19th June 2016
It’s Soman here with a special guest blog from Emily Sheskin, the director of the viral hit trailer for THE EVER NEVER HANDBOOK. It’s swept all over the place (over 900 shares on USA Today alone!) and all of us owe a big hearty thanks to Emily for her hard work making it happen.
Here’s a Q&A with her on how the trailer happened…
Q: How did you get involved with the trailer for The Ever Never Handbook?
Soman and I have been friends for years and I’ve always wanted to have the chance to collaborate with him. After seeing what my other friends (Michael Blank and Manny Palad) were able to accomplish with their animated trailer, I knew that the bar had been set high. However, I was excited to take on the challenge.
Q: Was it challenging coming in after seeing the trailers for the other books? What was the idea behind making it so different?
Yes and no. The bar was set extremely high, but some of the pressure was relieved by the extent to which my trailer had to be different. Since this trailer was for the handbook, which gives readers an inside look at the dress codes, school rules, and other things of that nature, we thought it would make sense to create a trailer that would show readers that they could relate to – and perhaps even fill the shoes of – the three main characters.
We wanted to use dance to help tell our story and partnered with Michael Jagger (yes, that’s his real name) to help choreograph some of the interactions. To us, this trailer was less about the books’ epic narrative and more about the franchise as a whole and the relationships with which readers have fallen in love, all while reinforcing that The School for Good and Evil has characters to whom every reader can relate.
Q: How did you pick the kids to be in the trailer?
It was really hard! JoAnn, who produced the trailer, also stepped up as a casting director and brought in some amazing talent. Based on our schedule, we knew that we wanted approximately 10 kids: three Sophies, four Agathas, and three Tedroses.
We tried to choose kids who would showcase elements of the characters’ personalities. For example, some of our Agathas (such as Kerry, whom you can see dancing with Thomas during the trailer’s “Choose Your Side” moment) were on the bold side. Meanwhile, others (such as Alyssa, who, with Zachary, has one of my favorite moments in the trailer, “Choose Your Hero”) were a bit more reserved. Throughout the audition process, Soman, JoAnn, and I emphasized getting a sense of the kids’ personalities so as to attempt to discover who “felt” like a Sophie, an Agatha, and a Tedros.
At the end of the day, we had to make some difficult choices, but I hope that viewers will appreciate the personalities and performances from our final cast.
Q: What was the hardest part about making the trailer?
Time – there’s just never enough of it!
When I look back on it now, the day feels like a total blur. We managed to capture many great moments, yet I’m sure that if we’d had the chance, we would have been able to shoot additional footage and include additional kids.
Q: You edited the trailer too. What was harder? Directing the trailer or editing it?
Directing and editing are challenging in different ways. Because I’m a director who comes from an editing background, editing has shaped the way I direct. I like to have a clear road map detailing the footage needed to make a video that leaves little room for improvisation. I’ll often storyboard things out, make an edit of the boards, and use that edit to modify my shot list, ensuring that I’ll have the coverage necessary to tell the story.
However, in this project, it wouldn’t have made sense to put such strong limitations on our dancers. Instead, I produced a loose plan to capture the things I knew I needed (for example, we had the dancers perform on the sides of the frame, which left negative space that would later be occupied by text) and left room in our schedule for the dancers to improvise with the help of Michael, our choreographer.
Once I had the chance to view the footage in the edit, I found myself in another unique situation, as the dancers’ improvisation generated many great moments. I had some tough choices to make but ultimately worked with Soman to get the video to a place that we feel honors the spirit of the books’ characters while capturing the energy that was present on set.
I think the hardest part of all of this for me was knowing that I’d be a bit outside my comfort zone, but that’s also what made this project so exciting!
Q: How did the animation part of the video happen? What was the idea behind that?
I really love combining live action with animation – both in my narrative work and my documentary work – and thought this project presented a fun opportunity to do so. Given that this was filmed on a white cyc (cyclorama), animation seemed like a cool and easy way to elevate the footage while incorporating fantasy elements from the books.
I’ve worked with Eric Rothman – a very talented illustrator, animator, and art director – and knew that his style would be perfect for this trailer. I wanted to have something that felt organic and hand-drawn, almost as if it could mirror doodles in a teenager’s notebook. I’m familiar with the great fan art that Soman features on his web site and social media pages and figured that since this trailer was all about making his readers feel at home within the world of The School for Good and Evil, it was important for the animation to contribute to such.
Once we saw Eric’s first pass, we wanted more. Eventually, most of our trailer was covered with animated flourishes.
Q: What else are you working on as a director?
I have a few work projects that I don’t think I’m allowed to discuss; outside of that, I’m working on a short film and a feature film. I’m hoping to make the short by the end of the year and have a solid micro-budget feature script that could go into production during the summer of 2017.
For more on Emily, visit her website: www.emilysheskin.com