Video 101: Movies tell stories

This version has bonus tips and material not included in the magazine
Some of my first video clips were simply attempts to show the sheer joy of watching the movement of trains along routes that connect cities, towns, and countryside panoramas. But when we want to create train movies, such as those we make for the Children’s Museum, we need to remember that movies tell stories. Our train movies are models of models that condense all that we see into the brief time that the viewer can comfortably watch. (How long is that? About four minutes and getting shorter.)

When assembling video clips into movies, begin by asking, “What is the story we want to tell?” Before filming, it’s helpful to arrange a sit-down with the railway owner to ask about the railroad’s story. Does your railroad recreate a place, a period in time, a memory, or a fantasy? Do the operations replicate railroads you have ridden or visited? How did this garden railroad begin for you?

With that information, a movie storyboard begins to unfold. Remember. . .
• Stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end.
• Railroad video stories can be true, fictitious, or some of each. It’s your story.
• They can teach, or not.
• Movie storyboards combine elements of subject matter, video images, sounds, and music.
• Through the story, the moviemaker expresses him/herself, but (usually) the author is not the story.

Good stories combine context and detail. That’s why I like to include still images and video clips in the movie. Still images capture scenes while movies create narratives.

The video associated with this issue’s column combines images and video clips of a newly remodeled locomotive and four coaches that recall the Sierra Railway. That’s the line that brought gold, granite, and lumber out of the Sierras to meet the AT&SF mainline at Oakdale, California. The Sierra Railway brought passengers to visit Yosemite National Park and, because of the sharp curves needed to traverse the Sierra canyons, the builder of San Francisco’s cable cars created some shorty coaches. Some of this equipment has been preserved and this scenic railway, with its shorty coaches, has provided backdrops for motion pictures ranging from High Noon, Unforgiven, and 3:10 to Yuma, to TV series such as The Lone Ranger, Petticoat Junction, and Bonanza. So the Sierra Railway became “The Entertainer.” Our video example is the story of the train that tells stories.

Look for:
• Old-movie filters to make opening scenes look like an old movie.
• Projector sounds to set the scene and time frame.
• Period music and locomotive sounds.
• Slow-motion video.
• “Ken Burns effect” digital panning of still and video images.
• The Rawhide Saloon by Rich Johnson
• Stan Cedarleaf’s custom decals.
• Black-and-white video interplay with color.
• Coaches Nºs 5 and 6, which were the backbone of Sierra Railway Service, modeled by Hartland.
The Sierra Railway, a book by Dorothy Newell Deane that is an important history of the little railroad.


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