Monday, October 19, 2015

Moving pictures

My husband has taken on the project of transferring old home movies into digital video. We’ve had
some good laughs, and refreshed memories, over the old films. We’ve also taken away a few tips for those who seek to preserve today’s occasions for future memories.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re using a digital camera, smartphone, or other type of technology, as these apply to style and content:
  1. Forget the food. There may be a sentimental reason to feature a shot of a birthday cake or holiday spread, but don’t bother featuring food in your movie. We’d much rather see grandma’s smile or Aunt Sylvia’s wave than what was served at the wedding.
  2. Move in for the close-up. Long shots are good for establishing a scene, but then move in. The relatives in your movies won’t be around forever, or won’t look so fresh and young after several decades, so treat your audience with big close-ups that reveal how sis and baby brother looked at that moment. And, crucially important, most small cameras can’t capture good audio from a distance. If you want to be able to understand what they’re saying, it’s got to be shot from seven feet or closer.
  3. It’s a “moving” picture, so don’t ask people to stand still. Let’s see how mom danced, the tangle of little kids playing soccer, or the family rocking in chairs on the porch. Don’t stage a group shot, as you would with a still camera.
  4. Slow down. Camera movement is great as you pan around the room or field, but slow and steady will help your viewing audience keep their lunch. Moving too fast or herky-jerky while filming can have a nauseating effect on viewers.
  5. Be sneaky when necessary. Some relatives hide when the camera comes out. Back in the day, it was hard to avoid knowing when the camera was on, what with bright movie lights and loud camera mechanisms. Now it’s easier to capture the parents before they wave you off.
  6. Record the fun. What we’ve found is the wish to see relatives look natural and at ease with one another. But, having said that, there’s nothing like the unguarded joy of siblings or friends having a good time. It might just be a hot day with a garden hose, or a sneak snowball attack on your sister. Make the camera inconspicuous (point 5 above), stake out a good spot to start, and don’t hesitate to move around to get the best angles.

  7. Record and archive in highest quality possible. For the first time in the history of motion imagery, many of us have cameras in our pockets that could, in the right hands, shoot pieces of a Hollywood movie. The first rule is to shoot at the highest resolution and quality available on your device. And learn how to transfer the raw footage to your computer for long-term storage. Don’t count on saving the clips you loaded up to social media, because that footage is usually highly compressed in the process, with great loss of quality. Yes, you’ll probably want to learn how to do some basic editing in iMovie or Premiere, throwing out the junk, and always saving at the highest quality once you’re done. You will end up investing in external storage drives, which are relatively cheap and plentiful, but archiving carefully is key to future generations being able to enjoy what was going on way back…now.
It’s great to look back through photo albums, in hard copy or digital, but in 30 years or so there will be nothing like seeing Mom making pasta or your brother going to the prom with his future wife.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Flying cats and parallel paths

As my parents entered their ninth decade, they decided to adopt two kittens. The year was 2008. Since then, those two scrappy cats have occupied dedicated space in my head. My brother would tease me saying, “You know what I call them? YOURS!”

I knew at some point, some day, I would be involved in their lives. That time came last week, when my brother and I flew from Florida with the cats and my widowed mother, as she relocated back to New Jersey.

For months I had been anticipating, planning for, and dreading this flight. I had called dibs on doing everything to help with the move except for being on the actual flight with the cats. I enlisted my husband to be my stand-in cat-flying companion. But when push came to shove, I knew I had to put on my big-girl pants, stop whining, and get on that plane.

The only traveling I had done with cats was to bring mine to the veterinarian. Even though these were short car trips, the yowling was constant and insistent. I couldn’t imagine a two-hour flight with noisy felines under the seats in front of us, and I was anxious about the potential side effects of sedating the cats.

The only thing to do was to plow ahead. The day began early, before dawn, because no one could sleep. My brother and I wrangled one cat and then the other into the bathroom to pill, harness, and secure in carriers. My mother sat quietly in the living room, and we put the first cat-filled carrier on her lap. By the time we completed the second one, the first cat was already in mid-escape. We caught him just in time, and secured all the locks.

We were well prepared for airport security, with leashes at the ready, so we could remove the cats from carriers to put them (the carriers, not the cats) through the X-ray scanner. Then we settled at our gate to await boarding. There was a moment, pre-boarding, when we noticed a bad smell emanating from one of the carriers. So my brother and I locked ourselves in the companion bathroom to change out the pet pee pad we were using as a liner. I don’t know what was stranger, changing out a cat pee pad or kneeling on the bathroom floor in an airport with my brother.

The flight itself was a non-event, except for some soft meowing and half-hearted clawing at the carrier. Between the crying babies and a barking puppy on the plane, the two cats were model travelers.

The next day, I began the task of notifying people of my mother’s change of address. One of the first emails was to her financial advisor, who immediately emailed back with a near-identical story.

While we were flying from Florida to New Jersey, he was flying his mother and her cat from Denver to California. Halfway through the flight, her cat figured out how to open the carrier and began climbing out. “Clearly the cat isn’t gonna run away, we are on an airplane for goodness sake….but my mom goes into full panic mode. Pretzels are flying off the tray, her purse dumps out, and basically hilarity ensues.” Fortunately, the guy in the next seat was a cat owner and helped retrieve the cat, which he then locked into the carrier using his keyring.

Mission completed for both flights, both sets of cats, and both moms (and their kids).

For me there was the added bonus of sharing what I thought was a rare experience with an insider of my mother’s affairs. As he wrote after we both related our stories: “Best….email…chain…ever!!”

The only thing better is having this adventure well behind me.