How many cues are there in a typical trailer?
The general form is that it will have three different acts, and an action trailer will have three different cues in it.
Do the cues usually come from three different composers?
They can. They can come from two different people, or from one. They can all be licensed from music libraries, or they could be custom [composed]. Like when I did The Day the Earth Stood Still, it was three sections of the trailer. I composed the cue, but it had to have three acts: the big epic back end, the middle section, and the establishing atmospheric stuff at the beginning. And when you understand and talk to editors about the storytelling formula for trailers, then they can go, “Okay, cool.” In the beginning, it''s about the introduction: Where am I? Who am I? That''s where you do a lot of open stuff or the big “digga digga do” drum hits that you just let ring out. Then you go into the second part, which might be the meat of the story. And the back end is where you hear those frenetic drum cues. So when you know that formula, you''re not putting that frenetic part in the middle. Because then the editors are going, “Okay, where do I go from here?” Or they might have to go and license another cue, because your middle section is really the back end.
So every Monday, I go onto apple.com/trailers and watch all the trailers. Every Monday is my day to go in and say, “I''m going to watch all the new trailers and see what the trends are, see what people are licensing, see what''s kind of cool.” As a creative person, I''m entitled to things I don''t like and things I do like, and things that are like, “Ah, okay. Yeah, cool.” And I see what the trends are, and I say, “Okay, I like the way they did this,” and “That''s really cool,” and “You have to add that to your repertoire as far as a compositional technique.” I think it''s important to see what the trends are and know what comes out when, and what types of movies are coming out. You''ve got to think ahead. If you''re going, “It''s summertime; Wolverine is about to come out, and they''ll need a lot of action cues,” well, they''ve already cut that trailer in January. So you''ve got to be thinking now in October, November, December. Go onto IMDB [Internet Movie Database] and look at all the big films that are coming out in the summer of 2009, because they''re going to start cutting those trailers—they''ve already started cutting them—into February. But with a big movie like Wolverine coming out, they''ll do 30 or 40 TV spots, and they''ll all need music.
So, in other words, you might write ahead on something you weren''t commissioned for, thinking, “I might be able to get this.”
Absolutely. Because the thing is, Hollywood is putting out more movies, not less. And you know that every summer there are going to be at least five humongous action films. And you know what kind of cues those are going to need. You can kind of go, “You know what, I''ve got 15 cues now. I know all these films are coming out next summer, and there''s X-Men and there''s Wolverine, and there''s Star Trek by J. J. Abrams. They''re going to need big action cues, big huge cues. So I''ll do those, and then I can go around and work my relationships that I have with people and say, ‘I know you''re cutting that big Star Trek thing; here''s something, and I know you''re going to be using a lot of the original themes from Star Trek. But for the parts where you aren''t using that, here''s something cool.''” And you kind of pitch that stuff, because you thought ahead on it.
But if they''re starting with temp music, odds are you''re not going to be that close with something you prewrote, right?
Depending. When we were talking about those drum cues, there are three or four tempos that you usually have with those drum cues. So you might compose a slower drum cue, [something] more ethnic, like Last Samurai or Gladiator, that sort of thing with big expanses with shots and those kind of things.
Is that around 110 bpm?
Anywhere between 80 and 110 bpm. You can never go wrong with writing it in six [6/8 time], because it kind of has that romantic feel. You''ve got to have that thing going. It''s not as hardcore as doing the drum cues—the fast, frenetic ones.
When you say “drum cue,” you mean something with . . .
Like the huge taiko drums—big orchestral bass drums. There''s a formula to that, making hybrids with electronic drum sounds. Doing them with orchestra, doing them with African drums or Asian drums. [That was] the trend at one time, because what was going on in America was that there were tons of films that were Middle Eastern. So the music companies that were really in tune with what was going on were saying, “Hey, there are tons of movies coming out with all these Middle Eastern [themes] and war [themes] and things like that. So I need to do a lot of drum cues that use Middle Eastern instruments; you kind of think ahead of the curve that way.
When you mix a trailer cue, what are the considerations?
You want to mix it with a lot more depth and spatial relationships, not with everything in your face, like if you''re mixing the next Green Day record. If you mix it with everything in your face, it competes. When you listen to that song by itself in your car, in your MP3 player, you go, “Oh man, my mix is incredible,” and you''re proud of it and everyone loves your mix. But when you''re doing trailer, the music is, I won''t say the least important, but it''s lower on the totem pole because the voice-over, the one saying, “One man . . .” is probably tied for first place with the actual dialog from the film. And then there''s the visual—that''s important—and then there are sound effects. So you''re fourth or fifth in line of importance. So if your music cue is mixed in a way where it''s fighting the sound effects, the dialog, the actual ambient production tracks from the ambiences of the film, where they''re driving in the street and you hear cars—if everything in your mix is in your face like that, then the mixer on the soundstage has to pay a little bit more attention about how to mix your cue to make it work. And your cue may be great, but you might find out that the creative is having a problem with your cue, and you''re going, “But wait a minute. . . I made it sound just like Green Day. Why don''t they like it?” For some reason, it''s just fighting with things.
In other words, you don''t want to compress it too heavily.
I would say, a lot of times, don''t even master it. Because, of course, for orchestral you''d have more dynamic range. For a hip-hop thing, for a pop thing, it might be like a Britney Spears–type of urban pop or a Beyoncé-type thing. It''s not as important to have it jump out of the speakers, slamming you in the face, so compressed and squashed that it''s just making the earth shatter. Then it just conflicts with everything else. And that doesn''t mean you don''t have high production standards. One of the things I tell people is, one of the cool things about doing trailer music, as far as the conductor side of it is, is that people get to hear your music in actually the best circumstances possible. They''re listening to your music cue in a room full of other people with THX surround sound, Dolby certified, the best equipment possible. Many people don''t have that in their homes. Many people listen to music in their cars or on their computers or their iPods. But they [the movie audiences] hear your music in the best scenario possible.
Do you have to mix it in surround for them?
The best thing to do as a composer doing trailer things, budget and time notwithstanding, is to always deliver a stereo mix, a 5.1 mix. And if not a 5.1 mix, deliver your stems as an option. Because with just the stems, they can move stuff around. If you have a sound-effects stem, maybe your cue has a lot of sound effects. Or if you have your strings on a separate stem, or your synths on a certain stem, they can kind of move things around individually.