Compelling Video Imagery

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what constitutes compelling video imagery and how that could be applied to model railroading. Videos/trailers/movies can serve a myriad of purposes from telling a story, evoking a mood, making a socially relevant point, documentation, or instruction. With model railroading or railfanning, the overwhelming majority of imagery falls into the last two categories, documentation and instruction. There’s no shame in that as both are valuable and necessary. However, model railroading videography, and to an extent railfan videos, generally, don’t rise to the level of high-quality entertainment to the extent a professionally produced movie trailer would.

A typical railfan video consists of a three-quarter view of an approaching train. The train passes, the passing rolling stock is filmed and the train is gone. A model railroad video is typically an elevated video of our plastic models traversing the layout, generally not that exciting but still valuable as a learning tool.

The question I’ve been asking myself is, how would a person move beyond the typical model railroad video format and produce something that moves more towards the entertainment quality of a professionally produced movie trailer? For example, the HBO trailer for the True Detective series HERE.

First would be the composition of the production. Is it necessary that the film tells a story? It could but I don’t think it would have to. It could be equally compelling if it simply evokes a mood. For example, e excellent Miamism production playing on the iconic Miami Vice Phil Collins scene which you can watch HERE. It doesn’t tell a story and yet is very compelling. The sound and imagery alone are enough.

There are challenges applying this to rail fan videos and even larger challenges taking it further to model railroading. Even so, I think it could be done. On the rail fan side, one of the best productions I’ve come across is Tolga’s East Rail at night which you can watch HERE. (If the aspect ratio is off on your screen you can use this online aspect ratio correction tool) It’s a highly unique production from the standpoint of the mood it conveys via the turbo whine, the lighting, the windshield wipers and light rain.

In closely studying high-quality movie trailers I’m struck by how much of the overall effect is carried by sound and lighting. It seems to be the theme with high-quality video production in general these days. That reality poses enormous challenges to producing a compelling model railroad trailer. Ambient model railroad sound won’t work so a way would have to be found to directly channel digital audio from the decoder to the video audio track. I think this could be done. There are also professionally produced audio tracks that can be picked up online and dubbed in. Next up would be the lighting. It’s a given that ordinary room lighting, especially fluorescents, won’t work. It remains to be seen how much improvement can be had moving to photo floods. Other challenges include dealing with backdrops and obtaining and learning high-quality video editing software.

I’m curious what I can come up with. Stay tuned.