I had an impulsive idea a couple of months ago. Wouldn’t it be cool to make one of those video trailers for my next historical romance, Lessons of Desire (due September 25)? What the heck, I thought. I’ll take a shot and see what happens.
Um, no. It turned out I had to do a bit of work myself before we got to voila’.
COS Productions wanted to make a video that I liked and approved, so they needed my input.
This was how I found myself in early August looking at hundreds of faces. My video was going to use live action, which meant an actor and an actress had to be hired. I needed to help make the choices.
My producer opened a folder for the project at an online West Coast casting site, and posted the job description with general appearance requirements. Actors and actresses deposited their headshots and resumes in the folder. I could then go online and look at their files from my home in Pennsylvania.
I have never associated my characters with known faces. So for the part of Lord Elliot Rothwell I was not looking for a guy who looked like Famous Actor Whomever. I was just looking for a guy who looked really good and who could pass for an early 19th century son of a marquess. Since my really good may not be everyone’s really good, I had to eliminate certain faces that others on the team strongly disagreed on, and vice versa. It was a consultative process, as in:
Me: How about him? Second face in the third row. I think he is hot.
Me: He has a certain something. . .you don’t like him, do you?
Team: (pause) You are the client. It is important that you are happy. (spoken in a tone of patient professionalism).
Me: Never mind.
By day three of this, I was feeling sort of funny because the process had a retail market aspect to it. If the face was wrong, all the credits in the world would not matter, so the first cut was strictly on looks. It felt like buying clothes. Go to the rack, flip through the jackets– quick look, quick rejection, pause for a maybe to check it out more closely, set a few aside to try on.
My problem was that darn few were being set aside for the part of Elliot. It wasn’t that the actors were not good-looking. Quite a few were. Many of them, however, were thoroughly 21st century American in appearance. Lots of adorable cute college frat boy types. Quite a few apple-cheeked happy Midwestern types. Almost no piercing-eyed, hard-edged alpha types.
Then there was the matter of height. The actresses for the most part were tall, so for that reason alone we needed a tall actor. On the face of it, no problem.
According to the resumes, every male actor in southern California is at least 5′ 11″. And most are over six feet. If there aren’t many tall men in your neighborhood, now you know where they all went.
Except the resumes also told another story. In addition to height they included more detailed measurements for wardrobe purposes. When a guy who claims to be 6′ 1″ wears a 38R and has a 30 inseam—he is lying about something (No! Men lie about their heights? Say it ain’t so).
Then one evening I went online, opened the folder, and there he was. Slam-dunk. Great eyes. No micro cut. Genuinely tall. Looked late twenties and not nineteen or forty. I sent a two word email to the producer: “Hubba hubba.” She hubbaed back. Jon Woodward went into the try on pile, right on the top. I really liked that jacket.
Time for auditions. What if he didn’t show? What if he couldn’t act? What if he shaved his head after the head shot? There were other try ons, but as you know, when you have decided you want THAT jacket, it is very disheartening when it doesn’t fit.
I received the audition downloads. Not only could he act, he was the best actor. Hey, I wasn’t prejudiced! He really was.
These auditions were enlightening. See, headshots are static. They are idealized and perfected with lighting, PhotoShop—it is amazing what can be done with a headshot. For an example of these miracles, go see mine.
Auditions are video. Live action. The real thing. Merciless. One actor was so unlike his headshot in so many ways that I actually did not recognize him. I emailed the producer asking where that guy’s audition was, only to learn I had already watched it several times.
On the whole, however, it was not the actors who provoked serious reevaluation after the auditions, but the actresses. When it came to the part of Phaedra Blair, the three highest ranked try ons disappointed, but another actress dazzled. Samantha Colburn made herself a slam-dunk once the camera rolled. Not only was she even more lovely than her pictures, but her acting outshone the rest.
I was very fortunate that the talent for the Lessons of Desire video were good actors, because as the process continued I realized something crucial.
In a trailer for a paranormal or a suspense book, weak acting can be worked around by emphasizing something else like special effects or shots of the heroine running from the psychopath. In an historical romance, it is pretty much all about the characters one-on-one. The actors have to carry the whole thing.
I haven’t decided yet whether I will do another book video, but I am happy with this one. Oh, I can wish I’d had twenty thousand dollars to throw into costumes and sets, but it worked because of Jon and Samantha, and because of the professional skills of Victoria Fraasa, the director and producer. They treated my Lessons of Desire three minute book video as seriously as a two hour, high budget film, and gave it their all.
As I write this, post production is wrapping up. The video will go “live” in a few days. It is already up here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EfGkoER3lo8 if you want to take a look.