Sunday, May 3, 2015

Your Book Trailer's Opening Scene - Which Way To Go

Outline Your Book Trailer with this Hollywood Trick:

Once upon a time, I was an aspiring screenwriter. (still am, but who cares) In fact, screenwriting was how I got started writing novels, so I've learned a trick or two from the pros on how to pitch your screenplay to Hollywood.

Novelists can use this same technique to fine-tune their book trailers.

Traditionally, screenwriters pitch a logline of their script, which is a brief sentence or two, or a short paragraph outline for the movie.

Titanic Logline:
A seventeen-year-old aristocrat, expecting to be married to a rich claimant by her mother, falls in love with a kind but poor artist aboard the luxurious, ill-fated R.M.S. Titanic.

This logline is all about the love story and along with  loglines, screenwriters also mock-up sample posters. The reasoning is, if you can't envision the poster, the movie won't work.

Think about this idea. A logline and a poster do one very important thing for your story: they help you define the core story question. In other words, Titanic is really about a love story between an aristocrat and a poor, starving artist. On a broader scale, it's also about social classes and its disparities when it comes to true love. But that only covers the genre: A love story.

You can write hundreds of love stories, but what sets them apart? It's always, boy meets girl, girl hates boy, and in the end, they fall in love and live happily ever after. Right, but what makes these stories unique? That's where your story question, the driving force behind your story, comes into play. In Titanic, the main conflict is all about The Heart of the Ocean jewel, a rare, blue diamond, and its whereabouts. Who owns it? Was it stolen, or is it lost on the bottom of the ocean floor?

But, the plot thickens, and that leads to a love affair, a feud for the lost diamond, and then a sinking ship, among several other subplots thrown in for good measure. Wow, what a powder keg this story sits on!  So how do you sort it all out and what opening do you choose for your trailer?

Let's see, James Cameron chose to frame this story within the context of this core story question. What happened to the Heart of the Ocean diamond? It's a fictitious tale, book-ended to frame the true history of the Titanic's demise. Why? Because without this "literary" device, the real story of Titanic is nothing more than a documentary. And that's not as exciting as a 3 hour movie with a complex structure and a myriad of intriguing subplots.

The poster, however, mentions nothing about the diamond. The poster focuses entirely on their love affair. Notice the imagery. A young couple in love, and a ship seemingly splitting them apart. Then the tag line: Nothing on earth could come between them. Really?  Not quite, because that's exactly what happens. That tagline does a tremendous job launching the main theme of the story: True love conquers all. That's really what this Titanic movie is all about. Everything else is context, subtext, and icing on the proverbial cake. And what a multi-layered cake it is.

So how does all this relate to your book trailer? Simple, you need a hook to launch your book trailer, a logline, of sorts, that says: here's the essence of this book. This is what this book is really all about.  And you need to show it with vibrant images, sound, and voiceovers if necessary. You need to pose a story question that sets the tone for the book and the trailer, from frame one. Think theme and think genre.

The official Titanic movie trailer runs long at 4:09 minutes. That's about twice the length of most trailers, however, this is a long movie with a rather complex plotline, but those digital shots of the Titanic are breathtaking and interesting to watch, so it all holds up.

Look at this way, the marketing folks chose to saturate their marketing with different points of view. Very smart because, why would you want to repeat the same message in the poster and in the movie trailer? That's redundant and a waste of marketing dollars. Instead, they chose to angle the poster as a love story, (after all, you must keep its message simple) and showcase the trailer with a historical POV, focusing on the rare diamond, the feud over its disappearance, and the race against time to save themselves aboard a sinking ship. Hence, a four minute trailer.

Whew! This is exhausting just writing about it. It's no wonder the budget for Titanic was about 200 million. Ridiculous, but most likely, necessary.

The bottom line here is that when you outline your book trailer, think about the story theme and the story genre. Because that's where most of the images and music comes from. Musical scores are all about genre. Images are also about genre, but they can be specific to scenes too, so you have to decide early which way to go. What's your focus? Is it theme, or is it a specific scene in the book? A scene that covers the main theme, or the opening scene, or hook. Your choice.

Once you pinpoint your short synopsis (logline) and envision a (movie) book poster for your book, you're on your way to finding the best way (which scene or images to use) to open your book trailer. Starting a trailer is a lot like staring at a blank canvas, or an empty screen with a blinking cursor. Where do you begin? What launches the story? What are the circumstances that set it off?

What will engage the viewer and hold their interest for the next 90 seconds or several minutes? And how will those images, those questions, inspire viewers to keep searching for more answers?
Realize this:
 Your book trailer is an open-ended question, a curiosity that leads viewers 
on a quest for final answers, and consequently, closure.

Without this mindset, all your efforts, all your hard work will lead to nothing more than a slideshow of something that vaguely resembles your story. Apply these principles and techniques to your writing, to all your marketing, and to your book trailers, and see the amazing difference it can make in how readers perceive your book, its story, and ultimately, your book sales.