Sunday, July 14, 2013

Lights, Pencil, Action: The Check Out Trailer!

As you may know, I came from the independent film community. I have directed a film of my own, and worked on several for other directors. Although I love being an author, there is nothing that excites me like making movies. When it came time to start the promotion for my new novel, The Check Out, I knew that I would be making a trailer. Today, I thought I would take you behind the scenes of our shoot.

First of all, here is the trailer itself:

Pretty cool, eh? The goal of the trailer was to convey scenes from the novel, or scenes that conveyed ideas in the book. One of my influences was exploitation films of the 1970's, which is what we were going for in this video.

I had originally put this trailer together using stock footage comps, so that I could edit and shoot without wasting a lot of time. One shot that I loved was of a basket going through a grocery store. Most of them, though, were time lapsed, and showed the aisles buzzing by at warp speed. Here, we....ahem....snuck a camera into a local grocery store, placed a shirt over it, and wheeled the cart around for a few minutes. I love how the basket resembles prison bars. That theme is very relevant to the novel, and a wonderful image. (We did buy a few things at the store, so we weren't total losers.)

This shot is actually a piece of stock footage. Unfortunately, my bank account wouldn't allow us to shoot this for real. In order to make it look like an older film, I turned up the brightness, turned down the contrast, and brought out the red hues. This makes the shot look overexposed, and weathered. The scratches were digitally added to all of the shots, as well.

In the book, two characters begin an illicit, and bizarre, affair. They frequent a sleazy hotel, which we tried to capture here. My initial idea was to show a neon motel sign lit up at night. Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of those around any more. We did find a local place that worked quiet nicely. We thought it had been abandoned, though there was one car in the lot. I do feel a bit bad about this bit, because the cameraman went out of his way to get beautiful shots of the hotel's sign. The problem is, it's a bit too well known. (You can Google the name of the place and see lots of photos of the sign pop up.) So, we ended up using this shot that was sort of an after shot. That's why you try to film as much as possible in each location. You never know what's going to to come in handy.

I had wanted to try to get this shot in a real store. We had asked a couple of places to allow us to film there, but it turned out to be a huge hassle. So, we filmed this in a living room. I think it works; I just wish it had the depth of field behind the gunman. As for the gun itself, none of us had a prop to use. (It's amazing how those things vanish.) So, I went to a local sports store, bought an air pistol, and spray painted the barrel. Turned out pretty convincing, eh?

Though this isn't an exact scene in the novel, it does combine a couple of different elements that I wanted people to know about. There is a character with drug problems, especially with pills. That's my arm, by the way. The pills? Oh, there's some benadryl, ibuprofen, blood pressure medication, and aspirin. I'm hardcore like that.

Our only night time shot, we sat around for hours after finishing the rest, just to get this. I think it was worth the wait. Here, I play a character who has a run in with some thugs in a park. We filmed this in a backyard, with two guys pretending to kick me, and another swinging a spotlight. It really looks brutal and creepy..just like the scene in the book.

We shot a lot of footage driving around town, mainly to the hotel. The novel takes place in a bad are of town where buildings crumble, and people are broken. Sadly, there are plenty of areas of Memphis that can stand in for the book. I liked the image of a closed gas station. It's boarded up and empty; perhaps for years. Again, the contrast and colors are tweaked to look like 16 mm.

 This is one shot that I'm particularly proud of. It was so simple, and a collaboration between all of us. There are a couple of chapters of the book that involve prison and a couple of inmates. I could have used stock footage for the prison, but I really didn't want to. My friends happened to have a prison outfit from another project. We filmed this outside, against a garage wall with a couple of bamboo sticks directly in front of the camera. It took about 30 seconds to do, but totally works. The only issue was that leaves fell throughout the footage. I had to find a couple of seconds without them!

This is another piece of stock footage. Again, I wanted to film inside a real store, but couldn't. There was originally going to be more shots of grocery store stuff, but I ultimately felt like we didn't need them. I think this one, and the basket, are enough to contrast the violent events with the mundane setting.

Alright, raise your hand if this was your favorite part of the trailer! I thought so. For this scene, I had to do a lot of shaving and toning. No, I'm just kidding. Stock footage again. I couldn't find anyone that I thought would film this, nor did I want to incur my girlfriend's wrath. I played with the coloring here, too. I made the black background more shallow and tinted the skin color towards yellow to make it appear like washed out film.

In the novel, there is a character involved in a car crash. This was filmed in a driveway, with some fake blood on the windshield. That's me with my head pressed against the steering wheel. I also had some fake blood on my face. It was so hot in the car, that the blood mixed with sweat and ran into my mouth. Luckily, it was syrup. A little sweet, but tasty.

This was a quick shot that we grabbed off the cuff. There is a chapter that features inmates during a knife fight. After filming the jail shot, we grabbed a knife and did this. No one was harmed in the making of this scene.

This is just a quick little spot, but I like it for several reasons. First of all, I mention the blind covered windows in a couple of places in the book. It's a direct film noir reference, and I'm glad that we were able to work that in here. (Almost by accident. It was the only corner in the house we could get the shot.)  The flask, glass, and whiskey are all mine. So's the hand. That red tablecloth is the same one from the gunman scene, as well. What I really like is how much this looks like an exploitation scene shot. The colors, scratches, and camerawork really come together here.

Finally, we come to second money shot. BADA BING! This shot is in here for two reasons. First of all, there is a part in the book where a character throws a condom in the toilet. Secondly, it's total exploitation. "What kind of book is this, with condoms in the toilet?" On a side note, we could not get this thing to flush afterwards. I've never had that much trouble doing that before.

The music was also stock. It took a while to find just the right pieces that fit the mood, but I think they are both great.

So, there you have it. I think a trailer can be a key tool in promoting a book. If you know the right people, they can be amazingly cheap. We did this for way less than $100. The biggest expense was the air pistol. There was also a 12 pack of beer, and some taco bell in there, but no real production expenses. If you don't know the right people, then doing a trailer could cost you some money.

If you would like to know more about the cinematic influences of The Check Out, you can visit my film blog: A Reel Indication. I am the head writer and editor, so you'll get to see exactly what kind of films have inspired my work.

For Stock Footage and Music, you can visit these sites:

Shockwave Sound



Post a Comment