How I Made the PAPER CITIES Book Trailer

Today is Blog for a Beer over at Fantasy Magazine, and today’s topic is book trailers. So I thought I’d take this opportunity to talk about how I created the book trailer for Paper Cities.

First off, if you don’t know what a book trailer is, it’s simply a short video that advertises/promotes a book. Think of it like a TV commercial. However, since most of the book trailers I’ve seen have been on the Internet, they have not been restricted to a time limit or particular format. I’ve seen book-trailer comedy sketches and book-trailer horror scene re-enactments.

The theme of Paper Cities is, of course, cities. And because the visual medium is so powerful, I wanted to choose images that would convey the idea of “mystery, magic, and wonder”– stealing copy from the back of the book. Using actual live-footage video was not an option because a) I didn’t have such video and b) to purchase or create it would have been prohibitively expensive. I had to make this video on the cheap and I had to do it quickly. The book was coming out soon, and I needed to have the trailer ready.

The first thing I did was ransack my hard drive for images. Lo and behold I had several photos of nighttime New York, images of Hoboken’s cobbled alleys snapped on digital film, and even one lovely shot looking up “out of the gutter.” (The photo was taken at the entrance to Jimmy’s No. 43 in the East Village). I found only three or four good photos, and this wasn’t enough. So I spent a half-day scouring various stock-photo sites, using what little credit I had left, to purchase the rest. Now I had the photos I needed to work with. Next was the music.

I knew music was essential to making the trailer work. Few media go as well together as images and sound. I knew I wanted music both ancient and modern, riffing off the anthology itself which has stories in the past, present, and future. I scoured creative commons music sites and found a song, an improvisational piece on electric guitar, that sounded like a baroque classical/modern jazz fusion. But after many listens, I felt the song took too long, a full minute, to reach its emotional epiphany. I thought the viewer might click away before the full minute elapsed. The music had to hook from the beginning.

But, “Hey,” I said. “I play guitar. Maybe I can do something here?” I had just put new strings on my acoustic and I slapped a capo on the first or second fret (I can’t recall which) and tried a few riffs. (For those musically inclined, you may notice a fingering similarity to Zeppelin’s “Over the Hills and Far Away.” The notes are different, but the movements are very similar.) I found a riff I liked, but it was simple. It needed layers.

In walked Audacity, a free audio program for the PC, and with it I laid down tracks like a prison chain gang. I started with the main riff. You can hear it in the opener. Then I added a second riff to harmonize, with notes that complement, yet accent the main riff. Then I added strums to each measure. I worked out a soloized harmony on the high frets. I kept layering and adding sounds until I felt that, yes, this song is what I’m trying to say. Or maybe I was just having fun. The tune sounded slightly mid-eastern, perhaps-Arabic, but it also had a modern, folk-style feel to it. And the acoustic guitar gave the song a rawness, an impromptu feel, like a busker on a street corner. Perfect.

Now, all I had to do was stitch everything together into a film. No easy feat. I used Adobe Premiere, a powerful and complicated video editing tool. It was my first time using it. The most difficult part for me was timing the musical changes to the images. I faded the photos in and out, added “glowing” titles, re-positioned images, blurred and sized, until eventually, many hours later, I had this video here:

I posted it to Youtube to show some friends and have them “proof” it, however, because most authors now have their Google Alerts poised like snipers on a fence, ready to pick off their name from a website a thousand routers away, some folks in Paper Cities got wind of the trailer less than an hour after I uploaded it, posted a link to it on their blog, and the cat was thus out of the bag. That’s why there are two versions of the trailer. One has some minor corrections. In my mind, the shorter version has better timing. The images are more synchronized with the music. The longer version, however, allows the viewer time to take in the scenery. Personally, I like them both. I hope you do too.

And that’s the story of my book trailer in a nutshell. By now, more than 1000 people have watched it. I hope that some of them were intrigued enough to go out and buy Paper Cities. At the very least, I hope they were entertained.

For those who are interested, the images in the trailer are presented in this order:
A scale model of ancient Jerusalem
Cairo (with a solar flare effect added by me)
Exit stairwell to Jimmy’s No. 42 in the East Village
Burmese temple
Hoboken street light
New York City, looking West, from the top of an apartment building
Hoboken’s Court Street
Candlelit steps of Petra