Shadow Prowler: The Story of the Crossbow

What does it say when one’s excitement over receiving a crossbow and bolt as a gift places off the Richter scale? Fret not, tranquil readers, as this crossbow—more movie prop than medieval weaponry—manages little armor-piercing power. Verily so, as we took a few practice shots in the office. (Human Resources, I hope you are not reading this.)

But besides pledging to defend Tor from all future orc attacks, I wanted to credit the crossbow to one excellent filmmaker and book video.

Not all book videos are created by actual filmmakers. And not all filmmakers enjoy science fiction and fantasy. Or think mayhap their client would like a crossbow left over from filming. Mayhap.

I initially met Hugo Perez of M30A Films through a colleague and and possess fond early memories of him consuming SF novels at slightly alarming speeds. He then worked on a few book videos for Tor, beginning with teen author-turned-college student Isamu Fukui’s dystopian YA novel Truancy and F. Paul Wilson’s Repairman Jack YA novel Jack: Secret Histories.

The most recent video teaser, below, is for Alexey Pehov’s Shadow Prowler, a Russian bestselling sensation translated into English by Andrew Bromfield (Night Watch). In this case, Hugo coordinated with another filmmaker in Russia to include some gorgeous on-location footage.

I don’t even think I’ve ever asked you this, Hugo—how did your interest in all things SF begin?

I grew up on a heavy diet of SF/Fantasy, raiding the Miami West Dade Regional Library Sci-Fi section for everything that it had which included Michael Moorcock, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Stanislaw Lem, and a truly eclectic selection of stuff for a small library. I watched a lot of Dr. Who when I was younger and was even a member of the Dr. Who Fan Club when I was in junior high. It’s funny how twenty years later I am eagerly awaiting Michael Moorcock’s new series and the latest incarnation of Dr. Who.

My coworker has gatherings on “Who-sdays” to watch Dr. Who and eat “Who-d’oeurves.” But uh, I digress. So how do you personally approach creating a book video?

Book videos, teasers, trailers (whatever you’d like to call them) are an interesting exercise in trying to distill the essence of the main character’s conflict and story arc and then finding a way to get that across in about 2 minutes. With Shadow Prowler, I read the book and tried to find the character’s voice and a section that really represented who Shadow Harold was. Once I’ve picked a moment in the book that exemplifies the character, I draft a script and then the fun begins as I try and hunt down props, wardrobe, and let’s not forget the acting talent. I think it’s key to try and find an actor or actors that fit the part the main character. You have to imagine that you are casting a full length film, and who you can see in that part.

Walk us through some of the actual filming process.

I work with a small crew. Usually just the cameraman, myself, and a few production assistants. It allows us to move pretty quickly, especially if we are hitting multiple locations in a day. The shoots are usually a day or two, and they tend to go by in a blur. In the editing, we realize what works and what doesn’t and occasionally we’ll do small pick-up shoots to fill in holes or swap out pieces we don’t like. And then I send it over to my regular composer Onel Mulet along with some ideas (this should sound like BSG, or Berlioz’ “Dream of a Witches Sabbath.” And then we send it out to start getting feedback from the client. So even though, it’s small scale my approach is to treat these productions the way I would any of my own work.

Most people don’t realize how much film shoots cost, even for a 3-minute video …

If you want a film of any length to look good, you need to spend the money to hire crew, rent equipment, buy or rent props and wardrobe, hire cast, have a composer work on original music for your production. Even on a very low budget level, you can easily spend thousands of dollars just on one day of shooting. One of the biggest book video hits recently is the one for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter which was shot with the production quality of a television show or an indie film. They paid a premium for quality, and in that case it paid off, because the video went viral and the book has now been optioned by Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov.

What do you think is the future of book videos?

I think with the advent of the fabled iPad we could start to see book videos that provide ‘added value’ to readers who buy a book. The model I’m thinking of is DVDs which come loaded with featurettes about the making of the film and interviews with talent. I think that the Ipad will allow readers to jump from their ebook to an interview with the writer or a featurette with the click of a finger. If you buy the book you get interviews, clips of the author reading, etc… We’ll see what happens but I think book videos are getting to a tipping point moment.

At the moment, you’re editing the video for Shadow Chaser, the sequel to Shadow Prowler, and the video features my crossbow—er, I mean, Shadow Harold.

crossbowThe Shadow Prowler and Shadow Chaser videos are interesting because in this case we had a freelance producer/cameraman shooting material in a medieval city in Russia to give us the flavor of the city of Avendoom in the books. So the challenge for me was to shoot some close-up intimate material with the actor playing Harold here in New York that I could cut in with the material from Russia to place the character in the medieval city. We shot the exteriors in DUMBO, Brooklyn, which has cobblestone streets and rough-hewn stone buildings.

We thought that someone walking around at night in costume as a medieval thief carrying a crossbow would attract some attention, but nobody blinked. That’s the magic of NYC. In the editing, we’ve been affecting the shots from Brooklyn and the shots from Russia so that they match each other tonally.

Speaking of medieval weaponry, what other “props” do you have at the office?

a roman pugio shortsword

roman pugio shortsword

The office has become my de facto props warehouse and I have all sorts of miscellaneous stuff lying around which includes vintage military uniforms, prop guns, a Roman pugio shortsword, magnetic signs for the sides of cars, large sheets of plexi-glass, a bullwhip, a wheelbarrow, and that’s just what comes to mind. I know… it sounds like you could have a fun weekend in Vegas with all that stuff.

I hear you’re doing some spring cleaning …

I cannot confirm or deny this rumor, but it may be true. Especially since I find it hard to walk across the office without bumping into or stepping on something.

Well, my office is empty. Except for some books. But I can always move them aside for a Roman pugio shortsword. Or a halberd. OK, last question—what else are you working on now?

On the book video front, I’m working with Michael Moorcock’s editor Eric Raab to do a series of interview segments spanning Moorcock’s amazing career. We’re just about to head to Texas to meet up with him and shoot it.

On the larger front as a filmmaker I have a couple of micro-budget feature scripts I am working on to try and get one shot before the end of the year. One of the ideas I am working on is expanding my FutureStates short SEED into a feature-length script.

Congratulations on SEED’s release this week!

Watch all the FutureStates films (awesome transmedia program where selected indie filmmakers share their artistic vision of life in a future America), available for viewing now at (with some films playing at SXSW this week).

And stay tuned for the unofficial part two of this interview as Hugo tells us more about SEED anon.

Dot Lin is a crossbow-wielding publicist.


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