When I suggested to publisher Marnie Parsons that I create short audio-visual pieces that would tell little bits of the stories behind Running the Goat Books & Broadsides’ beautiful books, she said: “You know, you should give it a try.”
Which was a leap of faith on her part, I think, because I doubt I’d been able to articulate a clear vision for the shiny, sweet book-movies that existed in my imagination.
I knew there was a way to use a combination of today’s new, inexpensive audio and visual editing software programs to build simple little movies from a mix of still photographs, book illustrations and audio recordings. It would be like trying a new recipe from ingredients I’d worked with before.
Marnie and I agreed on one thing from the outset: BookBit videos had to be short. This kept the budget within reason. Just as important, we knew that today’s audiences don’t watch long videos, however well produced they might be.
And so I stepped into the wonderful world of BookBit production. To date, I’ve produced nine BookBit videos. I’m working on the tenth.
Production goes something like this:
- I read the book, sketch out ideas and make notes about the interesting tidbits that might pique someone’s imagination. For this, I make use of my background in the study of folklore and narrative geography.
- I call up the writer and/or illustrator for an interview. This is my favourite part because of the stories they each tell. At this stage, I rely on my background in journalism and oral history research.
- I cut the audio into mini-stories. There’s something thrilling about building soundscapes and sound stories. I’ve always listened to radio, to stories read aloud, and I now listen to all kinds of podcasts, so the sound element is important to me. I plan to do more with this part as I go along.
- Finally, I build the visual narrative to mirror the audio. Anyone working in books knows how the visual can work its own magic when paired with any story, audio or text. I use a simple program that has limits in terms of its professional use, but that allows me to do this part of the job quickly. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it—I love it—it’s just that I need to keep the time investment reasonable to keep BookBits affordable.
Each BookBit has been different. The BookBits about PB’s Comet told stories about illustrator Veselina Tomova’s flash of inspiration while drinking coffee and a writer who “went for it” and wrote the book she’d been wanting to read. The BookBit featuring Mallard, Mallard, Moose by Lori Doody had fun with the stories behind the jokes the illustrator/author seeded through her book. The three BookBits featuring the poetry chapbook Waste Ground offer glimpses into the personality of the hops plant (a fallen alcoholic), show us plants that are scary and joyous, and tell us how to boil the sting out of nettles.
The latest three BookBits feature readings by writer and performer Andy Jones and his musing about folk hero Jack (we all know somebody just like him), how to face life’s tyrants and win, and the enduring meaning of love’s first kiss.
The idea I pitched to Marnie in the spring of this year is still in development, really. I’m getting better at getting to the stories I want to tell. The idea will mature.
There are things I’d like to work on. There’s potential to create a variety of lengths with each title for different uses. I’d like to create a micro-BookBits series of even shorter videos. The challenge then will become how to distill the story to pique the interest of our audience: how and where to end the video before anyone has lost interest in watching.
The shortest BookBit so far is 47 seconds. It’s called “The Kiss” and features Andy Jones discussing his first chapter book Jack and the Green Man. This BookBit has had the largest and strongest audience response so far.
Admittedly, it’s a turn of situational irony that I’m producing these short little videos now, two years after completing a PhD and a very-long dissertation on rural women’s narratives of home. The academic and somewhat long-winded writing style required in the genre of the dissertation led me to a deep, and perhaps desperate, appreciation of all things short. I have a book of poetry coming out in the fall of 2019 with Breakwater Books; that book is an anti-dissertation, involving lots of line breaks and images that move very quickly from one to the other.
BookBits are visual poems to me, opportunities to explore the sparkling ephemera, the contemporary folklore and the behind-the-scenes details of a technology I’ve always loved. It’s a portable technology and one that was always affordable through the libraries in every city and small town I lived in growing up: the book.
To see more BookBits, check out our youtube channel: at RunningtheGoat. You’ll also find a few published through our Instagram and Facebook accounts.