My Technology; I've got it all taped

The stand-up comedian Lee Mack talks about his Sony digital video camera and how it will play an important part in his act when he performs at this month's Edinburgh Festival
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
I got my new video camera - a Sony DCR TRV 890E - just before the Edinburgh Festival last year. I used it for the opening sequence, as a little film to go with the title of the show, Return of the Mack.

It was me dressed up as a rapper, pretending to be Mark Morrison singing his hit single, "Return of the Mack". The effect we wanted meant I had to be filmed putting on clothes and doing basic dance routines in reverse, with other rappers doing normal moves. Then I played the film in reverse, so that instead of going backwards, I was going forwards, the clothes were thrown on me, and the rappers were walking backwards.

I got the idea from using an old cine camera, which you could feed the film through in reverse - a special effect, and an easy one. The reason behind buying this particular video camera was its reverse feature, which I was quite surprised to find. Maybe my idea wasn't as original as I thought.

I also did a joke copy of the Verve's "Bittersweet Symphony" video. It looked really good. But two weeks before the show opened, the "Vindaloo" video came out, which used exactly the same idea. So I had to scrap it or look like a copycat.

The use of video in stand-up shows is becoming more common, without a doubt. I remember using one four years ago at Edinburgh, on a very low-budget student show. I was on a film course and had access to the equipment. People then commented on how unusual it was, and now, four years later, quite a few comedians use video footage.

I think it's partly because there is now so much interest from television companies at Edinburgh. But these scouts go to see the stand-up show and it doesn't immediately appear to them like they will convert into television. If they can watch part of it on screen, they can say: "Oh, we know it works on screen." But you've got to be careful that you don't go over the top and end up with half a show on film. People have come to see a live show. Mine film only lasts about 10 minutes in the hour.

I have ended up using the camera in unexpected ways. One of the jokes we did when I was presenting Channel 4's Gas, for example, was meant to use a pornographic film sequence and I was given loads of tapes to choose from. But none of them would work - it had to be quite tame as it was Channel 4, not cable. So we hired two actors, and I filmed them, told them to take off their clothes and simulate sex. In the end, my editor said it was very stylish, but not rampant enough! They had to speed up the film to get that effect.

It is handy to know the basic skills such as focusing the camera. I particularly remember from my training that if you want full vision in focus, then zoom as close as possible to the person you are filming, on their eyes or lips, then zoom back and everything from that person to the camera will be in focus. That's come in handy - although I am quite an amateur at the end of the day.

It is a good quality camera - well, it was a year ago, but every two months they seem to add more features and the previous model is discontinued. The main thing is that it's digital. Although we are not all using digital TV yet, when digital video recorders come out, I can transfer stuff and not lose quality.

I would love to have my own website, but I am a technophobe about some things; my computer is constantly breaking down and crashing as soon as I go on the Net. But I am going travelling next year and hope to take the camera and download images through the Net. I have been told it's easy. I may sound like a techie when I am talking about my video camera, but if it hadn't been my favourite technology, it would have been the telephone system.

Lee Mack's `Bits' is at Venue 33, Pleasance Below, Edinburgh 4-30 August as part of the Edinburgh Festival (0131-556 6550)

Comments