(This will, hopefully, be the first in a daily shot-blog I’m able to hammer out during my lunch break.)
Several of my friends on Facebook recently posted a link to a short film made by spoken-word artist Jefferson Bethke titled “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus.” I initially didn’t watch the video because, quite honestly, my Facebook friends tend to post links to lots of “awesome, awe-inspiring, touching, moving, incredible, etc., etc.” things on YouTube which, sadly, prove to be anything but. Much to my surprise, though, Bethke’s video became something of a national sensation, sparking a debate amongst several Christian leaders as to whether he actually has a point in what he’s saying or if he is yet another in a long line of Christian hipsters knocking an institution he really doesn’t know that much about in the first place.
I have my own opinions on this, but that’s not what I’m concerned with here today. No, I’d like to write briefly about the filming techniques which are evident not only in this particular video, but also in virtually every short film or documentary produced in the past ten years. I may sound like an old codger here, but there are certain elements which have been used to point of absolute distraction. Here are a few I’ve noticed…
- Pick a color already. Shooting in color is great for certain things. Shooting in black-and-white is equally effective for others. A sepia tone can be a nice change of pace occasionally. Apparently, some folks believe using all three in every video they produce is a really great idea. I am not one of those folks.
- Invest in a tripod. I’d love to do some research on when the “shaky camera effect” was first used. I have to believe it was some sort of happy accident, such as when someone was shooting a nature documentary and suddenly had to flee from a family of angry bears, leaving their camera on in the process. I still find this technique appropriate in several instances (i.e. simulated earthquakes, battlefield sequences, Denzel Washington-Ridley Scott movies, etc., etc.), but not in cases where the subject being recorded is simply sitting still. I don’t know, maybe cameras are harder to hold still than I realize.
- Extreme close-up! Whoa! You’d think Mike Meyers and Dana Carvey would have made this un-hip sometime during the 1990s. Apparently not…
- Watch as I ponder this … and walk around a lot. This is not so much an issue with Bethke’s video, but it has become a maddening feature of nearly every documentary I’ve watched in the past five years. Inevitably, there is at least one shot of the filmmaker (or host) of the documentary pouring over mounds of research in a dimly-lit room, leaning back and removing their glasses (because all the hip, smart people wear glasses these days), and looking pensive and exhausted (Sometimes a forehead-rub is inserted for good measure.) or of the filmmaker just walking around, sometimes on their way to an actual appointment related to the video and sometimes simply wandering around looking pensive and exhausted. Hint: We know you think you’re smart. Show, don’t tell.
- Cameramen should be cameramen. Anyone else remember the days when if a camera operator somehow wound up in a shot it ruined the whole take? At some point, either the producers of videos felt bad that these guys (and girls) didn’t get enough credit for their work or video editors decided their camera-slingin’ buddies needed some face time, too, and suddenly we had to have an obligatory shot of someone actually filming the video being filmed. Again, I don’t know a whole lot about film-making, but I became aware at a fairly early age that there was, indeed, someone behind a camera recording what was going on. I’m not sure why I need to be reminded of that now.
I’m sure all my audio/video expert friends will ridicule me for my opinions here, they should keep in mind I was only a lowly English major … which explains why they’re making so much more money than I am these days.