The trailer for Martin Scorsese's 1999 film "Bringing out the Dead" is one of my all time favorites, particularly for its use of licensed music. This was edited by Chris Kentis, a former colleague of mine from Giaronomo Productions who went on to direct the films Open Water and Silent House.
I love when music from a film is used in its trailers because it makes a piece that's more representative of its source material. Martin Scorsese is well known for his excellent use of music, so using a few pieces from his selections makes this trailer all the better. Editing with licensed songs is very difficult but this trailer makes it look easy.
I've never been a paramedic, aside from this film, my only other knowledge is via Twitter friend Danielle Riendeau who keeps a blog about working as a volunteer EMT in New York City. She mentioned on the Idle Weekend podcast that the film is certainly dramatized, but it does a great job of capturing the nature of being an EMT. On her blog she also frequently talks about how much she enjoys the people she works with, which makes me think about how the film is broken up into sections with different medics accompanying Nicolas Cage's character.
What I love about this trailer is its intense energy which nicely contrasts with some very short slow and thoughtful vignettes. The pacing alone is enough to create parallels to working an EMT shift.
The trailer starts with a cold open of Ving Rhames messing with his dispatcher. This both establishes the characters, their profession and the sense of humor. The relentless pace begins with Janie Jones by The Clash and Nicolas Cage's voiceover: "Thursdays start off with a bang" punctuated by a person mimicking a gun with his hand, a gunshot and the siren of the ambulance.
Editing with songs is very tough because you risk the lyrics interfering with the dialogue; here it's mixed low enough for the voiceover to dominate. As we're fed some exposition, the music gradually builds and rises until it stops down on the sound of screeching tires for a breath to give room for Patricia Arquette's dialogue with Cage. Music stop-downs are made much smoother with sound effects, and here the sound is thematically appropriate.
An airplane sound serves as a rise to transition us to Cage's eyes opening wide. After such an intense opening, this section lets us catch our breath as we find out Cage has been seeing ghosts. Ving Rhames injects a little bit of humor, and we learn about Cage's need for some slow nights and time off. Only 46 seconds in and we already know a lot about the main character.
Then we're back into the fast pace with Too Many Fish in the Sea by The Marvelettes. The two gunshot sound effects nicely give some punch while also tying into John Goodman's line: "There's been a double shooting, 41st and 8th." As Cage enters the ER a woman tells him: "Don't even slow down, just keep on moving" which could describe both the trailer and the movie.
Cage and Rhames then resuscitate a man, and just as we're getting a sense of their routine, a random taxi cab causes them to crash and tip on their side. This set piece moment is like an adrenaline shot that is very intense, but then gives us another moment to breathe. Nicolas Cage's anger at not being fired by his boss adds another bit of humor and segues the trailer to the final music cue You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory by Johnny Thunders.
We return to Cage's conversation with Arquette where we get a bit more humor and some exposition about his character. Then a lecture from Rhames about getting involved with patients' daughters, which gives us adds another layer to the story.
Tom Sizemore's line: "Our mission: to save lives" fits nicely into my category of grandiose lines that frequently get used in the final third of a trailer, and "blast off!" officially segues us into the third act. Cage's line about helping others also fits this grandiose category. The reason these sorts of lines work in the final third is because at this point the basic plot is summarized, and it's time to wrap things up with the grand ideas or thesis of the story.
Rhames gives us one final "Here's to the greatest job in the world" which can be interpreted both sincerely and ironically depending on how you look at it. The final shot of the ambulance driving is simple, but due to its unique angle it ends up being a very flashy way to end the trailer.
You'd think the music editing in this would bother me because within each section it doesn't intercut dialogue with song lyrics; the dialogue is the focus. Because of this, it functions more like music used in Scorsese's films rather than a typical Hollywood trailer. What's most important for a good trailer is for the music and lyrics cut well during transitions in and out of a section. If you watch a trailer with a lot of dialogue and it feels "flat" there's a good chance that there's wall to wall dialogue, and little to nothing in the way of sound effects or music changes punctuating the story moments.
Because of its pace, the film seems tailor made to be cut into a trailer; I really feel like I'm watching a small version of the film when I watch this. A sharply edited trailer with a lot of parallels to the source material will have a much better chance at representing it accurately, so if you're making your own trailers try to find as many ways to incorporate the aesthetic of the source!