Wednesday, 31 March 2010

How to make a video/trailer

I am always being asked how I make my video's and to a lesser extent my book trailer, so I decided to make a post about it.

About 9 months ago I knew my book would be published and I knew I wanted a trailer for it so I began looking into vidding (well, after nearly having a heart attack when when I saw the prices for getting it professionally made).

I know it can seem scary and like there's no way you can ever learn something so outside the realm of your experience, but just go for it! I've had my own business since I was 21 so I'm used to doing things myself rather than having to pay for it. Turns out, most things aren't actually as hard as you might imagine.

So, the first point to remember when learning how to vid is... Enjoy it! Seriously, don't just play around for the sake of it, find a project that captures your imagination but isn't too long.

I chose to make a fan video for Leverage (because I happened to have those files on my computer) to the Ducktales theme. Partly because I have a weird sense of humour and partly because the Ducktales theme is only a minute long.

I will explain how to get clips lower down but for now lets stick with having fun!

It took me about five hours. That seems like a lot for 1 minute of video but I was just learning but more importantly, I was enjoying learning. It now takes me between 4-6 hours for a full length song (about 3 ½ minutes on average).

So this was my very first attempt.

No, it's not brilliant, but for a first attempt it's pretty damn good, I think.

Pleased with that I moved on to other songs, the A-Team theme, MacGyver theme, gradually moving up to longer songs, like the Mission Impossible film theme, a couple of Queen songs (because I love Queen).

I then found a new TV show I loved, The Vampire Diaries, and started making vids for that.

Gradually I learned my craft, the features, how to do transitions, effects etc etc.

I discovered I'm not a huge fan of effects, but when I need them, I now know how to use them.

And most importantly, it has never felt like work. In fact I enjoy it as much as my writing. I've even had a couple of the screenwriters comment about my vids, which obviously was very cool.

I still make videos because I suffer with insomia. Sometimes I am unable to write in those times and vidding is now my substitute.

I will stress at this point, these fan video's are only made for fun, no profit was made, no copyright infringement was intended and the copyright is still held by the original artists.

So you can see how I've improved over time (if in fact I have) this is my most recent video to show the skill level I'm at today (about 6 months later).

So, now we've covered how to learn, here's what you will need to learn.Turns out, not a hell of a lot.

The hardest part if finding clips and music. You already have software you'll need.

Episodes of many TV shows are now available from Amazon and iTunes. If you can afford that option, it's the best one because you legally own the episodes. You don't have the right to redistribute them and if a company should crack down on these vids, your video may still be removed, but you have not committed piracy.

If you are unable to legally download episodes you have two options.

1. Rip the episode from a legally bought DVD (using Windows Media Player, WMP). You will then have to convert the clip to AVI. I use Total Video Converter (TVC) because it converts almost anything to almost everything. It's about $40, but well worth the investment.

2. Torrents. No I won't give you a step by step, 'how to break the law' but I assume you all know how to use google.

For music, iTunes is great, or once again you can use WMP to rip a CD, but you will probably have to convert it to MP3 format. Once again TVC can convert it for you. If you have a video clip with audio you want to rip and use, again TVC will convert video to audio only, just choose the MP3 output.

Vidding software is a little harder because it's very much dependant on personal taste. Start off with Windows Movie Maker (it comes with Windows operating systems so just search for it then send a shortcut to your desk top).

WMM is a great program to practice on, it's easy to use, very easy to edit and trim clips and then drop/drag them into the time line.

Once you've mastered the basics, you might want to move up to something more complicated, like Adobe or Sony. I have tried both but I prefer WMM and continue to use that. Though I stress, I like WMM, not WMM Live. I hate that new version. Even if you've upgraded to windows 7, if you have an old operating system disk hanging around, the original WMM will be one of the programs on there (it comes free with every operating system, just like internet explorer).Mac also provide free software iMovie, but I have no experience of that program.

Now, making a trailer for your book is slightly more complicated than a fan vid because obviously you cant use copyrighted material. They'll let you get away with it for a fan vid, but not for something you plan to use to make money from.

That means, unless you want to hire actors, you're going to have to use pictures, not video clips. That makes it harder to make things interesting, but with the skills you've learned, not impossible.

And remember, everything you use will have to be copyrighted to you or copyright free. I have seen a trailer on You Tube that did use copyrighted images, though they tried to disguise them. That didn't stop an eagle eyed fan spotting it though. The danger here is that if you are reported, you can also be sued because you're using the images for commercial purposes. With a fan vid, your video would just be taken down.

If your book is specific then you may need to take your own pictures. The cheapest way to do this is to rope friends and family in. Make sure your pictures are high quality and go for a good resolution when you save them (like 300 dpi or ppi)

If, however you can use generic pictures, there are some great royalty free sites you can get images from. Click here for a list of them.

This one is my favourite.

There are also some royalty free video clips available now, but not very many. Do a google search and you'll find some.

For music, try googling or doing a you tube search for royalty free music. I used this site (I heavily edited the track, but hopefully you'll find something you don't need to edit).

Next, make it interesting. If you've played around, you'll already know how to use the effects (like movement, zoom, transitions, volume adjustments and subtitles) so make good use of them now to keep your video interesting.

Finally, with a trailer, keep it short and snappy, ideally keep it to under a minute. What can I say, people have short attention spans. If you're not an NCIS fan, how many of you who watched that second video watched all the way through? Exactly. Most people clicking on your trailer don't already know your book or it's characters, they will have the attention span of a gnat.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

How should you behave once you've "made it"

Well, in my humble opinion, not like this.

Here are a few excepts from that article.

Nicholas Sparks has no love for people who call his stories "romances."

The mega-best-selling author ... stands in the aisle of Book Soup, literally and figuratively defending his turf.

"If you look for me, I'm in the fiction section. Romance has its own section," he says toward the end of a long conversation. Sunshine streams in from Sunset Boulevard. He's smiling. Hard.

"I don't write romance novels." His preferred terminology: "Love stories — it's a very different genre. I would be rejected if I submitted any of my novels as romance novels."

And what, exactly is so wrong with prople calling your books romance? Why do you view that as an insult? Because you think you're better than romance writers. Don't deny it!

Sparks says: "I'm going to interrupt you there. There's a difference between drama and melodrama; evoking genuine emotion, or manipulating emotion. It's a very fine eye-of-the-needle to thread. And it's very rare that it works. That's why I tend to dominate this particular genre. There is this fine line. And I do not verge into melodrama. It's all drama. I try to generate authentic emotional power."

But, well, he always does kill someone by the end of his tales, usually to maximum handkerchief effect.

"Of course!" Sparks says. "I write in a genre that was not defined by me. The examples were not set out by me. They were set out 2,000 years ago by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. They were called the Greek tragedies. A thriller is supposed to thrill. A horror novel is supposed to scare you. A mystery is supposed to keep you turning the pages, guessing 'whodunit?'

"A romance novel is supposed to make you escape into a fantasy of romance. What is the purpose of what I do? These are love stories. They went from (Greek tragedies), to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, then Jane Austen did it, put a new human twist on it. Hemingway did it with A Farewell to Arms."'

He puts himself in the same class as Austen, Shakespere and Hemmingway? You don't do that, other people do that for you.

And even if you were as great as Shakespeare, you're still writing fiction. I highly doubt even Shakespeare has actually changed anyone's life. Convinced someone not to divorce their husband or wife, convinced an alcoholic to quit, made a murderer rethink things and put down the knife.

You are a romance writer, you write fictional stories that people enjoy reading. You are not performing open heart surgery, you are not raising money for starving children, you are not campaigning for new laws to improve peoples lives. You are a writer who is very successful.

End of story.

Cormac McCarthy? "Horrible," he says, looking at Blood Meridian. "This is probably the most pulpy, overwrought, melodramatic cowboy vs. Indians story ever written."...

Sparks' favorite tale of youth? "I think A Walk to Remember," he says, citing his own novel. "That's my version of a coming-of-age." He pauses and adds: "You have to sayTo Kill a Mockingbird is an all-time classic."

Any he thinks are overrated?

"I don't like to say bad things about others."

Except McCarthy? "He deserves it," Spark says with a laugh.

Asked what he likes in his own genre, Sparks replies: "There are no authors in my genre. No one is doing what I do."

When others (James Patterson?) are suggested to him, he keeps his lips pursed

And now you have the gall to look down on other, equally or more successful authors. Sure, you don't like to "say bad things" yet somehow you still make your contempt palpable.

In my experience, only those who feel they are lacking feel the need to look down on others. People who are happy with who they are, what they do and how they live don't feel the need to denigrate others. And most certainly not in a public forum.

Secretly, Mr Sparks, you think you are a romance writer (he even calls his books romance a few times) and you hate the fact you're making your living on something you see as cheap and tawdry.

Well, Mr Sparks, who gives a crap? Your readers? Obviously not, they keep buying your books. If your readers are happy, why cant you be? What does it matter if some hack calls your books romance? Why should a total strangers opinion bother you so very much?

It shouldn't. You have written your books, done your best but once you publish, how the public interpret your work is out of your hands. You cannot control how other people see your work and bitching and whining just makes you look petty.

When the interview is over, he has a question of his own.

"You going to call it a romance novel?" he asks.

I had a boyfriend once (we'll call him PSX) who looked down on the working class. Hated them. PSX was a successful businessman, living abroad and seemingly content in his life, yet he had this utter contempt for the working class that I couldn't understand.

I am middle class, privately educated and just as happy in a 5 star restaurant as in a working class house. All through our relationship PSX kept grilling me on middle class behaviour. How did I know how many dinner settings to buy, how did I know which knife and fork to use, how to serve tea properly etc. Then he'd get in little digs, like wasn't I thick to call a toilet a loo, a desert a pudding and I was very foul mouthed for someone "supposedly" middle class.

I have to say, his opinion didn't bother me, I know who I am, I don't feel bad when I use terms like loo, I really don't swear that often, and I wont apologise for the times when I do because I'm usually under stress at those times. And most importantly, I'm not trying to be someone I'm not. I'm me. Love me or loath me, I am who I am and I make no apologies for that.

I've mixed with enough working class people over the years. 2 boyfriends were firmly in the working class camp and happy with it. They didn't mind my middle classness any more than I minded them being working class. I respected them as people and loved them for who they were. And so what if they forgot to put their napkin on their lap sometimes? It's only a napkin, not the end of the world.

I've also done my share of manual labour over the years, jobs I took over the holidays and part time while in college. Sure, a lot of the people I worked with couldn't converse on the finer points of Wagner or discuss the merits of the new Poet Laureate, but who cares? They were nice, fun, decent people. And that's the key, they were people. It doesn't matter how much money you have in the bank, everyone's shit stinks.

Just because I was raised differently than those people, doesn't make me a better person. Or a worse person.

Gradually I have come to the realisation that only pretenders look down on others.

PSX was raised working class and although his whole family have elevated themselves in status, he still feels like a pretender. He still looks down on where he came from like there's something wrong with it because he doesn't want people to think he's one of them.

And Nicholas Sparks looks down on romance writers because he knows that's essentially what he does. He can dress it up however he wants, but love story is just another way of saying romance. But he doesn't want to be a romance writer so he tries to distance himself from them and looks down on them.

Let it go, Nicholas. Trust me, you are never going to change the mind of everyone else in the world. The only person you have any power over is you. So embrace your inner romantic and learn to be proud of what you do, no matter what someone else calls it.

You'll be much happier in the long run!

My books are probably the soap opera of writing. They're fantasy books who's only job is to entertain. Call them whatever the hell you want to, I don't care. If they entertained you, I'm happy. If you didn't like them, I'm sorry but maybe I'm not for you. I haven't liked every book I've ever read.

Call them cheap, tawdry and melodramatic if you want to. Maybe you're right and they are. I didn't set out to write the new Crime and Punishment or to win a Booker prize. I offer you my book for your enjoyment, what you make of it is entirely up to you and wont affect my self image. I know what it is that I write, and I'm happy with it.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Your Dream Job vs Reality

I was trawling message boards today when I came across this post.

I can't consider writing a hobby. It's my chosen profession that I don't happen to be making any money from yet.

I'm working on a screenplay, and have ideas for several more, but it's hard to imagine getting into the business of film. I don't want to rewrite somebody else's work, use somebody else's idea, or adapt somebody else's novel; I just want to write my own original scripts. I also don't want to have to deliver a pitch. I realize all that makes it phenominally unlikely that anything I write will ever be produced.
Many people wish they could change careers, and lets face it, the majority of jobs today aren't exactly fulfilling. Most workers sit at a desk/computer/phone from 9 till 5, day in, day out, with little appreciation for what they do.

But some of those people also have a dream of doing something else, something that's probably only a hobby at the moment. The list is endless, but things like flower arranging, painting, writing, dress making and dog breeding. If only they had the resources or were given the opportunity, they'd jump at it.

And so many of them will find themselves disappointed because the reality fails to live up to their dreams.

When something is a hobby, you only see the good parts of it like the artistry of painting, the creativity of writing or the cute puppies of breeding. When you make something your career though, it's accompanied by so many other annoyances that have little or nothing to do with what you love.

Painters need to paint what sells. No matter how much you enjoy painting old tyres, if there isn't a market of buyers, then you'd better get painting some landscapes or be prepared to join the dole queue.

If you love writing, you'd better be prepared to edit the hell out of your work before you present it for sale. Spelling, grammar, plot, all will probably need a lot more work than you would normally put in to a piece of work.

And then there's the fact you're likely to be self employed. It's up to YOU to sell your work. You have to approach galleries and publishing houses. You have to advertise your pedigree puppies and your flower shop to the world.

Then you have to do your own administration work, do your own bookkeeping, income tax and VAT returns (or be prepared to pay quite a bit for someone else to do them).

In short, when you turn a hobby into your job, you have to be prepared to work at it and to do the grunt work as well as the bits you truly enjoy.

I love writing. I hate editing. I love creating the characters, winding them up and watching them go. I hate administration and filing and book keeping. I love receiving a good review from a reader. I hate receiving a rejection letter.

But I am so lucky to be able to hate those things, because I'm doing what I love. It's worth every paper cut and every second of tedium because when that's done, I get to write.

The poster above is not a professional writer no matter what he tells himself. Unless you're willing to work at it, you're a dabbler, not a professional. If he did lay the ground work (and assuming he's actually any good) one day he would find he was in a position to only write what he wanted.

No matter what your dream job is, no one is going to come along and offer you everything you want on a silver platter. Life just isn't that kind. but work hard, stay with it, and don't lose sight of what it is that you love, and one day you could be living your dream too.

Sunday, 21 March 2010


Just a quick email to say, "Welcome to my blog".

I'm Cat, an author. My first book is out and my second on the way (20,000 words and counting).

My website is here and you can find all sorts of information about me and my books on there.

But this blog wont just be about writing but about anything that catches my attention and I think needs to be highlighted.

Hope you enjoy sticking around!