Walt Disney World is one of the most magical places in the world. When we visited, I quickly became immersed in a truly wonderful and fantastic experience that I did not want to end. However, I did not want to just visit WDW, I wanted to document my familyÂ´s trip there. In the end, I succeeded. Since we got back, I have spent a lot of time thinking about what I did well during my filming, and how I can improve what I do the next time we visit. I wrote this article so you can learn what I did.
When Walt Disney was thinking about his concept of a theme park, he decided to create an experience. He made the experience of being in the parks like being in a movie. So, why canÂ´t we take the movie home with us when we return to our normal lives? The good news is, we can! This article is about taking your home videos to a better level. There are some simple ways to make your home videos more exciting and to help them to truly reflect what you enjoyed at WDW.
The Basics: Do you know your camera? Do you know how to turn it on and off? How to adjust the zoom? Remember the bells and whistles you had to have when you bought the camera but you never learned how to use? The time to practice using your camera is BEFORE you go. The medium you are recording to (tape, etc.) is the cheapest part of using your camcorder. Waste a few tapes playing around in your home and backyard before you go. Make sure you know how your camera works and become proficient at using it. Know where the buttons are, how the menus are set up, and be able to use the different functions of the camera without looking at the manual. Make sure you know how to adjust the white balance (more on this later, this can be very important). Be sure your sound settings are good. Now is also a time to practice your filming. Annoy your spouse and children, and have fun doing it. Practice framing shots, practice filming both motion and still subjects. Practice in daylight and low light situations, and push your camera so you know its capabilities. You do not want to be trying to figure this all out when you get to WDW, your camera will not work the way you want it to at exactly at the time you need it, trust me. Walt did not leave anything to chance in his parks, you should not either. You need to be fully prepared when you go so you are happy with your footage when you get home.
Now we need to talk about editing software. Whoa! DonÂ´t stop reading yet! Most companies that make home video oriented camcorders are moving towards DVD camcorders, not because they take better pictures (they donÂ´t), but because most consumers want filming to be easy. When they are done, they want to pop it into the DVD player and see their handiwork. What you get though, is just a bunch of clips. There is nothing wrong with a bunch of clips, they are infinitely better than NOT having a bunch of clips. However, they leave something to be desired. You will probably watch them once or twice, and then will put the DVD away and forget about it. You want to do something different, and you want to make your home video is special and memorable. This is very easy to do, and will not take much more work at all. If you bought your computer within the last 3 years, it probably came with some basic video editing and DVD authoring software. These tend to be relatively simple and intuitive programs to use. Mine came with Windows MovieMaker, Muvee Autoproducer, and Sonic MyDVD. If you have a Mac, it probably came with iMovie. All these are basic editing packages, but are quite powerful and are wonderful when it is time to combine your clips. Upload everything you have, throw out the bad bits, and put the rest in the correct order. Boom, you have your movie and it tells a story. A small investment in some mid-range software such as Vegas Movie Studio will dramatically increase your editing options and can be a worthwhile investment if you become interested in doing more. One quick comment about Muvee Autoproducer. This is a neat software program, in that it automatically compiles your clips, frames your shots, adds effects, and lets you put it to the music of your choice. It does not take the place of editing software, but can be fun and I use it to make music videos. It allows you to put random clips together into something interesting. Be careful of copyright laws! Adding music off of CDÂ´s is actually a copyright violation and you can be legally prosecuted. Google “royalty-free music” instead.
So, is that out of the way? Good.
The Big Picture: Believe it or not, you NEED to have a big picture in mind before you go to Walt Disney World. Why are their hotels so special? Because they are themed. Why do the parks work together successfully despite the fact that they are a startling diverse group of rides and entertainment? Because they are themed. Why do other theme parks flounder and Disney continues to add attractions and patrons? Because everything is themed. Your movie needs a theme. Without that, it is just a bunch of clips. You want something different, you want a movie that stands out. Thus, you need a theme.
There are many, many possible themes you can use as a starting point when you think about what you want to do. What is important is that you choose a theme that makes sense to you and your family, and that you revolve much of what and how you film around this theme. Once you have a theme, you work backwards, because a theme inspires what you do and tells you what you need to film.
A simple theme to use is tell the story of your visit from start to finish. Give your movie a beginning, a middle, and an end. So if that is your theme, what footage do you need to get? Well, it makes sense to take some film of the family on the way to Disney, perhaps filming them around the dinner table talking about how excited they are, while they are packing the car, sleeping on the plane, leaving the hotel in the morning, on the bus to the park, etc. You would also want to film them entering the parks, which leads to the realization you would want to be sure to do this for all the parks you visit, or your film will not be cohesive. The middle of the movie is the combined set of experiences you had while in each park. Then you need to end the movie, perhaps with a clip of everyone waving goodbye, short interviews your family members talking about their favorite memories of the park, or by adding credits with editing software. You could even do a bloopers reel with those clips that did not work. See how when you choose a theme and think backwards you start to see what you need?
Here are some other possible themes you could use as inspiration. Does your family love country music and the wild west? Make it a point to document everything possible in Frontierland: Pecos Bill, Woody from Toy Story, the Country Bear Jamboree, Splash Mountain. Get it all. Is someone in your family an engineer or a science fiction freak? Tomorrowland and Innoventions are where you want to be. Is your family from one of the countries represented in the World Showcase Pavilions in Epcot? Another theme could be filming your family throughout that pavilion and getting some of the street performers on tape. Are you and your family hooked on certain rides, such as the Haunted Mansion? Get some of the mansion itself, the butlers, the tombstones on the way in, the plaques on the way out. When filming rides, get some film of your family talking about how excited they are to go on the ride, and then how much they enjoyed it when the ride ended. (For the record, I donÂ´t generally think it is a good idea to film during a ride I have some more comments on this later.).
One theme I used during my most recent trip with my family was a focus on getting character autographs. My kids were set on amassing the hugest collection of autographs they possibly could, so I made it a point to film each and every autograph, each and every one. In doing so, I got some funny clips of the characters. Have you ever seen Pluto sign an autograph book? He balances it on his nose. Ever heard the Princesses banter with the kids while they are signing? They make remarks about their movies, Princess Aurora asked about my daughtersÂ´ personal fairies and Snow White talked about Dopey blowing water out his ears. My daughters were entranced. This collection of clips, as a group with clear goal of the film to document all the autographs, pulls together into something solid. If I had not been focused on my theme, I would have missed the little details that Disney is famous for. My daughters are thrilled with it.
These are just some starting off points. What is important is that you think about how you are going to organize the film. Walt Disney animators storyboarded the animation before they drew the cartoons. That is, they drew a series of pictures for themselves to outline their story. You need to do this too. If you do, it will automatically make your home video better than 70% of what most people come home with.
Some general guidelines:
1. Always, and I mean always, have your camera with you. I put mine in my fanny pack for the entirety of my trip. DonÂ´t think youÂ´ll need it? Take it anyway, you will. You didnÂ´t drag it all the way to your vacation just to leave it in the hotel? Did you?
2. Keep an extra battery and extra tapes around. You do not want to run out of tape or power just when the Disney Cast Member offers you a visit to CinderellaÂ´s castle for the Million Wishes celebration. If you do not have an extra battery, be VERY diligent about charging your single battery every night in the hotel. You did bring your charger, right?
3. Take a lot of shots to show the “setting.” Take a few clips of the family getting on the plane, entering the Magic Kingdom, the Epcot sphere, etc. Frame your shot and take a deep breath, and hold for 8-10 seconds. Take several shots of different things (you donÂ´t have to use them all, but you want to give yourself options). You can use them later to show your settings by inserting them between your series of actions shots. Do you feel like a geek? Well, all those people who you think are making fun of you are going to be jealous when they do not like their movies as much as you like yours.
4. I have some quick comments on using the zoom feature in your camera. Use it as little as possible. Check whether your camera has optical or digital zoom. If it only has digital zoom, do not use it at all. Digital zoom quickly degrades your image quality; optical zoom does not. If you have optical zoom, do not use it when you are recording. Instead, zoom in to where you want your shot to be, and then start filming your subject. Most people who use a camcorder use their zoom way too much, zooming in and out and in and out, which at best distracts your audience and at worst give them motion sickness. If you insist on zooming while you are recording, do it very slowly.
5. Figure out how to manually set the white balance your camera, even if your camera has automatic white balance. Indoor lighting provides an incomplete spectrum of color, and indoor footage that has not been white balanced appropriately turns out looking jaundiced and yellowed. Once filmed, this is hard to correct, even with good editing software, and you will save yourself a lot of headaches if you film with your colors balanced from the beginning. The automatic white balancing feature works fine in my camera for outdoor shots, but I utilize settings on mine that compensate for florescent lights when I move inside.
6. A quick comment on filming attractions. You are not actually permitted to film some attractions, especially the ones that are plays, though I believe most street performances are fair game. Ask before you start. You are permitted to film most rides to my knowledge. That being said, are you sure you want to? If you are obsessed with a certain ride, it makes some sense. Beyond this, I personally do not want to take a chance on my camera and film smashing into the depths of Space Mountain or splashing into the river of the Jungle Cruise. You can always buy or download videos of rides if you really want them.
7. Think very hard about what you are filming. Yes, you do want to capture as much of the ambience as possible, but in the end, most footage pales in comparison next to images of your family enjoying themselves. The portions of my home videos that I love the most are not of WDW, they are of my family. The look on my daughterÂ´s faces when they first entered the parks or hugged a princess were the most priceless parts of my trip. So, it is good to get Cinderella, but make sure you are getting your daughterÂ´s face. Mickey is wicked cool, but make sure you get your son jumping around after the hug. The parade was great, but your familyÂ´s look of wonder is better. You are not doing a Disney documentary, they have their own people for that. You are doing a family documentary and your family members are your most important subjects.
If you follow these guidelines, I can guarantee you will see a dramatic improvement in your enjoyment of you home movies. Good luck, and keep on filming!