4 gift ideas for making even better videos

The great thing about mobile filmmaking is that everything you need to shoot decent video is right in your pocket. It’s quick, easy, and portable, and for the basic stuff, you don’t need anything else. That said, there are accessories that can make your smartphone videos even better (or more fun to make). Here are four awesome toys you can ask for this Christmas.

1. OlloclipiPhone only

Olloclip

The Olloclip is the perfect mobile accessory: it’s tiny but packs a big punch. It’s a small gadget that slides over the camera on your iPhone or iPod, providing three alternative lenses: fish eye, macro, and wide angle. It’s a house favorite here at MixBit – especially the fish eye! I’ve linked to the original, but they have a few other products that include telephoto and additional macro lenses.

2. Grip Tight Gorillapod StandiPhone & Android

Gorillapod

The most versatile tripod ever. Small enough to fit in your jacket pocket, the Gorillapod can be attached to almost anything to provide a steady shot for your videos on the go – wrap it around a tree branch, hang it from the rafters, or just use it like a normal tripod. When you’ve got this with you, you can shoot professional-looking video anywhere.

3. Waterproof case

waterproof smartphone case

Waterproof cases are fairly affordable but aren’t especially common, so underwater shots still look incredibly unique. Want to add a splash of intrigue to your videos? Channel your inner child and set the tea party scene in the pool instead of the living room. Or reenact Nirvana’s Nevermind album cover – you’ve got a waterproof case, all you need is someone willing to swim around naked!

There are a lot of options in this area and which one you choose depends on your device. For the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy S3, we recommend the OtterBox. Before choosing one of these, make sure to read reviews – you don’t want to mess around with cheap objects when it comes to your phone!

4. iRig MIC CastiPhone & Android

iRig MIC Cast

In addition to using a tripod, having crisp, clear audio is a foolproof way to make your videos more professional. These don’t cost much but have a significant effect on the quality of sound – which becomes more and more important as screen sizes get smaller and smaller.

Happy holidays from all of us here at MixBit! Hope you have a cozy and safe holiday season.

How to make a swede video

According to SwedeFest, a swede is a low-budget summarized recreation of a popular film or TV show. It’s similar to a parody, but parodies are a bit more open with plot lines and will often spoof more than one film or TV show. It’s a concept with growing popularity in the indie film world. There are even two (non-sweded) films about swedes that I know of: Be Kind, Rewind, starring Jack Black and Mos Def, and Son of Rambow, a small but heartwarming film about two kids recreating the first Rambo movie.

We had a fantastic swede on the MixBit site a few weeks back from one of our favorite MixBit users named Chad Pickens, who works at a school. He worked with the kids to make a swede of Napoleon Dynamite.

 

The great thing about making a swede is that it saves you from coming up with a story, leaving your creative juices free to make it your own, and to have fun with a storyline that’s already a proven success. By their very nature, they are lighthearted and silly, so it leaves off a lot of the pressure of making a “perfect” short film. Swedes are supposed to look handmade and somewhat sloppy – it adds to the effect and humor. Chad said about the making of Swede-Poleon Dynamite, “I felt it was great to keep not so perfect takes in to make it just that much more entertaining. It’s supposed to be cheap and cheesy.”

Picking a film to swede may be the hardest part of the whole process. It has to be popular enough that people will recognize it without the original actors, sets, and cinematography. The plot has to be simple enough to be condensed into a shorter time span, and still be recognizable – while allowing time to add your own touches.

Of course, it can’t have a ton of special effects, unless there is a way to recreate them (in Son of Rambow, I believe they used fireworks to simulate explosions, which you should definitely not try at home). Many props and costumes can be recreated with stuff around the house, but CGI monsters are probably out of the question unless you have a friend who wants to dress up like Gollum and limp around your backyard. Which, now that I think about it, is not so far-fetched. That said, any special effects you add make the swede that much more complicated, time consuming, and potentially expensive, so take that into consideration before selecting your movie.

The next step is to select the scenes you want to recreate. Picking the well-known, often-quoted scenes is the best bet, because the parody and humor will pack the biggest punch. People like to be in on inside jokes. It’s easier to keep the audience if they know what you’re trying to do. Some scenes are so iconic that people will get the joke even if they never saw the movie (think: Rocky running up the steps, “Here’s Johnny,” the shower scene from Psycho, “You talkin’ to me?” from Taxi Driver, ET on a bike, etc).

The goal is to keep as many viewers in on the joke as possible. It’s awesome to slip in obscure references and jokes, but the majority of the swede should be easily recognizable. That’s what makes it interesting. It causes us to think about these classic moments in pop culture in a different way than we have our entire lives.

The great thing about a swede is that you have complete creative control. The more you make the story your own, the more interesting it will be to others. You can go way, way over the top, and as long as the audience gets the joke, they will stay with you. You can also change the scenes – add a layer of subtext to a classic scene, or completely change the ending of the film. Have fun with it. As long as you keep the audience in the loop, you really can do whatever you want.

A note on copyright: Read up on Fair Use before creating your film, and make sure that what you’re doing is legal.

5 classic plots you can use to tell meaningful stories

There are a few types of stories that get retold over and over, always slightly different, but always with the same journey from beginning to end. They are familiar stories, whether it takes place on a space station, in Ancient Rome, or in the present day. If you learn these plots and use them as the backbone for the stories you tell, it can make the process of storytelling much easier. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to tell a story. People before us have done the hard work and laid the foundation for creating meaningful stories – all we have to do is start from there and continue to grow as storytellers.

In this post I will introduce five types of plots and their basic structure. Each of these plots is like a Mad Lib of storytelling – just insert your own setting, characters and ideas to make it your own. These can be used in a story literally or metaphorically, and of course, they can be tweaked and changed and flipped upside down – it’s up to you. It doesn’t have to be a grand and epic story, either. Applying these formulas can make even short, silly videos punch above their weight.

Overcoming the Monster (Terminator, Jaws)
1. This begins with an evil monster threatening the land. The hero sets out to defeat it.
2. The hero prepares for battle while moving closer to the monster.
3. The monster appears and displays his power, causing our hero to feel like he/she has no chance at defeating him.
4. The battle begins with the odds heavily stacked against the hero.
5. In a thrilling climax, the hero defeats the monster and escapes, returning home a changed person.

Rags to Riches/Coming of Age (Cinderella, Aladdin)
1. The story begins with the hero miserable, poor, and alone. There is a call to adventure (e.g., the invitation to the ball in Cinderella).
2. The hero has a small initial success. They are not ready for the big time, but this leaves our hero feeling hopeful.
3. Suddenly everything goes wrong. The hero often loses hope.
4. There is a final ordeal where the hero has to prove his/her strength and worthiness.
5. The hero overcomes the final obstacle and lives happily ever after.

Quest (The Lord of the Rings, Monty Python and the Holy Grail)
1. The hero learns of something he/she wants – an object, an ideal, it can be anything, and sets out to find it.
2. The hero comes across an obstacle, overcomes it, continues on, comes across another obstacle, overcomes it, continues on, etc. In between the obstacles there are periods of rest, where often our hero meets strangers who teach him/her about the journey ahead.
3. The hero can see the finish line and what stands in his/her way, often becoming frustrated.
4. There is a final ordeal before our hero can get what he/she is looking for, often paired with a thrilling escape from death.
5. The hero wins, finds what he/she is looking for, and returns home with the prize.

Voyage and Return (Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz)
This is similar to the Quest, except they aren’t looking for something specific.
1. The hero falls into another world, often because of a blow to the head or a supernatural event.
2. The hero explores the new world, which seems like a wonderful place.
3. The mood darkens and a shadow falls across the land as the hero comes across something unexpected. The journey becomes harder.
4. The shadow takes center stage and the hero seems doomed.
5. There is another thrilling escape and the hero returns home, but often a question remains: did the hero change or was it just a dream?

Rebirth (It’s a Wonderful Life, How the Grinch Stole Christmas)
1. The hero drifts over to the dark side, often because of greed or want of power.
2. There are no immediate negative effects and things are fine for a while.
3. The dark side takes center stage – maybe the hero is asked to do something evil.
4. This continues as the hero goes further into evil, until it seems like he/she cannot be saved.
5. There is a miraculous redemption as the hero realizes his/her mistakes and overcomes the evil.

The basic structure of these plots are very straightforward: it is easy to tell between good and evil, and there is always a happy ending. Of course, life doesn’t always work like that, and these plots can be molded and changed to tell the story you want to tell. You can play with convention and surprise the audience – some of the best stories of our time are twisted, manipulated versions of these plots. But these plots provide a solid foundation so that you can tell the story any way you want without sacrificing the narrative arc that viewers need to stay interested.

3 ways to spark ideas for videos

It’s often hard to know what to film. You really want to make something, but you’re just staring at the record button on your phone and nothing is springing to mind. You’re resisting the urge to film your feet, but it’s becoming more and more tempting.

The great thing about “creating stuff” is that there are no rules – you can do whatever you want, however you want. But sometimes this can be the hardest part. Coming up with an idea out of nowhere can feel impossible. This is a dilemma that every creator faces at one point or another. Every artist, writer, musician, filmmaker, every creative type, struggles with writer’s block.

If you’re so stuck that you can’t just start and hope for the best, try turning to brainstorming. It’s a great way to loosen up your brain enough to get unstuck.

Here are three brainstorming methods to try the next time you find yourself staring at a blank screen:

  1. Create a list, as long as you can, without judging your ideas at all. Write down every idea that comes to mind, no matter how bad, silly, or far-fetched it seems. When you’re done, go through the list and mark all the interesting ideas. Pick the one that intrigues you – or scares you. Maybe you have a general topic you want to explore, but you’re not sure how to go about it. In this case, you can brainstorm interesting ways to explore your idea or topic. Create another list, focusing on methods rather than content. How can you make this idea interesting? How can you make it unique?
  2. Brainstorm on the job. You can always brainstorm while shooting something – just keep asking yourself questions. What if I put the camera over here? What if I used this piece of furniture to frame the shot? What if I got up close to the character? Explore your ideas, even if they seem weird. Sometimes the strangest, most random-seeming ideas end up being the most powerful.
  3. Try giving yourself a constraint to work with. Constraints can be extremely effective in sparking creativity. For example, if you are told to draw something and given a blank piece of paper, it’s often hard to come up with an idea of what to draw. But if you are told to draw something specific, like a hippo, it’s easier to come up with interesting ideas within that framework. So the next time you’re really stuck, assign yourself arbitrary constraints to see if that sparks any ideas.

Good luck! You can always bounce your ideas off of us – we love hearing them. Give us a shout on Twitter at @MixBitApp or email us at hello@mixbit.com. :)

How to reduce wind noise

Wind noise. The dreaded effect of mobile video. Shooting something at the beach or on the street seems like a great idea. It’s beautiful! It’s interesting! But when you play it back, all you can hear is the loud wind distortions.

But never fear. We’ve found a few things that help, depending on whether you want to be able to hear something else (like someone speaking) or you desire the sweet sound of silence.

  1. If you’re trying to dull the wind noise so you can hear something (or someone) else, try creating a wind screen. Shield the mic on the bottom of your phone with a hat, or by cupping your hand around it.
  2. If you have your headphones with built-in mic for phone calls, plug that in and speak through that microphone. You won’t completely eradicate wind noise, but the voice quality will be much more crisp and clear.
  3. If you don’t need to hear anything, just stick your finger over the phone’s microphone. Or use the mute button in the MixBit app to easily mute individual clips.
  4. You do have another option: move. Assuming you’re not at the beach or somewhere you can’t escape the wind, you can always move to a quieter, more sheltered area. Your video will be much higher quality as a result.

If you don’t want to move or use one of our hacks, you can look into a small external microphone. A lavalier is a clip-on microphone that’ll cost you about $20-30, and is great for reducing background noise and focusing on the sound that really matters.