One of my very favourite movies is ‘Sunset Boulevard’, the Billy Wilder classic about an ageing former silent movie star who gets involved with a struggling writer. Gloria Swanson played the silent movie star Norma Desmond, William Holden the struggling writer and in an inspired piece of casting, Erich Von Stroheim played Norma Desmond’s butler and former silent film director. Inspired, because of course in real life, Von Stroheim actually was one of Swanson’s directors in her silent movie days and clips from some of their films are used during the movie.
It’s an outstanding film and due credit must go to the great Billy Wilder who not only directed but also wrote the screenplay, and he even got famous director Cecil B De Mille to play himself in the movie. Even if you’re not a classic movie buff like me, you’ve probably guessed that the quote in the title ‘I’m ready for my close up Mr De Mille’ comes from the movie. There are some even better lines from earlier in the picture when William Holden recognises Norma; ‘You’re Norma Desmond, you used to be in silent pictures. You used to be big’, to which Desmond replies, ‘I am big. It’s the pictures that got small!‘ They just don’t write dialogue like that any more. Anyway, over to the other part of this post, the bit about the vlog.
I follow a number of you tube channels and one of them is ‘I’m Emily’. Emily makes a Vlog, a video blog, every single day! That’s pretty impressive, I mean, I only produce a blog once a week and sometimes I’m pushed to make that target but a video blog, that includes not only recording the content but editing and uploading and so on, all on top of her full time job. I take my hat off to you, Emily.
On my you tube channel, my videos are mostly about my book, Floating in Space. They are all mini adverts I suppose, usually with me talking to the camera explaining why you should buy my book and sometimes why you should try my web page and point your browser at posts just like this one.
Anyway, while on holiday in Lanzarote I wrote once again about my holiday book bag so I thought, hey, I bet I could make that into a vlog too. Should be easy enough. The blog is about my five holiday books, so I imagined myself talking to the camera with the five books all handy in front of me. Sounds easy enough. The aforementioned Emily shoots her vlog on an iPhone which of course has a self facing camera, so if you are filming yourself you can see exactly what is being recorded. Now my video camera is pretty good, it’s a Panasonic HD camera but the screen naturally is at the back and you can’t see the video image as you film. However, whilst out at the market in Marina Rubicon here in Lanzarote I came a cross a sort of selfie gadget: A clamp that clips onto a table or some other support, grips your camera or camcorder at the other end and has a sort of bendy bit in the middle so you can position everything and then record or photograph yourself. So, one sunny day after breakfast I got set up. Table, chair, books and camera all positioned nicely with the swimming pool in the background. I soon found it was not that easy to frame your shot as the clamp on the selfie gadget masks the camera screen so after a few ‘testing 123’ shots to find the best camera position I was ready for take 1.
Take 1. OK, went pretty well, I blathered on a bit and forgot the author of one book so time for take 2.
Take 2. OK but I’m holding the books slightly out of camera shot.
Take 3. I lift the books higher but gradually as the take goes on the books are getting lower and dropping out of shot. Cut, I shout, getting my director hat on.
Take 4. I’ve reframed and lowered the camera a little. I’ve actually cropped off the top of my head but the books are centre stage. I fluffed one of my lines calling Noel Coward an historical figure instead of a theatrical one but recovered that one OK with a little laugh at myself. I also say the Germans were ‘disappointed’ with Hitler at the end of World War Two when discussing a book about Albert Speer, one of Hitler’s ministers. Bit of a understatement there, I meant to say shocked or devastated, anyway, time for take 5.
Take 5. Start to stumble a little here, perhaps I need cue cards. Dorothy Parker wrote what for New York Magazines? Check the blurb on the back of her book again and time for take 6.
Take 6. Looked pretty good. Wait a minute, did I really say ‘my holiday book blag‘? Time for take 7.
Take 7. Radical re think needed here I think so I’ve smarted up a little, put on my favourite holiday shirt and re positioned the camera and my clamp gadget. Wish I’d brought my tripod along! Anyway here we go. Action: ‘Hi I’m Steve Higgins and I’m here in . . er . . ‘ CUT! It’s Lanzarote!
Take 8. Slight camera adjustment as take 7 wasn’t particularly well framed. Forgot to mention who Albert Speer actually was. Will people know who he was? Well, if they are interested in history and World War two yes, otherwise no . .
Take 9. ‘Bleak House by David Copperfield’? What is this guy talking about? Cut!
Take 10. Not too bad, faltered a few times over some words, mumbled a little perhaps but generally not bad. Sure I can do better though; still a little slow. Needs more pace.
Take 11: Whoa, slow down boy! I said pace not rabbit on and on without taking a breath!
Take 12: Not happening! Time for a swim!
Well, not quite as easy as I had thought it was going to be. I eventually settled for take 4. Better hold off with my application to the BBC just now, still, bit of practice, a few more videos and – ‘I’m ready for my close up Mr De Mille!’
Here’s the completed video blog:
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