Cue Uplifting Music

Inspirational movie trailers elicit a variety of emotions from their audience, and follow predictable structures.  In order to recut a film and successfully transform its genre into that of an inspirational movie, a knowledge of these basic structures is necessary.  Moreover, an understanding of effective uses of character audio, shot transitions, composition, and other cinematic techniques is just as invaluable.

Recut Trailers

Sample Size: 5

Trailer Length Range: 1:45 – 2:29

Trailer Length Average: 2:04

For this assignment I watched five recut trailers.  Each movie used was either a drama or comedy, that was recut into an in inspirational and moving drama.  In the recut trailer of Dumb and Dumber (1994, Peter Farrelly, Troy Miller, Bobby Farrelly ), the genre was actually refereed to as “Oscar-worthy drama.”  These trailers work to elicit a variety of emotions that are often hopeful and inspirational, and usually contain bittersweet scenes around the halfway mark.  Although from different genres, the films used in these recut trailers are handled with a near identical formula which produces a similar recut genre.  For example the recut of Full Metal Jacket (1987, Stanley Kubrick), a drama/action movie, and that of Mean Girls (2004, Mark Waters), a teen/comedy movie, yield two extremely similar films.  What seems important is that each film used contains interactions and dialogue between characters which have the potential to be framed as inspirational or heartfelt.

Each recut trailer follows a formula that is often heavily reliant on typography and score.  The trailer either begins in media res of important character audio clips, or with music.  In the case of the former, this audio carries over a montage of succinct shots that establish a more serious tone which appears ripe with meaning.  This is clearly seen in the Office Space (1999, Mike Judge) trailer, which opens with a monologue that establishes a theme of existentialism that is carried throughout it.  In the case of trailers that open with music, audio is still used, but not carried over.  For example, upbeat music usually accompanies a montage of succinct shots, wherein audio between characters is preserved.  In both cases, and especially the latter, movie scenes are interlaced with  black shots with type.  This type is usually serif and is always white, though in one recut trailer the first word of each phrase was a different color (and appeared first).  The text is often vague, using pronouns to describe the protagonist, and didactic statements: “he had it all,” “forced to hide their love,” “there are truths we can’t deny.”  The length of shots vary, however, and recut trailers which opt for a more “Oscar-worthy” feel often use longer shots.  In almost every one of these trailers, shots are also slowed down to reinforce the dramatic tone.  It is common for these to end with a fade and a close up of characters.  The transformation of lighthearted scenes into more emotional ones is greatly aided by these cinematic techniques, especially slow motion.

The trailer’s use of score appears to be the most important tool in producing this transformation, and providing its structure which can be seen in every one of these recut trailers.  Whether opening with character audio, or outside music, each of these trailers contains a score that creates a tonal change, from the lighthearted to the more emotional.  At this point, the trailer’s tone has already been hinted at with a clever use of scenes.  For example, near its beginning the Full Metal Jacket trailer decidedly makes Private Pile (Vincent D’Onofrio) its protagonist, using character audio and music that suggest an inspirational film about this man’s triumph in the marine corps.  The Ferris Bueller trailer uses the same technique to suggest a heartfelt film about a dying high school student.  The Mean Girls trailer also uses this to suggest a film about a hidden, gay romance between its protagonists and another character.  Thus, these recut trailers rely on a manipulation of shots and audio to first establish their themes and narratives.  After this, the tonal change created by this important use of score solidifies the trailer’s themes and narrative, and works to transform lighthearted scenes to more emotional ones.  The scenes that follow this musical cue are often more “intense.”  Scenes are expertly taken stripped from their funny or lighthearted contexts, and given emotional depth.  Take Ferris Bueller’s Day Off‘s scene where Cameron (Alan Ruck) slams his fists on the dashboard of his father’s car.  With the audience’s new knowledge of the film’s dying high schooler narrative and the tonal change in music, this scene becomes an expression of heart-wrenching loss and anger.  The more “intense” scenes are always shown after this tonal change has been created.  As the trailer progresses, there is also a second use of score (excluding the cases where the trailer opens with music) which heightens its emotions.  If the trailer contains more distressing moments such as Cameron’s expression of anger, this second score often works to counter these scenes, focusing on a more inspirational and uplifting tone.

These recut drama trailers are able to tell their story with an effectively composed montage of scenes, character audio,  and score.  They sometimes rely quite heavily on type, but for the most part are able to establish their narrative and themes with shot and audio composition.  Additionally, none of these trailers used outside narration, other than audio from characters within the movie.

The Original Trailers

Sample Size: 8

Trailer Length Range: 2:11 – 3:13

Trailer Length Average: 2:31

After viewing these five inspirational recut trailers, I watched eight original trailers of movies that are actually inspirational films.  From these trailers, it appears that this inspirational film genre can be further divided into the more lighthearted and the more solemn.  For films like Hacksaw Ridge (2016, Mel Gibson), Carol (2015, Todd Haynes), or Denial (2016, Mick Jackson), in which the subject matter is more somber, there seems to be a greater focus on the visceral experiences of the characters at the expense of an overall motivational and uplifting tone.  This is not to say that the film is not presented as inspirational.  Every film here presented its narrative as one that is ultimately motivational, and hints at the successes and meaningful experiences of its protagonist(s) (Carol may be somewhat of an exception to this).

Each of these original trailers follows a similar structure to that of the recut trailers.  For these more “serious” films however, there is less of a shift from a lighthearted mood to a more emotional one.  Rather, a consistent tone is maintained throughout the trailer.  Moreover, musical cues are less obvious, and the trailers don’t make use of a key tonal shift created by a single musical piece.  These trailers can be characterized by a subtle crescendo of emotion which culminates in an inspiring tone.  Most of these types of films open with character audio, and shots are composed similarly to those in the recut trailers.  There does appear to be less use of fades.

The more “lighthearted” films  followed this observed structure of the recut trailers.  Films like The Pursuit of Happyness (2006, Gabriele Muccino) and  The Kings of Summer (2013, Jordan Vogt-Roberts), relied more on clear tonal changes through score.  They also used more fades and slow motion just like the recut trailers.  This was especially apparent in The Pursuit of Happyness, which also showed a use of more “intense” scenes after the first score change.  For all eight of the original movie trailers, the use of type was less frequent.  When type was use it was also done more sparingly.  Interestingly, the type used in these films was usually sans-serif.  This may be due to the fact that in this sample type was mainly used in those more solemn trailers, perhaps utilizing the strengths of sans-serif type.


From watching these trailers, I discovered that there seems to be two different types of inspirational film genres.  Most of the recut trailers I analyzed appear be from the more lighthearted “sub genre.”  The montage of shots in both recut and original trailers is very similar, and follow a similar structure.  The role of score is also extremely important, especially in the case of trailers which opt for a more uplifting tone.  Both recut and original trailers are about 2-3 minutes long, though recut trailers of this inspirational genre seem slightly shorter.  Recut trailers seem to rely less heavily on a single character’s narration which carries over shots.  An effective composition of scenes in which the original audio is preserved is often the most useful technique for establishing the themes and narrative of the film.  Character audio which carries over scenes and accompanies score is, however, certainly useful for this purpose.  The most important takeaway from these findings is ability of recut trailers to utilize existing audio, with less of a reliance on type.  It is crucial to manipulate the composition of shots to suggest the film’s subject matter.  Further, understanding the structures that guide inspirational films allows for an effective use of cinematic techniques which can transform a film’s genre.


Dumb and Dumber recut as an “Oscar-worthy drama”



Recut trailers: Dumb and Dumber (comedy converted to “Oscar-worthy drama”), Mean Girls (teen movie/ comedy converted to “forbidden lesbian romance”), Full Metal Jacket (drama/action war film converted to feel-good movie), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (teen movie/comedy converted to sad drama), and Office Space (comedy converted to touching drama)

Original trailers: Hacksaw Ridge, Carol, Forrest Gump (1994, Robert Zemeckis) , The Shawshank Redemption (1994, Frank Darabont), The Pursuit of Happyness, Denial, The Kings of Summer, and Life of Pi (2012, Ang Lee)

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