8 Key Steps

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

Step 7: Edit your film

Photo by Steve Zazeski, http://www.sxc.hu, 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, http://www.sxc.hu - 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, http://www.sxc.hu - 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 (www.sxc.hu). 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.


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