In 2003, local author Sandra Farris published her novel Can You Hear The Music?, a coming-of-age adventure set in the early 1920s. Nearly 10 years later, she and her son Dennis Farris, a local director and visual effects artist, put together a three-minute cinematic trailer far beyond the scope of your standard "quote over cover art" ad template. Their work paid off when they won the 2013 Book Trailer Award at the International Film Trailer Festival, and they continue to receive praise for it. You can watch the trailer on YouTube (youtu.be/cMzcqsMzF5E) and follow Sandra Farris at sandrafarris.com.
So how did you start writing, Sandra?
I grew up with three younger sisters, so I really had a nice audience for telling stories to. Eventually I thought, "I should be writing these down," and wrote for contests.
When I got married and had kids, it fell to the wayside. I started Can You Hear The Music? in about 1970, then put it aside for a long time, then worked on it, then put it aside. After I finally retired to concentrate on my writing, I came back to it. ... I've tried different things to see what I like, but this one is my favorite. It's the first one I wrote, and I lived with these characters for so long—evidently it's everyone else's favorite too, because people tell me that.
How did the trailer come about?
I saw one done by a local author, then I saw that one of the big-time authors had done one. After that, I researched book trailers, and that's when I decided that I wanted us to do one. We just didn't have the money until I sold the movie rights to my book Obituary Column.
Dennis: Then I kicked in some money. It was expensive—close to $10,000—and all of it went on screen. We had to pay actors and crew, import wardrobe from L.A., use locations around Southern Arizona. ... I wanted it to look like a movie trailer, and that's just what it cost. Really, it all starts with the story; it has to be strong enough that you can break it up and get a flavor for it.
What challenges did you face in shooting this as a period piece?
Dennis: Well, we had to get accurate enough. The train, for instance; I researched the type of locomotive, the type of boxcars. They used boxcars from 1890 into the early 1900s, and they were made with wood planks, instead of metal. The steam locomotive was a '20s-era Baldwin. The car was borrowed from people that provide vehicles for the Dillinger Days downtown. The challenge is just getting everything shot in that period. When you don't have a lot of money, and you're trying to do something like this, you just can't drag it out too much, you know? There's always something that you just have to leave out.
So to make it work, you had to use a lot of indie film tricks?
Dennis: Yeah, and that just comes from learning to make a lot with nothing. It was a six-day shoot. But because this was not income and I had a lot of other irons in the fire, the shooting was spread out over a year. I was really worried, because the little girl (playing the protagonist) ... you can really see changes in her after a year. You could probably shoot a book trailer for less than we did, but ours was a period piece. I wanted to add more to it ... but you just can't charge your mom your normal day rate, you know? (Laughs)
Do you want to try shopping it around as a feature?
Dennis: Because I'm not known, there aren't a lot of people that are going to go, "I'm going to give this total stranger money for this big period film." In this business, a lot of things are so slow. When Hollywood finds a story they want to jump on, things move faster. But this is a smaller story. A lot of people wouldn't gamble on it ... but I'll keep trying. I'm crazy that way.
Sandra: And I'm glad you are.