Guest Post: Malinda Lo on the making of a book trailer for ADAPTATION

It’s my pleasure to welcome Malindo Lo back to Shelf Elf. Malinda is here to give us a behind the scenes look into the creation of the book trailer for her new release, Adaptation.

Welcome Malinda!

Over the past few years, book trailers have become quite a thing in YA. I’ve never been entirely sure if they succeed in making people want to read a book, but I’ve been fascinated to see how book trailers have developed. They used to be slide shows of still photos with text — remember 2009? But recently, some book trailers have become elaborate productions with casts, crews, costumes, and very! dramatic! music!

I wasn’t initially planning to make a book trailer for Adaptation because I didn’t think I was up for such a big ordeal. However, when I saw the book trailer that author Nina LaCour shot for her novel The Disenchantments, I thought: Whoa. That is the kind of trailer I would like! So when I learned that Nina and her friend, Amanda Krampf, had launched a mini book trailer production company, Less Than Perfect Productions, I knew that I wanted to hire them to make a trailer for Adaptation. Even better? Nina and Amanda live in the San Francisco Bay Area, so we could work on this in person.

I immediately emailed Nina to see if she was up for it, and I was very excited when she and Amanda said yes. After that, I emailed my editor at Little, Brown to get her input. We talked about different concepts for the trailer, and ultimately settled on a very quick, 30-second video that would act as a teaser for the novel. The goal was not to summarize the whole book in 30 seconds, but to get viewers to want to read the book. That meant the trailer had to convey the hook of Adaptation as well as show (visually!) the mood of the novel.

While many book trailers have text crawling across the screen, I knew that I wanted to have a voiceover narrator. I took the text that is excerpted on the back cover of Adaptation and built the voiceover narration around that, because I thought it expressed the novel’s premise pretty clearly. Then, Nina, Amanda, my editor and I thought about various images that could convey some of the things that happen in the novel.

In one of the scenes in Adaptation, the main character attends a funeral at Cypress Lawn Cemetery in Colma, CA, which is just south of San Francisco. (Notable fact: Colma was founded in 1924 as a necropolis; 1.5 million people are buried there. Also, nobody is buried in San Francisco anymore — they’re all in Colma.) When I was writing Adaptation, I visited Cypress Lawn as part of my research. It has a giant, beautiful mausoleum that looks like a palace. I suggested that we film part of the trailer on location at the mausoleum, where we could shoot the main character running after a man in black within the mausoleum itself. I thought it would not only look gorgeous on film, it would look creepy, and I wanted to make sure the book’s creepy vibe came through.

Additionally, Nina arranged to have some video shot that showed other aspects of the novel: driving down a highway, some scenes in an an airport, and the main character waking up in a hospital gown. Rather than a soundtrack, Nina suggested using the sound of a human heartbeat. I liked this idea a lot because sometimes I find the music in book trailers to be too dramatic; I wanted a minimalist yet creepy (again!) vibe.

Once we had an okay from Little, Brown on the concept, Nina and Amanda began to hire actors (including the awesome Matia Emsellem who recorded the voiceover) and a videographer. In mid-July, I joined Amanda, videographer Josh Blank, and two actors (Roma Oeh who played the main character, Reese; and Evan Pricco who played the man in black) at Cypress Lawn Cemetery to shoot the mausoleum scene.

We shot a bunch of stuff in one of the mausoleum’s main corridors, which was as beautiful as I remembered:

(Videographer Josh Blank shooting the man in black walking)

(Director Amanda Krampf, videographer Josh Blank, Roma Oeh as Reese, and Even Pricco as the man in black)

Then one of the cemetery’s staffers showed us a separate wing that was darker and creepier. We reshot everything in this wing:

(Evan Pricco and Roma Oeh)

(Josh Blank shooting Evan Pricco)

Finally, we shot Reese coming out of the mausoleum bathroom, which was part of the scene in Adaptation:

(Amanda Krampf, Josh Blank, and Roma Oeh)

Here are a couple of photos of us at the end of the mausoleum shoot:

(Left to right: Amanda Krampf, Roma Oeh, Evan Pricco, and Josh Blank)

(Amanda Krampf, Malinda Lo, and Roma Oeh)

After wrapping up at the mausoleum, I went home while Amanda, Josh, and Roma went to shoot the waking-up-from-the-hospital scene. A few days later, Amanda sent me the rough cut of the trailer, which blew me away because it looked exactly like what I had hoped for. We made a few tweaks to the timing, and ultimately we decided to cut the bathroom scene entirely (which I was bummed about) because it didn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the trailer.

I was very happy with the final product, which I think perfectly captures the pacing and mood of the novel. Here it is:

I hope it causes viewers to want to pick up the book!

Awesome, yes? Thank you Malinda, for giving us such a cool glimpse behind the scenes of the trailer-making process!


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