Tip #1: Plan
If you want to get good videos of family activities, you need to plan. It may have worked for Goddard and Trauffaut, but unless you are a French realist, cinema verite makes for boring family videos. The children are guaranteed to not do anything interesting or amusing when the camera is on. Not only is the French realist approach to family videos dull, it is also hazardous. As you are trying to unobtrusively follow your children, staring at them through a video camera, you are likely to miss all of the obstacles on the floor of any child dominated home. The video – through your eyes – of your fall makes for terrifically honest filmmaking. It can also hurt.
On the other hand, pulling out the camera when the kids are doing something adorable is guaranteed to stop whatever they were doing that was cute. You will get a video of your children milling about listlessly, like people waiting for a subway, with your voice repeating over and over – “C’mon, sing “Woolly Bully” again – just one more time for Daddy.” A good approach if you want your family movies to resemble Last Year at Marienbad (94 minutes of enigmatic narrative structure…)
Seriously, plan a modest activity that is worth being filmed – a snowball fight, catch, a round of wrestling, or Mommy’s face when she sees the mess you and the kids have made.
Tip #2: Pan Out
The other thing to know about video cameras is that among a swarm of children, you may not be able to pick out your child (particularly if they are all dressed the same.) Consequently, you may inadvertently have a 20 minute close-up of some child you don’t know singing his heart out at the “Flag Day” concert. This will be extremely embarrassing for you, and devastating for your child. Do a lot of wide-angle crowd shots.
This will come out better than you think. On the little screen on your camera it never looks like you get enough of your kid, so you do a lot of close-ups. But that same image, tiny of the video camera, will be huge on a TV. Also, kids move around a lot in unpredictable directions, like Robert Downey, Jr. Trust me, pan out!
Also, just a heads up, videos of kids’ pep rallies (particularly when the kids are all dressed in school colors) can have a weird Triumph of the Will vibe – that is if the Hitler Youth fell down a lot and did the “Hokey Pokey.”