October 20, 2017 Last Updated 11:24 am

From eBooks to cBooks – new eBook format combining the best of book and film in an exciting new story platform.

Guest Column: Screenwriter and film producer Nick Fletcher and creative author Elsa Evripidou talk about the creation of the new cinematic book ‘Monsoon Tide’

Imagine a product where you can access a character’s backstory, inner thoughts and motivations but you can also see and hear the people, locations and action with the immediacy of a film.  With a cinematic book or cBook you read a chapter on your e-reader and then click to view the ensuing clip which propels you to the next chapter and so on.  The story is therefore revealed, half in a written and half in a film format.

Reasons for it:

  • We have all had the experience of watching beloved novels become slightly disappointing feature films because some of the intricacies of the original story and the insights into the characters have got lost in translation.  The cBook means that this depth of background can be retained whilst at the same time exploring some wonderful cinematic possibilities.
  • In our view, e-books are, for the most part, merely replicating conventional books in an electronic format.  As a result, they are losing market share to the old style printed books.   E-books, however, can do so much more.  There are many audio-visual, gaming and interactive possibilities which could be added to e-books and could perhaps appeal to new audiences.
  • As avid readers ourselves, we were naturally concerned that the cBook might be seen as a dumbing down of literature, taking people away from the joys of reading and immersion in a story.  However, English teachers have been very enthusiastic about the concept, seeing the possibility to attract reluctant readers into the wonderful world of literature.  The clips can act as motivation… reading a few pages will be rewarded with a visual treat.  Also, a cBook story (akin to a 300 page novel) can be read in under two hours.

Who should consider making a cBook?

Authors

Non fiction authors looking to bind and reinforce their narrative with film clips. There are numerous stock footage and newsreel libraries that can provide current or historical film clips on every subject imaginable.  For fiction authors with a book that has filmic qualities (but unlikely to hit the silver screen) they can collaborate with local film-makers to shoot the necessary scenes.  This need not be expensive, media and film-making courses abound with students needing to fill their portfolios and similarly, drama schools are a good resource for finding acting talent wanting to create showreels.

Film-makers

There are many low budget film-makers who have rights to a completed film that would benefit from adding chapters.  The original screenwriter can supply this narrative or even a writer totally unconnected with the project.  Our guess is that there are many film-makers out there with material that they are happy to exploit.  Since the loss of DVD as an important independent feature film sales outlet, the industry has been searching for a new sales platform.  Internet sites dedicated to selling films by download have faced an uphill battle, with many pirate sites and some customers who feel that films should be free to download.  Digital e-books maintain a platform where the customer still expects to pay something.  Although we have secured sales for our film Monsoon Tide, the cBook gives another income stream while promoting the film at the same time.  Win-win!

The artistic process.

In both scenarios it is a question of choosing which elements of the story are best served by film and which are best served through narrative.  The written word is wonderful for getting inside the heads of the main characters and finding out back story without having to resort to flashbacks whilst film does action so well and can describe location and appearances in seconds.

For our cBook, Monsoon Tide, the starting point was a finished feature film.  We then selected 15 clips from 3-5 minutes long which we thought were strong in terms of dramatic performance, visuals and overall impact.  We obviously had to think about pacing, natural breaks in the story and where best the written chapters might fit in.  The main objectives of the written chapters were as follows;

  1. To convey the action between the selected video clips.
  2. To reveal the characters thoughts and motivations.
  3. To add new events that happened before or within the same time frame as the events portrayed in the film.

The technical process.

Before the advent of the digital world, shooting film clips was prohibitively expensive.  Recently, costs have plummeted and the equipment necessary to shoot these clips can be bought or hired for affordable sums of money.  On our auxiliary shoot in India our second unit team shot whole scenes on a consumer SLR with Hi-def film capabilities.  The resulting footage more than held its own in terms of quality when we slotted it into the film alongside scenes shot on more conventional movie cameras.

Whatever you shoot on, the film clips that you ultimately use will probably need to end up on MP4, which is a compressed file format that can contain not only video, but also audio and subtitles.  You will also have to choose the resolution that the clips are watched on.  You may well have used Hi-def to film your project (good enough to be projected onto a cinema screen), but a cBook will probably be viewed on a tablet and the extra resolution of Hi-def would not fully appreciated.  A fiction drama such as Monsoon Tide will need at least 40 minutes of film clips to tell its story.  We found a good compromise between picture quality and file size using 480p (the number relates to pixels per line).  Why is this important?   Well, if the only platforms selling the cBook were streaming sites (such as Amazon Kindle, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Scribd, etc) it wouldn’t be that important.  However, sites like iBooks, Google Play, etc allow you to embed the clips, so the customer can download the book and film together (the book can then be read anywhere).  However, as stated, this will take some minutes.  By using 480p instead of say, 720p, this download time can be cut dramatically.

Another point to consider with an embedded version is that some outlets such as Apple, will only take large file sizes (2 GB is their limit) if they are channelled through a ‘preferred publisher’. We went through Gatekeeper Press and found them to be extremely engaged and helpful in making sure that the product was as good as it could be before publishing.

So, for streaming devices (these usually have little or no storage space) the film clips must be posted up on a hosting site such as Vimeo or Youtube and links to these clips must appear after every chapter.  You could also direct traffic to your own website and post the clips up there to avoid the distractions for the reader of suddenly being transported into ‘Youtube world’.  This is a personal choice as there are ways of formatting the links to avoid any peripheral advertising if you don’t trust your own website and want the assurance of using a hosting giant.

The downside of sampling the story in this ‘streaming’ way is that the end user must be within wifi range to play the clips.  However, as wifi availability is growing faster by the minute, this will become less of a problem.

The future for cBooks.

We really hope that Monsoon Tide will appeal to people both in terms of the story itself and of the new cBook concept.  If it is successful, we definitely plan to make further cBooks.

We hope that some Authors, Publishers and Film-makers will take this as a call to action and either learn the skills necessary or collaborate with those that have them to make future cBooks and in doing so, further establish this concept to sit alongside ebooks and conventional books.

Until then, we hope that you will have a look at our first cBook – Monsoon Tide – available on all eBook platforms and see what you think!

Here is the Monsoon Tide trailer:

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