Last year, something called the Internet Cat Video Festival drew 13,000 people to the Minnesota State Fair Grandstand. Before you make some snarky comment about how that’s all people in Minnesota have to do, you should know that the ICVF now has programs everywhere from Honolulu to Northern Ireland to San Francisco. Over 6,000 people are expected to attend this month in Oakland. There are many people who want to win the Golden Kitty Award. And yes, I feel vaguely ashamed that I know that.
But we already knew that cats were hugely popular on the Internet. Photos have made LOLcats a household word, and my search for “cat” brought 33.3 million results on YouTube. The question is whether you think you have the chops to be the next kitty Kubrick or feline Fellini.
Here are five tips for making successful cat photos or videos:
5. Try a still life. The best cat photos and videos are not just silly images. Cats with their serious mugs can look humorous just by keeping their superior attitude in place even while they are doing the most ridiculous things.
Sometimes animals cooperate. I have had better luck with photos than video. For example, one afternoon, our big fluffy Maine Coon cat, Charlie, had been all the way over on the far side of our long living room, but when he spotted a little bird on the other side of the glass doors, he tore across the room so fast he slid headfirst into the door. Apparently unhurt, he engaged the bird in a staring standoff that lasted long enough for me to get my mobile phone and take a couple photos of the bird-cat cold war. (We even ran one in this column several months back.) The secret to success? He wasn’t moving; he was standing still staring at the bird, which was standing still staring at the big cat.
4. Use good production values. You can make great quality photos and high-definition videos with your mobile phone and inexpensive digital cameras these days. So you’ve got the equipment and the fluffy animal needed to make a cat video or photo, but you need to make sure you have sufficient lighting and that you can capture your cat at that exact moment when she’s not moving so fast you end up recording a blur.
The problem is that cats are great at going from zero to 60 fast. Charlie is a very talkative cat, and he knows many cat languages — meows, chirps, squeaks, purrs, growls, etc. One day he was trying to convince me to get up from my chair and give him more food, so he was pacing back and forth in front of me chirping and squeaking nonstop. It was quite funny, and best of all the light from the window behind me meant I would be able to get a clear video of him speaking in tongues. Wanting to capture it, I pointed my cell phone at him at the exact moment he was startled by a bus driving past the house; he disappeared down the hall. I had missed my chance.
3. The Bourne Momentum. In our previous home, my desk was in a bedroom at the end of a long hallway. Charlie would like to come into the room, jump up onto the desk, and sleep on one end of it while I worked at my computer. But one day, spring fever or just high spirits had him more energetic than usual, and he got a bit of a running start in the hallway and jumped onto the desk, only to slide all the way across its smooth surface and back onto the floor, with a mild look on his face of Oh, crap, didn’t plan that. The first time he did it, I couldn’t stop laughing. I figured it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing, but in fact, Charlie did it again an hour later. That time he didn’t slide completely off the desk, but he did slip all the way to the other end before he could get enough traction to control his position. He eventually jumped down to the ground and wandered away.
Figuring he would do it again, and I could end up with a viral video for millions of bored YouTubers, I made sure I was ready to capture it the next time he did it. But when I had my digital camera at-hand and turned on, he would come into the room, look up at the desk and me and the camera and walk around the floor as if studiously making the point that he’s not an actor, as if he were afraid the Screen Actors Guild would go after him for not being a member.
2. Do a character study. Figuring Charlie was not going to be an action star, I thought I would have more luck capturing him in one of his calmer moments in which he let his adorableness shine.
Eventually my opportunity arrived. He looked adorable. Lying on his back, spilling halfway out of his fake-fur-lined fabric basket, his big eyes staring straight at me. He occasionally stretched farther, putting out a front paw into the air and leaving it there. All I had to do was reach over to a nearby bookcase on which my digital camera sat, turn it on, switch it to video format, and record this furry screen test. I reached for the camera; Charlie kept looking at me, making no sign of being bothered. I turned on the camera and it made its little electronic “ping,” still no reaction from Charlie. I switched the format to video and pointed the camera at Charlie, still no problem. I pushed the button to record and Charlie instantly curled around so I could see nothing but his back, the rest of him fully hidden from view by the sides of the cat basket. He was quickly sound asleep, and my chance had gone.
1. Don’t use my cat.
If you still can’t control yourself: facebook.com/CatVidFest