Thursday, June 9, 2011

Guest Post & Trailer for Phoenix Rising by Tee Morris

Today I have a wonderful guest post by one of the talented co-authors of the fun steampunk novel A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences: Phoenix Rising, Tee Morris.  Please welcome Tee as he talks about the workings of making a successful book trailer.  And when you are done, please take a moment to check out the amazing works of the book trailer he created to relate the characters Agent Welly Books and Agent Eliza Braun in A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences: Phoenix Rising.

Book trailers are nothing new, but the debate with book trailers is one that can really be said about any book promotion: do they work? My friend and NYT bestseller Scott Sigler swears by them. And when you see his trailers from Crown along with trailers toting James Patterson's latest, it’s clear that publishing houses also believe in book trailers. It's an investment of time, of money, and of talent; and it seems that publishers still believe in them.

But what do you do when you don’t have those kind of resources on call?

When you are on a budget, you have to think smart. You want it to look professional without getting in over your head financially. For my co-author. Pip Ballantine, on her first book trailer, it was stock video in the hands of a skilled editor (that would be me!), capturing the mood of her first mass market release release, Geist. With voiceover and the right application of editing, we set out to capture the feel of the book. Several times, Pip was told by readers they had seen the trailer and bought the book as the concept intrigued them.

The challenge for our Phoenix Rising trailer: we had to shoot it from scratch. I had a very tight budget (which is your book advance or as award-winning author Robert J. Sawyer call it, your promotional budget).

The first challenge in shooting a steampunk book trailer isn't what kind of trailer do I shoot, how do I costume it, or even who should I cast. The challenge is where do I shoot it? I had to think about the backdrop. With advancements in green screening and the amazing things amateur fan filmmakers accomplish, anything can be created; but that was a last resort for me. The brief moments of it at The Wall in HBO's Game of Thrones take me out of the story. The liberal use of it in SyFy's Sanctuary is one reason I can’t watch the show. So what do you do? you scout for locations, anywhere and everywhere you go. As I live around a lot of American Civil War battlefields, I was keeping options open; but it was a weekend out of town that introduced me to Staunton, Virginia. This town had gone out of their way to preserve their history, and many of these buildings were either on public property or could be granted access with proper permissions.

I had my location.

Now that I knew where I would be shooting, the question is what would I be shooting. Experience from Geist taught me that while scenes from the book are a dream, your first venture (and possibly your second and third) should be more about the mood of your book. So, what was Phoenix Rising?

  • It’s action.
  • It’s excitement.
  • It’s comedy.

So, through a process called storyboarding, I mapped out how I wanted the trailer to look, enough to give everyone an idea of what I had in mind. I kept things simple, even down to the comic moment at the end. So while nothing in the trailer happens in Phoenix Rising, the trailer is everything Phoenix Rising is. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you keep it simple.

“Keeping it simple” can also apply to costuming and casting. Think for a moment of how many friends you know that visit Renaissance Festivals on weekends, get into elaborate costumes for Science Fiction conventions, or simply go crazy for Halloween. Chances are, they would love to get dressed up for the camera. If you have a simple trailer with no lines to memorize and moments of action, sometimes that is all that is needed. Consider the earlier mentioned James Patterson trailers: how many of them have dialogue? They don’t. It’s all voiceover and quick moments of action.
Finally, there is the filming itself. Before the first frame is shot, before the word “Action” is called, make it clear to your talent — especially if they have never been on a film set before — that there will be a lot of takes, a lot of waiting, and a lot of time. When you are on the set, it is an all-day affair of patience and persistence. For our trailer, Jett Micheyl and I ran. A lot. We ran up three flights of stairs five times. (That shot was never used.) We ran a quarter of a mile stretch of sidewalk enough to equate to two miles. We shot a lot of footage, and that only helped make the trailer better. And while we worked hard, we did take time out to get food. Sorely needed with all the running we did in the day.

Of course you can shoot hours of footage, but the end result occurs in the editing process. This is where everything comes together, and it is best to make sure you have an editor — be it yourself or a friend you know who edits video — ready to do just that. In this respect, I have an advantage as I am a video podcaster and have the Final Cut Suite to tap into. This does not mean you cannot accomplish a lot of cool things with iMovie or Adobe Premiere Elements, but there were tricks and effects I applied in this trailer that could only happen with professional tools. Again, it goes back to what you want to do and how much time and effort you are willing to invest in a trailer.

But to the original question — do I think the trailer worked? In its first two months online, we garnered over 2000 views. (To give a perspective on that, the Geist trailer didn’t crack 2000 views until after six months of being live on YouTube.) The trailer was syndicated on several websites, and on Facebook it was shared well over 500 times. People were watching it. People were sharing it. To me, that was a sign of the trailer’s success.

Some other things that helped this book trailer:

  • Running Time. The trailer is two minutes long. A sweet spot for a trailer is between one and two minutes. Any longer than that, and you risk losing viewers.
  • Using voiceovers. While we had titles, we also had a voiceover corresponding with them. Book trailers can sometimes be “title heavy” and when you are working with a visual medium you want your viewers to read as little as possible.
  • Using video. As this was a book trailer, we used video with motion and action. Trailers that use still images and set them to motion are very hit and miss, especially if the “motion still” is one image used over and over again. We avoided using still shots and used video, keeping viewers attention.

Would I do it again? With some time and tapping into a few more resources, yes, I would. Heck, I’m already trying to think of “what can we shoot next” for The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. However, I have to remember that I need to prioritize. My time must be dedicated to writing first, and when I’m in that creative zone I have little time for anything else.

But will I make the time for an Of Cogs & Corsets trailer?

I’ll have my people call your people. We’ll do lunch.

Thank you Tee for this wonderful guest post!  This sounds like it was a load of fun to do, and I love the pictures too!
Now, are you ready to watch the trailer?  Just click play...


Anonymous said...

What a sleek, professional looking book trailer! Love the old-fashioned looking quality, the text and background, the music, the costumes and props. You did a fantastic job!

Anonymous said...
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Blodeuedd said...

Cool trailer :D I would love to be a part of a booktrailer now. Would be so fun. I'd read the book

Mel said...

This looks like such fun to do! I already had the book on my wishlist, but can't find in my local stores - off to the Book Depository for me! :)

Nina said...

That trailer is awesome! I'm loving it.

Melissa (Books and Things) said...

LOVE the trailer and this post! What a fun!

Melissa (My words and pages) said...

StephanieD - :) So glad you like the trailer. :) I love the costumes and the character personalities that come through. Thank you for stopping by!

Blodeuedd - This trailer looks like it would be a blast to be in. :) I hope you get to read this book sometime. :)

Mel - lol. I love the idea of the characters here in this trailer. It would be so cool to be in it, wouldn't it! Oh, hope you find the book and enjoy it. :)

Nina - Hi! Thank you for stopping by and so glad you enjoyed this trailer. :)

Melissa (Books&Things) - lol. So glad you enjoyed it! And thank you for stopping by! :)

Tee Morris said...

Thank you, one and all, for commenting on this post. This was especially fun for me to write as shooting this trailer was so educational. It is also a delight to see it resonating with so many of you. Again, Mel, thank you for all your hard work on this blog and continuing support for Pip, myself, and the Ministry!

Melissa (My words and pages) said...


Thank you for stopping by. And thank you for taking the time to do this great post. :) Oh, and it's so easy to support authors and stories that I enjoy, from both you and Pip. Thank you both. :) Take care!

Robin Sullivan said...

I'm glad you found Tee & Pip's book - Tee is a long time writer friend of Michael and mine. We even helped him on "moving day" so we must like him a lot ;-)

I first saw his video at a convention (I think Ravencon?) it is spectacular and I'm sure he had a ton of fun making it.

Kudos to Tee and Pip for their book and Melissa for helping to get the word out.

Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

Melissa (My words and pages) said...

Robin - Thank you! I have to say I found Pip's books first and just loved them. She has really caught my eye with her writing and I think great things are going to come her way. And with her pairing up with Tee in Phoenix Rising brought him to my attention as well. Both are wonderful writers and people. So glad to hear you know them. And to help on moving day says a LOT, must really think he's an okay guy. ;D You know I do have Ravencon on my schedule to see if I can get there next year. Sounds like a wonderful convention. :) Thank you!