Shooting blanks at a fake crime scene… by Jarad Henry

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Lights, Camera… Action!

It isn’t often you hear these words associated with a book, especially when it hasn’t even been released yet.

So what do you get when you put seven people in a warehouse, all severely hung-over, apply two cameras, fake blood, plastic cap guns, tomato sauce, make-up, forensic jump suits, hand made bikie vests, photocopied wads of cash, and several clip-seal bags of white rock salt?

A strange recipe indeed, but when planned well, add a dash of good luck and a bigger dash of humour, and you end up with a rather fun and interesting experience.

Two weeks ago saw the combined effort on the part of a few good friends who gave up their time to become willing (and unpaid) cast members for a “trailer shoot” of a re-vamped edition of my first novel, Head Shot, scheduled for re-release later this year.

Book trailers, especially for crime novels, are becoming more and more popular as social media and access to Wi-Fi grows. I recall in 2007 first seeing a trailer for a book I hadn’t heard of, and at first thought it was a movie. Now they are common place, and there exist a myriad of “do’s and don’ts”, which I’ll get to.

Just as the music industry heads towards the eventual extinction of CD’s, and the market for DVD’s loses ground to download files, hard copy books get caught up in the technology hurricane and major web companies such as Amazon sell just as many eBooks as paperbacks. Sure, there will always be a market for books you can open, hold and flip through the pages, but as the availability and affordability of iPads and other tablets increases, so too does the demand for e-Books, and a decline for hard copies. JB Hi-Fi, the largest discount retailer of TV’s, computers, stereos and other hi-fi products in Australia, is now an online book store. This is a sign of the times.

Standing in the way of technology is like playing ‘chicken’ with a speeding train. Move too late and you get run over. Move too early and the train goes by without you even seeing it. As authors, we are competing for the reader’s time in an age where people are time poor and entertainment options almost unlimited. Before the internet, before iPhones and iPads, before TV dramas and bit-torrent downloaded movies, things were different.

Before all of this, books had a stronger market appeal. So did newspapers, but they too are feeling the pinch, as are magazines. These days, many people simply don’t have time to read, so what does an author do?

Well, if you can’t beat em, join em…

Along with e-Books, “trailers” are not only an excellent marketing tool, but they help bring the story to life and capture the interest of people who might otherwise walk by the bookstore (either virtual or online) and miss your train as they search for other forms of entertainment.

For the Head Shot trailer, I did my research and applied the core principles of basic film making, all on a shoe string. The cast included two detectives, two bikie gangsters, two forensic technicians and one unfortunate victim. Along with the aforementioned recipe, the props also included crime scene tape – held in place by one actor after his scene had been shot – a plastic sheet to cover the body, shell casings and various other paraphernalia. Each character had a basic script and appropriate costumes. The location, an electrical warehouse, private and isolated in an industrial part of Melbourne, quiet on a Saturday afternoon, perfect for getting away with a brutal gangland murder, even if it was all in the name of crime fiction and amateur film making.

Industry folk call this style of film “guerrilla”, as it avoids lengthy and costly permits along with other expenses that arise if you want to “go-pro”. The idea is to get in, shut up and shoot, and get out… Quick! Just like being part of a guerrilla hit squad, I suppose. But if you want to film somebody with a fake gun, men dressed in bikie “colours” and a person lying on the ground covered in fake blood, you wouldn’t want to do it a public location. The emergency dispatch lines would be running hot and before you know it the Special Operations Group would charge in with real MP5′s and most certainly call CUT!

Many years ago a friend made his own short film and had a scene with a person firing a fake gun on a main street. They filmed for just five minutes, and luckily stopped before police arrived, but not before a total of 19 emergency calls had been made by terrified drivers. When my friend explained that they were just students “making a little movie”, the police were unimpressed. The explanation failed the attitude test and the students were reprimanded by the school. Fortunately no charges arose, but let it be a lesson if you want to go “guerrilla” on a mock crime scene.

This lesson, along a few other pointers, were important for getting the job done quickly and smoothly. Preparation and planning is vital, but so too are a few not-so-obvious factors. Food is critical. Nobody will act if they are hungry. So too is comfort, as my unfortunate victim discovered. Yes, we had a towel under him to keep him comfortable, but he still suffered on the cold concrete slab with globs of tomato puree in his ears and mouth. His plastic sheet ended up becoming a blanket and his skin stained pink with fake blood.

In these circumstances, any self respecting murder victim would muster the energy to peel back the plastic sheet and give the cops the middle finger.

According to some critics, there are a few key points to adhere to when making a book trailer, especially on low budget.

  • Avoid making a movie-style trailer that just shows what happens in the book,
  • Focus on the share value, or the entertainment factor,
  • Keep it short, and avoid shots of faces as it can implant images of the characters in the reader’s mind.

Another factor I think equally important is the idea of fun.

People have to enjoy the experience and for this to happen the person planning it has to be calm, patient, relaxed and willing to be part of the fun. This lesson was not lost on anyone on the day.

As my two detectives stood over the body, staring down at it, one asked the other, “So what d’ya think?” to which the other detective replied, “I think he’s dead.”

Of course the victim began to laugh and another re-take required. Fortunately, we had two females present, dressed as forensic techs, who applied their make up skills to the victim while another scene was shot and some “surveillance” stills of drug exchanges taken.

All in all the trailer will run for a total of 4 minutes, but the filming took almost 2 hours and significantly more planning. But, as we all know, the truth comes out in the editing room. It’s the same with books. We can plan and plot all we like, but then comes the hard part of putting it all together, drafting and re-drafting, editing and proofing. A book isn’t complete until it’s on the shelf. The same is true for any creative production. More work on the trailer is needed, as there is with the book itself, but with a bit of luck, a dash of determination and the support of a few good people, things should come together in due course.

My thanks to the special seven who came together on a cold winter’s day, gave up their Saturday afternoon and (in some cases) their dignity to help a mate play chicken with a speeding train of eBooks, cyberspace and technology. In the end we authors are competing for people’s time, so for those who gave up their time in the spirit of fun, support and friendship, I am truly grateful.

The trailer for Head Shot will be completed in the coming months and I hope to do it justice, not just for those who assisted, but also for the book itself, the characters and the story. More importantly, I hope it adds an extra 4 minutes of positive entertainment to the Internet and helps other writers and authors, all trying to keep the book industry alive, because at the end of the day, crime books are just as inspiring and entertaining now as they ever have been.

So have a good weekend folks and grab the book that’s been on your bedside table and have a read. You might be pleasantly surprised how entertaining it is…

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