How to Make a Book Trailer by emily m. danforth

By emily m. danforth, author of The Miseducation of Cameron Post

As anyone who has ever been disappointed by the movie adaptation of a favorite book can tell you: it’s hard to get it right. I mean, huge movie studios with buckets of cash (literally, probably: just imagine buckets swinging from ropes and filled with hundred dollar bills. Why the ropes? I have no idea. Why the swinging? Why does it matter—just buckets of cash) and famous actors and huge production crews and the best technology still disappoint us time and again when they adapt our favorite works of literature for the big screen.

Remembering the many times I’ve been disappointed by a movie adaptation of a book–I decided to make a list of ground rules for my own book trailer and then stick to them. The trailer you see here is a result of those efforts. I’m pretty darned thrilled with it. A good friend told me that he got “teary-eyed” while watching it. Keep in mind, though, that this particular friend had just gotten engaged in El Salvador days before and was in the process of coming back to Rhode Island from that trip, watching my book trailer on his phone while he stood in line in Texas, at customs, all sunburned and travel-weary and completely in love. But still: that’s a heck-of-a compliment and I take it gladly.

Here’s the list I made of Book Trailer Musts (in bold), with some notes about how things panned out in the end:

1. The trailer must contain actual lines of fiction from the novel, either as voice over or as captions on the screen. (As you can see (or, I guess, hear) we went for voice over. The voice? Well, it’s a deeply held secret and I cannot tell you but suffice it to say that it’s not mine.) This was important because this trailer is about a book, after all, and a book is about reading and somehow the trailer needed to get at that

2. Given how important sense of place is to the novel, the trailer must contain lots of images that represent the landscape of eastern Montana. This was incredibly tricky because I now live in Providence, Rhode Island and was working with a local filmmaker who shot and edited most of the footage (and all of the really, really beautiful footage. See the next entry on this list for more details about that).  So we “cheated” Montana a bit in some sections, which is not easy as you might think. (Or maybe you wouldn’t think that trying to re-create a massive, mountainous, western state while filming in a tiny, mostly flat, coastal state would be easy. In which case: you’d be right.) But we did what we could in terms of getting footage, and then, when I flew back to Montana for the gigantic and very merry Danforth family holiday gathering at my parents’ house on Main Street in Miles City (it’s not happenstance that this is Cameron Post’s hometown, too) I nabbed a few crucial and authentic shots of things like the water tower and the sandstone hills. And Trevor (see below) was a wiz at editing it altogether.

3. Hire a filmmaker with an amazing eye and his own equipment who works cheap and who also happens to be a very cool guy who’s a blast to hang out with, likes the same local coffee shop you do (White Electric, Providence RI—look it up), and shows you funny clips on You Tube (that are not appropriate to reference here). I give you Trevor Holden: If you’re planning to get married in or near Rhode Island or Massachusetts anytime in the near future I highly recommend booking him now. Otherwise, just gaze at his wedding footage anyway. It’s nice to see people in love, isn’t it? Well, sometimes it’s nice. It’s nice when Trevor’s the one behind the camera, let’s put it that way. Not only is Trevor an alum of the filmmaking program at Rhode Island College (where I teach creative writing and literature courses), he’s also the kind of guy who, when you say, “Do you happen to have any incredibly beautiful footage of a Ferris wheel and a carnival midway just hanging around, clogging up your computer files, waiting to be put in my book trailer?” Answers back: “Why yes I do.” If Trevor Holden had to be a character from my novel he’d probably be Jamie Lowry, but the mostly grown-up and infinitely more responsible version. (Don’t tell Trevor that I said this.)

4. The trailer must have an unobtrusive but layered background tune, one that helps set the mood. We could not have made this thing work without the wonderful track “Intimidated By Silence” (the instrumental version) from the Portland-based cars&trains: Trevor even edited some of the cuts around its rhythm and timed the lines about the music “plinking” from the center of the Ferris wheel to the tinkling music of the track.

5. The trailer must feature Cameron Post’s dollhouse. Ahhh—also tricky, because Cameron Post’s dollhouse is incredibly elaborate—a detailed model based on a famous Victorian mansion in San Francisco—and, frankly: I made it up. I don’t own such a dollhouse. If I did it would probably be worth a ton of money. Have you ever seen how much those things go for on ebay? It’s no joke: we’re talking thousands and thousands of bucks for some of them. So, again: we cheated a bit. A lot.

6. The trailer should allude to some of the moments of tension in the novel—Cameron’s romances, her religious instruction. The shots are brief, but I think we covered both of those. Did you catch them?

7. Finally, most importantly: the trailer should make you want to read the novel. I can’t answer this for anyone but me, and it doesn’t make any sense for me to answer it for obvious reasons: but I hope that it does. And, you know, if you also happen to tear-up whilst waiting in line at customs in Texas, well, then there’s that, too. I’ll happily take it.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post will be available February 2012. Visit emily at, and follow her on twitter @emdanforth

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