As some of you saw, last week I posted my first book trailer for On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened (I've included it again at the end of this post if you missed it). After I posted it, I got a request from one of my followers to explain how I went about making it. Terrific idea, I thought – I’m totally stealing it!
Let me start off by saying that I did not want to do a typical book trailer. Most of the ones that I’ve seen I think are too long or too dull, spending image after image detailing plot points or posing questions the book purports to answer. At the other extreme, you also see Hollywood-style trailers, which are usually very well-done cinematically, but often make me want to see the movie rather than read the book!
The second most influential factor for me was the realization that trailers, like other forms of visual marketing, are very expensive to have made. It’s not the kind of thing a writer will generally want to do for him or herself because it simply isn’t in their realm of expertise. In my case, however, cash proved to be king. I wanted a trailer and I wanted one now – later on, I reasoned, if it seemed worth the expense, I could have one professionally done.
However, given that my knowledge in this area is severely limited, and my experience with digital media slight, I cast aside some of the early daydreams I had had of gorgeous cinematography, professional graphics, and a custom soundtrack to fit the action. Over-shooting my own skill level, I feared, would only result in an inferior product. I might mess up a sausage soufflé – and why attempt one when I know I can make a mean breakfast burrito? It would be better to make a trailer that was technically simpler, but hopefully equally as meaningful.
The second problem was this – I had no idea what the trailer was going to be about. I wanted a trailer that would evoke the mood of my story without attempting to tell it, which meant emphasizing feel over plotline. I also wanted it to be short, yet the moments from my book that I had considered utilizing required camera work that I just wasn’t sure I could effectively accomplish. I began ruminating over the idea of maybe including some images from my hometown – the problem being, of course, that I don’t have any. So I contacted those few high school friends with whom I’ve stayed loosely in touch and asked around to see if anyone had any pictures or videos that might be suitable for me.
My hopes in this quest were very, very low. First there was the issue of quality, because naturally pictures from twenty-some odd years ago were generally not in digital format. Secondly, unless the images were of me specifically - which, in my mind, was not necessarily a selling point! - I would be unable to use any that contained recognizable people because I wouldn’t have model releases for them.
My friend John Lin responded with a handful of photos from his graduation, which was the year before mine. Most of them were, as I suspected, unusable, as they were mostly of him and his family, and the quality, too, left much to be desired. And in any case, I still didn’t know what I would do with them. They weren’t even my pictures. This was not my graduation.
And that’s when it hit me – this was not my graduation.
I have almost no memories of my high school graduation. Most of what I remember about that day was the thrill of knowing that I would be free once it was over. My happiness over unexpectedly meeting my boyfriend after the ceremony, who had graduated a year ahead of me and whom I hadn’t expected to see again before I left for good. The tension of knowing that the car I had bought without my mother knowing was waiting for me on the street behind our house, waiting for me to pack up and leave. I don’t remember anything like what John no doubt remembers – receiving his diploma, being with his friends and family, throwing his cap in the air. Those things were utterly irrelevant to me. Same type of day, entirely different experience.
I flipped through his photos again, saddened somehow by what they had revealed. There was one in particular that showed students streaming down the lawn from our high school building down to the field with a TV crew filming. The photo was blurry – but how perfect for me, because you couldn’t make out any of the students’ faces. It was someone else’s high school graduation. But in another life, it might have been mine.
I went to freestockphotos.biz and began searching for photos. I wanted typical things, people and objects of which most kids would keep pictures. Their homes, their friends, their pets – maybe even their parents.
It took maybe two hours. Again, there was the issue of model releases, which prevented me from using some of the images I might have liked for me and my mother. And since I preferred free photos over paid ones, I had to dig a little deeper into my well of creativity, as I simply couldn’t find suitable photos for some of my initial ideas.
Once I had assembled the photos, the text was easy. And once I found a site that features royalty-free music, the soundtrack was easy, too. I won’t cover the technical aspects of assembling the project here, as this post is long enough already, but I am going to put together a video that will walk those of you who are interested through the whole process from start to finish. The technicalities of this type of sequence aren’t terribly difficult to master, although there are certainly some tricks that can make it easier.
But the big thing for me was coming up with the idea. Once I had the idea, the rest of it fell into place. So if you’re considering making your own trailer, my advice is to ask yourself these three questions:
1) What do you want to express in the trailer? A story, a mood, a character, a state of mind, an event?
2) What style do you want for your trailer? Will that style effectively convey whatever you said you wanted to achieve in your answer to Question 1?
3) Are you technically capable of achieving your vision for your trailer? Does it need to be flashy, or will simple suit you better? Will your fancy trailer look stupid if you can’t pull it off, or will your plain trailer be too dull even if you assemble it well?
One last important thing to consider is where you will be promoting your trailer. For me, my main outlets are Wordpress and Twitter, both of which consist of audiences that are fairly forgiving. There’s a certain amount of leniency people are willing to grant if your ceramic ashtray is homemade – and for some that may even increase its charm. But if you’re looking to win competitions or be featured on fancy promotional websites, then you might want to consider making an investment in a professional product. Don’t, however, get stuck on the idea that many writers seem to, which is thinking that you can only have one trailer. For the amount of time and money they take to put together, you can make as many as you like, of whatever styles and lengths you like. You are limited only by the size of your own imagination.