MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. — It's one of the most common questions I get: How can I make a time capsule interview with a family member on my smartphone?
I tell folks the proper way to do it — with a good tripod to keep the image steady and a great microphone for improved sound — but their eyes glaze over. They're just not going to invest in extra equipment. Too complicated. Too costly.
To prove that anyone can do this without breaking a sweat — or the bank — I set out to demonstrate with my friend Debbie Granow, whose daughter Lana, 18, is about to begin a new life at college.
I started with a trip to Wal-Mart to pick up tools for Debbie.
I began by scanning for tripods. These essentials of film-making dating to the Charlie Chaplin era are not that expensive. Wal-Mart had a variety available, from $30 on up. Any model, even the cheapest, will be better than hand-holding. The image might be shaky just after you press record but will soon even out.
Under the assumption that most folks will pass on a $30 tripod, I went searching for a DIY alternative and found it in a $10 "universal car mount" by a company named ONN. It's designed to mount your smartphone on the windshield via a suction cup while driving.
Well, gee, if it can mount to a windshield, we could also put it on a table to capture Lana's interview, right?
The next step was the microphone, another essential most folks pass over. The built-in mics on smartphones are notoriously bad. Yes, they do the trick, but they're designed to pick up sound from every direction. So an interview with Lana in a living room would also capture sound from the TV, the dog barking and people walking across the floor.
I knew that Debbie would fight me on this, but I at least wanted to walk in with a mic to show her the difference a good one could make. Since she owns an Android-based phone, the Samsung Galaxy S4, I needed to get a mic that would work with the Android system.
The Wal-Mart we visited in Fullerton, Calif., didn't have one. Neither did the local Best Buy.
Luckily, I remembered that IK Multimedia, a company that made its name on iOS accessories, has the terrific iRig Mic which now works with both Android and iOS devices. I called the company and arranged to get one to bring to the Granow house.
On production day, I showed Debbie — such a technophobe she's yet to set up voice mail on her smartphone — how to put the the car mount on the table, set the camera horizontally and frame her daughter. I suggested making use of the natural window light from her living room to illuminate Lana, so we had her face the window.
We tested the $59.99 iRig Mic before we started shooting, and it worked beautifully. It was richer sounding than the built-in mic and eliminated the potential background noise.
Then we suggested starting the interview with some "time capsule" questions:
• "You're about to go off to college. Talk about where you're going, and how you feel about this new adventure."
• "Imagine you're about to introduce yourself to your new dorm-mate. Describe yourself, and talk about your interests and life back home."
The idea is to make some short clips that can be saved for family archives.
The clips can be transferred to the computer, edited and trimmed, but the reality is most folks won't take the time to do that.
So let's deal with a big issue: How does Debbie get the clip off the phone so she can share it with family and friends?
Video clips are huge, especially when you go long in an interview.
You can plug the phone directly into the computer and transfer to your hard drive, but most people won't.
Instead, look for the share tabs on Android and iOS devices. Android offers one click share/uploads to YouTube, Google +, Facebook or Google Drive. Once it's uploaded, you can download the clip from there without having to plug in the phone.
With iOS, you can send to YouTube, Facebook, Vimeo or Apple's iCloud service.
Remember that sending the clip via e-mail generally won't work, because video files are too big and will clog up your mailbox.
Debbie Granow liked the overall approach. The tips seem manageable, she said. And she preferred the steady results.