The mysteries of the universe. Space. Relativity. Time. The essence of Einstein.
The stuff of Sagan. The hubbub of Hawking. And the virtue of the videographer.

Yes, you too rank among the top thinkers of the 20th century. In fact, I
would propose that not only are you equal to any of these awesome minds,
but you are superior. Why? Because not only can you think about space, relativity
and time, but you can control it as well.

Didn’t think you had it in you? You do. Every time you create video, you
can manipulate — dare I say "create" — the universe for your
viewers. You have the power to show them only what you want them to see,
when you want them to see it, in the order in which you decide to show it
to them.

Of course, this kind of orchestration requires a certain amount of thought
and effort. Let’s look at each of these three aspects of video creation
and discuss how you can maximize your creative power.



Space is Limited

One of the first rules of videography has to do with space. It serves to
define your space and tell you what to do with it. It goes something like
this: "If your viewer can’t see it, it doesn’t exist."

Why is this so important? Imagine you are at the Grand Canyon. I’ve never
been there, so I’ll have to imagine too. Your wife is standing at the canyon’s
brink, with all of nature’s beauty spread out behind her as far as the eye
can see. You set up your camcorder on a tripod and start rolling.

Months later, as you are showing your neighbor the footage, he seems less
than impressed with your work. You had zoomed in tight on your wife, and
only a few slivers of the canyon appeared on either side of her. You say
things like, "You can’t see it, but off to the left there’s this bright
red peak…"

Such statements do nothing to console the viewer who doesn’t have the benefit
of your memory. The only glimpse he has into your universe is the one you
show him on the screen. You have to realize that your universe is a finite
place, unfortunately bounded by the edges of a television screen. If you
choose to let others look into it, you have to account for that limited
access to your space.

To compensate, you’ve got to get creative. Zoom-out wide every now and then
and let your viewer see the breadth and scope of your universe. Among pros,
this is called an "establishing shot." It gives your audience
a sense of place and dimension.

Use some camera moves to tackle those broad vistas and large subjects, too.
A long slow pan of a mountain range not only shows your viewer everything
he wants to see, but also says to him, "You wouldn’t believe the size
of these mountains!" In the same way, you can use tilts and other camera
moves to show large objects a little at a time.

This limited vision of your universe can be used to your advantage, too.
Suppose you want to produce a program about hand tools for public access
television. Great idea, but your workshop is a less-than-perfect shooting
location. You’ve got your tools piled up on an old banquet table wedged
between the basement wall and the washing machine. All your hardware sits
in mayonnaise jars on a shelf.

Why not build a mini-workshop in a tidier locale, perhaps your garage? You
can even use that same banquet table (if you position it right, so that
the legs don’t show, your viewer won’t know what it really is). Hang some
pegboard on one of the garage walls, decorate it with some tools, and voila
[accent]! You’ve got a professional looking workshop that your viewers will
never suspect exists in a corner of your garage.

Videographers — even professional filmmakers — use this technique all
the time. You’re already familiar with it: it’s called "building a
set." Because your viewers can’t see beyond the edges of the TV screen,
they have no idea what lies beyond it unless you show them.

I used this technique all the time when I produced video for a living. Many
of my programs, while appearing to be in repair shops or manufacturing facilities,
were actually shot in my basement or in my garage.



Relatively Speaking

Okay, Einstein, the moment has come for you to show just how bright you
are. Now that you know the boundaries of your universe, you can make that
universe dynamic. We’re not talking about static images here, like slides
or photos. Video by its very nature is dynamic. We’ve got moving pictures
to play with.

To be creative, those pictures have to move in a logical sequence. Each
shot must work to set up the next one. That is, each shot must be related
to the next. It can be an obvious relation, like a cause and effect, but
it doesn’t have to be. In fact, abstract relations can be an effective technique
to add some depth to your productions.

This is the essence of relativity for the videographer. When done correctly,
the relation between images is inherently creative. How the scenes relate
to each other adds context and meaning. The lack of relativity leads to
confusion and chaos. Relativity is also critical because it injects the
flow of time into your video.



Keep Your Timing Up

When you add a sense of time to your video, things really start happening.
This is because you start telling a story. Everyone knows that good stories
have a beginning, middle and end. The same should hold true for your video
productions.

For the most part, you don’t really have to think too hard about the flow
of time. If you’re videotaping an event, the sequence of things that happen
throughout that event will be enough to demonstrate the beginning, middle
and end to the viewer.

However, some events may lend themselves well to effective "time management."
Take, for example, a wedding. The last wedding I attended started at 2:30
p.m. with the church service and didn’t end until midnight, when the band
stopped playing. That’s more than nine hours. I’m sure that not even the
bride and groom want to relive every second of that on video. What’s more,
your viewers will probably fall asleep if made to view such a lengthy program.

What you need to do is show the flow of time — beginning, middle and end
— without showing every moment of the event. Pick out the best parts of
the event and string them together. In the case of a wedding, these might
be the church service, the happy couple climbing into the limosine while
being pelted with rice, the couple arriving at the reception hall, the best
man’s toast, etc.

In this way, your viewer understands that time is passing, but he never
knows quite how much. That’s fine, because it’s not important to your story
whether or not the limo broke down outside of town and the bridal party
waited four hours for a tow.

I videotaped a wedding where the limo showed up almost an hour late to take
the bride to the church. She barely made it there in time. My audience never
knew that, though, because I took some nice establishing shots of the church,
then cut to my shot of the bride beaming as she got out of the limo and
walked into the church. Clever time management helped me erase the rough
spots of the day and turned my story into one where everyone lived happily
ever after.



Warping to the Next Level

You can use the elements of space, relativity and time to answer an important
question: What do you want your video to become? Is it a collection of random
events? Is it documenting a single event? Is it telling a story? Understanding
the relation between space, relativity and time is the first step toward
taking your video to a new level.

You are headed for a place where video no longer just records events. Instead,
it enlightens, educates and entertains. You may not be ready for that step,
but now that you know about space, relativity and time, it doesn’t have
to be a universe away.

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