Would You Like to Make Home Movies?
By “Awake!” correspondent in Germany
SOME time ago we were invited to the home of our friends the Millers for an evening. Their little girl Tina welcomed us with her childish charm. “This evening we’re going to see a movie,” she said. “I’m in it too! Daddy made it all by himself.”
We were eager to see the film. When it finally came it was colorful, yes, very colorful. At first we thought it was modern art—a lot of colorful spots swiftly whisked by on the screen. “That was our convention a couple of weeks ago,” Heinz Miller explained. Without his explanation, we would never have known.
Then it got quite dark on the screen; no one was sure what had happened. “Too bad,” Heinz said. “It was already late in the evening when I took that picture of grandma.” No one recognized her.
But, then, on the screen appeared Tina’s charming smile, clear and big as life. “That’s me,” she cried. The explanation was not necessary, for it was Tina as she is—a good picture. Then other people were seen in the garden. But before one could identify them, the next scene appeared. Scenes flashed back and forth, up and down; at times one nearly got seasick. Every once in a while a dog could be seen. Aha, that was a game in the garden—a wild chase! So it went for three minutes and seventeen seconds. The first reel was finished. Everyone applauded and agreed that the start of anything is always difficult.
Does that sound familiar? More than one person has seen such home movies or made them himself. As someone once expressed it: “I don’t admire his ability but his courage to show such a film.”
But, then, this should not be taken too seriously. One has to learn so as to avoid mistakes. There is no need to throw away that first film. It is a nice souvenir and a means for measuring any future improvement.
What does it take to get fine pictures? If the camera’s lens and mechanism are good, an experienced photographer can make better movies with a cheap camera than a beginner with the best and most expensive equipment. For good movies, then, it is necessary to improve one’s abilities. It is useless to try substituting lack of know-how with better equipment.
How to Avoid Blurred Pictures
One thing to avoid is blurred pictures. Doubtless you know that jiggling a camera when taking snapshots results in fuzzy, blurred pictures. If the camera is not held still when filming, the pictures also are jiggled. With a movie camera, eighteen pictures are taken in one second, so that in five seconds of jiggling you have ninety blurred pictures. Hence, the camera must be kept dead still. Do not try to substitute lack of motion in front of the camera with camera movement. With some exceptions, this is a basic rule.
Another thing that must be watched is the time allowed for exposure. Time plays a more important role when filming than when just taking one picture. Our mind requires time to register conscious impressions. When pressing the shutter release button, think primarily about your prospective audience, not how much film you are using (beginners always want to save). Consider how much time is needed to comprehend the scene. This depends on what there is to see or what is happening. The simplest rule is: When there is much to see, or much action, the scene has to be longer. If there is little to see and not much movement, the scene must be shorter. Yes, it must be. Otherwise it will be boring.
Two to twelve seconds of exposure may be sufficient. When you press your shutter release, count the seconds—twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three, and so forth. (If you are filming a text, read it through twice while filming; that is sufficient.) Never make the scene too short. If it is a little too long, it can always be shortened when you are editing or cutting the film.
You should also keep in mind that your eye and the camera’s eye are very different. The camera’s eye is only a poor imitation of the human eye. Therefore, do not expect to see on the screen what your eye saw. The human eye can also adjust to and register much greater contrasts in light than can the camera. When it is still light enough for the eye, it may well be much too dark for the camera. Then, again, in snow and brilliant sunlight it can be much too bright for the camera. When it comes to great contrasts, the camera has limits. For example, the shade of a tree on a sandy beach will give the camera trouble. The fully automatic exposure in most cameras only adapts to an average value. This means that on the screen the sand may either be too light or the shadow too dark. Since the film cannot register both correctly at the same time, one has to decide which is more important for the scene.
At times the human eye has difficulty adjusting from bright sunlight to shade. It takes time for the eye to get accustomed to a change. The light meter of a camera also needs time to adjust to a change in lighting conditions. So, if you want to film scenes wherein there is great contrast, give your light meter time to adjust. Otherwise, part of your film will be either overexposed or underexposed. Sometimes it is good to make manual adjustments, if that is possible.
Have you ever wondered why your pictures are sometimes very yellow or blue, although all conditions are normal? The human eye works in cooperation with the brain. Like a computer, the brain compares the impressions it receives with experience and makes the necessary corrections. This the camera cannot do. Therefore, if you use a film that is made for artificial light and you take pictures in the sunlight, the scenes will be quite blue. A film for daylight would appear yellow when you are filming in artificial light. If you use film for artificial light when filming in the daylight, you will need to use a filter. Of course, this filter has to be removed when you are filming indoors.
If you want to get closer to your object than the distance your lens will allow, you will have to put “glasses” on your camera or the picture will not be sharp. With most cameras the distance has to be set manually. If the camera has a zoom lens and a built-in range finder, one always has to use the greatest focal length for setting.
Doubtless you have noticed that some people always have clear pictures. The explanation is very simple. They always throw the blurred, overexposed, underexposed or otherwise ruined pictures into the wastebasket.
Despite your best efforts, doubtless you will make mistakes, even if it is only pushing on the shutter release without realizing it. For this reason, if you desire to show quality films, a splicer and a film viewer are essential. Overexposed spots and the like can simply be cut out.
Editing film for a showing also includes arranging it as desired and then splicing it to match the theme or the setting that you choose. A “scene arranger” can be made very easily. Take a small strip of lath and, about every inch or so, drive a thin nail into it. By means of the perforations, you can hang film on these and number the nails. With the aid of the numbers and a short note regarding a particular scene’s contents, you can easily sort and arrange the film strips into logical sequence.
This is also a help in shortening scenes that are too long and in determining whether scenes have to be filmed. To determine the length of the individual scenes, make yourself a ruler. Just a piece of lath will do. Then take eighteen pictures from a piece you are throwing away and mark the length of your straightedge accordingly. Eighteen frames being the number of pictures taken in one second, you now have a means of determining the length of a scene in seconds. This does not cost anything and can be a big help.
A projector is, of course, a vital part of movie equipment. It should be durable, should give enough light and should not scratch the film. Also, a quiet machine is desirable, as this type makes it easier for any comments or musical accompaniment to be heard during a showing. Moreover, it is good to have at least one, or better still, two extra bulbs on hand. Often a good showing must be discontinued because no extra bulbs are available.
A Hobby to Be Controlled
Filming can be a very instructive hobby and very interesting, but only if it remains a hobby. Do not let it become your second vocation and a burden that crowds out more important things. In its place, filming can enrich one’s life and train the eye to be more observant. It can also be a fine means of letting one’s friends enjoy delightful scenes.
We anxiously await the next movie at the Millers. Will there be any improvement?