15 Videos in 9 Hours (With a Break for Lunch)

I’ve wanted to create a book trailer for a good long time. I’ve watched other authors’ trailers, admired them, dissected them, and pondered how I might adapt from the best of them a structure for promoting my own book, Tankborn. The process seemed pretty overwhelming to me. Although I’m a former software engineer, I balked at having to learn new tools to create a video. I knew it would take a great deal of time I just don’t have.

Also, I consider Tankborn to be a fairly cinematic book (seeing as how it originated from a film script). It seemed to me the best way to make an effective trailer for the book would be to use a script and live actors; i.e., to essentially create a short film, which would be pricier than I could afford.

Without a bottomless budget for said short film, I had to consider a different design for a book promotion video. I’m fortunate enough to have a good friend, Frank Casanova, who owns a production studio, The Studio Center. I’d previously produced a couple of short films with Frank  (check out Sweet Tooth here). So I contacted him in early October 2011, and we did some brainstorming via phone and e-mail about how to proceed.

Having read an article about creating and releasing a series of videos, Frank and I tossed around ideas of how to create content for multiple videos. I thought that an interview format would work well. I’m comfortable with doing live interviews and have been on camera a couple times before.

My original concept was to set things up in a talk show format. Frank is also good on camera and as a former radio personality, he has a great voice. I thought we’d both be on the set and he’d ask me the questions and I’d answer. But he nudged me away from that idea, suggesting I be on camera by myself.

Eventually, we settled on a design for the videos. It required that I come up with a number of questions in advance, as well as formulate how I would answer the questions. Frank agreed to do the camera work and his brother Fred Casanova was kind enough to agree to do the editing work.

While the idea was still fresh in my mind, I created my list of 15 questions. For at least my own purposes, I categorized the questions by type: Intro (introducing me and Tankborn), Characterization, Multi-Culturalism, World-Building, and Role-Playing. I also devised five “fun” questions which would be edited in if a video required additional length. You’ll see one of my fun questions in the very first video. My goal was to keep the videos at about two minutes, since that’s my personal attention span for a YouTube video. Anything much longer, I tend not to take the time to watch.

I’d intended to set up some studio time in October right after my brainstorming session with Frank. Life had other ideas, however. Two deaths in the family, not to mention the end of year holidays, delayed production of my videos until January 25, 2012.

A few days before V-day, thanks to a referral from Frank, I found a makeup artist to “make me beautiful” for the camera. I also baked several dozen chocolate chip “thank you” cookies to take down to the studio.

With the family issues going on in my life, I didn’t prep my answers for the questions until the day before the shoot. This isn’t quite as crazy as it sounds, since I’d done numerous interviews for blogs where I’d answered questions similar to the ones I’d devised. So the answers had been percolating for some time, at least subconsciously. Also, when I’m presenting in front of people I know I work best speaking off the cuff, using a bullet list. In this case, the “person” I would be speaking to was the camera (and Frank standing next to it). But the extemporaneity coupled with the bullet list works far better for me than trying to memorize a bunch of material.

I developed a bullet list of three to five points for each of the 15 questions. The sample at left, which I used for the first video, shows the format I used for my bullet list. This first question starts the video series.

My plan was to glance at my bullet list right before answering the question. Knowing I might forget my points, I also wrote individual keywords on cards for Frank to hold up next to the camera. The night before, as I ran through my bullet points using my keyword cards to trigger my memory, I had no idea how well my process would work during the shoot. I paper-clipped together the keyword cards by question so that Frank could easily reference them and got everything I would need packed up, including my box of Tankborn author copies.

I arrived at The Studio Center at 8:30am. Since the makeup artist hadn’t arrived yet, Frank and I went into the studio to work out how we wanted the set to look. He pulled out an interesting looking bookshelf and I loaded it up with copies of Tankborn. The section of the stage where Frank would be shooting the videos had been painted a nice medium blue. He added a lighting effect that dappled the wall behind me with cloud-like white. I wanted to be on my feet since that’s how I’m used to presenting, but I was worried I’d move around too much. So I compromised by half-leaning against a tall stool to anchor myself. Another stool beside me held my stack of bullet lists. As you can see in the screenshot above, neither appears on camera in the finished videos.

After my session with the makeup artist, we started the shoot at about ten. Starting with the first question, Frank grabbed a stack of keyword cards and read the question printed on it out loud. This was for my benefit (so I would know which bullet list to glance over) and also so that Fred would know which video was which when he was later editing. When I let Frank know I was ready to start my answer, he’d hold up the first keyword. While I began to speak, he’d flip to the next card so I’d have a chance to mentally prep for the next bullet.

That part of the process worked great. Out of the twenty questions asked and answered, I only flubbed four times, such that it required a re-do. There’s also one video that I’m going to need to fix because I later re-thought what I’d said and decided I wanted to edit that out. But we pretty much sailed through the shoot in about an hour and a half.

The editing part of the process, of course, took much longer. Fred got started while Frank and I broke for lunch, then later I sat looking over Fred’s shoulder while he worked. I’d supplied Fred with the creature artwork Lee and Low had commissioned artist Matthew Leese to do for the tankborn.com website. Fred used a portion of the artwork background for the graphic card background. He also included the creatures and flora on the graphic card. When I realized the Tankborn cover font would be perfect for the question text, I sent an emergency e-mail to my editor and luckily caught her right before she left the office. She e-mailed Fred the font.

Fred, of course, did most of the work, but I contributed in small ways (like suggesting the font). We worked together to add in the five fun, silly questions/answers, making sure they fit with whatever more serious question we appended them to. When we thought we were finished, then realized we needed music in the background while the graphic cards displayed, I picked the music. Frank has a good-sized collection of royalty-free music and the titles on the CD cases weren’t always enlightening. I lucked out when I found a very cool Indian music piece that fit the mood of Tankborn beautifully.

We finally finished around 6pm. The next day, Fred sent me preliminary videos and I had him tweak them a bit. I had a link to the final videos two days after the shoot. An hour and a half of shooting, many hours of Fred’s work in the editing bay, and I have 15 videos to share about my book.

Lee and Low will be putting the videos on their YouTube channel over the next two weeks. Here’s the first one.

About karensandler

Lover of chocolate. A couple felines short of full-fledged Cat Lady. Author of the YA Tankborn Trilogy (TANKBORN, AWAKENING, and REBELLION), from Tu Books. Founding team member of We Need Diverse Books. Opinions expressed here are my own.
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