By Scott Jacobs

perspectiveAt the Medill Street block party last month, one of the mothers innocently asked my wife why her husband was lying belly down in the middle of the street shooting the parade of children with his video camcorder.

“Perspective is everything,” she replied. It is, alas, oh so true -–– especially when it comes to the delicate art of making home movies.

I am not the only father on the block with a camcorder. When the balloons come out and the fire truck shows up, they pop up like mushrooms after a rain. Because I have a second career making professional videos, however, the fathers often ask me for tips on home moviemaking. My advice invariably comes down to a simple premise: shorter is better.

Endless Opportunities

That, of course, doesn’t dissuade the avid parent from recording endless hours of their child’s achievements. Year by year, Christmas by Christmas, vacation by vacation, graduation upon graduation starting in kindergarten and up through 1st, 2nd, and the all-important 8th grade ceremonies. I don’t want to think how many of these precious moments now sit (unedited) on closet shelves waiting for that day when said child must clean it out after dad’s funeral.

I have a friend who has been recording his daughter on Hi8 videotape since she was born in 1992. Last year for her Sweet Sixteen party he spent months editing the 400 hours down to 10 minutes––and aged ten years in the process. Not only did he have to hunt down a playback machine for the now-defunct format but he had to confront all the memories he left on the cutting room floor.

My own approach to home movies is to throw away as much of the crap as fast as you can. With the easy availability of digital editing on most computers, there’s no excuse not to. (Except, of course, time. But you should have thought of that before you embarked on your career as the Francis Ford Coppola of the family.)

Remember When

Home movies have come a long way since the day of Bell & Howell. My father had one of their early 16mm box cameras with floodlights that sprouted like antlers on top for night shooting. With time measured in feet––small 100-foot film reels yielded about three minutes of memories––he brandished it at every family occasion, but shot sparingly.

50's familyHe would then drop off the film at the camera store for processing. A week or so later, he would pull out the projector so we could sit around the living room (or rec room, as the case may be) to see what came out.

In this fashion, I watched my life in the Fifties flash by ten seconds at a time. A toddler walks to church in a silly hat, spins around in an airplane ride at a carnival, shakes hands with Hank Aaron at spring training, and, soon enough, is sticking straws up his nose at his sixth birthday.

The perspective I have on my early childhood––that it was short, pleasant and not altogether dignified––is shaped by the technology available to record it.

The Seventies

When video camcorders came on the scene, that technological change had an equally significant impact on our perspective. VHS tapes were 60 minutes long, cheap as dirt, and included the sound of events as well as the pictures (not that you could hear anything above the din.)

Children  of that era may well look back at their own home movies and conclude their youth was long, tedious, and just as undignified. The camera catches everything. As I watch the videotapes I recorded at the time, I’m struck by how often I chose as the cameraman to hit the record button and wait for something to happen. I’m also struck by how infrequently I do watch those tapes. Without editing, an hour of my son’s soccer game can be a painful experience.

Sift and Winnow

Five years ago, when digital video editing became an easy adjunct to home computer software, the paradigm shifted again. Whether you are burning DVD’s for the archive or grabbing a clip to email grandma, the important thing isn’t what you record but how you put it together. What you include. What you leave out.

If you take it one step further, you can add music to set a tone, use quick cuts or special effects to change the pace of events (or provide pacing where none was really there) so your home movies are what you intended them to be. The decisions you make in editing become more telling of your moviemaker perspective than where the camera is pointed.

The Medill Block Party

To underscore that point, I offer here my three-minute version of The Medill Street Block Party I recorded last month.

YouTube Preview Image

I can do this because of the ubiquity of YouTube, another game-changing technology that influences our perspective.

I made a variety of choices in putting this video together. First, of course, was the inclusion of my son. Second, was finding close-ups of other kids in the neighborhood so posterity would have a snapshot of where each was at this point in time. And I used three songs – Hot Fun in the Summer Time by Manhattan Transfer, The Mighty Worm by Ralph Covert and the St. Louis Blues March by the Glenn Miller Orchestra for a little punctuation.

The other parents on the block seem happy enough with the result.  But here’s the rub. This is just my perspective. So I’m also including HERE the full 34 minutes of raw tape in the hope that others will download and edit their own version of the block party – and prove my point. Maybe my perspective is right. Maybe it is wrong. We all see life a little differently.

A Week Behind Contest

Yes, we’re going to have our first Edit-It-Yourself video contest at The Week Behind. The rules are that there are no rules. The raw footage is provided in a small .mp4 file format that shouldn’t take more than a few minutes to download, but it will open up into a passable video in any of the standard computer editing programs (iMovie, Adobe Premiere, Final Cut or Sony Vegas.)

Pick your own music. Pick your own shots. (I don’t care if my son is included.) Get creative. But remember, shorter is better.

There’s a prize for anyone who enters. And the best entries will appear in Week Behinds to come.

Have at it. Perspective is everything.

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