I wear 3-D glasses at night but I can't, but I can't see.
June 22, 2011 6:20 AM   Subscribe

I need to take notes in a movie theater but can't see to write. Is there a silver-bullet pen-light solution? Details within...

I work for a movie review site and have to take notes on the films I've seen. I've tried using an iPhone for this but even at full dimness the screen is bothersome to other people, and I don't want that to be the case.

I've tried writing on a notepad in the dark but usually even I cannot make out my own scribbles. In regular movies I can sometimes use the light from the screen to see my pad, but as more and more movies are in 3-D with those damned glasses I can't see a thing on my pad.

I'm thinking there has to be some solution of a pen with a built in lightbulb that is so dim it wouldn't disturb anyone more than the illuminated bulbs on the exit row (plus I always try to take far back seating so no one is behind me bothered by the light). I see LOTS of pens that light-up but usually they're more for writing in a bar or something where you don't care if you annoy other patrons; here stealth is the paramount interest.

Google and Amazon searches show many but none that really go for such a low luminescence that it wouldn't bother others in a theater.

Does anyone have a suggestion for such a pen, or an alternate method of taking notes that won't annoy other patrons?
posted by arniec to Grab Bag (25 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
On my old macbook, I could dim the screen to a point that I functionally couldn't read on it (if I got up nose-close and squinted, I could make out shapes but that's it), but it was still on. You said you can't read your writing in the dark, but maybe you can type well enough?

Check your laptop though, my current netbook can't do that.
posted by Lemurrhea at 6:25 AM on June 22, 2011

look for writing pen lights, I found this. I've seen others too that have a tiny light at the writing tip.
posted by lizbunny at 6:26 AM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

The sound of typing in the dark has the potential to be just as obnoxious as shining a light.

My vote is for just practicing your handwriting in the dark until it gets better. Try it at home in the bathroom and see if you can develop a technique that works for you.
posted by hermitosis at 6:28 AM on June 22, 2011

Glow-in-the-dark ink?
posted by foursentences at 6:31 AM on June 22, 2011

Can you sit in the back row in the corner?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:32 AM on June 22, 2011

Less invasive lighting would be to use a portable black light with a glow-in-the-dark ink pen. Only the ink will glow, you won't be lighting up much else.
posted by lizbunny at 6:33 AM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Can you choose when you see the movie? I often go to movies during the day and am usually alone in the theater or one of less than a dozen people.
posted by ridiculous at 6:36 AM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I got an ink pen with a lighted tip several years ago as a promotional item (and now I can't remember from where!). I do remember using it on an airplane at night, but never tried it in a movie theater. You may want to try some of the companies that make promotional items and see if they have anything...often if you ask nicely they will send you a sample pen to try out.

This company has sent us samples of various pens out of the blue before, so they might be willing to send you a sample of one of their lighted pens, or send you some that were printed incorrectly, etc. I have no connection to 4imprint, they are just the first one that popped into my head. You could possibly search out other companies.
posted by MultiFaceted at 6:39 AM on June 22, 2011

I'd just practice writing without looking at the paper. Get a small notepad so you can easily feel where the edges are and then flip to a new page for each new thought so that you're not trying to judge where to start the next time you start writing. The advantage would be not just being less invasive, but also not having to look away and possibly miss stuff. Then don't delay in transcribing your notes; the sooner you deal with them, the more likely you'll remember what you were thinking at the time, so you have to write less.
posted by gracedissolved at 6:41 AM on June 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

Here ya go.

The red light is a very good idea, as it preserves night vision, and isn't as distracting to other audience members as a white light would be.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:42 AM on June 22, 2011

Here's another lighted pen.
posted by BeerFilter at 6:45 AM on June 22, 2011

Practice writing short, meaningful notes to yourself in the dark. Don't write full sentences. Use informal shorthand.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:45 AM on June 22, 2011

Also, other LED-light-up-pens I've seen for sale have the body of the pen light up very brightly, as well as the tip. The model for sale above has a solid plastic body, so the only light is on the writing, again a benefit to keeping the peace with other moviegoers.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:46 AM on June 22, 2011

The pen that Slap*Happy suggested is awesome. I second the red light idea. In combination with sitting in the back is probably your best best. You can get cheap red LED keychain lights at amazon.
posted by ALLLGooD at 6:52 AM on June 22, 2011

An iPhone on full dimness in a movie theater is really quite a bit less intrusive than most of these suggestions. Maybe some kind of privacy screen would help?
posted by thejoshu at 6:54 AM on June 22, 2011

The red-light option is one I've known other reviewers to use.

If you go to the same movie theater regularly, have you considered talking to the manager about your situation? He or she might allow you to sit and watch the movie up in the control booth, if you are kind enough to mention the theater in your review (which many reviewers do anyway).
posted by juniperesque at 7:30 AM on June 22, 2011

Nthing the red-illuminated pen. I have one I use to write things down when I wake up in the middle of the night and am pretty happy with it. Do get one with an opaque body — mine is transparent and I wound up wrapping a strip of black Gorilla tape around it so the light only comes out the tip.
posted by Lexica at 8:01 AM on June 22, 2011

One of the first things I was taught in film school was "learn how to write in the dark." You don't say how long you've been at it, but I'd recommend you really, really concentrate on this. It definitely takes practice, and there's trial and error involved in terms of how big your chicken-scratch has to be in order to be readable, how quickly you can allow yourself to write and know that you'll still be able to decipher it, etc.

Also learn to just take notes on the most important things. Don't go overboard -- if you have trouble taking notes, try to adopt an analytical/critical style that doesn't require the recall of fine details. Over time you'll realize when you really need to get a given line of dialogue verbatim, note something jarring or puzzling, or even to quickly describe a bit of graceful editorial or cinematographic technique that might elude you later. Sometimes I draw pictures to help me remember interesting shot compositions.

I have friends who say that if you can't remember it after the screening, it wasn't that important, and I mostly agree. But good notes can help add a real authority to your writing, even when employed sparingly. You just have to learn how to think ahead and figure out what you need.

If you just can't do it in the dark, a very dim red-light pen might be workable, but I don't know that I'd like to have that bouncing around in my peripheral vision at a screening. Definitely sit in the back row so guys like me don't get belligerent with you.
posted by Joey Bagels at 9:09 AM on June 22, 2011

Learn braille. Alternatively, use a braille slate which has a square for each letter but write, uh, non-braille, and at least your letters will be evenly spaced and aligned.
posted by anaelith at 9:37 AM on June 22, 2011

All the pros I know use a pad and a lighted pen. And write really big letters. They also see the films more than once, sit by themselves (not in the center) and go to media screenings where everyone else is taking notes too. If you're just going to the mega-plex, your job will be much, much harder. Can you get on the media list for either the studios or the theaters? I know that here in LA, most theater chains have press reps who will help you out, assuming your site gets enough traffic.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:01 AM on June 22, 2011

juniperesque: re the reviewing from the projection booth --- not a good idea.
1.The ports are usually too small to watch a full show through comfortably without sticking your head in front of the lens, and/or getting getting a massive crick in your neck;
2.With the projectors running it's pretty noisy up here at the best of times;
3.It ain't safe, for the reviewer OR the film; and
4.Your average qualified/professional projectionist is, to put it kindly, the kind of iconoclast its better to leave alone in their cave --- I know, because I've been one of 'em for almost three decades.
posted by easily confused at 11:05 AM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm a projectionist too, and have also had to take notes on films in the dark. easily confused is right about watching from the booth being a terrible idea - it's pretty dark up there too, in addition to being noisy and potentially cramped, dangerous, and occupied by an ornery technician.

Here's what I can tell you:

1: Learning to write semi-legibly in the dark is, as people have said above, something you can practice and get better at. It's also the classiest option, IMO. The key elements of my technique, back when I did it a lot: (1) using a stack of small index cards instead of a full-sized pad of paper (it's much harder to get "lost" in the page and accidentally write over yourself if you're using something very small and easily refreshable) and (2) transcribing and fleshing out my notes immediately after the screening (like, on my laptop in the theater lobby).

2: If you use anything that generates any light at all, you must sit in the back row and avoid sitting close to any other audience members. The projectionist may still hate you a little bit, but at least the audience won't.

3: Depending on the kinds of theaters you're going to and the kinds of films you're writing about, you may be able to get in on press screenings (or even - if it's a small venue and they like you - arrange a private one). Glaring laptop screens are still frowned on at these, in my experience, but there's a little more slack (and at least everyone present will know what you're up to).
posted by bubukaba at 11:29 AM on June 22, 2011

There is no amount of light -- any color light -- that you can use in a theater that will not leave you wearing the full contents of my soda container (after the first time I very politely ask you to turn it off, that is).

My only suggestion is to learn to touch-type on a silent keyboard, but even that wouldn't be completely silent, and so would have to be used judiciously.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:28 PM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

If the OP is in a major market, where specific private showings are common, then that's the best way to go. For smaller markets and/or local reviewers, that might not be feasible. In that case, a combination of sitting in the rear, using a lighted pen, and doing it in an emptier showing (try around noon on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday) is least likely to annoy other people. Even better, talk to the theater manager, and ask for their help.
posted by easily confused at 3:00 AM on June 23, 2011

I'd like to add to the tiny LED light idea and point out the Microlights II have a real on/off switch and they come in red. The batteries on the red one should last ages. You can get them cheaper than REI, too.
posted by chairface at 12:45 PM on June 23, 2011

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