I have two vivid memories (besides a lot of apprehension) of creating the video book trailer for my new collection of braided essays, Slow Arrow: Unearthing the Frail Children, with The Cattywampus Club, a new marketing and branding business for writers started by Cassandra Vagher, Kateri Kramer, and Levi Noe.
First, the sound of the wind rippling at the windshield as I sat in my car with Kateri in a tiny Golden History Park, miles from my Phantom Canyon cabin, and sputtered into a tiny recording microphone.
And second, sitting knee to knee with Casi at a tiny children’s table in a tiny children’s playroom on the Regis campus for take-two of that recording– this time, while I fought a persistent frog in my throat.
Needless to say, Cattywampus Club had to contend with a complete first-time-to-the- process quivering idiot and her shoestring budget. I asked Casi of Cattywampus to share a few better tips and insights on the making of our video book trailer and added a bit of my own two-cents.
#1 Creating the Vision
Casi: When multiple creatives come together to produce either photos or a video, it can become a difficult task. Each person in the group is a visionary and has fantastic ideas and concepts; however, sometimes communicating those can always be the most challenging piece.
But we could gather excerpts, the synopsis, and had a pretty good idea of the imagery that would pair well with Kathy’s words. Kathy’s poetic writing style allowed me to make the footage more of a cinematic B-roll type* since the book is a collection of essays, rather than a plot-driven novel.
(Kathy: Casi and Kateri first asked me to choose some text from the book to use in a 3 minute or less video. What would best represent the arc of the book? I chose to compress together a few paragraphs from the preface that I felt set the scene and story for the book. It did ultimately feel good reading those sections together. )
*Wikipedia definition? in film and television production, B–roll, B roll, B-reel or B reel is supplemental or alternative footage intercut with the main shot.
#2 Dealing with the Budget and Other Details
Casi: Then comes the difficult stuff; budget, schedule, and location. Kathy based much of her writing off her beautiful cabin that was hours away from Kateri and I. We opted for the Golden History Park, a frontier park that had cabins and a mountain feel, but the footage and mountains weren’t an exact fit.
We also had to be mindful that most cities and open spaces in Colorado require a permit for both photography and videography, which for filming are quite steep. Luckily the location we utilized only requires a license for productions over $15,000, which we were nowhere near.
For the restraints we had, I believe we produced imagery that fits the text reasonably well.
(Kathy: This part was difficult for me, but because Cattywampus Club was a startup, Casi and Kateri had given me a real deal for producing the book trailer and I was quite conscious of not wanting to abuse their time and talents. It wasn’t fair to ask Kateri and Casi to schlep their equipment two and a half hours to the cabin. I was ultimately able to give them some photographs I had taken in the area to use for the video.)
#3 The Filming Specifics
Casi: I filmed this in both 60 and 120 frames per second, which I can turn into slow motion for a more cinematic feel. Most streamed television is shot in 30 frames per second, and cinematic movies are at 24 frames per second. While footage filmed in 24 frames per second is beautiful and cinematic, you cannot correctly turn that into slow-motion footage.
I used a gimble to stabilize the camera footage so that we could have a smooth video with little to no camera shake. The smooth-moving footage also adds to the cinematic feel when tied in with the slow motion.
(Kathy: Casi and Kateri made the filming, which I was, well, more than nervous about, fun. I think Casi shouted out some surprisingly bad word right before she began taking pictures and that pretty much got me laughing from then on. The slow motion was nice, though I did ask Casi to cut out some of what felt like too many shots of me from the video—maybe back when I was a twenty-something, but at sixty? No.)
#4 Putting the Video Together
Casi: Once back in the studio, I decide whether clips are usable or not and start to determine if we need supplemental shots from stock imagery. For instance, we filmed this in the fall, and there was no chance we’d see a hummingbird, and I wasn’t going to get lucky and spot a coyote; instead, I tried to use a few clips from stock websites to pair with Kathy’s words. Kathy ended up having some photographs I could use and I had a few mountain scenic clips of my own.
(Kathy: I found it was important to me to have some actual images from up at the cabin. Plus, two friends of mine, Liz Netzel and Greg Hobbs, had given me beautiful images for the book that I wanted to use in the video.)
Casi: Sequencing the footage is the next most challenging step. I wanted to pair the imagery as best as possible with the story, but I also wanted to add a bit of drama since we were going to be over a minute long. It took me about six edits to get the sequence and suspense down before I had a draft that I thought we could run with.
(Kathy: At this point in the process, I probably drove Casi a bit crazy: I sent back lists of questions and suggestions twice after reviewing the trailer with some of my writer friends. Casi and I had a bit of back and forth over the sequences until we all were satisfied. Because I was getting worried about Casi’s time in developing the video, I ended up asking Kateri not to do a few things she had planned for marketing the book. Casi and the video needed that time and money.)
Casi: The first bit of music was meant to add to the suspense when Leonard asks, “would you want to die here?” The next bit of music and footage was supposed to come around full circle, matching Kathy’s story of rebirth. I supplemented wind, stream, and other sounds to tie back into the cinematic footage to make the viewer feel like they were there in the setting. Adding an extra layer of well-paired noises can help tie the footage altogether.
(Kathy: I found the music and sound effects very pretty and was happy that Casi had added that dimension to the video.)
Overall? I would do it again. It was interesting to watch both Casi and Kateri in action and collaborate with them. They inspired me to maybe even try doing something on my own, after a lot of practice. It’s possible. My friend the essayist Steve Harvey, creator of The Humble Essayist, has experimented with Animoto for creating video book trailers. You can see the video commentary he did for my book on The Humble Essayist.