By now, much of the moviegoing and TV-watching public is familiar with at least one of the trailers for the forthcoming sci-fi epic Prometheus. Specifically, they’ve come to know the atmospheric dirge that plays throughout the spot, as well as the otherworldly shriek-siren that begins to punctuate the action midway through the spots. Not only have the trailers succeeded in whipping up excitement for the film, they’ve inspired a cult following of their own, as evidenced by the parodies on YouTube.
But the music used in trailers isn’t always organically drawn from the film. Often the composers who create it have nothing to do with the score of the film in question, but still manage to boil its essence down to a minute or so of audio. We spoke to Paul Dinletir of audiomachine, the company that made the music for the Prometheus trailers, about the indelible sounds from that film, and the ins and outs of making music for trailers in general.
The music is such a big part of the Prometheus trailer; what sort of music and sound references did the filmmakers give you?
The big cue that was used on Prometheus is called "Judge and Jury." This track was created with the idea of the orchestra, not being used in the traditional "orchestral" sense, but as more of a sound-design element to support the prominent electronic elements in the track. I wish I could say we delivered just what they asked us to do for this spot, but "Judge and Jury" was an existing cue off our Deus Ex Machina release that they licensed. You’ll have to track down the savvy music supervisor or editor that picked this cue for the trailer, although it was definitely written for a futuristic sci-fi type movie trailer. On the teaser trailer, they also used our cue "Knights and Lords," which is a big action-adventure type cue.
How does one get into creating music for trailers?
I grew up playing classical piano with aspirations of becoming a songwriter. I first became interested in film scoring when I took a class about writing music for film through UCLA Extension. Eventually, I started getting jobs creating custom score for trailers while I was also composing for cartoon shows (Samurai Jack, My Life As a Teenage Robot) and reality TV shows (Hell’s Kitchen, Paradise Hotel, The Swan). As you can imagine, the pace of writing for all of those different projects was pretty intense. Currently, all of my efforts are concentrated on creating trailer music for audiomachine.
Making music for trailers is such a specific task; how does the process typically go?
In the past, trailer music was mostly custom scored and/or used pre-existing score from movies. Now we’re able to create volumes of music and sound design in different styles and genres in anticipation of what will be required by producers, directors, and editors for trailers of feature films.
We are aware of almost every trailer that comes out (whether we are involved in it or not) and we study trends in music as well as release schedules for upcoming films. We record a lot of of live orchestra and choir at audiomachine, and we hold ourselves and our music to a very exacting standard. We put out several releases a year in different styles, and when requested, we will write something custom or rework an existing cue to fit the need of the trailer.
How does the trailer music reflect or play off the music in the film, if at all? Generally, the film score might not even be done by the time the trailers are going out?
Yes, that’s correct. The majority of the time, the music in the trailer has nothing at all to do with the music in the film, unless it’s a franchise like Star Wars, Mission: Impossible, or Indiana Jones, and the actual musical theme is recognizable. We get emails from people saying they bought the soundtrack to The Fighter because they thought our music from the trailer would be on it. That’s a huge compliment for us, but we work on the advertising side of things.
The goal of any trailer is to get the audience involved enough in that two-and-a-half minutes you have to get them into the theater. Our job at audiomachine is to make our contribution to that trailer as dynamic as possible with the addition of our music.
Are there any trends in trailer music the way there are in commercials, where it’s a dubstep extravaganza now?
Yes, there are similar trends. We’ve seen a rise in dubstep requests lately, in addition to requests for hybrid/orchestral, electronic, and rock mixed with orchestra and choir.
What are some of your favorite trailers?
If you are asking about classic trailers prior to the launch of audiomachine, I would have to say the trailer for the original Matrix. I also loved the trailers for Lord of the Rings and the remake of Planet of the Apes. We’ve been very fortunate at audiomachine to have been involved with hundreds of great trailers over the years, but, if I had to name just a few, I would say the trailers we did for Avatar, The Hunger Games, Hugo, and Prometheus are among my favorites.