Even if you're not much for holiday films, chances are you've seen the Will Ferrell movie, "Elf," that came out in 2003. It's a silly but fun tale of Buddy the Elf searching for his real father in New York City. The trailer seen here though, created by Cinefix, would have you believe that Buddy might just be an insane psychopath, spreading Christmas cheer in the form of violently stalking a person he believes to be his dad.
Humor aside, this is a great example of the power of video editing. Even a PG-rated holiday film can come across as a twisted thriller with a skilled editor working on a project. Let's explore a few notable things done in the edit, here.
The most obvious, and likely easiest to include, would be a music track that creates an atmosphere of mystery and suspense. Sudden rises as well as bass hits really give the trailer strong beats and set the overall mood. The soundtrack tells us how we should feel and makes sentences like, "He thinks he's an elf..." become way more ominous.
The text that is added really changes the narrative and allows for some creative interpretation of shots contained in the film. Instead of Buddy accidentally going to the North Pole, he was "taken as a child," and, "tortured and broken."
Dialog and AudioFX
In the above scene in particular, you'll find that certain lines of dialog have been tweaked in post with echo or reverberation effects added, making Buddy sound isolated or just off a little bit. You might not think to implement this kind of change when editing, but when added together with all of the other adjustments, it creates a complete experience.
The editor seemed to pick images that might be easily construed in a way that adds to the suspense or altered narrative. Notice the use of shots that have darker or high-contrast lighting. There's even one shot where Buddy has the classic "villain lighting" on his face, as he appears to be lit from below.
The Color Grade
Most comedies tend to have a very natural, true-to-life look. A lot of horror and suspense films use unnatural color washes and highlights to add to the unsettling feeling they are trying to create. For this trailer, there was no going back to re-light any scenes, but with some work in post, the editor was able to tweak the color tones and create a look that makes the footage a little more foreboding.
If you liked this trailer edit, make sure you've seen the classic recut of the film, "The Shining," which does the exact opposite of what this "Elf" trailer does and makes a horror film appear as though it's a family-friendly story about a struggling writer.