Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Book Video Trailers: From A to B - The Teaching Erec Stebbins!

Book Video Trailers: From A to B

So, yawanna make a book trailer, but don't have the $20K to hand over to professionals, and your geek friend says she's too busy?
Then this is your lucky guest blog!  I'm going to outline a general scheme for making a book trailer, DIY, touching on issues of design considerations, hardware and software, video sources, and editing.  
What this isn't is a tutorial on video editing software - the bad news is, if you want to make your own trailer, you're going to have to take the plunge and learn how to work the software, hunt down cheap and rights free videos and images, and put in the editing time.  Trial and error is required, where you'll have to experiment and not be afraid to mess up a lot.  The reward is some control over your promotional activities for your book. These days, very few publishers are going to make (read: pay for) video trailers for books.
DISCLAIMER: I am not a Video Dude (VD for those in the trade).  I am by profession a biomedical scientist, who also happens to be a writer, who taught himself the minimum of what he needed to know to make promotional videos for his debut novel. No training. No film school. No worries. :)  
Keeping that in mind, here are examples of trailers for three of my novels:

Extraordinary Retribution

So, if you generally liked what you saw, let's continue and I'll explain what you need to do to get started on making trailers like this.
The Program
1.  Why Make a Book Trailer?
This isn't exactly a how-to step, but nothing will get done if you aren't convinced that a video can help you promote your book.  After all, unless you make movies for a living, the time and money investment, even for a DIY, will be significant (well, the money depends, the time, you can count on it!).  
Unfortunately, I don't have any research studies on the impact of video trailers on the sale of books.  However, the use of video, with its visual stimulus and ability to emotionally engage the viewer with sight as well as sound, certainly works for many types of advertisements.
Once upon a time, publishers promoted books with jacket blurbs, bookmarks, and author tours. Then six years ago, YouTube changed the rules of the game. Today publishers are spending as much as $20,000 a pop to create book trailers—30- to 90-second teasers, à la movie trailers, designed to generate virtual and word-of-mouth buzz and, of course, to sell titles. “Trailers are definitely a staple in our marketing,” says Diane Naughton, HarperCollins’s vice president of marketing. - The Big Tease

2.  Ingredients
To create your book trailer, you will need the following:
A Computer: PC or Mac is fine, there are video editing suites for both. Most modern computers will do fine. The more hard drive space you have (video files are BIG), and RAM, the better. If you are on a 2005 computer, you will be in a world of hurt.  Headphones are a help when mixing and editing (although make sure to test sound, especially sound effects, on lousy laptop and mobile device speakers frequently - this is especially true for deep, low frequency sounds that reproduce badly on tiny speakers).

Editing Software:  There are many of these, from cheap to professional grade. Do a little web search for your platform, pocketbook, and preference for layout and features. 
iMovie Screen Capture for Trailer for The Ragnarök Conspiracy

I'm on a Mac, and I use iMovie. I can say that iMovie lacks many things that would make the design and editing of trailers much easier, BUT, it's very cheap, intuitive, and makes about 75% of the work easy.  However, the other 25% can make you pull your hair out.
Format Conversion software:  This sounds weird, but I found it a must have. The reason is that you will be (1) needing to covert the video clips you download online for your trailers into formats that your editing software can handle, and (2) converting the output of the editing software (your trailer) into many different formats for web viewing (.mp4, .wmv, .m4v, .mov, .mpg, etc.). Here is a list of several.  I've liked the program Miro Video Converter a lot, but I've used many others, including Quicktime Pro.
Video clips and still images: Unless you film your own stock (which, if you don't know what you're doing, will look very amateur, believe me), you'll be stuck with using other people's video. You'll need to search sites that offer such video without strings attached.  What this means practically is that you need to find websites that for free or for a fee will let you download clips and images royalty free, and which are allowed to be used online for your own promotional videos. There are a lot of sites for these purposes.  Some of the ones I've used (or at least visited):
Some of these are free, some are expensive. Some (usually the free or cheap ones) have low-ish quality video, some have breathtaking shots (the expensive ones). You mostly get what you pay for. But remember, a simply "ok" video if used the right way - briefly, action oriented, etc - may do well enough for a small trailer size.  If you need slow, higher-quality shots (say for a romance novel trailer), some of the free sites have decent "natural footage” for free (vimeo is an example).  You just have to try and see. Also, this list is by no means complete, and these video sites popup and disappear a lot.  
Remember, just because it's on YouTube doesn't mean there are no copyright issues. In fact, there usually are copyright issues for videos on YouTube. Make sure the clips you get are clearly noted with a contract that you can legally use them.  In the joyful event that your video/book goes viral, and you get 700K hits, you will get noticed by the owners of the video and they will not be happy. Also, YouTube now has a lot of very competent algorithms for scanning uploaded videos and comparing the images and music to databases of copyrighted material.  If you have ripped off stuff, they usually find out.  Sometimes, they will just stick ads on your video in that case, which is a nice compromise and avoids unpleasantness.  But still, you never know.
Music: The effect of music on the viewer CANNOT be overemphasized. Let me repeat this: Music, often more than the video itself, can emotionally move the viewer. A weak score for your trailer will leave a weak impression. A powerful musical score can turn "ok" video into something with a punch. It seems counterintuitive, perhaps, but sound often does as much or more for the impact of a video trailer as sight.

Scoring Lord of the Rings
For this reason, I ended up spending the most money for my trailers in getting the rights to music.  For this, I did two things:
(i) Searched Youtube for musical samples of "trailer" music (yes, it's an entire category with composers who make a career of it).  There are different genres (action, epic, romance, horror, etc).  You can listen to the clips on YouTube and identify those you like and look into the rights by contacting the companies handling it.  Many of these companies won't talk to you unless you are a Hollywood group, but you can try anyway and curse the darkness when they ignore you.  Some of them will work with you, however.
(ii) Used sites like this one set up for downloading (for a price) trailer music that is royalty free and licensed for online use.
YouTube (or similar "cloud" storage) account:  You'll need to either host the movie file on your server, link to it with something like Dropbox, or upload to YouTube and link/embed via their tools.
3.  Design Considerations
Theme:  You've likely written short blurbs about your book for promotional purposes.  In a similar manner, you need to visualize a short "scenic blurb" that will grab a viewer and make them interested in your story.  The idea is not to tell the story, the book does that, but to give hints and suggestions about the content and genre through the medium of moving images and sound.  
Go to the Apple web site and watch 10 trailers for films that are close to your book's genre.  See how they do it.  Some things you can't emulate like dialogue etc (best to keep your characters shadowy for the reader to imagine them), but the atmosphere, pacing, music, and editing will begin to guide you.  I recommend movie trailers for viewing over book trailers for the simple fact that movie trailers tend to be much better. The world of book trailers spans beginner to amateur, and you can hit a lot of them that are just awful.  The film industry at the least has polish and tight professionalism in their products, and it's a good standard to aim for. But it's also good to view some book trailers as well, as the products being marketed are obviously different.

Storyboard: Plan out the visual scenes of your trailer and how they will connect. Start lining up draft images/clips to get a sense of the assembly of it in the editing software. Re-work this until you are happy with the overall flow of the trailer, the timing of music and edits. Then do the hard work of finding the best royalty free clips that you can afford, replace your drafts, re-edit to optimize.
Length:  Many go by the rule of thumb is 60 to 90 seconds. However, like movie trailers, there are a lot of exceptions to this.
Music: Again, the power of music is usually not appreciated. If you are going to spend time and money, make sure this is a place you do it. Get good music, and edit with the visuals PERFECTLY. Here is the place to be OCD.  Time the musical beats, changes, moods to the images. The music gives soul to the video.
Voiceover: Very few people can do voiceover well. It really is a talent, a gift.  So, that means you will typically pay for it. However, I got discounts by letting some know I was a struggling author who promised to send a signed copy of my book to them! You can also use text super-imposed over images or dark, transitional screens.  You have to work within your budget.

4. Editing: The Key
Assuming you have decent clips, great music, sound effects, a good plan for your trailer, and editing software, now you have to edit. How you edit the trailer will literally make or break it.

I spent several tens of hours editing 2-4 minute trailers. You may be looking at my trailers and reading this and thinking: "that's just sad." Perhaps! But even to get them to the level they are took me a lot of work.
The issue for my trailers, being trailers for thrillers and science fiction, was to create a sense of tension, momentum, and fear, while revealing just enough of the story to get the viewer interested in my book. Editing involved usually cutting more and more from clips, syncing them to musical phrases and beats, and overlaying 3, 4, 5 or more sound effects and other videos/images over the main video.
However, if your book is a romance, or something else lighter, your use of editing should reflect the mood of your narrative. A high society, historical romance will not do well with fast paced edits and industrial epic music. A global thriller like some of mine, however, does well with that, and will fall flat with a romantic soundtrack. Use common sense.
With amateur video editing software, many of the limitations will drive you nuts as you try to achieve certain effects. Sometimes, you won't be able to accomplish what you have in mind due to technical limitations, and you'll have to rethink your approach or storyboard. It can be very frustrating. Save your work frequently. Make backups. If you make big changes, rename the files or projects (e.g., Trailer1_v1.1). You never know: a corruption of a project file can literally kill a week of work, and more of your lifespan.
5.  Get feedback
Show your draft trailers to the least friendly people you can trust enough to open up about doing this. People who get bored easily.People who aren't going to try to like it. Grumpy assholes. Watch them as they view it (if you can). Listen to what they say. And make changes. However much it hurts, the final goal is not to feel you did a good job and great about yourself, but to engage your viewer.  
Remember, you are a beginner, at best an amateur. You have generally lousy stock clips you paid $10 for online. You have non-professional software. You aren't a movie-maker. Your trailers will reflect this. Your job is to pretend you are a kick-ass producer of film and fake it the best you can, and produce something that will do more good than harm in the promotion of your book. If it's more harm than good, scrap it. If your feedback is that "it's not bad" or better, congrats, you have a video promotional tool!

Good luck! (we all need it)