This article regards making Cardistry videos that are more than just about cards. I see video-making as being a huge part of what Cardistry has become today since it is and will likely always be the main medium through which we share our trade. These thoughts and tips were written with cinematic videos in mind (as opposed to jam videos, trailers, and whatnot), but I’m sure it applies to some degree to all of them as well.
I learned a lot from making videos for the International Cardistry Open (ICO) competition, particularly because every one of them needed to be planned, filmed and edited within just ten days. Throughout my experience with the competition, I learned just how important that first part, planning, is. Since this article is about workflow, I mostly have my own work up here, but you may also want to consider the planning that went behind videos like Test Room, I Am A Card Flourisher, or Run Rabbit. These videos are iconic because they are more than just videos of people shuffling cards; they also have a cinematic dimension: everything has its place, the video’s awesomeness will stick to your brain, and the viewer does not get bored halfway through it.
Why you should plan your videos
Making Cardistry videos takes a lot of time. In addition to the time spent practicing, you also need to set up the camera, maybe get a friend to help out, get the shots you want, edit the video to music, color grade, etc. For my earlier videos, the process was very linear in that I would figure everything out as I went along. I’d shoot the footage, figure out the music I’d want to use, edit the video together, and then upload it. Yet I spent the most time making various important decisions along the way. I’d try to figure out which moves I want to film on the spot (sometimes I’d film something I came up with the day of). Then I’d take forever to find a song that would remotely fit the footage and subsequently take an eternity to fit the moves in the edit. The decisions themselves took a lot more time than any of the tasks. Here was one of the results:
You can tell that very little planning went into this — all I knew is that I wanted to make something using the Virts deck. The unbearably long sequence in the beginning was supposed to show off the court cards, but it just came off as draggy and boring. There are a lot of other issues with this video, but generally speaking it’s just dry and textureless. It’s decent, but nothing more.
I progressively started planning things out a bit more after making more videos. Things like choosing the music before the shoot were incredibly helpful to the whole process. When the ICO came around, the idea of having a theme really changed my workflow and I developed some of the ideas I describe below. So for the last round, I cooked this up:
Everything had to be planned out for this video because it was filmed in a single take. I needed to know exactly how the video would turn out before even shooting it. When you compare it to the other video above, the difference is like night and day. The key difference is that Unfinished Business has a clear identity that is effectively conveyed.
Getting a feel for your video.
This stage can be considered ‘designing’ the video. It’s where every other decision will stem from. For example, I wanted my last video to generally feel cool and relaxed, but also give it some tension. At this point what you have in mind doesn’t need to be fully fleshed out. Rather, you should focus on what mood you want to convey to the audience. You may have a couple of ‘clips’ you really want to introduce in the video like a cool angle for a cut, or maybe just a flare that will add to the video. For instance in my first ICO video, the theme of windows made me think of jumping in and out of reality (obvious right?), so I already had an idea for my first shot. The rest of the video mostly fell into place from there with the theme I wanted.
I’m a strong advocate of choosing your music as early as possible. Depending on what motivates you to make a particular video, it’s possible you might have a feel for it before choosing a song that fits. However, you could just as well find a song that you want to use in a video and derive the feel of the video from there. Music immensely influences the tone and mood of your video, so choose wisely. Additionally, some songs are just more Cardistry-friendly than others; it largely depends on the feel you’re going for, but generally songs with distinct beats help with the editing. For example, the design of my ‘Serious’ video was based around the gag near the end. To really sell it, I just knew that Animus Vox by The Glitch Mob had the perfect level of over-the-top intensity:
This stage is really important because, as I said, every decision that follows will depend on the original vision that you had in your mind. If you aren’t set on something, then your video will likely lack direction and focus. As you continue to plan, that vision will become clearer and clearer until you actually have a hypothetical video in your head. Which leads us to…
Knowing exactly what the viewer will see when, where and why.
This part is where you’ll save a lot of time in post-production. It’s also the part where you might go a tad insane (but don’t worry, that’s ok). The highlight of a Cardistry video will likely be the Cardistry itself, so the next logical step is to plan out all the flourishes you want to show. Ryuji Chua calls this the ‘Magic List’. It has nothing to do with card magic, but making this list will ‘magically’ make the video-making process a lot smoother. Not only do you build on that internal video in your head, but you also know exactly what to work on.
The next step is to decide where everything goes. I recommend listening to the music you chose an obnoxious number of times until you know it really well. You can play out the video you’re imagining with the music. For Unfinished Business, I walked around listening to the music, enacting when I’d press the button for the elevator, practicing the cuts in order, etc. This can be tricky, and in practice it’s possible you’ll leave some of the video unplanned. That’s fine — in fact, it’s good to have some space in case things go wrong.
This process is fairly time-consuming and probably shouldn’t be done in one sitting. You might want to bounce some ideas off of others, regardless of if they’re Cardists or not. The latter will actually be more inclined to focus on the non-Cardistry part of your video, so don’t dismiss their advice. For my last ICO video, it wasn’t my idea to film the whole thing in one shot. But when my friend told me to make it look like Birdman, I said “Damn. I hate to say this, but it makes so much sense that I can’t not do it”. It was also another friend’s idea to have other people in the video in order to convey that the leather jacket guy didn’t belong in the building. Both of these ideas really added to the whole experience (particularly because I love toying with the line between serious and silly).
Making the damn video
Now all you have left to do is shoot, edit and color grade your video. Phrased that way, it sounds like you’ve been wasting your time doing all this preparation, but once you actually complete these steps, you’ll see how helpful the planning was. Now you’ll know where to shoot, what to shoot, you can do the flourishes when the camera’s on because you’ve practiced them, you can optimize your schedule to maximize the shooting time and — gasp — you’ll actually have an idea of how long this whole process will take.
Editing? It’s a three-step process: pick the right shots, plop them in the timeline in the order you planned, then fine-tune the cuts to fit the music. It’s Smooth as Slevin™. If you scouted locations (i.e. searched for cool places to shoot) and also took care of your white balance and lighting, then color correcting and grading should also go faster.
Now you’re almost done, but there is one more problem. It’s a common get tunnel vision when making a video. It’s even more the case when you’ve planned it to great lengths, because you might end up seeing the video you imagined rather than the one you’ve produced. Again, look for feedback from other people. Show them your video once and give them the option to pause when they feel something is off, because if they wait till the end of the video they’ll probably forget it. Once they’ve given their initial feedback, ask them to focus on specifics like editing and color grading (more on feedback here).
A few closing notes
First of all, when you plan everything out, don’t feel like you need to stick to what you’ve decided, particularly when considering people’s feedback. You have to take advantage of the opportunities around you, and you might not be aware of all of them from the start. If I didn’t take my friend’s advice to make my final ICO video a one-take, I probably wouldn’t have won. The workflow I outline here is probably a bit over-the-top depending on how seriously you want to make your video, but I would argue that if you are going to make a video, you might as well go all the way. To quote Jackie Chan:
“Whatever you do, do the best you can, because the film lives for ever. Would you go to every theatre to tell the audience that you couldn’t do this and that? No! The audience sees a good movie or a bad movie, that’s all.”
Hopefully this article will help you in your filmmaking endeavors. Be sure to post your videos on the /r/Cardistry subreddit to get feedback for your videos. There’s a lot of great people that are willing to put in the time to help you improve. Until next time, keep flourishing!