Run ’N Gun Videography

The Lone Shooter’s Survival Guide

I’ve decided to write an ebook expanding a lot on the sorts of things I post on this blog periodically.

Incidentally, the Video Whisperer blog was originally borne out of a desire to help new-comers to video production to understand some of the fundamental basics of the subject they might otherwise never have learned in film school or otherwise. Apparently quite a few folks out there have found the information useful and some have urged me to write a book.

Since I like to write, that invitation was all I needed (in addition to a little extra time to do it).

I wrote the first 5 thousand words at Heathrow a couple weeks ago, and a few thousand more in the odd late hour since then.

I thought I’d share the introduction to the book to test the waters.

If you’ve ever wondered where the name “Video Whisperer” came from, here is that story.

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Run ’N Gun Videography

The Lone Shooter’s Survival Guide

Introduction

After spending most of my life working as a cameraman and director (both film and video) for a studio within a team setting, I decided to go solo as a video producer in 2008.

My wife Laury and I were living in Montana and my talented step-daughter Chloe was visiting us from England over the Christmas holiday. As Chloe was an aspiring singer/songwriter, we decided to check the local classifieds for a free piano that we could lug home before Chloe arrived. We found one in nearby Idaho, and set off across the mountains and fetched it home (a little Montana lingo there).

Within a few days of her arrival, Chloe had already written a new song…and I had an idea.

We dragged the old upright piano back out of the house, onto the trailer bed and parked the whole thing in the front yard (in the middle of ten acres of wilderness). We were due for a big snow storm that night so I instructed everyone to gather up some pine boughs from the surrounding forest of trees and place them around the wheel wells and hitch of the trailer.  Then we draped some heavy-duty plastic over the trailer bed and anchored the ends in the existing snow to create a sloped surface from the edge of the flat trailer bed. Finally, we tarped the piano and called it a night.

The next day we awoke to 8 inches of fallen snow. The trailer was completely hidden under a thick blanket of snow. The piano appeared to be sitting on a small treed mound outside in the Montana wilderness.

That day Chloe bundled up and rehearsed the song at the piano under sunny blue skies in the crisp, dry sub-zero temperatures of our Montana Winter wonderland.

As usual and expected, some of the local deer came around during the day, this time to find a strange contraption in the front yard and a strange blonde girl making noises with it. They were intrigued and proceeded to nonchalantly forage for greenery in close proximity to the rehearsal, occasionally stopping to look and listen to the music—or to stare at Chloe, who knows?

And, of course, from a discreet distance (but closer than you might think) I quietly shot footage of the deer with Chloe in the background who was sometimes playing and sometimes turned on her bench trying to commune with her unusual audience.

That night another snow storm was due and we set my plan into play.

I set up a couple of discreet spotlights so that once night fell, the surrounding forest would be slightly discernible in what would otherwise have been a pitch black background. We covered the piano with candles which were to be the primary source of light at the piano. Then we ran an electrical cord out to the piano and plugged in a small electric heater under the bench.

Later that night as it started to snow, Chloe bundled up again and with one camera on a tripod operated by our neighbor and another handheld by myself, I shot Chloe’s first  “public performance” of “Close to You” in the middle of a snowstorm.

The next day I edited it intercutting some of the day rehearsal shots of the deer “audience” and wound up with a very unique and magical music video indeed.

A few weeks later we had some guests over to dinner. Naturally Laury had me show them the video, so I started it for them and left the room. I came back toward the end of the song just in time to overhear one of them say “…Video Whisperer” I have no idea what the rest of the context was. That’s all I heard. And I thought to myself, “That’s it! Perfect!”.  I immediately logged onto my computer to see if anyone had that domain name. No one did. So I bought it and everything related.

And that’s where the name “Video Whisperer” comes from.

Now, why tell this story here?

I came from the school of thought that camerawork should be “invisible”. In other words, the camera has a job do to and that job, that purpose, that mission, that contract, is to direct people’s attention into the story being told; to engage the audience’s attention and emotions with the greatest possible impact or clarity.  You can get away with “fancy camerawork” (cranes, dollies, hand-held, etc.), but the moment you do it to call attention to your own camera skills, the moment you’ve distracted the audience into the technique that’s being employed in the story-telling, is the moment you’ve violated that contract.

There is a reason for any type of camera composition, still or moving, and indeed there is a purpose to composition—still or moving—in the first place; it all has to do with forwarding a message and directing the audience’s attention to that message with emotional impact. Veteran professional cameramen do this intuitively. To the film making professionals, the camera (or lighting, sound, sets, props, actors, costumes, makeup, directing, editing, script writing, special effects, sound recording and music) are all tools that are used together for that purpose alone. And to the degree that all these departments align to that purpose, there is a potential for a great film.

On the other hand you have those who do “fancy” camerawork for the sake of fancy camerawork. They shout “look at me!”. And when someone does that at a party, if you’re a charitable person you satisfy their narcissistic vanity out of politeness, or you quietly leave the room.

In my humble opinion, you’ll find that a whisper can be far more powerful than a shout.

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10 responses

  1. Sound, can make or break you on any shoot. I do one man docs in the 3rd world and ruining and gunning is my standard fare. You have to shoot fast because the moment is often gone by the time you can set up. I use a shot gun mic, Rode, as standard equipment for my standard camera set up. I do have a wireless mic if I am doing an interview, but for this especial moments of reaction the shot gun mic makes a world of difference in the quality of the audio. As lon I can get within 7-9 feet of my subject the shot gun mic allow me to minimize off axis sound and capture the essential audio that captures the emotion of the scene.

    As a side note, your chapter 10 on interviews contain pearls of wisdom. Ok enough said where do I order Run and Gun?

    Be good
    Dr RJ

    Like

    • Thanks RJ, Which Rode shotgun do you use (model number)? Are you using it primarily camera mounted or hand/boom mounted?
      As to the book, well surely you’ll be able to order it right here and that will probably be a link to Amazon. It will be a Kindle book which I believe gives the option of ordering hardback (print on demand).
      I’m supposed to be working on the interior photos this week but something else is getting in the way! But will publish another chapter here on the blog shortly (waiting on the client to provide a URL for the end of the video I’ll be using as a sample)

      Like

  2. When I initially commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get several emails with the
    same comment. Is there any way you can remove me from that service?

    Bless you!

    Like

    • I’m sorry that’s happened, but I have no way to control it from my blog dashboard. I assume you have “subscribed”. Maybe try “unsubscribing” and then re-subscribing again, but thereafter don’t check that “notify me” box!

      Like

    • Thanks for the vote of confidence Rod. One thing I’m sure of–there won’t be another one like this out there. I’m about 13,000 words in now but it’s easy reading and cuts through the crap. Probably won’t finish it till June as I’m about to go off for a few weeks.

      Like

    • Just about any radio mic set-up will work. I had an Azden (low cost and worked well) with a Rode lapel mic (great mic). Recently got a used Sony wireless system, much more powerful with a lot of control over frequency, better range, etc., but the Sony mic (like the Sennheisers) seem to be designed to go under clothes because their rather “bright” (missing the warm low end). I’m not an audio pro, but I am familiar with the idea that hidden lapel mics are designed to record through fabric. That’s more critical for the movie industry than corporate shooting where judiciously placed microphones are not considered objectionable these days in what is obviously an interview situation. In that case, the Rode is a way better mic to use with whatever radio transmitter/receiver system you use. It’s a matter of getting the right adapters from microphone to transmitter. Countryman also has a great lapel. Neither are cheap, but you have to pay the price to get good quality sound. I have to EQ my current Sony mic to get it sounding good, but I really do prefer the Rode as it needs far less work in the final mix. Oh, by the way, I also got with my current Sony wireless system a transmitter that can be plugged into my Audio Technica 8031 carded “reporters mic”. That’s the mic you use in high ambient sound situations. Haven’t used it yet, but the ability for it to be wireless is a great asset for run ‘n gun.

      Like

    • Unfortunately, I only have a poor copy of the video uploaded in the days when the correct format for upload to YouTube was best understood by either Geeks or Gods and have long since lost the original files edited on FCP Express! But I do appreciate the vote of confidence.

      Like

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