When I decided to pursue a career in magazine editing, little did I know that it would someday entail having to have a discussion about what color shirt shows up best on video, and I never would have guessed that a slow-moving teleprompter could make me want to scream. But such is my life these days.
Like most every company in the known universe, REPTILES has an online presence (no duh!) and ReptileChannel has provided some exciting new opportunities in the video arena. I’m not sure how I came to be the go-to person when it comes to appearing on camera – I seem to recall part of the reason was that no one else really wanted to do it, and I suppose I’ve got some ham in me – but whatever the reason, I’ve now appeared in five videos, three of which can currently be viewed here on ReptileChannel.
The first video we produced was our Tortoise Feeding and Nutrition video (seen below), in which I appeared to provide details about healthy foods for pet tortoises. For that one, Associate Web Editor Ben Weiner and I embarked on a grueling, treacherous journey in order to film on location. This pretty much amounted to driving to a nursery located 10 minutes away, around the corner from the office, where Ben filmed some footage of different types of grasses. We also paid a visit to a nearby feed and tack store to buy some hay, and a grocery store to buy veggies. The hay and produce were brought back to the office to be filmed in our studio here. While at the grocery store (it was a Ralph’s), I asked the manager if it would be OK for us to do some actual filming in their produce department. I had majestic visions of sweeping, panoramic shots of lush greens and glistening veggies, dappled with waterdrops from a fresh misting. But my suggestion went over like a lead balloon. Maybe the Ralph’s manager thought our “we’re shooting a video about feeding tortoises” reason for being there was really a front, and that what we were really attempting to do was procure footage proving that Ralph’s sold sub-par fruits and vegetables. (Note to Ralph’s lawyers who may be reading this: Not that I’m trying to infer that Ralph’s actually does sell sub-par produce. I wouldn’t know. I limit my Ralph’s shopping to the frozen breakfast aisle.)
We brought the greens, hay and other props such as feeding bowls, etc., back to BowTie’s studio (BowTie being BowTie Inc., the publisher of REPTILES and many other pet magazines, including Dog Fancy and Cat Fancy), and later we had our first experience with actually filming in the studio. It was also my first experience with hot studio lights. To put it as delicate as I can, I “perspire freely” (e.g., sweat like a pig) under certain circumstances, and being subjected to bright studio lighting is one of those circumstances. But even though there was a fair amount of brow mopping in between takes, I think the video turned out quite well, and I’m proud of it. We even had some real live guest stars, a couple of active Russian tortoises that were happy to demonstrate the fine art of flower eating.
Since appearing in that first tortoise-feeding video, I did appear in a couple others that I’m not at liberty to discuss here. They are currently under wraps, guarded with a fierce intensity second only to that used with guarding the alien footage that was shot at Area 51 years ago. C’mon, you know it’s out there.
Next, we decided to do a sneak peek video (also seen below) in which I would tell people about the articles they could find in the latest issue of REPTILES magazine (it is NOT a commercial; it’s a SNEAK PEEK). I cranked out a script and drew up some storyboards, and this was fun because this video was going to be filmed in front of a green screen. This would allow a new level of creativity because, without getting overly technical about the process, filming in front of a green background allows the video editor to remove the element being filmed (in other words, me) and cause it to interact with a elements that could be edited into the video later. We’re talking special effects, explosions, spaceships, monsters and whatever else you can think of! Of course, we didn’t have any of those things, but we did have me sitting on a stool in front of a white background talking about the magazine. Seriously, though, the first sneak peek turned out very well and people liked it. It was a lot of fun to make.
It’s funny doing green screen filming because I have to react to and interact with things that are not there. Actors in movies have been doing this for years. That giant cave troll you saw in The Fellowship of the Ring, for instance, was probably represented during filming by a tennis ball stuck on the end of a pole being waved around by a crew member and to which the actors could react. So when we’re filming our sneak peeks, I have to envision what the finished video will look like and be sure I flail about accordingly, so that my movements will match up with the photos or other elements to be added by the editor later. This is where storyboards come in handy, as they do much to convey to the editor what I want the final video to look like.
I originally hoped to film a new REPTILES sneak peek video every month, to talk about each new issue of REPTILES. It didn’t work out that way, though, and the decision was made to go with a quarterly video instead. We only have so many people to work on such things, after all, and there are many other BowTie magazines and websites that need attention besides just REPTILES and ReptileChannel (though of course you and I know these two are by far the most trend-setting, entertaining and downright crucial-to-our-survival BowTie creations out there, RIGHT?).
We recently posted our second sneak peek video (again seen below), which covers the April, May and June issues of REPTILES. This one was fun to make, too, but there was a new wrinkle. We incorporated a new piece of equipment into the filming. The hope was that it would take us to new heights of video professionalism, catapulting us beyond our wildest dreams to conquer new video frontiers. Ultimately, though, I just wanted to throw it against a wall. I’m talking about what at the time I considered the most fiendish device known to man: BowTie’s new teleprompter.
For those who don’t know, a teleprompter is a video monitor located directly next to the camera lens that is doing the filming. The words of the script scroll upon it so the person being filmed can read them without diverting his or her eyes away from the lens, breaking that all-important eye contact. Prior to getting the teleprompter, Ben would use a Sharpie to write out my lines on big pieces of paper, and hold them up next to the camera for me to read. Cue cards like this always worked fine for the most part, but sometimes they could lead to the “talent” shifting his or her eyes around slightly while being filmed, and that could look weird.
So we got a teleprompter, and I think the second REPTILES sneak peek video was its maiden voyage. I would estimate that it added about 10 hours to the filming process (OK, OK, I’m exaggerating for humorous effect – it was more like an hour). At first it was great, but problems arose when I would flub a line. If that happened with cue cards, no problem, Ben would just hold up the cue card again and I’d read it again. However, if I flubbed a line with the teleprompter and we had to stop it, it would always start all the way back at the beginning. So then we would have to fast forward it to where I screwed up. If we didn’t stop it at just the right place, we’d have to stop it and start over back at the beginning. This kept happening over and over, and remember what I said about my tendency to perspire freely under hot studio lights? Well I was under them twice as long during that shoot, waiting for the dopey teleprompter to cooperate.
This was all growing pains, though. The teleprompter, though it caused me much grief while filming the second REPTILES sneak peek, will, I’m sure, be a welcome addition by the time we film the July, August and September sneak peek. If not, it may end up against a wall. Or maybe I’ll give it to the cave troll.
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