Behind the Scenes

I recently spent a day at the West Hollywood Book Fair shooting guerrilla readings by local authors. By the end of the day we had nine videos that we’re posting on GuerrillaReads over the next nine weeks.

Want to do the same thing at your next book fair? The good news is that you don’t need us to make it happen. Here’s how we did it and how you can do it too, from Preparation to Book Fair Day to Post-Production.

Preparation

In order for writers to sign up for a guerrilla reading, I created a Google Form requesting basic info: name, website, email address, title of the work and which hour of the day they’d prefer to do their reading. We did the videos from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., so they had to choose between 11-12, 12-1 and so on.

Kim Dower at the West Hollywood Book FairThe WeHo Book Fair put up a page describing GuerrillaReads, with a link to the site and the registration form. I also sent the link out to my list of writers and literary-minded people and posted it on Facebook and Twitter.

One important trick was checking the registrations regularly. I set aside 20 minutes per reading, so as soon as a specific hour had been picked by three writers, I deleted that option from the form. When there were three writers for every hour, I updated the introductory text to let future registrants know they’d be put on the wait list.

About a week before the book fair I emailed each writer individually letting them know where to check in for their reading and when (11 a.m., 11:20 a.m., 11:40 a.m., etc). The WeHo Book Fair staff marked one of their info booths for check in. I also asked writers to let me know if they had to cancel, so I could give their time slot to someone on the wait list. Both for the the few people who did cancel and those on the wait list, I invited them to create their own guerrilla readings and submit them in the future.

I gave a time limit of five minutes for each reading, plus time for the author to introduce herself and her work. In my email I asked each writer to prepare and practice their piece so they’d arrive ready to read. This turned out to be very important in post-production.

Book Fair Day

Here’s what I recommend you take with you:

  • Video camera and a second as a backup
  • Laptop for downloading files from the camera
  • Tripod
  • List of your readers’ names, websites and name of their reading. I had each writer double check to make sure I had the right info.
  • Backup power – either batteries or access to an electrical outlet, depending on the type of camera
  • Backup media storage
  • A second person to help out if possible
  • Water

You might also bring a still camera to capture additional images from the day.

Here’s what we learned on the day of the book fair:

  • GuerrillaReads at the West Hollywood Book FairTwenty minutes isn’t a long time. It was do-able, but only because I had a second person with a second video camera with me that day.
  • Prepare for all kinds of weather. It was over 100 degrees on the day of the WeHo Book Fair, so everyone wanted to be in the shade. There were all sorts of great places we could have shot video, but it was just too darn hot.
  • The world is noisier than you know. With this kind of video, sound is the biggest challenge. Those internet-ready cameras by Flip and Kodak do great video and have excellent mics for the price. So good that they pick up an amazing amount of ambient noise that your brain is constantly filtering out from your consciousness. I love all that background sound in GuerrillaReads videos – it gives them that wonderful guerrilla/’zine texture. But too much of a good thing will drown out your writers, and that’s what it’s all about. Find the absolutely quietest place you can.

This may seem obvious, but be familiar with how your video camera works before the day of the fair. Do some trial runs in noisy places so you’ll know about sound; see how it works in bright sunlight and in shadows. Be sure your laptop can handle the big files you’ll be creating.

Post-Production

The better prepared your readers are, the less time you’ll have to spend editing the videos. Everyone who did guerrilla readings at the WeHo Book Fair prepared well and kept within the time limits. For many of the videos, I was able to cut a little at the beginning and end, add titles and credits, then post it online. Quick and easy! For a few others, they did have to stop for noise and restart their reading. That required editing after the fact.

Kathy Charles at the West Hollywood Book FairSimple video editing software is available for free and (fairly) easy to use. Apple offers iMovie and Microsoft offers Windows Movie Maker. Both will do the job well. YouTube now offers online video editing. If you want more bells and whistles, you’re looking at a pretty healthy investment that I don’t think is necessary for a project like this. Just remember when finalizing your video for the web to keep it at the highest possible quality before uploading. For more on shooting and editing video, check out our other video tips.

Now you’re ready to upload and submit your video to GuerrillaReads. To get it online, you’ll have to have an account at YouTube, Vimeo, Google Video or Blip.tv. They’re all good, and all have free options. Once your video is online, follow the GuerrillaReads submission guidelines to share them with us.

Writers need to get more comfortable with presenting their work in other formats beyond text. That’s one of the reasons I started GuerrillaReads. Give this a try at your next author event and let me know how it goes!

Photos by Melissa Wall

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