AI Party: The Book Trailer

Two things are absolutely true about the Father Viktor Project. First, this has always been a family venture—a “Koch production,” as my father likes to say. Second, it’s uncanny that it’s coming to fruition now, during the time of AI.

A recap for visitors who are unfamiliar with an “AI Party” in the Koch household: We order pizza and wings, haul out the beer and wine, and while away the hours working with generative AI tools to create some aspect of promotion for the Father Viktor Project. The graphics on this website (katherinekoch.com) originated from several AI Parties. Yes, we are weird people—me, my dad, and brother Sean are all independent historians, writers, and IT professionals. I suppose this bizarre contradiction of the past and present comes with the territory.

For those who prefer cutting to the chase, I’ll pause and show you the product that resulted from a creative process fueled by good takeout, a few bottles of Shiner (German beer brewed in Texas!), and lots of inspiration.

Special thanks go to Tobias Reitmeier from the Office of Tourism in Schwarzenfeld, who provided beautiful drone flyover footage of the church and monastery, and also to Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P., for permitting use of the Passionist symbol photo.

For those who want to read about the party behind this little video, read on. It’s worth it. I promise!

Last summer I signed up for a promotional package with Mindstir Media, which included a book trailer. After spending twenty years in the research and writing process, I never imagined that this 90-second summary would end up being one of the most daunting parts of the venture. For anyone wondering what a “book trailer” is, it’s just like your garden variety movie trailer—a video encapsulating the story in a snazzy array of visuals, music, and an engaging voiceover, convincing potential readers that they MUST. READ. THIS BOOK! After braving this gauntlet of promotion, I envy marketers who make movie trailers. They have a vast resource of film footage, top-notch actors, catchy one-liners, and action sequences to draw from. For the average author, this isn’t the case with a book (unless you’re independently wealthy and willing to shell out a hefty sum for professional actors and a film crew). The best you can get with a working woman’s budget is confined to stock footage, freebie imagery, your own voice talent, and friends and family willing to pitch in. On the last point, I’m blessed with a treasure trove of talent. My brother Sean is a gifted screenwriter, and my father Gary is a sharpshooting historical researcher on all things WWII. We make a mighty team!

Creating a book trailer for The Sower of Black Field presented challenges. Most stock footage from the WWII era comes from military engagements (like D-Day), flaming buildings in devastated German cities like Berlin, and footage revealing the mind-bending horror of the concentration camps. This novel is a story from the German home front, and despite the absence of flames and military action, it’s worthy on its own terms.

The complete lack of royalty-free German home front footage meant that we had to get creative—with a tight timeline, and on a budget. AI to the rescue! We directed the dreaming giant Midjourney to “imagine” imagery that related to events in the novel. I’ll share the results below.

Still from the book trailer of The Sower of Black Field depicting the historical petition incident.

In September 1941, when children throughout Germany returned to school from summer vacation, they discovered that the Nazis had secretly removed crosses from classrooms throughout the country, replacing them with Hitler’s portrait. Protests erupted throughout Germany—especially in Catholic Bavaria. However, the response was unique in Schwarzenfeld. The people in this town distributed petitions, which is demonstrated above.

Caption: Norbert Gindele, town baker for one of Schwarzenfeld’s four bakeries, struggles against police officers threatening to arrest him. A devout Catholic who is critical of the Nazi regime, he constantly teeters on the verge of arrest.

Photo still of the American commander and troops in Schwarzenfeld, Germany, 1945. Graphic produced by Midjourney.

When American liberators discovered a mass grave haunting Schwarzenfeld’s borders, the commander of the unit—the 26th “Yankee” division—held the town accountable. In this photo, he points a finger at German civilians he has deemed guilty of the atrocity—Fr. Viktor’s devout followers.

Bavarian women react to the ultimatum in Schwarzenfeld, Germany. Photo by Midjourney.

When the American commander learns of the atrocity that lurks on Schwarzenfeld’s borders, he issues a devastating ultimatum. The town’s citizens must wash and clothe 140 bodies, dig a grave trench, and hold a funeral ceremony—all in 24 hours—otherwise all German men in town between 16 and 60 will be executed in retaliation. This is a reaction shot of women who are learning of the ultimatum.

Although Midjourney neatly resolved all problems with the visuals, we still had another dilemma—the voiceover. Mindstir gave us a maximum run time of 90 seconds for the video. Sean and I worked on a script for the trailer and we both decided that a monologue by Fr. Viktor (the novel’s protagonist and our paternal great granduncle) offered the best, most expedient means to convey the story within that limited time span. Mindstir provided an AI-generated voiceover, but it came across like a stilted sports announcer. No one in the family had an ideal “voice” to represent the 70+ year old Fr. Viktor. At first it seemed that we were up the creek without a paddle—until I discovered elevenlabs.io.

For the uninitiated, ElevenLabs is a website that offers two AI voice options—a text to voice conversion, and a voice-to-voice conversion. In the first example, the AI must independently determine all the points of emphasis and emotion (and honestly, even though it’s 2024, AI still hasn’t mastered that natively human understanding.) The second option—the voice-to-voice conversion—was precisely what we needed. It allowed yours truly—a 48-year old woman—to do the voiceover and convert it to a voice that was believable for a 70-year-old man.

For those who are intensely curious, play the clip below to hear me perform the voiceover for Fr. Viktor Koch.

For the record, we chose “Rafael” on elevenlabs.io, a mellifluous, AI-generated voice that qualifies as an elderly man.

Who would have thought that a historical fiction writer would rely so heavily upon AI for promotion? As I said in the intro, this whole project blossomed at the right time, just when generative AI is coming into its prime. As creative souls and IT enthusiasts, we hopped on the bandwagon and made the most of the technology available. I heartily encourage all other marketers to give it a try.

For an annotated, scholarly version of the history behind The Sower of Black Field, read my peer-reviewed paper, “An American Priest in Nazi Germany: The Story of Fr. Viktor Koch, C.P.,” published in the Fall 2014 issue of Gathered Fragments, the journal of the Catholic Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania. You may also enjoy a visit to the project website, www.viktorkoch.com »