Making shadow scenery for the Shades of Milk and Honey book trailer

There’s this thing people do called a book trailer which may or may not be helpful in selling books.  I’m a visual person, and both Rob and I work in film and television so I figured, why not.  There are a lot of elements that go into the making of the Shades of Milk and Honey, but I thought I’d show you just this quick series of things for one of the shots.

We’re doing the entire trailer using various forms of shadows puppetry as a nod to the popularity of silhouettes during the Regency.  Interestingly, at this point in England silhouettes were called Shades.  So you could say that the trailer is shades of Shades of Milk and Honey.

Step one. I put masking on the overhead projector to approximate the 4:3 ratio of a standard tv screen. This is just paper and masking tape.

Rob and I have already spent time doing pre-production on this coming up with images and a shot list. One of them calls for a piano. Am I going to make a fullsize shadow piano? No, I am not.

What I did here was print out a picture of a fortepiano from 1805 onto cardstock and cut it out with an Exacto knife. Next, I taped scraps of paper to approximate where I wanted the door and baseboard to be.

I returned to the computer to grab a Regency door, table and vase. Laid them out where I wanted them and printed again. Then it was just a matter of trimming them and taping them to the original piano.

I’m working approximately 1″ to 1′ for this.

My basement wall with a stool.

Wait, it’ll get interesting again in a second.

Here is the fortepiano projected onto the basement wall. The lit area is 9 feet wide. When we shoot the trailer I’ll be aiming this at a shadow screen and we’ll film from the other side. This is good enough for testing shadows.

The stool will cast its own shadow. Why do I need a stool?

I need the stool for an actor to sit on. The actors will actually be wearing a style of shadow mask developed by Larry Reed, but for the purposes of testing height and placement of elements, Rob doesn’t need a mask.

We wound up moving the baseboard line a couple of times to find a spot where it didn’t interfere with the action of the hands on the “keyboard.”

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4 Responses

  1. Michael Curry

    I usually think of book trailers as more commerce than art (though I don’t think they sell many books), but yours definitely looks like it’ll be a work of art in its own right! I hope that people who aren’t already lined up for their copies of Shades will find it so awesome that they rush out to buy the book.

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal

      I think most book trailers are made by people who don’t know what a trailer is supposed to do or who have no background in film or television. It’s like a book cover or a movie trailer. It isn’t supposed to tell you the entire plot, it’s supposed to give you enough of a sense of the book that you want to pick it up.

      I’m lucky in that I’m married to a man with 20+ years experience in the industry and we have a load of very smart friends who can help. My own role is limited to art direction which is the only thing I’m qualified to do in this context.