Today, I’m joined by Meredith Zeitlin, author of the delightful Freshman Year & Other Unnatural Disasters. Her debut YA follows the comic trials and tribulations of Kelsey Finkelstein as she navigates her first year of high school. Comic mayhem ensues, along with engrossing friendship drama.
Before I read this charming, funny, perfectly paced book, I was drawn in by its charming, funny, perfectly paced trailer.
This is one of the most successful book trailers I’ve seen, so I asked Meredith to share her process in creating it and offer up any insight she might have for authors who are considering producing a trailer of their own.
Here’s what she said:
Did you have any collaboration with your publisher in making the trailer? Did they advise you to do it? Did they have conceptual input at all or feedback for you while it was in progress?
Nope, nope, and nope. I’d never even heard of book trailers before a marvelous friend of mine, Anne Walls – who is a writer and also a producer/director – suggested I make one. We came up with the concept together, I paid to have it made, and when it was finished I showed it to the publisher.
How was your trailer made?
The amazing Anne, who lived in LA at the time, was a total rockstar about this project. She called in favors from a professional camera guy, DP, editor… who all worked for the cost of breakfast. She helped me rent a studio, props… everything was top of the line. I never could have done this – well, not without spending thousands and thousands of dollars – without her help and connections. So I was really lucky.
Trailers can be an investment. Did this cost you a lot or a little? If a lot, how did you weigh the decision to invest in it? If a little, how did you keep cost down?
As I said, I was really lucky – I was able to do the whole thing (including thank you gifts, flights for Anne to come to NY to work on the finished product, and food for the crew) for a fraction of what it might’ve cost me if I’d had to hire all those people for real. That fraction was still a decent chunk of cash – over a thousand bucks – but still, for what I got, that was pocket change. This is probably why most trailers are pretty low-budget projects; the publishers don’t pay for them, so it’s up to the author. I probably would’ve invested in the project anyway, though, because I thought it would be worth it to make something that would really stand out, especially as a first-time author with no buzz behind me. And ultimately I was right to do it, because the trailer got a lot of bloggers interested in the book!
Did you consider other approaches, and if so, how did you rule them out and land on this one?
We definitely didn’t want to do something linear, like a movie trailer, or anything where you’d see a “Kelsey” – one of the reasons I don’t really describe her, or any of the characters in the book, physically is because I want readers to picture her any way they want. So that’s why only her hands are visible in the trailer. We tossed around a lot of ideas and things we’d seen that we were interested in emulating. We watched LOTS of trailers. The thing that actually influenced us most was Napoleon Dynamite – or rather, the opening credits. We thought it was a cool way of presenting elements of the film without giving too much away. And we liked the way it looked. So we went from there to try and make it our own.
That’s an awesome inspiration! I love the hints of what’s to come in the book, and it’s satisfying to view it again after reading the book. What went in to choosing these teasers?
We basically went through the entire MS and chose all the plot points that we thought we could physically represent with items that would tantalize potential readers and get them interested in the story. We spent a loooong time choosing those items, trying to make sure they were hints and not too on the nose. We found out after we were finished that the publishers were concerned with the inclusion of the vodka bottle, so we cut a second, “G-rated” version for them to post on Amazon. Unfortunately, it’s been over a year and the trailer STILL isn’t up. But that’s a whole other interview…
I think it’s cool that you put it out there, upfront, yes, there is drinking in this book … What was the storyboarding and shooting process like?
Anne and I wrote a script, which she turned into a shooting script. That took a few weeks, just sending ideas back and forth over email. Then we figured out how to get all the props we couldn’t rent (the Annie doll was on ebay, Anne made the newspaper and the Foreign Scarves poster herself, I got my dentist to contribute the broken teeth and other dental tools, I “borrowed” the yellow construction helmet from the scaffolding that happened to be outside my building at the time…)
…and then we had to figure out how we wanted it to look. The actress was a friend who had young-looking hands and was willing to work for free. The shoot itself took almost a full day, and I watched most of it happening on Skype from Brooklyn. Once we had the footage, the really tricky part started – editing. We went through several rounds of that, because I had a very specific idea of how I wanted the transitions to look, and how I wanted certain moments to line up with the music. I think Anne and the editor both wanted to kill me by the end, but we got it done. And I’m still alive!
Is there any particular choice that really pleases you after seeing how it turned out?
I absolutely love the trailer – after we edited it to within an inch of its life, it really was exactly what I imagined in my mind and more. The editor threw in some super cute touches that I hadn’t even thought of – the unicorn at the end, the effects with the transitional elements, like the text message… Anne came up with the rigging of the falling beard, which I think is hilarious. One thing that I REALLY wanted was the fast-motion unfolding of the note, which was tricky but turned out perfectly.
You happen to be a voice over artist, so it makes sense that you provided Kelsey’s voice. What choices did you have to consider in performing Kelsey’s voice?
I didn’t make any choices – that’s just my voice! Which makes sense, since Kelsey is very much me.
Where did you find the music for the trailer? It’s so perfect!
There was actually a song by Paloma Faith, a British singer, that I’d heard when I was recording a commercial months earlier. I loved the song – it was like it had been written about my book. When I found out the client hadn’t used the music for the commercial, I did everything I could think of to get in touch with Ms. Faith, but neither she nor her people got back to me. I didn’t want to use the song without her permission; I also really didn’t want to get sued! So I started searching on free/close-to-free music sites for something with a similar vibe. I listened to about a zillion songs til I finally found the piece we used, paid the fee, and went from there. There’s always a part of me that wishes I could’ve used the original song I’d wanted to use, but I think this one worked out really well.
Once you had the trailer, what did you do with it? What kind of impact did you find it had in bringing attention to your book?
We posted it everywhere we could think of! We tweeted it, we facebooked it, we emailed it to everyone we knew. I asked the publisher to do the same. Then I emailed it to every YA blogger I could find an email address for. We had hoped it would go viral, which didn’t happen, but we did get many, many responses from people who were really impressed with it – in particular, bloggers who wanted to post it on their pages, which is what really started to spread the word about the book. Exactly what I’d hoped for!
Do you have any advice for authors who are considering making trailers? Anything you wish you’d known going in?
Without Anne, who really knew the ins and outs of shooting, I’d've been toast. I guess my best advice would be to have a friend with connections to the film world who can hook you up. Not very helpful advice, I know, but honestly, I don’t know how else I would’ve made such a professional trailer. It just wouldn’t have happened – I’d have ended up with nothing, a powerpoint project, or spending a fortune. I know I keep saying over and over that I was lucky, but that’s the truth. Thanks, Anne!
Thanks, Meredith, for sharing your process! I’m looking forward to the follow-up to this book, Sophomore Year is Greek to Me, also from Putnam.
Look for another trailer interview, May 6th, with Cori McCarthy for her forthcoming YA debut The Color of Rain.