Horrible Bosses is a high concept project whose premise is contained in the title. The original take on the subject is expressed in the murder consultant’s question, “why don’t you kill each others bosses?” Why not, indeed?
High concept is often misunderstand as highly conceptual, abstract, or complicated. Actually, it’s more or less the opposite: high concept is immediately understood, its conflict easily distillable into a couple sentences whose genre and mass appeal are obvious.
Consequently, the 2:18 Red Band Trailer for Horrible Bosses affords the trailer makers plenty of time to establish character, capture the mood and explore the humor because they require so little time to tell the story. This is not to say that their decisions about conveying situation, conflict and likely resolution are not painstakingly made, just that this information is soon delivered, allowing an emphasis on the pleasures that a comedy with such universal resonance and black humor provides.
As I analyze it, the trailer has three acts, followed by a credit roll and an extended button.
Act one presents our three employee protagonists, Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis in conversation with murder consultant Jamie Foxx, to whom they explain their conflict and request advice. A card with the WB and New Line logos (white lettering on light blue background; very clean, very simple) divides act one, which is separated from act two by a card reading “New Line Cinema Presents.”
In act two, the individual conflict of each protagonist is explored in scenes from the toxic work environment they share with their three, uniquely appalling bosses. A card (white lettering on blue background, same font and design as all the other cards) reading “This Year,” closes act two and opens act three, in which Foxx asks the question that provides the probable resolution of their conflict and the original spin on this high-concept premise, (“why don’t you kill each others’ bosses) after which we watch the comic and failed attempts to dispatch their nemeses.
A credit roll concludes act three, with first names in white letters and last in light blue, over a ½ frame action glamour shot of each of the 7 key cast members.
The button runs about 25 seconds (somewhat longer than average), broken only by title and then terminated with the words “Coming Soon,” using the exact same font, color and design as all the other cards.
Typically, story information is provided quickly, in dialogue as well as edits, while characters and crude, mature humor are given the chance to breathe. There is a rhythm to the editing: short establishing shots of character, featuring basic plot details followed by exemplary scenes that, while mere digressions of the story, tell us volumes about personality, psychology, tone and attitude. It is tight, but unremarkable, and perfectly unobjectionable in terms of competence.
There are, however, a surprising number of edits for a comedy…nearly 120 in 2 minutes. The cutting is initially straightforward, from shot to shot. Energy and momentum are established by speeded up shots, quick cut transitions as well as wipes (slides). In the Cast run, each star is shown in a reduced frame, with the card showing their name half on and half in the black border. We also get split screens to show each protagonist with his boss-target, as a quick and efficient way to convey pictures of the names Bateman puts together.
The music choices are safe, but clever, offering commentary, even captioning to the images shown. Act I, the men are singing the blues, against a George Thorogood classic blues riff—“Bad to the Bone,” which presumably describes their bosses. Act II, a funky instrumental bed for exploring their individual predicaments with Horrible Bosses. It tells us, these are urban, sophisticated people. The third is the least distinctive, a generic rock backdrop for the fateful decision to kill the bosses. Fourth, ‘fifteen minutes later,” in the lyric of the new cue, we see how their efforts will go spectacularly wrong. The catchy, compelling, energizing song tells us we’re in the trailer’s payoff zone, with cutting speed and comic mayhem increasing apace. The final cue, another insistently cool and impelling hip hop tune whose lyric “there ain’t no rest for the wicked” introduces the cast run, the volume lowering as we watch some of the ways our protagonists keep busy.