The Last Witness

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Whether you're going back-and-forth with an editor in a large publishing house, or publishing on your own, a book is a really scary prospect. I've been circling around the book industry for five years, and I've helped with the book press of numerous authors. It's one of the top things that people come to me for - because a book is a huge undertaking and one that takes a lot to promote it loud and far online and offline.

I can't give away the whole secret sauce, because that's part of my business, but what I can say is there are several basic things you need to know when it comes to promotion for your book. Use this as a starting point to figure out how you want to help make your book the best it can be, and make the most amount of noise possible.

You can never start too early and thinking about how and when and where you going to promote your book. It's okay if you're not pouring over detailed press and outreach plans a year out. If push comes to shove, the shortest promotion period I recommend is 90 days. Authors are putting out great teasers like book trailers now nearly nine months in advance.

But that's not to say you can't build a storm of visibility in three months, given that you already know your audiences, what outlets and influencers you might want to target, and you're getting rolling on a digital strategy. Press is all about a snowball effect, where visibility begets more visibility.

Which means you should start throwing snow as soon as you can. You should be hurling your book in the conversation at every turn. I've seen authors and soon-to-be authors make this mistake pretty frequently - there are tons of opportunities around you not only to promote yourself, but also to promote your book. You're in a long-term committed relationship with this project, and everyone should know that.

Even though you might be sick of hearing about it because you've probably been working on it for at least a year , it's only you that hears about it so frequently and not everyone around you. This means putting out call-outs periodically to friends to pre-order your book on Amazon or to download it, as well as putting it in your email signature, in any of your bios, and in all of your social media platforms. Another place your book needs to be - conversations, professional or otherwise.

It's easy to think that everyone knows what's going on with you if you've put out a few tweets, but err on the side of telling people again. Have an open and honest conversation with your publishing house about expectations when it comes to press. If you're self-publishing, you know you have to do all the promotion. But one place I see authors miss out is having an open and honest conversation with their publishing house about press expectations.

Self-published books are about a groundswell, and a different article altogether. Speak to your publishing house and editor and ask him or her what the plan is for promotion, if there is one at all. You can and should ask important questions like: When do you plan to start press? What materials do your PR people need to help promote me?


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This could mean bios, or excerpts, or other new smaller essays on topic. What types of outlets are you going after? Whether you are religious or not, the effect is overwhelming. This is a film about society — where you stand in it, how you keep your status, the things you are allowed to do, and the things you keep hidden. The gentry meet at a country house for a hunting expedition.

They have affairs, which must not be talked about. The servants have their own problems, but when these erupt into violence the gentry must not see them. And we are aware, as the camera tracks through the great halls and along the polished floors of the chateau, that this aristocracy has had its day; World War Two is upon them, and everything will change. They leap into the audience and terrorise them, but everyone sits still and laughs. After all, that is what is expected of them. Nobody can break from social convention.

And we sit and watch the entertainment too. Jean Cocteau was best known in France as a poet and novelist, but he also made such beautiful fantasy films. In this version, Orpheus is a poet who has run out of inspiration. When he meets Death in the form of a princess, and strange messages start coming out of his car stereo, he becomes obsessed.

He neglects his pregnant wife, Eurydice, and when she is killed he realises his selfishness and sets out into the Underworld to find her and bring her back to life. Is love stronger than death? Can a person love death more than life? What is the nature of happiness? And how is it possible to visit the Underworld using only a pair of rubber gloves and a household mirror? The Underworld is stunning to look at — a bombed out city, rubble-strewn, bringing us to the realisation that World War Two has only just ended in the world of Orpheus, and Death walks beside him.

Olivia is the tale of a young girl who arrives at a boarding school that is run by two headmistresses who are in a struggling relationship. The girl develops a crush on one of the headmistresses, and unwittingly puts herself between them, leading to jealousy and rage. Directed by Jacqueline Audry, the only woman at that time to direct commercial French cinema, everything is neat and shiny and the girls at the boarding school are pictures of prettiness.

This makes the outbursts of the jealous headmistress ugly and difficult to watch. Olivia has a cult following, I think because it deals with lesbianism in a very direct and non-voyeuristic way. This is not about showing us kissing or heavy-petting, or breaking boundaries. The title makes it sound like a pleasant romp through woodlands, but this film is not at all light-hearted.

He is the ultimate outsider — mistrusted, given strange, conflicting advice.

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He received anonymous letters and bears slights from the village children. Director Robert Bresson gives us the face of actor Claude Laydu to watch through these random events. The camera follows his eyes with a careful framing, showing us his isolation in cold rooms, against the flat landscape. Scorsese uses the same style in Taxi Driver, the film that gives us another tortured soul, this time without the comfort of faith.

There could not be a Travis Bickle without this country priest. Clouzot understood suspense. He could make you sit bolt upright in your seat, unable to take your eyes from the screen. In this story of four men agreeing to drive a shipment of volatile nitro-glycerine through jungle roads in South America, every jolt of the two trucks could be fatal. Not a shot is wasted. We see the fear behind the machismo, the desperation behind the posturing.

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We emotionally invest in these men even as we know they might be blown to bits in a moment. A short documentary, Night And Fog intersperses black and white footage recovered from allied forces with colour shots taken in the remains of Nazi concentration camps on Polish soil. Some of the footage was considered to be so upsetting that the French government made it available only for this film. Director Alain Resnais made later films that meditate on how time affects us, moves us away from the most tragic events, separates emotion from meaning. Night And Fog is the most powerful film he shot.

Once is enough. Albert Lamorisse made short films into which he packed an incredible amount of loving detail; for instance, when you watch White Mane , you become a part of the landscape of the Camargue, running with the wild horses. In The Red Balloon you see Paris with fresh eyes. The greys and browns of the city, the shapes of the doorways and rooftops, are a patchwork into which a single circle is woven. The colour is intense. There are the bangs of backfiring buses, the sharp spires and the points of umbrellas, always reminding the viewer that the balloon, like childhood, is a temporary gift only — no matter what delight it brings to us, it is a bubble that must, eventually, be popped.

Not only did Lamorisse make beautiful films, but he also co-created the board game Risk. Cool, huh? The key moments of The Blows occur when nothing seems to be happening at all. A boy makes a smudge in his schoolbook and tries to rip out the pages to avoid getting into trouble, or Antoine stokes the fire with coal and then wipes his hands on the curtains.


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  • The next punishment is always on the way, even when the children try to do the right thing. There is no freedom, and the cramped apartment and regulated schoolroom are used to great effect, giving us that feeling of claustrophobia that is only relieved in the great last moments of the film.

    The director, Georges Franju, understood the importance of the eyes in cinema — the way the gaze is drawn, the way a stare captures our attention and holds it. The eyes of Christiane Edith Scob , the victim of a disfiguring car crash, shine out from her perfectly white mask with a bruised horror. Her father attempts to graft the faces of other women on to her own. It has a joking quality that makes your skin crawl. It documents a post-apocalyptic nightmare where humanity survives in tunnels under the surface of the Earth. In an attempt to find hope for mankind, a time machine is invented, and a nameless criminal is chosen to be flung into the past and future.

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    He survives numerous trips, and falls in love with a Parisian woman, who starts to shed light on experiences in his own past. The film raises so many questions about the nature of love, time, and memory that stay with you long after viewing it. And the one moment of action, where we watch the woman open her eyes in the morning light, waking from sleep, is so wonderful amidst the harsh stills and the neutral voice-over.

    Jean Luc Godard made radical films that test the boundaries of the viewer in all sorts of ways, including their patience. Contempt is the perfect title for this film. This is the only time Godard made a big-budget film with American money. He encourages his wife Brigitte Bardot to be friendly to the brash American producer Jack Palance who obviously wants to bed her. Everything is about money, and power. Palance is very funny, declaring himself a god and using his secretary as a table. Fritz Lang appears as himself, looking dignified and lost in this age of fast cars and chequebooks.

    At the time this film was made Brigitte Bardot was the sex-kitten of the world. The story goes that one of the producers, Joseph E Levine, insisted on a nude scene, and Godard gave it to him. The clients are ugly, strange, downright weird — and she accepts them all.

    Covering 85 years of cinema, Aliya provides her pick of 25 stylish, must-see French movies...