Non Sequitur Fridays

Bringing Narration Back to Home Movies

What happened to the narrated home movie? I think technology is to blame.

I recently had over 350 of my 8mm, Hi8, and MiniDV tapes digitized to QuickTime files by SouthTree, and I’ve only scratched the surface of reviewing the footage. Let me tell you... it is a gold mine of long forgotten memories and experiences. Not to mention, my thick Rhode Island accent and high pitched prepubescent voice is, well, you’ll see.

Among the footage of tractors, dogs, and high school shenanigans, I noticed two things. First of all, I had a camera attached to my hand for the better part of middle and high school. The second thing, the one that stuck out to me above anything else, is that I used to narrate what I was shooting.

Here’s a clip circa December 2000:

Yes, that's my voice, and yes, I still love tractors and plowing.

There was a marked change when I moved from physical tape video cameras and into the tapeless world of DSLR and iPhone video. With tape cameras, I'd click record, let it roll, and fill the voids with narration. Now on my iPhone or Canon 5D, I click record and stop to capture deliberate and concise moments.

When a clip is saved to your Camera Roll, metadata built into the file documents GPS coordinates, time, and date. I think that a combination of the metadata and the fact that I'm capturing shorter clips prevents me from narrating as I’m shooting.

As I've learned from watching my old footage, narration captures the moment in a way metadata from an iPhone simply can not. So I’m bringing narration back.

Now it’s worth nothing that not every video clip calls for narration. But if you are specifically recording a video for nostalgia and posterity, then here are a few things to think about:

  • Context is king. What are you seeing and how you are feeling? What happened the day before? Why did you pick up your camera? What happened before you picked up your camera?
  • Set the scene. Not just your GPS coordinates. Who are you with? What’s the weather? Describe your environment.
  • Know when to stop your narration. Don’t narrate the entire clip. Let your camera's microphone take a break from your voice so that you can capture the true ambience of the moment you are recording.

The next time you go to shoot a memory on your iPhone, I hope you’ll join me on my journey to bring narration back to home movies.

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