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.
Run ’N Gun Videography
The Lone Shooter’s Survival Guide
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.