On Thursday nights after work I take two trains to LA City College and take a basic film production course. Tonight we turned in our first of three projects. The project consisted of 20 shots in a particular order, each five to ten seconds in length. Shots like “a pan of a static landscape, ” “a pan following a car,” and long, medium and close shots, tilt-ups and tilt-downs, etc. Basically shots that anyone who has ever held a camcorder is familiar with. Because of this, and the fact I’ve been on many film sets in the past, I thought the project would be super easy.
It wasn’t super easy.
Once the camera was in my hands, it became apparent that the process involved more than I’d really given thought to. Each shot had to be slated—who would hold the slate? Someone needed to write everything on the shot log too. Someone needed to be in the shot. Someone needed to drive the car and it would be helpful if there were someone to relay messages to the person in the car. I eventually figured out how with one other person we could each cover multiple duties, but that when I wasn’t careful, those duties could distract me from controlling the content and frame of each shot. So what clearly seems like the MOST important thing afterwards, when you look at the images, can get lost in the shuffle in the moment. Especially at the beginning, every shot took a little longer than I’d anticipated. Random pedestrians walked through my static pan and I had to shoot again. Cars kept pulling out of their driveways during the pan following car. The zoom on the camera didn’t work the first two tries. The tripod broke. Then it broke again.
Editing took time, too. Even after I learned the basics of the editing program, there was the issue of memory and external drives and exporting to certain kinds of media formats which sucked up a dozen late night hours.
All for three and half minutes of random shots without any sound or story. More than once during the process, I thought to myself You don’t have to do this. You’re a writer. No one expects or cares if you do this. But, it was for a class, and, being nothing if not a diligent student, I persevered.
Tonight, after everyone turned in their shot lists and flash drives, the professor screened the first half of the projects for the other twenty-five students in my class, and, I have to say… it was unexpectedly THRILLING. Maybe it was partly the effect of the raked seating, dimmed lights and big screen, but as soon as I saw the first person’s film projected, I got super excited to see my own images—that I had only seen on a third of my 11-inch computer screen during editing—magnified on the screen.
We had signed up as we arrived, and I was number fourteen on the list – right in the gray area of where we might stop and save the rest for the following week. I started to get anxious as the projects went by. I DID NOT WANT TO WAIT UNTIL NEXT WEEK!
We finished the Q and A for person 13 and there was a lull. Was he about to tell us “that’s it for this week” and send us home? The blank blue of the screen taunted me. And then the icon for my flash drive appeared. I was going to see my movie on the screen!
And I did. I imagine, that like most people who think pictures of their baby are amazing, my pictures, though nice, were actually very average. But I didn’t care. I didn’t care that I left the clipboard in the frame of one of the shots. It was BEAUTIFUL!
And the teacher said I had “nice cinematography.” He used the word CINEMATOGRAPHY. I didn’t just have video clips I took with my iPhone. I had cinematography… and it was NICE!