Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Twelve Guidelines for Better Video Films

1. Use a tripod or a solid camera support. The use of a tripod or a
solid camera support is the mark of a professional. This is especially
important in close-ups.

The exception is where you want to show a subjective camera effect,
communicate a fluid or unstable situation, impart a documentary-style
effect, or in news situations where you will miss the shot if you try
to use a tripod.

Even so, we commonly see "floating camera" shots on episodic TV (Law &
Order, etc.) and even on feature-length films (The Bourne Ultimatum,

Although this saves money by reducing setup time, when viewed on a
large screen, viewers are apt to complain that this can make them a
bit "seasick" -- especially in HDTV

2. Rely on medium close-ups and close-ups for your basic visual
material. Wide shots should only be used for establishing (and
reestablishing) shots. HDTV doesn't require this same close-up
emphasis, but for some time we'll have to shoot with both formats in

3. Eliminate shots that don't contribute to the project's goals or
your basic story idea. The rule here is: If in doubt, leave it out!

4. Cut away from a shot as soon as the basic information is conveyed,
especially if the shot is a static one. Almost all of the student
videos I see could be judiciously cut by at least 50% and be much
improved in the process.

5. Resist the temptation to keep the camera rolling, and pan, zoom and
tilt the camera to get from one shot to another.

Zooms and pans are generally just lazy and time-consuming ways of
changing shots. A cut is almost always stronger and faster. Use pans
and tilts when you need to reveal something or when you need to follow
subject movement.

True, we see a lot of zooms, pans and tilts in videos, but take a look
at a good feature-length film — especially one that has won an award
for cinematography. You won't often see many of these.

6. Make sure your key subject matter (the talent) is not wearing
white, or is against a white (or very light) background. The sky,
windows, bright walls and lights in the picture are the biggest
problem. The result is gray scale compression or white clipping. If
you can't avoid this, you can manually open the camera's iris or
engage the camera's "backlight" switch and carefully observe the
effect while you make adjustments.

7. Unless you are "editing in the camera," make sure you observe a
five-second roll cue at the beginning of each take. Otherwise,
especially considering the pre-roll requirements for many videotape
editors, you may find it impossible to use the segment during editing.

8. Cue up your piece to the very beginning of a ten-second countdown
leader before submitting your work.

9. Use a auxiliary mic for interviews, never the built-in camera mic.
Use the mic as close to the subject as possible. If you don't want the
mic to be conspicuous, use a clip-on, or personal mic, hide the
handheld mic close to the subject, or use an off-camera directional

10. Select instrumental music as background for narration, not vocal,
rap, or hip-hop music. You can't have two voice tracks going at the
same time and expect the audience to follow both.

11. Use B-roll footage with interviews whenever possible. Don't just
hold a shot of a "talking head" unless the person is very dramatic or
animated. Whenever possible supplement the interview footage with
shots that help explain or illustrate what's being said.

12. Completely and thoroughly think through and plan your piece before
you start. Remember: The most important phase of production is

Plan for visual and audio variety and only include shots that are
essential to getting your point across. Keep in mind the emotional
element in production content.

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