The RTU Uke Cam

Behind the Scenes at RTU
The Uke Cam


Groundbreaking movies are often noteworthy not just for their unique artistic accomplishments, but also for the new advancements in cinema technology they progenerate. For Star Wars director George Lucas, it's his Industrial Light Magic special effects company.

...For us, it's our "uke cam."

The uke cam is an effect we use in Rock That Uke's opening and closing narration. It's a literal "peek at human nature through a very small sound hole," as our tagline summates, in which the viewer looks out through a strummed ukulele sound hole as an odd array of images flashes by, carefully juxtaposed to suggest the complexities and contradictory impulses of human need, fear and aspiration.

To us, these impulses have something to do with monkeys, creation, the cosmos and roadkill. But, you know--whatever.





The uke cam is a fairly complicated piece of equipment. It's best described to a lay person as a $10 ukulele with its back removed and attached, via chaotically layered black gaffer's tape, to the front of a tripod-mounted Canon XL-1 mini-dv camera and then further supported at the bottom with Volume 1 of a quality paperback edition of Mark Twain's Collected Works, because the gaffer's tape doesn't actually hold the ukulele in place very well. Come to think of it, that's how we'd explain it technically, too.

The paperback edition of Mark Twain's Collected Works, Vol 1, it should be noted, is an optional accessory. We didn't use for every uke cam shot. Some of our uke cam shots are hand-held and quite kinetic, and far too exciting to describe here. (Is the term "thrill ride" too excessive? We think so.) But we will offer this teaser: it was after doing the hand-held uke cam shots that we realized we needed Mark Twain's Collected Works, Vol. 1.

We briefly considered patenting our uke cam invention, but for us, it's not about the money--it's about the collective advancement of our art and craft. Plus, for the life of us, we couldn't think of another instance in which a uke cam might be used.

That having been said, here's some advice to young filmmakers thinking of using a uke cam for that rarefied script containing the visual cue POV - UKULELE: don't go the expense of renting one only to put it in the hands of some shmoe. Do yourself a favor. Get someone who has taken the 5-minute bathroom break's worth of time investment to be trained in the operation of one, as we did with RTU co-director Sean Anderson, or as we like to call him, "the Vilmos Zsigmond of the uke cam."

We think the difference shows.

RTU co-directors Anderson (with hair) and Robertson (without),
set up a uke cam shot for a scene not in the final edit.