Last Saturday, we got up at the crack of dawn and headed to Oxford.  The car boot was crammed with props, costumes, bottles of water, a box of tea-bags, gaffer tape and bin liners. The sky was blue, the sun was shining, our lead actor’s train had arrived on time and the car-park at the back of Tescos was empty – the gods were on our side.   It’d had been a while since I’d been actively involved in a shoot (apart from being an incognito Extra in my son Harry’s latest short-film) and it felt good to be holding a Call Sheet again.  I’d not been sure what title to give myself when typing it up a few days earlier – Scriptwriter? Production Manager? Production Co-ordinator? 1st AD? Stand-by Props? Caterer? Runner?  All seemed appropriate in their way, but in the end I went grandiose and opted for Producer.  The only thing I wasn’t doing was operating the camera – anyone reading this who knows me will sigh with relief and think, maybe the quality of this thing isn’t going to be so bad, after all…


Trying to avoid the stinging nettles… 

We were shooting a promotional video trailer for Wendy Cartwright’s new novel, TO YOU THE STARS, part of my Indie Publishing Experiment (see earlier Blogs).  The idea came out of a brainstorming session we had a few months ago – you know, sitting around with a bottle of wine, letting our imagination, bank balance and naivety run free, saying: “and we could do THIS”, “and we could do THAT” (filling our glasses) and “wouldn’t it be brilliant IF…”  I love those conversations, but I hate it when they remain just words in the air.  So I was determined to follow through.   Hence the boot full of stuff and the Call Sheet.

To be fair, it’s a lot easier to mount a project like this if you and your family happen to work in film and television.  And your husband used to be a professional actor.  And the writer’s daughter is a shooting-director with prime time TV credits.  And you either own or can borrow free of charge a decent HD camera and panel lights and have access to an Edit Suite and – well, you get the picture.  We did the whole thing – including paying two professional actors (not including my husband obviously) for about £300.    It would have cost a little more if the amazing host of the house we were using to shoot the internal and external scenes hadn’t laid on a buffet and wine for lunch! (Thanks, Glynis and we hope the smell of cigarette smoke has faded.)

Okay so we’re jammy buggers.  But it got me thinking…  If you’re self-publishing and don’t have these kind of resources to hand, how cheaply could you make something of decent quality?  And it really does have to be of decent quality, otherwise it’ll put people off buying your book rather than encourage them.

So I started scouring the internet for companies offering to make book trailers for self-publishing authors.  Maybe I’m googling with the wrong search words or maybe I’ve found a gap in the market.  A GAP in this incredibly crowded market?  Surely not.    I found Circle of Seven Productions, essentially a US outfit, who specialise in making book trailers and reputedly have a London base.  I say reputedly, because it’s hard to find out any more information about their UK operations.  Hmmm, perhaps they need a promotional trailer…  Anyway, in the US they produce trailers according to your budget, quoting between $2000 and $5000.  The package also includes distribution via social media, particular websites and even libraries.  Knowing industry-standard rates for crew and cast, let alone the cost of prop and costume hire and location fees, that price doesn’t seem unrealistic to me.  But given that a serious self-published author has probably already shelled out for an Editor and a Book Jacket Designer, is a one-minute promotional video really worth it?  Is it not the icing on the cake, but the glace cherry on top?  And will it sell any books?


Careful, David!  No budget for Stunt Doubles…

Presumably, trailers do help with sales, otherwise traditional publishers wouldn’t be bothering.  Go on the website of any big publisher and you can watch promotional videos to your heart’s content.  Commercial thrillers get a sort of pseudo feature film treatment – cross-dissolving stills of dead bodies and knives dripping with blood, with melodramatic, deep-throated voiceovers giving out apocalyptic warnings and generally trying to give us nightmares.  There are some lovely, quirky animations but also some very boring ‘interviews’ with shy, awkward authors, usually surrounded by a pile of their latest unsold hardbacks.  The deathly-dull approach seems to be reserved for Literary Fiction.

Okay, so anyone can stick themselves in front of their webcam, drone on about why they decided to write the book and upload it to their Author Page on Amazon.  But say you have an idea for a trailer that’s witty, intriguing, engaging and fun to watch, but have hardly any budget.  Here’s my idea.  There are Film and TV Production courses in universities all over the country.   Arts University Bournemouth, Westminster, Edinburgh, University of the Arts London, to name but a few – here’s a list.  They are bursting with creative young people who have access to free, good quality equipment and who are constantly looking for interesting projects to do in their spare time.  They are tomorrow’s industry professionals but right now they need to gain experience and build up their CVs.   And you will definitely be able to find your cast via a service like Casting Call Pro, good actors who will work for modest fees and/or expenses and will appreciate footage for their Showreel.  Then all you have to do is write your script, raid your house and the local charity shop for props and costume and you can turn that drunken brainstorming session into a reality.  It just takes a bit of Get-Up-And-Go.   Usually at about five o’clock in the morning, but that’s half the fun.

Our shoot last Saturday went incredibly well and was a hoot.  Our talented cast were a joy to work with and I didn’t fall out with my husband once.  We managed five “set-ups” in the day – Magdalen Bridge, punting on the river (thankfully nobody fell in as we didn’t have duplicate costumes), the outside of Glynis’ house, the inside of Glynis’ house, and the adjacent churchyard.  We didn’t have to worry about the Vicar as we’d already got permission to film, but keeping Ellie’s expensive camera out of sight of the drug addicts communing around the war memorial was a bit of a challenge.  Wendy got her Hitchcock moment, I took some fuzzy Behind-the-Scenes stills on my ancient I-phone, and we ate some remarkably tasty sausage rolls.  Can’t wait to see the finished product and share it in all the appropriate places.  And if we don’t sell a single extra copy of TO YOU THE STARS as a result, at least we’ll have had a good day out.


Still smiling, after all those hours…

L to R – Actors Hester Ruoff, Abigail Hopkins and David Kendall with Shooting Director Ellie Cartwright


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