Read now two perennial questions with the same answer.
Q: Why, after investing hundreds of dollars in a camcorder, does the typical owner use it only half an hour a month?
Q: Why do so many videos put their
audiences to sleep?
A: Video is other people.
A: Video is other people.
The half-hour-a-month shooter has collided with two indelible facts of life: he’s got only one family and
he’s got only two hands. These limitations haunt him like the ghost of Hamlet’s father, gnaw at him like
Prometheus’ vultures and stir his audiences about as much as the 59th replay of Pachelbel’s Canon.
The implications of these simple facts spread like kudzu; let’s take them one at a time.
He’s got but one family. What else will he shoot? Close-ups of flowers? Got ’em. Nicely framed
buildings? Got ’em. He’s honing his skills. He’s captured a sunset with the correct exposure setting; looks
good. He’s framed a mountain vista using the rule of thirds; breathtaking. But he turns from his tripod only
to see Hamlet’s dead king: “Why didn’t you just buy a stilllll camera?” Chilling.
He knows he’s got to shoot things that move if he’s going to make video. Well, his family moves, but
even they have a limit to how much of themselves they’d like to see on their TV. There you see the end of
his tether. He wistfully retires the camcorder to the closet, and brings it our for that half hour a month when
his family will tolerate its presence.
Video wants people in front of the lens. It’s your moral duty to find these people. With every new person
you march before your camera, you save another viewer from apathy. There’s an age-old formula
expressing the relationship of the number of people in your videos and the happiness quotient of your
viewers. It goes like this: the more the merrier. A new face in every video, an endless parade of new people
with new things to say and do: videomaking bliss.
He’s got but two hands. Yes, we marvel at the engineers who have crushed a working camera,
microphone and tape recorder into a box that fits in the palm of your hand. Yes, only a single button now
records moving color pictures and high-fidelity sound. The videomaker begins to feel powerful. He alone
replaces the entire production crews of Hollywood. He controls the vertical; he controls the horizontal; he
controls the sound. He can do it all; he doesn’t need anybody. But alas, he looks up from the viewfinder to
behold the apparition of Prometheus. He’s flailing at the birds who peck his side. He speaks: “Wouldn’t you
have more fun if you just had a little hellllp?”
Suppose, for example, an apprentice came along to hold a reflector, point a microphone, jot down notes
on a shot log, even operate the camera. He grows magnanimous. As he turns over the camera to another, he
hasn’t lost all the fun of a camera operator; he’s gained the fun of a director.
Video wants people behind the camera as well as in front of it. One helper would improve the look and
sound of things, but it need not stop there. How much better would the video look if the videomaker had
enough people to shoot the project with two cameras?
The solo videomaker can achieve much, but several can play video as a team sport. A covey of people
in front of the lens, a gaggle behind, the camcorder sits at the vortex of a web of personal relationships.
These relationships keep the camcorder out of the closet. They project something through the screen that
keeps viewers watching after the popcorn is gone.
“Video is other people” means reaching beyond one’s two hands and one family. In this connection,
video user’s groups seem a good idea–when they actually shoot and edit together. But user’s groups swell
with behind-the-camera types. What about the people for whom the lens cries out? Imagine User’s Group
Meets High School Drama Club, User’s Group Meets Local Basketball Team, User’s Group Meets Gallery
Owner, Concert Theater Director, Museum Docents…. That’s the idea: User’s Groups Meet Doers
“Could I make exciting videos?” The answer to this question lies in another question: “Do you like
working with people?” If you share Mr. “hell is other people” Sartre’s misanthropism, stay away from
video. Else video will feel like the nether regions for you and those sitting on the sofa watching your
Have you made a video with more than your two hands and one family? How’d it go? Glad to hear from
you. Magazines are other people, too.
Stephen Muratore is Videomaker‘s Editor in Chief.