Parental Advisory

Parental Advisory: Becoming Videographer Dad

One reality that you’ll have to deal with as a father (good job…completely alienate female readership in the first sentence…ladies, you might find yourself in this role, so read up) is that, once that baby becomes mobile and starts doing cooler things than sleeping, crying and farting noises (see first month), your new duty in addition to your others, is A/V.

If you don’t have a filming device (called a camcorder or video camera), get one. It doesn’t have to be the fanciest, but make sure it’s a little smaller than this.

Also, keep it digi. The revolution is taking over and anything you put on tape will inevitably have to be transferred. Might as well go ahead and start out digitally so look for a camcorder that doesn’t rely on tapes and analog storage.

The reason why I suggest going digital is simple and is my first piece of advice as your new family’s cameraman and that is this:

TAKE TONS OF VIDEO

You never want to be short on footage. I know some things might seem stupid to video at first, but you never know when you’re gonna capture gold. Sorting, copying and deleting those videos that you know you’ll never need is so much easier with digital files. But take tons of footage. You might think you’re just filming her playing with her toys until one day she says “mama” for the first time or you just thought she was taking the same route around the ottoman and then she freaking stands on her own for the first time. It doesn’t have to be rolling all the time, but have it nearby. She’s at an age right now where it won’t embarrass the crap out of her. In fact, if she’s anything like Ellison, she actually turns on for the camera. You’re gonna be “that guy,” no doubt. Ask my lovely mother who we’ve termed “Nanarazzi” because of her rabid pursuit of the perfect shot. She’s aggressive and persistent, but it just means you have to work less. Nana always gets her shot and we love her for it. She’s a proud grandmother and a big game hunter. She doesn’t sleep until she gets that shot. You don’t get a second chance to get those shots with a growing baby so make sure you get them while you can.

Love you, mom.

MAKE YOUR VIDEOS SHORT

Quantity is the name of the game. Don’t take fifteen minute videos. They can hardly be edited. Stick to short minute-and-a-half videos. It makes it a little more difficult to sort through once they’re on your PC, but better than sifting through a fifteen minute video looking for that one second of usable video. You’re not in the long-form documentary division. Know when to kill the shot and cut it off. For Ellison in the early going, the easiest queue to shut down the shot was when she tore off into a colicky fit, basically ruining any footage after that point. When she started throwing punches, you turned off the camera. Even now I regret not letting it roll during one of those tantrums just so you would believe how bad it was. Like documenting a pit bull attack or five cops beating a man senseless with nightsticks, some things you just have to film for the purpose of documenting it. But I can’t imagine my lovely wife’s reaction with Ellison screaming in her arms in the middle of a thirty-minute round of colic when I come in the room with the video camera. She would’ve whooped my ass. Like, seriously.

WATCH THE NARRATION

The best footage is the silent film, that is, the footage that doesn’t have you or a co-pilot telling the audience at home what your baby’s doing. It took some getting used to, but I realized that I’m not as funny as I thought I was when I listened to myself in the hours of video footage of Ellison. Don’t hum, don’t whisper, don’t sing or mumble. Just shut up and shoot. It’ll be hard at first because you’re compelled to describe everything the audience is seeing, but that’s the power of video. It’s not a radio broadcast. We don’t need the play-by-play. When you practice silence too, it means you’re less likely to ruin a shot when you stub a toe on the couch while chasing a crawling baby and almost belch out a four-letter obscenity over the footage. Silence. Observe it when the video’s rolling. I’ve also discovered that my voice on video is the same as it is on phone messages. I sound like a total doofus. Someone should’ve told me I sound like such a moron when I talk.

STEADY AS SHE GOES

If you’re new to the game, you will learn quickly that even the slightest movements with a small camera later to be played back on a wall-sized flatscreen will generate the most nauseating effect on your audience. Hold that thing steady. Learn how to perch your hand on something to level your shot and frame your subject. Going freehand allows for fluid movement through a household setting, but is usually the most jarring and dizzying experience on playback. Learn how to hover and move like a spirit through the living room. Walk lightly. Don’t jump. Glide. Smooth movements. You don’t want ten hours of baby footage that looks like you were in the process of getting mauled by a lion protecting her cubs. Learn how to go from your feet to your belly and back to your feet smoothly. This move comes is crazy handy as videographer. If you perfect this, you’ve inherited the keys to the kingdom.

KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR VIEWFINDER

The viewfinder is your friend. You don’t want to live in the viewfinder when you’re filming because you gotta watch your step as you navigate across challenging terrain, but when you’re eyes venture away from the viewfinder is when you often times will find yourself with two minutes of carpet. Aim high and watch the viewfinder. You can tell on playback who uses the viewfinder and “wings it.” You have to live somewhere in a toggle between the viewfinder and looking over the top of the camera.

USING YOUR FREEHAND

As a dad, you’re probably getting used to never having a free hand. One’s holding the baby while your other is finding your keys. One’s holding the baby while your other is mixing a bottle. When filming, one is videoing while the other is causing a distraction. One is videoing while the other is moving a beagle out of the shot. One is videoing while the other prying something from your baby’s mouth that she found on the floor and is now about to swallow. The great thing about today’s camcorders is that they can be operated with one hand whereas the old ones required two hands and a shoulder. Remember your freehand and use it often. The better you can use that freehand while shooting, the better your output.

GET DOWN ON IT

I’ll be the first to tell you that somedays, you’re just too tired to get in there with the videocamera. You just rather sit on the couch and take shots of the top of your baby’s head. I’m hear to tell you that you log more useless footage this way more than any other. Your best shot is when you get level with your baby. The hardest angle for a baby who has just learned how to sit upright is to then crank her head back and look up at her six-foot daddy. Don’t strain that poor baby’s neck and head. Get on your belly and get the ground-level shot. It’s easier on her and she’ll be more active. Plus, when you’re filming from your feet down to the floor, it has this weird predatorial POV like your stalking her.

Happy filming, fellas. Again, make sure you’re taking tons of footage. Right now, I’m cutting together a video for Ellison’s first birthday and there’s something to be said for having enough video to cut it down and put together an hour of gold. Admittedly, not all of it is gold, but there’s enough to keep an audience entertained. By the way, if you’re wondering why I haven’t been posting as often lately, that’s one reason. Just one reason. I still love you. I do.

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