Author Donna Miscolta Makes Her Book Trailer Dance
By Donna Miscolta
“Look, Mom. I wrote a book!”
Approval from Mom. That’s all we want, isn’t it? Well, maybe when we were three and Mom equaled the world. But now, isn’t it the world’s attention we’re really after? Okay, maybe not the world. But some very modest portion of it. A sliver.
Because writers spend a good amount of time writing, rewriting and worrying over it, because we endure rejection and self-doubt, we imagine that in recompense our book will at long last arrive, if not to pageantry and spectacle, then at least to some applause, a salute, a thumbs up.
Which did happen back in June to me and Wendy Call at our joint book launch party where we felt feted, buoyed by well-wishers. But once the guests had left, the musicians had packed up their instruments, and we had folded up and hauled away the rented chairs, well, the party was over. The manager of the gallery wasted no time in pushing a broom across the floor to remove the remnants—candy wrappers, napkins, toothpicks, paper plates, and fallen petals from congratulatory bouquets. Soon the room was clean. Empty, except for the question insinuated by the pile of post-party debris: Now what?
Wendy, indefatigable and determined, was setting off on a cross-country tour backed by a publicist and her own remarkable networking skills.
With no publicist, no funds, and a small press book with limited distribution, I was staying home. I did manage to schedule some events locally in Seattle and also in San Diego where I was born and whose environs provided the backdrop for my novel. Scheduling those events was an education for me.
Here’s what I didn’t know.
I didn’t know about co-op dollars, money from a publisher that a bookstore relies upon to offset the cost of reading events. Small publishers like mine don’t have co-op dollars at their disposal.
I didn’t know about the terms of purchase most bookstores require from the publisher: a 40 percent discount, free shipping, and the option to return unsold books. Small publishers like mine can’t meet those terms.
In short, I didn’t know that, with a few exceptions, my book would not have a presence in bookstores.
It was a woeful outlook. Once I’d concluded my modest run of events, there would be no more opportunities for face-to-face contact with potential readers to let them know about a book that was generally not available in bookstores.
So I looked to the Internet. YouTube to be exact. I’d been mulling the idea of a book trailer, and more than one friend had encouraged me to make one.
The downside, of course, is that book trailers are rapidly becoming as ubiquitous as books. And as with books, trailers by the recognized and established, not to mention the celebrity, will naturally draw attention over the trailer by the unknown writer.
How effective are book trailers anyway? Do they convince the viewer to buy your book? If you’re already famous, do you really need a book trailer? If you’re unknown, will anyone care that you have one?
The answers are not very; probably not; no, but it doesn’t hurt; and maybe your mother.
Still, a book trailer offered the possibility no matter how slight of getting my book into the minds and possibly the hands of people beyond those who had some connection to me through friendship or family.
The question was how to distill the novel or the essence of it to a two-minute video. I knew the video would have to feature dance. It was my metaphor for the synchrony that happens between people when hopes or yearnings in common unite them even for a moment.
I searched for and listed all the scenes in my book that had to do with dance and considered stringing them all together with a narrative that I would write. But that seemed unwieldy, a bit contrived, and, as I studied that first scene on my list, altogether unnecessary.
The first scene in the book that mentioned dance was all I needed. I could take the words directly off the page and do a voice-over as the screen showed two couples dancing bolero. I could intersperse the dance and the voice-over with blurb excerpts on the screen that matched the music and mood of the piece. The choreography would consist not only in the literal steps of the dancers, but in the overall integration of music, narration, titles and text.
I sent a proposal to Ann Hedreen whom I know through our association with Hedgebrook, that paradise of a writing retreat for women on Whidbey Island where six writers at a time are invited and housed in her own handcrafted cottage in the woods. Ann and her husband Rus Thompson make up White Noise Productions, an Emmy-award winning film company. Among their works is Her Beautiful Brain, a video about Ann’s memoir, now in the hands of an agent.
Ann sent back a price quote and we were in business. I would be responsible for securing a site for the shoot which turned out to be my neighborhood community center; selecting the music, for which Rus sent me a link to SoundDogs.com; and hiring dancers.
Hiring dancers—how hard could that be, I thought. Seattle was full of dancers. Except, as it turned, out bolero dancers. I learned that bolero is only danced in competition, not socially, so fewer people dance it than, say, tango or salsa or cha cha.
Why not change the dance for the trailer, someone asked me. Because bolero was the right dance for the scene in the book and thus the right dance for the trailer.
Surely, there were dancers of bolero somewhere in Seattle. I did at one point resort to accosting people on the street, in restaurants and on the bus whenever I came across someone who I thought surely must dance bolero.
Finally, I remembered Rose Cano, actor, writer, director, and co-founder of Ese Teatro. I’ve known Rose for decades, but our paths only occasionally cross. I sent a message to her via Facebook and she solved my problems with two words: Vanessa Villalobos.
I immediately contacted Vanessa who teaches dance through her company Balorico. She was interested and available, so we set up a meeting. We agreed that she would be responsible for hiring the other three dancers needed for the video. We shopped together at Value Village to buy the wardrobe for the shoot. I trusted Vanessa on the clothes for the men. And though we selected some pieces for the women to wear, I wasn’t completely convinced we had the right outfits.
Though neither of my daughters lives at home anymore, many of their belongings still occupy the rooms upstairs. The night before the shoot, I rummaged around and scored two dresses, and though I had repeatedly admonished my younger daughter for her habit of borrowing my clothes without asking, I justified my own temporary appropriation of her dress as minor pay-back.
The day of the shoot, Vanessa, ever the professional, had her dancers ready a half hour ahead of time. Aside: Why are dancers always gorgeous? They all looked so graceful and sexy. And young. I wanted to applaud or bow or toss roses at their feet.
Ann and Rus arrived and set up their equipment. Earlier Rus had asked me what sort of effect I had in mind. Sort of muted, I said, even though I wasn’t sure that was the word I wanted to use. Maybe I meant subtle or restrained, understated or subdued. But none of those words came to me.
None were needed. Despite my inability to clearly articulate my vision, Rus nodded and said he had the same thing in mind. I trusted Rus’s instincts. It was a thrill to watch him work. “He’s an expert with the steady-cam,” Ann informed me.
It was an efficient operation, with the dancers fluently taking direction from Rus, and Rus open to suggestions from the dancers. We had the scripted scene as guidance, but there was plenty of room for creativity in capturing it in the dancers’ movements and from long and short camera angles. I had rented the room for two hours, and set-up, shoot and take-down all happened easily before time expired.
I’m ecstatic with the result. It’s gorgeous. Exactly what I wanted.
Will it sell books? Maybe. Maybe not. If it creates a demand for bolero lessons with Vanessa and sends clients to White Noise Productions, then I’m happy for that. And none of it would’ve happened without the support of my friend, writer Anne Germanacos, whose generosity allowed the project to proceed, and my sister Rose Miscolta who also contributed. It was this pulling together of the talents and the backing of people in my community that made this video possible.