The Little Known Art of Cutting Trailers

It’s often said that sometimes the movie trailer is better than the film itself. This is often true, and in some cases, we have trailer editor Ric Thomas to blame. Ric works at award winning film marketing trailer company Empire Design in London, a company responsible for some of the most iconic poster designs and trailers of recent years, including Kill Bill, Casino Royale and Prometheus. Ric spends his time editing together trailers for some of the biggest blockbuster movies coming out of Hollywood, carefully crafting a piece of advertising that has to make us want to see the film. In the hands of a skilled editor a story boiled down to selected moments, artfully pieced together and set to music can take us on a powerful emotional journey. With that in mind, we recently had the chance to Ric ask him about his experience of trailer editing.

What made you want to be in entertainment and what made you want to be an editor?

It was gradual process, beginning with a passion for theatre and music; I explored various facets, from performance to directing and music. My theatre studies university course was very focussed on new media, and I gradually realised that I was enjoying editing more than the theatrical side. Of course I’d always edited, from splicing 8mm cine films to crashing an edit from VHS to VHS, but it was only then that I realised I wanted to do it is a career. I moved to London and went for every runners job going, and then luckily ended up working my way up at Empire. I knew that I wanted to work in trailers from the second I found out it was an actual job! For me it’s the distillation of editing – taking something that’s two hours long and telling its story in anywhere between 5 second and 5 minutes. Luckily for me, it turned out that the skills I’d accumulated through theatre directing and messing around with computers had actually prepared me well for trailer editing.

And now?

I’m a senior editor, cutting trailers and TV spots for upcoming releases. I’m currently juggling several films: BATTLESHIP (Taylor Kitsch), THE PIRATES! (Hugh Grant) and THE BOURNE LEGACY (Jeremy Renner, Hugh Grant). I’ve probably worked on over a hundred films in the last 7 years, including TOY STORY 3, DESPICABLE ME, KNOCKED UP, TRON, and THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM.

What’s a typical work day?

The work itself is never typical, but the process which make up the days, weeks, and months generally begin with watching/breaking down a movie for editorial content, creating a concept for cutting, cutting and submitting materials, and revising materials until the concept is abandoned or goes to be finished. The process for each trailer ranges from a few days to even a few years.

Why are the best bits always in the trailers?

Well, I actually try not to do that. The key idea is to tease the audience, leave them wanting more. The rise of the internet is allowing people to put more content out there, from the first five minutes of the film to the long promos that we saw for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo last year. It’s all about creating awareness, and I think that everyone goes a long way to avoid spoiling the film experience.

What’s the best thing about your job?

Well, one of the best things is being able to see films years before they’re released – you really feel part of the process. Then there’s solving extremely challenging problems. Every project is completely different from the next and you have to exercise all your creative acumen since its your responsibility. You have to tell a clear concise story, create a tone through selecting and cutting music, develop a visual style through editorial while collaborating with graphic artists and solving the challenges of the narrative in a way that satisfies the producer, the studio, and often the talent involved with the picture.

What is it that you think makes you good at what you do?

For me, I think it’s a combination of being diverse creatively (music, web design, creative writing background) and very critical of my work. This generally forces me to work a little harder, but I often find you get out what you put in. I like to think I’m a perfectionist. Not that everything I do is always perfect in everyone’s eyes, but I have to have everything up to my personal standards before it goes anywhere.

What are you most proud of?

I’m really proud of the teaser trailer I created last year for Aardman’s film The Pirates! The client came to us with a brief for something original and I came up with the idea of rewriting the lyrics to Drunken Sailor to sing through a list of all the fun things in the film. It ended up having a nice, silly, tone that the guys at Aardman really liked as it fit with the film. They put a karaoke version on Facebook and people could record their own version of the song – in this day and age, and with the advent of digital, it’s really important that films create a piece of advertising that helps their film get noticed, and things like that are a fun way of doing it.

Any advice for people looking to create a great trailer?

I’d say the most important thing is to watch trailers as many trailers as you can, look at the nuances, how they build the story, create the gags or the scary jumps; how they make the emotional moments, all with editing short hand. Also, the big lesson is the trailer is not the film. Don’t get bogged down trying to explain everything, that’s the film’s job. Choose a story through line for your trailer; you’re looking for the best way to get an audience. All films have their strengths, so play to them. Know the ending, the theme and the feeling you want to leave the viewer with. And for me, music is probably the most important tool we have. More than anything it quickly indicates tone and rhythm, which are massively important in the short form.


Here are links to a couple of trailers and TV spots Ric has edited in the past. – Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang – Cemetery Junction – The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists – Battleship – The Lorax – The Invention of Lying – Diary of a Wimpy Kid – Miss Potter – Toy Story 2 – Smokin’ Aces – The Bourne Legacy

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