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Wednesday, May 6

Lockdown

Before I go into what I think I got right with the Lockdown song, it's probably worth looking at some stuff I got wrong.

The vocal take isn't good enough. There are notes missed, breaths not taken, and the phrasing's not great. However, it does manage to convey the words accurately and tells the story ok.

The video has a few glitches in it. The scene with the goats is too long and loses some context as it should really appear inside a YouTube frame - perhaps zooming out to show it was a YouTube cut... though how to do that in the video editor, who knows?

There may be a couple of dodgy lyrics in there too... trying to get officers to rhyme with scissors makes the joke work, but it should be O-fficer, not o-FI-cert...

The point is that there's always room to say why something's imperfect, and something that could have been done better. However, overall, I'm really happy with the video and song when put together. I'd like to put a few notes together on how this might not have ended up as good, but did result in something I'm proud of because of some decent decisions that happened along the way. I'm not sure they were entirely by design.

A quick lesson on how the song came about. I had the idea for a song about lockdown based on downtown because they're simply the same sounding word. I've enjoyed Tony Hatch's music over the years anyway; closer scrutiny of the song reminded me how brilliantly ironic it is that the original song is about going downtown, the opposite of the state we're in.

I wrote a couple of verses, and found it an interesting challenge, owing to the fairly complex original rhyme scheme and lyrical structure. I got something I quite liked. That was started on April 21st. I tweaked it a little. On 28th I wrote the last verse. I stood in the garage and recorded the vocal a day or so later. The video was filmed on 2nd May, though I'd recorded a snippet down the side of the house a day or so before. The process from idea to complete video was a couple of weeks.

When I write a parody song, which I've not done a lot of before, but have been doing a lot recently, I often review a performance of the original, or the original lyrics, putting them side-by-side with the lyric I'm writing to get it to scan. This feels like writing to a formula... there must be some good creative moments/decisions to make it live, and I think it here that this song jumped off the page.

Before I go on about the things I think I did, I should point out that this was a case of walking in beautifully crafted footsteps of greater writers/performers. The original song is a work of art. It must surely have done a lot of the work for me... but I also did some work. I remember doing it.

The Third Verse
The rule with comedy songs is get out before they get bored. Try to avoid instrumentals. Try to avoid repetition. Don't overstay one's welcome.

The original draft got to the line "While goats invade the centre of town" and I thought it had peaked. There's a key change and instrumental break. Stop here. Point made. Or so I thougt.

However, as writing challenges go, finding new words to fit the awkward structure was like a drug and I thought I'd have another go. All the initial more obvious ideas were now used up. They weren't bad ideas, they were just predictable.

Creating with constraints is good for you. You end up finding something new. I couldn't repeat what I'd said before. I had to dig deeper into my personal experience. I had to find funny counterparts for them. In the case of Disinfect the post/Hide in the curtains and pretend you're a ghost, one of these was something we were essentially doing - a damning summary of daily life treating the post as dangerous. The other was me coming up with a funny image that rhymed... I'm so glad I did.

The last verse is my favourite and it could so not have happened.

Trying it out on my Wife
I've been somewhat reluctant to try my hilarious comedy ideas out at home, since often what's funny to an audience is awkward in person. However, I read through the song to my wife and it made us both laugh. This gave me the mood for what I wanted to reach in the edits and the last verse. I had the perfect audience. If my wife, who can see through me, finds the material funny, then it's probably very funny. Another constraint to the writing process.

You should write comedy to make yourself laugh. I laugh most at my own stuff when it causes laughter, or when I can't believe I'm about to say/sing it.

It took a few takes to be able to sing the hide in the curtains line without cracking.

Filming on a Glorious Day
The nicest thing about the video is that it was filmed on a blue sky day with green fields. I was taking the kids for a walk. I tried getting my daughter to film me, but it didn't quite work. I did a couple of quick selfies to the camera and took some texture shots.

I must surely have mined the book of film student cliches with the spinning round bit... but it was fun and it looks good. It's obvious that the two verses are selfies, but the change in camera angle was a good idea as it makes it look more well though out than it was.

I performed the first lines of the song without any backing track.. just from my memory of the rhythm of the song. It ties in remarkably well.

Discovering the magic of Lip Sync
Once I discovered that my attempt to record without an backing track to mime to actually worked, I got bolder about what else I could possibly achieve by miming and shuffling the footage into the right position to sync.

It seems that the brain is remarkably forgiving of lip sync in videos and you just need to drag a clip to the right sort of place and suddenly it lives!

When my friend recorded a video to another song we made, without the final backing track, I was similarly surprised at the lip sync of the end result. This time, I was editing and I soon discovered how little I need to rely on making a video take of the actual track recording... not that I'll stop doing that. It's fun to see the video of the actual take you're hearing - if that's an important thing in the presentation of the song.

The Netflix bit of the song came out well with the above technique. I built a video with the Netflix background and a frame of me singing - I then played that on our TV and filmed that with a moving shot, knowing it would all tie together in the edit.

Trusting lip sync gave us some of our best shots.

Listening to my Wife's Ideas during Filming
I had an idea for each of the shots, but it wasn't set in stone. I didn't get too precious about the ideas and gave my wife the camera to try stuff with. I say camera. It was an iPhone.

An an example, thought it was my idea to go up in the loft, it was her who put the ladder up after me and then made me slam the loft hatch shut up there... a shot that made us and the kids laugh when we watched it back.

You've got to admire someone who agrees to set fire to envelopes over the sink in the name of art.

Trying to Finish It
It could have stalled and never really finished. I have a video in that state; there's some photography done, and some graphics, but loads more to do on top.

In this case, the self-imposed pressure to get it out on YouTube on the day of the main photography forced us to come up with passable and in many cases, spontaneously funny clips.

Using a Karaoke Track
It's kind of an admission of failure that I couldn't create my own backing... but there was a really rather good one I could just import. Build/buy... it's a no brainer here.

I would have had more things to worry about, preventing me from getting anyway, if I'd decided to make my own backing. The one I chose gave the end result a much more professional feel.

Editing it down to the minimum
There's a cut in the backing track I chose. It means the song goes a bit faster and there's less fill between the first and second halves around the keychange.

As a rule, never use the whole song without slicing bits out unless it's perfect.

Thinking about the Words for the Video
A video is a chance to do an act out, so each scene was a mini 3-4 second visual gag opportunity. This is a great way to make the material deeper.

Subtitling the Video Early
The subtitles ended up acting as signposts on the video editor about where we were in the video, much easier to use than the on-screen action.

I think I do a reasonable job of subtitling, trying to get the subtitle up at the point which is both funniest and in time with the music; sometimes they coincide, sometimes not.

Often the subtitle boundaries were also the perfect edit boundaries to switch between shots... it worked really well.

Building the Video Before Shooting was Complete
By putting the structure of the video together, we could dry run the shooting we'd done in context quickly, and get a sense of progress with the whole thing. It motivated us to finish it, and gave us ideas about pacing.

To be honest, the whole thing was slapped together without too much thought or planning, but that was made possible by the scaffolding of the existing shots, roughly edited on the timeline with subtitles and the backing track. It guided us to completion awfully well.

Making Static Shots move in Post
There were a couple of shots which didn't move when we filmed them. The pan across Netflix stopped, and a view over my shoulder of me watching a video had a moving video, but the shot was still.

I noticed that this sapped a little energy, so I made them zoom in, during editing... this kept the shot interesting, especially since the attention span we'd set up with previous shots was about 3 seconds.


I learned a lot doing this. I think the above went well... I look forward to future videos.

Overall, this is a silly three minute video, but it surprises me how rapidly it runs through, and how much fun it is to rewatch. It was worth the microscopic adjustments and hearing my own voice on a loop for a day.

Let's see if I do any more.




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