I used a wildly moving camera in this video I did some time back for the state of Tennessee tobacco regulation division. It seemed the best way to take a fairly mundane B-roll situation and transform it into a somewhat dramatic and fun-to-watch video presentation. This technique is usually used to convey a sense of chaos with what is happening in the movie.
The audience for this video was employees of all establishments selling cigarettes. They had to watch this video during training. It was state law! Yes, I had a captured audience but I tried to please them anyway. Poor things. You know they are probably bored to tears and wishing they’d win the lottery so they could quit this thing called working for a living.
Honestly, our mission was to guilt them into not wanting to sell cigarettes to kids. The state knew they had no real enforcement power (or the budget to bother to enforce) so they wanted to encourage them to do the right thing rather than come across as a threatening body eager to harshly enforce rules.
So we had quite a story to tell. How to tell it? Right or wrong, this is what I came up with. I decided to break the rules of video making to encourage other to keep the rules of cigarette sales to minors.
Generally speaking, the “rules” of video making say keep your camera rock-solid steady and ALWAYS shoot off a tripod. Yeah, yeah, I agree. To a point.
One of the joys of video making is that it’s a golden opportunity to break rules and not get in trouble. And not just because the state has no budget to enforce. 🙂
When it is done right, which means it is planned, controlled chaos not random, erratic chaos, a wildly moving camera can enhance your final video. Usually, a wildly moving camera is the obvious mark of a rank amateur. That is nearly universal. When people first get their hands on a video camera they pan, tilt and zoom like crazy. The resulting video is so horrible it actually induce sea sickness.
I jokingly call that “earthquake video.” I refer to the style used in the tobacco video as “Spastic cam” and it’s not the same as earthquake video. Again, the difference goes back to the degree of movement, how wild it is, how controlled it is.
Now, my slang terms aside, earthquake video is to be avoided at all costs. (Unless there really is an earthquake going on.)
Spastic cam should be reserved for appropriate instances, but I think it’s a great technique when used properly. It adds an element of excitement, urgency, chaos, panic, however you want to name it.
Good Spastic Cam is actually quite controlled. The camera moves but not that much really.
For this project, I thought spastic cam video helped make our smokers look BAD. I wanted them to look wanton, careless and thuggish. Of course this video was staged. They were smoking clove cigarettes because they were not actual smokers.
In addition to the moving camera I made the video black and white and gave it a staccato effect. I thought both of these effects enhanced the moving camera technique and added to the mood. In contrast, I made the graphics on top of the B&W shots highly color saturated.
To transition out of the spastic cam, you’ll notice at the very end of what I posted here, I finish off the sequence with the male character flicking his cigarette butt onto the ground. This is a natural ending to the action of smoking. Always be conscious of the order of real events when editing your sequences. Always think beginning/middle/end, even with your sequences.
Visual storytelling relies on editing shots in an order that is logical. In this case, the beginning shots were buying the smokes. Ending shot was an abandoned butt. If you are trying to end your video (or that portion of the video) end your sequence.
After the wide shot of him tossing his trash, I cut to a rock-solid shot of the cigarette butt flying into the shot from the correct angle to match the wide shot and landing on the ground. Needless to say, this took several takes in order to get the butt to land just right in the shot.
Then, I dissolved into the same shot without the black and white. From this point on, most of the rest of the video was shot in a standard way off a tripod. I cut that part out before I posted it here, but it was mostly interviews and graphics. The boring stuff!
Of course to make the transition look right, the ciggie butt shot had to be extremely steady. I bet we flicked that thing a million times to get it to land in the right spot! This was a case where I set up a nice-looking close-up shot on the ground, then had him throw the butt over and over until it landed just right. The rocks, beer bottle tops, and other junk you see was there to begin with, but I placed them attractively within the frame.
Yes, I do those kind of things. I position trash JUST SO in order to make the shot look right. I find that fun and it definitely makes the shots look better.
As you learn to make video, study different styles. Spastic cam technique is one of many ways you can add visual, unspoken elements to your video that affects the viewer on a gut level. I never said these characters were bad people but I sure implied it with my production techniques.
Just like mood lighting, mood music, sound effects and other storytelling elements, a moving camera “says” something to your viewer and is one of the many tools you have as a video maker.
I hope you enjoy watching my old videos. I certainly had fun making them. This particular one was actually quite a gas.
Keep making video!