The Reel Thing

    “The Reel Thing,” Ensign, Jan. 1975, 67

    The Reel Thing

    Have you ever presented an evening of home movies and at the end wondered why most of your audience left and was playing ping-pong in the garage? And why, of the three remaining viewers, two are asleep, one of which is your three-year-old who tried to wait patiently for the end of the show so that he could make shadow figures on the screen?

    Last night your audience saw “The Longest Day” on television. Last weekend they saw the re-release of “Gone With the Wind” at the drive-in. But this evening it was amateur night at the movies with “Backyard Picnic,” “Patty’s First Birthday,” “Aunt Olga’s Visit,” etc. There were long sections of overexposed picnic footage, indoor scenes that were too dark in the Aunt Olga film, and bright flashes of light in the birthday flick. Added to this were several sections slightly out of focus and a picture that looked as if the cameraman was filming from a storm-tossed ship. Get the picture? Or would you rather not?

    Let’s look at a few basic do’s and don’t’s in moviemaking that will really help improve your movies. Little expense is involved, and after your first successes you’ll be ready to tackle bigger film projects such as a fund-raising film for the elders quorum, a moviemaking activity for the Aaronic Priesthood and Young Women, or a documentary report on the ward outing.

    Home moviemaking falls into three basic categories: filming, editing, and projecting. Let’s look at each one of these as a means for improving your films.

    [illustration] Illustrated by Preston Heiselt


    First of all, use a tripod in all your filming. Don’t subject your viewers to the bumping, shaking, rocking, and wiggling of your hand-held camera. You won’t believe what a tremendous difference a tripod will make. Avoid much movement with the camera. It is hard to pan (follow the subject with the camera) without jerking, even on a tripod. Let the actors do the moving, not the camera. If you do have to pan, do it as slowly and smoothly as possible.

    Of course, long before panning comes planning. It doesn’t matter if the plan is on paper or in your mind—you must know what you want to film and how to film it. It is because of lack of planning that home movies are so boring and confusing to watch. Try to keep a story going in logical sequence of events, then stick to your subject. Avoid confusing your audience by filming “junk” scenes—scenes totally unrelated to your subject, such as a jet streaking across the sky in the middle of your family outing film. These scenes do little but confuse the viewer.

    Thus, a simple film scenario may be: the family leaves the house with a picnic basket … they enter the car and drive off … they approach the park (shoot through the car window) … they unload the basket and eat … they clean up the leftovers and put up the volleyball net … and a game starts. This type of filming has continuity and is logical to follow.

    Add humor whenever possible. Thus, the family could have left the picnic basket on their front lawn as they drove off.

    Avoid shots of faraway objects. On the small home movie screen these shots become very uninteresting. Instead of shots of the distant mountains, concentrate on the close shots of faces and activities of your family. The mountains won’t grow any older, but your youngsters will.

    Finally, don’t make your shots too short. Give the viewer a chance to really see your scenes. A good rule of thumb is to count to five while shooting a simple scene and to count longer for complex ones.


    The reason Hollywood films are so perfect is that all the mistakes in filming have been cut out. Every home moviemaker should own a film editor. These small viewing units give him a chance to see the film while cutting or rearranging it. First, cut out the all-black or all-white sections in the film and all the bad shots ruined by being out of focus, too jerky, etc. You can also cut out entire good sequences and rearrange them for the sake of continuity. I have never made a film that didn’t need some editing.

    You may also want to go through your old films and edit them together on a larger reel in order of years and events. This way you can show up to 25 minutes of film without changing reels.

    To add interest and accuracy, you can also film a roll of simple titles and splice them into the film before each new subject. Titles can be filmed with a hand writing on a blackboard, a finger writing in wet sand, or letters mounted or written on a colored poster board. Read the title slowly aloud while filming it, and you will have given it the proper length of exposure. If you’re filming the family vacation, it is a good idea to film signs of towns and motels in order to fit them into your final movie to help tell the story.

    When editing, I use a small piece of masking tape to hold film ends together temporarily. This way additional changes can be made by merely removing the tape. When everything is arranged the way I want it, I remove the masking tape and do a permanent splice. I prefer to use a wet splice, when I join the film ends together by scraping off the emulsion and then bond them with film cement. This type of splice is hardly noticeable and seems to be superior to splicing with transparent tape.


    The final improvement in home movie production is the projection of the movie. Don’t project films against colored walls or wrinkled sheets and curtains. Without a screen, the films will always suffer. A good screen enhances sharpness and presents your films in the best light. In my judgment, a silvery-looking lenticular screen is one of the best. This type of screen reflects the picture better, and you can sit right in front of it without having the picture look blurry or fuzzy. Most screens have a black border around them. This is for an important reason. Notice that when a film is projected against a white wall, the edge of the picture is always blurry. When the screen has a black border, the picture should be projected to overlap the screen just a little bit. This gets rid of the fuzzy frame, and the black border of the screen gives the picture a crisp outline, actually enhancing the sharpness of the picture. Try it, and you’ll be surprised at the difference.

    I could go into many more aspects of better moviemaking, but, for now, these suggestions are sure to make any home movie more professional. Your local camera store can help you if you have any questions as to splicing with cement or filming titles.

    Ultimately, your filming career will be rewarded by the greatest success of all, namely, that the garage ping-pong game ends early so the players won’t miss the beginning of your latest film.

    Lights! Camera! Action!

    Illustrated by Preston Heiselt

    Use a tripod. Keep a story line going. Edit out mistakes. Add titles. Try a wet splice. Have a good screen. Buy proper equipment.