Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Spaces Between

The other day I was listening to the sound track of one of the computer-animated TV shows that my children were watching. I usually try not to do that, because I find the voice work in these show to be annoying. But I happen to be working on a play right now, and it suddenly struck me why the TV soundtrack grated on my ear.

Since I started acting six years ago, I’ve heard directors in the theater (including myself) tell the actors again and again to pick up the pace of the show. But not by saying our lines faster, which sounds unnatural and is harder to understand, but by taking out the gaps between lines unless there is a legitimate dramatic reason to pause before we speak.

And the cartoon soundtrack was in exact opposition to this principle! The dialogue was spoken so quickly that I could hardly catch more than half of what was being said. But there was always a least a beat between lines, even when it was inappropriate for the beat to be there.

Now, bear in mind that the directors, actors, and sound editors on these shows are highly-paid professionals. But the folks in community theater around my neck of the woods have a better sense of this than the pros on these cartoons.

Right now I’m writing while my wife is watching the old TV series “Angel.” Since I’m writing and not watching, I have a chance to listen without the distraction of the visuals. Guess what I hear? Dialogue that nearly, and sometimes actually, overlaps, but never sounds unnaturally rushed. The pace is brisk, it carries you along, and despite the frenetic atmosphere of the scene I was listening to, I could clearly understand what the actors were saying, and I’m not even sitting in the room with the TV.

When you are directing, editing, or acting for video, take your cue from shows like “Angel.” Keep the spaces between the lines tight. Consider getting rid of many of them altogether. But don’t rush the actual speaking of the lines. Make sure you take the time to be understood and to give every word the dramatic expression it deserves.

Don’t take your cue from the cartoons. Even if, perhaps especially if, you’re making a cartoon.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Really Cheap Teleprompter

As promised, I built a teleprompter. I used materials I had around the house, and spent $1.00 on a picture frame. Here's the video:

It's made from a scrap of plywood, a small piece of 1X6 left over from a door frame I built, eight wood screws, one 1/4-20 thumb screw with a wing nut, and a ball head adapter that I've used for a lot of different things over the 30 or so years I've had it. Oh, yes, and a cardboard box as a light shield.

I used my Android phone as the text display, with a program called Android Prompter, which was, of course, free. The unit I built is large enough for a tablet as well. There's software available for Android tablets, iPhone, and iPad, though I don't know of any free software for devices that don't use the Google Play app store. Feel free to point me to any that you know of, especially if it has a good mirror feature, which is essential for this kind of teleprompter.

Since none of the tablets in my household can use Android Prompter, I have an alternative method for getting larger text; I happen to own a 7-inch TFT television, and my phone can output NTSC video with the right cable (which also happen to have from another device—I never throw out cables). This method would also allow an operator to control the text speed for me, which might be very helpful.

Thinking of that also made me think of another application for this cobbled-together device. You know how people who are taking video of themselves, with a Web cam, for example, are either looking somewhere other than the camera lens, or can't get themselves placed properly in the frame? Well, if you output from your camera to a monitor, and placed the monitor in the teleprompter so that the top of the monitor faces away from the camera, you could see yourself in the glass while looking straight into the camera. Not only that, but the image in the glass would turn the same way you do, making it easier to make the little corrections in position to keep yourself properly framed.

That's another trick I'm going to try, when I have a video to shoot that I've memorized the lines for, or where I'm just talking off the top of my head.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Stealing Ideas

It's not like I go out of my way to steal other people's ideas. It's just that when I see a good idea I just have to make it, well, cheaper. My Facebook page fed me an ad for a "really cheap telepromper." It uses your iPad or Android tablet, laid in a box with a piece of glass propped up at a 45-degree angle. You put it on a light stand in front of your camera, drape a black cloth over everything to avoid reflections, and there you are.

How cheap is this "really cheap" teleprompter? Well, it's about $200. Not including the tablet, of course.

To me, this isn't cheap enough, although compared with other teleprompters it's not too bad. I was encouraged to find out that there is decent free and really cheap software for turning an Android device into a teleprompter. I just needed something cheaper to mount it in.

So I looked online for cheaper alternatives. Video makers are very generous with their ideas on YouTube, and I found one gentleman who made two teleprompters: one for about £15 and the other for about £5. Neither was exactly what I was looking for, but they were inspiring. I found another idea that was closer, made for about $20. That one lead me to the plan I'm going to try out sometime this month.

My plan is for a smaller teleprompter specifically aimed at video blogs and other head-shot work. It uses my existing Android smartphone, a couple of pieces of scrap lumber, and the glass from a picture frame from my old discards, or maybe from the local dollar store—we'll see.

I'll show the process, and the results, and some video of the teleprompter in action, as soon as I get it all assembled.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Little Sample

I tried the stabilizer in a shot with my middle child that is similar to the shot I will actually make for the film. Here it is on YouTube, first done hand-held (and boy, do these little digital camera stink at being hand-held), and then on the stabilizer. I think you'll agree I'm not quite there yet; I seem to get a slight left-right jerking motion still. But I think you'll also agree that it's worlds better than the hand-held shot.

Friday, April 13, 2012

A Little Stability

In the film I'm shooting next summer, I've got two, maybe three shots where I have to track, and I wasn't looking forward to coming up with some kind of dolly (nor was I interested in trying to do the shots hand-held).

Dollies seems simple until you actually use one. If the ground isn't level (assuming you can't manage tracks) and if the tires are too hard, you get a lot of bounce in the shot. If you let air out of the tires to smooth it out, you make the dolly harder to push, and the stops and starts aren't smooth (although this is not so much of a problem in this film since the stops and starts would likely not make the final cut anyway).

So I decided to look for a stabilizer, something like Steadicam, but not nearly as expensive. I found a few in the under $100 range, which is certainly less that I'd pay to build even a low-quality, very frustrating dolly.

Then I ran across this. Johnny Chung Lee, who comes up with all kinds of amazing little gadgets and projects and current works for Google, came up with a stabilizer using some pipe and a barbell weight that he spent about $14 for five years ago. After looking at his footage and seeing what he had to say about the contribution of technique to making a stabilizer work, I decided to give it a try.

I didn't get in for $14—five years makes a difference—but I did make it for about $22, not including the barbell weight, which I already had.

I haven't built his version yet, and I don't know that I'm going to. Because I'm lazy. I didn't use any tools whatsoever. I just threaded two ten-inch pipes through the straight part of a "T" and threaded the third into the side. I capped the side, then slid the weight over the bottom and capped it. So the weight is not secured and would probably bounce if I ran with this thing. I'm not planning to run with this thing.

At the top, without drilling anything, I attached a flange, then screwed my Velbon still camera tripod head to the flange using a screw and a wing nut. I attached the Nikon S6100 to the tripod head.

But first I shot a video walking up my stairs while hand-holding the camera. Then I shot a video of the same path with the stabilizer.

Now, my technique is terrible; I've never done this before. But the difference was remarkable. Not ready for actual production yet (which is why I'm experimenting with this a few months ahead of the shoot), but definitely better than my hand-held shot (which was as bad as the camerawork in The Hunger Games).

I'll post something when I've shot something mildly interesting that doesn't make me look bad.

I gotta tell you, between cheap digital still cameras that shoot great video and clever folk like Chung Lee who are nice enough to post their ideas for the world to see, this is a great time to be a cheapskate filmmaker.