While producing your own video content has never been easier and more affordable, there are some caveats.
In the companion article to this one, I spoke briefly about cost, control and ease as great reasons to produce your own video content. While that is certainly true and DIY is sometimes the best option, there are some other things to consider.
It’s quite a list, actually.
Let’s take you on an imaginary (and very straightforward) interview shoot:
You can certainly shoot video with a smartphone or DSLR, where smartphone is by far the simplest option. You just need a stabiliser to make sure you get quality shots. Same goes for your DSLR: get a stabiliser and you can go a long way (and in lots of different directions).
I often use both a smartphone for mobile shots and a DSLR for static shots, especially in interview situations.
So that takes care of the image. But what about sound?
The sound you get from your built-in microphone will definitely not be good enough to use on a quality video. So you need to invest in one or more microphones. I use a boom mike, a handheld interview mike and two Lavalier mikes (the pin lapel thingy).
Also, before you rush out and buy some of those, you need to check what works for you: omnidirectional, bi-directional, cardioid or even supercardioid mikes. Yes, exactly!
Often, you’ll need to use more than one microphone simultaneously. But your smartphone or DSLR only has one 3.5″ connector. So you’ll need to get one of these and learn how to use it efficiently!
Script & vision
So you have all the equipment you need? Cool!
Now what are you going to shoot? What’s the story? What’s the build-up? How long is it going to be? And what are you going to use the video for?
There are a lot more questions like this and you should think about them before you shoot. That way you’re sure you have everything covered and you’ll come back with the shots you need.
So, whatever your style/topic/intended use is, plan ahead and write a script. Put it on paper (write it, draw it, whatever…) because the script will tell you what you need.
Then review your script and turn it into a shotlist. This tells you exactly which shots you need and how you want to style them. Plus, you can use it as a notesheet to keep shot notes during the shooting.
Shots are very important to get through the filming process. Consider your establishing shot, for instance. Are you going for a classic very wide shot or just a mid shot. Perhaps a medium close-up would work? Or an over-the-shoulder?
And what’s the shot angle going to be? Eye-level or low angle. Perhaps you’d also like to pan or tilt or follow the action.
Feel free to download my own Shot List Template! The template comes with some pre-filled examples and it has loads of useful pointers (about shots, angles, moves, etc…) on the back as a permanent reminder.
Shooting and producing your video
So you have equipment, the script and the shotlist and you know exactly what you want! Awesome!
Next point: do a master check of your shooting environment.
What will be visible in the background?
Is there any noise, perhaps even just a steady hum from the airconditioning unit? You’d be amazed how loud these otherwise unobtrusive little sounds can be when you’re editing your video.
Are your subjects wearing camera-friendly clothes? Things like that.
Onwards and upwards! Work through the shot list to make sure you have every shot you need. Shoot three, four, ten takes if you need to and keep a log of which take was good/not good and why.
Make sure you shoot plenty of B-roll material to make editing and cuts easier.
And…oh yes… that interview: in between set ups, lighting, shooting, audio checks and shot styles….. did you remember to check whether the interviewee actually said what she was supposed to say? Was the tone OK? Was it dynamic enough? Were there a lot of awkward pauses? Did the interviewee cut her discourse into nice, short pieces which are easily editable? Or was it just one long monologue?
Editing the cut
Ah… my most favourite part of every video production: editing! Also, the most excruciating one. The part where you’ll very quickly discover whether you really have all the shots you need with the appropriate sound and image quality.
First thing: bring all of your video and audio into one tool and make a first, rough selection.
Challenge number one: matching the right (external) audio track with the right video scene and then synchronising them. If you worked with just one microphone plugged into your smartphone or DSLR you won’t have to do this.
If you work with external mics, you’ll quickly learn how relevant it is to record a visual and auditive cue at the beginning of every shot (yes, that’s – among other things – what they use the famous clapboard for in film shoots).
So now you have your shots down to the ones you’ll actually use. So it’s time to cut and edit them into a real video.
Now, will you start on a dissolve or rather use a fade-in for your first scene cut? Perhaps a wipe, but that would be a bit cheap, as editing goes. An L-cut is a good way to start off, I always think, if you have the shots for it.
Tempo is a factor as well: is your interview dramatic or funny? Is it supposed to be contemplative or energising?
Just asking because you’ll have to decide how many cuts-per-minute you’ll have to make to give your video the right mood and energy. Anywere from very slow (4 cuts/minute or less) to very fast (60+ cuts/minute) are possible.
Master the tools
Everyone has access to the right software nowadays, so post-producing a video should be easy. And it is, somewhat. If you’ve followed all the steps above you should be off to a good start.
But then you’ll have to learn how to add titles, possible even animated titles. And if you need subtitling, that’s again another part of the toolbox to learn.
That is supposing you got past the initial video project setup, where you select things like frame rates, audio sample rate, pixel aspect ratios, and many more.
What about colour-grading?
No video worth its salt is published without at least a bit of color correction. And it’s something that isn’t always easy to do. There are professional colour graders out there. People who do nothing but colour-correcting videos. All day. Every day! That should say something about its complexity.
Read Eric Escobar’s article to see how you can get started with colour grading.
What about sound?
The output levels should be normalised. Not just to prevent your video from sounding a lot louder or softer than others, but also to get the same volume across your video, in dialogues, in background music and other noises.
There’s really no such thing as an industry standard volume level, but most people agree the output level should be between -10db and -18 or -20db. I usually stick around at -12db. Depends a bit on the video.
Read more about sound levels Caleb Ward’s excellent article.
But inside your video you’ll also have moments where the music fades or comes back, to alternate with interview dialogue, for instance. So you need to understand how to adjust that manually for every audio cut.
And then, when everything is done and you’re happy with your work, you just need to export it and choose between H.264, HEVC, MPEG2, Quicktime and two dozen more possible formats, each with their own intended use and settings.
Every phase and every skill I mentioned above is a specific job in its own right. And I haven’t even mentioned all of them.
And that’s one of the main reasons why video can be so expensive. Because when you use an agency to produce video, they’ll work with professionals who’ve often spent years mastering their craft and they expect to get paid accordingly.
I admit, I’ve used some nasty terminology in this article, and probably more than I should have. And if you’re still set on producing your own work, you don’t have to learn everything at once. But you should at the very least get acquainted with the basics before you get started. Because I can promise you: the moment you realise you still have a bit to learn will not come when you’re shooting or editing some unimportant stuff. It will invariably come when you’re working on an important piece, like shooting a video with your CEO or your most important customer! Murphy rules, after all!
My biggest embarrassments? Shooting 4K video with a smartphone and then discovering in editing that all the scenes were jumpy. Or, the best one: coming back from a big shoot to discover I didn’t press the audio record button hard enough during one of the crucial takes.
Still convinced you’ve got the skills to pay the proverbial bills? Go!
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