Getting into costume: Making my book video Part 1 by Matt Rees

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My new book MOZART’S LAST ARIA will be out in the UK in May. Naturally this means a revamp for my website (coming soon) and a new promo video (coming about the same time) to be posted to Youtube. You know, all the stuff writers actually get into the business of writing in order to do. That, and cashing the massive cheques, of course. Oh, and the groupies who throw their panties at you at book-store readings. And the drugs.

Anyhow, that’s enough digression, even for a blog post. So back to the point: All my previous video clips – which can be viewed on my website – have necessitated no more than a jaunt to Nablus, Gaza or Bethlehem, where I’ve been filmed chatting about the latest adventures of my Palestinian sleuth Omar Yussef. This time, I have to recreate the world of Vienna, 1791, for my historical mystery.

For the novel, creating the atmosphere, the details and the locations of Vienna during Mozart’s time brought me to amass a few shelf-loads of research, to learn piano so I could play some Mozart, and to travel in Austria and Central Europe.

The video places a few more demands. This week I’ve been getting into costume.

I found a theatrical costume shop on a tiny alley in the oldest part of West Jerusalem just off Jaffa Road. Run by a delightful, bustling French lady named Francoise Coriat, the compact store is packed up and down (hanging from the ceiling too) with pirate suits, musketeer costumes, and every other period-wear you’d ever need. Mostly Francoise hires them out to theaters.

She kitted me out with two big flouncy dresses for the two female musicians who’ll feature in the video and three frock-coat suits for the men. And a Little Mozart costume for my three year old son.

Then it was time to figure out exactly how to film it. My videographer pal David Blumenfeld produces new equipment each year when it’s time for me to get a video done. This time he has a little slide to mount on top of his tripod; put the camera (these things are so small these days) on it and you can make a dolly shot that looks positively cinematic. His lighting is increasingly creative too. So I was sure it’d look great.

I worked up a script last week, aiming to make the video seem more like a movie trailer than the more documentary/journalistic style of most of my previous promos. Why? Well, first because MOZART’S LAST ARIA isn’t based on a topic you’re used to seeing featured in the news – whereas Palestinians, unfortunately for them, are very much in the news. Morever, it seems to me people are used to reading novels which are like movies – almost entirely visual, very little of the internal narrative of novels written a century ago – so perhaps book promotional videos ought to be that way too. This is how we think of stories these days.

True, said my friend Matthew Kalman, a journalist based here in Jerusalem who’s also a filmmaker. But beware, he said, that you don’t expect amateur actors to…act.

A good point, and one David and I bore in mind as we figured out just what we’d need to shoot. We didn’t want to put too much pressure on the musicians who’d be in the video by asking them to express emotion and to have it pass across their faces in the restrained manner of film acting.

The main thing, of course, is that I got to dress up in silk stockings and wear a wig. Just so I could look like Mozart, you understand.

Well, more on all this next week when you’ll hear how the actual shooting went.

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