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Choosing any film trailer as a case study, discuss how sound is used in film trailers to encourage an effective response. In this essay, I will be using ‘Ted’ (2011) as a case study to analyse a number of different effects used in film trailers to encourage an effective response. I will argue that the trailer for Ted exemplifies 3 main aspects of effect: Recognisable voice-over, ‘sonic signifiers’ and the use of older songs to appeal to a wider audience range. The opening to the trailer first suggests that it would be a preview for a children’s film, opening with a sequence that many would expect to occur in a fun and family oriented holiday film. We see a young boy in his bedroom during Christmas time, wishing that his teddy-bear could speak. His wish then seemingly occurs, and his teddy exclaims that the two are now best friends. However, the use of music and sound in this trailer exposes the deception. There are several different pieces of music in the trailer, but it opens with ‘Aquarium’ from Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saëns.
The song includes unstable harmonies and a shimmering piano accompaniment, with the main melody being sung by children. The use of this song is interesting, as discussed in James Deaville and Agnes Malkinson’s ‘Music and Sound in Comedy Trailers’: “‘Aquarium’ is often associated with children and found on many albums that also feature instrumental music for youth, including Benjamin Britten’s A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra and Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf” (James Deaville, 2014). Intriguingly, music piece has also been featured in several prominent children’s film trailers, such as Babe (1995), Only You (1994) and Charlottes Web (2006). The music in these trailers occur in similar sequences to that of Ted, and its use suggests that the music piece now serves as a convention for their particular type of film trailer. In addition, the piece connects the opening narrative of Ted to other trailers that utilize the music ‘genuinely’ to pass on both a background marked by affiliations and an effect as a method for legitimating the scene.
The segment ends with the music piece now also layered with sleigh bells, which emphasizes the Christmas and child-centered oriented time during which this miracle has happened. When the bear comes to life, we hear a change in a sonic extension of the music, which occurs in sharp contrast to what takes after. Miguel Mera identifies music in trailers as highly effective in creating anticipation in the outset, and then betraying the expectations of the audience, demonstrating something he calls the ‘elusive side of humor’ (Mera, 2012). Another sonic signifier that contributes to the viewer’s confusion of trailer genre is the execution of the narrator’s voice. Trailers often incorporate shared or commonplace knowledge and references that audiences are assumed to be familiar with. This content is then used to promote principle textual features of films, such as genre. The trailer’s narration, which is provided by Patrick Stewart also acts as the voice over for the actual film. The use of this actor’s voice-over is shrewd, considering the majority of projects Stewart has voice acted in are family oriented, including Ice Age: Continental Drift (2012), The Prince of Egypt (1998) and interestingly, a couple of Family Guy episodes (James Deaville, 2014). For most viewers, his familiar voice comes from his famous role as Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation, and so he has sonic associations with both the adult and family genres. Consequently, the seeming establishment of the family genre and then the following reveal of the overt comedic nature of the advertised film may not cause such a significant conceptual disruption and confusion for the viewer.
However, creating uncertainty in the audience over trailer genre can also serve companies promotional ends by offering a wider range of possible identifications, which would, as a result, optimize the appeal to a more diverse viewing audience. As demonstrated in this trailer, the relationship between music and sound effects varies according to the genre. In comedic trailers, for example, the music will serve as a foreground to the soundscape, with the lyrics providing comedic irony or compliment the narrative of the film. However, in action trailers, the music will serve as a background to the often-loud sound effects, such as explosions or car engines. The same can also be said for the balance between the specific audio features in a film trailer.
For example, Hollywood action film trailers often rely on a heightened density and overdetermined foreground soundscape (e.g. The Transformers Franchise), whereas comedy trailers, such as Ted rely more on the compression of sonic structural devices. Following the opening sequence, we see a transition to the next scene, accompanied by a visual fade to black and Stewart’s voiceover stating, ‘But eventually, everyone grows up.’ He noticeably increases his pace and deepens his vocal tone, as he emphasizes the words ‘grows up’. This is when the true genre of the film is finally revealed to the viewer as Ted and his best friend appear twenty years later, in the present day, snacking and smoking marijuana on the couch. The sudden turn in tone is complemented by a ‘swoosh’ sound that precedes the new act of the film, where we are quickly introduced to Harry Nilsson’s song ‘Best Friend’. Music in film trailers can heighten the impact of the images being displayed, consequently, the choice of music genre, song, and artist can substantially impact the trailer’s commerciality (Jerrick, 2013). Importantly, as stated by David Jerrick in ‘The Effectiveness of Film Trailers’, “Determining whether or not recognizable songs can effectively attract the films target demographic to the specific trailer and create a desire within them can further enhance the success of the movie’s promotional campaign”. The song is most likely familiar with a large portion of the audience, gaining its popularity through its use as the theme for the ABC sitcom series ‘The Courtship of Eddie’s Father’ (1969–72), in which the child of a single father manipulates romantic situations in order to help his father find love (James Deaville, 2014). This song has been found to have strong connections to its viewer’s generations childhood, as a result of its relationship to the television show.
The song likewise imparts an innocence that is comedically compared with the grown-up conduct on-screen, while expressively supporting the film’s narrative. More importantly, though, it focuses on John’s youth as his apparent age would put the airing of The Courtship of Eddie’s Father amid his fictional developmental years (James Deaville, 2014). Notably, though, Patrick Stewart’s voiceover does not return to the trailer, as it has arguably served its purpose in giving a strong impression of the different genre at the beginning of the trailer. Interestingly, In the ‘red-band’ version of the trailer, ‘Best Friend’ plays out under a string of profanities from the bear, which heightens the irony (James Deaville, 2014). One thing made clear by this trailer is that the voices of characters and narrator serve as the ‘link’, of sorts, to the diegetic sound of the film, a role that sound effects adopt in other genres of the trailer. A common practice in comedy trailers, such as Ted, is the build-up and subsequent absence of sound for the comedic punchline. This creates what Michel Chion refers to as a ‘false synch point’: a short instance in which a sound, expected to be heard by the audience in conjunction with the image, does not actually manifest itself (Chion, 1994).
For example, towards the end of the Ted trailer, as John and Ted are fighting, the TV falls on top of John. This is met by an absence of sound and a black screen until we hear him breathe in deeply a few seconds later. This case study has brought me to the conclusion that generally, comedy trailers often exhibit three common genre-based characteristics: recognizable popular music and voices, a structural use of silence to create comedic punchlines and short foregrounded dialogue exchanges. All of these points work together in creating an audience appeal that results in an effective response.
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