how to make a memorable home video

Home video has a bad name. The very words bring to mind interminable evenings watching footage of the neighbours on holiday in Marbella, or at their daughter's wedding. It is invariably shot with a technique unique to home video: Wobble-O-Vision. And, worst of all, it is haunted by the cackling spectre of You've Been Framed.

It doesn't have to be like that, though. The Video Nation scheme has shown that home video can be used for something more challenging than the banana-skin antics that so delight Jeremy Beadle's audience. Over the past two years, Video Nation has showcased the lives of "ordinary people" whose words and deeds have been screened every day on BBC2 in that juicy two-minute slot just before Newsnight.

At any one time, Video Nation has up to 50 contributors, and all their tapes will be lodged with the National Film and Television Archive. "That's one of the motivating factors for contributors," says Chris Mohr, co-producer of Video Nation, "it validates the importance of everyday life."

Conrad Gorner, a contributor and ex-miner from Lancashire, agrees. "Those Pathe Newsreels are becoming quite trendy now, people are buying them for the year they were born. But you can only generalise with Pathe News, like saying who won the Cup. With Video Nation, you can go right down to the last detail of the way we are now. Things that seem trivial now, in years to come, will mean something."

Before Christmas, I attended a training-day for contributors at the BBC to see what it takes to get on Video Nation and, in the process, become part of our national heritage. The other people attending gave an indication of the range Video Nation covers: an 86-year-old Jungian psychotherapist rubbed shoulders with a Millfield schoolgirl, a deaf student, an Asda shop-worker, a gamekeeper, a night-club worker and a prison warden. You couldn't have contrived a better cross-section to represent a microcosm of Britain.

They were united by a desire to tell their own story. Mohr explains that: "They all say, `you don't see people like me on television. I just want to show people that I'm like everybody else'. Everybody feels misrepresented and turned into a one-dimensional person by television."

In introductory discussions, Juliet Wilson, a Video Nation researcher, emphasised the importance of personality in the films. "It's lovely to have a sense of the person behind the camera. If you just say, `this is a tree', it's very difficult for us to make anything of that. But if you say, `this is the tree where I carved my name with my boyfriend', that allows us to key into something personal. We feel we're privy to what's happening."

We went on to be tutored in the basics of film-making - general views, close-ups, cutaways, zooms and pans - but perhaps the most instructive part of the day was listening to the experiences of Gorner, who has had several films broadcast. He advised contributors to be selective and resist the temptation to shoot randomly. "Try not to use it like a new toy at Christmas," he said. "You need a beginning, a middle and an end - whatever the subject is. Camcording is like train-spotting. So you don't get bored with it, you have to wait till something actually happens."

He also recommended that contributors be themselves. "If you're a posh person, be posh. Don't worry about what other people might think - that just spoils your flow."

Mohr hopes that Video Nation will carry on until the end of the century, and believes that "Some of the material will yield its greatest interest in 50 years' time". In the meantime, she denies that television is overdosing on camcorders. "I don't think there are too many video programmes," she asserts. "I think there are too many cookery programmes."

A new, extended, four-part series of `Video Nation' starts tonight at 7pm on BBC2. Those who wish to contribute should write to: Video Nation, G509, BBC White City, 201 Wood Lane, London, W12 7TS

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