By MATT BANEY / For Inland 360It was just a few days before Christmas last year, and I was home with my kids, Miles and Lucy. My wife Sarah was out doing some last-minute shopping, and, if I recall correctly, we had been assigned with cleaning the house or wrapping presents or at least finding some semi-productive task.
So we decided to make a movie.
My son had been watching YouTube videos of a family that had an exhaustingly energetic group of Elves on the Shelf that visited their home. These North Pole denizens put on dances, staged skiing competitions, held bake-offs, flew hot air balloons, etc. It was very charming, if a little saccharine.
The elves in these videos sometimes misbehaved a bit, which made me think: Wouldn’t it be entertaining if they were just full-blown naughty? And if this random internet family wasn’t going to make that video, why not us?
So in the time when we should have been sweeping our floors or tidying up the playroom, the kids and I shot “The Naughty Elf.” In it, Miles and Lucy go looking for their elf, who lunges out of a closet and chases them around the house. The kids ultimately decide that candy canes might “make him holly jolly again,” as Miles puts it, and a barrage of peppermint treats does indeed restore the elf’s happy disposition.
(Of course, we used a plush elf in the movie — not the fellow who visits us at Christmastime and who we aren’t allowed to touch.)
We ended up with a two-minute video that was silly and funny. I had a blast making it, and the kids seemed to enjoy it too … or were gracious enough to humor me.
Little did we know, but that lost afternoon led to my family’s favorite hobby of 2018. We next made “Naughty Elf II,” with some friends’ kids joining the cast. That was followed by “The Legend of Black Lightning,” about a wild stallion (played by a horse-shaped tire swing in our backyard) that is tamed by Lucy. When we went camping in the summer with my parents and sister, we made “Return of the Ridgerunner,” in which the erstwhile Clearwater County scavenger (played by Miles) appears at our camp and starts stealing things (find it on YouTube below). My nephews joined the party for the next movie, “Home Alone: Summer Vacation,” which finds Lucy left by herself and forced to fend off a trio of would-be burglars. Our final project of the year was “Naughty Elf III: Halloween Havoc,” featuring our elf’s most sinister performance yet.
It’s been great fun and I’ve been surprised how everyone in our extended family was more than willing to take part in these projects. I mean, my dad was born to play the role of “Grumpy Old Logger,” but I never expected that he would actually do it.
And here’s something great about living here in the future: It’s really easy to make a credible movie — with editing, music, sound effects, voiceovers and graphics — using only your smartphone. I’ve shot all of our movies on my 2-year-old iPhone, and done all the editing on the phone in a free app called Splice, which features a great selection of music. My only formal training in video production was at Lewiston High in the mid-1990s, and it’s stunning how much easier it is to create these projects now.
We post our movies on Facebook, which allows our dedicated fans to watch them over and over again … and those who are opposed to joy and mirth are free to ignore them.
With some of our early movies, we just made them up as we went. Now, I write a script for all of them. I was especially careful with the dialogue in our Ridgerunner movie. I even reread the seminal book on the subject, Richard Ripley’s “The Ridgerunner: Elusive Loner of the Wilderness,” to make sure everything was historically accurate (well, up until the part where the 100-year-old Ridgerunner emerges from the woods).
But a good plan can take you only so far. I recently watched a documentary about Orson Welles, and he talked about the best moments in films being “divine accidents” — things that aren’t planned yet work out beautifully. Now, I’m not trying to put “The Naughty Elf” in the same class as “Citizen Kane” — that’s up to the critics to debate — but it’s true that my favorite moments from our videos are little unexpected flourishes.
Our kids have enjoyed making these movies, and I’ve had more fun with it than anyone. New ideas for movies come to mind all the time (I didn’t even mention the stop-motion Lego movies we’ve been working on for months).
So if you have some free time with your kids or are just shirking housework, I would recommend making your own movie. Trust me, it’s easier than you think.
Baney is the sports editor at the Lewiston Tribune.