When the smell of burnt leaves hangs in gentle wafts in the snap of a Jack Frost day, thoughts of Halloween and the witching time come creeping on black kitten paws.

Videomaking and All Hallows' Eve are a natural combination, because most of the celebrants are already in costume with makeup. So let's explore some of the devilishly clever ways to create high-impact video records on this night of a thousand faces.

Tape the Torment

Children are natural actors and reactors. To document Halloween with style, the videomaker can set up a haunted reception area-a gauntlet of tricks for trick-or-treaters.

By capturing their spontaneous reactions to the setups, the videomaker will be assured of a better comedy than could have been scripted and acted.


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Decorate an entry hall, foyer, or front room in preparation for those little beggars of the night. A tasteful blend of old shredded bedsheets, blowing fans, and colored lights make the trick-or-treater's entrance a thrilling one.

If you want to make a real production, place a battery-powered light source inside white sheets suspended from pulleys on heavy-test black fishing line. Attach other lines puppet-style at points on the sheet so that, when moved, you have ghostly arms rising and falling. You may even want to add a cardboard graveyard with individually lit tombstones.

Dry ice in a tub-or better still, an unused fish tank filled with water-creates a harmless illusion of nasty-looking acid or "witches' brew." A container of cold spaghetti makes an excellent "can of worms" for the brave ones and small cotton balls make great "spider eggs."

Canned evil laughter, special-effects recordings, or other real-time ambiances all contribute to the illusion. An inexpensive strobe light shooting through an ordinary 2-by 4-foot sheet of red plastic, combined with a thin sheet of tin, makes the picture-perfect thunder and lightning flash finale.

Lighting and Filters

Lighting human faces for that "sinister" effect isn't hard at all. Simply light your subject from a low angle with no overhead counterlight. The resulting shadows can turn your subject into an evil, wicked-looking personage. The narrower the light beam, the harsher the shadows, the better the effect.

To overcome the frustrations of shooting in dim light, position your camera at an angle from which you can easily reach all points in the room with just the zoom lens. Test the lighting in advance so that it illuminates the subject without causing hot spots for the camera.

If your camera performs poorly in low light, you can darken the scene and simulate night in daylight by combining deep blue and polarizing filters or available color combinations that roughly equal black or dark gray. Remember, each filter added reduces the light sensitivity of the camera.

To enhance overall spookiness, try adding a yellow filter for high black/white contrast with a yellow tint, or a light-red filter to simulate werewolf or panther night vision.

For another effect, use a clear glass skylight filter (which fits over the lens) on your camera and smear a very light coating of Vaseline over all but a center circle about the size of a nickel. A patch of gauze with a hole cut in the center yields the same results, less mess.

When you shoot the scene, only the center will be in focus; everything else will appear as a supernatural shade of mist for an eerie mood effect.

Dress Up Your Production

Playing "dress up" and getting made up for Halloween is a major excitement in a child's (and many an adult's) year. You can preserve the spontaneity of the occasion by placing your camera inconspicuously, perhaps shooting from behind and reflecting off a full-body mirror.

Taping the dress-up process in stages, progressively, with some direct involvement between the camera and the subject and then following up by shooting the decostuming process in the same fashion creates a priceless video portrait.

Group activities introduce even more possibilities. Some of Halloween's best video opportunities involve community events: parades, parties, and plays.

School plays, such as The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and school or neighborhood parades, carnivals, and block parties promise both color and action. Octoberfests and ethnic celebrations offer a sea of faces and interesting stories plus old-world costumes not seen at other times of the year.

Private costume parties with pumpkin carving, bobbing for apples, and other traditional activities allow you to showcase your own friends and neighbors at play.

Haunted Houses Inside Out

With a little scouting, you can do a dynamite documentary on haunted houses.

Once you find one or more of the traditional gothic structures in your town, do a series of slow zooms and cross pans, including point-of-view angles through bare tree limbs.

Next, contact your local Jaycees, who usually happen to be in possession of some of the most awesome masks and costumes outside of Universal City, and get permission to tape segments of their haunted house fundraising project.

Most chapters will enthusiastically cooperate, giving you some great live indoor footage. Raising funds for charity is the goal of this Jaycees project, so it might be appropriate to donate either copies of the finished video for their archives or a monetary contribution in return for the favor.

Since most haunted houses have dim to nonexistent lighting, a low-lux camera is a must. A point-of-view shoot, where you walk through as a customer would, is one way to capture the scenery and activity throughout the house in one take. Another approach would be to do "short takes" of individual staged scenes in the house. Almost everyone likes being photographed (especially when hiding in a costume), and the exceptional volunteers who do haunted houses tend to be an outgoing and exuberant lot.

Before you roll the tape, a "dry run" to feel out lighting rough spots might be in order. With the cooperation of the house staff, the lighting could be modified for your benefit.

On the editing table, arrange the outdoor and indoor footage along with other tidbits like swamps at dusk, an old cemetery with iron-rod fencing, or spooky empty playgrounds-whatever you can imagine-for an unforgettable series of creepy video images.

Then add traditional Halloween organ music or, if you can find a copy, Mike Oldfield's "Tubular Bells" (available on the Virgin label)-a very eerie bit of music indeed.

Elton John's "Funeral for a Friend" and Michael Jackson's "Thriller" are also excellent background soundtracks for spooky sequences. Among plenty of other possibilities, you might consider any of many versions of "The Monster Mash" for lighter accompaniment.

Overdub the music with audio effects where appropriate and your finished product should be of haunting-good quality.

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