Thursday, August 26, 2010

A chat with Lalla Merlin, maker of my book trailer!

I'm delighted to be able to feature a new book trailer for The Vanishing of Katharina Linden on my BOOKS page - there is also a US version here (it has the US cover at the end, otherwise it's the same):
I'm really thrilled with the trailer - I feel it has exactly the right creepy and quirky atmosphere. It was made by Lalla Merlin of Lumiere Films UK. Lalla not only makes films, she also runs film workshops for young people - she's currently running a three-day workshop to create a zombie film, so she's no stranger to creepy special effects! I'd never been involved in making a book trailer before as The Vanishing was my debut novel, so I put the whole thing in Lalla's hands. I'm fascinated by questions such as, how do you compress a 350+ page novel into a 2-3 minute trailer? So I asked her if she'd mind being interviewed, and here's what she said....

In a book trailer you only get about 2-3 minutes of finished film time - not long in which to portray a book of over 90,000 words. How did you pick out which aspects of the book should go in the trailer?

LM: A trailer is, essentially, the visual expression of a book’s ‘blurb’. We felt this opened the way to a metaphorical, rather than a purely literal, approach. One example of this is in the actual vanishing of Katharina: here, she vanishes – actually fades on the air. This expresses Pia’s embracing of a possible supernatural explanation of the disappearances.

Had you read the book when you were approached about making the book trailer?

LM: I had read the book before we were asked to make the trailer, but I re-read it. So did everybody involved with the making of the film, including Caspian, the ‘Headless Ghost’ – and ten-year-old Iseult, who played both Pia and (after having her hair dyed black) Katharina Linden.

Did the actress who played Pia know what happens in the book?

LM: The actress who Played Pia did know about the book’s events, and thoroughly relished the chance to act in something like this: something where she didn’t have to wear wings and a wand and appear to be ‘sweet’!

What film making experience did you draw on when you made the book trailer?

LM: I have been interested in film since I was at university, where I was quite keen on acting and scriptwriting in my spare time. I was also involved in the running of an art-house cinema. Since we have had our own film company we have made lots of films: an eclectic mixture of documentaries; corporate video; filmed oral history; fantasy, animation and fun short films with children: a perfect preparation for making a 2-minute book trailer. We have always enjoyed playing with special effects where possible. We made one film to showcase the work of a local artist and illustrator. In our film a child entered, then became trapped in the landscape of the artist’s imagination. We have just completed a kids’ animation project where the kids created an animation then, using greenscreen techniques, were able to appear as characters in their own animated films.

Can you explain how you created footage apparently shot on location in Bad M√ľnstereifel?


We used greenscreen in the making of the book trailer, too: this is how we made the actors playing Katharina and the headless ghost appear to be in Bad Munstereifel, and Pia appear to be in the well. In fact, they were filmed against a greenscreen, then the green background was digitally removed and a photograph substituted. It’s a simple technique, but very effective.

What did the actress who played Pia's granny think about having a role as an exploding grandmother?

LM: She loved the idea. Her only reservation, in the end, was the fact that the cat actor (the ‘spectral cat’ ) – appeared on the screen for a longer time than she did!

What about the Glass Demon? Do you think you could make an interesting trailer for that book? How would it be different in tone from the Vanishing trailer?

LM: Yes: we’re hoping to get started on producing a trailer for ‘The Glass Demon’ quite soon – and it will be quite different in tone. While both books are rooted in legend, The Vanishing’s legend is inspirational: it is the story of Unshockable Hans that compels Pia to turn detective. The Glass Demon is rooted in a much darker, more violent piece of folklore. The story is told from the viewpoint of Lin who is much older than Pia, and more grounded in the adult world. The events are ‘on’ rather than ‘off’ stage, too – all of which make for a much darker, more horrifying trailer.

Lalla commented:

This particular book was fun because of its imagery, much of which comes from Germanic folklore: the stuff of fairy-tales. Add to this the fact that the story is told from the perspective of a ten-year-old girl – that transition age between innocence and wisdom, where two worlds are straddled and anything is possible; where the exploits of Unshockable Hans, vanquisher of witches and otherworldly beings can co-exist with her own parents’ troubled marriage and the disturbing events in the town – and the stage is set. It is the basis in folklore and the viewpoint of Pia that lifts this story, I think, from the massed realms of crime fiction into the more rarefied air of magical realism. This marriage of two worlds – the everyday and the uncanny – is something we wanted to express in the trailer. But there were other requirements, too. Firstly, we had to provoke a potential reader’s interest without giving too much of the plot away. Secondly, we had to stay within a reasonable budget:actors (even animal ones), music, venues, costumes and props all cost the author money. Thirdly – and this was trickiest of all – we had to express everything we wanted to say about the book within approximately two minutes.

Helen adds: I can't wait to see what Lalla does with The Glass Demon! I'm also dying to see the results of her zombie workshop...if she posts the film on YouTube I will post a link!

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