We live in the age of video. You might have something as sophisticated as a Mini-DV camera, or just a good old cell phone that shoots pretty good footage. But you want to improve your cat video skills. Except that, often, when you’re ready, your cat just sits there. Or maybe runs out of frame. Or, method cat actress that she is, she just won’t stick to the script.
We have your hook-up.
Having recently spoken to two top-flight professional directors, we think we can help you direct kitty a bit better in the future. OK, maybe not to an Oscar. But your cat video footage is bound to be something you can show your friends without sinking into your chair and dissolving into a puddle of excuses.
Who could possibly be a better person to suggest directing tips than the man who made “Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore”? Brad Peyton would be that man. If he can stand on a film set for weeks on end, with real cats and their animatronic doubles, you can film your kitty and get better results, with Peyton’s sage cat advice.
“What I learned about directing cats, and animals in general, is you learn the most from things that don’t go right,” Peyton said. “I had to do a ‘walk and talk’ in the movie with two of my ‘actors.’”
This was a big problem.
“Did you know that cats and dogs can’t walk and move their heads at the same time?” Peyton asked. “I didn’t. So, instead of filming that scene, I had to think on the fly and come up with something else. That’s the main thing about filming your cat. Even if you’re just filming something cute that she’s done for months, maybe she won’t do it when your camera is on. So, let your animal dictate the scene. Cats, in particular are so funny and inventive, they often give you something better than what you had planned.”
Although it’s unlikely you’ll ever be on a set that’s as nutty and tension-filled as “Cats and Dogs,” director Peyton can guru you through your own cat video shoot with what he learned on his. It’s all about staying calm.
“When I did my movie,” said the affable Canadian, “most of the time, the set was a madhouse. Not only did I have three-to-10 animals in most scenes (including several cats), but each one of them had a handler. So I had a film crew, camera people, animals and wranglers. It was crazy. But you need to learn to relax and focus. Even if it’s just you, your cat and a toy, it’s the same. Don’t let the distractions of the day rule what you do. Plus, if you’re tense, you’ll transmit that to your cat. Staying cool is always the best choice.”
Dale Launer is a legendary screenwriter (he’s written “My Cousin Vinny” and “Ruthless People” among other titles) and a director of note, as well. His film, “Love Potion #9,” featured a slew of our four-legged friends, cats among them. He has his own smart, somewhat sardonic take on the whole subject of filming cats.
“The first thing you have to learn about working with cats is to ‘write’ your scene around them. What can a cat do? Do they cock their heads when you talk to them? Then write that in. Do they crouch down ready to pounce when they see something squiggly running across their path? Write that in. Those are the tools you will use and work your cats around. Then, be ready to shoot it in pieces and put them together. That’s really key! Remember, whatever your cat can do, they can’t do all at once. Not in one continuous shot. You’re going to need to shoot it in different shots and piece them together.”
This means, according to Launer, editing can be your best friend.
“Once you’ve shot enough funny things your cat can do,” he says, “then it’s editing time. Even if you’re doing this on your laptop, if you have lots of good raw material, you can cut something together that can make your cat look great. And you, like a genius.”
This cat lover does give out a warning, though, to all you cat cineastes.
“Understand, this won’t be easy. Cats are cool, adorable, noble and sexy. But they are hard to train. So, you will need to let them do what they want and really work around it. One of the things we love about cats, their regal, imperious nature, makes them charming. But in the film world? Sometimes they can drive a director nuts.”
Got that? OK. Now consult our Cat Video Tips List. And no more excuses. Start shooting!