I hope you all enjoyed Chapter 1 of See These Bones! I’ll post Chapter 2 next Tuesday, but today, I wanted to take a quick detour and discuss the making of our live-action book trailer.
If you haven’t gotten a chance yet, you should watch that trailer… otherwise, none of this will make any sense.
Already seen it? Cool. Let’s talk about the process of getting the trailer made.
The Script (aka Distilling A 130k-Word Book Down to Two PowerPoint Slides)
The first step in filming a book trailer is to write the script treatment. The production company read my book and a provided synopsis, wrote their draft treatment, and sent it back to us for approval.
Unfortunately, we didn’t like it. At all1. A trailer should just be a tease for the book, but it felt like the story being teased was some other book entirely. A modern-day paranormal revenge story, maybe. (As you may recover from my cover reveal blog, trying to accurately capture the story was a recurring problem.) The treatment was also really heavy on occult imagery; red fog, cloaks, and actual crows2, none of which actually existed in the book.
We went back and forth a few times before I broke down and just wrote something myself3. The production company took what I sent them, tweaked it a fair bit4, and we all agreed to move forward with that as our final script.
Casting Is Way Less Glamorous Than it Seems on TV
Once the script was finalized, the production company sent us an email with headshots5. They included four options for my main character, Damian, three for Bard and Sally Cemetery, and two for Mr. Grey.
Bard, seen in the photo above, was the easiest choice. He’s not how I envisioned the dean of the Academy when writing him, but I really liked the actor’s look.
Two of the four actors for Damian were… cute6. Three of the four were… soft7. The fourth actor was neither, and that’s the one we went with. Unfortunately, headshots don’t always tell the whole tale. Damian is eighteen, tall and skinny, whereas the actor we chose ended up being well-built and visibly older. He was also blonde, which Damian is not… but I just assumed they’d dye his hair for the part. That did not happen8.
All of the choices for Sally Cemetery were blonde, despite the character again having dark hair. Still, we narrowed it down to two actresses. The first was shockingly pretty. The second looked tired and kind of worn in her headshot. Sally’s not meant to be particularly attractive9, so we went with the latter actress10.
Mr. Grey is supposed to look like his name… unremarkable and unmemorable, save for copper-colored eyes11. Neither of the actors provided fit. Eventually, they sent us a third headshot that we agreed on.
None of the actors were dead ringers for their respective characters, but we were happy with our cast.
A Rough Cut that Lived Up to its Name
We originally planned on traveling down to Los Angeles to watch the shoot. I mean… how often do you get to sit on a set and watch people bring your characters to life? Unfortunately, the shooting schedule was hard to lock down. We didn’t want to make the long drive only to have the shoot canceled after we’d arrived, so in the end, we stayed in Vegas. The shoot went well, and within a week or so, behind-the-scene pics started trickling in.
The rough cut of the trailer took a bit longer. It also had placeholders for several (stock footage) scenes and neither the sound nor color were in a finished state. Even so, that cut was enough for us to give feedback. And… we had a lot of it. I could write a whole blog post on our feedback.
Here’s just a small sample:
And on and on and on.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that the only people who’d read the book/synopsis were the ones tasked with writing the script treatment. The director and cast didn’t know any of the backstory of what they were filming, so unless a detail was explicitly mentioned in that treatment, there was no chance of it making it into the trailer.
That was less than ideal, especially because the finalized treatment was pretty light on details. That’s a big part of why the trailer diverged so much from the book.
The Reshoots will not be Televised
The production company did make changes based on our feedback. They reshot the car scene and also fixed Bard’s speech. They replaced the silly Damian shot with an exterior image of the Academy of Heroes. After some discussion, they even swapped out the high-heeled actress for stock footage of a female biker. We kept iterating on the text cards (ega. BORN INTO VIOLENCE… etc.) until we had something we were all happy with.
Even then, we had two big problems.
The first was that Damian literally says the line “Turns out dark hair and eyes aren’t the only thing my father and I had in common“… which is problematic when the actor chosen to play Damian doesn’t have dark hair. Worse, we didn’t notice the problem until after the reshoots were done. The film makers tried editing the recorded audio, but it never sounded right. In the end, we just left the line alone and hoped nobody would notice12.
The second problem was that the final scene13 lacked impact. In the initial cut, it was just a blonde14 woman in a white dress15, coming out of the woods. In the book, the forest is filled with ghosts, but that detail didn’t make it into the production company’s version of the treatment. There was nothing to suggest a supernatural element at all, and the scene felt more like a meet-cute than any sort of climactic encounter.
After quite a few emails (and one late-night telephone call from my wife), the production company finally added the glowing aura around Sally that you see in the trailer. The scene remains wildly different than the book, but at least the visual effect helped give it some of the impact it was lacking.
And that was that. Once we signed off on the final cut, the production team finished the sound mixing and completed the colors. We settled our bill, uploaded the trailer to Youtube, and last but not least, I shared the trailer with all of you.
So how did it turn out? Well, there were things I liked and things I didn’t.
What I liked:
- Seeing something I wrote adapted into a different medium. How cool is that?!?
- Bard’s speech
- The stock biker footage kicking the trailer into high gear
- The effects added for both the text cards and the scene with Sally
- The steadily building pace of the trailer and how all the music cuts off at the end for the final line delivery
What I didn’t like:
- All the discrepancies between the trailer and my book, particularly regarding characters’ appearance
- Her Majesty’s missing smiley-face decal
- Bard’s speech being delivered in a dark room instead of an auditorium of students. It lost a lot of necessary context.
- The lack of ghosts anywhere in Sally’s scene
- The voice-over at the end… I love the line, but don’t care for the delivery. In the book, the speaker is resigned and mournful. In the trailer, they just sound angry.
- The lack of superpowers on display in the final trailer. That… seems problematic for a superhero book.
- The serious lack of insight we were given into the process as a whole, from the need to put every detail into the script treatment, to the limited number of reshoots available and even what could be done in editing versus what required new footage.
All of that said, I still thought the final product was pretty cool, and I’m glad we decided to have it made. Will I do it again? Probably not. It’s hard to see a reality in which making one of these is cost effective. But it was definitely an experience to remember!
I’d love to hear from all of you. What did you like about the trailer? Did anything seem particularly dumb or confusing? If you’re not a beta reader, did the trailer make any sense at all? If you are a beta reader, did the discrepancies drive you totally crazy?
Feedback is welcome!
- I never thought of myself as being particular until someone tried to adapt my material.
- They seemed focused on interpreting the titular Crows as birds, when in the book the term is actually just a short-hand for Necromancers.
- Again, apparently I’m anal about this stuff. Who knew?
- This part would come back to haunt us.
- There was a strange lack of Chris Hemsworths and Robert Downey, Jr.’s but whatever.
- Damian is not cute.
- Damian is not soft.
- In retrospect, it’s pretty unlikely an actor would do so for a one-day shoot. Live and learn!
- Much like Damian himself.
- I felt kind of bad though. I wonder how many times someone loses a role because they’re too attractive for it?
- His eyes are a detail that didn’t make it into the trailer at all.
- People noticed.
- Which beta readers may recognize as the moment Sally Cemetery comes to see Damian
- Double argh! In the book, Sally is described as wearing all-black and looking very old-fashioned.