My most recent skill-enhancing class, Digital Devices, was easy because the instructor was encouraging and personable, there were great classmates, and valuable supplemental information was freely shared. We learned a truncated method of making short movies, how to use Audacity for audio editing, how to use VideoPad for video editing, and how to storyboard our movies.

I was already familiar with much of the material, particularly making short movies, so I was able to grasp and retain the information. There was still material to absorb and experience to gain, so I treated the class as if it was the most important assignment on my agenda: I gave it my all.

Take-away Points for Audio:

  • A good microphone is the first investment you should make. Remember: sound is fully half your movie. Make sure your viewer’s experience isn’t compromised with poor quality audio.
  • Music (and ambient or thematic sound) in movies can create a mood, be a cue, cover mistakes, or trigger an emotion. It’s important to use moderation when adding music, or risk cacophony.

Take-away Points for Shooting:

  • The second investment for filmmaking should be some kind of stabilizer. Shaky, erratic shots look amateurish, at least, and unprofessional, at best. Stabilizers can improve an otherwise awful movie and make it more watchable than if it was not stabilized.

Take-away Points for Storytelling as revealed by Scott Simon, Journalist at NPR):

  • Stories should have a point (who died, what did the bombing look like, what was the reason for the event…give the viewer something to repeat to others).
  • Stories should be told in short, breathable sections (that creates a rhythm). It’s better to give the viewer digestible chunks instead of force-feeding them.
  • Be conversational. Use everyday words and only resort to academic words when absolutely necessary, like to define a topic or issue.
  • Make sure there’s something to hook the viewer. You don’t always need a story reversal, you just need something to hook the audience.

The goal of the class was to encourage us to use (and rely on) the equipment we have and to maximize the equipment’s potential. In summary:

There’s no sense in having gear-envy and letting opportunities to create usable and salable art pass you by—the 5D Mark III may or may not arrive fast enough for you to start and finish your next short, so use what you have.

Use the iPad, if that’s what’s available. Use your Android smart phone. Purchase an inexpensive LED light and lavalier microphone, if need be. Do whatever is necessary to make your equipment as robust as possible so you can create art now.

Here’s our class assignment that illustrates the “use what you have” concept. I’ve provided both YouTube and Vimeo links. The resources for this video were recorded on an iPhone. We edited the audio in Audacity, then edited the video and other resources in VideoPad. (Footage copyright Skyelar MacLeod.)