Using video cameras on trips

By Armond Noble

The quality of video cameras is skyrocketing and the prices are dropping like a rock, thus many people are buying them for the first time.

This month’ s note is not meant for ITN’s erudite and urbane readers. Their storytelling abilities are such that (we’ ve heard) Steven Spielberg is considering throwing his cameras in the river and becoming a stockbroker in Siberia.

No, this is for you to photocopy and mail anonymously to your friend who just had you sit through two hours of “video” that made you sympathetic for those who suffered under the Inquisition.

The first sin in video is overusing the zoom lens. It’ s like someone says, “Myrtle, I bought this here zoom lens and I’m gonna use it!” In, out, in, out, in, out. It gives the poor viewer yo-yo eyes.

There is a grammar in film. First comes the establishing shot (wide). Then the medium shot. And then the close-up. Instead of zooming, zooming, zooming, turn the camera off and reframe the next shot.

Then comes a sin for which there is no penance. When panning (moving the camera horizontally), some travelers start the pan movement and then hit the start button. The pan is still continuing when they hit the stop button. NO!

Aim the camera, turn it on and then start the panning movement. Bring the pan to a complete stop before turning the camera off.

Then there is the maddening technique of panning across a scene and (just in case anybody missed anything) panning back across the same scene. A minor glitch is panning from right to left. That’ s backwards from the way most people look at things.

Now, there are a couple of techniques to really class up a video. They’re called cutaways and cut-ins, and you can never have too many of them to work with.

An example — you’re showing a potter. Well, we don’t want to watch 20 minutes of a potter, so, after he starts, add a cut-in of a close-up of his hands. Another would be a close-up of his face, showing him concentrating on his work. Then you could return to his work in progress. A cutaway would be a shot of the crowd watching him work. The next shot is of him finishing.

You’ve condensed time, something audiences have come to accept.

It’s said films are made in the editing room. You’ve got to be merciless in your editing. Just because a shot was difficult to make doesn’t mean it has to stay in. To some, every frame (all 30 in every second) is a precious child, but do you see your audience looking at their watches? There’ s an old show business adage: leave them wanting more.

In editing, watch out for the center of attraction being in the far left of the frame in one scene and in the far right of the frame in the next scene. It’s a bit jarring for the eye to have to jump that distance.

Now for cutting scenes together. You can cut on color. For example, an all-white bus comes to the corner. The next scene could be a parade where all the participants are wearing white shirts. Y ou can cut on motion. For instance, in a café someone lifts their cup up to their mouth. In the next scene, someone else is lowering their cup. Smooth!

Look closely at all your scenes and make notes of how you can make transitions. In narration, DON’ T start every scene with “This is...” Back into it, such as, “Built in 1742, Mad Ludwig’s Castle...”

I’ll have more on video next month.

Don’t forget our game with prizes. If you were on a cruise in 2009, send the name of the ship and the cruise line, plus your ZIP code, to Deadline is Aug. 13.