Loving Misery

For my re-cut trailer, I decided to turn the seminal horror film Misery (Rob Reiner, 1990) based off of a book by Stephen King into a lighthearted romance film. The original movie is about an author’s kidnapping by his number one fan who is psychotically obsessed. The author, Paul Sheldon (James Caan), was on his way to his publisher’s office to drop off his newly finished manuscript for his latest Misery Chastain book when he lost control in a blizzard and drove off the side of the road. Paul is rescued by Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) who takes him home to nurture him back to health. When Paul regained consciousness, he found himself with two broken legs and a dislocated shoulder. Unbeknownst to him, Annie told no one where Paul was or that he was alive. She was absolutely obsessed with Paul’s Misery book series and even more infatuated with him. Yet, beneath her cheery and seemingly hospitable demeanor laid a violent temper. She often exploded and became violent when things didn’t go the way she wanted. For example, Paul let her read the unpublished manuscript he finished writing for the last Misery book. When she got to the end and saw that Misery died, she stormed into Paul’s room, lifted one end of his bed off the floor and slammed it down again a few times while screaming at Paul. The next day, she set his manuscript on fire in front of him and told him he had to rewrite the book so that Misery Chastain survives. Another violent action from Annie was a result of her discovery that Paul has been leaving his room when she was away. She tied him down and smashed his ankles with a sledgehammer to teach him a lesson. Paul begrudgingly finished the book and Annie thought a good way to cement this relationship would be to force a suicide-pact onto Paul. Paul obviously disagreed and instead made a final attempt for escape by bashing Annie’s head in with a typewriter. The movie ends with Paul being told that his fiction book based off of his time with Annie will be a best seller.

The first thing to be done when genre-swapping is to identify the elements of genre you’re swapping to. Each genre has a set of stereotypical characteristics that can be found in most films in the genre. For example, western films are characterized by cowboy culture, cowboy hats, six-shooter revolvers, and horses. Greg M. Smith in his Genre Shmenre chapter in his book What Media Classes Really Want to Discuss gives a pretty succinct description of genres and why they are important. He explains that “classical genres gives both mediamakers and audiences a set of internally consistent expectations to share. These expectations serve as a kind of ‘code’ that mediamakers use when they create film/television and that viewers use when they watch”.(Smith, 2011 p.54) Correctly communicating those codes are what makes or breaks a recut video trailer. Romantic movies typically show the male protagonist as being restless or unsatisfied for seemingly no reason. He then realizes the source of his dissatisfaction is a result of his lack of love. He inevitably meets the girl and falls head first into an amazing relationship. His life is changed for the better, implying that life was incomplete without a partner. The recut trailer tries to highlight Paul’s dissatisfaction by putting emphasis on his writers’ block. He goes on a journey to Colorado to finish his manuscript where he then meets Annie. The relationship is an idyllic one to emphasize the unrealistic portrayal of relationships in romantic movies.

Another change was made to the soundtrack. Sound has a massive potential to shape the way an audience views a piece of media. Jessica Abel explains the power of sound in her comic about radio programming called Out on the Wire. She says “sound can create an emotional tone. It can simply create room for emotions to hit you”.(Abel, 2015 p.152) I decided to use She’s Got You High (Mumm-Ra, 2007) for its uplifting  melodies and cheery beats. It’s repetitive so that it does not distract the audience, but noticeable enough to shape their mood. The song itself has very little variation in lyrics with the most abundant being “she’s got you high and you don’t even know it”. It emphasizes the romantic film code previously mentioned where the man falls head over heels into the relationship regardless of how realistic that is. The song also has a steady increase in energy which plays nicely with the gradual intensity of the trailer.

Two kinds of shots make up this trailer. The close-up was used to emphasize the feelings of happiness and endearment found in romantic movies, while the long shots were used for building character rapport. Barnard Dick in his book Anatomy of Film explains that the close-up is used to capture emotion and as a means of emphasis.(Dick, 2002 p. 53) The close shots in the trailer are of both Annie and Paul smiling, laughing, and generally enjoying each other’s company. This was done to emphasize the joy they feel when with each other. The long shots were used to give the audience more information about the characters. As Dick points out in Anatomy of Film, long shots can be just as powerful but in a different way. (Dick, 2002 p. 53) It gives some distance between the viewer and the film which allows for a more objective view for the viewer. In the trailer, the first long shot is of Paul by his car. The viewer sees how Paul dresses, what car he drives, how he walks, and other mannerisms that go unseen with close up shots. The long shot for Annie was chosen to try to characterize her as goofy and funny. To put it simply, the long shots give context to the emotions expressed in close shots.

In conclusion, the re-cut video trailer turns Misery into a romantic movie by changing the soundtrack, carefully choosing types of shots, and by exhibiting the specific codes for the genre. Biggest problem I had was mixing the sound just right. It was crucial to make sure that the music was loud enough so that it masked any background static while remaining quiet enough to hear some dialogue. Some dialogue was just too quiet and no amount of gain could make it loud enough. Also, were I to do this again I’d draw out a storyboard before even starting to cut out clips with a predetermined clip nomenclature. I had to re-cut a clip or two after losing it among the other hundred clips. A naming system could have helped avoid that. Finally, Misery was just difficult to work with because there was a lot of background music and very little change in scenery. The interactions between Annie and Paul almost always take place in his room, where there is little movement or change. This cut down the possible unique scenes that can be used to piece together a story. As a result, the re-cut trailer is limited to a shorter run-time so that it does not bore the audience. Choosing a movie with a greater variety in scenes would give more of an opportunity for artistic expression, instead of being limited to scenes mostly taking place in one room.

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