The Secret of a Good Book Trailer
Plus, how a big porn star ended up in my own book trailer!
I’ve never been a fan of book trailers. I know authors are just trying to create excitement for their books. The point of a trailer is to emphasize that the story in a book can be just as exciting as a good movie.
But, well, books aren’t movies.
For one thing, there’s no actual footage in a book. So most book trailers use different clips of stock footage, often done in completely different shooting styles, all stitched together in a kind of awkward Frankenstein’s Monster of a video.
I’m rarely intrigued. Is anyone into watching random clips of the sun rising and storm clouds brewing?
But in addition to being a novelist, I’m also a screenwriter and sometimes-filmmaker. And so, for my 2016 novel, a dark and twisted YA thriller called Three Truths and a Lie, I had the brilliant idea to make my own little short film based on my book — something would stand alone as a film but also hopefully intrigue viewers enough to want to read the whole book.
I wrote a script, enlisted the help of my filmmaking friend Jeremy Ward, and off we went auditioning actors. The lead we cast was a guy named Taylor Reign, who, incidentally, would soon go into gay porn, and is now a very popular adult film star.
Three Truths and a Lie is set in the rainforest of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, but Jeremy and I were able to scout a similar-looking location in a park in north Seattle.
We had exactly one day to shoot the entire film, which seemed doable since it was only four minutes long.
My book is the story of four teenage friends on a weekend getaway to a very remote cabin when things go horribly wrong. That was the basic plot of my short film too.
I made a point to include the book’s erotically charged skinny-dipping scene, and also a scene of two boys kissing, which isn’t even in the book. Hey, the whole point of this project was to move some copies, remember?
But then things started going wrong in the shoot. Were we getting all the footage we needed? How was the sound? We had one of Seattle’s best special effects guys, but hold on, did our blood and gore look real enough?
We finally wrapped for the shoot, and Jeremy and I went home to edit the damn thing. And the answers to the questions I just asked?
No, we weren’t getting all the footage we needed, our sound sucked, and our blood and gore looked cheesy.
So we did what filmmakers have been doing since the dawn of film: we adapted. In the end, we had no choice but to chuck my script, completely jettison the idea of a “short film,” and turn the remaining footage into a “book trailer,” except with new footage, not stock.
You can see the finished product here:
I don’t think it’s terrible, but it ain’t great either.
The big lesson I learned? It’s really, really hard to shoot film cheaply and have it look professional.
Which is probably why most authors just use stock footage in their book trailers!
As for the secret of a good book trailer than I promised in the title of this article?
There is no secret. Because book trailers almost always suck.
Brent Hartinger is a screenwriter and author. Check out his other newsletter about his travels at BrentAndMichaelAreGoingPlaces.com.