Shock Profile: Bill Neil, Trailer Editor


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Name: Bill Neil

Occupation: Film trailer slicer ‘n dicer

Where: Buddha Jones – Hollywood, CA

Favorite Horror Film: John Carpenter’s Halloween

Credits: Jeepers Creepers 2, Dawn of the Dead (’04), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (’03), Freddy vs. Jason, Boogeyman, When a Stranger Calls, Resident Evil: Extinction, Trick ‘r Treat, Vacancy How long have you been cutting trailers?

Bill Neil:
Since ’92. I went to film school at Northwestern and then USC. Right when I graduated I wanted to edit features and thought trailers might be an interesting way in.

Shock: What was the first horror trailer you ever cut?

“Jason X.”

Shock: So, how difficult is it to cobble together a preview for an audience?

It can be very tough depending on what the movie is and how the studio wants to sell it. Two-and-a-half minutes is the max time for a trailer and to get a story out there can be difficult. Sometimes you’re halfway through and you can’t get to the scary stuff!

Shock: In your line of business, is “polishing a turd” a phrase you’re familiar with?

Ah, yes… [laughs] The thing about me is that I’m a huge horror fan, so I’m so happy to be working on horror films and I often find the gold in a package that’s crappy. Sometimes we have to work from rough cuts or dailies, so it’s unfair to judge until we get to see a final product. I really try to give the benefit of the doubt. Because I end up working on a trailer for months and months, I have to find something I love about it or I will kill myself.

Shock: When you get a gig, what’s your process like? Do you immediately latch onto a stylistic choice based on the material?

I try not to repeat myself, sometimes they ask for something specific. I did those still shots in the “Texas Chainsaw” trailer – I now see that technique used in other trailers and people think I’ve cut those previews when I haven’t. When I watch a movie I try to find a sonic or visual motif I can play with and use as a bouncing board to create a mood that’s authentic to the feature. Basically, the people responsible for a trailer are myself, the editor, the producer at the company I work for and the marketing people at the various studios. They have a lot of creative input and say in the initial direction – even the minutiae – of the trailers. So I can never take complete credit for anything, it’s a truly collaborative process.

Shock: I hear they actually “test” trailers like they do films – true?

Yeah. The studio will assign a trailer to me and a producer. We then get a feel for what it’s going to be like then I go off and cut it. During that time I’ll come up with some creative devices and I’ll show my version to the producer, we show it to the studio, they do their changes. When they feel it’s ready, they’ll test it and send it to one of the audience testing facilities. You need to see if the idea is coming across because sometimes you don’t know if certain elements are clear.

Shock: What’s one film that passed you by that you really wanted to do?

Rob Zombie’s “Halloween.” I’ve pretty much done every remake. I know everybody hates remakes, but if they’re going to make them, I’d like to be a part of them somehow since they’re based on these seminal films I loved as a kid.

Shock: And the hardest trailer to pull off?

This isn’t to say the movie is bad, but “Teeth” was a tough one because it’s about a vagina with teeth. I looked at it like that movie “Parents” which was dark, but funny. They wanted a green band trailer, which means the MPAA has approved it for audiences and that means you can’t show any blood, have a gun pointed at the camera, you can’t have children in jeopardy, a woman grabbed – for horror, that’s all you do! No blood? In a green band trailer, you’ll sometimes see the blood turned black.

Shock: The “Dawn of the Dead” trailer closes with the film burning in the projector. Then you see all of these silhouettes step up to the white screen – that was shot intentionally for the trailer…

Yes, and I’m actually one of the shadows. I think that idea came from a writer and the studio – it didn’t come from me. I brought to the table the “burning” of the film. It all gelled together and came together to form something cool. Universal believed in the film so they went and did that final shot.

Shock: How often do you get footage that was shot specifically for the trailer?

Well, sometimes for things like the “Resident Evil: Extinction” teaser, they had that club stuff which was stock footage. They did a special shoot of the miniature Vegas for the teaser as well. But they’ll do special shoots for a teaser every so often. Sometimes the filmmakers will ask us if there are any shots we want them to get for clarity’s sake. They’ll shoot specific things for the title treatment in the trailer.

Shock: I hear you hammered out a cool teaser trailer for Platinum Dunes’ “Amityville Horror” remake. Can you tell us about that?

We got some of the real footage from the case – the news broadcasts and stuff. We couldn’t get the rights, but we had archived Walter Cronkite footage talking about the murders, it made it feel so cool. We then go to this film strip and it opens up to the house. The teaser that was used ended up being similar but we couldn’t use the Cronkite footage, his presence made it real cool.

You can find some of Bill Neil’s trailers in our film database.

Source: Ryan Rotten