Stop River Tam: Serenity Remix Trailer

The thing about video editing is that the techniques that make it up are really deceptively simple. Cut clips, put them together, add shifting and music and cobble together sound clips. It’s all extremely simple, and I found Adobe Premiere very easy to use. But actually getting it to work– using those simple techniques in a way that is entertaining and coherent– is a good deal trickier, and I’m not entirely sure I was successful.

For my video editing project, I chose the film Serenity (2005). It’s a movie based on the TV show Firefly, an amalgam between a science fiction show and a Western. Firefly only ran for thirteen episodes before being cancelled by Fox, but it garnered critical acclaim and a cult following, enough so that a film was produced, based on the high DVD sales and popular fan demand. It follows Capt. Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), a swashbuckling Han Solo type and the crew of his spaceship as they try to make a living by any means necessary.

In the film, Mal and his crew are harboring River Tam (Summer Glau), an escaped government experiment, and her brother Simon, from the Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor, who also had a starring role in 2012), a relentless assassin sent to recover her. In my version of events, River Tam is an antagonist, with Mal and the Operative teaming up to stop her in a sort of buddy comedy situation.

To portray River as antagonistic was easy– there are scenes in the film of her engaged in extreme violence, attacking large numbers of enemies at once (at one point, in a brainwashed fugue, she even attacks the other heroes). Detached from context, this display of violence is symbolic (see the Danesi and Danesi reading on semiotics) of violence and aggression, and the way she is filmed: often in darkness, attacking without provocation, killing remorselessly– all indicate something other than heroic outside of the more complex character development in the film.

Portraying Mal and the Operative as allies is more difficult, and I don’t think I was entirely successful. They have scenes where they meet and snark at each other (Joss Whedon, the writer of the film, is known for his witty and idiosyncratic dialogue), and I used a scene like this to suggest a relationship more in line with the odd couples seen in buddy cop movies.

Music was another important feature in transforming meaning– Like Klossterman discusses in “Ha ha, he said, Ha ha,” audio tracks such as laugh tracks can shift and force meanings onto pieces of film. With sinister music in the beginning and happier, more upbeat music once Mal and the Operative meet, I was able to improve the quality of my trailer substantially.

Bernard Dick talks about the important role of the editor in the process of making a film, and after this project, I have greater respect for this role. I didn’t really have any technical difficulties working on my project– I was one of the lucky ones– but I did have issues making my trailer flow well, and the early part of it still seems a bit choppy to me. It just takes a lot of fiddling and experimentation to find out what works and what doesn’t, and for any prospective students, my best advice would be to set aside a good deal of time for the project: video editing is much more time consuming than one might expect, even if one has a clear idea of what one wants.

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