Morzine-based filmer Sam McMahon is back with Part 3 of our 'Improve Your Edits' series, taking us through a few handy tips to get the best out of your filming - including a few nuggets of advice that you might not have thought about.
So far in this series we’ve covered the basics of your hardware – from GoPros and DSLR video cameras to lenses and accessories. We will go on to cover the actual editing process, but there are a few extra points I think can make the difference between another internet filler web-edit and one that will shine out and actually get watched.
These can be little lessons you learn that will elevate your filming skills or mistakes you can avoid in advance to help your reputation get a boost in the snowboarding world. I’m nowhere near the world’s greatest filmer, but I’ve tried to include the not-so-obvious but nevertheless crucial information that I’ve picked up myself - if only someone had told me!
If you’ve invested the money in the equipment, be it the most basic GoPro or a top of the range Canon DSLR with a full range of lenses, you’ll want to get it done right. So sit back and absorb some industry knowledge. Even if you’ve been filming for a while, you might just learn something new...
Get Yourself a Crew
Just like snowboarding itself, filming is a craft. Only practice makes perfect, so to hone those skills you’re gonna have to spend a lot of time behind a lens and be prepared to throw a lot of imperfect footage away. Unlike more traditional videographic pursuits, it’s not something that you can do on your own, but thankfully that’s never going to be a problem within action sports. Snowboarders are intrinsically vain and most riders LOVE being filmed. Start out with your group of friends and have your camera with you at all times, especially on the hill. You’ll become your crew’s designated filmer in no time and BAM! You now have a great subject for your first crew edit.
Some of the best shred flicks and web-series come from the rider/filmer relationships off screen. Jesse Butner of Think Thank fame and others have spent years building up strong, loyal teams for annual releases, while Torstein Horgmo’s latest solo release, Horgasm, stemmed from the now infamous web-series he made with his videographer/director, Tobias Frøystad - the love story behind it all could almost be theirs. Similarly, the same can be said for the Helgasons and their long time cameraman Johannes Brenning, or Coach Thunder as he’s known in front of camera. So get stuck in and get filming, you never know where your friends might take you one day.
The Etiquette of Style
Chances are you’re gonna spend a lot of time in snowparks staring through a lens, but by no means does this make you immune to the laws of the park. It’s frustrating enough having your line poached by a skier, but even more annoying having to wait for someone who’s not even riding to clear out of the landing. Pay attention to your surroundings. Park etiquette is always to give way to the person downhill from you, but if you’re not strapped in then you cede right of way to anyone that is, regardless of ability or where they are. Having a friendly reputation is one of the best tools in the trade, so don’t freak out at kids or other riders, you never know who they’ll grow to be.
Just as important is etiquette with other filmers and photographers. You’re likely to be spending a fair bit of time stood on knuckles or by booters with other cameramen, so use this time to make friends and be certain you’re not poaching their shot - you don’t want to piss of potential contacts. Ask if you’re in the way and if they’re filming a particular rider for a purpose, respect that. Either step away temporarily or even offer to provide a second angle. Who knows, you could end up getting credited in the next mega shred flick!
Even if you have no aims to be a professional filmmaker, it’s a good idea to act a little bit professional to get the best from what you’re filming. Happy snowboarders do the best tricks and make the best footage. To keep them that way, it’s best to be where you said you’d be at a given time, as hangover free as possible without forgetting crucial gear like a charged battery. Mellow out if your subjects are late/inebriated/without gnar on the day. Think of it as time to get a bit of riding in yourself. No one like to ride or film with Miss Pissy Pants. I once saw a filmer at a skatepark offering $20 for the best trick. Not saying you have to make it rain on ‘dem hoes, but a Mars Bar here or there couldn’t hurt...
All about the Angles
When you film anything, you’re essentially choosing what your viewer will take away from the experience you’re having as you film. When it comes to filming individual tricks you mainly control this with your choice of angle and what you include in the frame. You want to think about what looks good, balancing the trick itself with the riders’ style (and stance, remember?) as wells as the lighting and what’s in the foreground/background.
Getting creative always works too. Check out the shot at around 2.07 in Jed Anderson’s part in Nike’s Never Not (above). The follow cam goes through the barrier but still catches the action. Genius and eye catching, it’s a great example of using environmental elements to your advantage. The whole of the Never Not movie is shot very thoughtfully. The angles are chosen along with the colour palette (more on that in the final edition of this series) to highlight the rider and feature - little else stands out.
Plan Your Shots
One of the hardest things to do, but most rewarding terms of clip quality is plan what you want your shots for the day to look like. Talk to whomever you’re filming the day before and get an idea of what they want to ride and do. If it’s park or urban and you know what the feature and area are like, start thinking about what might look good. Maybe even go so far as sketching up a storyboard so you don’t forget anything on the day.
The same applies for shooting pow or backcountry, but weather is also an important aspect here, so keep checking the forecast (as if you don’t already...). If you already have an idea of what you want to get, it speeds up getting set up for the shot and gives you more time to film. Things might not always go to plan once changes in weather, injuries and hangovers all start kicking in, but at least if you have a plan you can adapt it later on. Having a good idea of what music you’re going to use in advance is a good idea too. It lets you find the shots that will fit the tone of the edit, but more on that next week...
Timing is Everything
Getting great shots takes a lot of patience and hard work, especially while filming in the backcountry or on urban shoots. Building kickers, run-ins and landings takes a long time so be prepared to spend up to a couple of days helping riders build the shot first before coming back to film it (maybe even get a few shots of the build itself?). If you need an example of the blood, sweat and tears that comes with good preparation, look no further than Dan Brisse. Some of the hits in this 2013 Real Snow entry took days to build. Dan even went as far as donning a moustache and builder’s hi-vis jacket to make sure he looked the part of a construction worker and remained uninterrupted during the build. If you spend a lot of time on a shot, it will show in the finished product.
If you’re serious about getting it absolutely right, try not to end the shoot too soon. Keep the cameras rolling for as long as it takes. Most snowboard movies these days (unless it’s a very high consequence trick) will shoot multiple takes and angles of the same trick. This way during editing you can choose the best of the best to include in your final composition.
The Bleeding Obvious
This may seem way too obvious but I’d actually count it as good advice: snowboarding is cold. There you go, I put myself out there. But in relation to filming, there are a few extra precautions you should take. Snowboard jackets are designed to be ridden in. They keep you warm on the chairlift and channel heat out while you’re moving and sweating. This is all well and good until you’re standing around for hours waiting for your buddy to finally land his trick. It’s worth packing an extra layer just in case, plus it gives your kit added protection on the ride down. Ditto gloves, glove liners, mittens and hand warmers. You can always take them off for the shot itself, but for the most part you’ll still wish you’d brought more while you’re shoving your fingers into your pockets.
Another thing hand warmers are great for is keeping your kit warm too. If you want to capture some ‘epic’ time lapses in the morning or evening, you can often find your lenses misting up with the changing temperature, completely ruining your hours of sitting around doing nothing. Simply dot a few of them around the body of the lens and wrap in place with some bubble wrap, easy! (Thanks Country File...)
Setting The Scene
Imagine two edits, both with exactly the same tricks. One is just raw riding, while the other has a few lifestyle shots of the riders, a couple of cuts of the surrounding area where it was filmed and maybe even a cheeky time lapse or two. Which is best is down to personal preference, but most people would probably prefer the latter. It’s good to get in the habit of shooting a couple of clips of what’s going on around you while you set up - even better to always keep a camera near you in case you miss that ‘You’ve Been Framed’ moment. Careful though, it’s easy to overdo it and end up with an edit that’s ‘all filler and no killer’ (above).
This is a toughie and maybe a personal issue, but clichéd footage is so, well, uh, clichéd. They’re only so hard to avoid because most work extremely well in snowboarding cinematography. But if you want your filming to shine, you should try your hardest to avoid using worn out concepts in your shots. In my humble opinion, this includes but is not limited to:
· Timelapses of snow building up
· Filming out the front of a moving car and speeding the footage up
· Interviews where riders bang on about how snowboarding is an art form
· Close ups of bindings being done up before dropping
· Gang signs thrown by middle-class white girls
· Bloody ‘Sail’ by bloody ‘Awolnation’
You get the idea... Unless of course you’re going to subvert the whole concept, like RockOnSB in their winning Chosen Series edit. Innovate people!
Find Your Style
As with everything in snowboarding, this is the most important thing to remember - style is everything and always will be. This is as true for filmers and photographers as it is for slopestyle and freeriding. The best videographers can be recognised even before the credits start rolling. As you hone your skills, you should start developing a sense of what looks and feels right to you. Stick to it and be true to yourself. As long as you’re filming something you would want to watch yourself, then you’re winning. Eurgh. Enough sop, next week we’ll get on to talking about the other half of edits: editing!