As a film and television editor, I’m passionate about editing and post production. I am always looking for a great story to tell. Recently, I had the opportunity to chart with movie trailer editor Patricio Hoter. Here, I look back at our conversation and the changes he sees going on in the film industry.
Christian Jhonson: Patricio, you have been involved in the film industry for over 10 years. How would you describe the changes happening in the industry over the past decade?
Patricio Hoter: “The trailer industry is a constantly evolving one, with many layers of decision-making that oil and power the marketing machine behind the film business. At times, movie trailers have the power to shape the tone and look of a film, while the very same one is being put together in the cutting room. For example, a trailer house can easily discover the perfect song for a trailer. With today’s costs of music, it stands to reason that once a studio purchases the licensing of a song, they may want to explore how to use it to its full extent.
“There are times when a song that has been used on a trailer can even make its way into the body of a film. And that’s just one example of how influential marketing can be on a film. This is the type of precise thinking that goes into crafting a 2:30 minute cut, which will determine the fate of a film’s opening weekend. That demand hasn’t changed much in the last decade, but what has is the timing in which much of the same has to be accomplished - between the production schedule and the marketing one.
“More and more, films that are currently in production are working alongside with their marketing team to establish a strategy months in advance of its release. That means that there’s more time to explore several options when crafting a trailer: the direction, tone, music, storyline, etc. In that regard, the workload has become significantly higher, while simultaneously trying to meet deadlines that will help the marketing behind of a film, succeed.”
Jhonson: What do you consider more important when editing a movie trailer? The creativity, editing skills, and/or the technical skills?
Hoter: “I always say that to be an editor, you need to be creative, fast, and above all, patient. It’s very important to have a full understanding of the editing platform you are using (whether that is Avid, Final Cut, Premiere, etc.), because the more technically savvy you are, the faster you become as an editor; and, in a deadline-dominated world, speed is money. Aside from technicality, with time, editors can go discovering their own voice. Their ‘signature.’ And that is a very important element in the ever- growing process of being an editor.
“The trailer business is a small family, where many of us know each other on a first-name basis. There are some editors who will become known for a particular trailer finish that emerged into the world and moved the needle on all social networks. And then, there are those whose name everyone already knows, because their portfolio speaks for itself. That is a signature. Our name as an editor is directly proportional to the quality and uniqueness of our own work. And hopefully, that same work will one day become a source of inspiration to others.”
Jhonson: How do you break into the trailer industry?
Hoter: “This is not an easy industry to break into. Most people will start from the bottom up and go – from running errands, to eventually becoming an editor. Others will, perhaps, be discovered through the work they’ve done via YouTube. Some people will cut fan-based trailers, or other types of content that will eventually become conversation starters, and catch the eyes of many.
“One of my colleagues is known for having the best trailers-montages for every year that goes by. She would piece together a cool montage with music and shots from all different trailers, and that would become her ‘thing’. It was a matter of time before our company invited her to become an editor, and she’s currently one of the best! No matter which way one comes into this industry, talent will ultimately be the main ticket that will get you on an editor’s chair. Runners who become editors overnight, or YouTubers who are instantly hired based on their style – ultimately, talent is what speaks loudest. All the rest - technicality, structure, storytelling – is teachable and comes with practice.”
Jhonson: Is there a “standard” workflow in editing a movie trailer? Would you walk us through the process of cutting one?
Hoter: “There are many forms in which a movie arrives to us. It can be a finished film (and this would be by far, the best case scenario). It can also be a finished cut with lots of unfinished VFX and greenscreen. Or, it can be a movie in production, in which case, we are delivered dailies for the entire movie. This can amount to a hours and/or days of watching shot after shot, breaking down and categorizing everthing in order to be able to start crafting a trailer. That is the most time-consuming of all options. That said, the process continues with a meeting of the minds.
“Usually, the team behind a trailer can consist of a creative director, a producer, an editor, a music department, a graphics/VFX department and a copywriter. Everyone will have a particular job, but ultimately, it’s up to the editor to assemble everything and craft the very first version of a trailer. Once this is accomplished, the trailer will be presented to the client (an executive on the studio side) and the ball will start rolling. At this point, depending on the type of film and deadline, the process can take up to weeks or months of exploration, testing, focus grouping, making changes, recutting moments, starting over from scratch, altering music, creating graphics, recording voiceover, etc. The scenarios are endless and the competition can be very brutal. Studios with big-budget movies will usually have various trailer houses cutting on them.
“Every trailer house could potentially have multiple editors putting together different trailers. And at the end of the day, the competition to win a finish becomes both internal as well as external. But towards the end, when one trailer is finally picked, is when the most gratifying moment arrives: the mix. This is when the team gets to attend the sound mixing of a trailer in their own private theater. At this point, we’ll be listening to the highest quality of every single sound we’ve cut into the trailer, while watching the cut on the big screen, and finally witnessing what one created become a reality. It’s a very difficult feeling to convey in words, other than that of utter accomplishment.
Jhonson: Every year on the Internet, consumers watch 10 billion videos – and of these videos, movie trailers constitute the third most-watched category; behind only news and user-created content. What does a sucessful trailer consist of?
Hoter: “Every trailer is very different, but some will still overlap in terms of techniques and cutting formulas. However, often the success of a trailer can be narrowed down to the quality of the film, the cast and director, and/or a specific song (or cover of a song) used. Many people will talk about big blockbusters like The Avengers, because in itself, the trailer will have all of those elements. Known names, a known director, an interesting song, a sense of style in the cutting – all can add up to a successful marketing campaign.
Jhonson: You've won several awards. What do those mean to you?
Hoter: “Winning the awards has been nothing short of amazing. I believe that more than the awards themselves, it’s the recognition from your peers to the hard work and long hours that go into a project, that really makes everything worth it. Ultimately, I always tell people the same thing: unlike many other things in life, this job is about the journey, rather than the destination. Nowadays, there are so many factors that affect the chances of finishing a trailer, that it becomes harder and harder to get good work in the public eye. So, at the end of the day, one has to be able to enjoy more the process of working on a film, rather than the eagerness of getting something finished and out the door. It is that same process that should fuel the sense of creativity, first and foremost.”
Jhonson: Do you follow a structure when editing a movie trailer? For example: the first act establishes the story’s basic premise. The second act develops on the story’s plot, while the third one usually cues in some hybrid of dramatic music, suspenseful/emotional/funny scenes, and narration.
Hoter: “There are many formulas or structures that can go into cutting a movie trailer, but the true challenge is in how to sucessfully derail from becoming cookie-cutter. I’ve watched many trailers, especially indies or low-budget ones, where there’s a great freedom to do more creative, out-of-the-box cuts, mainly because the box office expectations are set much lower than that of gigantic blockbusters. The smaller the project, the more risks/chances a studio may take.
“When it comes to analyzing a trailer at first, often we default to thinking about it in three acts: the set up, the development/conflict, and an open-ended outcome (always promising the viewer more). When it comes to the horror genre, many times you want to set up a story and get the concept across. Then you are free to explore tactics on how to create well-timed scares, and build an exciting and terrifying ending. Comedy works on a similar level. It’s all about timing the moments in the right way, in order to pay off a joke successfully. But getting the story across clearly is a very important element in trailers; especially for those which will undergo the process of testing and/or focus grouping.
“In testing, a random person may be asked to watch a trailer, and then asked several questions about it. Often times the main question is: “Did you understand the story?.” And if this person says: “No”, then it’s up to us, in marketing, to reinvent the piece in order to accommodate the information needed to help clarify the concept behind the film. In that regard, structure is very important. But as I said before, being able to accomplish clarity, while still breaking free from the mold that limits us to think in a linear fashion, is key. It’s true storytelling.”
Jhonson: Is there a trailer that you have edited, that you consider the best one yet?
Hoter: “I feel I always try to put my best foot forward with every trailer that I have the opportunity to cut. That said, I love horror movies; I’ve been a huge fan of horror since I was kid, so every time I can work on a scary movie, that becomes my new favorite thing! Two of my latest trailers have been horror films (The Woods and Green Room) and both were pieces that I absolutely enjoyed cutting. As well, having had the chance to cut the trailer for the 3D re-release of Titanic was truly a wonderful experience with a fantastic story behind meeting the director, James Cameron. I think that was perhaps one of my most memorable moments in working not just in this industry, but also with that movie.”
Jhonson: “Your trailers are seen by millions of people. What is your biggest goal when you are editing one?
Hoter: “My very first goal in cutting a trailer is a very simple one: to have fun doing it. This industry can very easily become stressful and erratic due to many factors, such as unforeseen deadlines or problems that are beyond the control of anyone outside of the studio. Because of that, I have made it my goal to be playful about what I do, and take my career as an opportunity to not only keep learning and growing from the amazing talent that I’m constantly surrounded by, but also, to have fun. And in doing so, be able to materialize the vision that I have of a film, into what I personally would be excited to see on the big screen. That’s my first and foremost goal.
“Secondly, I have a tremendous amount of respect for the clients I work with, and their devotion to the films that they have in their hands. It’s very important for me to be able to work on something that not only I believe in, but that could also make my clients feel confident, secure and taken care of. And ultimately, I think every trailer editor shares the same goal which is to better themselves. To put amazing work out there and hopefully one day, make a name of themselves through the immense effort that goes into making something this creative, happen.”
Jhonson: The film is bad but the trailer is awesome. Your job is to create a piece that everyone will want to watch regardless of the film’s quality. How do you do that?
Hoter: “Sometimes a film can be challenging. Many things can happen between the process of pre-production and production. Ultimately marketing will have to address any issues that can become problematic for a film, and strategize the best way to show the world that value in watching it. I see a challenging film as an opportunity. Many times I think that to receive a fantastic, huge blockbuster can lead to making an equally fantastic, huge trailer. And that is great! It can be very refreshing working on a film one is very inspired by.
“On the other hand, it can also be equally or more rewarding working on a film that presents an editor with many obstacles and challenges. Because that is where our outmost creativity needs to flourish. Films that perhaps don’t have great dialogue lines, will force us to come up with ideas and methods to avoid using them; and in doing so, a trailer can become a fantastically stylized piece, inspired by the mere challenge of trying to hide a certain aspect of the film. That can be an instance in which an editor can truly shine: with a memorable trailer, behind an unmemorable movie.”
Jhonson: Do you have any recommendation that you would want to pass along to new trailer editors?
Hoter: “My recommendation to new editors is often the same: have fun. Have fun, because it will be stressful. Because you will feel insecure. And you will miss going home early. Have fun because it will test your patience and tolerance. And it will scramble and unscramble your brain in ways you never knew it could. But, on the other hand, you will be working in a vastly creative industry. You will be surrounded by amazing people who share the same passion that every one of them here begins with.
“You will fall in love with the process that goes into making a film, and often find yourself being a part of it. You will meet people who you would have only read of in articles and books. You will one day sit in a movie theater, watch the lights dim, and a very large greenband will pop up – and your trailer will start playing. And for those glorious to and a half minutes of your life, everyone will be staring forward, in silence, at the one cut which your brain has crafted into a reality, and then – hopefully – cheer to your success. My advice to any new editor is: have fun. Because this is fun, and is worth it.”
Jhonson: Thanks Patricio, I'm very grateful to chat with you about your work as a movie trailer editor. Thanks for your time!”
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Christian Jhonson is an Avid editor with more than 10 years of experience, working for commercial TV stations in Ecuador. Follow him on Twitter at: @CristianJhonso.