Creating a Book Trailer: An Interview with Cheri Lasota

I’ve been seriously considering creating a book trailer for the novel I’m currently trying to find representation for, Hold My Hand. But it’s a confusing and sometimes daunting project to undertake, and I’ve been unsure of whether it’s something I have the time to do properly. It’s something I’d like to do more like a movie trailer than a traditional book trailer (with still images and voice over), which makes it an even larger project and even more time-consuming.

Book trailers are more often used for published books, or upcoming books, to raise awareness among consumers. Very few people create book trailers for unpublished books. But Cheri Lasota, author of Artemis Rising, has done just that. She created a movie-like trailer for her book, which she’s currently seeking representation for. The end result is impressive, to say the least, both in terms of scope and quality. Unlike most book trailers, which only run around two minutes, Cheri’s videos is well over four minutes long. Here it is:

Cheri was kind enough to grant me an interview, explaining the process and hopefully shedding some light on it all for those of us considering creating our own book trailers:

How did you come up with the concept and script for your trailer? (Did you look at other book trailers, movie trailers, etc.? Did you storyboard or do some other kind of outlining?)

I had known the director, Bill Thoma of Axiom Shift Productions, for many years. In fact, we were in the same writing group for a time. What I didn’t know was how brilliant he was at filmmaking. We pulled off a four and a half minute trailer in about 3 months with almost no budget to speak of.

Bill and I sat down over two consecutive evenings and he listened closely as I basically gave him a rundown of my novel’s plot. He asked a lot of questions, trying to get to the heart of what I felt were the most important elements of the story to get across.

Bill is outstanding at whittling down a 350-page plot into a few snippets of dialgue and some powerful images. And that’s just what he did. We created the script together, as I looked for excerpts of dialogue from the book, etc.  It was fun and collaborative.

I looked at a few other trailers, but most of them were a succession of still images with voiceover, and we wanted to do much, much more with this one. Essentially, I wanted to bring several scenes from the book to life.

The director eventually moved from the script to a step by step storyboard for shooting. Mostly that was for his purposes, as he came up with interesting angles/shots for the different scenes.

Did you think about doing other kinds of book trailers, like interviews or a still image-based trailer? What made you decide to go ahead with a more traditional, movie-type trailer?

Usually, book trailers are a succession of still images, but those don’t catch my eye like movie trailers do. Perhaps it is because I went to school for film. I like the visual medium of filmmaking as opposed to photography, and when I wrote Artemis Rising, I always saw it as a film.

Did you consider doing the entire project on your own before deciding to hire a director?

I definitely wouldn’t have tried such an ambitious project on my own. I don’t personally have the camera equipment or directing experience necessary. However, this project re-awakened my love for filmmaking, and Bill let me do any part of the project that I felt able to do. I ended up serving several roles: producer, actor, script supervisor, art designer, and costumer. I’ve never had more fun in all my life than I did on that film set. The experience was priceless.

How did you find your director and other professionals? What about staff?

The director was a dream to work with because he was always the calmest person on set. He knew the shots he needed, knew how to communicate with the actors, and had the experience to roll with any complications that came up. The director of photography, Brian Neubauer was also a fun and calming presence on set–and an excellent cameraman too. Once I settled on the right actors–I had difficulty finding ones with just the right look I needed–everything fell into place. They were incredibly professional and it was mesmerizing for me to watch them work (most had theater or film/TV experience). The rest of the crew are friends I had worked with before on other film sets, and I knew they were hardworking and reliable, particularly makeup artist and art designer, Lyndsey Shaw.

Did you pay cast members and other staff or was it all on a volunteer basis?

Because the project was low-budget, we paid the actors in demo reels and the rest were volunteers.

Did you have to get permits or special permission to shoot in public places? How did you find out about what you’d need?

Having directed projects before, I had a good sense of what I might need to get this project rolling: costumes, makeup, props, locations, crew lunches, transportation, camera equipment. I have to say, organizing is one of my favorite things, and I took over most of the communications with actors and crew. We filmed at my apartment, outside a church, another filmmaker’s backyard (with a huge handmade crane shot), and at Cannon Beach, Oregon. We considered a few other locations, but decided that gaining permission would take too long. But, yes, often locations will require written permission, etc. We wanted to avoid the hassle, and all the locations worked out brilliantly.

How did you find your locations? Did you have to scout new spots, or did you already have places in mind?

It was critical to me that we film at Cannon Beach, as I knew it would be the perfect location for a cliffhanger shot we needed. Other than that, I was really open to other locations for other scenes/shots. Bill and I took a day trip to the beach ahead of time, and we drove up most of the coast, looking for the right location. But for the cliff-hanging, we had to take safety into consideration, so it was important to find the right spot. I suspected we’d film at my apartment, and that worked out well as a base camp for all our shoots.

How long did it take to shoot the trailer? How much footage did you end up with?

Principal filming took place over a weekend–one day in Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA and one day at the Oregon Coast. The following weekend we did pick-up shots, green screen, and voiceover work that we missed the previous weekend. The whole process took about three months, for pre-production, production, and post-production. I’m not sure how much raw footage we ended up with.

What was the post-production process like? How long did it take?

Post-production was cool. Bill let me into the editing room, so I could go over shots and scenes with him. He also let me watch him edit from time to time, since I am interested in every stage of the process. But mostly, post-production is just Bill in the editing room, slowly putting shots together. He did a lot of effects shots that had me pleasantly surprised, particularly the shipwreck and the book title sequence at the end.

Were there hidden expenses or time-wasters you hadn’t anticipated going into the project? Anything you would have done differently in hindsight or any advice you wish someone had given you?

The project was much less expensive than I originally anticipated actually. But that may not be the case for others. My book trailer was quite long by traditional book trailer standards. Most are around 2 minutes. I wouldn’t give up my 4:30 minute trailer for anything, as it may be the closest I come to seeing my book on film, but I wish we had originally created a 2-minute version for marketing purposes. The director is actually working on shortening it now.

I thought I should mention why I decided to make a trailer in the first place. I’ve never heard of any other writer creating a book trailer before his/her book is published. This was essentially an experiment to see if I garnered more agent/publisher interest if I included a link to it in my submission query letters. It worked. I’ve gotten more agent interest in my novel than ever before. I would say it tripled my response rate from agents, and most of them mention they loved the book trailer when requesting materials, including the latest three who have are reviewing it now. Regardless of what happens, I can use the trailer for the life of the novel’s marketing campaign, so I knew it would be worth it for me.

But nothing can match the excitement I felt on the days of principal production. It was a dream come true for me to see my characters come to life right before my eyes. I wouldn’t have missed that for anything.

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One thought on “Creating a Book Trailer: An Interview with Cheri Lasota

  1. This was a bold attempt and despite the bad acting I’m intrigued. I thought I didn’t need to be as long at it was. I think this trailer would have REALLY peaked my interest if it was shorter and the moments between the characters were left more suspended and not actualized. But, in the end a very noble idea for priming interest in the book.

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