Top Gun at 35: Editor who cut first trailer recalls Tom Cruise 'jumping up and down' with excitement
In the mid-'80s, there were only a handful of people who cut trailers for motion pictures. Benedict Coulter, then a wannabe musician who ended up at one of those Hollywood trailer companies, was one of them. He was the lucky guy who got to cut the first teasers for Top Gun.
In honor of the movie's 35th anniversary this month, we talked to Coulter — now with Statement Advertising — about his signature style, bonding with Tom Cruise, and how he became the go-to guy for kick-ass trailers. "Trailer editing is very musical," he tells EW. "I was always attracted to a song that had these iconic four or five first notes, because that's how you got people's attention in the theaters."
Coulter shares his memories of making trailer magic below.
"I was at a company called Kaleidoscope Films, which was one of the original trailer companies at the time. There were probably about four or five companies in the whole country. Now there's about 75 to 100. That was my first job in Hollywood. I was born in Paris and I came to Hollywood to be a musician. I ended up playing with some pretty good bands, but I soon realized that I was not going to be making make a living as a musician in Hollywood. It was just too hard. So I got a job at this trailer company as a runner and worked my way up.
"I did the trailer for Beverly Hills Cop for Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson the year before so they asked for me to do Top Gun. That was my introduction to Tom Cruise, who I worked with on many, many more movies after that. We kind of developed a relationship together. That's what happens. A lot of these producers, directors, and actors, if you do what they like, they keep coming back to you. Trailer editing is very musical. It's very base written. When you watch people, you can see them moving to the rhythm that you've set. Don and Jerry just loved my cutting.
"I got the full movie [to watch before cutting the trailer]. The crazy thing at the time, they sent you a black and white copy of the print. You had 10 to 12 film reels for a movie, each at 10 minutes. I remember seeing it and going, 'Wow, this is really, really cool.' This guy, Tom Cruise was really cool in Risky Business but was not a huge, huge star yet. And it was my first introduction to director Tony Scott. We bonded immediately. He liked the fact that cut trailers with rock and roll. I had done that with Beverly Hills Cop by using music from the Pointer Sisters.
"Most of the trailer editors at the time did not use songs. They used traditional scores and conventional music. Being a musician and coming from a rock and roll background, I wanted to try it. Filmmakers really started to respond to it. That became my signature, cutting these fast-paced, kick ass, rock and roll trailers. Top Gun was one of them. I was always attracted to a song that had these iconic four or five first notes, because that's how you got people's attention in the theaters. You want to do something where maybe people are about to get up and get their popcorn, but then your trailer plays and that makes them turn around.
"Even though I cut many pieces to 'Danger Zone,' I chose 'Stranger Eyes' from the Cars to cut this first trailer. I loved that the pass by (where the man spills his coffee in the tower). I thought that was just so cool to establish attitude. And there was that incredible shot from behind the jet, when it leaves the aircraft carrier. Just a spectacular shot. Tony Scott was such an incredible visual director.
"I think the first time I showed the trailer, it was just Don and Jerry and Tony Scott. They came over to the editing room at Kaleidoscope and I presented it. It was all on film. I had an upright Moviola editing machine and I would present them the trailer on the Moviola. Tom Cruise came a few days later, 'cause they were just so excited by what they had seen. They were jumping up and down. I didn't know that I had that talent. I thought I was just a good musician. It's one of those things where you kind of end up in a job that you didn't know you would be really great at."