Some people like to unwind with whiskey or a fine cigar, yet I thoroughly enjoy a good cat video. Nothing takes the edge off a stressful day quite like footage of feline hijinks. That’s why I was super stoked when the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies brought the Just For Cats Video Festival back to my city this spring. As I watched internet cats sparking joy in a crowd of theatergoers, I couldn’t help imagining how my own two highly photogenic and hilarious kitties — Ghost Cat and Specter — would look on the screen. While cat lovers around me laughed, my husband (who claims his attending the festival proves how much he loves me) whispered cat video criticism in my ear. He got me thinking about how to be a better cat filmmaker. Here’s five ways that we can all improve our cat videos.
1. Keep it short
Our society wants to consume cat videos the same way it consumes everything else: quickly and in large quantities. Case in point, my aforementioned husband, who recently abandoned Instagram for Snapchat and Vine, where he enjoys watching six-second loops of cute kitties and other “turnt animals.”
While a minute or two might not seem like a long time to those of us behind the camera, it’s the equivalent of a millenium on social media.
The good news: Cutting the run time on our kitty vids is pretty easy. I like to use the Video Editor on my Android phone to cut out the boring bits or simply speed up the action. Of course you can also edit within YouTube or Instagram, or even edit as you shoot directly into Vine. It doesn’t matter where or how we cut our stuff down, but it’s imperative that we do. We’re making cat videos, not a Tarantino movie.
2. Shoot like you mean it
In my haste to capture my darling Ghost Cat’s most adorable moments, I’ve been guilty of just grabbing my phone, aiming it in her general direction, and hitting record, even when I know this technique won’t get me the web-worthy video I want. If my husband sees me shooting cat antics while laughing too hard to even hold the camera steady, he’ll offer tips that sound like he’s channeling my college videography teacher.
“Set up your shot,” he’ll say.
“Make sure you’ve got light,” he’ll say.
“Use a tripod,” he’ll say.
I tell him I’m shooting for my personal Facebook, not Nat Geo Wild, but I have to admit he’s right. Putting in the effort is the difference between video I’m proud to share and a shaky, blurry video that just sits in my cloud, collecting digital dust.
3. Let your cat be the director
Part of creating good cat videos is accepting that you’re not in control of the creative process — your cats are. My younger cat, Specter, has taught me that I can yell “action!” all I want, but she’s really the one directing me. Speck does videos the same way she does cuddling — on her terms only. While Ghost Cat is a bit of a ham for the camera, Specter comes out of her proverbial trailer only when she’s good and ready. I have to just do my best to make sure I’m ready when she calls the shots.
4. Roll for a reason
Before digital technology made video cheap and easy, people rolled on something only if it mattered. I think in this sharing-obsessed age, we can take inspiration from the bygone days of tape to ensure we don’t bore our followers and friends with mundane videos of our cats eating, sleeping, or loafing. I’ve decided that it’s better to shoot my cats when they are doing something special than to start shooting and expect them to do something special.
5. Respect your performers
Personally, I can’t enjoy a cat video if I think the subject wasn’t enjoying herself too. That’s why I’m not a fan of the popular cat video subcategory of frightened felines — I don’t get my LOLz from watching someone stress out a cat for the sake of replicating some meme that’s been done (cough, cucumbers, cough). Instead, I try to make videos that celebrate my cats’ individual personalities. I believe that if I could could just capture Ghost Cat’s charm or Specter’s regal sweetness on video then the big screen at cat film festivals would be theirs. Until then, I’ll just keep shooting.