Saturday, April 21, 2012

My big break

Forgive me for boring you all to tears with this, but it’s a pretty exciting time for me at the moment. For those of you who haven’t been following my tweets, YouTube videos and Google+ posts (and if you haven’t, why haven’t you?), the basic facts are these: The (Catholic) Parish Church in Seligenstadt is, this year, celebrating the 200th anniversay of its move from its original church to the monastery church, and have been celebrating all year. As well as a special wine, a book and a whole range of festivities, exhibitions and so on, one of the highlights is going to be a showing of two short films in the local cinema: an old black-and-white 16mm movie from the 1940s or thereabouts, followed by a more recent video filmed and edited by yours truly.

Yes, I have been making a film which is to have its screen debut in a real cinema. People will be watching it having bought tickets and probably even popcorn, and I don’t mind telling you I am a little nervous. Apparently, the €5 ticket includes entry to a small reception afterwards, although since this will be midweek (Wednesday 25th April, to be exact), I assume it will be a fairly subdued affair. Mostly, though, I’m nervous because obviously I’m not a professional and the video is a bit rough around the edges here and there. I keep finding horrible mistakes.

Still, the people who count were pleased with the rough cut. I was even more pleased when we tested it at the cinema, just to make sure the technology was working correctly, and I have to say it looks surprisingly good on the big screen. And it sounds fantastic through the professional sound system. Not Hollywood by any means, but a lot better than I could have reasonably expected.

Given a bit more time to film, a slightly steadier hand, better lighting conditions, and maybe one or two assistants with reflectors and such, I could have turned in something looking almost professional. This isn’t a boast: this is by way of encouraging other people to try their hand, because the equipment I’m using is by no means state-of-the-art or even particularly expensive. In fact, let me make a little list:

  • Camcorder, admittedly near the top of the consumer range, but still a bargain at about €1000;
  • Shotgun microphone, €100;
  • Cheap lapel microphone, about €10 (I bought it so long ago, I really can’t remember);
  • Tripod, €50;
  • Video editing software, €100.
I would really love a better tripod that will allow me to pan smoothly (mine doesn’t) and a semi-pro camera of the sort that you carry on your shoulder, but I don’t have €10,000 lying around so that’s not going to happen just yet.

And yet I have successfully created something I feel justified in asking money for. Pretty good going for an outlay of less than €1300 and no formal training of any kind. And I daresay that with a much cheaper camera, it should be possible — just a bit harder — to create something not too shabby: you just have to understand your camera’s limitations and find ways of overcoming them.

And to be honest, I do sometimes wonder why people feel the need to spend serious money on expensive video editing software like Sony Vegas or Adobe Premiere. If, like me, you’re an amateur, you don’t need all the random whistles and bells that come with it. What you need — at least, what I need — is multiple tracks (I have 99, I have only ever used about ten), an intuitive user interface, and tools to tweak the image for those occasions when a reflector was necessary but not available (I have learned to love the way I can lighten shadows without affecting the rest of the image too much, although there is a limit to what you can get away with before it starts to look artificial).

So, in conclusion: You can’t tell me that the reason you’re not making videos is because you can’t afford to buy lots of expensive things.


  1. Which video editing software would you recommend? I don't want to spend much more than the 100€ you mention above.

    At the Moment I only have imovie... I had an old 40€-version of Vegas, but is doesn't work on the Mac and can't render HD.


  2. Well, I don't have any experience of Mac software, but iMovie should be able to do quite a lot. You would have to spend at least €60-€100 to get something better, in my estimation.

    But you can produce some great videos with the very simplest of software. Content, as they say, is king. What do you really need? Simple cuts, cross-fades, a second sound track, and titles. If the content is good enough, you hardly need much more than that.