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I am a restless writer of fiction, film, and music. I scripted such films as 9 and ½ Weeks, Sommersby, Impromptu (personal favorite), What Lies Beneath, and All I Wanna Do which I also directed. Both my documentaries, Marjoe and Thoth, won Academy Awards. Formerly a recording artist, I continue to write music, posting songs on my website. I live in New York with my husband James Lapine. My second novel, the paranormal thriller Jane Was Here, was published in 2011. My latest film, Learning to Drive, starring Patricia Clarkson and Ben Kingsley, came out in August 2015, now available on VOD, DVD, and streaming media. This blog is a paranormal memoir-in-progress, whenever I have spare time. It's a chronicle of my encounters with ghosts, family phantoms, and other forms of spirit.

Sunday, August 28, 2011


As most authors know by now, a book’s debut must be accompanied by two videos: the author interview and the trailer. The following, which I’ll post in 3 parts, is what I learned from making my own videos for Jane Was Here (both are below). Compared to a trailer, the author interview is straightforward.

Your location should be your living room or workspace. People want to see your real-life environment and not some featureless backdrop. Whether natural or artificial, make sure there’s good light from two sources (one to fill in the shadows created by the other). You can shoot with anything from a DVR to a flipcam or cell phone. Sometimes a down-and-dirty quality has its own charm. You can edit with a simple software program like iMovie.

The one area that might benefit from a more professional approach is sound. USING THE IN-CAMERA MIKE WILL MAKE THE author’s voice sound too distant if you are shooting from a medium (waist-up) angle. Also, if you shoot both medium and close angles (and you should), the sound level will vary, making it impossible to mix in the edit. So invest in a wireless lavalier mike.

And have a mirror on hand to refresh your makeup and pat down stray hairs which will catch the light.

I decided to do a practice run by shooting an interview video for my first book, Dry Hustle, which had just been re-issued as an ebook. I asked a friend to be a one-man crew since he had all the needed equipment. Then it was up to me to produce the “content.” I wrote a script, even though the interview was supposed to seem off-the-cuff. The idea, simply, was to make people curious to read the book. Dry Hustle was a sexy saga about two con-women, so that meant hyping the raunch, and that the novel was based on real characters.

The script also had to be only 2-3 pages long, figuring on a minute per page. You don’t want your video to be longer or it won’t hold the interest of ADD YouTubers.

I’m not an actress, plus my memory is riddled with holes, so I couldn’t expect to memorize and deliver the whole speech from beginning to end without breaking down. I divided my script into short sections and shot each separately as a single take, then shooting the same section in close-up, until I had one decent take in both angles and, if possible, a second take as “safety.” I made a lot of mistakes, but we could cut around them by switching to the other angle.

By the time we made the author video for Jane Was Here I’d learned a lot. For one thing, I now knew I was uncomfortable speaking directly to the lens like a newscaster. For Jane I felt better looking slightly to the side of the lens. It felt more like I was talking to my friend, the only other person in the room. I couldn’t actually look at him because he was standing behind the camera so I would have had to look up, which can look truly strange when you watch the result. I’d advise others to place a friend on a low stool with his or her head positioned on as close as possible to the lens, and eyes on the same level.

I ‘d also learned that, to keep the viewer’s attention, I needed to cut away from my talking head at intervals. Fortunately, Jane Was Here had already garnered some great advance quotes, so I inserted them at regular beats when we edited.

The last improvement was the use of music. Cleverly chosen music is the best way to establish the tone of your book. I grabbed some fragments of a movie soundtrack which sounded a bit like the “Exorcist” theme. By association, it conveyed the creepy, ominous ambience of my novel, which is a paranormal mystery with a horrific ending.

The edit was pretty easy, with the music being the most time-consuming element. We had to use passages where the music was subdued and quiescent for the shots of me talking, and then seamlessly bridge to more muscular spooky music cues whenever we went to the review quotes on a black screen.

The end result cost me nothing. You can judge for yourself whether it succeeds in making you eager to fork up $20 for a hardcover or $9.99 for download. Next post, I’ll talk about my experiences and offer some advice on the really fun part: making the trailer. For Part 2 click here.

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