Last fall, I was approached by VivaVegas.tv, a Las Vegas events promotion company, to create a branded video about one of their nightclub parties at Haze. I’ve never had a particular interest in shooting at clubs, or events of any kind, because I enjoy the hunt of stealing people’s unaware moments. Filming at a club traditionally involves walking around with a big LED light that results in about as much emotional nuance as a Wal-Mart portrait.
I agreed on one contingency: I could shoot whatever I want, and take as long as I want to edit. They agreed. So I ended up just filming a first-person account of a fling I had with a girl over my four-day weekend.
I brought two cameras: the GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition and the Sony RX100. 90% of the video was shot with the RX100; I only used the GoPro for the intro segment because it was easier to handle while navigating airplanes and airports.
GoPro Settings: 1080p, 30fps, wide angle, auto everything, ProTune update installed
I started filming on my drive to the airport. I had only the vaguest idea of what the final video would be – some kind of montage of whatever happened – but I knew from my docu experience that it’s better to start shooting too early than too late.
I continued filming throughout the day’s travels until I got to the club. Knowing I would need some party B-Roll, and that I didn’t want to shoot it myself, I made a deal with the other club videographer to give me some of his footage. I knew his 5DmkIII would be better than the RX100 for that kind of thing anyway. I grabbed a few self-shots and candid moments but otherwise took it easy during the actual event.
On the walk back from the club, the other videographer and I ran into a couple girls from the party. Some drunken syllables were exchanged and we all ended up in a cab to the Bellagio together. The RX100 came out, and I filmed our tipsy ride and subsequent 4am meal together. Nobody noticed, or at least cared, about my tiny camera. After the meal, numbers were exchanged and I thought that might be the end of it. I went back to my room and crashed.
My one regret from day one is that I didn’t film the actual moment of meeting the girls. I had run into dozens of random people that night, and it was impossible to predict which ones would become a part of the story.
My RX100 settings for nighttime were as follows: AVCHD, 60p, Sunset Profile, Contrast -1, Saturation -1, Sharpness -3. I used white balance creatively, often using “cloudy” or “warm daylight flourescent” instead of “tungsten” because I wanted the video to have a consistenly golden tone.
A friend of mine happens to be a Cirrus pilot, and he was in Vegas for the weekend. So once my hangover lifted in the early evening, he let me join in on a twilight flight around Vegas in his prop plane. We rode with another guy friend and a girl he had met the night before. I sat with the girl in the back seat and we looped to the Grand Canyon and back, a hair-raisingly turbulent jaunt that tested everyone’s tooth fillings.
A little later we decided to do one more tour around Vegas. I invited Tera, one of the girls from last night’s 4am breakfast, to join. She showed up bubbling with excitement just as our other friends had left. Tera took the other girl’s seat, and we were off for another crazy ride around the Strip.
I realized when editing the plane footage that the two girls looked similar enough in extremely brief glances to pass for each other. So I combined footage of both flights and reversed the sunset to make it appear to be dawn, letting the other girl double for Tera in a few shots.
We then rode the NY roller-coaster, which has a strict “NO CAMERAS” rule that I of course respected. In no way did I exploit my camera’s stealthiness to slip it aboard. The roller-coaster scene depicted in the video is 100% CGI and took a Korean team of animators four months to create.
After the ride, we hit club Hyde in the Bellagio, and I grabbed some kaleidoscopic moments when the glowsticks came out. We made quick detours to Paris, Sugar, and a few other spots that became hazy in my mind.
Sometime around 5, Tera and I said goodbye to my friend and we retired back to Hotel New York, NY for the night.
After the intensity of shooting the first two days, I wanted to hang out and spend some off-camera time with Tera, so I filmed very little on Saturday. Tera lives in Vegas, and I enjoyed cruising the strip with a local. I learned about why she lives in Sin City: she was driving to move to San Diego for a change of pace, then pit stopped in Vegas and decided she liked its pace better.
But what drew her was not so much the city glow as the surrounding nature. Tera is a desert-lover and a more courageous rock climber than I ever care to be. I also met her equally fearless – and terrifyingly cute – Pit Bull, Lu. Lu is the kind of friend every girl in Vegas needs.
Pet, best friend, theft deterrent, and can opener all-in-one
At this point I was beginning to form the concept of the video in my mind: I wanted it to feel like a rollercoaster ride, ever escalating in intensity. Yet I wanted to juxtapose those frenetic Vegas moments with more mundane, intimate ones.
Tera and I woke up at the Monte Carlo. I grabbed a couple shots of her looking out the window after showering. Her semi-wet hair had a particular quality I really liked, so I decided to push the shooting just a bit further. I wanted something kinetic, yet SFW, that I could intercut with the rollercoaster footage, so I suggested filming a pillow fight. Tera was down.
We jumped around the room like monkeys for a while, smashing each other (and frequently the camera) with pillows and bedding. We then settled down and packed our stuff.
We said our goodbyes shortly thereafter, promised Facebook contact, and she dropped me at the airport. It was a grand weekend and I had a mess of footage to digest.
I first chose a song I felt fit the tone of the weekend, “Flames” by Karl X Johan. It was way too long at nearly 7 mins, so I chose my favorite parts and created a 3-minute cut to serve as the soundtrack to Viva.
In FCP X, I laid down the music as the project’s main storyline, then arranged the trimmed footage chronologically over it. My intent was to keep the events linear until the roller-coaster ride. Then I wanted it to be all about motion and free-association. I tried to match the direction of motion from shot to shot to create a sense of cohesion even when the content of the shots had nothing to do with each other.
I also alternated fast sequences with slow ones to give the video a natural ebb-and-flow. I used FCP X’s Optical Flow to retime some shots down to 10%. I love how this creates a “moving-photograph” effect, surreal without disrupting the overall narrative. I would have achieved even better results had I used a faster shutter speed, but in such low light this was rarely an option.
Finally, I added some film burns as overlays to give it a colorful, vintage feel. You can download some free film burns here. To use them, lay the film burn as a second layer above your main footage. Then set its transfer mode to “add”, “screen”, or “overlay” depending on your intended effect. Then adjust opacity to taste.
As always, my wish with a video like this is that I had shot even more footage to create a more complete narrative. But I’ll leave that for another trip. Maybe Vegas again, maybe not.