"Guerrilla filmmaking is driven by passion with whatever means at hand."—Mark Hill, Yukon Film Commission Manager
When we released my allegorical Vampire novella, Vampire Rising, in July, I quickly realized I wanted to create a book trailer for it. To make a book trailer I knew I had to meet a new challenge—I’d already told the story—but for the video I needed to retell it. Visually. This was the challenge. I am a story teller: in my day job I tell stories; if you’ve ever met me in person and spoken to me you will, no doubt, remember I am prone to telling stories; as a writer, I tell stories. But for my writing life, I focus on the words—the words for me are as important as the story itself. I want to use the right words, to define a mood, to capture the rhythms I hear it in my head.
Having written four books, I’m fairly confident in my voice but I knew I’d have to rely on images and actions, rather than words, to tell the story. The story’s main premises are simple enough: “history repeats itself,” and “people are people.” The story is told in certain colors: purple and gray and silver and black and white are the predominate colors. The main elements are an elaborate wrought iron gate and mockingbirds. We managed to capture these for the book’s cover. But how could I replicate that on video?
I started with a story board—I knew I wanted to capture key scenes from the book, rather than using the trailer to recap the book’s synopsis—after all readers could get that from reading the book’s back cover, or the blurb on Amazon.
I decided on the scenes I wanted to capture from the book, then I tried to figure out what the key element of each scene would be, because the image you saw on screen would be a manifestation of that. Then I had to decide if there would be text or sound, or music, to enhance the scene.
Thanks to my day job in corporate communications, I’ve done video which quickly made me realize two things: I could do this—make a video, I mean—my vision is sure and true; and, two, while I envisioned a Hollywood-style block buster video, I did not have a Hollywood style blockbuster budget. Fortunately my mantra has always been “think big, scale fast.” And I’m fortunate to be surrounded by talented people who believe in me. So when Carolyn Fillmore, read Vampire Rising and told me how much she loved it, I mentioned I wanted to create a book trailer. I showed her the storyboard I’d created and she said, “If you’re willing to let me learn as I go, I can create a guerilla style video.” I jumped onboard, though at the time, I had no idea what a guerilla style video was. Thanks to Google, ignorance was quickly banished:
“Guerrilla filmmaking refers to a form of independent filmmaking characterized by low budgets, skeleton crews, and simple props using whatever is available. Often scenes are shot quickly in real locations without any warning, and without obtaining permission from the owners of the locations.”
The book trailer produced by Middle Child Productions, which was borne of our collaboration, combines stock photo and video clips, with custom photos and live action video. It took weeks to find the right stock photos and video clips and for some scenes we had to stage our own photo and video shoots. A key scene represents the first time Barnabas sees Gatsby; Gatsby walks towards him with a martini in his hand. Unable to find a suitable stock photo, we shot the scene in the library of our house with Caroline’s husband, Steve, lending his hand. To capture that scene, Carolyn took 110 photos. And the opening scene with the hands burying a crucifix was shot in our front yard.
When Carolyn showed the video to some beta viewers and asked them what they thought the book as about they guessed it was some sort of history book. At first we were disappointed but I quickly realized that was exactly how we wanted the story to be perceived; I wanted it to seem as if it was something that had happened, or could happen—if we weren’t careful. After all in the prologue I wrote:
“The words written here are less a story than a prophesy. Or maybe they’re a prayer. Whatever it is, you need to understand that what is written here is, like Moses’ tablets, written in the hand of God, accurate, and true because it could not be otherwise.”
Originally the video was a mix of black-and-white and color but Carolyn felt the story called for black and white. The only spoken text is a quote from the book, which indicates both trust and surrender, and which is both a nod to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and a reference to the last words Jesus is said to have spoken on the cross. It is repeated throughout the two minute video as a kind of refrain.
There were a few quotes and some descriptions that I felt were crucial to conveying the story. But because we didn’t have a budget for voiceover talent, we opted to add the text onscreen using a font that was religious in style and which matched the font used in the headings in the book. The addition of music and monks chanting, gave the trailer the feel of a silent movie. The idea of telling a story that takes place in the future, while referencing an old movie style really appealed to us.
Now that I’ve explained our approach and how we executed the book trailer, watch it below. Feel free to post a comment below telling me what you think of it or if you have questions for me, or Middle Child Productions.
Learn more about Vampire Rising here.