a straight-ahead western which I made look like a hip adventure comedy.
Usually we misrepresent a film because the story isn't that marketable. I mean, who wants to see a movie about a guy dying of cancer? If this is the case we have to try to tell a different, more positive story, or make up an entirely new story - or we don't tell any story at all. This is called hiding the movie.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Trailer making is a very specialised craft. Often the director or producer of a film will try to cut their own trailer and they usually fail. They're so close to the film that they can't see the big picture.
Film marketing is very different from making the actual film. In fact in many cases the trailer is better than the actual film (a lot of films made by Hollywood today are mostly garbage).
Trailers are usually three-act structures and every trailer job is completely different each time. You just have to play with the footage until you get a trailer that works and one that the client responds to.
KFTV would like to thank Mike for his insight and industry expertise. Mike is also the the owner and president of Ye Olde Trailer Shoppe - a small shop that specialises in trailers for Independent films.
What’s your favourite film trailer of all time? Let us know via our Facebook page or commenting below.