How the heart-stopping music for blockbuster film trailers gets made
In terms of box office takings, a trailer can make or break a movie.
On the one hand, it could go viral. It could be like the IT teaser trailer. That one’s had almost 31 million YouTube views at the time of writing, and it even set a record for the most online views in a single day.
If the trailer misses the mark, though — if it’s a bit drab or, even worse, it gets panned — it could significantly damage the hype around a movie’s release.
One man who’s well aware of this is 26-year-old Frederick Lloyd. Under the name Ursine Vulpine, he has composed music that’s featured in a huge number of blockbuster trailers: everything from Mad Max: Fury Road to the recent Professor Marston & The Wonder Women:
“I think music in a trailer should set the pace and the tone but also intrigue you,” Lloyd told Mashable. “Make you lean in and engage in that world for two and half minutes but then still leave you wanting more at the end.”
Judging by his CV Lloyd probably knows what he’s talking about, too. He’s had tracks featured in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Fantastic Four, and Fences (to name just a few), and he’s contributed to the re-imagined John Williams music featured in both the latest trailer for The Last Jedi and the final Force Awakens trailer. His cover version of “Wicked Game” was in the trailer for My Cousin Rachel, and has over 2.2 million streams on Spotify.
Lloyd said making music for trailers was something he fell into quite naturally while studying film production at university. At the time he was already creating music under the Ursine Vulpine name.
“Back then the instrumentation was quite different, more influenced by post-rock, experimental, indie-folk kind of vibes, but the style and structure was very much the same as it is today,” he said. “It always centred around a gradual progression, constantly building to a big crescendo. I eventually started messing around with more orchestral sounds and then in 2012 I directed and scored my graduation film Pantheon.
At the time Lloyd was being unofficially managed by the LA-based Pusher Music — a company who work with artists from different background to produce trailer music.
“They sent the score for Pantheon over and a track from it ended up getting placed in a trailer for Zero Dark Thirty directed by Kathryn Bigelow,” Lloyd said. “From then on I thought that this was maybe something I could do and I’ve been working together with them for the last 5 years.”
So how do you actually go about making the music for a trailer?
“The majority of music I make is prospective, so I’ll create a track and it will find a home with a trailer,” explained Lloyd. “On the other side you do get briefs, so you’re working to create a bespoke track for a particular film. I’m pretty much never shown any footage and it’s usually just about nailing down a mood, tone or atmosphere in that case.”
Whether he has a brief or is creating a track from scratch, the process is similar.
“What do I want people to feel or see when they listen to it?”
“The beginning of a new track always starts with the question of where do I want this track to go, what do I want people to feel or see when they listen to it?” Lloyd said.
“Then I’d usually start with a simple building block, a small melody or motif — could be a single note or tone — and then build around that. It’s very much an instinctual process, I have pretty much zero musical training so it’s mostly just feeling where I want the music to go and letting it evolve from there.”
While the music should compliment the visuals, Lloyd explained, the trailers he finds the most interesting are the ones that break convention.
“The example I always give is a trailer for Battle: Los Angeles that used a Johann Johannsson track called “The Sun’s Gone Dim and the Sky’s Turned Black”,” he said. “This stunningly beautiful, heartbreaking and tragic music against the apocalyptic imagery is exactly what you’d least expect from that kind of trailer and it is so effective and remains probably my favourite trailer I’ve ever seen!”
Despite the fact he’s only 26 years old, Lloyd’s already built up a pretty incredible portfolio. Alongside the many, many trailers in his showreel, he’s also just released his first album, Respire.
Of all the projects he’s contributed to, his work on the Star Wars trailers has been the thing he’s most enjoyed.
“Contributing to the re-imaginings of John Williams music on both the Star Wars: The Force Awakens final theatrical trailer and the first Star Wars: The Last Jedi trailer have got to be the overall winners!” he said.
“To be a small part of that world is an honour and a privilege.”
Respire is available to purchase and stream now.