Being Kenneth Branagh: 11 Tips on Filming a Book Trailer (Part Four)

And here we are — the final part of the mini-series blogpost! (See? Aren’t you glad I broke this up into segments?)

Now as I mentioned, I have saved the best tip for last; but before getting to what I believe is the most imperative thing you can do in planning out a book trailer, let’s quickly recap those previous 10 tips from Parts 1-4:

  • Know what you’re shooting. You’re shooting a book trailer, the emphasis on trailer. Not book.
  • You don’t have to understand the process, but take time to understand the process. A book trailer doesn’t just happen in your basement one weekend afternoon. There’s steps to follow and processes to adhere to.
  • For your first book trailer, keep it simple. You might want to go full-on epic for your first book trailer. Don’t. This is your first step. Think smart.
  • Set up a budget. Best way to avoid going broke.
  • Figure out ways to stretch the budget. Did I mention “avoid going broke” earlier? Yeah. I did.
  • When the trailer needs artwork, imagery, or music, make a financial investment. When it is time to spend money on your trailer, particularly in stock audio and video, do’t flinch or take shortcuts. Do it.
  • Be patient and understanding with your talent. Cast and crew. Especially if they are giving of their time and talents, roll with the challenges and make things work to the best of their abilities.
  • Make sure your cast and crew understand their responsibilities. Remember though that your trailer is the top priority, not hanging out or chilling out. That happens after the work is done.
  • Trust your editor, especially if he or she has a track record. Sometimes the toughest thing is to surrender your work to an objective party, but it also the best thing you can do in order to make it shine.
  • Never forget: It’s YOUR trailer. Don’t let others render your vision so blurry that it’s no longer yours. It’s your book’s first impression. You make the final call.

It’s all been leading up to this one key piece of advice I’ve been sitting on since Part One. You all have been patient and (for this, I am really thrilled!) attentive on what makes a good book trailer happen. Now comes the most essential thing you need to know before making that jump from the printed word to a visual medium in order to help your book sales reach a wider audience.

Are you ready?

Give yourself time. I alluded to this at the beginning of this series, but here I’m going all in. As you can imagine, making a book trailer is an investment, but the biggest investment you will make in this project is time.

How much time?

Okay…let’s break it down:

Geist trailer

This was my first book trailer. Pip and I spent an afternoon surfing iStockphoto for various stock footage. After we collected clips, we narrowed down to the ones we needed with several as stand-by’s. With an idea of what order we wanted to trailer to flow and the mood we wanted to set, we then reviewed various works from my audio library. I edited the clips together and timed it with the selected stock music. The final trailer was just over one-and-a-half minutes.  Total production time: 5 days.

Phoenix Rising trailer

Pre-production for this trailer included Linc creating equipment (a steady-cam and a dolly, for example) and my own storyboarding. There was a full day of shooting on location in Staunton, VA. The editing process, this time, included reviewing all the takes, narrowing down the good and the bad, scoring, and finally the credit sequences. (We actually gained a day as we didn’t use stock music. The incredibly talented  folks at The Gearheart stepped up and volunteered a composition.) The final was just over two minutes.  Total production time: 8 days.

The Janus Affair trailer

Pre-production included adapting screenplays, assembling cast, storyboarding, and securing locations and shooting schedules, all of which took about 3 days. There were four days of filming. In between weekend shoots, Linc reviewed the footage, worked on color correction, and salvaged any essential clips from the first weekend of footage. The editing process, along with that snappy opening credit sequence, now includes post-production visual effects and audio design. Linc then took the final trailer through a detailed color-correction. The final book trailer runs around 4 minutes with the opening and closing credits adding 2 minutes. Total production time: 7 weeks.

No. You’re not seeing things — seven weeks. And had Linc been granted more time for reshooting lost scenes and post-production visual effects, he thinks the trailer would be even better. (My mind boggles at the prospects.)

Now this is seven weeks with a crew of two. Guys like Branagh, Abrams, Whedon, have far larger crews. And Peter Jackson? His crew is the country of New Zealand. (Just saying.) When you’re working by the bootstraps as Linc and I are, the biggest investment we make is time. Book trailers just don’t happen on afternoon on your computer…

Well, okay, some do…and they look it.

Which comes to the final question that many authors debate: Do book trailers sell books?

They do.

Can I pinpoint sale by sale who bought the book and who didn’t on account of our trailer? No, I cannot. However, I know of readers who found Phoenix Rising through the book trailer, who subscribed to Tales from the Archives and watched the video when it appeared in their feed, and I tracked the amount of shares our first trailer had on Facebook. We got the book cover and its characters out into the Internet, giving people a visual addendum to our steampunk adventure, and for The Janus Affair we needed to raise the stakes even higher, in the hopes of holding people’s attention and drawing them into this latest mystery before Eliza and Wellington.

Will a smoking-hot book trailer make The Janus Affair a New York Times bestseller? Probably not. Will a smoking-hot book trailer sell copies of The Janus Affair and it predecessor, Phoenix Rising? Most assuredly, yes.

I’m not saying by a longshot, “Dude, if you’re going to make a book trailer, you need to play hardball. Like ME!” What I am saying is regardless of what kind of book trailer you set out to make, be prepared to make an investment. You don’t just sit down and slap something together on iMovie. You don’t use your favorite music and grab “free” images from the web (seeing as you have no clue where some of these images may be coming from, and they may be too small for full screen video). You plan. You invest. You commit. And you also educate yourself (and, in my case, continue to broaden your skills) on the nuts, bolts, gears, and cogs of filmmaking. The book trailer you are creating is your first impression to the public of your title. Make it shine. Make it count. And when starting off — keep it basic. Sometimes, the simple can be the most sublime.

But did I mind tapping into some wild digital hocus-pocus this go round?

Not. In. The. Slightest.

1 Comment

  1. One tip you missed, the cardinal rule of indie filmmaking:

    Rule 1: Feed the talent (and feed them good food).
    It’s basic courtesy (even if you’re paying scale, which almost no indie can afford to do up front), it makes everyone feel appreciated, and a well-fed cast and crew is an efficient cast and crew. Everyone wins 🙂

    Good checklist, though — brings back a lot of memories 🙂


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