“A trailer for a book? Really?”
Trailers for movies have been around for a long time, but it wasn’t until video distribution became simple in the mid-2000’s (especially in the advent of YouTube) that book trailers came into existence.
For Heretics of Piedmont, I read from multiple sources that a trailer is helpful, but not totally necessary. I didn’t pursue it until just before that book’s release in September 2021. Video production is not at all something I was comfortable with, so I scoured Fiverr for a seller who could develop in a style I liked.
The problem is that Fiverr is filled with a lot of template-style book trailers. They work, they’re economical, and they can be spun up quickly. All of those, however, looked tacky to me. After an hour of searching, I couldn’t find anything I liked in my price range. So I set the project down for a day.
The next day was Saturday, and I entered a slightly different search (I can’t remember exactly what it was), and found better results—mostly graphic design students trying to build their portfolio. These tend to be a little cheaper, but the quality can also suffer. Thankfully, I found a seller whose style and price hit the right place. I put in the order, and was amazed with the result—far better than I imagined! Click here if you haven’t watched the Heretics of Piedmont trailer. 45 seconds of good video production for $20? I’d call it a great deal!
I learned a lot by just seeing what this seller did, and perhaps most valuable of all, the music she used; I’ll get to that later.
A year later, when I needed to make the trailer for The Lord of Luserna, I looked up the same seller on Fiverr, but unfortunately, she was no longer available. I had no interest in finding someone else with similar talents, so I decided to tackle the project myself!
Watching several book trailers I considered well done, as well as a few from movies, started me on the right path. But where do I start? What computer program do I use? Will I end up spending a ton of time and end up with a poor result? There’s no telling until I got started—first with the foundation.
You might think writing a script for a video of around 100 seconds would be simple for someone who’s now authored two full-length novels.
Plot twist! It’s not easy.
For me at least, summarizing something I poured my mind and soul into for many, many hours is quite challenging. I can’t tell you how much I changed the script, which I kept saved in a Google Keep note. Even when I mowed my lawn, I had the script rolling through my brain, and I stopped the motor twice to change the wording.
I started with the actual words that would be spoken, then next to them, I typed in the kind of video footage to display. Developing a script definitely helped with the next steps.
Once I had the script finalized, I could get the voice over recorded. I’ve noticed that most book trailers don’t use a voice over, but I really thought it would add to the experience. My goal was to find a female voice actor who is fluent in English, has a slight French accent (to reflect the Occitan spoken by most characters in the book), and who could produce the specific tone I was looking for (somber and somewhat epic, ominous, then hopeful).
I found Eva on Fiverr, and she fit the role as perfectly as I could have asked! I gave her the script, told her the tone I wanted, and she used her creativity to nail the part. Her pronunciation sounded just like I had imagined—and better. Having a professional voice actor was probably the best decision I made in this process. And it only cost me $15.00!
I’m convinced that a fitting music selection could cover up my novice video production skills. Immediately, I started with Scott Buckley, who also wrote the music used in the trailer for Heretics of Piedmont (“Titan” to be exact). I didn’t want to use the same music, so I began the search for something that fit the atmosphere of The Lord of Luserna. Eventually, I settled on “Inflection”, which gives off that hopeful, historic, awe-inspiring, and slightly mysterious feel I wanted.
Most important and generous of all, Scott Buckley licenses his music very permissively. In short, as long as you give him credit, you are free to use his music for most purposes, and most relative to me, promotional material shared online. I recommend following his blog or social media accounts—better still, consider supporting his work. He’s definitely a treasure!
While gnawing on the trailer script, I also felt I needed a different music cue to open the video—something that grabs your attention and evokes the Byzantine Empire near its fall. I needed a short piece that sounded eastern, Mediterranean, and Greek. After a quick search, I found this music, specifically the first minute or so.
I only needed a few practical sound effects: war drums, roaring fire, and a flint strike. I found all of these on freesound.org.
Mixing the Audio
Most video editing programs allow you to mix the audio together, but I wanted something I was familiar with. I’ve used Audacity for small projects in the past, so I chose that to mix the voice over, music, and sound effects. This was probably the longest step. Perhaps I did this backwards from what a professional would do, but finalizing the full audio track before adding any video made the final steps relatively easy.
It’s all about timing: vocal pauses, down beats, crescendos, decrescendos.
Level is also important—I didn’t want the music to overwhelm the dialogue, nor did I want anything peaking (where you start to hear audio distortions at high volume).
When I was satisfied, I exported a single MP3 file from Audacity and was prepared to move onto the actual video.
I think all my video footage came from pexels.com, which offers free, professional-quality stock footage and still images donated by a ton of volunteers. Now, their selection isn’t anywhere near as extensive as the industry standard stock providers, but if you see the prices from Adobe, iStock, and the like, you’d understand why (even though I sometimes wanted the ones I saw from iStock!). If you make a living off video production, you’ll probably have much better success with the professional stock providers, but for an amateur like me, Pexels worked.
It was really about typing in the keywords on my script: “wide vista alps,” “stone house,” “hand lighting candle in dark,” etc. If I didn’t find what I originally thought, I had to find a substitute that still fit the audio track.
After I had the list of video links, I downloaded the 1080p videos onto my computer, and opened up Adobe Premiere Elements.
Adobe Premiere Pro is the industry standard for video production, but it’s also very expensive and requires a subscription. I so seldomly edit videos that I couldn’t justify Pro, so I went with Elements. I imagine other video editing software is similar for the simple things I did.
With the audio track in place, it’s just about adding the fifteen or so video clips, cutting them to match the music and voice over cues, and adding transitions. It’s kind of a tedious process (three 1AM nights to be exact) but very rewarding when you finally hit “Export!”
When I demoed the trailer to three people, two of them said thematic captions would be helpful. This can be different from closed-captioning, which is a word-by-word, sound-by-sound script that makes the video more accessible for the hearing impared, or for just people with their sound off.
The more thematic captions draw the viewer’s attention to important facts, even without the voice over. They are a compliment to the voice over, and help clarify what the speaker is saying, especially with the voice over in this trailer using an obvious accent.
Adding the text with its transitions was mainly about slimming down the script to the most important elements, and putting them in the right place.
Also, when I uploaded the video to YouTube, I added closed captioning, which addresses the other point previously mentioned. That was basically just copying and pasting the script into their closed captioning editor, and their machine learning algorithms seemed to have done well with the rest. I just had to make a few timing tweaks.
After I finished everything and exported it to an MP4 file, I noticed the volume seemed a little quieter compared to similar videos. After a quick question to Google (“What decibel range should video dialogue/effects/videos be?”), I found I had definitely mixed the audio at too low a level (e.g., my voice over was in the -20dB range, when it should level out between -12dB and -6dB . . . sorry, I’m not a sound guy).
Fifteen minutes in Audacity adjusting the levels put the audio in the right range, then I replaced the audio and re-exported the video.
At last, I think I have something worth showing!
For over a thousand years, the old empire guarded the Holy Scriptures.
A shot of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (modern Istanbul). 15th century Constantinople would have looked much different, but the Hagia Sophia would have still dominated the skyline. Today, that ancient Orthodox church is a mosque, converted after the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. The four enormous minarets are the major addition from that time period. As is true with most footage in the trailer, you can occasionally spot modern structures. To have something that looks like the 15th century would require multi-million dollar CGI production, which you might be surprised to know is not in my budget.
The Byzantine Empire (usually called the “Kingdom of the Greeks” in the Middle Ages) had indeed survived for more than a thousand years, and with it the most extant Greek New Testament manuscripts. Scribes meticulously copied these manuscripts for centuries in their original Greek, unlike the Latin Church in the west that only thought Latin translations of those originals were valid.
War drums, burning
Then came the inferno
The drums are meant to symbolize the Ottoman cannons of Orban (a Hungarian engineer) slamming against the Theodosian Walls of Constantinople in 1453. The most famous of these was called Basilic. Let’s just say that cannon was big.
These ruins symbolize the ruined city of Constantinople, most vividly its walls that were once thought to be indestructible. Gunpowder has entered the chat.
Some believed the New Testament manuscripts were lost forever.
end Byzantine music
[Fade to black]
The western Europeans knew Greek manuscripts existed in the east, but didn’t them much heed until the Greek refugee scribes and philosophers carried them west in their flight from Constantinople and other eastern regions.
But one has survived.
We know today that more than one survived, but as far as the characters in The Lord of Luserna are concerned, there is only one. But this one manuscript would indeed make its mark on history and bibliology.
The beautiful dome of Filippo Brunelleschi crowning the Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. Many consider the building of this dome to be the beginning of the Italian Renaissance.
In The Lord of Luserna, Andreas travels here with three other companions in search of a special item. There they experience this amazing city in the dawn of its glory.
[Fade to black]
[“From author D. J. Speckhals . . .The sequel to ‘Heretics of Piedmont’”]
Black can be such a dramatic color . . .
[Church in mountain valley]
Now we have this God-given chance to secure it, to translate it, to publish it in every land so all may read it and believe.
The music swells here to a hopeful melody.
This scenery recalls the alpine valleys where the Waldensians lived and thrived. Their churches didn’t quite look like this, but it still gives off that quaint mountain hamlet feel.
At this point, you might infer who the narrator is characterizing.
[Chapel with graveyard]
Yet there are many who oppose us: priests,
Persecution followed the Waldensians, and it often began with the Roman Catholic Church.
[Hand getting grape]
The contrast between nobles and everyone else in the 15th century is most easily pictured with the availability of food. Not only was the food of nobles more diverse, but they also received the first fruits of the land. In times of scarcity, many peasants would starve before a lord missed a meal. The Lord of Luserna depicts both good and bad of the higher and lower classes.
[Castle on mountainside]
and a mysterious foe who calls himself the Lord of Luserna.
An old castle looming over a valley, mountain peaks, a swarm of black birds—what could better depict this story’s antagonist?
We know what we must do, but can we find the courage to do it?
Will a pivotal moment take place amidst scenery like this? I can’t say, but the book can answer!
[Wide mountain vista]
Here’s where you can feel the music taking control of your emotions. I’ve told my wife to observe how she feels during certain points in a movie. Anger? Sorrow? Hope? I can almost guarantee the music at that moment is doing its job.
[Sunset over Florence bell tower]
The bell tower of Santa Maria del Fiore, just a little shorter than the dome.
[Florence - River Arno]
This is the Ponte Vecchio, one of the most iconic spots in Florence. For centuries, merchants have set up their shops atop the bridge. Another important scene in The Lord of Luserna is set here.
When stone was plentiful houses where often built from it. If you could travel back to 1459 Piedmont, you would find most Waldensian houses looking similar to this.
[Old book page flip]
Will the Word of our God truly stand forever?
This question is a paraphrase of Isaiah 40:8.
[Sunset over mountains, book cover]
And this is why the trailer is here! I hope you enjoyed this tour through the trailer, and even more, I hope you enjoy reading The Lord of Luserna: A Novel of the Waldensians, available November 11, 2022.