A Lost Footage Film and the Companion App
For the video prototype project, I decided to make a lost-footage film to demonstrate the Companion app on Google Play Store. The app is designed to keep lone night travelers by connecting them with a guardian, typically from the user’s friends and family. When connected, the app keep the guardian up-to-date about the traveler’s location, so that they’ll be alerted to abnormal situations like if the traveler is way off their path or haven’t reached their destination in a long time. When the traveler gets to where they want to be, the app also detects this and send the guardian a message to The app also provides the traveler a big red button for calling 911 in case anything goes wrong (which actually functions — thus the reason I couldn’t demo it in the video).
A lot of the challenges (and also fun) in this video stems from the problem that I had to perform and record the whole video myself. While I planned to meet with a few friends to do the video on campus, it just happened that the weekend I planned for the video was pouring rain and the following Monday is a snow day, so no one wanted to come out of their shell during the bitter cold and unreliable traffic to perform for me. So I had to look out for alternatives. What movie genre is best suited for an one-man production where the person has to act and record at the same time? The clear answer, after some brainstorming, is lost footage films. And thus the concept of using scary footage to promote a safe travel app is born.
For the video, I wanted to show a scared and paranoid traveler walking home in the dead of night, constantly looking around for potential threats, and inevitably falling into their doom. And then I would show a much brighter scene, of the same traveler pulling out the Companion app, and thus gaining the peace of mind of having someone watch over them. In the final scene, I’d show the traveler, having reach a courtyard lovingly bright, reporting to their guardian that they are safe and sound.
I picked the road surrounding my apartment as the location of the film, as the dimly-lit streetlamps after dark evoke a feeling of gloom after dark and should look plenty scary after some after effects.
I used a Sony a6300 with a 24mm (36mm in 35mm equiv.) prime lens for the filming. To bring out the lost footage feel, I almost deliberately moved my camera to nullify the optical stabilization on the lens (which proved a bit too much, as my friends reported having felt a bit unwell after seeing the video). To create the dreary atmosphere, I initially tried turning the shutter speed way up. It turned out, however, that by doing so I uncovered a well-known defect of Sony cameras — a variant of rolling-shutter effect where strips of black color appeared to be rolling through the film.
While it might add to the atmosphere, the effect also made it hard to discern what’s going on in the film. I determined to use a normal exposure, and darken the footage in post-processing to create the atmosphere effects.
I used Filmora for processing the footage, squeezing it down until it fits into the required 60 seconds. It was also my first time processing 4K-resolution video clips in Filmora, but I was very pleased to see that Filmora had no trouble churning through my 100Mbit video files. For atmospheric effects, I darkened the footage using a filter, applied heavy vignetting to further constrain the field of vision, and added fading animations between clips. Also in keeping with the tradition of lost footage films, I used unmelodious and unsettling sound as the background audio for the video instead of picking a music track. I searched around on royalty-free collections, and settled on a track which contains ominous noise that grows louder over the course of the track. Paired with the increasingly dark footage, I tried to create a genuinely scary first half of the video.
In the second part of the video, I showcased the usage of the Companion app by overlaying a screencast of the app over the footage of me holding the phone in various locations. I used A-Z screen recorder on Google Play to capture me going through the workflow of the app. The most significant issue (which didn’t surface until post-processing) was that any UI lag would impact the captured video as well, and as we know, UI lag is notorious on the Android platform, especially on a mid-range phone that I used for the demo. To alleviate the problem, I manually went through each frame of the screencast and removed the stagnant frames so that the UI would appear more responsive and shave off precious seconds from the video.
When I showed my video to my peer review group, the general feedback was positive. My peers were able to clearly understand the purpose of the Companion app and how to use the app to improve the safety of late-time travels. My video was also engaging to my peers, who chuckled at the video and responded positively when asked afterwards. At the same time, they provided me with some really valuable suggestions on ways to improve the video. It seems that I have overdone the lost-footage vibe in the video — my peers reported that the exaggerated camera shake and pan was a bit nauseating, and the footage was too dark to perceive what was going on with the video. As a result, while the first part of the video was able to convey the scary atmosphere, the exact content was not as clear.
In order to improve upon the video to appeal to a wider audience (who do not necessarily understand the implied genre), I should definitely consider tuning down on the added effects and make the video easier on the eyes. If I had additional time and more helping hands, I should also try to provide additional context with the video, such as portraying a security camera looking down over the lone traveler and perhaps a dangerous individual following the said traveler. At the end of the day, I was happy for the experience of filming and editing, and additional knowledge on creating a better balance between aesthetics and appeal.