Ever since I bought my first camcorder, I haven’t been able to resist the temptation to create my own video productions. Sometimes I even star in them. I admit I’m quite a ham and since the apple never falls far from the tree, my two children are as well.
And so began what has become a collection of home produced videos and DVD’s. Whether they were based on my kids ideas or my own, I can tell you with all honesty we had a blast making them and laugh our behinds off watching and re-watching them. Now that they are grown, it’s become a tradition of sorts to re-watch our favorites. It my hope that this article will help you to avoid the mistakes we’ve made and learn what works so that you too can immortalize your families creativity and joy and have a tangible lasting memory for generations to come.
Before you start, you must decide what your video will be about. This is sometimes best done by one person as too many hands at this stage may spoil your production. I’ve found that younger children (ages 7 and below) do better re-enacting well known children’s stories or fairy tale. Some ideas that we’ve used in our productions are:
The Three Bears
Little Red Riding Hood
The Boy Who Cried Wolf
Jack and Jill
The Three Little Pigs
I’ve found stories that have more parts to play can be more fun as it allows everyone to get in on the action. If you have only a few players, then it allows them to show case their talents by playing more than one part, ala Mike Myers style as in the Austin Powers series.
I have never found it necessary to purchase any props or costumes for our video’s as our motto is “Make do with what you have”. Necessity is the mother of invention and we’ve come up with some hilarious costumes from using items around the house.
Outline your story. I’ve always started my production with a skeleton script as we have more fun when we ad-lib. It is much more spontaneous and usually much funnier than anything you can script. But in order for you the director to be able to make sense of your story you must have a clear beginning, middle and end. A sample story might look like this:
Part 1: We meet the three bears as they sit down to porridge. Papa says its too hot, mama agrees and baby cries when he/she burns his tongue. Mama suggests a walk in the woods. Papa and baby agree and they leave.
Part 2: Goldilocks enters and tries all three ( “too hot, too cold, just right”) Eats all of baby bears porridge and then moves to their chairs (“too hard, too soft, just right”) and breaks baby chair. Then goes to the bedrooms: ( Too hard, too soft just right and falls asleep)
Part 3 The bears return. Papa notices someones been eating his porridge. Momma notices. Baby wails because he/she has none.
They go to sit. Papa thinks someones been sitting in his chair. Momma agrees. Baby’s upset to find his broken.
They go to bed, again, papa and mama suspect, but baby finds Goldilocks sleeping in his bed and wakes her up. Gold sees the bear and screams and runs out of the house.
As the director, it’s your job to review with everyone what they are supposed to do, but you can let them speak with their own words. If a small child is lost for words, you can certainly tell them what to say, but an older child will probably prefer to figure it out him/herself.
It is vital to remember the reasons you have chosen to make a video: For fun, laughter and joy. No one is allowed to take it too seriously to the point where arguments or fights take over. Create a mission statement up front so that everyone involved remembers your reasons for undertaking this project.
Preparation pays. Once you and your cast have decided what you’re story is, you must now become the casting director. Keep in mind that sometimes the obvious choice is not always best, especially for a funny video. Make a man into a woman or a child and let a child play an adult and it can be hilarious!
Next figure out where you’ll film each part, and make a note of that next to each in your outline. This is where you can get really creative and let your imagination run wild! Remember that your viewer will only see only what the camera can pick up, so you can manipulate your surroundings to get your desired result. Once, when we made a spoof of the Blair Witch project, we needed to film a night time scene (where the heroine is shining a flashlight on her face and crying) and it was full day light out. We chose a dark spot in the garage, and inside of our little baby tent, filmed a very realistic night tent scene.
Costumes and makeup are pretty easy. I’ve never felt the need to dress in bear costumes when we’ve done the three bears. We just dressed the way we thought a mama papa and and baby bear might dress. Certainly an apron and cap for mama would work, but if you don’t have them, she can dress like a modern day mama too. It’s always great to have wigs and such available, but in the absence of them, scarves and hats do the trick just as well. You can pick up just about anything you’d need at a thrift store if you wanted, but again, I’m not a believer that having the right outfit is all that important.
When you’re turning a boy into a girl or vice versa make up is important. For the guys, a hefty dose of blush on and lipstick do the trick while a girl will need a painted on mustache. You can do this with eye brow pencil or mascara. Anything dark that will show up for the camera. You’ll want to apply it a little heavier for the camera than you would for real life. I’ve also used eyebrow pencil to blacken some teeth to look like a toothless person on camera. You have to dry the tooth well and then color it in with black eyebrow pencil. I’ve used burned corks to draw on beards and that works well too.
We used a female lubricant called “Astro-Glide” as artificial tears when we filmed the spoof on the Blair witch project. The actress said it tasted gross but it looked so realistic on film!
Finally, you’re ready to shoot. As director, it’s your job to make certain everyone knows what they are supposed to do and say. I always like to make sure little ones know and I’ll ask just before we start filming. It gives them a chance to ask questions and if you ask them to repeat back to you what they are supposed to say and do, you’ll see what might need correction. You also need to review with the actors hand signals for ending the scene. I always like the slash to the neck signal but you can use whatever you want, as long as all or your actors know what that is. It’s also important for all the players to know what signals the end of a scene. It could be a word or a phrase or an action. (ie an actor gets up an leaves)
I find it easier to film my stories in sequence, but if that is not possible you can always edit it later. You also want to be sure whoever is filming knows what they are doing. I once let my son be the camera man when he was about ten years old and we got great footage of the ceiling and everyone’s feet. We kept it because we laugh really hard when we watch it, but for a good quality video you want either a teenager or an adult doing the filming. I always found it good to film and direct. Ultimately, you have the most control because if you don’t like what is going on, you can stop the film and rewind and re-film the entire scene.
There is no reason why you can’t follow the action from room to room indoors, or through the woods and meadows outdoors. We’ve done both. In the Three bears we followed Goldilocks from kitchen to den to bedrooms. In the Blair Witch we followed our actors through the woods and actually used only a small section of woods by walking in a circle, but the audience doesn’t know this.
Your crew might bug you to see the video after each segment, but I would make them wait. Make a big bowl of popcorn and have a formal ‘premier’ of your video, including friends and family who haven’t been a part of it. Then sit back and watch the look of pride come over your children s face when they see themselves on film. It is truly priceless!
After you view it once you’ll see what needs to be taken out or improved on. As I said, I’m no perfectionist, but I have on occasion seen the need to go back and do another take on a scene or two.
I’ve also taken to making a title page which is usually hand drawn on a piece of paper along with the credits and film that.
We’ve also been having a “cast call” at the end of the video so everyone who had a part in it can take a bow and ham it up.
Good luck with your first production and may the Schwartz be with you!