The editor of Candyman‘s viral trailer explains just how much of a collaborative effort it was to make. He also talked about making the trailers for Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Us.
On Thursday (February 27), the first trailer for Jordan Peele and Nia DaCosta’s highly-anticipated Candyman remake was released. There were many notable moments that came from the trailer: an introduction to some of the film’s characters who are portrayed by a whos-who of talented black actors (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, and even Vanessa Estelle Williams, who reprises her role as Anne-Marie McCoy); a group of presumably teenage girls naively uttering Candyman’s name together in a school bathroom; and, of course, Destiny Child’s “Say My Name” paired with music from the original Candyman soundtrack made by Philip Glass.
Hearing “Say My Name” transformed into a horror movie anthem served to remind viewers that DaCosta’s second feature film (the first was her 2018 breakout Little Woods) exists in the world of Jordan Peele’s Monkeypaw Productions, the same production company that gave us 2017’s brilliant Get Out and last year’s Us. Candyman‘s use of “Say My Name” follows in suit with Us‘ use of Oakland duo Luniz’s “I Got 5 on it.” The latter transformed an already ominous rap classic into a creepy horror theme, and its appearance in both the film and trailers were well-received by fans. (So much so, that the track — known as the “Tethered Mix” — was put on the movie’s official soundtrack.)
With “Say My Name” in the Candyman trailer, fans are already jokingly speculating what rap or R&B classic Peele is going to fuck up for us next. But it’s a collaborative endeavor to transform nostalgic Black hits into horror theme songs — just ask John Cantú, the trailer editor who helped bring the Candyman trailer, as well as the trailers for Get Out and Us, to life.
Cantú came to Hollywood in 2006, when he was in his early 20s, in hopes of being a writer and director, but instead found himself as a trailer editor after being encouraged by peers. A ’90s hip-hop fan, the first trailer Cantú ever cut was for an action film (he doesn’t reveal which one) where he mashed up a remix of Ennio Morricone’s “Ecstasy of Gold” with Gangstarr’s “Tonz ‘O’ Gunz.”
“I used to — and still do sometimes — make beats, and that’s kind of my approach to editing,” Cantú told me over the phone. “To structure it like a beat.” From there, Cantú went on to edit trailers for Nightcrawler and Silver Linings Playbook, as well as a trailer for the 15th anniversary of the Fast & Furious franchise. That was his first trailer for Universal Pictures, before being swept up in Peele’s world (although he also did the trailers for Pacific Rim: Uprising, which mashed up Vince Staples and Tupac, and Hobbs & Shaw, which used Jay-Z’s “PSA”).
In an interview with Okayplayer, Cantú explained the somewhat competitive process of making film trailers, helping to create the “Tethered Mix,” and how the Candyman trailer was a collaborative effort that wasn’t just the brainchild of him, Peele and DaCosta, but a lot of people whose input helped it come to fruition.
You did Get Out, Us, and now Candyman. How did that relationship with Jordan Peele start?
I wish it was a matter of me sitting down with Jordan, but the truth is that I work with our marketing team. So, the way it works in the trailer industry, there’s all these third-party vendors that kind of compete to finish a trailer. And some of these vendors actually work in-house solely on the studio’s projects. Disney has a place called The Hive; Warner Bros. has some place called Treehouse; and I work at Universal at the in-house creative operations called Inside Job. So, we work with upstairs and the market team. So, the vice president [Joe Wees] who’s handling all of Jordan’s movies — he’s the one liaisoning with Jordan — and I basically work for the marketing team. Now, I’ve been fortunate enough that what I’ve been able to cut has won out three times on Jordan projects. But I don’t directly work with Jordan, per se, although I’ve met him and sometimes I’ve been on phone calls where he’s discussing his hopes and passions for trailers. But I’m the guy in the bay while other folks interface with the filmmakers. Which is kind of cool because I don’t think there’s this bias of “Well, this is the guy who did Get Out, this is the guy who did Us.” Your work every single time out has to stand against other folks’ vision.
I can’t wait for @JordanPeele to make “Back That Ass Up” into a horror theme. idk how…but he’s gonna do it.
— Emma Frot (@jermesz) February 27, 2020
The fact that you’ve been the one chosen just shows like, “This is the one who gets it and understands.” I feel like now a part of the “Jordan Peele cinematic experience” is going to be the trailers and wondering what old school rap or R&B song is he going to flip into a horror movie anthem next.
Yeah. I saw that amazing tweet — somebody said that Jordan is gonna do [Juvenile’s] “Back That Azz Up” next.” I grew up on Cash Money, so if it was ever requested I would be more than happy to oblige. But what I will say about it — especially in the case of Us and Candyman — the songs have been baked into the script in some form or fashion from the jump. Like, when I read the Us script, it always had that van scene with them singing “I Got 5 on it.” I think on Instagram, when crew were posting around and they were shooting Candyman in Chicago, it was being shot under the code name “say my name.” So, it’s always something that’s kind of in the ether, and then your trick as a trailer editor and as a marketer is, “how do you actually make this idea work?” If you say, “well, how do we make ‘Say My Name’ work?” you’re gonna have a lot of versions and iterations of what that would look like especially coming off Us, where everybody has an idea of what the Jordan Peele sound is.
Something that was very interesting that we discovered was, if you listen to the trailer it’s actually a mashup. It’s not just “Say My Name.” It’s the original Candyman score by Philip Glass. And what was even crazier is that, if you pull up “It Was Always You, Helen” [from the Candyman soundtrack] and then find a “Say My Name” acapella, both songs are in C minor. When you get under the hood you’re like, “Oh man.” Then, on top of it, you know, as Candyman says, “I am the writing on the wall.” (Edit note: “Say My Name” comes from Destiny’s Child second album, The Writing’s on the Wall.) Then on top of it, what do they call Beyoncé’s fanbase? (Edit note: The Beyhive. In the Candyman series, the titular character was had honey smeared on his face and was fed to bees as punishment for having a forbidden interracial love affair.)
Oh my god.
When you’re a trailer editor that’s all you do. Just figuring out, “What’s the most interesting, resonant thing?” It’s been wild to see Twitter light up with all those things you were thinking all along. Like, “Oh, wow. They get it.”
How was it bridging Philip Glass’ work with “Say My Name?” Did you have to get Philip Glass’ blessing for this or did he find out when the trailer dropped like the rest of us?
I don’t deal with the licensing part of this. We have a whole music team at Universal that goes out to these folks — goes out to Destiny Child’s people, goes out to Philip Glass’ people, gets what their quote is, how much of the song we can use, how much we can’t use. Then, they either say, “Yup, you’re a go, these are the rules of using this song,” or — there’s other trailers where the artist will say, “Nah, you don’t have enough money” or “I just don’t want it in this movie.” But in terms of bridging, the score that we have is not the original Philip Glass-composed version of “It Was Always You, Helen.” We actually worked with this music company called Pitch Hammer that just did the Stranger Things season four teaser, and just said, “This is what we want to do.” And they scored a new theatrical type version of “It Was Always You, Helen.” And then I had an acapella version of “Say My Name” that I slowed down and reverbed out.
You said you make your trailers as if you were making a beat. Did creating the mashup come first?
Every editor works differently. I like to layout how I think the composition will play in the trailer and then I look to start putting in story beats — what lands where. Even before all of that, I’ll lay out the entire score and figure out places where “Say My Name” lyrics will accentuate, because then I have a road map of where, like, “OK, I’ve got to hit this lyric at this particular part of the song, and I’ve got this much story to tell by then.” It’s a balancing act.
When doing this do you have the lightbulb moment?
It’s not until I see a rough full version that I can be confident that it’s gonna work. And even then, I’ve had plenty of ideas killed very early, so I do my best not to fall in love with anything. I don’t truly have that lightbulb moment until they’re like, “Yeah, this one is gonna be the trailer.” The lightbulb moment really isn’t my call — that’s on the marketing team, and that’s on the filmmakers saying this is the one.
Did you happen to be around Nia or Jordan when they saw the final cut?
I definitely heard back from Joe. He’ll tell us, “Jordan loves your cut, Nia loves your cut.” I’m not necessarily in the room always — I did have the pleasure of meeting Nia during the mix of this trailer and she’s super cool. But I’m not necessarily there when Jordan or Nia or any of the the creatives are seeing things for the first time.
It’s wild to see things on Twitter when everyone’s like, “Woah,” and just blown back. It’s not like when you’re in the bay. It’s a long process of figuring it out and getting it there. It’s a long back and forth — I’ve had trailers that go up to not just 10, 12 versions, but all the way up to 50 and 60 versions. Depending on the size of the movie this can be a weeks-long process, it can be a years-long process, especially if it’s a huge movie like one of our franchise movies: Jurassic [Park] or [Fast and the Furious] or Minions. There are a lot of moving parts and you have to get everybody on the same page of “this is the best way to position this giant entertainment investment into the marketplace.”
That makes me want to go back to Us, and the fact that what you and Joe did in making the “Tethered Mix,” and that it became so popular in the trailer that it ended up becoming a part of the soundtrack —
That was wild. Just to be a part of that whole process. You’re working with a genius like [music composer] Michael Abels, and to even be with these filmmakers that are cultural gamechangers, and they’re like, “Oh, by the way. That thing you did, it’s definitely showing up in the movie.” It’s really, really wild.
I wanna reiterate that it truly is a collaborative process, and it really all sparks from their original idea and their genius. What I’m just trying to do in two-and-a-half minutes is try and facilitate that in a way that speaks to my passion and in a way that, hopefully, speaks to the marketplace.
The thing that I’m happiest with working at Universal, is that I get to work on these projects. I’m a young Chicano part-time filmmaker and I’m very concerned about representation, and to be part of a revolution with how Jordan is putting material up there…I feel very fortunate that my career has led me in this direction to work with geniuses like Jordan and Nia and all the folks that I get to work with at Universal.
Another reason these trailers resonate so much with people is that representation, especially in regards to the music. Black people rarely see ourselves in horror movies that we can relate to. Then, on top of that, we never hear Black music that we grew up with used in this context.
Yeah. I grew up in Dallas, Fort Worth, and I remember where I was the first time I watched [Destiny’s Child’s] “No, No, No” video, and I was like, “Who are these goddesses?” And then to be hearing “I Got 5 on it” and [Tupac’s] “California Love” on the bus every day…it sticks with you in a way. I was once told by someone in the industry that hip-hop doesn’t sell. They were like, “It does good with certain projects, but on the whole it doesn’t sell.” And I was like, “OK. But just so you know, this is our classic rock.” [JAY-Z] and Kendrick [Lamar] and all these folks, these are our [Rolling Stones]. You’ve heard “Gimme Shelter” 20 billion times in a trailer. These particular songs are our “Gimme Shelter.” They’re our [Eric Clapton’s] “Layla” — they’re the songs that take us back to a certain place and time. And the trick…is you have to figure out “how do you put it into context of a cinematic experience?” Because you and I have that cinematic meta-line where we go back to where we were when we first had that. But for folks that didn’t have that experience, we have to twist it to be like, “Yo, there’s so many layers to how this song can be interpreted.” And that’s what makes Jordan such an incredible filmmaker. That’s what he always does in his work — he’ll take things you think you know, and then he shifts it 45 degrees to the point that it’s just something you’ve never seen before.