Thursday, December 11, 2014

To Hell and Back: Making the Oracle of Philadelphia Book Trailer

In celebration of her recently released fantasy mystery, Catching a Man, I'm dedicating this week to author Elizabeth Corrigan. Part four of this series is a making-of post about the Oracle of Philadelphia book trailer. 

Book trailers are fun. I get a disproportionate amount of satisfaction out of piecing together a cool-looking video. So back in 2013, when Elizabeth Corrigan was about to release her debut novel, Oracle of Philadelphia, I offered to make one for the novel. Elizabeth wrote the script, and then I set about finding the right footage and music to match.

Most of the trailers I make are text-and-image ones using snippets of the book's back cover copy. But for the Oracle trailer, we decided to go with the voiceover route. Since we were operating on a budget of exactly $0, I did the narration myself (as the voice of the titular Oracle character). And man, it took me ages to get it right! You'd think the script for a one minute video wouldn't take long to record, but I must've spent a good two or three hours repeating those same few lines over and over, trying not to flub them and attempting to put vocal inflections in the right places. Given the serious tone of the premise - about an immortal woman burdened with past guilt trying to save a good man's soul from an archdemon - I adopted a tone that would portray that.

Once the narration was done, it was time to find video. Again, budget of exactly $0, so my options were limited to whatever I could scrounge up using a free trial of a stock video website. Which meant I had to get creative. There were three locations needed: an ancient village (in which the Oracle was born), modern day Philadelphia, and Hell. Since we couldn't build Hollywood sets or anything, I had to be somewhat abstract. Philadelphia was the easiest, since there were a decent number of Philly videos on the stock footage site, and modern life shots that matched the narration (for instance, a coffee cup to represent the diner rather than an actual diner). 

The ancient village was a bit harder, but I managed to find a shot of a remote African village that I placed next to footage of desert sands. But even the African village had signs of modern life, so only about 2 seconds of it were usable. Since the Oracle talks about her villagers trading their souls, I overlay a shot of clouds going from white to dark storm clouds to fill in the extra time needed.

Then there was Hell. In Oracle of Philadelphia, Hell is described as a gothic mansion. Well, the stock website came up empty but luckily, I lived right next door to Princeton University. Lots of gothic buildings there. I didn't exactly own a camera, but my phone could take videos. So I went to campus one day and took sweeping shots of suitable buildings. Sweeping for two reasons: 1) The jerkiness of the camera added to the creepy, supernatural feel of the video and 2) I couldn't hold my hand steady. 

With all that in place, it was time to create the soundtrack to match the three locations. For the village, I found stock music that conveyed a sense of ancient times and desert culture, then overlay a violin melody (performed by yours truly) to add to the mysteriousness. Then, I faded it into a modern rock-like beat with the same violin playing over it to create a sense of unity. I wanted something steady and upbeat to convey the bustle of the 21st century, but with a touch of melancholy to match the Oracle's contemplative narration (the violin helped with that too). When she brings up Hell, the violin goes into dissonant chords - the Devil's Chord, to be precise - that drown out the beat (which continues moving underneath).

Since Elizabeth had expressed that Oracle of Philadelphia was partly inspired by the TV show Supernatural, I decided to end the trailer on a musical cue evocative of one of the show's themes (it's a slow piano melody played during the show's more tragic moments). 

Piece it all together and voila! A book trailer on a $0 budget. I think it turned out pretty decently... Check it out below to see for yourself how it all came together.

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