Steph Jack Interviews Nell Teare

Perched above Hollywood in her gorgeous sunlit apartment, Steph Jack chatted with director, actress, and writer Nell Teare about what she finds sexy, and the challenges and joys of making book trailers.

A still from the book trailer for Lyovitalis directed by Nell Teare

So the inevitable question, do you have a favorite book?

I do, I have many, many favorites. I think the first book that captured my heart, growing up was James and the Giant Peach. The fantastical idea of that journey, of being inside a peach. That just blew my mind.
And when I was in high school and we were doing summer reading, I actually read all the books because I loved reading. I feel like a lot of my friends were like, “Oh god I didn’t read those books!” I did. I read them all! So James Baldwin, Go Tell It on the Mountain was one of my favorite books. And then The Awakening by Kate Chopin really introduced me to what seduction or longing could feel like.

And then I discovered Tom Robbins when I was in college and he’s my favorite. Jitterbug Perfume, Skinny Legs and All. I just think he does with words what jazz musicians do with notes. It’s improvisational, amazing.

And then of course I love the Harry Potters. I think I’ve read them all twice!

Given any budget and all the books in the world to choose from, which title would you make a book trailer for?

It would be a toss up between Jitterbug Perfume and The Awakening by Kate Chopin.

When you make book trailers is there something that you’re specifically concerned with capturing that differs from what you’re concerned with when you make a short film?

I think what makes a a book trailer great is that nothing is truly definitive. Even if you’re seeing the face of the person that’s playing the character in its entirety a book trailer has to be mood-driven. It has to give you a sense of that back cover synopsis, as opposed to “this is this, and that is that” in a short film where everything is sort of solidified. What we’re doing with a book trailer is getting people excited for the story. So it’s very specific to visceral images.Being too definitive takes you out of a book trailer. You see some book trailers and you’re like, well they missed that, or that went on too long. But yeah I love suggestion – where you’re in late and you’re out early.

When did you find out what a book trailer is? Had you watched any before you made your first one?

No. Adam (Cushman) and I had a meeting and I showed him some of my stuff and he was like, “Cool, you’re hired, totally.” And he showed me book trailers and I was like, “Oh my god.” And I can’t remember the name of the book [Savage Drift], but the book trailer he showed me was phenomenal. It was the one where the little girl is standing at the gate and the world is going to end, and she’s got super powers… I don’t know, it was phenomenal. And I just went, “Oh yeah, I wanna do this.”

And so the first thing he gave me was The Bachelor Chapters, that was my first book trailer. And it was really well-received, and so after that Adam was like, “You should do more of the romance stuff.” I do enjoy it. I think that romance, for me, is the moments before the actual action. That’s the excitement. That’s why I love playing with it. Especially with a book trailer, showing it all is not as interesting as being led to the thought, and then having it on your own. Because if you conjure it yourself, with a little bit of help, it’s way sexier than it’s ever going to be if someone puts it in your face.

The Bachelor Chapters by Vicki Marie Stolsen. Published by Rare Bird Books. Book Trailer directed by Nell Teare.

Speaking of sexy. How did you go about casting Lyovitalis and negotiating that scene between the two women?

I know Christy Williams (the brunette) very well, and she is an incredible actress, and I wanted that very pensive troubled look she does, that she wears very well. And Charlie [Taylor] is this stunningly beautiful woman, and she and I have had lots of really wonderful conversations about her sexuality and how it’s sort of this separate thing, this alien thing. And I thought, “It doesn’t get any more perfect than that, I need you to play that!”

And how I negotiated it… specifically with them everything was explained in the way I wanted to feel it, and then talking through the seduction of it and asking them questions, and telling them from my point of view, “Well I think this is so sexy, I think this part of the body is sexy.” And I wasn’t interested in anything being gratuitous. I love that suggestive quality and they were great about it. We had some giggles for sure. Lots of giggles.

Had you done much period work before, and was that a challenge?

It was a challenge in that we didn’t have the resources. With a book trailer the budget is smaller, so usually its not like you can go out and rent these phenomenal costumes. But luckily as an actor, I’ve done period stuff and so I know about the hair, I know about the dress. I knew what I wanted her to look like. And I didn’t want it to be over the top. I didn’t want it to feel too period, to take you out of it. I wanted to hint at it. And truly that’s all you can do in a situation like this, or sometimes it’ll just feel comical.

Did you get to chat with author Julie Kirton Chandler?

She was lovely and we developed a dialogue afterwards via social media and she’s been very sweet. When I released a music video [below] that was very, very sexy she posted it. So we have had some nice exchanges that way as well.

Do you prefer to read the entire book when you work on a book trailer?

You want to read all the books but sometimes you can’t. I’ve found that sometimes reading a book I pick out what I love, which is not always what the author wants to be focused on. So in terms of creating the book trailer I find that a synopsis from them is the best way. I love it because then I know what points they’re excited about that they want to focus on.

Have you started watching book trailers now that you’ve directed several?

Yeah, specifically I watch ours. I have to say I love the people Adam hires and his sort of sense of book trailers is really fantastic. The book trailers that I’ve happened upon outside of our stuff, even if you can tell they’ve had a large budget, are just not well put together. Again with this sort of genre it’s so easy to become comical or cartoonish. And it’s also about casting. It needs to have actors that are just going to be in it, in the moment.

Was there anything you wish you’d been able to include in the Lyovitalis trailer, or that didn’t quite work out?

I wanted it to be a lot more candlelit, but that was really difficult. I mean we got some beautiful stuff, but candlelight is very difficult unless you’re building your own lenses like Stanley Kubrick did for Barry Lyndon. Also, there was a pregnancy element and a murder element in the book that I really wanted to visit. But again, it just was too on the nose. Those are the things I wish I had been able to do, but I love how it turned out. I just wish I had access to different places and lighting. It’s such a full novel, there are so many moving parts to it.

Well, I feel like that answered everything, that was a lot!

Yes it was! Well, now you get to just sit with me while I curl my hair!

Watch Marriage to a Billionaire, another of our favorite Nell-directed book trailers.

Marriage to a Billionaire by Jennifer Probst. Book Trailer directed by Nell Teare.