Sunday 30 September 2018

Keith's Cavers in The Search for the Missing Potholer - Part Three

I guess I could be described as a lifelong learner. I enjoy setting myself challenges, acquiring new skills and working outside my comfort zone. I also take pleasure in problem solving. Making videos
satisfies my creative urges, and allows me to experiment with styles, genres and moods. I also bring to my film making my low threshold of boredom which I hope results in my films being unpredictable, watchable and innovative. All of this means that having produced a film of a particular genre, for example a documentary, I don't really want to produce another one the same, well not for a while anyway. So over the 10 years since I started my YouTube channel I have experimented with many different styles and genres - documentaries, music videos, promotional videos, pastiches, drama, comedy, factual, spoofs and even a five part mini cliff-hanger series. I've also incorporated special effects including green-screening and animation.

I bring all of the above to my video making and I like to think that these might be the reasons why my channel has enjoyed a modest amount of success, but perhaps my achilles heel over the years has always been my warped sense of humour which has been variously described as puerile, childish, twisted, weird, and downright embarrassing. So I'm under no illusion that my videos are universally liked.

But I hope this explains why when I was asked to produce the conference opening video for this year's Hidden Earth I wanted to try something different, something really different, completely different from anything I had done before or that had been attempted before.

I know that I could have gone for a safe low risk option and produced a beautifully filmed and narrated caving documentary, but this wasn't for me. As I've said above I'm naturally an innovator and a risk taker. Keith's Cavers fulfilled these urges. The 1 minute 10 second opening/title sequence took weeks of work to get it as close to the original as possible. Everything was timed to the split second, and it required me to develop or hone skills in animation, titling and working with transparent layers.The video sequences had to pastiche the original footage in Charlie's Angels whilst changing the theme from a police academy to caving.

The mini-episode that this opening sequence fronts presented a number of fresh challenges for me to overcome.

1. Telling the story in a very short amount of time
My fellow videographers will know that there aren't usually any time restrictions when producing caving videos for public consumption, but there are those imposed by competition organisers. At the moment this is 10 minutes maximum in the Hidden Earth video salon, although I have heard rumours that this might be cut down for next year's competition. So what often happens is that we produce a shortened version of an existing video for entering in competitions. Cutting down a documentary is difficult enough but it is usually possible to chop out whole sections without upsetting continuity. With a story/drama this is not possible. I had to tell the complete story in about 8 minutes and it was hard at times requiring many difficult decisions on what to cut out and what absolutely had to be left in to make the story work.

2. Working with transparent layers
I had already honed my skills with transparent layers when creating the opening sequence, or so I thought. The scene where Margo, having failed to get though the very tight squeeze and returns to Kay and Jess to spin the yarn that she's actually been to Five Mile Chamber required fantasy scenes to be incorporated in thought bubbles. This 25 second sequence took three evenings of head scratching and experimentation to achieve.

3. Working with actors
Didn't they all do well? I believe they excelled but it's much more difficult filming acted scenes than for example scenes of beautiful cave decorations set to etherial music, or action scenes. I really must publish the outtakes one day.

4. Working with one camera
My films are at the low budget, el cheapo end of cave videography. I do have two cameras - a Panasonic Lumix GX7 and a GoPro Hero 6, but I decided to use just one camera for this video - mainly due to time constants. This required most scenes to be filmed from at least two perspectives and then to cut-in to create interest and pace.

5. Continuity
It was essential to have good continuity for the story to work. This isn't an issue with a number of video genres but it was with this. The scenes were not filmed in order and they were filmed over multiple trips. Maintaining continuity was a nightmare. I couldn't have them covered in mud in an early scene and freshly laundered in a later one.

6. Lighting
I like to think that my use of lighting in my videos is okay-ish. I do like creating mood and drama by effective use of lighting but I will admit that this is not one of my best lit videos. Why? Well most of the video relies on close-up shots because the audience needs to see the actors speaking. So great lighting effects were a casualty of the type of video I had chosen to create.

7. Sound effects and levels
Getting the sound right was the biggest challenge by far. The dialogue had got to be audible and distinguishable when played in the conference hall for the video to have any chance of success. I was in the audience, about half way back, and thankfully I think I got it just about right, but it took countless hours of behind the scenes work. The biggest challenge in this video was recording sound in the cave environment. Caves do not have the best acoustics anyway with lots of echo in the larger spaces. Add into the mix the rustling of cordura caving suits and the horrible scraping sound they produce when rubbing against a cave wall and you will understand why the mixing took so long. Much of the audio was recorded, not on the camera, but on my mobile recording studio - my iPhone. The telephone sequences were mainly recorded in my studio aka the front bedroom on the iPhone using an external iQ5 Zoom microphone. The video utilises a number of audio special effects. The most noticeable is the telephone effect but the voice enhancement effect was also extensively utilised. The final challenge was timing. The scenes were acted out without the actors hearing what was being said on the phone so suitable gaps had to be left and the actors expressions had to match what was being said on the phone - which of course they couldn't hear! Some scenes miraculously worked but in others I have had to slightly re-time the video to match the audio. The re-timing is so subtle that I challenge anyone to spot where in the video it was implemented.

How was it received?

The video was played at the opening ceremony. As I've already said the dialogue seemed to be completely audible and the audience laughed in all the right places (or so it seemed), but at the end was complete silence! During the day I talked to several people. I had obviously produced a 'marmite' video. It was loved and hated in roughly equal measures.

I had entered the film in the video salon so I had a couple of days to reflect on whether the judges would love it or hate it. The result was neither. It did reasonably well but not good enough to get an award. Their comments were:
"Good fun film. Care needed with flickering lights. Predictable but end was nice."
"Good fun and audio."
"Good filming, thin comedy."

So the judges were ambivalent to it but what about my YouTube followers? The first comment was:
"Awesomely done, very entertaining. Very nice editing too (I suspect a lot of folk don't realise just how much goes into making something like this)   :o)" This meant a great deal to me because a lot of me did go into making it and getting it as good as possible did became an obsession. For example, at the eleventh hour I spotted in the animated scene change sequence a one pixel wide band that flickered on and off as the yellow caver moved up the screen. I couldn't let it go so another couple of hours was spent re-editing it.
Other comments are:
"Love this"
"Haha well done Keith good video very entertaining"
But my favourite comments are:
"One sec I’m at a rave, next I’m in my bed monging out to this, how did I get here?"
"Dude, that intro is FUNKADELIC MAN!!!!!! YEAHHHHH!!!!"
And my favourite comment of all:
"A superb and very entertaining video Keith 👌.  The world is a much better place, now that we have your angels 😇"

Finally here's the video. What do you think? Do you love it or do you hate it?

Keith Cavers in The Search for the Missing Potholer

Credit Where Credit's Due

Enormous thanks to my stars: Ian, Jess, Kay and Mark, to Brendan for his superb graphics and to Dave and Loz for carrying stuff and holding torches.

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