The next time you think it’s impossible
to shoot anything worth watching without a monster budget, crew,
talent, and locations, remember this quote from film director
Roger Corman: "Budget? No, but I got a poster!"
Mr. Corman was speaking metaphorically
about the ability to go out and shoot something interesting with
little to no money, resources, or great locations. Almost anyone
can pull a video production out of his or her figurative back
pocket. So what do you really need?
A little imagination and some videotape.
You may be thinking, "Yeah,
but I still need video editing decks, time code, audio tools,
a video digitizing card and 9 gigabytes of memory."
Guess again. If you have access
to a camcorder you’re ready to go out and shoot something that
can tell a story, a joke, or simply be something beautiful to
For the purposes of this article,
we’ll take a look at what you can create using in-camera editing
techniques and a few props from your surroundings.
The In-camera Method
Many camcorders today come equipped
with special-effects features besides fading in and out. Pixelation,
effects wipes (such as barndoors or irising in or out), screen
ratio mode, and even "sepia" vision are often available
at the touch of a button.
Some of these are great in helping
you go from one scene to another. Fading out allows you to pause
the camera after each fade to reposition your shot in the same
space on the next day.
Causing a scene to pixelate into
obscurity, using a barn door wipe, or using manual iris to create
a "white out" are other ways to utilize in-camera effects.
However, you don’t have to rely on
the gadgetry of your camera. Older camcorders that lack built-in
effects will challenge you to stretch your imagination.
Simple moves such as the "Swish
pan" (rapidly moving the camera from left to right) or going
out of focus allow you to pause between shots without awkward
Experimentation is the key. Try
putting your hand over the lens for each scene transition. Wave
a handkerchief over the lens and hit pause. Or my favorite: pause,
then shoot a few seconds of a piece of black construction paper,
pause, then go directly to your next shot.
Moving the Camera
Combine the different tricks for
transitioning scenes with movement. Set a camera on a tripod.
Tilt down all the way, then begin recording. Slowly tilt up to
your subject matter. When you’re done tilt down again, then press
Movement combined with transitions
can have a startling effect. Suppose you fade in on a medium close
up of someone sitting in a kitchen talking.
Have him cover the lens with his
hand when he’s done. Begin the next shot with a person (same or
new) uncovering the lens with his hand, while sitting in the back
of truck going down the street. (Be careful not to touch the lens
as you do so.)
By combining these two elements,
you create a new character in your production — the camera. Now
that you’ve invented this character, what kind of space will it
Placing the Camera
Where you place a video camera is
vital in what kind of setting you want to create. At this point
you can choose whether the character of the camera is the omniscient
narrator, a participating cast member or simply a voyeur taking
in the action.
Setting the camera in the next room
and shooting through a doorway implies eavesdropping. Placing
it in the corner of a room on a ladder implies surveillance. Again,
be creative. The other great thing about camcorders is that they’re
small–they’ll fit almost anywhere.
Now that you’ve got some essentials
under your belt, it’s time to start creating. Coming up with a
good idea is most of the battle so, if you’re stuck for something
to shoot, try this music video.
As a former professional video gaffer,
I can attest to the fact that music videos have no content, narrative,
or linear storytelling. You may think of a couple that do but
let’s be honest; they’re three-minute commercials for bands.
But what fun you can have making
them! If you have a camcorder with the audio/video dub feature,
use a boom box to record your entire audio track onto the tape’s
linear audio track before you shoot. Then go through the entire
shot list we’ve provided for you and lay in your video clips one
by one, making sure to use the video dub feature so as not to
destroy the audio track.
If your camcorder lacks the audio/video
dub feature, then you’ll have to shoot the video first. You’ll
have to take some notes and keep a close eye on the elapsed time
of the video so that your shots will appear at the right moments
of the song. You might also find it helpful to record some kind
of audio cue to let you know exactly when the song starts. When
you’re done shooting, copy the entire video to a VHS VCR while
recording the song through the VCR’s audio inputs. You won’t get
anything like lip-sync with either of these methods, but you won’t
need it for this kind of video.
Music videos like to be gloomy,
moody, abstract and cheap looking. Go shoot a few seconds of the
neighborhood incinerator or a local factory at night. Put the
camera on its side and point it at traffic. Occasionally have
someone lip sync the chorus.
And lastly, toss in every transition
I’ve mentioned. Swish pan cuts, fade outs, out of focus, hand
on the lens–it’s a music video, it doesn’t have to make sense!
The Back-pocket Studio
The technology available today enables
you, the videographer, the power to create stories and images
without a giant crew and a giant hole in your wallet.
If you look at your surroundings
as a set, and the people you encounter as a potential cast, you
have all the tools you need in your back pocket.
Larry Burke-Weiner is a photo-illustrator
who went from video to print, back to video.
Music Video Storyboard
Visuals set to "Free-Fallin’"
by Tom Petty.*
All transitions are in-camera and
Blue sky with billowy white clouds.
TILT DOWN to reveal a girl walking down a busy boulevard. We DOLLY
alongside her (Use a car as the dolly, it’s all right if the camera
shakes.) as she passes the people.
FADE TO BLACK:
EXTREME LONG SHOT of same girl walking
down the street towards the camera. Cars and people enter and
exit the frame from both ends.
LYRIC: "She’s a good girl/crazy
A HAND holds up a picture of Elvis
in front of the lens.
Same picture of Elvis. The hand lowers
it out of the frame to reveal:
A freeway overpass. We’re on top
of it looking down on the stream of cars passing underneath. We
PAN RIGHT to reveal a boy leaning against the overpass railing
looking down on the cars.
LYRIC: "I’m a bad boy/ cause
I don’t even miss her"
"I’m a bad boy/ for breakin’
After the last lyric, his hand reaches
for the lens and makes the camera SWISH PAN LEFT.
SWISH PAN LEFT that stops on kitchen
floor. A glass heart (candy dish) crashes to the floor. We PULL
UP to reveal:
OLD MAN looking at a snapshot. Zoom
in on the old man’s face, then FADE TO BLACK.
Blue sky as the chorus comes in.
FADE TO BLACK:
Snapshot of two young people running
along the surf, holding hands, laughing.
FADE TO BLACK:
Boy behind the wheel of a car. Our
POV (point of view) is from the passenger seat, facing him as
he drives down the boulevard. He stops the car at a light and
pulls down the visor, taking out a snapshot.
We PAN RIGHT to reveal girl walking
past the car from the driver’s side. She casually turns toward
We TILT UP into the interior roof
of the car.
ROOF INTERIOR as we then TILT DOWN
to reveal the boy standing at the edge of a cliff overlooking
a city of night lights. The headlights are on, illuminating him.
He jumps over the cliff.
FADE TO BLACK:
EXTREME CLOSE UP of snapshot lying
in dirt where boy stood–with some headlight illumination. The
snapshot has only the girl running along the beach.
FADE TO BLACK:
Girl walking down the same crowded
street as before. Something passes in front of the lens (a person
The object passing in front of the
lens to reveal the same street without the girl.
FADE TO BLACK:
Blue sky with clouds. A snapshot
is held up in front of the lens. It is a picture of a lonely stretch
of beach. We zoom out to reveal the OLD MAN standing on the freeway
overpass holding the snapshot. He waits a few beats then lets
it drop down to the speeding cars below.
He turns and walks away from the
camera as we
FADE TO BLACK.
*If you want to distribute this video
to anyone outside of your circle of family and friends, contact
the music publisher to license the song. Contact the National
Music Publishers Association, Harry Fox Agency, (212) 370-5330
or visit the Web site at http://www.nmpa.org. Refer to Song Code