Admitting one’s problem is the first step…

Let me go ahead and acknowledge something. My debut novel comes out tomorrow and my head is just a tiny bit preoccupied with that.  Juuuuuuust a little. Slightly distracted.

Which you may translate to mean: Completely overwhelmed.

Despite the fact that I plan to talk about other things, like puppets, food, science fiction, or other random things that interest me, you’re going to get the occasional post about what it’s like to have one’s first book come out.  Scalzi and I talked about this before he left and he had the impression that debut-novelist jitters might be amusing to watch.

I can’t remember if he laughed after that, but it seems likely.

So rather than pretend, I’m just going to show you the thing that I’m totally obsessing over today, which is the book trailer.  First I’ll let  you know that this is a total DIY then I’ll explain a little bit about how we did it.

Okay. This is a style of puppetry called shadow mask. The style itself was invented by a fellow named Larry Reed at Shadowlight in San Fransisco. If you get a chance to see them perform go because they do some serious kick-ass stuff with it.

This is what one of the shadow masks looks like backstage. Basically, it’s two silhouettes, each at a forty-five degree angle to the performer’s head. What this allows the performer to do is to watch the screen while keeping the shadow face parallel to the screen.

The thing about shadow puppetry is that the actual puppet is the image on the screen. The object in your hand is what you use to manipulate the image on the screen.  So in this case, the performer’s body was part of the puppet’s control. If that makes sense.

You can see what’s happening in this picture of Jason Stanley as the Gentleman. One of the unexpected things that happened with him is that his head is significantly larger than mine. I’d sized the heads to fit me and his chin, as you can see, came below the chin of the mask.  Initially to hide that, I cut a piece of paper and taped it to him as a high Regency style color. He tied a sock around his neck as a cravat. Fortunately when we actually started shooting though, we realized that his coat collar would hide his chin.

The scenery was made of cut paper on an overhead projector.  The projector provided our light source as well, because it’s nice and crsiply focused. When doing direct shadow puppetry — where the puppet touches the screen — you don’t need a focused light. With indirect, like these, you need a really crisp light or else the farther away from the screen the puppet is, the fuzzier the image becomes.  Even with a focused light, the performers still needed to hug the screen as much as possible which you can see Sarah Frechette doing in this photo.

The screen itself is a roll of photographer’s backdrop paper.

I could actually blather about the puppetry in this for days. So if you have questions about how anything worked, let me know.

Meanwhile I will now return to the bout of nervous cleaning that is on my afternoon schedule. Hm… I wonder if Harriet needs to be vacuumed.

28 Comments on “Admitting one’s problem is the first step…”

  1. Nervous? What could there be to be nervous about? More like excited that the awesomeness will finally be made public.

    Also, thanks for the description of how the puppetry works. Really fascinating.

  2. My experience leads me to believe that vacuuming the kitty will NOT improve the situation…don’t ask….

    Congrats on your first novel! Someone will love it, will decide that it is the best book that they have ever read. It may even change their life in a way that you could never predict.

    I always think that when I read a new book: someone, somewhere, thinks that this is the best book ever written. And yours will be.

  3. Wow, that was beautiful. Thanks for posting that trailer! Simply gorgeous images, and the book sounds fascinating.

  4. That puppetry is sooo cool. I’ve never seen that before.

    I hope you debut book rockets off toward stardom. :)

  5. I suspect you’re being politely understated when you say that Scalzi laughed – I suspect he cackled. As for the trailer, all I can say is, “Wow.”

  6. Wow! I sooo want to do that with my fifth graders! I’m going to see if I can get the other two fifth grade teachers on board and make this a project. Thanks for the inspiration!

  7. Gorgeous trailer. Looking forward to the book.

    Having watched a couple of other folk come up on First Novel, I can say this is nothing unusual. It sure is fun to watch! :)

    Congrats! (Oh, and well done on the first Hiatus Post; everybody needs a kitteh when they’re suffering withdrawal. :)

  8. Congtratulations…

    For some reason, I felt like I was watching PBS’s Mystery. The opening scene, not the actual show.

    All the best to you on your debut.


  9. A supervisor once told me: “deep breath in, breathe out. repeat as necessary”.

    Basically, you’ll do great!!!

  10. Whoa, cool. The heads sometimes feel oddly large or the characters oddly hunched, for upright, upper-class Victorians, but the simple, crisp lines and overall aesthetic of the video are really effective. Reminds me of the sand paintings set to music. It’s brilliant that you can do all this with a few bits of cardboard(?) and paper and an overhead projector!

    How did you stabilize the masks to the performers’ heads so they (the masks) didn’t flop around when the performers moved?

  11. Very impressive puppetry. It is really quite spellbinding.

    One good thing about opening night jitters. They usually end as soon as the curtain goes up. I’m pretty sure the same holds true for the first day of a book release jitters.

    I am looking forward to reading your book in the very near future.

  12. I’m pretty sure it’s thorazine for a first novel. Administered by air rifle from 50 yards out — you really don’t want to get too close to the first novelist, they’ll be all over you.

    Dr. Phil

  13. By the way, that colorful fluffy tail of the air dart syringe makes a cool tassel for the pen you can use at your big signings. Just saying.

    Dr. Phil

  14. Hey feel free to tell us whatever. See? It’s right there in the name.
    Throw in the occasional pretty pic and we’ll be happy. And yes pretty kitty pics are good for bonus points.
    Speaking of pretty, nice video. How did you do the blue flames?

  15. Puppetry, hmm? Very cool.

    Say, wasn’t it you that did that awesome Writing Excuses episode on using the principles of puppetry in writing? That was great stuff; I’ve still got the episode bookmarked.

  16. Thanks for the good wishes, folks!

    @ 12 Kevin Riddler: How did you stabilize the masks to the performers’ heads so they (the masks) didn’t flop around when the performers moved?

    I took the adjustable headband out of a used bike helmet. They are lightweight and designed to grip.

    @16 Rembrant: How did you do the blue flames?
    Totally cheated and had a friend of ours create some CGI special effects. The blue flames are the work of Remo Balcells. We worked together on Lazytown. There were some effects that I could have done with the shadow puppetry, but I really wanted to have an otherworldly quality to the magic.

  17. Mary, that’s an exquisite trailer. Beautifully minimalist and elegant. I’ve seen many book trailers that behave like movie trailers and they just turn me off. Your trailer makes me want to red the book nownownow! Thank you so much.

  18. Ooh, I was intrigued by the blurb on Boing-boing, now I am convinced… (excuse me while I pop over to Amazon… ok, back! Now I have something to look forward to tomorrow.) The trailer is super cool, I personally would have liked more words though – and given that it’s a book trailer I’m probably not the only one in the target audience who would think so.

  19. I enjoyed this. I should know whose piano music that was – was it Schubert by any chance? Please identify.

  20. I listened to some gent on NPR talk about his book’s trailer in a rather throw-away fashion. Clearly he hadn’t put the effort into his as you have done in yours.

    Congrats on the release. I look forward to reading it.

  21. Awesome trailer, and I can’t wait to give the book a read.

    I’m assuming the CGI blue flame was added in post? I’m wondering if there’s a way it could have been projected on the front of the screen instead, without washing out the shadows. Then it’d still be a nifty CGI image, but visible live…

  22. @20 #gottacook I should know whose piano music that was – was it Schubert by any chance?

    That’s Piano Sonata No.13 In E Flat, Op.27 No.1, Allegro Molto E Vivace by Ludwig Beethoven. It was performed by Paul Pitman.

    I picked it because one of my characters plays this movement in the novel.

    @23 #marcos I’m assuming the CGI blue flame was added in post? I’m wondering if there’s a way it could have been projected on the front of the screen instead, without washing out the shadows. Then it’d still be a nifty CGI image, but visible live…
    Correct. It was added in post. There are some expensive projectors that might be able to do it. The easier way would be to project it from the rear.

    One live effect we considered using is a fun one in which a pan of water is set on the overhead. You drop ink in it and it looks pretty remarkable but it’s difficult to control direction.

    Another one that looks amazing, is to slide a chandelier crystal into the light. You get all sorts of sparkles and refractions but the crystal itself isn’t defined clearly.

  23. I actually did that Beethoven piece for my senior recital in another life. Paul did a great job with it, far better than I. Even if you hadn’t mentioned it in your book, the piece fit very well with this trailer.

    I was originally scared off by the Jane Austen comparison (I AM a boy, after all. I tried a couple of times, I really did!) but I am interested in your book. Congrats on your debut novel release! :)

  24. I enjoyed the trailer. Your reference to a specific puppeteer in development of a very ancient art is interesting. I see influences of the Bunraku of Japan and the Wyang of Bali. The puppets in Wyang may touch the screen occasionally but usually sit a specific distance from the light except when a “special effect” is required ie Ganesh becomes larger than human size. Clever adaptations of puppet styles and techniques into a new style is to be admired and I do, however you made it sound as if the puppeteer had invented it. I learned long ago nothing new ever occurs in puppetry: just amalgamations of some ancient styles to create something that looks New.
    Best wishes on your book. I’ll ask my local indi book seller about it.

  25. Anne: Yes, Larry Reed definitely invented this form. There are obvious Javanese influences, as well as mask performance techniques. I’m not sure there’s any invention that is lacking in influence.

    But these are great grand-parents of what he is doing. The specific technique that he is using is more than an adaptation.

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