Frightening Video Horror Stories to Chill your Bones

Everyone’s done it… didn’t record audio at an event, copied over an important tape, forgot to white balance… all the things we here at Videomaker tell you not to do. Now it’s your turn to come clean and expose your goofs, gaffes and gotchas to the world in our annual Video Horror Stories.

Put an extremely complex and technical collection of gear together with an exceptionally creative and artistic talent, and you get a unique being known as The Video Producer. Because that creative eye is often busy looking at details like composition and the technical doohickeys on gear that is chirping, winding, buzzing and doing all the things technical doohickeys do, sometimes, at the most inopportune moments, that solid, competent Video Producer can feel like the absent-minded professor. Annually, fittingly at Halloween time, we’ve asked you to bare it all and send us your wild stories to share, and, as tradition goes, I’ll lighten the mood first with my own Video Horror Story.

Burning Down the House

I shot a co-worker’s wedding as my gift to the bridal couple. During the ceremony, the bride and groom lit some candles that were surrounded by a floral centerpiece and left them burning on the table. The idea was that the party would continue until the candles burned out. After the ceremony, as guests were standing in the buffet food line, I decided to periodically get a few cutaway shots of the slowly-diminishing candles, with hopes of making a time-lapse sequence.

After getting my first shot, I moved around the room to shoot some other scenes. When I returned, the candles had burned down a lot faster than they should have. As I stood over the centerpiece, to my horror, the wax of one candle tipped over, and the burning wick fell onto the floral arrangement, igniting it. At this point, the burn was manageable, but I wasn’t sure what to do. I didn’t want to blow out the candles in case it was violating some sort of tradition to this ceremonial setting. As I looked around for help, my boss, who was shooting still photos, saw what was happening and came over to assist. He wasn’t as concerned about breaking the tradition as I was, and he blew on the candles, which, unfortunately, fanned the fire instead.


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By now, a few guests could smell the pungent foam and plastic burning and were reacting with alarm, when my boss grabbed a soda can, dousing the fire with root beer. While outside discussing the fiasco, we saw the bride enter the room from a side door. Apparently she didn’t know anything about the fire, and just gazed in shock at her once-lovely centerpiece. After I explained what happened, the groom calmly asked, “Did you get video?” NO! Even though both of us still clutched the cameras we were shooting with, neither of us thought to take a single picture of the event that was the “talk of the party.”
Jennifer O’Rourke, Videomaker Managing Editor

Flip-Out Monitor Flip-Out

Sunday, January 21, 2007: It was the second of two shoot days for my video short, Game of Life. I woke up at dawn to prepare and double-check the gear. All seemed to be in usual working condition. I had arrived on location along with the pair from the cast I was to videotape. We hopped into the shooting vehicle and prepared to shoot. Riding shotgun, I turned to frame my subject in the backseat, when the flip-out LCD monitor literally flipped right out. Panic quickly settled in, and the day’s shoot seemed lost. Using the eyepiece viewfinder was out of the question, as I already knew it was damaged from my earlier gear check. Due to conflicting schedules, this day was the only day I was able to shoot this scene. And I did. Blind! I shot wider than usual, knowing that I could zoom in slightly in post and hoping the shot was reasonably focused. Luckily, the technique worked, and four months later, the film played in festivals in Toronto, New York and Idaho. Ironically, many members of the audiences raved about the shot compositions.
Alfredo Salvatore Arcilesi, Arcilesi Films

No Tripod, No Mic, No Hair? No Problem

As an advanced student at a local tech school, I had to make a short film for my final grade. I wrote a screenplay that I hated, but I had to shoot it because I had nothing else prepared. When I began shooting, I discovered that a lack of preparation with the equipment led to all sorts of problems. I forgot an audio converter. Once I got one, the microphone wouldn’t work. Then I had the wrong tripod. So I had to shoot handheld with a built-in mic, like an amateurish homemade vacation video. Then, just before I’d finished shooting all of the scenes, one of my actors got his hair cut. So now I had to completely reshoot the entire project, a project I hated. But, coincidentally, before we began the reshoot, our class acquired new HD cameras, so I was able to shoot with the newer cams and get my gear together for a more polished video. It was a blessing in disguise. I still hated the project, but, in the end, it looked much better than it would have before the actor’s haircut that actually saved the show.
Colin Foster, Mesa, AZ

Oh, You Wanted a Disc, Too?

After completing an arduous 100-hour post-production video edit for a client’s major gallery exhibit in Canada, I carefully labeled the jewel case for mailing the master DVD. The 40-minute video, showcasing the exemplary mechanical sculpture art creations, was eagerly anticipated by the artist for the show. I notified him it had been sent express mail for a prompt and safe delivery and to please call when he received it. Excitedly, I answered his prompt call. Yes, he did receive… but there was no DVD in the package! Just an empty jewel case that cost me $22 to send! Profoundly embarrassed, I then sent another, making certain to place the edited DVD in the case, before labeling the case. Moreover, of course, I had to express it again, to really be sure it got there in time. Lesson learned: be sure to have backups and check and double-check yourself relentlessly.
Jason Hailey, Los Angeles, CA

Saved in Post

What’s worse than a tape with a piece of dust on the lens? Lens dust on a project for a radiologist client whose job is to look daily for spots on a monitor, film or scan. My “disaster video” horror story was an event that I shot for this returning client’s family event.

The first project I gave him had a piece of lint on the camera lens. This would be hardly noticeable by most people, unless one called attention to it. For subsequent projects, I cleaned the lens thoroughly before each shoot. However, as luck would have it, while shooting an event for this client, the camera lens attracted THREE pieces of dust as the evening progressed. Horrified by what I saw on the NTSC monitor in post-production, I consulted my DVD mentor. To my elation, he recommended CHV’s Repair Collection of filters for Final Cut Pro. The CHV Dead Pixel filter saved the project, along with my self-respect with this client!
Jeanne Lewin, The Tramble Co. Productions

A Silent Reception

I shoot weddings using two camcorders at the ceremony and one cam at the reception. As a routine, right before the ceremony, I attach a lapel mic to the groom and instruct him and the best man to unhook the mic after the ceremony and hand it to me, which signals me to unhook my mic receiver from my camera, which will then activate the camera mic. In one particular ceremony, the groom unhooked the lapel mic and turned off the transmitter but he did not give the items back to me, so I forgot to detach the receiver. Since I had already removed my earphones, I didn’t realize that from that moment on the video was silent, continuing through almost the entire reception. Nice video but no audio! Nothing. I realized the situation towards the end of the reception, and I quickly tweaked the camera mic and left the camera recording to capture any ambient audio still available.

How did I remedy the “horror”? I purchased a nice fruit basket, and I went to the home of the DJ… He loaned to me every CD he played that night and, in addition, he told me which CD music was played during the first dance, the father-and-daughter dance and so on. Then, I took plenty of time editing the video to synchronize the dancing movements (feet, etc.) with the music beat. I placed the ambient sound I luckily captured on another audio track. I had to vary the audio level of the ambient sound, so it wouldn’t appear that it was repeated a number of times.

The result was fantastic! The music was crystal clear during all the special dances, and it appeared as though everyone was quietly paying attention to the dancing. Although I do not charge for a second cam at the reception, I use one now anyway and record plenty of footage…. and never remove my earphones, even if the lapel mic is not in use.
Kosmas Geo. Synadinos, Misty Memories Videotaping

Losing It All

My worst nightmare came true as I was editing one of five springtime weddings I had already shot. I’ve been shooting wedding for three years, and each year my client list gets bigger and stronger, and I’ve often taken on several weddings in the same weekend during the peak May-June wedding season. This year, I shot three weddings in one weekend, and two more the weekend after, with a promise to each wedding couple of getting their editing video out in two weeks. I was really scrambling to finish them and was toggling back and forth between them as I captured video for one, did the rough cut for another, and waited for the third to render when it happened. All power to my system made a slo-o-o-w droning noise, then it all shut down. Try as I might, I couldn’t reboot the system.

As the horror of it all set in, I realized I didn’t just lose the partially-edited versions of the current weddings I was working on, but all the presets, all my saved files, all my photos and all my extra clips I hold for transitional effects. And a whole lot more. I still had the raw footage of these weddings I was working on, but I had to buy a new hard drive and re-capture the footage and start all over again. The other files were never recovered. What did I learn from this? I really understand my grandmother’s quaint homily, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” I now have extra drives, I defrag a lot and I always save footage I’m going to use later to Mini DV tapes.
Brent Smith, Smith & Sons Weddings & Events

Final Curtain

As painful as it is to admit, as competent and good as we are at our craft, we do lose a shot now and again. Over the years, we’ve learned that the KISS rule (Keep It Simple, Spielberg) will sometimes protect us from the worst. We hope you, our readers, have learned from our mistakes and are right now cleaning your camera lenses, checking your audio levels and getting familiar with your gear with zealous devotion to the art of video producing.

Videomaker Managing Editor Jennifer O’Rourke is an Emmy ™ award-winning videographer and video editor.

The Videomaker Editors are dedicated to bringing you the information you need to produce and share better video.