A Gentleman's Guide to the Use of a Camcorder

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Allow me to save the moderators some time... the ORIGINAL entry upon which this was based did not break House Rules. This fact was stated in an email to the author. This is a significantly censored version of that entry, so it's therefore logically impossible for it to break House Rules. Therefore, there's no need to refer to the Editors, as its non-contravention of House Rules has already been established. Thank you.

Most gentlemen* who have bought that wonder of the age, the camcorder, would, if pressed, admit that they weren't just planning on sending dull video postcards
to their relatives in Oz, or setting up "amusing" mishaps so they could snag a quick and easy £250 from "Your Funniest Home Videos". They were thinking of other forms of entertainment, and so are you, dear reader. Personalised entertainment, starring the greatest guy you
know - YOU.

It should be stated at the outset that this article discusses only videos made featuring consenting, informed adults. Specifically, it deals only with situations where the video camera is NOT cunningly concealed for the purposes of recording the activities of someone(s) unsuspecting. This type of behaviour is unethical and ill becomes a gentleman, and in any case it's practically impossible to get a decent view of what is going on from on top of a wardrobe.


There are a number of advantages to home-produced entertainment:

  • Nobody is exploited. You don't get the uncomfortable feeling a gentleman sometimes gets while watching professional productions of "what on earth must her father think?", or similar.
  • Leaving aside the relatively high startup costs (although they are falling all the time), it's cheap! A single VHS tape holds three hours and costs hardly anything, and unless you and your co-star are some kind of Olympic athletes, it's going to be quite a while before you've got enough material to fill even one tape...
  • It's tailor made by you, for you - none of the boring stuff you usually fast forward through, it's straight to the entertainment!
  • It has music you like. Not to be underestimated as a plus point in
    comparison with "professional" productions.
  • You get to watch an entertainment video, then be with the person who starred in it.
  • Your partner is generally much less concerned if they catch you watching it - there's nobody to be jealous of, after all.
  • As you get older, you'll have a record of when you were young and fit. At least, compared to what you look like now...


There are however, a number of disadvantages:

You need to convince your partner. Some ladies will be immediately up for the idea and will be enthusiastic. However, most will have some reservations, and for good reasons, some of which follow...

Take off your shirt and look in the mirror. Now stop holding in your stomach and tensing your shoulders. That's right - you're not a buffed up movie star (unless you are a buffed up movie star, in which case, congratulations, but please be careful using the advice in this entry as it may get you into trouble - e.g. Rob Lowe...). Your video camera may look like an exciting piece of high technology just waiting to do your bidding, but looks are deceptive. It is in fact a pitiless little devil that will faithfully record every wobble,
every hair (or lack of same) and every unfortunate squelching or flatulent noise. You need to come to terms with the fact that, unless you are hitting the gym for at least ten hours a week, you are not going to look anything like some of the people in the entertainment you may have seen elsewhere. And let's not even mention size...

Whatever goes for you goes at least a hundred times over for your partner, in her mind. A gentleman knows the correct answer to the question "Does my bum look big in this?".* Therefore, you must convince your partner that as far as you are concerned she is Cameron Diaz's better looking sister, and the camera brings out her natural beauty and athleticism*. Never for a moment suggest that she looks anything other than completely desirable. Never freeze-frame a shot of her in a particularly ligament-straining pose and say "is that cellulite?".*. Honesty is most definitely NOT the best policy in this instance.

Any insecurities you and/or your partner may have about your bodies are going to be brought into sharp focus the first time you see each other on screen - so take it slow. Don't attempt to film an epic with special effects, multiple cuts and a soundtrack on your first attempt. Get used to the sight of yourselves. The novelty of that, at least, soon wears off and you can start having fun.

Another disadvantage becomes immediately apparent when you first try to film yourselves doing pretty much anything - be it cooking an omelette, juggling fire or whatever - namely that since you are filming yourself, you don't have a cameraman*. The camera therefore gets set up (on a tripod if you're being serious about it, balanced on whatever comes to hand if you're not) and you have to make sure you're in the shot. There's nothing more tedious than ten minutes of footage of the ankles and feet of two people who sound like they're having a good time off the left of frame. This is much easier to avoid if you have one of those lovely modern camcorders which have a little screen built into them which you can turn around so that you can see what's being filmed. If you haven't, then it's always possible to connect any camera to a portable TV. You can then use this as a monitor. This has two
advantages: first, and importantly, it can be quite entertaining to watch yourselves on telly doing what you're doing even as you're doing it; second, you can see if you're edging out of shot and sort it out.

However, the biggest disadvantage to home-made entertainment should be obvious - there's a tape in your house of you! The mere existence of this object is enough to generate paranoia in many women. Most gentlemen seem relatively relaxed about it, on the other hand. Do not, under any circumstances, be relaxed about it. She is counting on you to be as paranoid as she is. She is also, it should go without saying, counting on you not to take the tape into work and show it to your mates*.

The ultimate nightmare scenario is that a tape or a portion of one is played when it shouldn't be*. There are a number of simple things you
can do to avoid this.

Avoiding the nightmare

Set aside specific tapes for your efforts. Tape is cheap, so buy lots. Do not, under any circumstances at all, be tempted to use your "special" tapes for anything else, ever. Keep them separate from all the other tapes you ever use for other purposes such as holidays or taping soaps. Get them out only when you're going to use them and always put them back when you're finished. If you were ever to use them for, say, taping holiday activities, you may discover to your cost that when you tape over something, it isn't necessarily all erased. Sequences of volleyball on the beach or impressive runs down the piste can end up interspersed with brief shots of what was on the tape before. The last thing you want is to be showing someone your holiday video and have them exposed to a brief snatch of... well. So keep the tapes separate - the camcorder ones and the VHS ones. (assuming you "dub" the stuff onto "proper" tapes).

Labelling is important. Preferably you and your partner should be able to instantly identify these things, but anyone else who might accidentally see them should not give them a second glance. For that reason, it's best not to label your tapes with things like "Gaz and Shaz XXX". You might just as well label it "steal me and give copies to everyone you know"*. Much better to label it something like "University Challenge semi-final 1998", or "building the greenhouse - stage two". Go for something plausible but incredibly dull - so that in the event someone does find it the last thing that they'll do is play it - and make sure you remember it.

Never put the tape in a box other than its own. In particular, if you're about to watch a film, don't eject tape X, insert tape Y, and then put tape X in the box for tape Y - because when you come to return tape Y to the rental place, you just know you're going to be in a hurry, and just pick the box up and go.1

So, you've got a camcorder, you've got agreement, you've got properly labelled tapes and a free evening. What next?

To Start With...

A few suggestions:

  1. Before you start, wind the tape in the camcorder forward for five seconds. Some camcorders, presented with a new tape, will begin recording right at the beginning, and will never be able to reach that bit of tape with their erase head. This is bad. So wind forward.
  2. Pick somewhere sensible to film. Bedrooms are fine. The lounge is good, too - but keep the curtains shut. Large rooms are better than small rooms due to the vagaries of lenses and angles. Outdoor, public-type locations are of course illegal*, and have the additional disadvantage of requiring you to think about batteries.
  3. Just do it. Point the camera, make sure it can see the whole of the area, put some music on and just do what you would have done anyway. Don't attempt to act, don't attempt to play for the camera - forget it's there.
  4. After you've finished, watch it and talk about it. Note the good bits and the not so good bits.
  5. Now the clever bit - edit out the not so good. This has two results - your partner is happier because the only bit that gets "saved" is the bit she's happy with, and you're happier because you have to spend less time with the index finger of your one free hand on the "fast forward" button.
  6. Never do anything for the first time on camera. If it doesn't work perfectly and look fantastic, you will be embarrassed. And you won't even be able to send it in to "You've Been Framed".
  7. Never do anything unexpected on camera. This covers a multitude of sins, include several things which are actually technically sins. There's nothing worse than a video which ends with the words "what the hell are you doing?" followed by swearing, recriminations and lunging for the "off" button. Discuss what you're about to do before you do it. Also, if you're planning on making a home video, it's probably best to avoid spicy foods and beans. It is to be hoped that this advice needs no further explanation.
  8. Remember your partner is not a professional video star. For any ladies reading this, this means he's not necessarily going to be able to do that again for a close up - at least not for a while. For the gentlemen, this means that you shouldn't expect your co-star to be willing or able to do some of the things you've seen done,
    just because you now own a camera. Cherish your partner and her willingness to indulge you - but don't push it.
  9. Don't take it too seriously. It's supposed to be fun, right? So don't obsess too much about the camera, the angle, the lighting, or whatever. If you don't like the way it looks - do it again another time!
  10. If you're shooting on digital tape, and editing on your computer, do output the finished product to a tape, and make sure you delete all the files you created on your hard disk, then run a "shredder" program* to make sure they're gone. Be paranoid, and make it clear to your partner that you are being paranoid.
  11. Recognise that any material you've produced will become an issue if you ever split up. This just means making sure that there isn't any stray material lurking on other tapes, odd folders on your hard drive etc. You should both be able to be satisfied that everything is gone for good in this unhappy event.

Finally, some practical tips:

Chances are you're shooting indoors with a fixed camera. If so, don't waste time with batteries - plug the camera into the mains.

Don't bother with remote control start/stop, zoom* etc. - take care of that in the edit.

When you've transferred all the good bits off the camera tape onto VHS, ERASE the original completely. Point the camera out the window and video the street for long enough to make sure everything is gone. This minimises the possibility of mishaps, and also makes it easier to forget the stuff you cut out.

Put some music on, but not too loud, unless you expect to be making noises which you want drowned out. A bit of background music covers awkward silences, and also helps screen out any background noises like the heating coming on, next door's dog barking, or her parents doing the washing up in the next room.


Just think - if everyone made their own, video stars would have get proper jobs!

1This problem is growing less likely as more and more rentals are DVDs. Of course, one day, you'll be recording onto those...

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