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Posted by on Oct 5, 2012 in How To, US, Video |

Boats.com Video Boat Reviews: Behind the Scenes

The Boats.com review team has developed a routine that includes high-definition video, a side of laughter, and (when possible) lobster for dinner.

“Where are we going for lobster tonight?”

That’s the first question Lenny Rudow asked me when I picked him up at the airport last Wednesday morning. According to Lenny, a Maryland native, lobster is what one eats when visiting New England.

“Haven’t decided,” I mumbled, concentrating on the many merges and turns required to exit the Providence airport. To me, lobster is tourist food. So finding a place in Newport that served it would require a restaurant off my usual path.

The coffee-fueled discussion quickly moved on to the challenges for which that dinner would be the reward: how to best show off the next video boat review subject on a not so picture-perfect day. Low, jagged clouds raced across a gray sky, and Narragansett Bay was dotted with the blown spume and whitecaps of a gusty southeast wind.

Hunt 44 running, filming

A gray windswept Narrangansett Bay gave reviewer Lenny Rudow a chance to run the Hunt 44 in challenging conditions.

But we weren’t making a marketing video, we were reviewing a boat. Running the boat in breeze and waves would allow Lenny to write a better review, because he could see how the Hunt 44 would handle in something more challenging than sun-sparkled flat water. For once he’d be able to write something other than “wind five knots, light chop” on the performance data sheet.

Of course, that brought up another not-so-minor obstacle that he didn’t know about.

“Um, we don’t have a chase boat yet,” I told him. My job as the producer included important details like this one. And the chase boat needed to be a bit more robust than your average boat tender. Keeping up with a speeding powerboat in the wind and waves that Lenny was so psyched about, while also keeping the video gear dry, required a serious platform.

Beneteau video chase boat

Stable running footage requires a solid chase boat.

“So… maybe we can do fly-bys, near the dock?” There was doubt in Lenny’s voice, because he knew that running shots taken from a chase boat can be much more dynamic than footage taken from a fixed spot.

Since there was no point in dwelling on that problem, we moved on to other topics: how to best highlight the unique features of this particular boat while also pointing out a few details that Lenny thought could be made even better. And since we were both heading to Annapolis right after we finished the job, we talked about the weekend forecast there—no wind would be ideal for his offshore fishing trip, but not so nice for my regatta.

Fortunately, by the time we arrived on site, we had found a large RIB that would make an ideal video platform. We’d be able to get all the running footage we needed—as long as it didn’t start raining. The worry knot in my stomach mostly disappeared.

We decided to check off some of the interior shots first, hoping the light might be a little less gray late in the afternoon. Paul the videographer set up his camera, the enormous tripod taking up the full width of a generous main cabin. He and Lenny talked through the script and discussed when to ask a member of the boatbuilder’s staff to come down for an interview. After a few more logistical discussions, we started filming.

Paul and Lenny share a laugh

Videographer Paul Cronin and Lenny share a laugh between takes.

Here’s how it works: Once Paul says “rolling,” Lenny begins to talk about a specific feature. I write down his first few words, to make it easier for Paul to find that clip again later. When he’s finished, we either agree that it’s a keeper or talk about ways to make it better. Maybe there’s a clearer way to say something, a word repeated once too often, or maybe Paul wants to frame the shot slightly differently? If so, we try it again, until we have a take we’re happy with. I log the time, keeping a running total so we know how much we have left of the total four or five minutes available.

Lenny eating lobster

Lenny dives into a traditional lobster dinner at a previous video boat review dinner.

After almost fifty video boat reviews, we’ve developed an efficient system—and we always find time for a laugh. On each boat we review there’s an unexpected surprise: an extra feature we need to fit in, a cabin or head too tight for the camera, Paul, and Lenny to squeeze inside, or a creative perspective we hadn’t anticipated that simply begs to be tried. And that’s what keeps us all coming back for more.

Well, that and the lobster.

It turns out that “Lobster Mac” (translation: lobster mixed in with macaroni and cheese) is a local specialty at one of my favorite restaurants in Newport, Norey’s. It also turns out to be Lenny’s new favorite New England treat. So the next time I pick him up at the airport, I’ll definitely have the dinner question answered.

Carol Cronin

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