They say in show business that you wind up using everything thing you ever knew if you stay with it long enough. It seems like that’s true even for me. I’ve been enough in a lot of goofy little projects over the years and a lot of them have been videotaped. This is my scrapbook. It’s not like I sit around Norma Desmond-style watching and re-watching my stuff but I do treasure it. It’s the evidence that at one time I seemed to be on track. That I could write funny. That I was young. It shows that I once had the time and energy to devote to long-shot projects with no budget and lots of nerve for an unlikely outcome.
One such project was a sketch show for the Manhattan Public Access Cable Channel. Which is, of course, the elite of all the public access channels in New York City. We wound up doing work on something called “Big B’s Travelling Sideshow” or the “Jim Farley Vanity Project.” It was a couple of actors and a musician with a real “let’s mimic ‘SNL’ the best we can and hope they discover us” vibe. They had taped two episodes of comedy sketches then felt they had run out of good material. Having seen the shows we felt they had run out of good material two shows ago. But, they had a sponsor; they had original music: they had a couple of decent actors. Also, they were open to letting us do stuff. Anyway, we were fresh out of college and looking to write comedy. No, it never went anywhere. But I got copies of all the shows!
So, I’m looking for new ways to promote “Lost Claus.” I’m starting to think a new commercial, a follow up, is in order. So, what do I do? Then I remembered something. The perfect visual I could use. I pull out that old Big B footage. One actor did a Private Eye sketch, where he imitated Humphrey Bogart. The sketch started with him sitting at a desk in his office while the voice-over set the scene. What was more natural than taking that footage, put in the opening voice-over from the radio show and put that out there as a taste of chapter one? Nothing, that’s what!
So I copied the footage in my PC (it was on VHS. VHS? Google it, you whippersnapper). It was a short scene, so I wound up having to pad it a bit. First, I slowed it down just a bit. Then, I got cocky, and decided to record a new scene to illustrate the voice-over recounting one of Nick’s old cases. I made up a file, labeling it and put a photo in it, then and recorded my hand tossing the file on a desk, then opening it up with my little cam-corder. I played some more with the editing software, debating about turning it black & white or leaving it in color. Came up with a cliff-hanger; as Nick states there’s a knock at the door, I put in knocking. Then repeated it. And once again. Very ominous. But perfect.
I know it worked because a co-worker called me complaining, “That’s where you leave it? With a knock at the door??? What? I have to buy the book to find out who’s at the door??” I then had to explain that was indeed the basic premise of the commercial.
So, I have two very nice promos for the book. And a solid book behind them. I should slay them, right?
I’ve always had fun putting things together. Although, oddly, not jigsaw puzzles. I got the board game Mousetrap. I never actually played the game I would just assemble the trap and make it go. Or try to rearrange it to work. In my backyard, I would build these goofy Rube Goldberg contraptions, kinetic art, that would crack a nut or kick a football. All out of found objects that were laying around the yard and house. As kids, we made super 8 home movies, war movies and comedies that I would edit together after assembling some of the special effects. I would make mix tapes, not just from cassettes, from VHS tapes and records. There’s just something fun about creating something out of found items. Maybe that explains my attraction to screenwriting, assembling whole movie stories out of words.
One of the things I noticed as I began my journey toward Kindle publishing was that Amazon actually had “book trailers.” A couple of writers on WA had produced them as well. They were good. One of the amazing things about the computer age is that with Moviemaking software anyone can put together a video promo now. The downside is anyone can put together a video promo now. Many of the trailers I saw were dreadful. They were endless text superimposed over public domain images and went on for minutes and minutes.
And here’s where my radio program started to focus me onto Kindle more and more. I could create a killer promo with professional sounding audio. I just had to figure a few things out. I had recently gotten some new software, Pinnacle, which edited movies, but also made it easy to convert video into digital. I had gotten it to do family videos, but it was going to come into play now. I obtained permission from the Radio Troupe Leader to use excerpts from show. I got a photo of the Rockefeller Tree we took a few years ago, and then, remarkably, I found a version of “Silent Night” that the artist, Lee Byung Woo, had put online with permission for anyone to use! I had known basically what I wanted to do, but this song was perfect; a few notes and pause where I could insert the dialogue.
I scanned the radio show for bits of dialogue that would give the flavor of the book. The stuff you can do with a computer is amazing. Super 8 you actually had to cut film to assemble it in order. Mix tapes you had to stop and start and swap out sources and change how you had the audio plugs to make a copy of something. But here you just load up what you want, copy the part you need and paste it where you want. I had music, graphics, dialogue, photos, fades, dissolves and wipes. It’s amazing.
The audio fell into place really quickly. A few key lines. A catch-phrase. A set up and punch line. I got a couple of photos to pan through the frame with a graphic counterpoint the dialogue. But it was all over a black screen. It seemed longer than it was. Someone asked me if it was for radio, since the visuals were so sparse. So I took my opening shot of the Christmas tree, zoomed in tight. But it was very static. So I segmented the photo into sections, slightly panned every other section, then did a pixel dissolve between the section and it looked like the lights were twinkling. That’s what was needed. It’s no great work of art, but it came out really well. And I found myself obsessing over it as much as the book, trying to get it ready as my publish date approached. It was a great place to hang my “ad campaign” on. And it wouldn’t be the only place.
Here's my compilation video for June.
Here's a video of my sketch "Three Stooges of Verona" as preformed by Playlab NYC. Sorry for the quality; it was a DV recorder and the loud clicks are the press-button zoom. Awaiting their "official video."