The phrase “elevator speech” ranks right up there with “branding,” “synergy” and “thinking outside the box” as PR/marketing cliches I’ve grown to hate.
But in creating a trailer for my young-adult novel, THEN I MET MY SISTER, the concept of an elevator speech actually began to resonate with me.
My assignment: Create an approximately two-minute promotional video convincing viewers that THEN I MET MY SISTER is a must-read.
This project turned out to be such a wellspring of joy that I couldn’t possibly quantify all the good things that came of it, but close to the top of the list is that it inspired me to drill down to the essence of my novel. In effect, it forced me to formulate an elevator speech.
Two minutes to convey protagonist Summer’s overwhelming insecurity despite her persona of studied indifference? Two minutes to probe living in the shadow of a “perfect” sister she’s never met? Or of letting down her guard enough to discover a reservoir of love and forgiveness she didn’t know existed?
Yep … the ol’ elevator speech isn’t as easy as it looks.
Writing the trailer script helped me distill 273 pages worth of thoughts, plots and character development. It helped me avoid the blank stare I’ve come to refine when people ask, “So what’s your book about?”
This is what it’s about, my trailer announces.
As victorious as that process was, even better was bringing the trailer to life. I enlisted the director I work with in my day job. His passion and enthusiasm were infectious. It was exhilarating seeing my story through his eyes. Put that guy behind a camera and a million subtle nuances spring into life. Thanks, Tim.
Next, we needed actors. Tim and I produced some award-winning videos for a campy, tongue-in-cheek campaign for our day job, and when I enlisted my college-age kids and their friends as actors for the project, they rose beautifully to the challenge. If they could pull off comedy, I knew they could handle pathos. Besides, my daughter bears an uncanny resemblance to the model on the cover of my book, so I don’t think Central Casting could have done a better job.
They came through beautifully. Taylor Staten brought incredible focus to her role as Summer. My daughter, Julianne, endowed Shannon with ethereal grace. Son Greg, in addition to assisting the director with any task thrown his way, jumped in whole-heartedly for the car crash scene.
When my daughter struggled with that scene—summoning rage, angst and utter despair on a dime—the director patiently pulled her aside and spent several minutes helping her get into character. He shot the scene multiple times, evoking new depths of emotion with every take. The process—and the end result—was sublime.
Next came the score. My brother is a highly respected recording engineer/mixer and musician in Nashville who works with world-renowned artists. But he’s never produced a score before—synchronizing sounds with images to create emotional depth and propel a storyline—and he was a bit wary when I asked for his help. But once he signed on, his excitement grew. He picked my brain at length, then created an acoustic guitar hook—just three notes—that announced an eerie, suspenseful ambiance. Next came growing layers of synthesizer, electric guitar, percussion, bass, sound effects—all combining to suggest growing chaos, distortion and confusion.
Once the car scene crash ended and the music needed to pull back, he asked me for a single word describing the denouement—Summer’s connection with her dead sister, Shannon. I thought for a moment, then said, “Sweet.”
“Sweet,” he repeated decisively.
The resulting artificial harmonic on his acoustic guitar as the two girls’ hands clasp is my favorite part of the video.
The trailer was intended as the means to an end—selling more books—but ended up being a work of art in its own right, thanks to the talented people with whom I was privileged to work. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NpXAw8uIsRI