Trailer Review – And The Night Growled Back, by Aaron Dries

I like Aaron Dries work, and was specifically drawn to it due to his book trailers as mentioned in my review for The Fallen Boys. It turns out he has made them himself. This is my second prerequisite for a horror fiction trailer I want to review. The first is that they be good, so here we are!

This one begins innocuously enough. I like the mix of the brooding voice-over, highway shots and live action. By the time the tension and mystery build, the soundscape warps. Some may be turned off by the high pitch tone used, but I love this. Nothing says terror like your hearing giving out, no? It’s at just about that point that this trailer rears up and snaps at you – literally!

Anyone out there looking to release a book trailer can learn a lot from these reviews. And remember, there is a larger life for these videos outside of YouTube. They are far more fun to share than a static image. They make great entries to horror and Halloween film festivals. With a little added audio, most can do well as radio spots and the like. So, to not keep you waiting, here is some conversation with horror author Aaron Dries about the trailer for And The Night Growled Back.

Typicallydia: I want to ask about the technical side. What camera did you use?

Aaron Dries: No grade A camera in use here, sadly. My book trailer budget was miniscule—which is a polite way of saying absolutely bloody nothing—so the bulk of this  production was shot on my partner’s DSLR with an HD video capture function. The one problem is that it’s so lightweight. Lightweight cameras are great if you’ve got a tripod but can be problematic because they capture every shake of your hand. And no, I didn’t have a tripod. The camera had no image stability feature. I actually had more dolly/tracking shots in my shotlist, but my arm just wasn’t steady enough. Not a gliding THE SHINING-esque push in to be found in any of my footage. Oh, and let’s not forget that I didn’t have any dolly tracks laid out or anything. The interior shots were all done in my one bedroom Canberra (Australia) loft. So I cleared away my coffee table and rolled up my shag rug so I had the open floorboards to work on; then I sat on my wheel-based swivel chair and had my partner push me around, back and forth, front-ways and sideways. I’m glad we’re on the third floor of our apartment building. The people on the street would have thought us insane otherwise. But then again, maybe we are.

I used a secondary camera for the ‘highway’ shots, an old Bloggie cam, which is USB powered and is about the size of a small TV remote. We’ll get to how I used this one later…

TL: What sort of lighting was needed? I know how important good light is…

AD: For all of these interior shots, the only lighting I had available was that I could source from around my apartment. I accumulated every lamp and torch I could find and strategically placed them around the limited space, just out of shot. I bounced light off the walls to give the background some definition and to try to cast some shadows over the actor’s faces, where appropriate (especially at the dining table). I used a floor lamp to light their faces, and angled the lamp shade in a particular direction to diffuse the brightness. I would alternate which ceiling lights I’d use depending on which direction I was shooting in, but this was often problematic, as it let too much light into the scene, breaking the mood. Lighting, for the record, was the hardest part of the shoot. You can have a good camera, or a really simple one, and shoot something that looks great—but if it’s not lit well, you might as well have shot your masterpiece in a shoebox. Lighting is critical. It was a challenge, but it worked. Eventually.

TL: Where is that highway, and was the lighting there a challenge as well?

AD: That highway was actually just a road, which kind of looked like an eerie and abandoned highway when shot from a low angle. I tried shooting on an actual highway, but there was too much traffic—highways are well lit, too. I didn’t want that. I only wanted the glare off the tarmac and the blare of the dividing lines, really. I was really going for a David Lynchian LOST HIGHWAY kind of thing. I just wasn’t going to get that on your average Australian highway… So these exterior shots were taken on Mount Ainsle in Canberra, about a five minute drive from my apartment. I waited until the middle of the night so there wouldn’t be any other cars and did it all in one shot.

To capture this image, which to me was crucial (I even considered just using this one shot, unbroken and complete, without any of the interior inserts, just a voice over), I took my little Bloogie cam and used electrical tape to fasten it to the number plate of my car! In order to do this, I had to set the camera to record first and then attach it, crossing my fingers as I did so. I then got back in my car and … sped and swerved up that mountain and then down again. I’m sure if the police had seen me I would have been pulled over for sure. I wasn’t terribly proud, but I was careful. The only real danger up there was all the wildlife bounding about. At one point a Kangaroo leapt out in front of me.

[That, right there, is why I like interviewing Aaron Dries]

So I drove, and the whole time I was praying to the low-budget filmmaking gods out there, “please-please-please don’t let the sticky tape break, please don’t let the camera hit the ground and shatter into a million pieces. After all, the damn thing doesn’t even belong to me. It’s my partner’s as well! I took it without permission because there’s no way I’d get the green light if I’d actually said what I planned to use it for!” (I mean, who would?)

As for the lighting, I knew that the majority of the shot would be in shadow. The night was pitch black. By putting my blinders on I knew I was guaranteed to get the road glare, if nothing else. And that was enough. My problem was focus! This is a low-fi camera we’re talking about here, with no manual focus feature. I just had to luck it. There was also no way of checking the footage until after I’d gone up and then back down the mountain. I pulled over, jumped out of the car and pretty much screamed Hallelujah when I saw that a) the camera was there in place, and b) the footage was useable. Eureka! David Lynch, eat your heart out. In post-production I desaturated the shots and put a slight blue/green filter on it. All of the camera shake was digitally simulated in Final Cut Pro.

TL: There is a wonderful growl at the end… where did you collect that sound?

AD: It’s a good growl, don’t you think? So monstrous and evil sounding… Sorry to disappoint you kind folks out there, but this noise isn’t the roar of some Australian creature in the outback, which I coincidentally captured whilst going up Mount Ainslie. Nope… It’s me. I did multiple takes, ran the sound at 50% speed and overdubbed the tracks. I dropped a couple of audio filters on it, thus upping the bass. I cranked the sound so it would really blare. Done. Easy as pie—only cheaper than your average pie.

All of the sound was done by me, including the score. Not that I can play any instruments, mind you. There’s an out of tune piano at my work (I work in a nursing home), so I went into the room on my lunch break and recorded myself just striking random keys. At home, I changed the footage into MP3 files. I imported the audio clip into Final Cut Pro, dropped the speed a little and played the sequence backwards. The wind sounds and the scratchy record effect were sourced from a generic sound-effects CD that I borrowed from my local library. These worked a treat. Finally, I asked my friend, Leigh, who has a wonderfully laconic voice, to do the narration.

TL: So, you mention a tiny budget of $25. What was that spent on?

AD: The number one expenditure for the entire trailer was the monster at the end. I really wanted to find a bear mask, or something wolfish. But I couldn’t find a single mask that fit that description in all of Canberra. I considered sourcing something via Ebay, but everything was so overpriced. Remember, sadly, we don’t celebrate Halloween in Australia (please let that change, and soon!), so there isn’t the huge market for these kind of novelties like there is overseas, especially mid-year. I went to a costume shop wedged between two XXX adult stores on the outskirts of the city (go figure) and found a zombie mask that I thought would work. Not because it looked like a bear or wolf (I’m not that lucky), but it had these great teeth on it. I also knew it was something I could operate with my hand. I knew the shot I wanted, and I knew that the monster would only be seen for a moment. All I needed was the suggestion of jaws. I also bought a kid’s ‘tiger snout’ (which goes over your nose and is attached with elastic). I went home, widened the zombie’s jaws with a pair of scissors and stitched the snout to the zombie’s nose, thus extending the face. I masked the stitches by cutting off the zombie’s hair and sticking it to the divide with chewing gum!

I remember looking at it and thinking to myself, “there’s no way on earth that this is going to work.” Turns out it did. I knew if this bastard mask was shot from the exact right angle, with the exact right amount of camera shake, it’d at least look threatening. In the end, this composition ended up being my ‘money shot’. So, in the end, I guess getting that mask from the little store between the two XXX adult stores was … well … apt.

The rest of my grand expenditures went towards buying the electrical tape used to fasten my camera to my number plate, and towards a small packet of sewing needles that I got at the local dollar store (for, you guess it, a whole buck), so I could stitch the mask together.

So here’s the budget.

Mask: $17.00
Tiger snout: $3.00
Tape: $3.95
Sewing needles: $1.00

TL: Two bottles of wine were also listed in the budget. Did it cost more than $25 and, most importantly, what kind of wine?

AD: The wine! To thank my wonderful actors (my friends Beth and Harrison, who are very good sports, indeed), my partner and I cooked dinner for them (Malaysian red curry, rice and vegetables—from ingredients all in our pantry) I dusted off two bottles of wines that I found under my staircase. I thought a couple of drinks would ease their nerves. We cracked open a bottle of Shiraz (from the Barossa Valley) and Semillon (from the Hunter Valley, my old stomping grounds) and they were delicious. We didn’t overdo it, though. We shot this book trailer on a Wednesday night. A school night. Hardcore, right? Yep, that’s how I roll.

***

(Before I could get to additional questions about making trailers, Dries beat me to the punch. You can tell he is as passionate about film as he is about writing. There is little I can add to his perfect addendum with tips on making a good short video.)

AD: There are a lot of book trailers out there. 99% of them are god awful. That’s not to say they haven’t been made with love, and often exorbitant amounts of money (and for many of us authors, anything more than a hundred bucks can—and usually is—be considered very expensive). There are many things you can do to make your trailer better, without breaking the budget.

Here are some helpful tips.

  • Don’t put over-dramatic stock music in your trailer. This only ends up making your cheap visuals look cheaper. Scale it all back. Make your music complementary to your images, not dominant. Go for minimalism. Also, all stock music has been heard before. It diminishes the effect. You’re better off just having atmospheric sounds and narration.
  • If you’re going to have any text in your video, choose it well. Make sure it’s appropriate for the material you’re advertising. Don’t use a font that looks like it was written by a fifteen year old girl daydreaming about her first school crush when your content is about blood-and-guts murder. It just doesn’t work. I see this all the time. Keep it simple. Less is always more.
  • Don’t have an amazing camera to shoot your trailer on, as was the case with me? That’s okay. Shoot it on your phone. Shoot it on anything. But whatever you do, light your compositions well. Anything less than really good lighting will make your trailer look as cheap as it really is. But lights don’t need to be something you hire. You can go a long way with lamps and headlights.
  • Don’t have professional actors to work with? That’s totally fine! Use your friends … Just don’t get them to deliver any lines. Getting your friends to pose on camera is very different from having them read a script poorly on camera. Just get them to look in the right direction and create the drama out of the film techniques you’re employing — and you should employ them. Get a book on simple filmic techniques, or model your setups after sequences in the movies you like. Hell, Youtube how to shoot basic conversations.
  • Don’t make your book trailer too long and don’t give too much away. I’ve seen five minute long trailers. I usually turn off about 3 minutes in. Two minutes max, unless it’s really good. Like, really REALLY good.
  • Get creative. Don’t settle for mediocrity.
  • You can download free editing software online, or you can dish out the $200 to buy a copy of the new Final Cut Pro. There’s iMovie, there’s all sorts of stuff out there… But whatever you use, remember this: just because there are effects and transitions in the toolbox doesn’t mean you have to put them all in your book trailer. So, no star wipes, scrolling text, or any of those other awful 3D simulators. If you do, watch out. The night really will growl back at you.
  • When it comes to editing, you want your finished product to look as much like film as possible. You’ll never reach this height, trust me. But you CAN get closer by doing the following: desaturate your footage, increase the grain and color-grade every shot. Make the blacks look really black. Contrast is good. Contrast looks like money has been spent on lighting. And yes, I know it’s cheating, but changing everything to widescreen instantly makes everything look more cinematic. But if you’re going to do this, make sure you allow extra space above and below every shot when you’re filming live, otherwise you’ll end up with chopped off heads when you go to edit. And not the ‘good kind’ of chopped off heads.

This list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a start. So what are you waiting for? Get filming now! In the immortal lines of the Wicked Witch of the West, “Fly my pretties. Fly!”

*end transmission*

So.

There we have it. I certainly hope I can find more scary book trailers out there with authors willing to share the production experience with Dreadful Tales. Huge thanks to Aaron for giving us a front-seat view of his project. You can pick up this short story, And The Night Growled Back, at Samhain for $2.50 while you wait for him to wrap up his next novel. I’ll be writing up a review on this in the near future too!

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The Girl from the Blood Coven by Brian Moreland

thegirlfromthebloodcovenEvery generation has experienced some level of satanic panic. From The Manson Family to the Son of Sam to a rash of bible belters claiming devil worship, we are always reminded that no matter how picture perfect things may look on the outside, there is always a great evil lurking beneath the surface. A sleepy town with a horrible secret seems the perfect backdrop to revive this oft used horror fiction trope. This may not be new ground, but Brian Moreland offers his own interpretation with an unexpected twist in a short story prelude to The Witching House (out from Samhain Horror this August) titled The Girl from the Blood Coven also out from Samhain Horror July 2nd for FREE!

Moreland’s The Girl from the Blood Coven teaser follows East Texas Sheriff Travis Keagan who is drinking at the local watering hole when a girl covered in blood stumbles in. When the Sheriff and his deputy drive her to the crime scene, the local hippy commune known as The Belvins House, it’s immediately apparent that this won’t be a simple case of mass murder (or as simple as that could be anyway). With an entire house painted in red, the smell “a mix of blood, wine and evacuated bowels,” victims with missing heads, and a young survivor singing in unknown tongues, this is no ordinary tale of Satan worship or devil sacrifices. Is this the work of a sick cult? Is the perpetrator of this violence even human? We’ll have to wait for the August release of The Witching House to find out.

We may not have any mysteries solved or questions answered in Moreland’s short story, but he offers just the right amount of blood, guts, and mayhem to give this pre-dinner killer cocktail bite. So sit back and sip on the pungent prelude to Moreland’s satanic summer story. The Girl from the Blood Coven is a vicious little short, it’s FREE! and besides, what says summer like a story about human sacrifice and Satan worship?

Get a FREE! copy of The Girl from the Blood Coven from Samhain Horror tomorrow July 2nd available in a variety of digital formats here. You’ll have to wait until August 6th for the full length novel The Witching House also out from Samhain Horror.

To keep up with all things Brian Moreland visit his website, follow him on Twitter, or like him on Facebook.

-Meli

Savage Species Part One: Night Terrors by Jonathan Janz Unleashed TODAY!

night-terrors-savage-species

This is the moment you’ve all been waiting for. Today, part one of Jonathan Janz’ (and Samhain Horror’s) first serialized novel Savage Species, “Night Terrors,” is unleashed on the public FOR FREE! You read that right, fiends. Part one of this five part series is available today for zero dollars. The other 4 enthrallments (as Dark Mark lovingly calls them) will be available thereafter every two weeks. These five enthrallments feature blood thirsty beasts, bodacious babes, and horrific carnage. A new story being released every two weeks means this is gonna be the best summer ever for horror fiction fans. But, Meli, you ask, who wants to spend their summer with their nose in a book? To which I say, I think you’re at the wrong website, brah.

Dark Mark dubbed this series Dreadfully Approved in his review of the first three parts of the Savage Species series which I would encourage you to read here. Janz was kind enough to answer some of Dark Mark’s questions as well, so be sure to check that out.

You can pick up your copy of “Night Terrors” for FREE FREE FREE today at the Samhain Horror website in various digital formats or Amazon.com.

Be sure to follow Jonathan Janz on Twitter, friend him on Facebook, and keep up with everything Janz on his website.

You can also follow Samhain Horror on Twitter, like them on Facebook, and check out their website for all the horror that’s fit to print.

 -Meli

Meli Goes to HorrorHound!

HHW_Cincy_Samhain

I’m almost 32 years old (turning the big three-two April 3rd if you want to flood my Facebook with birthday wishes) and I’ve been a horror fan for as long as I can remember yet I’ve never been to a horror con until now. This past Friday I rectified that blaring omission from my horror fan resume and made the trek from Bowling Green, OH to the beautiful city of Cincinnati, home of my beloved Bengals, the Cincinnati Reds, Samhain Publications (apparently, I had no idea), and the great people of Night of the Living Podcast.

Drive time: 3 hours. Time spent waiting in line: 3-1/2 hours. Cost of a Friday day pass: $25. So, for a six hour round trip and a line stretching back to Dayton you may wonder what all the fuss is about. For thousands of women with hearts in their eyes there was Norman Reedus, a.k.a. Daryl Dixon from The Walking Dead, signing autographs and taking pictures. There was also some dude named John Carpenter. For horror lit fans like us there was Samhain Horror up front and center with a few authors on hand to chat with readers and sell great horror fiction.

At the Samhain booth were Jonathan Jaz – the Samhain author I am most familiar with having read both The Sorrows (review here) and House of Skin (review coming soon) – Brian Moreland and Kristopher Rufty, both authors whose work I am anxious to get better acquainted with. Besides Elizabeth Massie at the premier of Abed – the short film by Ryan Lieske based on Massie’s short story by the same name – I have never met an author in real life! Still, all the interactions I have with horror writers online are exceptionally pleasant. They’re always passionate about their craft, willing to share that excitement for the genre with fans, and characterized by a humble and friendly disposition that strongly contrasts with the baddies in their stories.

Daryl

I didn’t get a photo with just Janz and I, but I got a photo with the Daryl lookalike. Check out me cheesing!

Meeting these three Samhain authors face-to-face was just as thrilling as corresponding with them virtually and left me feeling completely reinvigorated with a passion for this small but growing community. In this horror microcosm you can boil it down even further to the very specific part of the genre you love most. For many it is film, for others it may be art, fashion, sculptures, toys, or music and for me (as well as my new friends Erin from Oh, for the HOOK of a BOOK! and Tim) it’s horror fiction. The opportunity to be a freak among like-minded freaks was overwhelming. I had no idea what I was missing. Not only did I make a bunch of new friends, I was struck by how hard these authors work. Their love for the genre and the fans of their work is unparalleled. While they may not have the glitz and glamour of a crossbow bearing zombie killer, these are my rockstars.

As I mentioned, I am most familiar with Jonathan Janz’ work and was excited to meet him in person after corresponding via the internet for more than a year now. His debut novel from Samhain, The Sorrows, offers an impressive introduction to his work and the man couldn’t be any more grateful to his fans. Standing at 6’4” Jon is a gentle giant that chatted excitedly with fans about horror and worked diligently to spread the good word for his fellow authors as well. He is a fanboy just like you and me – hell, they all are! – even trying to suppress the urge to chase down a Daryl Dixon lookalike for a photo op.

The Darkest Lullaby out April 2013!

The Darkest Lullaby out April 2013!

I remember when I wrote the review for Janz’ The Sorrows I boldly stated that “You shall know thy name Jonathan Janz!” With a growing fanbase and a number of projects lined up for twenty-thirteen, I can stand confidently by that statement. There is a 5 part serialized novel Savage Species, the first installment will be released 6/4/2013 with the subsequent 4 entries coming out in bi-weekly increments. The Darkest Lullaby will be out 4/2/2013, but you can pre-order the eBook for only $3.85 here. I picked up a tpb copy at the con and I can’t wait to check it out. We can also expect Dust Devils (western meets vampires!), no release date that I know of yet, and possible sequels to earlier work. If you haven’t read his stuff yet, you gotta gotta gotta! You can look him up on the Samhain website or check him out at http://jonathanjanz.com/, follow him on Facebook, and Twitter.

Moreland

Me, Brian Moreland, and my signed copy of Dead of Winter. Success!

I also met Brian Moreland, author of Shadows in the Midst and Dead of Winter. While I haven’t read his work yet, I picked up a copy of Dead of Winter per Moreland’s recommendation. We talked a bit about written horror versus horror film and it turns out he studied screenwriting but shifted his attention to novels to avoid the obvious constraints of making movies – budget requirements for effects, etc. Moreland traveled the furthest to HorrorHound Cincy making his way from the state where everything is bigger and better, Texas! Like Janz, Moreland too will be having a busy year at Samhain with a short called “The Girl from the Blood Coven” coming out the first week in July 2013, a novella called The Witch House to be released in early August 2013, and the novel The Devil’s Woods coming out in December so be on the lookout for those. As I mentioned, I haven’t read his work yet, but based on our discussion I would expect cinematic writing with historical underpinnings. Find Brian Moreland via Samhain, or his website http://www.brianmoreland.com/ and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Rufty

Rufty, me, and his better half Angie. Below that are my signed copies of PillowFace and his movie Psycho Holocaust.

Last but certainly not least, I met Kristopher Rufty who was there with his lovely wife Angie. With the second longest commute after Moreland from Texas, Kristopher and Angie made the trek from North Carolina, about an 8 hour drive. Still, they came fresh faced and wide eyed ready to meet fans and at other times be fans. Rufty has written a number of titles available. His short “The Night Everything Changed” is available for free at Samhain here, and you can pick up Angel Board, The Lurkers, and A Dark Autumn from Samhain as well. His next novel Oak Hollow will be out August 2013. Rufty had advance copies of Oak Hollow for sale at HorrorHound, but I opted for a copy of PillowFace (Lazarus Press) along with his film Psycho Holocaust instead. The killer in PillowFace is drawn from a psycho of the same name in Rufty’s movie so I had to have them both. Something about the Texas Chainsaw Massacre inspired pulp fiction that I was drawn to. When I got home from HorrorHound Friday night at about 2am I immediately popped my copy of Psycho Holocaust into my DVD player, cracked open a beer and braced myself for the mayhem. As Rufty put it before we parted ways, “It’s super violent and super low budget.” That’s an apt description, but I think the movie deserves more credit, so I will save my thoughts for the Dreadful Tales review. I will tell you that after all the excitement of my day I fully expected to pass out 5 minutes in, but I just couldn’t stop watching. Based on the depravity I witnesssed in Psycho Holocaust, I have high expectations for his horror fiction where he has an unlimited budget for practical effects that depend on the reader’s own imagination. To follow Rufty in his book writing / filmmaking adventures you can find him on the Samhain website, his blog Last Krist on the Left (pretty clever, huh), Twitter and Facebook.

While the time spent at HorrorHound was short, it was certainly sweet. It was great to meet everyone in person and make new friends in the process. Thanks to Samhain and their authors for not only making great horror fiction but going out of their way to connect with fans.

Meli

The Boys of Samhain

Don Henley has The Boys of Summer, but I got The Boys of Samhain.