Song of the Vikings now has a book trailer, thanks to Mrs. Tasha Squires, head of the Learning Resource Center (I want to call it the library) at O’Neill Middle School in Downers Grove, IL.
I’ve never met Mrs. Squires, but I’d like to nominate her for Middle School Teacher of the Year, if there is such a thing, because in about 30 minutes last week she not only taught me how to make a book trailer, but convinced me I could do it.
Here’s the tale: On Tuesday of last week, Elisabeth, my very energetic marketing assistant at Palgrave Macmillan, sent me a message that set fireworks off in my head. The official publication date of Song of the Vikings is October 30, and we had been working hard to get the word out.
“One opportunity that we can take advantage of,” Elisabeth wrote (due to a situation that will soon be revealed but which I can’t mention yet), “is uploading an author video or book tie-in video”—a book trailer—to the Indiebound independent bookstore site. Elisabeth continued, “I don’t know if you have the means to or are even interested in creating such a video in the next couple of weeks, but I wanted to bring the opportunity to your attention in case you think it’s something you would like to do.”
Now, if you’ve seen a book trailer (and there are lots on YouTube), you probably wondered, as I had, who made them. Back in May, when the final editing was being done on Song of the Vikings, I thought how fun it would be to go to Iceland in the summer and make a video for a book trailer. I wanted to ask my friend Stan Hirson along—he’s a fabulous videographer; you can see samples of his work from Iceland on his websites Hestakaup.com and Life with Horses—and I was sure we could put together something memorable like his video “Longufjörur, the Long Beach,” which is one of my favorites.
But summer sped past, Stan and I never even discussed the idea, and suddenly I have a “couple of weeks” to make a book trailer.
Me, myself, alone. I’m a writer, not a videographer. True, I once worked in radio and used to produce a radio interview program called “Odyssey Through Literature.” (As you can see from the poster image by my friend Jeff Mathison, I was already in love with Vikings.)
But that was in the 1970s and ‘80s. We used magnetic tape on big 10-inch reels, razor blades, and splicing tape. There was a cool little tray attached to the reel-to-reel deck that flipped down. You listened to the tape, rocking it back and forth until you found exactly the words you wanted to edit out. You made two marks on the tape with a grease pencil, slid the tape into the tray, slit it twice with your razor blade, picked out the “out-take,” let those cast-off words fall to the cutting room floor, and joined the ends together with splicing tape. Then you listened to those few inches of recording several times at different speeds to make sure you couldn’t hear your own edit. I learned a lot about people’s speaking patterns—and what you could make someone say with a deft hand and a razor blade—working on that program.
But I’d never worked in film or video. I’d never done anything like it on a computer. I told Elisabeth a book trailer was a great idea, but it wasn’t going to happen in a “couple of weeks.”
Then I couldn’t sleep. A script popped out of my head the next morning. Much too long, of course, but it was something. I thought maybe Stan had some video in the can that would work. But how would he send it to me? How would I edit it or do the voice-over? A friend of mine who works at Apple had already informed me I could shoot a video using Photo Booth, an application I had on my MacBook and hadn’t ever opened. He insisted I could figure it out. I opened it. I closed it. I dithered.
I couldn’t sleep that night either. I kept seeing my photos of Iceland playing like a film in my head.
The next morning, I googled “How to Make a Book Trailer.” Up came Mrs. Squires’ video, “iMovie Instructions for Book Trailer Video.” I had iMovie on my computer, I discovered. I watched Mrs. Squires’ video. It was 12 minutes and 35 seconds long—and taught me everything I needed to know, including that I needed to watch her earlier video, “Garage Band Instructions for Book Trailer Video,” to learn how to record the voice-over. Yes, I had Garage Band on my computer too.
Step by simple step, Mrs. Squires taught me how to start a project in iMovie and how to drop in my still photos and make them look like video. She taught me how to record my voice-over in Garage Band and how to import it into iMovie. She taught me how to add titles, even background music (and where to find free jingles).
She did not tell me how to add the video I eventually did shoot in Photo Booth (I will not reveal the number of takes it took). But she gave me the confidence to try to do it, because she told me exactly what I needed to know, in the order in which I needed to know it, and she didn’t tell me anything else. That is the mark of a true teacher. Her videos were clear, simple, and fun.
She didn’t elaborate on all the fancy things iMovie and Garage Band can do. She didn’t try to wow me. She just walked me through the steps to make a book trailer. She even showed me how to fix a mistake—by making one herself. Her “Oops, I made a mistake!” sequence is the part of her video that clinched it: I really could make a book trailer. The fact that Mrs. Squires was explaining a classroom assignment to Middle School students helped. It is so comforting to be allowed to go back to Middle School when we need to.
I’m not sure Mrs. Squires will give my book trailer an “A+.” I can hear my edits. But I hope she’ll give me points for trying.
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