Your great uncle Thornton P. Crockpot is a lovable geezer, so you suffer his dreadful videos patiently, forcing your eyelids open, scratching your palms with your nails, jabbing a covert pin in your leg–anything to make you appear interested (or at least keep you conscious) during programs so deadly that to watch mildew growing seems electric by comparison.
But torture will finally crumble the strongest character, and sometime when you’re being beaten senseless by a video like My Stamp Collection, Part Twelve, your patience with great uncle Crock will run out. Some secret something will snap in your head and all of a sudden you, yes, good-natured, good-hearted you, will be thinking of one thing only.
But as the witch in The Wizard of Oz reflects, "The question is, how to do it? These things must be done dehlicately."
And then, without warning, the whole satanic scheme will present itself: you will invite your unsuspecting uncle to watch a video of yours, for a change, and then subject him to a snoozer more numbing than any that even he himself has perpetrated.
But to do this you’ll first have to make the world’s most boring video.
"Horrors!" you cry, recoiling in outraged disgust, "that would subvert my most deeply held values, betray my struggles to create lively, interesting programs–and like that." Besides, you argue, it’s not easy to make a truly comatose video. After all, it took uncle Crock years to master the intricacies of the form.
Not to worry. In the great Videomaker tradition of practical how-to articles, we’ll guide you through the process step by step. Before you know it, you’ll have the tools and techniques you need to plunge old Crock into a stupor so profound that you could extract his gall bladder without a twinge of pain.
Be warned that we won’t take the easy way out. Anyone can make a dull video, say, by shooting a lecture on IRS Form 1040 from a fixed camera position at the back of a large auditorium. The real challenge is to make a program that’s ingeniously dumb, creatively boring, expressively dim–to create, in short, an industrial-strength snooze.
Planning for Tedium
You know, of course, that the pre-production phase of a video project is crucial to its success. Creating a script, scouting locations, pulling cast and crew together, planning the shoot–don’t stint on completing these worthy activities. With careful preparation, you can build tedium into your project before you even make your first shot.
Why not just forget pre-production? Well, if you’re new to boring videomaking, this is indeed a simpler way to encourage aimless ineptitude. By omitting the scripting, or even the development of an organizing idea, you almost guarantee a program with no goal, structure or viewpoint. Yes, there’s nothing quite like incoherence for eliciting boredom.
You can also forget about scouting and organizing. If you’re blissfully ignorant of conditions at the shooting locations, you’re far more likely to encounter problems that restrict your shooting options and hence reduce the variety and competence of your footage. As for recruiting crew and cast, who needs ’em!
With all that said, omitting pre-production is still suitable only for beginners. The more advanced videomaker uses this phase instead to create a blueprint for boredom. Rather than dismissing concept entirely, the trick is to think up a bad one.
For example, how about a child’s birthday party organized around "The Failure of Marxist Work Rules in Southern Bulgarian Tractor Plants?" For a training program on how to run a forklift, try "Post-grunge Fashion Statements in the Warehouse, or, Loading Doc Martins." By basing your show on a fatuous, wrong-headed concept, you can make a video that misses the point entirely; and an irrelevant show will turn on tedium as reliably as a light switch fires a lamp.
As for assembling a crew, that’s easy: just find an assistant dim enough to guarantee one production screw-up after another. Nothing major, mind you, but simple things like unplugging the mike during the bride’s unrepeatable "I do" or dropping the camcorder into the punch bowl. Remember: the more good footage you ruin, the more you’re stuck with the dull stuff.
Onward to Disaster
With your program pointed squarely toward failure, you’re ready for the actual shoot, a production phase rife with opportunities for tedium.
Here again, you could take the beginner’s route by plonking your camera in a corner, turning it on, and leaving. The result would indeed be two hours of excruciating boredom. But since it’s professional-grade dullness you’re after, you’ll want to use all your skills to ensure a somnolence that’s rich and complex.
The core techniques for shooting bad video are summarized in "The Seven Deadly Camera Sins" (see sidebar), but you needn’t feel limited to these sure-fire methods. Wearing both your videomaker and director hats, you can achieve superb effects in the service of ennui. We’ll start with some tips for bad camera work.
First, never use a tripod. When a hand-held camcorder wobbles and wags, it detracts from the subject you’re shooting because you draw the viewer’s eye to the frame instead of the image inside it. (You can overcome your powerful instinct for stable camera work by lurching about as if totally soused. At weddings and similar celebrations, the attendees may hardly notice your deception.)
You might need this technique because some subjects are so inherently interesting that they survive ordinary attempts to dumb them down. In extreme cases like this, a camera that bobs like a boat in a storm may be your last, best recourse.
Next, stay with a wide-angle lens setting. This will crowd your frame with irrelevant details and exploit the inherently low resolution of the medium. Everything will be small, fuzzy, distant, and hence, uninvolving.
Still on the subject of lens settings, be sure to enable autofocus. This indispensable feature automates the otherwise difficult craft of making bad images by throwing the subject out of focus every time something moves in front of it. Autofocus ruins otherwise competent shots with a thoroughness and consistency that make us all grateful for the wonders of technology.
To ensure that the purblind focus effect works well, you need the widest possible lens aperture, and that, of course, means low light.
Very low light.
The kind of low light preferred at teenage parties.
By forcing your lens open to, say, f/1.4, you can produce shots so out of focus that they’d be worthy of the Hubbell telescope.
Low light levels also reduce color saturation and produce a screen full of hues reminiscent of the Mississippi at flood stage. Brown, tan, beige–these are the signature colors of boredom.
And if you really work at it, you may get the light level so low that your gain-up feature cuts in. In ultra-dim conditions, your camcorder circuits have to amplify the weak incoming signal in order to get a recordable image. The result, of course, is grain: a blizzard of crawling dots that further dims and degrades the visuals.
But visuals are not the whole story, and the accomplished videomaker never ignores the audio side. In the service of boring programs, bad sound has never received the attention it richly deserves, so it’s time to give it its due.
Truly boring sound is both indecipherable and inconsistent. Here are some inside tips for achieving these sought-after characteristics.
Let’s start with recording poor-quality sound. The techniques for creating an incoherent track are so simple that even beginners can master them–and usually do.
Rule number one: stand back! Never use an external mike, because it can be brought close to the subject. This has the undesirable effect of obtaining robust recording levels and screening out background sounds.
Come to think of it, background noise is such a fertile source of poor audio that it deserves an article of its own, so the following tips can only scratch the surface.
First, find distracting noise. To get background sound to louse up your track, you first have to find it. Fortunately, our technological culture offers all kinds of candidates: wheezing air conditioners, roaring vehicles, rumbling subways, howling machinery–even humble fluorescent lights can emit an irritating hum.
Next, look for broad-spectrum noise. The trouble with fluorescent hum, though, is that its frequency range is narrow enough that you can remove it in post production. To prevent this, listen for noise encompassing a range of frequencies too wide to filter out. That way, you can guarantee that you’ll be stuck with your audio garbage permanently.
Aim the mike at the noise. The junk noise you find will record pretty well from any camera position, but to truly degrade your audio, you need the highest noise-to-program ratio, and that means pointing your mike directly at the noise source. For instance, if you stand the person you’re taping between your camcorder and a busy street, a construction site or, best of all, a busy jet runway, you can ensure that he or she will be satisfactorily inaudible.
Not only that, but the audio as a whole will be migraine city.
Where the beginning sound recordist is content to obtain audio that is merely incoherent, the advanced technician builds a track that’s inconsistent as well. To do this, take pains to ensure that your mike-to-subject distance and background noise both change as radically as possible from shot to shot.
When taping dialogue, for example, record one subject with the mike two feet off and aimed dead away from the background; then record the other subject with the mike 30 feet distant and facing the background noise. When intercut, the two shots will sound something like this:
AND WHAT’S YOUR NAME, MA’AM?
AND HOW LONG HAVE YOU LIVED NEAR THE AIRPORT?
Choppy, inconsistent sound delivers two benefits: it calls attention to every edit you make by signaling the start of a different shot.
And it’s irritating as all get-out.
The Art of Misdirection
Now it’s time to replace your videomaker’s cap with your director’s beret–an easy switch because you haven’t been wearing headphones, in order to avoid hearing and correcting any audio problems. We’ll begin with composing shots.
In this one area, there’s little difference between beginning and advanced boring videos, because it’s so hard to distinguish poor composition from no composition at all.
If you really wanted to push the envelope, you might resort to old chestnuts like cutting people’s heads off with the frame line.
You don’t really need to, you know; it’s so easy to record images stuffed with elements that look almost as organized as the contents of a dumpster.
But even though poor composition can be done on autopilot, choosing which shots to compose poorly requires active care and thought. Though we could devote another essay to the subtleties of poor shot selection, you’ll do just fine if you keep two related principles in mind.
Miss the essential shots. The bride and groom kissing, the birthday girl blowing out the candles, the tight end catching the winning pass–these are examples of scenes that you must omit from your videos if you’re to consistently sustain the level of boredom.
You can miss essential scenes by running out of tape or battery power, by not providing enough shooting light or by failing to get to the right spot on time. But these are really crutches for the novice. The truly professional way to miss essential program content is remain unaware that it’s essential, or even needed. If you can keep yourself utterly clueless about the nature of your subject matter, you can omit obligatory scenes with a skill that’s apparently effortless.
Tape the inessentials. This, of course is the reverse of the same coin. If you’re not going to shoot important stuff, you still have to deliver enough footage to be tedious at great length, and that means shooting irrelevant stuff.
At a wedding, for instance, try a video essay on the women’s hats or the organ pipes or the stained glass windows, or preferably, all three at once. These topics are doubly good: not only are they beside the point of the program, they also lend themselves to artsy little montages guaranteed to irritate viewers.
Downhill All the Way
Eventually, you wrap the shoot and head home to the eagerly-anticipated fun of post production.
Here, once again, the novice will leave numb enough alone by omitting this phase entirely. Since editing a program can only shorten (and thereby improve) it, the safest plan for the tyro is to cut nothing–not even the ten-minute shot of the blank wall that resulted when you laid the camera down still recording.
For the experienced artist of ennui, however, editing offers a far less obvious method for driving viewers batty with boredom. And here’s the exciting part: you can absolutely stupefy your audience with a program that’s only a very few minutes longer than it would be if tightly cut.
Why? Because you don’t just cut the show too long; you cut every shot in it too long as well. At some point, each shot has communicated all it has to say to the viewer. If it continues, it can only repeat its information, or else poke along saying nothing at all. Both options get seriously boring in seconds.
For example, suppose we’re looking straight down a stairwell as an actor starts up the first flight. By about the sixth step, we’ve got the clue: okay, she’s climbing the stairs. Time to cut to the fourth floor landing as she arrives. But if the editor continues the stairwell shot just a couple of seconds too long (trudge, trudge, trudge, trudge, trudge, trudge…), it takes only a surprisingly few trudges before we get bored and then irritated.
So the first technique for editing boring videos is to hold every shot just barely too long. Even though you may have added no more than a couple of minutes to the program, the cumulative effect on the audience will be lethal.
(You can also protract a multi-shot sequence into tedium in exactly the same way: just take a few more shots than needed to tell the story.)
An even subtler method of stimulating snores involves cutting all shots to nearly the same length–it doesn’t matter what that length is, as long as one shot slogs after another in a rhythm as unvaried as a faucet drip.
As you can see, these examples embody the two great principles of editing: pace and rhythm. When pace is too slow and rhythm too regular, viewers’ eyes take a glaze like Sung Dynasty pots. So remember that even if something interesting sneaks into your video despite all your vigilance, you can easily kill it with rhythm and pace.
Vengeance is Yours
So there you have them, the professional tools and techniques you need to perpetrate a video so lethally boring that the Supreme Court should ban it as cruel and unusual punishment.
Now before we wrap up, I have time for just a few questions.
Um, any questions? Anyone? Anyone?
The Seven Deadly Camera Sins (and how to commit them)
The most critical factor in boring video is dull and incompetent camera work. To achieve consistently inept footage, you need to learn the seven deadly camera sins: Firehosing, Snapshooting, Backlighting, Headhunting, Motorzooming, Up-standing and Rooting (not to be confused with Dopey, Sneezy, Doc, et al).
Though it goes against every virtuous instinct in your videomaking body, you must force yourself to practice these sins until you can commit them perfectly and reliably. So hold your nose, grit your teeth and read on.
- Firehosing. Learn to pan vaguely and almost continuously around a scene without ever lingering in one place long enough to see it properly. Novice firehosers merely wag the camera indiscriminately, but their more advanced colleagues have perfected the technique of spotting the center of interest, slowing on approach to it as if to come to rest and then veering away like a student pilot making touch-and-go landings. Drives the viewer bonkers.
- Snapshooting. Never shoot a scene longer than two or three seconds, tops. (To help do this, pretend you’re taking pictures with the plastic InstaMatic you had as a child: just push the button and release it.) When screened, the resulting bombardment of microshots will stun even robust nervous systems and render your viewers inoperative.
- Backlighting. Always position the important people or things in your frame against the brightest background obtainable (the noon sky’s okay, but try for snow scenes, if available). This will ensure that you’ve exposed the irrelevant background perfectly, while your principles look as if cut out of black construction paper.
- Headhunting. Never put people’s heads in the top part of your frame. Instead, aim the camcorder right between their eyes, as if you intended to shoot them. The resulting (non)compositions will leave nearly half the frame empty of interest, reducing the amount of picture you have to make boring by almost 50 percent.
- Motorzooming. Don’t cut between different views of the subject; this has a regrettable tendency to keep viewers awake. Instead, zooooooom slowly in and immediately zoooooooom sedately out again. Pause. Then in. Pause. Then out. The effect is as reliably narcotic as a gently rocking cradle. Or for a different effect, employ a faster speed and non-stop zoom technique for that jolly old seasick feeling. Use caution, though: over-reliance on the quease effect can cause viewers to abruptly leave the room–which defeats the whole purpose, of course.
- Upstanding. Never operate the camcorder at any height other than standing eye level. This guarantees a uniformity of angles that’s commendably tedious. It also keeps you from adopting undignified postures and saves wear and tear on your pants.
- Rooting. Finally, never roam around a scene looking for interesting viewpoints. Instead, find the least eloquent vantage point and shoot everything from that spot. Not only does this promote a monotonous sameness; it practically guarantees jump cuts as well.
Later on, when constant practice has advanced you to a level at which you can commit several camera sins at once, try motorzooming, upstanding and rooting simultaneously. This combination is potent enough to pole-ax a rhino in mid-charge.