On Location: book publishers borrowing a page from Hollywood
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In a sewer beneath Las Vegas, a lethal vixen named Abigail is locked in a mortal struggle with an outlaw cowboy with ties to Greek gods.
The scene, recently filmed over three days on a sound stage in Glendale, wasn’t for a new sci-fi TV series or movie.
It was for a 30-second commercial spot aired on Google TV to promote “Retribution,” the latest chapter in the popular paranormal book series “Dark Hunter” from bestselling author Sherrilyn Kenyon.
Such commercials, or so-called book trailers, have become increasingly common as publishers look for novel ways to market their bestsellers at a time when fewer people are buying physical copies of books and chains such as Borders Group are shutting down.
Publishers, which are reducing author advances and slashing print runs, have begun to spend big money to produce full-blown dramatizations that bring book characters to life. That’s a far cry from only a few years ago when publishers promoted their books using commercials containing a few stock photos and voice-over narration.
The trend has created a niche business for local filmmaker Chris Roth, a former creative advertising designer. In March, he and his brother, Steve, and two other partners launched the Los Angeles company the Other House, which specializes in producing commercials for books such as “Retribution.”
The company has produced more than 50 spots for publishing giants Random House and St. Martin’s Press, most of them shot locally, Roth said. The 15- to 30-second spots air on cable channels such as Syfy and MTV, Internet outlets including Google TV and Hulu, online gaming sites and at movie theaters.
“We’re doing four or five of these a month and there are no signs of this letting up,’’ said Roth. “The budgets just keep growing.”
Roth, a 31-year-old native of Los Angeles, studied illustration at Parsons School of Design in New York City. Before launching his company, he worked for several years as a freelance visual effects artist and animator for WCBS-TV in New York, where he produced advertising spots for clients including GE and Cadillac.
Roth’s book trailers cost as much as $50,000 each and involve a full complement of actors, computer-generated effects, costumes and set designs with the high production values of a movie trailer.
The book trailers, which often appear on social media sites, help to spur book sales, in much the same way movie trailers help market Hollywood films, said Nancy Trypuc, senior director for creative services at St. Martin’s Press.
“It’s a way for us to try to excite people prior to the book’s publication,’’ said Trypuc. “We find, especially in the paranormal space, that fans are really attracted to things like this.”
Trailers Roth produced for “Retribution” and for Kenyon’s latest book, “The Guardian,” generated 125,000 and 280,000 views on You Tube, respectively, Trypuc said.
The Other House has so far produced nine commercials for Kenyon, including several from the author’s “Dark Hunter” and “The League” series. Trailers for the latter aired on the Syfy channel.
“It gives readers a chance to visualize what the characters look like and a sense of the tone of the book,’’ said Kenyon, who recently signed a deal with Amber Entertainment to develop and produce films, television and webisodes based on her books. “When it’s done well, it really does get people who wouldn’t normally even go to a book store to say, ‘I might be interested in this.’”
Roth’s company has also produced trailers for books by other authors, including George R.R. Martin, author of “A Dance with Dragons,” part of the book series that inspired the HBO series “A Game of Thrones’; and P.C. and Kristin Cast, a mother-daughter team who wrote the hit paranormal teen romance “Destined.” The trailer for ‘Destined,’ which was filmed in L.A. with a crew of 30, will be shown in movie theaters as part of the pre-show for the Nov. 18 movie release of “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn.”
The Other House also has produced several trailers for Dean Koontz, bestselling author of titles including “Lost Souls” and “A Big Little Life: A Memoir of a Joyful Dog.” The company’s most recent Koontz project involved helping create an interactive website for his upcoming supernatural suspense novel “77 Shadow Street.”
Most of the company’s book trailers are filmed on a sound stage in Glendale, typically using green screen technology to digitally create backgrounds. But Roth and his creative team also frequently shoot scenes throughout L.A.
They filmed a nighttime murder scene in the arts district in downtown L.A. this summer to promote the release of “The Silent Girl” by Tess Gerritsen, the latest installment in the “Rizzoli and Isles” book series that spawned the popular TNT series. Roth cast actors who looked like the stars of the TV show who play a medical examiner and a homicide detective.
The popularity of book trailers has also been accelerated by Hollywood’s growing interest in finding the next “Harry Potter” or “Twilight Saga” book series to fuel the next global movie franchise.
“It’s becoming less and less common to buy books by their cover,’’ Roth said. “It’s more about showing eye-candy to reel them in.”
-- Richard Verrier
Where the cameras roll
Sample of neighborhoods with permitted TV, film and commercial shoots scheduled this week. Permits are subject to last-minute changes. Sources: FilmL.A. Inc., cities of Beverly Hills, Santa Clarita and Pasadena. Thomas Suh Lauder / Los Angeles Times