Trailer Accents and Punctuation

Trailers are known to be exciting to watch, but even 30-60 seconds can feel like a slog without a little help along the way in the form of accents. Accents are little bits of action which every few seconds punch up the pace of a trailer, emphasize ideas, and provide story clarification; they're especially important for trailers cut together with dialogue or voiceover.

I've discussed accents briefly in posts about watching trailers analytically, and the line of rising action, but they deserve their own post, because they're one thing which are a sign of a more experienced trailer editor.

Let's take a look at an example of a trailer which has good use of accents, and then I’ll walk you through what you should pay attention to.

Again, the key characteristic of accents are they emphasize the main storyline by illustrating/clarifying ideas, and add variety to the shots and pacing.

Accents can include (but aren't limited to)

  • Quick shots

  • Sound effects

  • Verbal interjections

  • Music cues and transitions.

Here's a breakdown of how accents fit into the first minute of this trailer:

Nicholson: When I was your age they would say you could become cops...

(Accent) Quick shots of Damon in police academy, DiCaprio in prison

Nicholson: Or criminals... What I'm saying here is this...

(Accent) Quick shot of Dicaprio, and someone cocking a gun.

Nicholson: When you're facing a loaded gun...

(Accent) whooshes to shots and sounds of police shooting guns

Nicholson: What's the difference?

(Warner Bros. Logo)

State Police guy: This is not the regular police...

(Accent) Music cue and quick shots of police and Boston police station.

State Police guy: This is the State police.

Damon: We are an elite unit

Baldwin: This is who we're after

(Accent) Baldwin taps photo

Damon: Frank Costello

(Accent) Music and quick shots

Sheen: You won't be paid as a regular cop but there's a bonus involved.

DiCaprio: So what do I do?

(Accent) Dropkick Murphys music plays over Scorsese pedigree card

Wahlberg: You will not ever know the identity of undercover people

Cop: You have anyone in with Costello, presently?

Wahlberg: Maybe

Nicholson: Do you know who I am?

Wahlberg: Maybe not.

Nicholson: I'm going to have my associate search you.

(Accent) Dicaprio's casted arm is slammed down (Ouch!)

Wahlberg: That was quick, think he's dead already?

(Accent) Dicaprio slams a glass on a guy's head

Dicaprio: Get your hands off of me!

Nicholson: I think we can work something out

(Accent) Whoosh to music and Nicholson tapping Dicaprio on the chest.

In this trailer, the dialogue is the primary storyline upon which everything is built; if you removed the accents, the story would still exist, but it would be far less punchy, it would feel less dramatic, and you might get a little fatigued by the dialogue coming at you in a constant stream with nothing to break it up.

Take a look at this alternate version I made where I took out the accents.

You can see how when the accents are absent, the trailer feels much more like a run on sentence. The trailer simply moves from one thing to the other without any sort of indication there's been a change in topic or scene. There are no segues, and the weight of things being said is not nearly as heavy.

Think of accents as the punctuation of the trailer; they delineate the beginning and end of ideas, and provide breaths in between them. They're also like the trailer saying to you: "By the way, check this out!" Without the punctuation, the the timing is totally different, and the topics discussed in the dialogue aren't nearly as interesting or clear.

Cutting trailers with accents can be very difficult especially if you don't have the right music. If you listen to a lot of production trailer music you'll find a great deal of it include big drum beats in every few seconds so dialogue can slot in the gaps between.

The trailer music doesn't even have to include something as dramatic as giant drums, as long as there are turns and twists which can be used to accompany big moments in the trailer. I always try to make sure dialogue never steps on top of some sort of music transition or climax which can be used to highlight a moment.

For example, look at this trailer I cut for the recently release game Heaven's Vault. Pay attention to what the music does after each line of dialogue.

This trailer doesn't really have accents like I described up above, but the idea of dialogue getting divided up by something else in the visuals and soundtrack is the same. Here the music didn't have quite enough changes in it for me to cut dialogue into the gaps, but for the most part I managed to do it.

Here's how it breaks down:

Aliya: History is a science, it's the reconstruction of the past...

(Piano note) "From the creators of 80 Days"

Aliya: I'm an archaeologist. I dig stuff up.

(Piano note and violin kicks in)

Aliya: Every ancient inscription I decipher is a piece of the puzzle

(Violin continues)

Aliya: Every moon I sail to...

(Violin transitions to new section)

Aliya: Reveals a new path to explore. And every new discovery...

(Violin plays continues new section)

Aliya: Can change the story entirely...

(Violin starts new section) "Decipher a lost language"

Aliya: History belongs to everyone. It's how we know who we are.

(Violin continues)

Aliya: But will the story I put together, be the truth?

There are a couple sections where the music doesn't change or hit a new climax after a line of dialogue; those happen after "Reveals a new path to explore," "History belongs to everyone," and the end of the trailer. Listen carefully how differently it feels when the trailer does and doesn't move its focus back and forth between the dialogue.

The flow of a good trailer allows the audience to breathe naturally. The dialogue and voiceover moments are when the audience breathes in because they need to be at attention in order digest what is being said; if they don't then they'll miss what is going on. The accents are when they breathe out because visuals and sound are the equivalent of the trailer saying: "Look at the shiny thing!"

Trailers are known for their bombast and spectacle, but pay attention to whether or not the trailer is giving you those moments to breathe through use of accents, and I think you'll quickly develop a more discerning eye for a good trailer.