Lights, camera, action : The role of the Book Trailer

I first discovered video-editing when at university. I loved it. There’s something arcane and primally satisfying about creating a coherent whole from a bunch of disjointed clips. Film has such a potential. Every moment of an image of screen says something, good or bad. When you’re working with film (particularly in the post-production stage), you’re working with a thousand voices and the art is to try and make every element say what you want it to say.

It’s not easy. I’m an awful cameraman. I get bored and slide the camera up or lose focus or forget about my white balance. Or I get obsessed with the feet and forget that, probably, people might want to see a face every once in a while. But what I do love, and I never realise how much I miss it until I sit down to do some more, is video editing. The art of shaping something. The act of creating something very new.

It’s because of this dual interest in video and children’s literature that the rise of book trailers has fascinated me. I’ve seen a constant rise in quality, production values and quantity. I decided to have a more in depth look at the topic and hopefully start to work out what sort of impact (if any!) the trailer has upon the reader.

Initially I turned to Wikipedia which provides a useful summary of the topic. Wikipedia is incredibly useful in that first stage of research – confirmation that you understand what you’re looking for. One notable fact was that, upon reading, I discovered that the first “accepted” book trailer came out in 2003. (2003!) In addition to the information on Wikipedia, there’s a fascinating article in the Guardian which discusses whether the trailer has ever influenced you to buy the book. As ever with the Guardian, the comments are as worthy of as much interest as the actual article itself.

A brief search on Twitter for the terms “book trailer” produces an equally interesting result. It updates at a ferocious pace (not quite on the level as say “Justin Bieber” or “One Direction”) but it’s notably fast. What is intriguing is the rate of transference. I recently read a study (unfortunately the reference escapes me) which discussed how information disseminates on Twitter. The key thing to note is that it is swift (as any gaffe prone politician may know!).

I think the best analogy for this spread of information would be the game: Six Degrees of Separation. Information can continually disseminate and be shared providing the connections between individuals remain valid. And, if you engage with people online be that via blog or Twitter, we all have our own network of information to spread links and receive links from. You act as the ‘Connector’ (in my mind, I’m envisaging a sort of spider-web effect) between potentially disparate groups.  The below is a visual attempt to map this somewhat sprawling thought. Bear in mind it’s a snapshot of an infinitesimally greater pattern and subject to being done in a distinctly low-tech manner.

In the hope of remaining on topic, I’d argue that this ‘word-of-(virtual)-mouth’ and the way we now interact with the internet (viral video forwarding and information sharing) has a positive impact on anything which finds it’s way onto the screen of a ‘Connector’. This, and the increasing popularity (and ease of access to) of video equipment means that people can video without specialist skills or specialist kit. All you need is inclination and a phone or a webcam.

The book trailer manifests our need to communicate our passions. We are storytellers, we strange and complicated people.  From the paintings at Lascaux through to the latest fan video on YouTube, we have a compulsion to engage in the collective discourse that shapes our society.

Of particular relevance to our modern-day societal context, the previously near-finite definitions of a book (it has pages, it has a spine) are no longer dominant. The book is now online, kindled, animated, filmed, AR’d, QR’d … the only thing that remains constant is the very fact that the book is approaching a near-undefinable entity. Book trailers are a natural evolution of this fluidity. They are a tribute to the passion a text can instill in a reader and the ‘buy-in’ that that particular reader then has to the ‘brand’ of the book.

This then is the modern children’s literature internet. User-curated, visually stunning and constantly re-defining and defying the conception of what children’s literature is and who it is for. The book trailer does this in spades. From the fan production through to the “official” publisher’s video, the book trailer hides children’s literature in plain sight. And that’s a brilliant, brilliant thing.

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