Oct 20, 2009

Ten basic tips for a short video

January 4/2009

Producing videos is a very competitive business and I’m often asked, “Why should I hire a production company to shoot my video rather than get a friend or a student with a camera to make my video for less money?”

Most people have no idea that getting someone to shoot a consistently well photographed, editable production with a camera and then edit the footage into a creative and succinct video that incorporates the nuance of story, feeling and character, is like asking a nurse to perform brain surgery or hiring a high school band to replace the Orpheum Symphony on Beethoven’s Ninth. There is a learned skill, creative talent, artistic flair and years of producing films and telling stories that come with a professional.

This being said, I will try to provide some tips and pointers on producing a short video. These ideas may help you understand ways to focus yourself toward creating something for an audience, and for you to find your own basic storytelling needs, and the needs of getting your message out in the best possible way.

One - Communication.
I belong to an organization called Toastmasters, which not only teaches people to get up and speak, but how to formulate a message through structure, theme and practice. The first speech manual is a foundation for good communication skills, and it guides people to think through how to formulate their first ten speeches. To me, these communication ideas are an excellent example and the cornerstone for making good videos, or presenting any kind of storytelling idea, display or performance. I modify them to illustrate the basic steps in learning to tell stories well.

The basic steps:
1. Break the ice with your audience and tell them who you are and what your message is.
2. Organize the structure of your story. Beginning, middle, end.
3. Get to the point and be succinct with your message and what are you trying to say.
4. Ensure your script is well written, delivered and your performance is proficient. Both as a film maker and whoever is on screen representing you. Remember to "direct" your on screen talent.
5. Your visual presentation should sparkle. How do you look and how do you present your ideas?
6. Tell your story by using a variety of emotions and feelings to grab your audience.
7. Research your topic well and give plenty of information. Get the facts and get them straight.
8. Be proficient with all the technical devices, camera, lights, editing software etc., and learn the creative side of photographic arts, editing arts and dramatic pacing.
9. Use powerful ideas to persuade your audience.
10. Inspire and motivate your audience. Make them want to come back for more.

Two - Story.
A film maker/video producer is a storyteller first. Know the story you want to tell. Know what you are trying to accomplish with your presentation. Know your audience. Although this all sounds very obvious to the experienced storyteller; many people don’t know what they are trying to say. What kind of ideas do you want to implant in your audience? What do you want them to take away from your message? Do you want to inspire them to be better, follow your teachings, carry your message to others? Find the significance of your message and work on inspiring the people who you want to receive and remember it. And remember, you do not have the option of boring people to death.

Three - Inspiration.
A communicator's job is to get a point across by inspiring his or her audience. As a film maker you must grab an audience with inspiring content (a good story), visuals, sounds, music and feeling. This is what a film, a video, a PowerPoint or any kind of presentation is: It is something for people to experience. And the way we all experience is through feelings. Grab at the heart of your idea and express it with passion and inspiration.

Four - Style.
An audience will make the first and the fastest impression about something based on what they see. The look of the subject is very important. You don't have to be Cirque du Soleil but it may help. In a corporate film, for example, is the person on camera dressed smartly? Do I trust this person? Do I trust this film maker? Is he or she communicating to me personally and visually? What are the colours of the backgrounds? What does it sound like? Are the locations speaking to me?

Five - Environment.
The environment is where you place your subject. What do you see behind your subject? The location. Are we in the desert, the ocean, the mountains? Do we see a view of a whole city outside a window in the background or is there a white wall? If there is a white wall, has it been lit and shaded so there are some shadows that contribute to a pleasing atmosphere? Do you have the opportunity to place your subject in the setting of your choosing? It doesn’t take much nudging to ask the subject to sit on a park bench or stand in an atrium with plants in the background; perhaps on a sofa or at the kitchen table. The point is, the world is filled with interesting environments that will help bring your video to life.

Six - Lighting.
Make sure your subject’s face is lit correctly. Invest in a lighting kit with at least three lights: Key light, fill light and back light. Bring the sparkle to their eyes. Bring the image quality up to standard with the help of lights. Among many things, there are two large stand-out things that make a bad production: The lack of good lighting and bad sound. No one goes out to make a bad video, but, THEY DO. Usually it’s because of ignorance and lack of control of the medium. There is no excuse not to invest in good lighting.

Seven - Sound.
Hearing is our second most important sense when it comes to participating as an audience. Hollywood spends a huge amount of money making sure that the soundtracks are up to excellent standards on their productions. In video, sound is much more than just hearing or listening; it is comprehension. Bad sound means bad production and audience dissatisfaction. Especially when it comes to recording a speech, an interview or an on camera personality, sound is (almost) everything; Invest in a good lapel/lavaliere microphone, clipped at about one foot from the subjects mouth, either with a long cord connecting to your camera or recorder, or a radio lapel/lavaliere microphone that lets your subject roam. Sound, like lights, must help sparkle the production. Invest wisely.

Eight - Camera.
Cameras and technologies come and go, and next week you will probably find a better camera for the same price that you bought your latest camera for last week. It doesn’t matter; Buy the best you can afford. Or rent the best you can afford. You need a camera that is going to give you good image quality. It should have a good optical zoom lens (not electronic zoom) and you should be able to alter the aperture and sound inputs separately (plug in a separate microphone). Also, invest in a good tripod with a fluid head. Steady pictures with smooth pans and tilts will help keep your product looking professional. Aim for good composition, size of shot, look of subject, lighting of subject, background behind the subject and overall feeling and quality. The photography should be based on the story you are telling.

Nine - Editing.
Story, presentation, photography and sound. That’s it. Right? Well, no. Then comes your editing and that is a whole different story. Editing your footage and piecing together scenes and sequences that bind together into a succinct, and skillful story-line, that grabs, excites and entertains your audience, is the essence of film making. Editing is the art of reaching out to your audience through the manipulation of select and focused information, and, like a composer working at a symphony, the film maker is constantly molding, carving and building the shot footage, sound and other media to produce a clear uncomplicated yet nuanced idea. Yes, controlling and influencing a point of view, to lead the viewer on a journey to wherever you, as a film maker, want to lead them. More than any other aspect of film making, please read up on editing, study the editing of movies and TV programs you like.

Technically, editing depends on the computer and software you are comfortable with, and of course, your storytelling abilities. There are many software programs like Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere and these will help when it comes to creatively assembling your shots. So plan to shoot good pictures with lots of angles. And make sure your story is told completely.

Ten – Use of the medium.
The technicalities of producing a video are about creativity, art, photography, sound recording, lighting, environment, editing, music etc. The idea is to stimulate through the quality of the story, image, sound and use of the media. These, in turn, help manipulate feelings.

On You-Tube you can see some of the finest films ever made. You can also see most of the worst. With visual storytelling, you need to be better than the next guy. There is no way your production is going to look like ‘Lawrence of Arabia,’ but that is what you are competing with in some people’s imaginations. You must be able to propel your message with good photography and good sound. Look at print advertising or fashion photography and see how one image tells the story. Many times the message comes from what you don’t see; through nuance, imagination and metaphor.

When it comes to producing a video, there is a lot to learn, but after the basics you can then study the arts, sciences, theatre and the business to produce good videos. You can become quite proficient with much practice. Like learning the piano: listen, read, try new things and practice, practice, practice.

Remember, producing a film or video is always about your audience and how you inspire or motivate them. Know the story you are going to tell, and tell it with quality, style and creativity.

It takes great skill to tell a compelling story in under 60 seconds. These five directors have mastered the format, using their talent, craft and imagination to provide us with some of the most innovative filmmaking out there today.
- Michel Apted

A film is never really good unless the camera is an eye in the head of a poet.
- Orson Wells

Eighty percent of success is showing up.
- Woody Allen