Behold, the grand unveiling of the CHOCOLATE & VICODIN book trailer:
Yes, books are now required to have video trailers. When I say “required,” they are not actually required, you are just highly pressured into making one, like babies are for couples in their 30’s. When my first book, Half-Assed came out in April of 2008, video book trailers were just starting to become the norm, but no one told me that until after the book came out! So, I threw something together using my weight-loss progress photos that came out fairly well. (48,000 views can’t be wrong, right?)
This time around I decided to seek advice from actual publishing professionals before making my trailer. I also viewed some trailers to figure out what works and what doesn’t.
Research. (Yes, spending hours on YouTube can be considered research)
Rachel Kramer Bussel is an author friend who’s done lots of (Not Safe For Work) book trailers, and she said to keep it under two minutes and to make it match the tone of your book. It also shouldn’t be an ad, since no one wants to watch an ad (unless it’s one of those creme de la creme Superbowl ads). She said, “The main point is to catch people’s attention and get them to watch the video, rather than a hard sell on the book.”
I searched YouTube for “book trailers” and came up with some very good and very bad trailers. There are a lot of awful gothic/supernatural/romance trailers that feature lots of moody establishing shots, interspersed with titles, and a melodramatic soundtracks. Thankfully there are also some good trailers. Here are some of the best I found, all of which made me want to learn more about the books they advertised:
Night of the Living Trekkies
Quark Books is a publisher most famous for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. They also clearly spend mad cash on their trailers. This looks like a trailer for an actual film, not just a book. Honestly, I think the book would be a letdown after seeing this trailer.
This one has great animation and gives you a good taste of the storyline without giving it all away. But like the previous trailer, it’s way outside my budget and realm of expertise.
The Happiness Project
This one looks like something I could make, the animation coordinates well with the music, it gets the point across and overall seems to express the tone of the book.
Harlot’s Sauce: A Memoir of Food, Family, Love, Loss, and Greece
This one makes hilarious use of YouTube’s captioning feature, which makes me think the book is probably pretty funny, too. The production values also seemed within my reach.
Planning (to do awful things to teddy bears)
I wrote up five script treatments for trailers, which are just short summaries of what the trailer would be. I picked the one I thought would play best visually. (You can’t really film a headache). It featured a stuffed animal undergoing various treatments that didn’t cure my headache. I had considered showing myself undergoing treatments, but that would be harder to film since I didn’t want someone sticking needles in me unless they were professionally accredited to do so. I also thought abusing a teddy bear and making it smoke pot would be wonderfully ridiculous (but I might just be twisted). I liked this approach because it didn’t require me to appear in the trailer, which would have made me feel self-conscious. I prefer not to be the center of attention.
I wrote out a full script describing what titles would flash on screen and what visuals I needed to film. Then I made a list of all the props I’d need. I purged a lot of my possessions before I moved in last July, so any stuffed animals I had left were ones that I didn’t want to maim. Instead I had to go to Toys R’ Us for the first time in I don’t know how many years. I felt like a truly depraved individual as I shuffled up and down the aisles amongst parents and their innocent lil’ children while I was thinking, “Who shall I cast in my teddy bear porno?”
Let the camera roll (and shake)
Once I had my props and a script, I set up my filming area. I taped some dark contact paper against a wall so the light-colored teddy bear would show up against the background. Then I used masking tape to bind the bear’s legs in place and to stick his butt to the table. I positioned a directional desk lamp on top of the box to give me better lighting. I set my Flip camera on top of a stack of books and taped it to the top one so it wouldn’t bounce that much when I was filming.
I went through my shot list and crossed off shots as I got them, usually doing several takes to make sure I got something usable. I ran into a few issues during filming.
- When I dropped my big mixture of expired painkillers in front of the camera they moved so quickly that you couldn’t tell the resulting blur was made of pills. I found that tossing the pills at the bear read better on camera.
- When I filmed the bear smoking a joint, it took me about five takes before I was able to start the lighter in one try. I’m not a smoker, so I’m unpracticed in that skill. I was also so focused on the lighter that I was mildly concerned I might set the bear on fire and burn down the apartment complex. Then when the firefighters asked me what I had been doing, my only explanation would be, “Oh, I was just shooting a book trailer.”
- I was happy that I had a hypodermic needle for the Botox shot, but I only had it because it was in the anaphylaxis kit that came with my IV treatment kit a few years ago. It seemed appropriate that everything came full circle that way.
Post production (aka OH MY FUCKING GOD I HATE DIGITAL VIDEO!!!)
Now I had to edit the trailer, so I downloaded the videos to my computer. Well, I tried to. The FlipShare program kept crapping out on me, and then when I finally had transferred the MP4 files to my hard drive, Vista kept freaking out whenever it tried to read a file, causing an error box to appear and the Explorer window to refresh. Then, in a moment of pure stupid-a-tude, I saved one of the video files to the desktop, which caused the computer to loop in an endless cycle of error windows that kept popping up as soon as I closed them, locking me out of my computer.
It was at this point that I said, “Fuck this shit. I’m getting a new computer.” And I did.
Yes, it was my video book trailer that finally sent me over the edge to make a $1000 purchase I had been planning on making for a few months. I was going to wait until I knew how much money I had left after taxes to replace my 3-year-old laptop, but I decided to just get the damn computer now so I could finish the trailer.
Several days later, the UPS man delivered my computer and I was able to install the 30-day trial version of Adobe Premiere to do my video editing. I couldn’t use this on the old laptop because it required a 64-bit operating system. Premiere was the program I learned to use in a college video editing class, so I was familiar enough with it to get my editing done surprisingly quickly. It only took 2-3 hours.
I needed to have copyright approval to use any music in the trailer because I’d like to get my publisher to place it on my Amazon page. I didn’t want to get sued for violating someone’s copyright. I thought about using some royalty-free music which you can find via Google, but then I remembered that my friend Jenny plays bass in the band The Odyssey Favor, so they let me use one of their songs. I then exported the video in a web-friendly format. After a few friends viewed it and promised me it didn’t suck (and I hope they didn’t lie), I uploaded it for all the world to see.
I hope you guys like it! At the very least I hope it makes you want to learn more about the book (or start a coalition to protect teddy bears). Feel free to post it on your own sites, tweet the link, scream the web address from the rooftops or what have you. I assure you that no teddy bears were permanently harmed in the making of this video.