PRODUCING A BOOK TRAILER (part I): No Footage Means Few Limits

I’m producing a book trailer for a client who’s written an apocalyptic romantic thriller. Since I’m currently applying what I know about trailer making to the different circumstances of literary entertainment, I thought I would share the experience. I’ve written about book trailers before as a scholar, educator and consumer. But here is an opportunity to discuss them as a producer, faced with a variety of creative and business challenges.

In this post and those anticipated over the course of producing the book trailer, I will describe what I’ve done and what I’ve been obsessing about in preparation. Since I don’t yet have anything to present from the trailer I’m producing, I thought I’d offer the reader an example of clever and engaging work in the same field. The above video is a special shoot for a comic retelling of a Jane Austen Classic: Sense & Sensibility & Sea Monsters. The producer needed costumes, actors, dialogue and location, as well as a prop-house killer-squid and some special effects artistry. It’s an adorable trailer and shows what you can do with creativity and modest resources.

Back to me and my current project: My first step, was to put together a team. I’ve got a young talented editor with graphic design skills; I’ve got a digital visual artist with DP skills, who will supervise the editing and design process, and handle the cinematography for the day or so of special shooting we anticipate. Through a colleague, I was referred to a female voice over artist who educated me about how she works and provided me with rates to plug into my budget. She’ll provide me with an audition tape, for Client (the author and financier of the project) approval. I’ve got a composer with his own library of music cues from whom to obtain music cues. Lastly, there’s me, who’s undertaking management of the process, the copy exploration of scripts to use in the trailer, and who will be conducting the research for the right stock footage to integrate and negotiating with the owners for the best possible prices for licensing it.

This weekend I had a budget and creative direction meeting with the client to review the numbers, walk through the process and agree on approach, tone, language and story elements. With approval in hand, I alerted the team that we have a go and reached out to an actor friend who I wanted for special shoot we will do in order to cover subject matters that we can’t get from the stock house. Basically, we need someone to portray/represent the protagonist/heroine, but insofar as her representation is for a reading audience, we don’t need her face in the shots, since that would impinge on imaginative experience. I will probably ask her to read some lines of dialogue so we can lay those down over other images in order to advance the plot and/or explain complications. I also had to find a beautiful and dramatically gifted golden retriever. As it happens, one of my regular dog walking buddies, an actor himself who trained her, is the owner of just such an animal.

After writing a variety of scripts that come at the material from different angles and perspectives, I got client feedback to help me revise them. Then I began to obsess over how do I show and tell this story in a way that excites curiosity, elicits emotional investment. The setting of the story is the first order of business and I’m lucky that it’s a well known and well filmed place of spectacular scenic beauty. Next, there’s the context or situation in which the action takes place. Since, it’s the end of the world, we need natural disasters, extreme weather, alongside all the awful things that people do to one another. So, urban warfare and images of refugee camps, mass evacuations, riots, traffic jams, body-strewn streets, ought to do just fine. All that sort of thing, regrettably for our species, but happily for me as a producer, is readily available from stock houses.

Since I live in Hollywood, I can “cheat” the mountains behind Monaco and the spectacular Riviera coastline with local topographical assets. On trails in the Hollywood Hills, I can shoot our heroine hiking with her faithful retriever before the crisis and then show her stocking her shelter and backpacking to safety after it hits.

I’ve been going to bed and waking up thinking about how to piece together the story from “generic” footage, focused copy, V.O, music, graphic design and special shoot materials in a way that is visually exciting and emotionally compelling. I’ve got pages of ideas for the Editor to try over and above the creative visual storytelling talent I’ve hired him for.

We’re gonna storyboard it all first to see if it works on paper before we license the footage. We don’t have the time or the budget to make a lot of mistakes. The challenge, as I’ve indicated in my title, is that we are not limited by “what’s in the can” since there is nothing in the can.
Whatever we can imagine and create through words, voice over, music, dialogue, graphic design and–last but certainly not least–editorial is what we can pour into our :60 to :90 second film.

Our first team creative meeting is this week. I’m ready to go.

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movietrailers101 by Fred Greene is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

About Frederick Greene

Entertainment Copywriter & Visiting Assistant Professor, UCLA Dept. of Theater, Film & Television. I teach a graduate seminar in new movie marketing, which focuses on the history, contemporary practice and likely future of a/v advertising for motion picture entertainment.
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