A Steaming Steampunk Book Trailer

Book trailers are all the rage at the moment.  And why not:  we might as well use the full range of media to sell our novels.  Not knowing anything about book trailers, I turned to the web for inspiration.

I viewed plenty of very good trailers based on powerpoint presentations, using still photos and book shots, and a few awesome ones resembling movie trailers.  Wanting to stand out from the crowd, and determined to present only the best for my readers, I aspired to launch Gaia’s Brood using a cinematic trailer.

Not having made any videos before, I sought the help of professionals: my daughters (experts at making pop videos).  They eagerly showed me the wonders of imovie.  Perfect.

Of course, I’d never used an ipad before, and I wanted different music, and a bespoke introduction, and all my photos and graphics were on my laptop, so I looked for a pc version of imovie.  Zilch.

That’s when I discovered my pc already had a free video making programme called Windows Live Movie Maker.  Perfect.

Now all I needed were action shots to populate my trailer.  Easy.

I spent an exhausting afternoon running up and down wooden steps on a cliff-face, trying to get action for a single exciting shot of someone fleeing up wooden steps in a floating city. Several hours later, with my knees trembling from the exertion, background shots of beach huts, rabbits, oil tankers, and paragliders, and with several runs ruined my other people using the steps, I resolved to keep to writing and leave film making to the experts.  I was at a dead end.

Using Windows Movie Maker (WMM) tutorials on YouTube, I discovered I didn’t have to use only my own material, I could slice action from other films I download.  Perfect.

As a template for the Gaia’s Brood video, I used a trailer template from imovie. I quickly sketched out a storyboard for my book trailer—shots, zoom etc., it is like producing a story arc, but in pictures.  A few iterations and edits later, I was satisfied I had the basis for an exciting trailer.

Top Tip:  Storyboard by: (a) telling the story or (b) capturing the mood.  I quickly discovered finding film clips easier if I concentrated on (b).

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I started trawling YouTube for movies in my genre, downloading suitable looking films (which takes an age when you only want a four second clip from the whole film), and snipping out the sections I thought would fit the Gaia’s Brood story board—a few seconds here, a few second there. I was on a roll.

Top Tip:  To identify if there are useful scenes in a downloaded film, zip through it using the slider at the bottom of the screen—this saves hours.

Nothing, of course, fitted exactly—the film snippets were all either too long or too short—sometimes less than a second.  Cutting down the size of a clip is no problem, but extending a scene means slowing it down—some scenes look fantastic in slow motion, others just don’t work.

A week later, having saved every individual film snippet as a WMM video in its own right, I eventually whittled the initial trawl of 300 snippets down to about 50.  Each time you take a clip from a film, keep a record of the film name, distributor and URL—you will find out why later.  I spent days reconstructing this list when I reached the end of the trailer, so save yourself time and hassle and do it as you go along.

Top Tip: NEVER delete your initial clips, no matter how small, how useless or rubbish you think they are—you never know when they might fit just perfect as a tiny filler between two other shots .  I did delete some and had to spend hours re-downloading entire films when I changed my mind on speeds and lengths in the final cut of the trailer.

At first, populating the storyboard story arc went really well, but things ground to a halt when I needed to find specific shots.  I tried filling in with stills, but unless the duration is really fast (less than a second) they just didn’t seem to fit with the cinematic feel of the rest of the trailer.

I spent 3 days trawling for a movie image of a package.  When I did find it, in a Sherlock Holms trailer, it was far too short.  By slowing the clip right down, duplicating it four times, then stitching the clips together, I ended up with something I could use that was half decent.

Top Tip:  Keep a copy of original film clips at their original lengths and speeds, as a resource for when you change your mind during editing.

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I did included a few stills, of my Gaia’s Brood characters, on black backgrounds.  A thorough trawl of Pinterest threw up some likely character photos (if you identify yourself in a still, or a film clip for that matter, I offer you my thanks and would love to hear from you).

Learn to use the ‘Remove background’ feature in word/powerpoint to put characters into your own settings.  This brilliant tool, only available in word/powerpoint 2007 onwards, will enable you to make your own awesome book covers too.  It’s fiddly, but pretty simple.

Remove distracting, and invariably wrongly coloured, backgrounds from stills using MS Powerpoint:  insert your photo, select the picture toolbar (which in windows 7 only appears when the picture is selected), then click ‘Remove image background.’  By using the ‘Select area to remove’ and ‘Select areas to keep’ buttons, and fiddling around for ages, it is possible to isolate your character with a clear background.  I then added a black background, grouped the image and background together, then right clicked on the grouped image so I could ‘Save as a picture.’  I saved the images as both png and jpg files so I could later import them to WMM.  Jpg files always save with a background.  Png files save with a clear background, meaning you can group lots together in imaginative ways to create awesome book covers.

To keep up the energy of the trailer, the still shots were very short (0.75 seconds maximum) and they were interspersed with equally quick action shots.

Top Tip:  If, like me, the overall mood of the trailer is more important than the content, then the colour progression from one clip to another is a huge issue.  Colour turned out to be the main reason for rejecting the majority of film clips.

Captions, I discovered, look better on a moving background—somehow it retains the energy of the trailer, and energy is a feature I particularly wanted for the Gaia’s Brood trailer.  I found the orange cloud background on a music video.  If you look very carefully, you can just see the tail end of an object falling to earth at the bottom of the screen, but you will have to look hard, because I positioned the captions over that part of the scene.  Adding captions is a synch.

Adding an image to a moving background, however, is impossible with WMM.  There are only four options:

  1. Pay for a premium edition of WMM
  2. Pay someone else to do it, say in Fiverr.com.
  3. Download another free video maker programme, or free trial.
  4. Don’t do it.

WARNING:  I found some free video downloads were infected—several downloads were blocked by the anti-virus software as unsafe and I had to physically remove two viruses from my laptop.

As I was determined to spend as little as possible on this book launch, without picking up numerous viruses, I used a combination of options 2 and 4.  I paid $5 for the ‘Nick Travers Presents,’ video clip to a guy in Italy on Fiverr.com, and I opted for book stills on black backgrounds at the end.

Finally, I used the ‘Add Credits’ option to attribute every film from which I took a clip—I think it’s only fair to attribute the sources, which is why I advise keeping a list as you go along.  It took me days to reconstruct my list.

In WMM I used the ‘Music Tools’ toolbar to turn off the sound tracks of each individual film clip and then selected ‘Add music’ to import my selected MP3 soundtrack.  Amazingly, WMM automatically fitted the soundtrack to the length of my video trailer.  I did need to trim something from the beginning of the sound track, using the splitter tool, and choose how to fade out the music over the credits, but that was a synch.  Easy.

It took three weeks of fiddly hard work to construct the book trailer for Gaia’s Brood, but I hope you will agree it was worth it.

Book Trailer Video

This steampunk book trailer is awesome.

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7 thoughts on “A Steaming Steampunk Book Trailer”

  1. Thanks so much for sharing 🙂
    I’m very scared by booktrailers (but I do want onw for my book!) so every advice is mor ethan welcome. Your trailer is awesome!

    But I’m a bit worries about using clips from films. Is that really ok in terms of copyright?

    1. Hi, thanks for your comments and your difficult question. Copyright laws are complicated and confusing, particularly as we are dealing with film copyright across multiple nations. What I think I know about copyright is probably wrong anyway, or recently changed or out of date.

      The way I see it, is I have used multiple clips from different places to create something new. I have not intended to defame, slandered or misrepresented anyone, and I have acknowledged the source of every clip used, so I think most people would be tolerant of what I have done (except Disney). But I could be entirely wrong. Also I have not used the trailer for direct commercial purposes, though I am using it to advertise something else I have created, which I am selling for commercial gain, so perhaps I am in the wrong. As soon as I posted the trailer on Youtube, the sound track was automatically claimed by the owners and cross referenced to other tracks of theirs, but they have not asked be to remove it, just linked it back to their own material.

      Would I be happy if someone else pirated my books? No, absolutely not. Would I be happy if someone used my work/characters to sell something of theirs? If they acknowledged the sources and ownership I guess I would tolerate it on the bases that it is also advertising for me – I might even seek to form some sort of collaboration.

      Avoid using anything from Disney, they are aggressive about protecting every facet of their copyright. I fell foul of them with a character image once – I had no idea it was theirs. But even they sent me a polite email asking me to remove it, which I was happy to do. So I guess the bottom line is that if someone tells me I have infringed their copyright by using something of theirs and asks me to remove it, I will remove it.

      A bit confusing but I hope that helps.


  2. This blog post is fantastic help for those who want to make a better book trailer. I’d decided against making one of those slideshow type trailers because they’re just not good. Now I’m tempted to give your technique a try myself. Nice job Nick.

    1. I think Indie Authors need to raise the bar to get noticed. It is fiddly and time consuming, but well worth it. Hope it all goes well. Contact me if I can be of any help.

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