How we adapted a novel into a book trailer

A few months before Dark City Blue was unleashed on the world I thought creating a book trailer would be a fun way to raise awareness for its release. This post chronicles my adventures of creating a book trailer, from the development of the script, through the various stages of production, and finally the launch.

Until deciding to shoot a trailer for DCB, my exposure to them was, on a whole, relatively limited. So armed with nothing but an iPad, I researched book trailers like I was on the Warren Commission. They generally fell into one of three categories.

The ‘Fuck Yeah’ Book Trailer – The one where straight after you watch it, you buy the book.

The ‘Eh?’ Book Trailer – The one that has no emotional impact on you, you don’t give a shit and you don’t buy the book.

The ‘Turn that thing off’ Book trailer – The one where you contemplate suicide while watching it. My obituary would be a better read.

I wanted DCB to have a ‘Fuck Yeah’ book trailer and found they all had similar things in common:

  • They were cinematic
  • They were 60-90 seconds in length
  • They had one, single message to convey to the audience

DEVELOPMENT

I went down to my local pub, pulled out my pen and notebook and came up with twenty ideas. They were all rubbish and it wasn’t the booze. The first twenty ideas of anything are always the weakest. They’re the ideas that come off the top of your head, the ideas that everybody else has. It isn’t until you start putting in those hard hours of staring at the wall that you truly come up with something original.

Well, I didn’t come up with anything that night, I got drunk and went home. But the next night I went back the Post Office Hotel and stared at the wall of their toilet block for a few hours until I came up with the concept which went on to become the script… One location, one shot and we pull back to reveal the hero standing in the aftermath of a bloody shootout (it’s that kind of book).

I wanted a trailer that would best represent the essence of the book. A trailer that would make a promise to the reader that in reading Dark City Blue, they’re in for a hell of an action ride where the line between cop and criminal is blurred.

That one idea was all I started with before writing the script.

After the script was in place, the fun started.

PRE-PRODUCTION

With a script in hand, the next steps were to put together the elements needed to realise the words on the page. Once the awesome Jason Christou came on board to direct the production jumped along in leaps and bounds. He understood the script and the book and how one needed to represent the other.

We were only in pre-production for two weeks and for that time, Jason and I turned into a newly married couple. We hung out, we emailed we were on the phone everyday. The trailer became our baby and we wanted it to be the best it could be.

The key to a smooth film shoot, and despite the length of the trailer, it was still a film shoot, is planning. Something is always going to go wrong and if you’re organised, you can adapt and stop that one small problem from turning into a disaster that destroys the whole bloody thing.

So we created a pre-production checklist:

LOCATION: Shooting in one location was a great idea to cut down on production costs and time. What we were looking for needed to be rough, gritty and just downright authentic. I hit the streets of Brunswick in search of back alley’s and graffiti covered car parks but in the end the best place to shoot was in the car park underneath my flat (currently available for rent, blood stains included). Creatively, it fitted what we needed, we could control the light, the weather and importantly we had access to electricity.

CAST & CREW: For a crew, we needed a director of photography, a camera crew, a make-up artist and a sound designer. Not to forget two principal actors and a couple of extras to play dead bodies. Jason hit the phone and the principal cast and crew came together quickly. They were guys he had worked with previously; he knew how they operated and what their work looked on screen. Finding a handful corpses proved to be a little harder. Nobody wanted to lay on the cold concrete for half a day and who could blame them. Family members were recruited and they did their duty like method actors.

GEAR: When it came to gear we were armed with:

  • HD Camera and a DOP who knew how to use it.
  • 35mm lenses
  • 1 4K light to blast our dank car park with light.
  • A dolly for that smooth pull back feel.
  • And gaffer tape, because on a shoot, it will save your life.

COSTUME: Our costumes were a mismatch of what Jason and I rustled up from the depths of our wardrobes and what the actors bought with them on the day. We had a lot of fake blood that can destroy and outfit quicker than a real murder, so we needed what we called disposable clothes that could be thrown out at the end of the shoot.

PROPS: We needed guns. We were happy to use imitation guns, in fact we endorsed it. It was the right thing to do but somehow the process of hiring a couple of fake weapons was seedier than buying the real thing. We found an armourer and in the back of his dungeon like store was where he kept the guns. He looked over his shoulder before opening the drawer as if what he was about to do was highly questionable. The armourer wasn’t much of a people person or maybe he didn’t appreciate Jason and me pretending to be Riggs and Murtaugh? Either way, it was an uncomfortable situation and I’ve bought drugs in a more relaxed environment than this.

In the end, we got our hands on an imitation Glock as our hero gun and a bagful of plastic guns from the junk shop down the road from my house.

PRODUCTION

We had a call time of 7AM and a wrap of 4PM. I’m not going to go into a great deal of detail about being on set because our shoot went as smooth as any shoot can go. We had no problems, we shot exactly what we needed and we even finished a couple of hours ahead of schedule (I just love it when a plan comes together).

But here are the highlights:

One of our corpses, Harry, didn’t move for twenty five minutes. We thought we killed him but it turned out he was just one hell of a method actor.

Then there was some waiting…

A spider invaded Mia’s makeup bag. Bob saved the day while the rest of the guys froze up.

We had some lunch and then there was more waiting. Most of the time spent on a film shoot is waiting. It takes time to set up a location. The set needs to be lit, it needs to be dressed and the director and DOP need to work out the best way to shoot it.

POST PRODUCTION

Post production is really where the scripting, planning and shooting all came together and took shape. We broke our post up into two parts: The edit and sound.

EDIT: We shot on a Friday and by the end of the weekend Jason had a cut together. We only had half a dozen shots but the same rule of editing applied; if it doesn’t push the story forward, that bastard had to be cut. And with that methodology, Jason and I lost our favourite shot of the entire production; this cooler than cool mid shot of Bishop aiming his gun.

Whether it’s on the page or on the screen, you have to be a slave to the story. If something needs to be cut, then you rip it out and forget it was even there. Less is more and the audience will thank you. Always leave them wanting more.

SOUND: People typically forget about the audio component of the audio visual experience. They forget that the way we feel when we watch something is manipulated, without us even knowing it, by what we hear. It can be a high pitched ring that makes us feel uneasy or a whoosh to let us know that the character who just walked into the room is a guy that’s not to be trusted. Julian Langdon and Dan MacDonald were behind the music and sound of the Dark City Blue trailer and if you don’t think audio requires as much attention as the visual, watch the trailer with the sound turned down.

I turned up in the last couple of hours of the sound mix and by the time all the heavy lifting had been done and I was completely blown away by what I heard. The audio bought a whole other layer of dark complexity and foreboding that you wouldn’t get from the visual alone.

Great sound is invisible, but you feel it. Bad sound sticks out and you don’t feel anything.

Now that the trailer for Dark City Blue is complete and out in the world, its success and effectiveness is something that will have to be gauged over time. But for now being, we’re just going to have to be content with having a killer book trailer on our hands.

Check it out, I hope you enjoy it.

If you’re keen to see some ‘Fuck Yeah,’ trailers that inspired me, check these out.

Gone by Mo Hayder

The Last Policemen by Ben Winters

The Snowman by Jo Nesbo

Dark City Blue Book Trailer Credits

Credits

Bishop: Brett Cousins
Walsh: Bob Morley
Dead Cops: Dale Eastwell Harry Emin Foad Comanderi

Director/Producer: Jason Christou
Writer/Producer: Luke Preston
DOP: Matt Wood
Make Up Mia-Kate Russell
Camera Assistant: Anthony Rilocapro
Prod Assistant: Todd Farley
Sound Recordist: Dan MacDonald

Editor: Jason Christou
Music: Julian Langdon
Sound Design: Dan MacDonald

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