Tuesday, May 19, 2015

CRITIQUE of "Monsters of the Amazon" - Tips for Amateur Video Editors #151

 The Amazon 1999 (video edited in 2012) -- (Part 4 of discussion)


In Part 1 and Part 2 we lamented that our nine hours of video from the Amazon was hopelessly boring.  So I had an original idea: mix freely-available horror movie trailers with my own footage to create a fictional adventure.  This was a departure from anything I had ever attempted before.
Chapters/scenes from Monsters Of The Amazon are are detailed in Part 3.  Now in Part 4 we'll critically discuss what works and what could have been done better.

A "Critical" Look, Scene by Scene:
I have so much ownership of this production, it's hard to step back and be a critic.  I know I will never do a remake, but there are some flaws I see every time Monsters is played.  I've heard that "Editing is never completed, but a some point you just stop cutting."  Here's are some lessons from Monsters of the Amazon that I'll try to remember for future productions

(1) "The lucky ones never find why they're looking for.  Others … they're not so lucky!"  I think this may be the all-time most-inspired sentence that I ever wrote.  I considered having a friend narrate the voiceover but artificially deepening my voice worked well.
I like the National Geographic reference, as well as the ridiculous assertion: "…an incredible yet TRUE story!"  Hah, I would never lie to my viewers.

(2) The picture-in-picture composite which introduces the cast is a nice concept.  When I submitted this video to an amateur contest one of the judges commented about the camera's superimposed dates.  If I were doing it again I would adjust the background video of a map so the date didn't clutter the screen.  However, dates on the PIP would remain since I feel they lend some "authenticity".
I like the heroic music as the crew is introduced.  We view peaceful scenes from the first day's expedition, then expectations are raised.  Music grows ominous as crew activities become suspicious.

(3) Hollywood scenes of insect attacks work well with vacation footage of real insect bites.
The most common way to end a scene is a fade to black or a cross-fade.  This one ends with an unsettling fade to white. 

(4) The natives stole our clothes?   Well it's some fun footage of topless tribal members and our group swimming in the river.  Aaagh ... was that a giant piranha?  This scene and the next work to set up our first jungle "tragedy".

(5) Actually good footage of a tribal dance, along with some National-Geographic-style toplessness.   Switch to some Brazilian samba entertainment on-board, then a guy's head explodes in a dimly-lit restaurant.  It's not supposed to make any sense, but perhaps I could have found a better-lit scene for the head explosion?
Note:  The exploding head was free stock footage from Detonation Films that I composited into the movie.

(6) Here's homage to a timelessly bad big-star feature movie.  Millions of people people actually paid to see Jon Voight & Jennifer Lopez in Anaconda!  At least my video of the river kids' canoes adds some authenticity and professionalism to the ridiculous Hollywood special effects.

(7)  I really like the edits in the scene about cults.  Cutting between the real, the unreal, and the OMG cat.  And increasingly tense string orchestra music.
But the screaming victim in Creature From The Black Lagoon is a female; our victim "The Dancer" is male.  If I re-edit, I might try to composite my friend so it looks like he is attacked by the Creature.
Note: The woman explaining an Amazonian religious cult is actually a university professor of anthropology in the United States..

(8) Sounds like music from Jaws as we're catching little fish from our Zodiac raft.  Wait a minute -- isn't that the same guy whose head blew up a couple of minutes ago?  [Discontinuity alert!]  I love Christopher Lloyd's voice as he explains the piranha's "pack mentality".   Clips from Piranha and Mega Piranha make my HENBC efforts look like Academy Award material.

(9) The vacation video clip of Tio Tom's cantina is actually well done and fun to watch.  I like the title, "One Century Later" [sure, everyone believes that].  But the surprise ending is rushed and unclear.  I'd like more viewers to realize that after the Tree Hugger and I escaped, I somehow morphed into "Swamp Thing" and we lived happily ever after.

Lessons Learned:
Don't take yourself too seriously.  I didn't bring the budget, crew, and equipment to produce a National Geographic documentary.  I don't my audience to be enchanted, I just want them to laugh!

When all else fails, use your video to tell "lies" about your trip.  Make up a story, then use your video clips to support the fiction.

Try mixing some Hollywood stuff with your own.  I tried this in 1996 with limited success when I blended our trip to Ireland with clips from The Quiet Man.

Humor trumps technical flaws.  Monsters of the Amazon won awards from a  couple of contests, despite some judges comments about discontinuity, an irrational story, and confusing ending.

NAMMA: "Ten Best of 2012"

AIFVF: "Best SciFi"

Monsters of the Amazon was fun to edit, and the result is certainly goofy.  Was it worth all of the time and effort?  Absolutely Yes!  I thought it was worth more than a single blog posting, so we could look a little deeper at inspiration and editing technique.  Hope you agree.

Next time we'll move on to discuss another vacation video project.

Suggestion: browse through the blog archives  Over Here  - - - - - > > >

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

MONSTERS OF THE AMAZON - Tips for Amateur Video Editors #150

 The Amazon 1999 (video edited in 2012) -- (Part 3 of discussion)


Recapping from Part 1 and Part 2, the nine hours of video from our Amazon vacation was hopelessly boring.  Friends wanted to see a vacation movie, but I was simply uninspired.  Then, I decided to create a completely fictional background story.  Monsters of The Amazon was created long before the cable television series about "river monsters",  and is a completely original wacky concept.

Story Synopsis:
I gathered an expedition team of friends.  We went together to the Amazon, searching for legendary monsters.  On the way we fall victim to predatory animals and indifferent humans.  Only two survive.

Watch For:
Continuity problems.   Cast members are killed, yet appear in the following scenes.  Are they zombies?
Camcorder-imposed dates in the lower right corners of the screens.  Poor cinematography + indifferent editing?
Special effects and compositing.  I was practicing editing techniques with Final Cut Pro X.

Step Through the Movie's Scenes:
(1) The title narration just cracks me up every time I hear it.  "The lucky ones never find why they're looking for!"  My own voice enhanced in Garage Band.   It's a mysterious graveyard, followed by a montage of literary and theatrical Amazon monster masterpieces.  Background music throughout the video is from Smartsound.

(2) With a map in the background we are introduced to our cast of characters, and board the boat.
As we cast off, the Captain reveals himself to be an alcoholic.  The morning looks promising, but the crew gives us contradictory instructions.

(3) Ants and other flying/crawling things take advantage of our exposed skin during the night expedition.  Heather Locklear, Dwayne Johnson and I all suffer from insect attack.    The ship's doctor is of little help, as he seems to be conducting biological experiments.

(4) Next morning, topless natives steal our clothes.  The ship's crew takes my wife's underwear, and piranha attack as we swim in the river.  At least we weren't shot at.

(5) Some of our team participate in topless, butt-shaking  native ceremonial dances.  Our Financier's head explodes, infected by the jungle rhythm.

(6) The Collector wants to acquire an anaconda skin.  Jon Voight shows her one, and natives offer live ones for sale from a canoe.  Inevitably, she becomes lunch for a snake.

(7) An Amazonian religious cult tries to warn us, to no avail.  The Dancer scoffs at the danger, and he looks quite effeminate as the Creature from the Black Lagoon drags him away.

(8) The greedy Captain runs away; we go fishing.  Children warn us that "The piranha will feast on your white butts!"   The Financier makes an unexpected return appearance as the Wisecracking Old Guy becomes fish food.

(9) The Tree Hugger (who begins to look a lot like Heather Locklear) and I escape in Columbia.  One hundred years later, I've morphed into a plant.  Fortunately, she has become a vegetarian and we live happily ever after.

Next Blog Post
We'll critique, discussing what works and what could have been done better.

Suggestion: browse through the blog archives  Over Here  - - - - - > > >

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Create a Fictional Tale from Hopelessly Boring Vacation Video - Tips for Amateur Video Editors #149

The Amazon 1999 (video edited in 2012) -- (Part 2 of discussion)
Recapping, we already know that I have nine hours of standard-definition source video from our vacation to the Amazon in 1999.  We also know that the raw material is intensely boring.  So boring, in fact, that my typical technique ("Divide into short manageable independent vignette stories") probably won't work.  But my friends still want to see video of the Amazon.
I reviewed all nine hours and marked about fifteen minutes that might be worthy of an "Amazon Adventure Highlight Reel".  But vacation video editing is a hobby, not an obligation.  I want to have fun while I edit.
Luckily, my massive brain seized upon an idea:  THIS CAN BE A FICTION.

I decided to create a horror story.
Amazon adventurers didn't realize they would be part of my "Horror Story"

YouTube has plenty of movie trailers, including some notable B-movies (also C- and D-movies) that could have taken place in the Amazon region.  I gathered trailers from notable films like:  Anaconda; Forbidden World; Black Water;  Swamp Thing & The Return of Swamp Thing; The Scorpion King; Tarantula; The Creature From The Black Lagoon; Piranha & Mega Piranha; The Return of Swamp Thing, and even an Internet meme The OMG Cat.
(* Aren't these copyrighted?  See below.)

Short clips from each trailer and my vacation footage we're marked within Final Cut Pro X, than placed it all into a new project's timeline.  Watching it over and over again, I began to rearrange, piecing together the beginnings of a storyboard.  This led to writing and recording a narration that I placed under the timeline.  Now I could trim the story to match my narration.

The project was taking shape -- perhaps the most ridiculous story ever told.  I couldn't laughing as I edited;   "This is for sure the stupidest movie I've ever made."  Nevertheless, it has won a few awards!

I named my masterpiece Monsters of the Amazon.  You'll get to see it in my next blog post.

Suggestion: browse through the blog archives  Over Here  - - - - - > > >

*Copyright Considerations:
I do not encourage improper use of copyrighted material.  I often use Royalty-Free music with license that I purchased from SmartSound.  
Copyright also applies to still and moving images.  I extracted a few seconds of video from many different movie trailers for this production.  They were all freely available on YouTube, in most cases they were placed there as advertising for the movies themselves.  In at least one case (The Creature From The Black Lagoon) the entire movie is now in public domain.
Does my production meet the guidelines for "Fair Use"?  I'll offer these arguments and let you make your own decision: I used only video from the trailers, not from the movies themselves;  I am not making a profit from this; the professionally-made movies are given credit at the end of my video; and the blog is for educational purposes.