Video professionals at work

Video skills: How to make your brain bigger

There is evidence around the positive effect of learning new skills on cognitive function as you age and the more difficult the challenge, the greater the effect. Photography, video and photo editing are particularly good because people think they are difficult skills for an ‘older’ novice to master.

Learning to use the video function on my DSLR

This spring, on a trip to Sicily, I spent some time learning how to use the video function on my DSLR camera. I didn’t realise it would make my brain bigger at the time. I just needed some practice footage to use on a digital editing course. My last encounter with editing was 20 years’ ago at Four Corners in London’s east end. Back then, editors viewed filmstrip reel-to-reel through a monitor, splicing the film together manually using a guillotine and tape. Some still prefer this tactile but time-consuming process.

Back in Sicily, armed with my camera, tripod and microphone I set out for a day’s filming in the town of Ragusa. This medieval and baroque setting is one of many locations for the TV series, Inspector Montalbano. The popularity of the series has prompted a mini renaissance in the region with new bars and restaurants popping up; no doubt catering for tourists on the detective’s trail. Producing my short film involved setting up equipment, checking the exposure, remembering to switch on the microphone (again), waiting for the action to unfold and deleting poor quality footage at will.

Back in the pre-digital age

Mid-century filmmakers only had one chance to get it right. They needed to know their film stocks from their f-stops. Astute brands wrote ‘how to’ guides promoting their equipment. Eastman Kodak’s 1940s book How to make good movies gave middle America all they needed to know to impress friends with their own home productions. Quaint storyboarding elements: hand closing front door, stowing luggage in car trunk, close-up of petrol gauge, spinning tyre and backseat shot as car sets off south of the border are still used today. Trick shots, reverse action and stop motion, were the staples of the pre CGI world.

Eastman Kodak guide to making movies

Eastman Kodak guide to making movies

Back in Ragusa. How was my brain doing? I didn’t have a storyboard, shot list or location schedule. No marks for me from the Messrs.’ Eastman Kodak. I set off and filmed anything that looked interesting and threw in a few stills. I was quickly absorbed in the filming process, observing people and landscapes with a level of scrutiny I wouldn’t have entertained as a sightseer. Capturing action in a small quiet town takes patience. As soon as you stop filming a local will ride past doing a wheelie on his Vespa and you’ve missed it (not again). Getting the right sound also takes time even with a dedicated microphone. Soundscapes are complex and extraneous noise, wind, someone coughing or traffic can distract from the visuals.

In London, my editing course proved equally challenging. New software, keyboards shortcuts, losing footage. And that’s just for the basics. I’m getting more accustomed to the software and beginning to practice different techniques.

Movie footage also takes up a lot of data so you need extra big hard drive or another form of data storage. I’ve also invested in a deadcat (a windshield) for my microphone.


The verdict

I’m used to being an expert in my field. Learning digital and editing software skills is taking me well out of my comfort zone. I can’t claim to have a larger brain but I do feel a sense of accomplishment. I stayed at L’orto sul tetto, a comfortable B&B in Ragusa Ibla behind the Duomo. Visit Ragusa if you can.

My resources

  • Canon 750d
  • Røde VideoMic Pro
  • Final Cut Pro X editing software
  • LaCie Rugged Raid with Thunderbolt
  • Mac with at least 4Gb memory and OSX El Capitan
  • Spectacle Productions, London for video courses
  • London College of Communications for editing courses

Please leave comments and share your own experiences.

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