Writing Myself In a Corner: Write and Record a Song (in 24 hours)

song under construction

Sometimes, when I hit a bit of a creative wall, I challenge myself to just go on and do something. Write that poem. Start that story. Write a song. On Sunday afternoon, I decided I wanted to see if I could write and record a demo of a new song, all within 24 hours. With that impetus, I got to work, huddling over my guitar and notebook paper, scribbling and scratching out lines as a phrase “we forgot to dream” became the hook.

I knew the song would be inspired by the recent elections, but I didn’t want it to be an overt political song. More like a reminder that even when things take turns to the worst, there is always some hope for change. And that there have been difficult times before. We made our way forward then. We can do it, again. It won’t be easy. It never is. But we can do it. This was the theme I was working towards.

I do get a bit obsessive when writing a song. Sort of a hermit in the house, riffing the same chords over and over on guitar (my poor family) as I work on rhymes and meaning, and structure. I revamp and re-arrange words and phrases and verses and choruses, and then I walk away from the guitar and paper, silently singing lines in my head, remixing rhythms. I wander the house and the rest of the day like some madman, whispering poems to himself.

Late Sunday night, I went back to the work on the song and hit a wall. I found that I had forgotten the basic rhythm of the song from earlier in the day. In fact, I got so frustrated with myself (one, for forgetting what I had written, and two, for not doing a quick raw demo when I first started, which I often do, as a listening post) that I had to walk away and call the songwriting challenge quits.

By morning, my mind have found the threads again, though, and began weaving me back to the song. Thank you, sleep. When I picked up the guitar yesterday morning, the phrases all clicked into place again, as easy as you can imagine, as if I had never stepped away from the song at all. I can’t explain that process. It’s a strange and wonderful mystery.

So I set to work on recording what I had written. First, I began by finding a beat, and then I went about recording the guitar, and then, the vocals. Oh, these vocals. I don’t like the way I sing this song at all. It’s a bad key, or something. But I never really like my vocals. I worked to add effects, to give the voice a silo-like, garage effect. Bleh. Still, I kept moving forward with the recording, finishing the voice, and then adding percussion and then topping it off with some guitar power chords.

A little after 24 hours after I was done, the demo of the song, entitled “We Forgot to Dream” was done. For now.

Peace (sounds like power chords),
Kevin

Writing Scripts to Film Stories

Lessons from the Screenplay

This might be helpful for those of us, and our students, who want to go deeper into the movie-making medium. Lessons from the Screenplay is a YouTube channel with tons of videos on how to write for the screen. All free. Cool.

Thanks, Terry, for the mention in your newsletter on this one.

Peace (filming it forever),
Kevin

Inspired to Spoof: My Son’s Video Project

My son often makes videos. He has written and shot three longer movies with a group of neighborhood friends (all by the age of 11), had one of the movies showcased in our city’s Youth Film Festival and has done a variety of smaller films, too. Long ago, I showed him what I knew about iMovie (and he took part in a free Apple camp at the Apple Store to learn about video), and turned him loose.

He recently finished this short video (he is now 12). My only role was to hold the camera so that he and his friend could be the actors in it. They first researched the ideas from a site called Dude Perfect, which I was only vaguely aware of. But they loved some video that spoofed baseball players, so they, eh, remixed the Dude Perfect ideas into their own spoof video of baseball players (both kids are baseball nuts).

What struck me is this.

Rally Cap Kids

They sat down, together, with a pad of paper and pencils, and watched Dude Perfect videos, and made detailed notes about different “stereotypes of baseball players,” knowing they were going to riff off those movies for their video. They brought the notes to the baseball field, and talked through each scene, before instructing me to shoot the video. I tried to keep as quiet as I could. I was only the camera man.

I love seeing the development of a craft here, and I hope he keeps doing it. When he does a longer movie, it takes a lot longer to shoot and edit. These smaller projects are more manageable, and I think he has a talent (says his dad) in making videos. I know he has fun with being creative this way.

Peace (frame it, capture it),
Kevin

At This Camp, Movies Get Made

Making Movies at Camp

My youngest son attended a day camp all last week, writing and shooting and editing and producing short films over five days. on Friday, family members were invited in to watch the results, and the movies were not only entertaining, but pretty well done, given constraints (of locations and time and props). The camp, at a local Montessori School, borrowed high-quality video cameras from the local Cable Access Station (which will showcase the short films on its television channel and online sites). You can see the difference — the video is rich and professional grade quality.

The camp facilitators let the kids do all of the heavy lifting — writing the scripts, setting up the cameras, and editing with iMovie. My son has done most of these things before — he loves to make his own movies — but it was nice to have him in a group, working with other kids and being creative. I don’t think he wrote all that much, though, which is too bad.

There were three short narrative films (including one very intense one about a puppet and a cruel puppeteer that had the audience in silent wonder) and a few music videos, most using Green Screen effects. Later, the videos will be hosted online. I’ll share out when that happens, in case you are interested in what kids can do with cameras and iMovie and imagination.

Peace (from small screen to real life),
Kevin

Scenes from a Student Video Contest

I am a teacher advisor to the Student Council at my school. I’ve given up planning and prep time, on and off over the years, for the Student Council as a way to empower students and give them an opportunity to be leaders in the school. This year, a group of students asked me personally if I would help re-start the Student Council because they had ideas for school spirit activities, and how could I say no to that?

I said, yes.

The last project of the year has been a Video Contest. This came from the students, who wanted to do something different and creative, and it has been a real interesting experience. The council put out the call for short videos to our entire PreK-Grade 6 school (about 500 students) in four categories (documentary, comedy, music and “freestyle”), and they wondered if they would be barraged by cell phone videos.

Not quite (which sort of surprised me for I, too, wondered how a small group would handle the load of video submissions, and I even began a back-up plan of inviting more students into the Student Council to help.) We only had a handful of videos, but it was enough for the Student Council to award prizes (gift cards to a bookstore) to winners in each category, and to recognize some honorable mentions, too.

The above video is a small compilation of clips from the winning videos, which ranged from a Lego stopmotion movie to a music video about a sandwich to a movie teaser featuring a strange raccoon to a digital story capturing the small town in which the school is located.

The 2016 Norris Tiger VideoRama was a success (and we will be sharing the winning videos over our close-circuit television system next week), even if I wonder how we could get even more students to be making videos in the future. (For my sixth grade students, I just never found time to do a lesson on using iMovie, which I now regret.)

Peace (and pass the popcorn),
Kevin

My Son’s Video Journey

When my oldest son, now graduating high school, was young, he wanted to learn how to make movies. It turns out, I was teaching myself how to make stopmotion movies at the time, thinking I would bring that kind of moviemaking into my classroom (which I did for a few years). So, my son and I made movies, together. It was a blast.

Mouse and Cat Together from Mr. Hodgson on Vimeo.

Then, he began to venture on his own, planning more complicated and longer films, and using a little flash video camera for shooting and MovieMaker software on our old PC. Sometimes, he would ask me to help or to be in the movie. Sometimes, not.

The Squop from Mr. Hodgson on Vimeo.

Then, he began to go deep with the idea of making movies and explored various editing tricks. He would storyboard, just like I showed him, and once he had a YouTube account, he’d post some of his short films online.

For his senior year Capstone Project, he spent months making this documentary of his friends’ rock band, and as I watch his work from behind the camera and in the editing “room,” I see how far he has come and how much he has learned on his own.

I still remember with fondness those early years, though. And the videos bring me back …

Shovel Trouble from Mr. Hodgson on Vimeo.

Peace (over time),
Kevin

What My Son Made: Ant Man Jr.

Rowan storyboard

My 10 year old son enrolled for the second year in a row at the free Apple Movie Camp, which is a three day gathering in an Apple Store for kids to learn about iMovie and Garageband and the basics of moviemaking, including storyboarding.

My son had recently watched, and thoroughly enjoyed, Ant Man and he remembered how last year, the Apple folks showed him how to do “picture in picture” and he wondered if he could “shrink” himself and do his own Ant Man-style movie. He could. He did.

I was his trusty cameraman and gave advice on some editing, but overall, he was able to make this over the course of two days (three hours) plus some video shooting at home.

The free Apple Camp idea remains a bit of a tension point for me. It is cool they offer it for free, and it is neat that my son wanted to do it again. But parents are trapped in the Apple Store during the camp time (which I understand) and it is hard not to think the camp is a genius (excuse the pun) way to hook a new generation on Apple products and get parents to play with iPads and more during the wait time. Maybe even buy something. Or think about buying something. It is never a hard sell. It’s a soft sell. And it is brilliant marketing. I should note that this year, one of the counselors did work with parents a bit, to show us what the kids were doing with some of the apps.

Peace (may it get bigger not smaller),
Kevin

Mini-Movie Premiere: Escape of the Furious Three

Making Robbers on Loose 2 collage

My youngest son, age 10, wrote and directed and edited this short movie. We shot it during winter (I was cameraman) and then hemmed and hawed on the editing (we needed to shoot one last scene and never did) until recently, when I turned my computer and iMovie over to him and he did the editing. I only helped here and there and mostly, I just let him alone to edit the movie as he saw it (working around the missing scene).


The only thing I changed from the original edit is the soundtrack. He had some copyright music from his iTunes collection that I would not allow to be included in public sharing, so we composed some original music in the Garageband iPad app and used that. We’ve had lots of conversations about fair use and copyright and he is tired now of m mantra of “make your own stuff as much possible.” We kept his original edit for home use and DVD burning.

This is actually the second movie in a series that began with Robbers on the Loose. He writes the scripts on Google Docs, asking for input from neighborhood friends. Most involve chase scenes and nerf guns. He’s a ten year old boy who loves Mission Impossible.

Can you tell?

Peace (with popcorn),
Kevin

PS — here is the original movie from 2012: Robbers on the Loose.

 

A Video Poem About Vine, Using Vine

I am not a newcomer to using Vine, but I still wonder about how to best utilize the restraints of its six seconds. Here, I wrote a poem about Vine, recorded it in pieces in Vine and then used an app called PicPlayPost to coordinate the Vine videos together as a collage.

Interestingly, the first time I uploaded to YouTube, I had the settings wrong, and it was set to run all of the videos in the collage at the same time. It’s a bit of cacophony, and yet …. it’s interesting, too. Your mind tries to grasp at the words, and the last sound heard is in the first video, a little “uttt.”

Director’s Notes:

I kept the poem rather simple. Four lines, two couplets. Each line had to be around six seconds long, of course, to fit into a single Vine post (I wonder what my Vine followers were thinking as I posted one after another.) I added a fifth intro video when I realized that the poem might need a little context.

With Vine, your videos also get posted to your Camera Roll, which allows PicPlayPost app to access them for a multimedia collage. I really like PicPlayPost for the way it can use various media. As noted above, you can also sequence the playback of videos. I did it rather linearly here, but I didn’t have to.

The shots themselves were simple, too. I did try to move the lens a bit for each of the posts, to give a bit of variety to the eye. As it is, the collage looks strange, with all of my faces looking at you. Sorry about that, but it will lay the grounds for a joke in my “how to” comic coming up for my Got Some ‘Splaining To Do Tumblr.

A look at Vine .. Give it a try …

Slice of Life: Our Own Little Hollywood

(This is part of Slice of Life, a regular writing activity facilitated by Two Writing Teachers. We find small moments to write about. You come write, too, OK?)

Making Robbers on Loose 2 collage

Our video production budget would make the penny pinching budget dudes in Hollywood very proud: seven cups of hot chocolate and a overflowing plate of nachos as pay for the acting team. The creative energy that is going into the filming of my son’s second feature film? Priceless.

As the script for Robbers on the Loose 2 (a sequel to his last film, shot three years ago and featured at a local film festival) took shape in the past few weeks — written with friends, with advice from his parents and brothers — the excitement of shooting a movie took hold. Organizing the schedules of nearly 10 kids (all nine and ten years old) has been difficult, and we have about one-third more of the movie to shoot.

Making Robbers on the Loose Day2 Collage

I won’t give away the story. Let’s just say, someone is on the loose. But in the script that they wrote on their own, I noticed references to the first movie, foreshadowing for something to be stolen, the use of frames within frames (done in the editing process), and the boys’ obsessions with Nerf guns (only one girl is in the acting team, as the police officer. She’s the best actor of the bunch.)

As an independent media activity, making a movie is interesting and complicated, as my 10-year-old son is finding out. He has his crew rehearsing their lines, making adaptations to the script, adjusting his vision to the reality of what is available to us, and more.

I am merely the camera operator, adding in some advice when I think it will help. (I am also taking still photos of the filming, which is where these collages came from). Seeing my son and his friends pouring over the footage of the day is such a nice sight to behold, as they laugh at the retakes, and critique their own performances.

What more could you ask for?

Peace (on the loose),
Kevin