Distilling emotion: the importance of sound in creating a trailer

Condensing the essence of a drama into 60 seconds is always going to be a challenge, we asked Video Editor Colin Wadsworth how important sound is to the whole mix.

“I recently worked to promote the launch of the BBC Three drama ‘In The Flesh’. The idea was to take over the entire junction between two programmes and present an intriguing and disconcerting piece that would try and convey the emotions of the lead character, Kieren, as he begins to come to terms with his recovery from “Partially Deceased Syndrome” (i.e. he’s a recovering Zombie!).

The aim of all video editing is to convey information in an interesting way. For a short “clip-based” trailer this aim is heightened into extreme focus. You need to distil the emotional impact of the program – the intensity of a drama or the wonderment of a documentary – in the hope that the viewer will be suitably impressed and watch the programme later.  Images may have an undeniable power to illicit an emotional response, but the importance of the sound to the success of any trailer should never be underestimated. The combination of great music and beautiful pictures is hard to beat, but just having a good track is usually only part of the story. Central to a trailers success is the timing and rhythm of all the audio components within it. Snippets of dialogue, sound effects, voice over and music must all combine in a way that appears natural and effortless or otherwise appropriate for the message you are trying to convey.  This can be quite an elusive thing to achieve and is an area where a good editor and dubbing mixer can make a huge impact on the effectiveness of any project. A few expert adjustments to the timing of these audio elements can make the difference between an average trailer and an exceptional one.

In the case of “In The Flesh: Kieren’s World”, the sound track is designed to be disjointed and unusual, quite the opposite of what you would want to achive on a more conventional trailer.  We are trying to give a sense of the internal turmoil of the character whilst punctuating and supporting the pictures.

Most, if not all professional editors always ensure the audio elements of any work are right before considering what images to “paint” over the top of this foundation.  In that way you could rightly say the pictures are of secondary importance to the sound.  If you don’t get the sound right then the pictures will never really work that well, but with a solid audio foundation, even average pictures can really come to life.  Being attuned to this is a lot like having a good ear for music, so it’s not unusual for good video editors to have a musical background. Underpinning all this is the relationship that exists between language and our perception of the world around us.  The rhythms of speech are wired into all our brains from an early age and our experience of both creating and enjoying music, television and films etc is always in reference to this aspect of our thinking.

While the role of an editor is primarily to concentrate on the relative timing of the basic audio elements of the work, the dubbing mixer concentrates on recording the voice over, adding sound effects and polishing and perfecting the sound mix.  They must squeeze the most out of all the sound sources within the trailer, mixing these elements together in a way that provides precise audio clarity whilst conveying the desired emotional response in the viewer / listener.  A commitment to the preservation and enhancement of the very best sound quality is vital throughout this process.

For “In The Flesh: Kieren’s World”, in terms of pictures we had a relatively small amount of footage to work with.  We intentionally limited ourselves to only using footage from the early part of the drama (prior to Kieren’s release from hospital and integration back into society).  We were similarly limited in relation to the sound track, so we asked lead actor Luke Newberry to deliver a selection of his lines in a variety of ways which the dubbing mixer then combined with sound effects and digital processing to build an impressionistic soundscape that would complement the video editing techniques used in the trail.

Click on the player below and listen to the trailer yourself, then watch it and see how you think we did!”

(“In The Flesh: Kieren’s World”, BBC Three.  Agency: Red Bee Media, Director: Simon Mathews, Sound: Alex Bingham, Editors: Colin Wadsworth & Paul Callaghan)


  • Leoraul says:

    Love the work presented. Thanks to B&W.

  • Colin Wadsworth says:

    This trailer was both nominated for best sound design, and won gold for best clip-based drama trailer at Promax awards 2013!

  • Bowers & Wilkins says:


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