HOW TO MAKE A REALLY GOOD BOOK TRAILER
HOW TO MAKE A REALLY GOOD BOOK TRAILER
Five easy steps that your students--and even technophobes like me--can master.
by Pamela Lowell
After checking my inbox for hours, I finally got the email I’d hoped for. My editor, Marilyn Mark, at Marshall Cavendish had watched the book trailers I’d created for my new young adult novel, Spotting for Nellie. Here is a snippet of the email she sent me:
Pam, these are AWESOME!!! I love them!! You did such a great job. How did you do it? I just wanted to check, you got rights to the pictures you used? I’m going to share with everyone here.
For the purposes of this article it’s important to note her next-to-last sentence:
“I just wanted to check, you got rights to the pictures you used?”
Stomach churning commenced immediately--she meant copyrights.
Although I’m technologically-challenged I’m not a thief—yet admittedly I hadn’t gotten any rights to these pictures. This after I’d spent weeks obsessing over every detail! I was under the impression that it was perfectly legal to download “royalty-free” images from the web. Was I wrong?
Marilyn wasn’t sure. So at her suggestion, I emailed the administrators of xyz images (fictitious name) asking them if I could use uploaded items from their website in a trailer to promote my books, if by some slight chance (ahem) I wanted to do that some day.
Here is their response:
Please be aware that xyz images does not own any of the content on its site and cannot validate copyright ownership of any of the content uploaded by its users.
Sincerely, Your xyz team
AGGHHHH! Despite all the time I had spent toiling over my trailers, I knew I’d have to kill them--or at least remove them from the web temporarily. Quickly, I deleted from MySpace, YouTube, and my website. The next to go were those “sneak peak” announcements I’d posted on LinkedIn and Twitter and Facebook. Then I sent a mass email to my friends and family citing “unforeseen technical difficulties” and begged them to “stay tuned.” Lastly, I stared at my computer screen, at the blank space on YouTube (which only moments before had been full of coveted “views”) and I cried.
Luckily, it only took about a week to procure the rights for new photographs and my trailers were up and “live” once again. Although mildly traumatic, this experience definitely taught me a thing or two about how--and how not--to create book trailers. Actually, it can be kinda fun. I bet you and your students will think so too.
STEP ONE: STUDY THE MASTERS
This is true in any creative endeavor. Some sites to peruse: YouTube, WatchtheBook.com, and YALSA. Public and school libraries can also be good resources. For specific examples of student trailers check out www.digitalbooktalk.com which also has great lesson plans for teachers.
I’ve become addicted to watching trailers. One of my favorites is the one Penguin Books created for Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson. So simple in its silent repetition of the words: must not eat, must not eat, blinking faster and faster until the phrase, “I swear to be the skinniest girl in school” are superimposed over HRH’s--she’s royalty to me--gorgeous book cover.
Or Neil Gaimen’s The Graveyard, an animated short where we enter a world as eerily delightful as his book, and narrated by the master himself. I also loved David Lubar’s My Rotten Life with its techno music, fast-paced effects and humor. But Graceling’s trailer? Alas, it was one of the best books I read last year--yet many viewers also found the slow pace and voiceovers of the trailer “super cheesy.”
During their research, have your students take notes about what they like about each trailer, as they will want to find a style that both appeals to and inspires them.
STEP TWO. BUT DOES IT TELL A STORY?
In her seminal article, The Book Trailer: Engaging Teens Through Technology, Sara Kajder recommends that “trailers have to include the title of the book, the author’s name, and a presentation that is both authentic to the text and that works to hook readers.” She also requires students to “submit their trailers with a piece of writing that explores the choices they make” and to “storyboard those images that will best drive the narrative of the trailer.”
Your students will need to come up with a plan on paper or a storyboard. Much like directors when making a movie, this will be a frame-by-frame guide that will help your students put together their trailer once they get to the computer program. What they don’t want to do is re-cap the entire story or give too much away, but instead to promote interest in reading the book. They want it to “show” not tell, and have a beginning, middle and end. After selecting the book (and reading it,) your students may want to ask themselves the following:
WHAT ARE THE IMAGES I WANT TO USE IN MY TRAILER?
What do I like best about the book? What is the over-all tone? Is it scary? Playful? Romantic? Suspenseful? Futuristic? What do I imagine the main characters to look like? What is the setting? Is there a pivotal scene that might grab a reader’s attention? How can I represent that scene, or part of that scene in my choice of photographs/videos? Are there any symbols or metaphors that stand out?
For example, if I were making a trailer of the Hunger Games I might use a picture of a barbed wire fence like the one Katniss hunted behind in District 12. For The Knife of Never Letting Go, I might have the entire clip appear as if it was being narrated by a dog. Students will need to come up with ideas for approximately 10-20 photos for a one-to-two minute video.
WHAT TEXT WILL MAKE MY TRAILER POP? What words might I use to propel the trailer forward? The best text frames are short, snappy and often posed in the form of a question. In the trailer for Eternal, by Cynthia Leitich Smith, if the gorgeous gothic graphics and harpsichord-like music don’t grab you, her first line of text will: “He never wanted to be heaven’s bad boy. The trailer goes on, spinning a tale of romance and intrigue. It ends with: “Will their love for each other condemn them both to hell?” Who wouldn’t want to find out the answer to that?
There are numerous ways to get creative and use font/color/effects to help the text say even more. Text or “title” can be inserted before a clip or photo, on the clip or photo, and/or with a special effect. For example, on a photograph of a gymnast in my trailer for Spotting for Nellie, the text “effect” I used was “spin in.” The text literally moves in and spins over the photograph, making it come to life. I chose a color that would stand out and a font that was easy to read. The color of text (red for blood, etc) font choice (script, gothic—a smorgasbord of choices) and text “effects” (blur, speed up, spin, etc.) will also drive the trailer forward and (hopefully) captivate the viewer.
DO I WANT TO USE VOICEOVERS? WHOSE? WHEN?
One of the students Kadjer refers to in her article used his math teacher in a voiceover for his trailer, The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure by Hans Magnus. He had his teacher read the words “the numbers, they are everywhere.” It can be fun for students to record each other, or even their own music to augment their trailer. But I’d caution against over-using that technique (see Graceling, above).
STEP THREE. SEARCH FOR IMAGES and MUSIC ON ROYALTY-FREE SITES
You and your students will want to use images for from sites that list use for non commercial purposes only, so you should have plenty to choose from, but read the fine print disclosure. The Florida Literacy and Reading Excellence Center has a website listing “royalty-free” sites for music/video/images, although they caution to adhere to specific guidelines and restrictions. Many sites are “photo share” between members only, or for commenting purposes. Published authors beware: you always want a site that sells rights to the images or music. Dreamstine.com, fotolia.com, and shutterstock.com all have great royalty-free pics (some for as little as $1.00) so go ahead and splurge.
Another way for students to get really creative is to take photographs or videos themselves and upload them onto the computer. For example, I needed a very specific “after” picture of a drinking party on the beach for one of my trailers. One night I dragged my husband to a nearby beach where we gathered burnt driftwood and crushed red plastic cups into the sand. He said afterwards that it was the most fun we’d had in ages. (Sadly, we don’t get out much.)
WHAT TYPE OF MUSIC FITS MY TRAILER BEST?
Like photographs, there is plenty of music available on the Internet. Sound effects, romantic ballads, super fast techno, your students will probably be more savvy than you about what they want to use and where to find it. However, once again, I would caution them about copyright laws (and subsequent penalties.) Yikes!
Neosounds.com, the site I used actually organizes music by theme. There are a few sites that will offer free tracks if you credit them at the end of your video. You will want to search for free “Royalty-free Music.” Music can be downloaded in “loops” of one minute or less, and once uploaded can be digitally altered (cut and pasted) into the timeline of the trailer. Very cool. Super fun.
STEP FOUR. THE RIGHT TOOL FOR THE JOB
If you’re using windows, it’s Windows Movie Maker. For Mac, it’s iMovie. These programs are so easy even a caveman . . . I mean, middle-aged techno-phobe like me can figure them out. Your students will be dropping the images they’ve selected and uploaded onto a program’s timeline, and then creating “titles” transitions and special effects and then finally matching the music and/or voice overlay which fit the tone of their trailer. The better prepared they are before they use the program the smoother this process will go.
STEP FIVE. READY, SET, LAUNCH!
Before “launch” or presentation, your students will want to preview and critique their trailers with other young adults. Some questions they should ask: Does this make me curious about the book? Is the trailer easy to understand? Do the transitions make sense? Do the graphics fit the tone of the book? Does it grab me? Does it address the key points on my learning rubric?
Before I launched my trailers, I previewed them with my own teenagers—a merciless audience. My transitions were too slow, they told me, “Kinda boring.” So I went back and tweaked some more. I knew I was getting close when one night, after I cornered them in the kitchen for feedback, one of their friends commented that she really loved the techno music I had chosen for the Returnable Girl trailer.
“Do you want to see it again?” I answered smiling.
“Yeah. It’s mad cool.”
My son was lurking nearby, embarrassed by his pushy author mom as usual. He took out his car keys impatiently. “We have to go.”
“Oh. Okay,” I replied. It was getting late. Time to shut down the computer for the night.
“Sorry about that,” I heard him say to his friend as they were heading out the door. “No problem,” she replied, shrugging.
Hmm. Maybe she was just humoring me, after all? I didn’t want to eavesdrop, but I have to admit that my heart leapt a bit when she added,
“But hey, I’d read it.”
I don’t know of any more gratifying words that creators of books--or their trailers--might hope to hear.
Pamela Lowell can be reached at her website: www.pamelalowell.com where you can also watch her book trailers. Spotting for Nellie (Marshall Cavendish: Spring 2010) is her latest novel about a teen gymnast who suffers a traumatic brain injury after her older sister crashes their car on the way home from a drinking party. (Written from four p.o.v--including the gymnast’s brain!)
Educational Leadership, March 2008, Volume 65 Number 6 Reaching the Reluctant Learner. The Book Trailer: Engaging Teens through Technologies by Sara Kajder
Currently book trailers (including mine) cited in this article can also be accessed on YouTube unless otherwise noted.