What goes into making a book trailer? Is the author involved? How long does it take? We interviewed the team behind the book trailer for Mandi Lynn’s novel I Am Mercy to find out.
First of all, let’s take a look at this gorgeous book trailer!
Wow! Awesome, right? Now let’s introduce the team of amazing women behind the creation of this trailer!
Meet the Team Behind the I Am Mercy Book Trailer
Mandi Lynn is the author of I Am Mercy, Essence, and She’s Not Here. She published her first novel when she was seventeen, and she now spends her days writing and creating YouTube videos to help other writers achieve their dreams of seeing their books published. Mandi is the owner of Stone Ridge Books, a company that works to help authors bring their books to life through cover design and digital book marketing. She is also the creator of The Book Launch Planner, a planner designed to help authors publish and market their books. When she’s not creating, you can find Mandi exploring her backyard or getting lost in the woods. You can follow her on her website, her YouTube channel, or on Instagram.
Nell Teare is an award-winning director, producer, actress, and writer. Her success on the festival circuit led to her signing her first directing deal with Netflix in June 2019. In March of 2017, Nell started shadowing in network television on CBS’s NCIS with Bethany Rooney and NCIS New Orleans with Jimmy Whitmore, Jr. She has directed over 80 book trailers for Film 14. Nell has helmed multiple pilot presentations over the years including Parannoyance and The Hunt. Nell is a native Texan and a graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. You can find her on IMDb, Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter.
Lillian Engel is a recent graduate of Elon University and has moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career editing film and TV. She has an identical twin, a deep appreciation for gardening, and loves to play her trumpet and cello. You can find her at lillianengel.com.
Whitney Able is an on-screen and voiceover Actress and Producer who lives in California with her very imaginative playful children, her life partner Justin, and dogs Dita and Pepper. Between work she loves to explore new places, cook up new recipes in the kitchen, and ride horses. More than anything, she loves to hang with her family. You can follow her on social media as @swanloon.
14 Questions with the team behind the I Am Mercy Book Trailer
(Some quotes have been edited for clarity and length.)
1) Mandi, what inspired you to write this book?
Mandi Lynn: The book is actually a prequel to my debut novel, Essence. I wanted to be able to give backstory of how the magic in the Essence was created in the first place. In Essence I made reference to the rhyme “Ring Around the Rosie,” so it only made sense for the magic to originate during the Black Plague and everything fell in place.
2) For the film team, what excited you about this particular project?
Nell Teare: Well, I am a huge fan of all things witches, and all things historical, so the idea of this project and this character was very exciting to me visually. I read the first couple pages and I just loved the world. I think that the history of humanity is one of the most interesting, brutal, and also sort of magical and miraculous things, so definitely the subject matter and the visuals and the time period. Those were the things that really got me excited.
Lillian Engel: The simplicity and straightforwardness of it! The simpler it is, the more fun I get to have with it.
Whitney Able: I love working with Nell. She and I have been friends, working together for years, and we both have a whimsical light as well as an intense darkness we can apply, making a magical team, I think.
3) What was it like having an all-female team work on this project? Was that purposeful?
Mandi Lynn: I didn’t specifically ask for it, but it was great to see!
Nell Teare: Yes! So my DP, Julia Swain and I—I call her my work wife—we pretty much do everything together if it’s possible. (She was the cinematographer on this project.) I love having an all-female team, but you know I love having wonderful men on my sets as well. I think specifically for this project, since the book is about a female character who is being targeted because of her gender—because she is a woman—and obviously the author being a woman, and Whitney Able who is a wonderful actress portraying this character…it just sort of all came together. So yes, I love having women on my sets, and I find that women are very collaborative, so I enjoy that. There are also a ton of amazing men that I work with and love. I think that the fun thing about having a female director is that the collaboration and love that I feel for bringing everyone together to make something, I think that trickles down, so it’s always wonderful to have people who love to do that. I do enjoy working with other ladies.
Lillian Engel: I had no idea! This is super cool to find out and I’m so happy to be part of the process!
Whitney Able: It is a pleasure to support each other in our industry, especially as females. We are sisters in art.
4) For the film team, how did you get a feel for the world and this character?
Nell Teare: Shooting book trailers is a very specific thing and I always want to honor what the author wants to be seen. Art is subjective. Books, movies, paintings, and music – they’re all going to touch us in a very specific way, specific to our own experiences, so I like the author to create the synopsis and to give ideas of what they want to see in the trailer because that inspires me. If I’m given the book, I try to read as much as I can to get a sense of it, but always, always, I’m paying most attention to what the author wants conveyed from their story. That’s the most important part to me, is that I’m helping bring their vision to life, their characters, their story to life on a screen. I read a good portion of this book and I just loved it!
Whitney Able: Nell told me she and the author thought I was perfect for the job and I was so happy to come on to represent her lead character for the book trailer. After learning the synopsis for the book trailer, I can’t wait to read the book!
5) How did you approach the making of the trailer? Did you already have some idea of what you wanted it to look like? For Whitney, how did you approach playing the role of Aida?
Mandi Lynn: I had made a trailer myself years ago that was underwhelming but I think that was a good jumping-off point. I really wanted the trailer to show the dark side of the book and I think it worked out perfectly! I was crossing my fingers that it would look like a movie trailer teaser and that was the result!
Nell Teare: Well, I guess I kind of answered that a little bit in the last one. I take what the author gives me and then I explore on my own. Whenever I’m thinking about a book trailer I like to think about visceral imagery. I like to think about things that will help the audience experience the feeling of the book, not so much just exactly what they’re going to be seeing. I think leading them to the ideas is better than just putting it in their face. With book trailers I like to shoot things as viscerally as I can and sort of give the impression of or the sense of as opposed to doing things incredibly concretely.
Lillian Engel: For editing, I started by organizing the footage, doing a quick scrub through of the footage to see what we have, and then I go look through the treatment to get an idea of the direction I need to go. From there I can try to string some footage out, but the piece really came together when the voice over came through because that’s what drives the tone. From there it’s pulling music and sound effects to enhance the shots, tweak the color and you’re done!
Whitney Able: Truly, in the short time we had, I felt connected to Aida, as I’d imagine every reader would connect. We all know what it’s like to be held accountable for something big, and whether or not we did it, we still must face the accusers. It sounds like such an engaging theme for young readers to explore in this historical fiction context.
6) Who wrote the script for the book trailer?
Mandi Lynn: Originally the script was quotes from the book but I ended up re-writing it to make sure it gave a little more information to say what the book was really about.
Nell Teare: I worked on this treatment. But again, I was given a lot of the visuals from Mandi and sort of the rough outline of what she wanted to see. Putting together the visual treatment is a wonderful sort of pre-production aspect for me of getting ready to shoot it because I can visualize it as I’m putting the treatment together.
7) Where was the book trailer shot?
Nell Teare: We shot this book trailer about an hour outside of L.A., and I’m trying to think what the name was. It’s near Inspiration Point in Rancho Palos Verdes, and it was kind of perfect. On the California coast where you’ve got those gorgeous cliffs and everything, it’s just so moody. It was a great day! We shot early, early in the morning as the sun was coming up so it really had that sort of gray, ominous feeling. It was absolutely perfect! I’d shot something near there like nine years ago and I remembered it when I finished with the treatment for this. Knowing what the author wanted to show I thought “Oh my god that’s the spot!” I actually reached out to an actor who’d been in the project and I said “Do you remember where they told us to go for this?” and he had it in his email from nine years ago, so that was perfect!
8) Can you share some insight into your creative process (techniques, equipment/software, etc.)?
Nell Teare: My creative process is very thought-driven. I see things in my mind, I’m a very visual person, so I like to sit with things. Sometimes I’ll say “The treatment will be ready tomorrow!” and then it’s another day and a half and I have to say “I’m sorry!” But it’s because if I can’t really visualize it then I know it’s not fully baked in my brain. I love to pull images from a couple different places: ShotDeck, FilmGrab—they’re all beautiful and they inspire me in terms of the lighting. If I’m seeing something in my head, especially with ShotDeck, I can put in there “this is an exterior, it’s backlit or sidelit, it’s this time of day, it’s this many actors, it’s this type of frame.” I love pulling from those sites and then that helps me sort of create the story in my mind.
Lillian Engel: I hesitate to say that any one program is “the best” when it comes to post because I’ve found a lot of editors gravitate to different things depending on what they need. Personally I use Adobe Premiere and Media Encoder for these book trailers only because it’s what I was taught in school so I know the program a lot more in depth than some of the others. Avid is currently used for much bigger projects like movies and TV shows because it can handle the bigger files (that’s where Media Encoder comes in; it shrinks large files for me to use in Premiere so the program runs faster). The Adobe Suite is also good for small projects like this where editors are wearing a lot of different hats because of all the collaborative capabilities between programs, but again I’m just using Premiere for these trailers.
9) How did you create the specific mood and tone of the book trailer?
Nell Teare: Like I said, we got up in the early, early morning, and we were there on that cliff as the sun was rising. Whitney is such a phenomenal actress and I knew she was perfect for this. We didn’t really have to do much. I feel like I knew how I wanted this to feel, and my shot sizes were in keeping with that. I wanted to feel her sort of alone in the frame, and then I wanted to be really close with her and sort of feel her hearing things possibly coming. That was sort of the way that I envisioned it was that we would know she was very alone in the world and then sort of feel the fear of someone coming. I mean, putting a black cloak on a woman with very white blonde hair just sort of evokes that archetypal idea that we have of what a witch is, right?
Lillian Engel: The eerie mood and tone are 100% helped with music/sound design, and then a little bit of coloring the footage to bring out the production design that was executed on set.
10) Mandi, what was it like working with Film 14?
Mandi Lynn: It was really a dream come true. I’ve made all my trailers in the past so I think my biggest fear was not having control over the process but I got to have final say in everything and the result was better than anything I could ever create.
11) How long did it take to create the book trailer?
Mandi Lynn: I don’t remember how long it took exactly, but it was no longer than three months (from initial talks with Film 14 to final product). Once the ball was rolling in terms of scripting, things fell into place really quickly, which was super exciting!
Nell Teare: For my part of the project in terms of creating the book trailer, it will take anywhere from a week or two weeks to put the treatment together, cast the people, make sure we have the right camera and the right crew that we need. The actual shooting of a trailer generally only takes a day. Then I will get the footage to our editor. Because they’re so specific, we’re able to finish pretty quickly. That is, of course, barring needing to go anywhere else in the city. If there’s too many locations then that can become two days or three days, but mostly you can get this done in a day. There’s a lot of planning and preparation that goes into that, but generally the whole process is completed, at least on my end, in about a month.
Lillian Engel: For my part, I think it only took a couple days. This project practically edited itself and the most amount of time is spent on back-and-forth cleaning it up and tweaking for notes.
Whitney Able: My work timeline consisted of several conversations with Nell as well as our filming day on location, which was about a half day total, to and from location, and at the location filming.
12) Were there any challenges you encountered during the book trailer process, especially with the limitations of the pandemic?
Mandi Lynn: There was a worry about whether or not we’d be able to film. We came to the decision that we’d only be able to have one actor, but honestly, I probably wouldn’t have needed more than one actor anyway since the focus of the book is so much on Aida de Luna and her journey.
Nell Teare: Well, especially right now with the pandemic, just making sure everyone’s safe, no one’s symptomatic, no one has a fever, staying six feet apart, making sure the actors are safe… I mean the actor is the most vulnerable person on a set—always—emotionally the most vulnerable, and certainly in any production right now having to be on camera and not being masked they are going to be the most vulnerable to the virus.
Lillian Engel: None, really. I’m working from home on a different coast right now which is unusual, but the time zone isn’t proving too much of a problem.
Whitney Able: It was quite odd, walking to and from the location on a cliffside. We passed other morning hikers. Mostly, though, they wanted to talk about the beauty of the location, that some used to ride horses there. Another group was also there to film something.
13) What was your favorite part of the book trailer creation process?
Mandi Lynn: I really enjoyed casting. There’s something really unique about seeing someone play your character for the first time. And then of course seeing my trailer for the first time was also amazing!
Nell Teare: Well, I love being on set! I think shooting, making those visuals tangible, making them real, being with the actors and being with my crew… Being on set is my favorite part of any creative process. And then of course I love getting to see the finished product after the editor has had their way with the footage and sort of put the last rewrite in. But being on set, there’s nothing better for me in the world—there’s nothing more fulfilling and more exciting.
Lillian Engel: Exporting a final cut! It’s fun to see something come together and then be able to share it with the rest of the team that worked on it so they can see their hard work pay off!
Whitney Able: To imagine what it would feel like to be accused of something such as a plague… And imagine how I might react, guilty or not. As an actress, imagining is part of my job, and having such a curiosity serves me in my job.
14) What advice do you have for anyone looking to create a book trailer?
Mandi Lynn: When it comes to your trailer make it less of what you want to see and more of what the reader needs to see. I imagine in the excitement of creating the trailer you can get caught up in having fun, but at the end of the day the trailer is a marketing tool and that needs to be kept in mind throughout the entire process.
Nell Teare: I think directing book trailers is very specific. Don’t try to show too much. Book trailers sort of come out of that back cover synopsis, right? And what’s wonderful about a synopsis of a book is that it doesn’t give you too much—it just entices you. I think book trailers really succeed when they’re just the enticing aspect of the book—just the visuals that pull you in that make you want to read the book, make you want to know what this story is. Again, I think if you’re getting ready to direct a book trailer, make sure you’re not trying to show too much.
Lillian Engel: Concise is key! Keep it short and fast to grab attention. Also, sound design and music are so important in any kind of trailer/visual marketing like this.
Whitney Able: It’s very fun, and I can’t wait to do it again! As with any kind of work, go after it!
Megan Barlog loves great stories, be they books, movies, TV shows, or anything in between! She has studied both creative writing and screenwriting, and worked for both a library and a major NYC publisher. When she’s not writing a novel or screenplay, she’s probably out for a run or binge-watching something on Netflix.
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