Lapdance: Five Reasons Why Every Filmmaker Should Own a Notebook Computer

A few years back I built a custom desktop computer for the sole purpose of editing video. I wanted lots of power, hard drive space, and screen real estate. It was a new experience for me, but one that I actually completed and used for awhile. Then my life became extremely busy with identical twin daughters and I found myself with no time to make movies while at home. I had just begun to produce a local TV show and had to be able to edit while at work.

I needed a laptop computer, and quickly found one that was small and lightweight (under 5 lbs.), but sufficient for my needs. I had started to bike into work, and didn’t want to be lugging around a monster on my back every morning (on top of the external drive I had to carry). This arrangement worked out well, as I would shoot the show on Friday, edit throughout the work week, and deliver it to the TV station the following Friday. It was hectic, but it worked, and was made possible because my whole setup (computer, camera and peripherals) fit into a backpack.

I soon discovered how useful these gizmos were, coming in handy for much more than just editing video on the go. Here are some other uses that make a laptop essential for any creator of video content.

Write Your Screenplay in the Park. Notebooks are, by nature, portable. This makes it possible to be inspired anywhere, at anytime. Go somewhere that supplies the mood you need, and write to your battery life’s content. You can always go to the library for a neutral location, which practically guarantees a wi-fi hotspot if needed. Craft your masterpiece using free software such as Celtx.

Enter a Tapeless World. Portable hard drives specifically made to capture video are available, but almost cost the same as a laptop, so why not use that instead? Plug your camera into your firewire port and record directly to your hard drive using your editor’s capture program (or something like Scenealyzer Live or DVrack). If you’re chicken, you can still leave a tape in the camera for backup, just be aware that most cameras will go to sleep under those conditions. If you have more than one port (like through an expansion card) you can record more than one camera at a time, for those multi-cam shoots (assuming your computer can handle it). You can get long firewire cables at Markertek.

Sounds better in Your Lap. Most audio circuits in cameras suck, so use whatever cool gear you have at your disposal and go right into your portable! Chances are the audio circuits suck there too, but you can always get a USB audio interface to improve your results. If you can’t seem to record directly into your editor using this method, try the famously free Audacity audio editor.

Pitch your Project Right at Your Target. When I was trying to sell the TV show, I had the pilot completed on my laptop. It was much easier to say “let me show you what the show will look like” and press play, then to pull out a DVD and say “do you have a DVD player here?” or “take this and get back to me, will you?” With the show ready to go at my fingertips, I can use the momentum gained with a potential client or investor to carry right into the movie/video or whatever.

Make Reshoots That Much Easier. When I had to reshoot some scenes for Middle of Nowhere, having a laptop was a godsend. Not only was it immensely easier to explain to the talent and crew what I wanted, but matching shots was a breeze. Of course, this relies on the fact that you’ve edited some footage already, but even access to the raw stuff can be invaluable. Scrubbing through a timeline on an NLE is much nicer than looking at tapes--especially if everyone is waiting on you.

While not obvious at first, it became clear to me very quickly that after a good camera and microphone, a laptop computer can be filmmaker’s best friend. It could be yours, too.