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What's The Next 'Inception' Sound For Movie Trailers?

There's a lot going on sonically in this trailer for "Alien: Covenant." 

There's some piano. There's a buildup into a heavy droplet sound, a humming noise, and then a crescendo — all of that to get you to the theater.

"We also have to figure out what type of music is going to get butts in the seats," said Marcy Bulkeley, music director at Wild Card AV.

Marcy Bulkeley is the music director for Wild Card AV, a company that, among other things, makes trailers.

"It's my department's job … to come up with some ideas they might not have heard of yet and to implement those," Bulkeley said. "Whether that's augmenting an existing song or an existing piece of production music library by using one of our hundreds of composers." 

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Bulkeley helped craft the sound of trailers like "Blade Runner: 2049," "Alien: Covenant" and "War for the Planet of the Apes" — and even won awards for those campaigns. 

According to Bulkeley, some of the best music found in trailers has a "three-act structure."

"If you take a look at 'The Post' trailer that just came out … that is a perfect example right now of that three-part structure, because in the beginning we have more of a sound design intriguing intro that lasts about 30 seconds," Bulkeley explains. "And then it steps up and is a little more faster pace, because we're telling the story, we're introducing the personalities of the characters. And there's a little bit more movement. In the last act, in the third act, is when it really picks up into a more, like, consistent build into the end. … There's more strings. More emotion to really indicate things are at stake here. Things are important."

"Sound design could be like ... reverses and power downs," Bulkeley explains while mimicking the sounds. "Having an editor or somebody try to describe sound design is really funny because we're just in the office making a bunch of noise."

On using recognizable music for film and TV trailers, Bulkeley said she tries to "present the audience with something that — what we say is something to hang their hat on — a hook."

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"We used Kanye West for our 'Girl on the Train' trailer, but what we did is we took the hook, Kanye's a capella, and we had a composer create an entire new bed for it that was more orchestral," Bulkeley said. "So we were able to drop Kanye's lyrics on top of this orchestral bed that gave it this really classy feel, but a really kind of darker, grittier, more recognizable layer that people could grab onto."

"We're always trying to figure out what's the new 'this.' What's the new [sound] from 'Inception'?" Bulkeley said. 

"There's a lot of trends. Using a lot of sound design elements within a commercial cue, like if you take a look at the amazing 'Kong' trailer," Bulkeley explains. "They're using the song 'We Gotta Get Out Of This Place' by The Animals, and toward the end, they use machine guns as a rhythmic bed in the melody of the song, and they brought in a choir and really got down-and-dirty creative with it, and that's what we're trying to do more of these days."

As for what's to come, Bulkeley said we're already hearing a new trend in film and TV trailers.

"I think it's just more rhythmic ways of using sound design," Bulkeley explains. "Getting super-duper layer-y and making a musical bed out of sound design elements. … More melody within sound designs."  

Bulkeley added that she'd love for more audiences to take note of the music in movie trailers, but the attention being paid to  trailers in this moment is a plus.

"It's really cool that trailers are getting their time in the light right now," Bulkeley said.


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