Thursday, April 9, 2009

My husband the body and other adventures in making the book trailer

Elizabeth Zelvin

I didn’t think he would agree to do it, but my husband racked up marital points by dressing in black and flinging himself face down on the front hall floor in our apartment so I could shoot the “body in East Harlem” I needed for the book trailer for Death Will Help You Leave Him, my very first video. He has been accusing me of stealing his one-liners ever since he finally read my first mystery, Death Will Get You Sober. He preempted such theft by suggesting a couple for this post: “I finally found a use for my husband,” and “My husband has finally discovered his true talent—he makes a great corpse.”

My agent suggested that I make the trailer, in spite of the ongoing debate among mystery writers on whether or not such videos sell books. Like any legitimate form of promotion, a video increases the author’s name recognition and visibility on the Web. The publicist at my publisher’s, when asked, said he was skeptical about a trailer’s value and cautioned against spending a lot of money—preaching to the choir on that point. On the other hand, he had great things to say about a friend’s trailer, which he described as “like a little music video.” Okay, so the task was to make a good video.

I’m in favor of do-it-yourself creativity. Why hire somebody else to have all the fun? I designed and did the graphics as well as the text for both my author website and my online therapy website. So right after my first “I can’t!” which in my creative process is like the preliminary start-up cough of an outboard motor, I began sizzling with ideas for my video. I did find a friend to put the thing together for a reasonable fee—more cost effective than my learning to use video software. But I wrote the script, took photographs and figured out how to shoot video clips on my little digital camera. I got my husband to record voice-over dialogue with me. He’s no actor, but why was I surprised that he could do sardonic? And I realized I already had the perfect song, one of my favorites by a singer/songwriter friend who generously permitted me to use it.

I had a grand time shooting the real-life counterparts of places I had made up in the course of writing: a Madison Avenue lingerie boutique, an Italian pastry shop, a Brooklyn cemetery on a gloomy day, a SoHo art gallery. Strolling down West Broadway, the main artery of SoHo, I came across a genuine artist leaning against a wall contemplating two magnificent paintings of skulls—one grinning like a comedy mask, the other in a grimace of tragedy—leaning up against a couple of mailboxes. What a perfect street encounter for a mystery writer. I also had a creepy experience in the cemetery, when I photographed an angel, decided to go back and get a different angle, and couldn’t find the angel again though I’m sure I retraced my exact steps. Pure woo-woo.

Going on location, I discovered, is a great way to reveal mistakes in the manuscript. Why had I never noticed that West Broadway is a two-way street? Does it affect the scene where Bruce’s ex-wife almost gets run over? Can I change it when I get the copy-edited manuscript? I never knew that Brooklyn’s one big cemetery is nonsectarian. Will readers care that I filled it with Italian and Irish Catholics?

The only bit I couldn’t do myself was the car crash. My husband agreed to drive while I shot through the windshield with the wipers going and the red and green traffic lights pulsing on a rainy night in the city. But he has his limits. No problem. I downloaded the perfect four-second crash—squeal, thud, and shattering glass—for $2.96 from a special effects site.


Joyce Tremel said...

This sounds like so much fun! When do we get to see the trailer?

Susan D said...

Special effects for sale! Why am I surprised?

Nice work, writing a promo for a trailer that's a promo for your writing.

Sheila Connolly said...

That does sound like fun--so where is it? And how long is it? Sounds like you've included quite a lot.

You stole my idea. I want my husband to play dead in a springhouse if I decide to make a trailer for the next Orchard book. I haven't found many good pictures of bodies (at least, bodies unencumbered with crime scene tape, chalk marks, or people standing around), so it seems we have to recruit our own. And you've probably discovered that you can spend hours listening to special effects.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

We're still putting all the pieces together and will probably not launch the trailer until the book is actually available, at least for pre-order--though I can hardly wait!

Sandra Parshall said...

A thriving industry has sprung up in recent years to produce book trailers. I've read that some professionals charge thousands of dollars to make one. A few publishers are now having them made, at the publishers' expense, for their authors' books. Making one of your own does sound like fun.

And yeah, those disappearing angels can really freak you out.

Daryl a.k.a. Avery said...

Good for you, Liz. I'm so proud of you. Can't wait to see it!

Daryl a.k.a. Avery Aames