Step 8: Export your film

I said in the 8 steps overview that the main thing to consider here is time.  Exporting your film can take anywhere from minutes to days.  This will all depend on how long the film is and what kind of format and quality you need it in.  I’m using the word ‘export’ here to include the whole process from finishing your edit to it being ready for your intended audience, so I’m including here the area of compression…

Photo by clconroy, used with permission.

Once you’ve finished your edit, your film is still technically just a whole load of little bits and pieces of source material that the editing software is referencing.  If your software shows render files, those are kind of like the memory of what the software has processed from that source material (covering any effects).  Exporting your film brings all of that together into one file.  But, if you just export it at the original quality (that of the source material), then you’re going to end up with a really large file size, and that’s not going to cut it for you, since you’re probably wanting to upload it to youtube/vimeo/etc or make a DVD or something similar.  This is where compression comes in.  It is the process of doing just that – compressing your film into a smaller file size.

But like everything else, there are lots of different options for this.  Every editing software will have some method for exporting.  The simpler editing software packages (eg iMovie) will usually have a number of presets (with something like ‘export for web’ or ‘send to iDVD’).  These can be really good if you are just after simplicity and speed and are not as pedantic about quality.  However, a little tweaking can go a long way.  As well as this, you may want a different file format to what the preset is putting out.  So, you will need some sort of way for making adjustments.  Most editing software will have some advanced settings for export that you can play around with and should let you choose different formats or compression types.  For most Mac software, this would be through quicktime conversion.  If you want something with a bit more finesse, then you will need a separate compression program.  Final Cut Pro Studio came with Compressor which allows for a number of formats, compressions and adjustments of various settings, but there are lots of others too.

Next – what format do you need?

For Internet: Most video sharing sites will give you specifications for what formats they accept.  Most of them are pretty on board with Mac and PC standards now (like .mov and .wmv), so that makes it a lot easier.  Look up what they say, and see if you can get some tips.  Generally I have found that .mp4 are accepted on most sites, and will even play on most computers.

For DVD: The short answer is .mp2, but you need to know that you cannot just compress your video into .mp2 and burn it onto a DVD to create a DVD that will play on a DVD player.  Doing this will just create a data storage DVD.  You actually need different software in order to do this.  That’s why Mac made it easy by allowing you to send your project from iMovie to iDVD, as iDVD does both the video compression and the building of the DVD.  But again, if you want some control over your compression, you will want to compress it first into .mp2 before importing it into your DVD building program.

Another suggestion is, if you’re using another program to compress your footage, make sure to export from your editing program at full quality (without any compression) so that you are not compressing twice and so loosing quality.  Particular to Final Cut Pro and Compressor, I would avoid exporting directly from Final Cut Pro through Compressor.  I would first export a Quicktime, and then pull that into compressor to turn into another format.  Not only do I find that this prevents quality loss, but also it usually takes less time.

One of the major problems visually with compression is the popping up of ‘artifacts’.  These are those little discoloured squares that sometimes come up when compression has gone a bit wrong.  With high compression (producing a low quality but small file size video), the whole footage may appear like it has artefacts, or look ‘pixelated’, but this is because of the compression settings rather than a glitch in the compression process.  The smaller the file size you’re after, the more difficult it is to achieve a nice looking video.  The audio is easier to keep sounding good because it takes up a lot less space (which is really good, because audio is more important than video!)

Finally then, I don’t think I can do better than point you to the vimeo collection of tips for compression from different editing and compression software (see both Vimeo’s chosen tutorials for each program and Eugenia Loli’s compilation of tutorials).  They are mainly showing you the best settings for compression of your videos to get them looking best on vimeo, but they should also provide some helpful principles of how to fiddle with different settings to get what you’re after, and will show you around the different settings you can manipulate in your software.  If you’re just starting out on compression settings (that is, moving beyond the presets), then it’s probably going to take you a while to get it right.  You’ll probably need to keep trying different things until you get it right.  The annoying part is that each compression will take time – you can’t see your results instantly.  So be patient, set aside adequate time for the task, and be reassured that you will get better with time.  At the end of it, you should have a nicely completed video, ready for your audience.  Now you’re ready to give the 8 steps another red-hot go with another film.

Please comment if you want any more details about the above step.

If you want to see an example of this, check out my post that details a bit of how I went through the 8 steps in making a recent film.

Back to Step 1: Make sure your idea is incredible!

This post is part of the series 8 Steps to Making a Video

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Step 7: Edit your film

Photo by Steve Zazeski,, used with permission

Editing seems to be that thing which most people assume is where all the ‘movie-making’ happens.  I’ve lost count of how many times it has happened that when a person has enjoyed a film I have made, the first thing they seem to say is “What editing software did you use?”, as if that must be the reason that the video turned out ok.  Surely that’s where all the creative work is done and that’s what has made this video good (they think).  By having a fancy program, he’s been able to make it a good video!  And unfortunately, I think this is in the back of people’s minds when they start out making video.  They think that if they can just get the right editing software, then they can make a good video.  But there’s an underlying false assumption.  In this view, how good the video is depends solely on the editor and their software.  Not so.  Do you remember the two basic principles of video making?  The second was that good equipment does not equal good videos.  The reason behind that is that there are 8 (or more) steps to making a video, not 1.  Editing is not actually a glorious job.  It’s damage control.  The editing can only ever be as good as the content that the editor has to work with.  This means that the best editing that is done is mostly hiding other people’s mistakes rather than actually doing something new.  It’s firstly about cutting out bad stuff.  So, ten top things to know about editing…

1. It’s not about you
Get it into your head before you start that editing is not about promoting yourself.  It’s not about showing off the coolest trick you’ve learnt to do.  A lot of it is making your mark invisible.  You want to make cuts between shots appear seamless.  You want to help the viewer immerse themselves in the story.  You want to cut out all possible distractions from that.  And sometimes that even includes cutting out shots – even shots you really like.  Whatever will best help the overall video.  And this means that ‘fancy’ transitions like star wipes are pretty much out of the question.  Most of the time, when different transitions are used, they just show that the editor wanted to try to show their mark, but they just look tacky.  They should only ever be used when absolutely stylistically necessary.  Most of your transitions should be straight cuts.  The fade-to-black is the next most reasonable transition, but even this can be poorly used.

2. It relies on the success of the first six steps
No matter how good an editor you are, you can only ever make the final product as good as the footage, which is only ever as good as the cast and crew make it, which is heavily reliant on the quality of the preparation, script and storyboard, which can only ever be as good as the initial idea.  I find few things more frustrating than, having agreed to edit something, coming to the footage and storyboard/script to realise it was all based on a terrible idea.  When people look at the final film, they’re not going to think “What great editing!  He saved the whole film!”.  They’re going to think “That was a terrible film!”

The other thing is that the amount of time it takes to edit the film will correspond to the success of the first six steps.  That is, if the planning and execution of the footage has been really good, then the editing should be reasonably quick.  But if the planning and execution of the footage was poor, then the editing will take a lot longer.  The tell tale signs are copious amounts of footage with lots of different options of shots for every scene (as in, lots of different angles that have not been planned as to how they fit together).

3. The software needs to do what you need it to
Now don’t mishear me.  I’m not saying you need a really expensive editing package.  If you’re starting out with video, you should not be planning to make movies that involve incredible special effects, because you will not yet have the skills to pull it off.  What you need to do first is learn how to make straight cuts appear seamless.  The cool thing is that most video editing software can do this, including the one that probably came free on your computer (like imovie).  But it’s not as simple as just lining up video next to each other.  You also need your software to allow you to manipulate the audio, including the levels for the audio that is attached to your video footage and any music or sound fx you might add.  I’ll outline this a bit more below, but for now, the point I want you to understand is that you can do great editing on pretty basic software, so long as you understand that editing is not about you!  You don’t need to do special effects, but you do need to hide anything that will distract the viewer from immersion in the story.

4. You need media in order to edit
This will include all your footage, as well as any music, sound fx, images, animations, and plugins or additional compositing software to supplement your editing software (once you’re at that stage).  You can start without all the elements, but you should know what you still need before you start.  If your film has been well planned, you should be well aware of what is required.  Often it will be up to you as the editor to source things like sound fx and music, and this can take a while.  Make sure that you have permission to use any media that you source (check out my posts on copyright for more info on this).  The basic test for this is to ask whether or not you could put ‘used with permission’ next to the credit you put in for the music (or whatever other media you’re using).  I put this in anyway just to keep myself accountable.

If you’ve already gone through the last step on importing, then this is all already done.  All the media you need should be in a new project in your editing software, ready for you to start hacking away.  If not, and you need more, check out my posts for some ideas on where to get royalty free music and graphics.  So, now is the time that our basic principles come into full force…

Audio should dictate your editing.  I have seen many great editors using a number of different workflows for the order in which they do things, but the best that I think I’ve been shown in terms of producing a great product reasonably quickly is to remember all along that the audio needs to dictate the video, and not the other way around.  What this means is that you need to be listening more than watching.  The audio is how you will work out how long each shot should be and when you need a different shot over the top of the audio.  You are looking to establish an appropriate rhythm for each scene and for the video as a whole.

Let me give you an example of how this might work in practice.  Take an interview video, where the main form of content is a video of someone being interviewed.  So the main audio is the person’s voice.  This means that you’ve already got a problem.  A simple talking head will almost always be boring, and is too much to take in if they just keep talking.  The way you can first work on this is by adding a music track, then editing to the rhythm of the music.  Start your editing with the music track already there, and then add in chunks of the interviewee talking – but listen to the rhythm.  You will hear when an appropriate time is to make a cut because you will feel that the interviewee has said enough on a point, or has transitioned into irrelevant information, or has become boring.  At this point you need to leave a gap, where just the music would continue underneath.  When it feels right, and in the rhythm of the music, add in the next appropriate segment of the interview.

Now you may be thinking this is crazy, because after this you’re left with a whole load of gaps in the footage.  But I say that audio is more important, and there are ways of hiding these gaps.  Fix up the levels of the voice and music so that the music is soft enough that the voice is dominant when speaking, but raised up in the gaps so that it takes the focus.  Then, use things like title screens, graphics, animations, and cutaway footage to cover the gaps, and even as much of the segments of talking head as you can.  What you finish with is a video that carries the viewer along by the rhythm of it’s audio, and a video in which the visual makes sense because it complements the audio as well as covering any glitches.  You can see how I do this in Final Cut Pro in the below video.

If your video was well storyboarded, planned and executed, then you should have all the resources you need to do this quickly and effectively.  It will be harder if not (usually because there is not enough usable cutaway material, or if the audio in the interview is bad).

6. Be intentional in every stylistic decision you make
The genre that your film is aiming for (e.g. horror film, documentary, drama, comedy, etc) will help you with this.  You will generally either be trying to align your film with a genre – so if you’re editing an action film with a car chase, generally you’re going to go for a fast paced scene with intense music and sound – or you will be trying to subvert a genre to have a particular effect – so it was particularly scary when children’s nursery rhymes were first used as a soundtrack for a horror movie.  Just make sure you’re always intentional with the decisions you make.  Never do something just for the sake of it, and I’m particularly targeting those of you who just love those cheesy transitions.  Please leave them out unless you can justify why you have used them.  Everything sends a message, and you need to be as intentional as you can if you are going to communicate the message you want to.

7. Regularly back up your work
Need I say more?  Editing software uses a lot of computer power, and is prone to crashing your system, usually at the most inconvenient time.  So make sure you have a way of backing up your work and your footage.  Another great feature of some editing programs is an auto-save vault.  Find out if yours has one – it has saved my life on a number of occasions.

8. It will take longer than you think
9. You will always encounter an unforeseen problem
So be prepared as you plan your timeframe and aim for deadlines.

10. Have fun
Although it’s not as glamorous as you possibly first thought, editing requires a lot of creativity, and you get to transform a whole load of bits and pieces into something beautiful (hopefully!), so get into it.  And take heart.  Your speed and skill at editing will both increase dramatically alongside the amount of editing you do.  I’d almost say that you need to make a few shockers before you come out with something decent, but that’s probably trying to justify my own experience, especially when so many great films get made by first timers.  I’m excited by the fun times that you have ahead of you as you wade through the ocean that is video editing.

Please comment if you want any more details about the above step.

If you want to see an example of this, check out my post that details a bit of how I went through the 8 steps in making a recent film.

This post is part of the series 8 Steps to Making a Video

Step 6: Import Your Footage for Editing

Photo by Scott Liddell. Used with Permission.

I’ve separated this step from editing because it always takes a lot of time, and is more like pre-editing.  In production houses, assistant editors are employed to do this role because it takes so much time.  They can even filter out all the excess footage so that the shots are ready and prepped for the editor to choose which shots to use.  But it’s also a far more technical step than the editing.

So what do you need to know?  Mainly I just want to warn you that it can take a lot of time, and I think usually we don’t consider this when we try to work out how long the ‘editing process’ will take.  Even if you don’t have any problems, you’ve still got to factor in that importing your footage will take a lot of time, and this will vary depending on your camera and computer.

The other thing is that there are a lot of things that can go wrong in this step, especially if you don’t notice them while you’re importing, such that they cause a lot of heart ache and wasted time later on.  The reason why problems arise so easily is because of all the different things your trying to get to work together: hardware, software, format, and compression.  So besides factoring in time for the actual import, it’s worth acknowledging that you will probably spend some time problem-solving in this step.  I’ll walk you through a few common problems, though chances are your problem (if you have one now) won’t exactly fit any of them, and the best thing to do is going to be to jump on a search engine and find some forums where people have experienced the same thing.  Often these can be found in relation to the software you are using.  Back to the problems…

1) My camera doesn’t seem to talk to my computer
Your problem is a hard one, because it could be to do with any of your equipment: camera, computer, software.  Check first of all that your camera is on in the play mode.  Then check how you’ve connected it to the computer, making sure your computer and software can accept that method of transfer (usb is usually a safe bet).  Check your software is open and that you have checked all instructions for how to import footage from your type of camera. For hard-disk and sd card cameras, you need to transfer the footage files, often with some sort of transcoding (which the software should do).  For tape cameras, you need to log and capture the footage in real time.  If you’re still struggling, start by searching online for help with importing with your software.  If that doesn’t help, search online for your camera model as well as the software your using to see if anyone has had the same problems or if the camera is compatible with your software.

2) My footage, once on the computer, seems out of sync with its audio
This (or something similar) will usually occur because the import settings that you have selected (or on default) in your software do not match the settings that the camera exports in or the footage files’ settings.  This is the case on a number of camcorders – they can record at a higher audio rate than what they export at.  Weird I know.  But you’ve got it now, so if you want a way around it, you’re going to need to match the import settings to whatever your camera output is.  If that doesn’t work, it’s time to search online to see if anyone has had the same problem with a similar setup.

3) My footage needs rendering all the time in my editor
This will be the case if your import settings for your footage do not match the settings for your editing project in your software.  If you can’t change the settings for your project (eg. if you already are using other footage in the project), it may be worth re-importing your footage at the same settings as the project, simply to save rendering time.  If it is a new project, you might be able to change the settings of the project to match your footage.  You can leave your final format to exporting if you need it in a different one.  Having the raw footage so that you don’t need to render it will save you a lot of time when editing.

4) How did my hard-disk fill up so quickly?  And why did my computer get so slow?
Video footage takes up a lot of space.  Think about it – for PAL HD footage, every second of footage is 25 high resolution photographs.  So, if you’ve got 20 minutes of footage, you’re effectively storing 30,000 photos.  That takes up a lot of space.  And the higher the compression quality on import, the larger the space it will take up.  Be careful though of compressing your footage on import just to save space.  If it’s your only option, you’ll have to do it.  But if not, keep the settings at full so that you at least have the option of exporting it at full quality.  Chances are that your camera will already use some sort of compression.  So if you use the same setting for import as your camera, it should be manageable.  But be prepared for it to take up a lot of space.  The other thing is that your computer likes a bit of a buffer of space to work fast.  Techies can tell us why that is the case, but for now you just need to know that you don’t want to fill up your computer on video until there’s only 100mb left on your hard-drive.  Leave a number of gigs free, and that will help your computer to run faster when you get to editing.  This problem of footage taking up lots of space can be helped by pre-editing… (read on)

5) Should I import it all in one hit, split it up but still import it all, or just import sections?
You can import it all in one hit – it’s easy and really quick to set going, and you can then leave it importing while you do other things.  The problem is that you then have to deal with all the footage in editing, and it takes up a lot of space.  If you’re on a tape camera, then it’s even worse because it will either all be one file, or the computer will have automatically guessed how to separate it up.  So if at this point you can just choose the shots you’re probably going to use and copy them across, or log the sections you’re probably going to use and have them imported, then you’ll save time when you go through the footage for editing, and you’ll save space.  This process will be greatly helped along if you storyboarded well, such that you knew what you were looking for and which shots worked, and if you took good notes along the way in the filming process.  You can also filter out all those filming mistakes (like when you pressed record by accident – oops!)

In the end, it’s often a trouble shooting process.  The more you use your camera, computer and software, the better you’ll get at importing what you need and knowing the settings you need to look for.  What I can’t believe is how surprised I still get when something goes wrong.  It’s happened enough to me that I know I should expect it, and yet the shock still comes flooding in.  Thankfully, I also know that there is a world of knowledge out there that I’ve been benefiting from for years.  Chances are that someone has already had your problem and you can find an answer quickly.  Otherwise there are a lot of forums where you can ask questions from techies about particular software and hardware problems.  Feel free to ask here, and maybe I can either help or direct you to somewhere that you might be able to find an answer.  Happy importing!

Please comment if you want any more details about the above step.

If you want to see an example of this, check out my post that details a bit of how I went through the 8 steps in making a recent film.

Next step: Edit your film

This post is part of the series 8 Steps to Making a Video

Step 5: Film your film

You’re finally at the stage where you’re ready to shoot something – and you know you’re ready!  Why?  Because you’re confident of your idea, script, storyboard, and preparation.  You can pretty much watch the movie in your imagination, and now you’re pretty eager to see if you can pull it off.  Good!  That’s where you want to be.  If you’re not like that, then make sure to go over your idea, script, storyboard and preparation and make sure they are all as good as they possibly can be.

'Commuters' by hbrinkman, - used with permission

But you do still have to actually film it, and this will take skill.  It can feel a bit like running for a train.  You know when it’s going to leave, but you’re just not sure you’ll be able to cover enough ground to make it.  If it’s your first time on a camera, then be prepared to stuff up a bit.  That’s ok.  Getting good at camera work takes practice.  Stick to your storyboard, and try your best.  For those who have done lots of filming before, you still need to stick to your storyboard, but you probably know this already.  You know that planning really pays off, and will help you to have better footage at the end with less junk to wade through in the editing suite.

Now to the actual filming.  Let’s take your first location, for example a conversation at a cafe between two people.  There’s a few steps you want to take to help make sure you get some good usable footage.

1) Check your settings.  You want to make sure that both the lighting and audio are acceptable for filming.  First to look out for in a cafe is that sometimes the lighting can be a bit dim or do strange things with your colours, or your actors might be caught in a dark spot and need something on their face etc – so do you need to set up any additional lighting or use a reflector board?  The second thing is to take a moment to listen – somewhere like a cafe will have a lot of background noise, and that’s going to make recording good audio very difficult, and you know what I say about the importance of audio.  Factors in other locations might be wind, traffic, music, or just general ambience.  There will always be background noise.  So what mics are you going to use to make sure you capture the conversation well?

2) Prep your equipment for the shot.  Again, this involves both the video and the audio.

• With the video, make sure to check your White Balance.  What is this you say?  Well, different lights (eg sunlight vs fluro vs lamp) all shine slightly different colours, so if you were to hold a white piece of paper up in these different lights, it would actually appear slightly different each time, and so would the rest of the things hit by that light.  Your camera has a setting for white balance which you want to set according to what kind of light you are shooting in.  You’re camera will usually be set to an auto white balance (saying AWB), but it is often a little off, and can change half way through a shot.  Not cool.  You can set it manually, but this can be a bit time consuming (each time you shoot in a new light setting, you hold a white board up in the target area of your filming, zoom the camera in so white fills the frame, then set the white balance).  Mostly I just use the presets which are easy to flick between, and usually get it about right.  On most cameras I’ve used, there is a white balance preset for daylight, cloudy, and tungsten light, and maybe even one or two more.  Simply look at what is giving the most light in your location, and set the appropriate preset.  You should be able to see on the camera whether you have it set correctly.  If it is too blue or too yellow, chances are you’ve got the wrong white balance setting.

• Next visual thing is to check you’ve got the right focus.  This is particularly important if you’re using manual focus (which most DSLR’s will use in their video mode).  The good news is that manual focussing will allow you to set exactly where you want it to focus.  The bad news is that it is a bit difficult to manage, and easy to get wrong.  A quick way to check your focus is to look at the image close up.  On a camcorder, you can zoom in to the point you want to focus on, set the focus, and then zoom out.  On a DSLR, you will need to use the magnify setting to ‘zoom in’ on the image on your display.  Zooming with the lens will actually change the focus requirements.  To create a bit more depth of field (blurry background) with a camcorder, you will need to move the camera further away from your target, and zoom as much as possible.  You still won’t get great depth of field, but it might be a little bit better than filming at the wide angle.

• To finally prep the visual of your shot, make sure to look back to your storyboard to remember what the framing is that you want and any movement that you will need to make with the camera.  Maybe even do a quick rehearsal of what you will do before you start shooting.  Pay careful attention to how the frame is balanced – does everything in the shot do what you want?  Are there things that are distracting (eg. Too much space above an actor’s head)

• Then there’s the audio.  You now really need to make sure you check the levels of your audio before you film.  Have you ever had those bits of buzz or distortion when someone has been talking loudly?  That’s often because the audio is peaking.  Get the head phones on and make sure you’re listening to the audio as you record.  But also, check it before hand.  If your camera has audio meters, then make sure to have them running, and do a short test before you film with an actor speaking at the loudest they would for the scene.  Make sure the meters aren’t blowing out (hitting the end of the bar, usually leaving an indicator that they have peaked).  If they are, you need to bring down the audio input level.  Also, you may notice that the audio is really soft, in which case you might want to boost the input a bit.  If you don’t have meters, just listen through the headphones to see if you can pick up any distortion, and then try to adjust things in the scene to help remove that risk.  Make sure to then monitor the audio as you shoot.  This is the same for checking background noise – if it is too loud, then you need to think about relocating, or use a different mic set up to better accommodate for it.  Things like a wind sock (or just a sock!) over the mic will help dampen the harsh blowing of wind.

3) Communicate with your actors and crew.  Make sure everyone knows what they’re doing.  If you are directing the action, even if it’s just interviewing someone, you need to be directive. Tell people clearly what you want, and prepare them for the scenario where you may ask to shoot again if it’s not right.  For example, most people when being interviewed produce a lot of ‘um’s and talk in really long sentences.  So before I shoot, I will be clear with them that I am looking for shorter sentences and minimal ‘um’s.  I tell them that I may stop them and may ask them to say something again in a more concise way.  Often they don’t realise that they are doing it and really appreciate the feedback – but the initial conversation really helps these potentially awkward moments.  I will also tell them to be bigger and more expressive than they think they need to be because the camera seems to flatten energy.  Also, make sure the crew is clear on what they’re doing, especially if you have someone else recording sound.  Make sure they know what your cue is to start recording and stop.  Make sure they are ready to go with their sound levels and mics.  Do they know how close they can get the mic without putting it in shot?

4) Record your shot.  It’s important that you give a bit of lead in and lead out time on every take – this will give you room to move when editing and will avoid those moments when an actor starts talking a bit too early and the camera doesn’t quite get it.  So tell your actors to wait for two seconds after you say ‘action’ before they start.  You should then press record before you say ‘action’, so giving yourself a few seconds lead in.  Once the action for the shot is done, leave it rolling two more seconds before stopping the recording and saying ‘cut’.  During the shot, you need to be on the ball.  If you’re doing everything, you will need to pay careful attention to the camera visuals, actors, and audio.  Keep those headphones on and make sure the audio is coming through clearly.  Check the audio meters to make sure it doesn’t peak during shooting.  Keep an eye on the framing of the shot, the focus, and the colours.  You should be able to do this while still noticing whether or not the actors have nailed the scene.  If it’s not good enough in any of these areas, do it again.  Don’t worry about stopping it mid shot if you need to.  Just be clear and polite, and move on.  Tell people what is different from what you would like, and ask them to do it differently.  They may well have helpful feedback for you too.  Don’t be too nervous and shoot a hundred times or a whole load of different angles just in case they work.  This will be too painful in the editing process.  Trust your storyboard.  Know what you want.  Then make it happen.

5) Reivew your schedule and storyboard.  Check for what other shots you have planned for this location, and shoot them.  Go over your storyboard and make sure there’s none you have missed.  Often it will be the cutaways or view shots.  For example, in the cafe conversation one of the characters might look at a menu and you want to be able to cut to an over-the-shoulder shot of the menu itself – this can be easy to forget to shoot when you’re focused on capturing the conversation well.  Also, keep checking the time to see if you’re keeping to schedule.  When you start to think you might run a little late, it’s time to both communicate that clearly to your crew and cast and contact anyone this will affect later in your schedule, especially if you’re shooting in multiple locations.

6) Record 1 minute of ‘ambiance audio’ or background noise.  Make sure you do this at each location.  This will really help you in the editing process.  An easy way to throw off your viewer is with a jolty cut in the background audio.  I reckon its one of the first things that shows you something is of not so great quality.  Why?  It highlights that there is a cut there. This is exactly the opposite of what the editor is trying to do (unless it was intended for specific effect) – I will talk about this more when we get to the editing step.  Without an ambiance track, the editor does not have something that can be continuous across cuts, and so making it difficult to hide the cuts in the audio.

7) Flexi-time.  Things always go wrong or a little differently to plan.  Having some ‘unstructured time’ structured is a good way of being realistic about the filming process, and so working out what is likely to actually achieve.  If you finish in one location early, you can always give your cast and crew a quick break, or you can have a bit of extra time to get your head around the next shoot and make sure everything is good to go for it.

8) Thank your cast and crew abundantly.  It almost never happens that it has just been you involved in the shoot, and if you’re on a budget, then chances are that most of your cast and crew has been working for free.  How are you going to let them know how much you appreciate them and what they have done?  What affirmations and encouragement can you give them about the work they did today?  Not only are these things really good to do in terms of loving other people, but it will help them as actors and crew in the future – it will encourage them to keep getting better at what they are doing.  I’d recommend at the least that you consider paying for all their food and drink across the shoot, but something additional in thinks would also be a great idea.  Then, share with them the finished film and how pleased you are with it.  They will love to see the completed work and be proud of the part they played in making it happen.  You could even have a ‘premiere’ where you invite the cast and crew to be the first ones to watch it.

Few!  What a day.  The filming process can be quite tiring, and you’ve done really well to get through it.  Give yourself a good old pat on the back.  But remember, there’s still a long way to go.  The editing is still to come, and this can take the most amount of time.  But it’s also my favourite part.  So stay tuned for the next steps to bring this puppy home.

Please comment if you want any more details about the above step.

Next Step: Import your footage for editing

If you want to see an example of this, check out my post that details a bit of how I went through the 8 steps in making a recent film.

This post is part of the series 8 Steps to Making a Video

Step 4: Organise your filming day

'Paparazzis' by Creactions, - used with permission

So you’ve got your idea, script, and storyboard all planned, such that you can pretty much ‘watch’ the video in your head.  Now, before you actually pick up your camera and start shooting, you’ve got a few things to get ready.  The most obvious thing is that you at least need a camera – so that will come under organising equipment that you will need.  Then there is the people you will need to operate that equipment effectively – you can affectionately call them the crew.  Then there’s the actors, both people for the parts in your script along with any extras you might need – this is called ‘talent’.  You will also need to organise all your locations for shooting, and finally, get together all the necessary paperwork for the day, which will include a realistic schedule for shooting.  Let’s take a more detailed look at each of these…

Organising your:

1) Equipment

  • Camera – there’s a wide range, and what you use will usually depend on your budget.  If it’s a one-off short film, consider hiring so you can get something better quality, and give something new a try.  Unless you’re capturing your audio onto an external audio recording device or you’re making a music video, your main concern with the camera should be how you are going to capture the audio.  Does it have an input for an external microphone and an output for headphones?  Check out Filming Set-ups for help work out what you need.  Check it’s all working properly before your filming day.
  • Charged Batteries – make sure all your batteries are fully charged.  You should also bring your charger and an extension cord, just in case!
  • Microphone, lead, headphones, boom pole/mic stand, and possibly external audio recording device, and additional wind sock for mic – make sure you have all the equipment you need to make sure sound is good, and that you have any necessary batteries for the microphone and recorder, plus some spares.
  • Tripod
  • Lighting – not always necessary, but important to consider.  After audio, lighting is really important.  On a budget, you can get a weak flood light with some baking paper to soften, or a strong normal bulb with a paper lantern to soften.  You will probably also need an extension cord, and maybe a powerboard.  You may also want to get a blue gel if you want to mimic sunlight (believer it or not, sunlight is blue!).  Another way to help your lighting situation when there’s already some lighting is with a reflector board to reflect the existing light where you want it, eg onto a face.  On a budget, you can get a big white piece of card, or cover cardboard with foil.
  • Props and Set – go through your storyboard and make sure you have acquired all the props and pieces of set you need for filming.  You might buy some, borrow some, use your existing possessions, or even make some.  Just make sure you’ve got it all ready to go so you’re not found short on the day.

→ Once you’ve worked out everything you need, get it all together and packed before the day you are going to be filming.

2) Crew

  • If you’re just working with a camera, then this is probably just you.  But if you know someone who can take better shots than you (a camera person), then you may want to ask for their help, so freeing you up to direct the talent.  My problem is that I’m always far more critical of other’s filming than my own, and so I guess a bit pedantic, so I am usually the one filming.  Though if you’ve storyboarded well, then your camera person should be able to tell what you want the shots to look like.
  • If you’ve got an external microphone, then having someone as a ‘boom operator‘ (as in, person that holds the boom pole with the mic on the end, making sure that it’s as close as possible to the thing making the sound you want to record but without being in shot) is just gold!  They can focus on the audio so you (or the camera person) can concentrate on the visual.  They might also monitor the sound for you.
  • The bigger the production, the more crew you will need.  The thing about video is that there are just so many things that you’re trying to do well.  You will never be an expert in all of them.  So, that’s why the credits after a movie are so long – they have a lot of specialists working to get their part just right.  If you’re wanting to get more help, then you’d at the least start with a producer (someone to organise all the people for the day) and an equipment manager (someone to make sure all the equipment and props are where they need to be).

3) Talent
After your idea and script, the actors are usually the next determining factor in how good your final film will be (before then your shooting and editing).  Make sure you have the right people for the parts you are trying to fill.  You will have an idea in your head as to how you think the part should be played.  Know first that the actors will be different to that, no matter what.  So, make sure they are versatile and convincing in their acting.  By picking people suited to the part you are trying to fill, that will go along way to helping this.  If you’re on a budget, then you’re going to be looking amongst your friends and contacts first.  If you know this is the case, then it’s probably good to be considering this as you think of the idea and write the script.  Have the actors in mind so you can make it as easy as possible for them to be convincing.  You may be able to get some actors who are willing to work for free so they can get something on their showreel – you can usually find them on various websites.  If you’ve got a little budget, offer them something as an incentive for working in your advertisement, and you’ll find that you get a lot of responses.  Even talking over the phone with them will give you a good idea of what they will be like when they act.  Audio says a lot, remember?  If you’ve got any scenes that may require people in the background as extras – eg cafe, classroom, park, etc, then make sure you have sourced enough people who are free on the day you want to film to join in.  Be warned though – unless you’re paying extras, they’re not always the most reliable at turning up when they say they will.

4) Locations
Hopefully after scripting and storyboarding your film, you’ve already got some ideas about where you want to set each scene.  Usually to visualise a scene for storyboarding, you will have thought of a place you know, or will have been on the look out since storyboarding for the kind of place you might want to set it.  Now you’ve got to work out whether it’s actually going to be possible.  The biggest difficulty you will find is with public places.  If you’re operating a bigger production, especially if it is a commercial production, then you will know that you need permission from council or whoever owns the property to shoot there, and your producer will be seeking this permission.  These will require time to process, so make sure you’re getting in early.  If you’ve got very little budget and it’s not for commercial purposes, then you can usually get away with just turning up and shooting when it comes to outdoor locations (like a street corner).  If it is something like a cafe or newsagent, then just ask the shop owners until you find someone willing to let you shoot.  So long as you’re not in the way, people can be pretty generous.  Be careful of places like shopping centres or railway platforms – these are very public places, and highly controlled by people who are very aware of the general public’s concern with being filmed.  They will often stop you from shooting if you start, and would be very hesitant to allow you to shoot their if you asked without paying a fair bit of money.  You may be able to get away with it at a country train station or small shopping plaza, but I’ve got to say that the difficulty with filming in these type of locations have meant that they rarely make it into my scripts!

5) Paperwork

  • Most of this is already prepared – make sure you have enough scripts for your actors, and storyboards for yourself and camera people.  You may also want to get your actors, or any random people you interview, to sign a release form to say that they give you permission to film them – so you could print off enough copies of these.
  • The main thing you need to prepare now is the schedule.  Whether you think you’ll be filming for 2 hours, a day, or ten days, you need to plan how you’re going to approach it.  Sit down with your story board and work out how many locations you have.  Then plot through how many shots you need to shoot at each location (they may be at various points in video if it returns to the same location, so make sure you shoot it all while you’re there).  Then try to stream line it for the actors.  Some might be needed for the whole shoot, but others might only be needed for a particular scene.  Now try to put down times for when you want to start shooting at each location.  Make sure that you are generous with your estimates.  Filming will almost always take longer than you think.  Now is not the time to get ahead of yourself and think ‘it won’t take long’.  It will.  Assume you’ll need to shoot each shot at least three times, and plan accordingly.  Don’t forget to leave space for moving props, bloopers, setting up and packing up, and late actors.  Don’t forget to also make space for the unknown things that will go wrong.  You might need half an hour to clean up a mess, or get a new battery, or fill up with petrol – who knows, but that’s the point.  Something unexpected almost always happens.  The better prepared you are, the smoother the filming will be.  Please make sure you are realistic as you plan your schedule!
  • One final thing to make sure you have is a list of all the contact details that you might need for the shoot – so phone numbers for all actors, crew, and locations.  When things go wrong, you will probably need to call people.

Now go to it!  Plan, organise, prepare!  Make it as easy as possible for your shoot to be as good as it can.

Please comment if you want any more details about the above step.

If you want to see an example of this, check out my post that details a bit of how I went through the 8 steps in making a recent film.

Next step: Film your film

This post is part of the series 8 Steps to Making a Video

Step 3: Storyboard Everything!

If you’ve never heard of a storyboard before, then it’s time to take your mind back to your comic book days (or if you never ventured into the mad world of Marvel etc, you at least drew stick figures in kindergarten right?).  In any cartoon, painting, or even photograph, a moment in time is captured.  You are looking at a scene.  Sometimes there’s cues as to what it happening in the moment, like speech bubbles in a comic, or a person portrayed mid action.  In a comic, each of these moments are strung together to create a story.  It moves from one picture to the next.  And there you have it – that’s a storyboard.  It’s a series of still pictures that each represent a moment but together create a story.  So, a storyboard that you create in planning your video is creating a series of pictures that each represent a moment of your script.  You are starting to make concrete what has been in your head from the idea and scripting steps.  Having planned the story, you are now planning how you want that story to be visualised.  You are essentially giving some guidelines for what you want each shot to look like.

How do you do this?  Simple.  Draw down the left side of a page about 7 rectangles that are the same ratio as what you will film in (16:9 is the widescreen ratio).  In each of these, you will draw a moment that represents your first seven shots.  On the right of each of these, you would write the part of the script that each shot will cover.  For example, if I was filming a conversation, then I may begin with a side on shot of the two people – so I would draw where in the frame I would want those two people to be located, and write on the right any dialogue that would be spoken while this shot remains.  I would also include any directions for camera movements on the right.  For the next shot, I might want a front on close up of one of the person’s faces – so I would draw where in the frame the person would be, and write on the right any dialogue covered and directions for camera movement.  You don’t need to be an artist – even stick figures is fine!  The main thing is that you are planning every shot such that you can essentially imagine a stickfigure movie in your head.  It’s like you’ve got a comic form of your video.

Why do this?  Three big reasons.
1. You will know the minimum shots you need to make your video, what you want them to look like, and what they look like together.
2. You will avoid copious amounts of useless footage that wastes both your shooting and editing time.
3. You will know how to edit your video before you even get to editing, making it 10 times quicker when you do get to it (that’s why some people call it a ‘paper edit’).

There’s many more reasons of course – three just sounded cool, and they are the big reasons.  You’ll also be fine tuning your script, working out extra shots you might need that you hadn’t visualised in the scripting process, cut out possible filming errors, and you set yourself up much better for planning your shoot.

So are you convinced?  Once you’ve got a script, sit down and storyboard it.  I often do this the day before I’m about to shoot.  Some people even make a video storyboard, where they put the pictures into an edit and record the script over the top, maybe even adding some music.  If you’ve got the time to do this, then it will give you a vibe as to whether or not the shots you’ve planned are working with the timing and flow of the script (it’s kind of one of those things that in an ideal world I’d love to always do, but in reality have only even done it once).

Here’s a template that I just print out for doing a storyboard on paper.  Feel free to use it.  But it may even inspire you to make your own, or figure out a cool way to do it on your computer.
Doc – Snowy’s Storyboard Sheet
Pdf – Snowy’s Storyboard Sheet

Please comment if you want any more details about the above step.

If you want to see an example of this, check out my post that details a bit of how I went through the 8 steps in making a recent film.

Next step: Organise your filming day

This post is part of the series 8 Steps to Making a Video

Step 2: Script everything!

The scripting phase can be really hard and feel somewhat tedious.  Now that you’ve got your idea, you can feel like you’re ready to go, and you start asking: can’t we just figure out the exact dialogue on the day?  Do I really have to write down detail besides dialogue? etc… And if you come to actually write a script, you might get frustrated because you find that you can’t put exactly what you’re thinking on paper.  It can be easy to skimp on it so that you can avoid doing it.  But don’t give up.  Putting in some time now will save you time later (in shooting and editing), and will give you a better product.

by kristja ( Used with permission.

The reason why it’s hard is the same reason you need to do it.  Though you’ve got the idea in your head, you want to be able to execute it in a way that your audience can see as close to what was going on in your head to begin with.  If you can’t put that down on paper clearly, then you’re going to struggle to film it and edit it to the way you want – it will be different to your idea (sometimes by fluke this can work out really well; some people even choose to work in a way that ‘let’s the art happen’; but most of the time, scripting well will get you the best result).

What you’re aiming for is a document that has all the dialogue down exactly as you picture it being said.  Along with this will be actions going on in the scenes that need to happen.  From what you write down, someone should almost be able to ‘watch’ your film in their head as they read.  At the least, you should be able to ‘watch’ your film in your head in full, knowing almost exactly how you want it to look.  Can you see how this will help you?  You will then be in a place where you know what shots you will need to make the film.  You will know the way that you want the actors to portray their characters.  You will have a sense of timing.  You might even be starting to think of appropriate music that would match scenes.  You’ll also have started the process of getting in your head how you are going to edit your video.

For me, this process can take a while, mainly because when I see the script that I’ve come up with, it hasn’t usually captured exactly what my idea was going for.  I have a friend (Guan**) who is a great writer and has a creative mind.  I always send him a script that I’ve started on.  He’s usually been involved in brainstorming through the idea with me, so he knows something of that.  He’ll have a go at rewriting the script – taking out what he doesn’t think works, adding in bits that he thinks of, and tweaking others.  When I get it back, I’m always impressed.  There’s stuff in there that I think is exactly what the idea was going for but that I would never have thought of.  There’s some stuff also that I think is not quite what the idea was going for too.  So I do the same back.  Eventually, after a bit of back and forth script-editing, we’ve come up with something that we both think matches the idea pretty well, and is ready to move on to the next step of storyboarding.  Get the point?  Someone who can read through the script and give you feedback is really helpful!

Scripting is even important when you’re doing a vox pop or interview.  You should be able to write down what kind of content grabs you’re looking for.  This will take some research and thought, as well as some initial interviewing so you can get to know what the person is thinking (preferable, though obviously not possible with vox popping unless you ask them what they’d say before you film them).  With an interview, you still want to create a story or movement.  The idea is still crucial.  The video needs to have a point.  Scripting something will help you prepare for this.

Please comment if you want any more details about the above step.

If you want to see an example of this, check out my post that details a bit of how I went through the 8 steps in making a recent film.

Next step: Storyboard Everything!

This post is part of the series 8 Steps to Making a Video

** I have to put in a plug for Guan’s most recent publication.  It’s called ‘Kinds of Blue‘.  It’s an anthology of comics that help people understand more of what a person suffering from depression goes through, and it’s simply brilliant.  Please do your friends a favour (because you’re bound to know someone with depression) and buy this so you can consider how to better be there for them.  You can order it here.

Step 1: Make sure your idea is incredible!

by k_vohsen ( Used with permission.

As I said in the outline of the 8 steps, you will see the importance of the idea when you look at the video making process backwards – your editing can only ever be as good as your footage, which can only ever be as good as your filming, which can only ever be as good as its content (including actors, location, blocking), which can only ever be as good as your planning/script, which can only ever be as good as the initial concept. Did you get that? Basically, unless by some miracle, your idea sets the standard for how good your video will be.

by Silven001 ( Used with permission.

But you know this right? You’ve seen those high-budget movies that have incredible special effects, ground-breaking cinematic techniques, big-name actors, the Director of that other movie that everyone loves – and yet, it can be a terrible film. Why? The idea never had legs! It was a paper aeroplane that someone thought with enough glossy paint and top mechanics could fly a whole load of people around the world. It’s ridiculous! You can see that I can get a bit passionate about this…

The scary thing is that I think a lot of us tend to do this too. I’ve lost count of the number of conversations I’ve had about ideas for videos that have had about two seconds thought, and the person thinks that if they just get a cool editor then it will be good. No. Bad idea = bad video. AND it means a waste of a whole load of people’s time.

So, don’t skimp out on your idea! It is the most important thing of your video! Make sure you work it and rework it: where’s it going?; how will it end?; is the twist as good as it can be?; does it work within your limits (budget/equipment/actors/music/skills etc)?; does it meet your brief (as in, the purpose that you’re making it for)? If it’s a comedy, is it as funny as it could be? If it’s a scary movie, is it as scary as it could be? If it’s a documentary, is it as engaging as it could be? Will it take your audience from one place to another? Are you considering it just because you like one part or does it work as a whole?

Make sure you think it through in whatever way will best help you. You might benefit from writing it on paper or computer so you can see it and rejig it as needed. You might benefit from getting together with a couple of other people who will see it from a different angle and give honest opinion. I know for me this is really helpful, and actually gets me thinking about more things that I would not have otherwise.

If you want to see an example of this, check out my post that details a bit of how I went through the 8 steps in making a recent film.

Bottom line: Make sure your idea is the best it possibly can be, because your film will only ever be as good as that idea!

Next step: Script everything

Please comment if you want any more details about the above step.

This post is part of the series 8 Steps to Making a Video

8 Steps to Making a Video: In Practice

So what do the 8 steps actually look like in real life?  I’m glad you asked, cause not only do I get to tell you how I went about them in a recent video that I made , but I get to share the video with you (watch it below).  Be prepared for when you watch it though – it can be a bit gross and wacky.  But I think any student will feel some affinity with it; maybe even video makers who are trying to function the next day after a long night in the editing room.  So I’ll talk through each step one by one, trying to give an indication of what you might expect when you go to make a video.

1) Making sure our idea was incredible
I love brainstorming ideas with other people – it keeps me fresh, and sparks my creative side into action.  This is totally what happened here.  The reason to make a film was already there: our college revue was coming up, and being in our final year, a bunch of us were keen to do something that would be a funny reflection on something to do with our time at college.  So that was our brief.  The idea then came by a shared experience of watching some sketches by Tim and Eric – funny but wacky stuff, and often in a sort of infomercial style.  Someone made an extreme comment on facebook, being so desperate to be able to function better for study that he’d inject caffeine directly into his eyeball.  The idea was then sparked.  All it needed was for us to brainstorm how the plot would begin, develop, and finish on a high.  We figured out a basic structure that could work well, and then it was down to scripting to add in more of the joke ideas that we had been tossing around.

2) Scripting “The Cisco Direct Injection System”
With the idea in hand, we took it to the lunch table and started trying to put it to paper.  We came up with the basic bits of dialogue that moved the drama along, and hold it together.  Then we filled it out a bit more with some additional gags that we thought would be funny as well as complementing the flow of the story well.  We also decided not to include some funny lines because they did not complement the overall flow.  We then read it through to see if it felt right, and whether it actually sounded like timing would work.  This process then went back and forth (scripting and reading) until we were happy with what we had.

3) Storyboarding “The Cisco Direct Injection System”
I then broke down the script into a 4 column table, where each row represented a different shot.  I put the dialogue that ran through each shot in the appropriate row in one column, and the action occurring within each shot in another.  Then I had another column which I could drawn within each cell how I wanted the shot to look (though in this instance, because I was strapped for time, I wrote down a description like “cu portrait student”, picturing in my head what this would look like – you can get away with this when you can visualise exactly what you want, but I would always recommend drawing it when you can).  I used the forth column to then write down any props we would need, a possible location, and which actors would be involved.

4) Organise the filming of “The Cisco Direct Injection System”
Because the idea and scripting had been done over a period of time, a lot of this had already been talked about (in terms of who we would get for acting, possible locations, and props).  And we were going to shoot it on my equipment (Canon 60d with 50mm 1.4f lens with shotgun mic plugged in).  So, I just needed to kick it all into motion.  Again around the lunch table, we sorted out who was bringing each prop, where we would film each scene, and the time and date for our film shoot.  I also drew up a shooting schedule, planning the order in which we would film each shot (it’s usually the case that it’s easier to film them out of order because of location and availability of actors).  While we’re on that, it took longer than I expected for filming.  This is always always the case.  So make sure when you’re planning a schedule for filming that you allow lots of extra time.

5) Filming “The Cisco Direct Injection System”
This was a lot of fun.  We had a good laugh seeing our ideas come to life.  Thankfully, the logistics all worked out ok.  There were a couple of last minute changes, but because we were well thought through, these were manageable.  Because we had a shot schedule, none were missed.  Some shot plans didn’t work as well as hoped, so they were adjusted, and some were much better than expected.  The team did a great job, and although it took longer than I had communicated, they were very forgiving and happy with the day.  The only thing I was unhappy with, which I only discovered later, was that one of the shots had its audio distorting because I had the levels too high (can you pick it in the video?).  This is the danger in using the DSLR – unless you have an additional audio mixer, which I did not have at the time, you cannot monitor your audio.

6) Import the footage of “The Cisco Direct Injection System” for editing
Thankfully I had done this process with the DSLR a couple of times already, so knew what I was in for.  I imported the footage using the EOS utility, and then used Log and Transfer in Final Cut Pro to import the footage.  I checked my project and sequence settings so that they were the same as the footage, and I was ready to go for editing.  At this stage, I also started collecting some of the other bits of media I would need, pulling in my folder of royalty-free music and some images that I knew I would need for the green screen shots.

7) Editing “The Cisco Direct Injection System”
Including the importing above, this took about seven hours.  This is a bit slow for me because I’m out of practice with editing.  “But the final video is only two minutes!  Why did it take so long?” you say?  Well I say get used to video my friend – it takes a long time, especially if you’re pedantic about getting it right.  And it would have taken soooooo much longer if we had not plannned well for filming, as well as being a much worse final video.  I started from the beginning and inserted the shots for the first scene in order.  Then I found some appropriate music, laid it in my ‘music’ tracks, and started editing the clips to the music so that it felt right.  I tried to make the cuts where you could see the continuity in action (like being at the same point of movement in sitting down).  I also added in any sound effects needed.  Once the scene was about right, I moved onto the next one following the same process.  This continued until I got to the end of the film.  At this point, I was able to close my eyes and listen to the film – the audio was pretty much as it would be at the point of export.  I then adjusted all the visual stuff, adding in graphics, credits, and backgrounds for the green screen shots.  To do this, I needed to spend some time in an image editor to get these right.  I then rendered the whole thing and watched it through to make sure I was happy with it.  Then I did a sound master to make sure that it was consistent throughout and as loud as it could be without peaking, followed by checking for any audio peaks which I could then remove.  Then I put a broadcast safe filter across all the footage to stop colour peaks, and rendered the whole thing.  Done!   (For tips on editing in Final Cut Pro, check out this)

8).Export “The Cisco Direct Injection System”
Ahhh, the final step.  For this, all I needed to do was export it as a quicktime at its current settings, making it self-contained.  I then used Compressor to compress it into a smaller file (using the settings suggested by Ed McNichol on Vimeo), and it was ready to transfer to the person organising the Moore College Revue, and upload to Vimeo.  And there you have it!

Please comment if you want any more details about the above process.

This post is part of the series 8 Steps to Making a Video

8 Steps to Making a Video

Image: 'Camermen...' by nkzs. Sourced from Used with permission.

Fantastic!  You want to make a video.  But wait – don’t start filming right now!!  Making a video is a bit like all that stuff you hear about food on Masterchef – getting your idea and preparation right at the start will see a better process and more impressive results.  So here’s the process that I aim for when I want to make a video. (This is just an overview.  To get more detail on any of the below steps, just click the heading)

1) Make sure your idea is incredible
Look at the process backwards – your editing can only ever be as good as your footage, which can only ever be as good as your filming, which can only ever be as good as its content, which can only ever be as good as the planning/script, which can only ever be as good as the initial concept.  So, don’t skimp out on your idea!  Make sure you work it and rework it; where’s it going?; how will it end?; is the twist as good as it can be?; does it work within your limits (budget/equipment/actors/music/skills etc)?  Make sure your idea is the best it possibly can be, because your film will only ever be as good as that idea!

2) Script everything!
I’m not just talking about dialogue, but everything that happens.  Put it down on paper so that you know exactly how your idea is playing out.  Then run it by someone else, especially if they are handy with words.  Even if you’re doing a vox pop or interview, know what kind of content grabs you’re looking for.

3) Storyboard everything!
This is where you basically map out every shot.  You draw a still frame for each shot, and put the part of the script next to it that the shot will cover.  At the end of this process, you should be able to effectively ‘watch’ the film in your head.  You’re basically editing before you shoot, and it means you have less footage to trawl through in the editing process, and your footage will be a billion times better (possibly an over-exaggeration).

4) Organise your filming day
You need to organise all your equipment (camera, charged batteries, tripod, sound gear, headphones, lighting?, extension cords etc); your actors; your crew; your paperwork (scripts, storyboards etc); your locations; and your realistic plan for shooting – when will you film each shot and how much time will it take?  Have you left enough space in your schedule for all those unexpected things that will happen?

5) Film your film
If you’ve storyboarded and planned will, this should be fun.  It’s a good idea to make sure you’re really familiar with the camera you’ll be using on the day.  Stick to your storyboard unless you can see that you really need another shot to supplement how the filming has gone (since things don’t always turn out exactly how you pictured it).  Make sure you communicate really well with your actors and crew – don’t be afraid to get a bit bossy (but of course do it gently).  Always encourage your people helpers with things they do well!  And make sure you adequately reward them for their help!

6) Import your footage for editing
This always takes longer than you think, and very often can be where videographers run into trouble.  Always check that you have the right settings (PAL 25p/50i fps and a 16:9 resolution are probably going to be what you’re looking for, but check your camera settings and see if it matches with your computer).  Allow sufficient time for this.  If you can avoid importing shots that you won’t use, then that will speed you up later.

7) Edit your film
Sorry to say this, but chances are that the newer you are to this, the longer it will take.  Be ready.  But stick at it.  The more you edit, the faster and better at it you will get.  Check out my video on how to make an interview video if you’re using final cut pro – even if you’re not making an interview video, it will give you some principles to work from.  The basic principle is to let the audio guide your editing.  It will set the rhythm.  So edit to the audio rather than the visual.  Audio always covers a multitude of visual sins, but not the other way around.

8) Export your film
The final step, but this can also be the most painful.  So make sure you’ve got enough time for your computer to do its thing, and make sure you know the settings that you need for whatever purpose your film is for.  If you’re making it for church, are you exporting it in a format that will play on your church computer?  (FYI – a playable DVD is not just copying the movie file onto a writable DVD and burning it; you need to use a program like idvd etc to build a dvd).

And you’re done!  Did this help?

This post only summarises the above 8 steps.
For more detail, start with Step 1. Make sure your idea is incredible
Go here to see how I put the 8 steps into practice on a recent project

Not-so-cheap setup: DSLR + digital-audio-recorder

This option involves taking your video on a Digital SLR camera.  This has become more and more popular over the last number of years as the video capabilities on the DSLRs have improved.  Quite a number now have full HD capabilities.  The reason why this has become so popular amongst indie film-makers, and even professionals, is because it provides an affordable means of using some really nice lenses without having to buy a ridiculously expensive film camera, like they use in the movies.  It’s the same kind of idea as the camcorder with a lens adapter, only here the quality is going to be better because it’s only going through one lens rather than two.  Further, you have much more control over your image settings due to the nature of the DSLR being optimised for still images.

The problem?  It’s hard to use.  They usually take a fair bit of practice to work out how to actually film so that you can see what you’re shooting and not be too shaky (like attaching a tripod to hold as a stabiliser).  Also, it’s nowhere near as automated for the image settings – You need to get used to how to adjust the settings so that they film the image the way you want it, and you will have to focus manually during shooting.  Then there’s the mic – on a DSLR it’s generally going to be pretty bad, especially in big open spaces.  Some DSLRs come with a mic input, but you won’t be able to monitor or adjust the sound levels while filming.  This is pretty risky.

But it’s such an amazing image!!  So to work around the sound problem it means you need a way to monitor and adjust the sound input.

One way is to get a Audio Mixer that pre-mixes your sound.  It sits between your camera and mic (mic plugs into mixer, then mixer into camera mic input), so the sound is still recorded onto the camera, but you are able to monitor it by plugging headphones into the mixer so you can listen to what the mixed sound is like and adjusting the mixer settings accordingly.  These sell for around $50-200.  The bonus is that you only have to do one import because the audio is still captured on your camera.  The danger is that you still cannot monitor exactly what the camera is recording, and it is relying on the camera’s audio capture which is sometimes not as clean as it could be.

The second way is by some sort of digital recording device like the Zoom H4N.  It can function in the same way as the mixer (it has a mixed output that you can plug in to the camera mic input), but also has the capability of recording four separate tracks on it, coming with two mics built in that work pretty well, and the ability to plug in two additional mics.  This is the way to go if you want some great sound.  The pain of this is that if you want to use the audio recorded onto an external device, you have to import the audio separately and sync up the audio and video in editing.  But it will be worth it.  The DSLR (and even camcorders) can only go so far in their audio capabilities.  DSLR’s are built to create great images, not audio, and camcorders are more all rounders.

With this kind of set-up (DSLR, good lens, digital audio recorder), if you can get used to using it, you have the potential to create some really high-level video.  Even top level commercials are made on this kind of set-up!  But if you’re new to video, then you’re really going to struggle with this option at first.  It’s like learning to surf – you’d start on a long floaty board to start off with that will help you get the hang of surfing, and then move onto a shorter board later on once you know what you’re looking for and have a better ability to work out how to use it.  It might be a good idea to hire a set-up like this for a day for your next project, and see how you like it before you buy it.

Some of you will be budding photographers though and already have a DSLR, and maybe this is the first time you’ve realised that you could actually use it for video!  Hopefully you’ve got enough of an idea of the image settings that it won’t be as difficult for you, so give it a go.  But be prepared for it to be harder than you think it will be.

Another thing that is good to be aware of.  Zooming is generally going to be harder and choppier, because you’re doing it on the lens which generally are not set-up for filming while in the process of zooming.  It will probably be best to end up getting a couple of different lenses if this is the option you’re going to go for, including a couple of fixed lenses that will give you a really shallow depth of field, and a lens that covers a good range of zoom for when that is needed.  To start off with though, I would recommend a 50mm 1.4f lens.  It will give you a beautifully rich image, and forces you to frame your shots well (since you can’t zoom).  So you’re probably looking at $1000 for the body and $400 for the lens, plus whatever else you want to spend for more lenses and accessories.  So with this plus the H4N, you’re looking at up to $2000 for this set-up.

Just on a personal note, I have been using the Canon 60D as a body, and found it helpful for the practical nature of filming, mainly because of the flip-out rotating LCD screen.  It just gives that bit more versatility for filming angles in a hurry.  You can also adjust the audio recording level before recording which helps if you can’t get your hands on an external digital audio device.  I also hear that it doesn’t overheat as much as some of the others do when filming for long periods.

Not for you?
Check out other setups in this series:
Cheapest setup: Camcorder and Mic
Cheapish setup: Camcorder with adapted lens
Necessories: tripod, mic, headphones, (audio recorder)

Cheapish setup: Camcorder with adapted lens

This set-up is basically adding to the Cheapest Set-up in order to improve the quality of your image.  To understand why you might want to do this, compare your camcorder footage that you’ve taken so far to the images that you see in your favourite movie.  Pretty different right?  Do you notice some of the differences?  For one, there’s the colour.  Often your camcorder footage is going to look a lot more washed out, where as the film will be warm and full.  The other is what’s called the ‘depth of field’ – this refers to how much of the depth of the image is in the field of focus.  The shallower the depth of field, the more particular is the point of focus, and everything else gets blurrier and blurrier.  Now some of these things can be helped along by lighting, filming distance/zoom, and post-production effects, but your main problem is really the lens on your camcorder.  It’s simply not cut out to make anything even close to the images you see in the movies.

“But how can I even come close to getting this kind of image on a budget?!” you may ask.  Well, here’s an answer: get a better lens!  The next three set-ups are really about trying to keep improving that image by improving the lens (and capturing format) that you are able to use.

First things first.  Ever had a go of an SLR camera?  They have lots of versatility with lenses.  I love the photos that are taken with lenses that achieve a really shallow depth of field – I feel like I get caught up into the image.  Nowadays, the digital SLR cameras can also take full HD video – this means you can take video at a reasonable quality while at the same time achieving that brilliant footage!  But you may not yet be able to afford this kind of camera yet, or you might find them a bit awkward to shoot video on.  So what can you do?  Convert an old SLR lens onto your camcorder!  Lots of indie film makers went this way before SLR cameras got the HD video capability.

There’s some things you need to know though.  First, you want to get the right lens.  You want one that’s going to give you a good depth of field.  I got a 50mm 1.4f lens for mine (see picture above), and it has worked a treat.  You’re generally going to get a much shallower depth of field on a fixed lens (as in, no zoom).  I think it also forces you to frame your shot better than you would if you simply zoomed.  You can get an old one of these lenses for around $200 – they will usually be of great solid material, but might not fit a modern SLR (so if you were to end up getting an SLR, it wouldn’t be much good to you without another adapter – unless it’s a Nikon lens).  New lenses like this retail for around $450.

Next, you need a lens adapter.  This needs to both fit the lens and the camcorder thread – you may need to get an extra piece to fit these together.  The lens adapter is basically a tube with a focussing screen – so the image from the lens gets projected onto the screen, and the camcorder then focusses on the image on the screen.  Unfortunately this means that the image will be upside down, but you can work around this.  It is helpful to get an adapter that has a vibrating focussing screen.  This will blur out any specs of dust on the screen that would otherwise appear as tiny black dots on your final image.

Lots of people make these adapters themselves (search Vimeo for DIY lens adapter tutorials if you want to give it a go), but you could also buy one – they can be really expensive, but you should be able to pick a basic one up off ebay or a manufacturer for around $200.

So, the moral of the above?  If you’re going to improve your video footage, you need a good lens, and the cheapest way to do this will probably be to get a lens and a lens adapter for your camcorder.  This will end up costing you about $400 on top of what you already spent on the Cheapest Set-up of Camcorder and Mic.

PS.  Do not make this upgrade if you have not got an external mic.  The vibrating focussing screen will create noise for your camera mic, and will be way to0 distracting.  Audio over visual!

Update 29/6/11: a video on 35mm lens adapters – cheesy, and a bit long, but helpful visual of the mechanism.

Not for you?
Check out other setups in this series:
Cheapest setup: Camcorder and Mic
Not-so-cheap setup: DSLR + digital-audio-recorder
Necessories: tripod, mic, headphones, (audio recorder)

Necessories: tripod, mic, headphones, (audio recorder)

I reckon that if you want to make a decent video then you’re going to need some kind of tripod, mic and headphones to go along with whatever device you’re using to record your video. Some of these are included in the filming set-ups, but I’ll fill out a few more of your options here.

First off: tripods!

Chances are that you’re as shaky as the average person when it comes to filming, and you don’t always want the shaky-cam look. Get a tripod! There’s a huge range of them, and you can get one for pretty cheap if you’re strapped for cash. Not only are they brilliant for getting a good steady shot, allowing you to adjust the camera to the angle of your choice, they also allow you to do smoother pans and motion. I even use my tripod as a balance weight to aid stabilisation when I’m shooting on the move (as in I have the tripod attached to the camera and hold onto a leg – it gives me a much smoother shot than if I were holding just the camera!)

look for one like this if you can afford it

Things to look for in a tripod:
1) Stability – it’s got to do what it’s there for! Can the tripod hold your camera stable? The one pictured is a really stable design. Unfortunately, the cheaper ones are often quite flimsy. However that may be all you need for a small camcorder.
2) The head – it should move smoothly and provide a little resistance. It should also allow you good control over your angle. It’s also nice having a level bubble on the head so you know when your camera is level.
3) The legs – they should be able to get you as high and as low as you need to go. The extension grips should also not let the legs move once you’ve set the desired length.
4) The feet – these don’t matter so much, but it can be nice to have spikes and movable feet that adjust to the slope you’re on.

Second: mics!
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – audio is more important than video. The camera inbuilt mics will generally sound tinny, and the background noise will always be louder than you want. So, you need an external microphone. Here’s some different types you might think about:

1) Shotgun – I’ve found this to be the most versatile type of mic. It’s the one I use most of the time. They have better directional capabilities so that you capture the audio you want, without the mic in shot and the background noise is less invasive. It’s great if you’ve got a boom pole so that you can hover this mic over the top – close to your target, but out of shot. You could also use a mic stand.

2) Lapel – these are particularly good for capturing audio of one person’s voice, so fantastic for interviews. They’re not so good for other types of audio though, so better as a second option in your armoury. The mics themselves are pretty cheap, but the remote boxes are a bit more expensive.

3) Icecream (dynamic) – these are the classic news reporter and singer mics. They are great for voice audio, and can even be a fun prop. Their starting price is probably also the cheapest. But, they’re only good if you can get them close, which means that they are usually in shot. Not always the best look! They are also ok for recording ambient background tracks.

Third: headphones!
There’s not much point having an external mic if you can’t hear what it sounds like. There’s nothing worse than getting to your computer and realising that you forgot to turn the mic on or that there is a buzz because your cable wasn’t connected properly (to clarify: there are things that are worse than this in life, but this is still pretty bad). You can get by with generic headphones that come with your mobile or mp3 player, but it is better to get some that will cancel the outside noise – you want what you hear to be what is being recorded. The more you can fork out, the better these will be.

Fourth (when you can afford it): external digital audio recording device!
One of these bad boys will allow you a whole lot more control over the incoming audio. It will also allow you to record separate tracks at the same time, so you could have two mics going at once (eg a lapel and a shotgun). It does mean that you have to sync up your audio and video in post production, but this is usually well worth it. Since you can still get reasonable quality audio through an external mic linked straight into your camera, you don’t need this straight off. But it will be well worth keeping in mind for when you want a seriously good final product. A good starter would be the Zoom H4n (pictured).

Not for you?
Check out other setups in this series:
Cheapest setup: Camcorder and Mic
Cheapish setup: Camcorder with adapted lens
Not-so-cheap setup: DSLR + digital-audio-recorder

Cheapest Set-up: Camcorder and Mic

If you’re starting from scratch, this is about the cheapest option you can go for if you’re going to buy something for making videos.  Sometimes you can get away with using your basic digital camera or even your phone these days, but remember our two principles?  If you’re buying cheap gear, then you should make audio your priority (unless you’re making videos where all the audio is imported – eg Music videos).  My opinion is that most camcorders will have much better sound recording capabilities than other cheap video recording devices.

So what do you look for in a camcorder?

First off, make sure it has an input socket for an external microphone.

Then, as soon as you have another $50-100 available, buy one.  You can sometimes get cheapish shotgun mic (like the one pictured) off ebay for this kind of price.  It won’t be a Sennheisser, but it will get you much better and clearer sound than the inbuilt mic on the camera.  The shotgun mic is also pretty versatile, allowing you to capture a good range of sounds without being in shot.  It should have it’s own power-source (like an AA battery), and come with a wind sock and an XLR cable – this will need a converter to get into the camera input (which you may be able to get included in your package).

Preferably, it should also have an input for your headphones so you can monitor the sound.  This is especially crucial if you’re thinking of doing any filming in places with background noise (which you most probably are!).  Even if you don’t have an external mic, get a pair of headphones so you can listen in to the audio that the camera is picking up – preferably ones that cover your ears ($50?).

Next, consider the video quality.  HD camcorders are now cheap enough that I’d be surprised if you had to consider something of lower quality.  Make sure it is full HD (1920×1080 pixels).  After that, look at the lens and the censor – the better they are the better the footage.  In Australia, we use the PAL system (25 frames per second), so make sure it shoots at this rate if you live here.  If you live in America on the other hand, you want an NTSC camera (30 frames per second).

The other thing to notice with video quality is how it records the footage – check how much it is being compressed for storage.  Full quality footage (minimal compression) should take up a lot of space!  Be ready for that – which will probably mean buying a big SDHC memory card for storage (since that’s where the storage seems to be heading).

Any features beyond this don’t tend to matter that much.  You can do effects in editing – they just put them on the camcorder to try to make it look more attractive.

Most camcorders you can find that have the above specifications should be around the $300-400 price range.  One that I’ve found online which looks like a good entry level is the Canon Vixia HF R10.  It’s got the above specs, and you could potentially attach a lens converter on later (check the next filming setup for what I’m talking about).  I’m sure there’s loads more.  So look around, read and watch reviews, and maybe even see if you can give something a try.  (It’s hard nowadays to find a cheap camcorder with an audio input.  Two mentioned in the comments below are the Kodak Zi8, Aipetek Action HD, and GoPro Hero, but each come with their own downsides.  Another option you could try is to add the input yourself, but you’d want to make sure you knew what you were doing!  Check out this for an example on a JVC Everio)

Moral of the above?  The best thing you can do for your video is get an external microphone!  All up, that puts the above set up (camera, mic, headphones?) at $350-550.  Not bad! (I paid $1500 for my first video camera – and that was cheap for a MiniDV camera back in the day.  Hi8 was still around!)

Also, check out this video for a good comparison of Mobile phone cameras and Camcorders:

Not for you?
Check out other setups in this series:
Cheapish setup: Camcorder with adapted lens
Not-so-cheap setup: DSLR + digital-audio-recorder
Necessories: tripod, mic, headphones, (audio recorder)

Buying vs Hiring

Any filming equipment you buy will be superseded quicker than you can figure out how to spell ‘superseded’ (did I even spell that right?).  It’s not going to be an investment (unless you are regularly making money out of the videos you make from it).  I’ve seen a number of people (and have been one myself) get a really expensive video camera for their first buy, and then by the time they get good at video, the camera is outdated or broken.  We also tend to get in the mind set that you have to have really expensive equipment to get good quality, especially after we see the kind of gear that they use to make movies.  And we usually get dazzled by what a video camera can do before we think about sound (remember the principles?).

What I did for a while was had a cheap camcorder for doing day-to-day videos, and then hired better equipment for shooting a short film.  The kind of cameras I could hire were much better than any I could even think about buying, and since I only needed it once or twice a year, it was comparatively cheap.  And they had great sound equipment that was very cheap to hire.  The other option of buying something a bit better would have meant that my short films would not have come out as nice.  This is especially the case now that the cheapest equipment can give you a really nice image compared with 10 years ago.

So, if you’re new to video and are thinking about buying a camera, my suggestion would be to start on something cheap that you can make lots of videos on, and then hire something better when you want to make something of a better quality.  This will also give you the opportunity of trying equipment before you buy.  If you go on to more professional video, you will then be familiar enough with the equipment to know what you want.  Also, the hire equipment will keep getting upgraded, so you keep getting more bang for your buck.

Some hire places in Sydney:

(please comment if you have any suggestions for where to hire)

Think about how long do you expect your camera purchase to last.  5 years?  It will most likely have either broken or been massively outdated by then.  So, break down the cost over 5 years and work out if your use will justify the money, or whether it will be better to just hire the decent equipment when you need it. Think about what you want this equipment for, and whether buying or hiring will be better for you.  Anyway, onto the equipment…

Two Important Principles

Two big things to get into your head:

1) Audio is more important than Video – high quality visuals with bad sound will be far worse than poor quality visuals with great sound.  Good sound covers way more mistakes than good video – and you will make mistakes!  This means that when it comes to gear, you need to readjust your priorities – don’t go for an amazing visual camera if you won’t be able to get good sound, and good sound will almost always require an external microphone.

2) Good gear does not equal good videos – it will help, but it won’t guarantee it.  When someone has appreciated a video I’ve edited, they will always ask what I used to edit it – the thinking behind it is almost always “If I had that editing equipment, I could edit a good video.”  But this just isn’t the case.  If you want to edit a good video, learn how to be a good editor, and then slowly build the equipment you need to do that when you do.

>> So, what I’m hoping to do in the next couple of posts is give some tips on gear that you might think about getting if you want to shoot and edit video.  The tips will be based on the above two principles.  I’ll outline a number of set-ups for videoing, which will jump up both in price and quality.  If you’re starting out at video, why not start with one of the simpler options, and then when you get better at video you can upgrade, knowing what you want.  If you’ve already been making a bit of video, hopefully these set-ups will give you some ideas about gear that will help improve your quality, and how much it will cost you to do it.  Also, you might like to try hiring something in order to give it a try before you buy it, and see what kind of results you get.

Coming Soon…


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